The Weapon of Doubt

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As I’ve said before, doubt is a marvelous thing. It saves us from foolishly following causes or leaders who are mostly interested in leading us astray. It serves as a key part of our moral compass, leading us to question whether our thoughts and actions are right. Doubt is also the linchpin of science. Without doubt, we simply accept the status quo as the way it must be; without the questions that come from our doubts of scientific theories, there can be no progress.

There is no question that doubt can be a powerful tool. I was raised to doubt whatever was presented to me – which eventually led me to being both an atheist and a scientist of sorts.

I often have to remind myself to question ideas and other people. It is easy to go along with the world as presented. Constant skepticism can be a tiring thing. To question everything may lead to cynicism and even despair. Sometime you have to say – close enough. I can live with that, for now at least.

As useful as doubt may be as a tool, it can also be used as a weapon. It is presented thusly. You – and your gang (of scientists or bureaucrats) claim xyz is true but I have my doubts. I have questions. Shouldn’t I be allowed to have questions or should I just take what you say on faith? Which of course is the proper stance of the skeptic.

But when you say: what questions do you have and they present them and you provide evidence based answers to those questions, the real intent is revealed. The person doesn’t accept that the answers are valid. You only, they say, provide me with data that supports your views. There are things we don’t know that might prove you wrong. Well, yes, there might be, do you have any examples? This persistent request for more than simple questions may be met with anger. You think I’m stupid, they might say. Or, you want to suppress any questioning of your position. Or you simply made that stuff up.

What can you really say to that? Whether is on the topic of vaccines, GMO foods, climate change or whether the moon landings were faked, some people don’t want evidence; they don’t want their questions answered. They want to cling to their positions. Or, to put it in the best possible light, they want to retain the role of devil’s advocate – pushing for absolute proof of matters that are always only probably true. In science, any theory that cannot ultimately be disproven by additional evidence isn’t a theory at all. It is a statement of faith.

Doubt that can never be resolved by evidence is not a tool to ensure progress; it is a weapon to stop action. When you can continue to express doubt – asking questions that have already been answered to everyone’s satisfaction but yours – it does inevitably lead to people throwing up their hands and moving on. Eventually people realize that you are not interested in improving things or even in being convinced. You’re only interested in being the iconoclast who holds on to disproven theories or ideas – simply because you can.

And that’s ten minutes.

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