Black and white thinking.
Have you ever used the term “climate change” then found yourself neck deep in an argument about the existence of God and evolution 10 minutes later?
Why does this happen?
99.9% of the population views the world in black and white terms.
It’s you versus them, and you have to pick which team to be on.
The most common examples are science versus religion, Republican versus Democrat, pro-Trump or anti-Trump.
But both sides commit the same fallacy–black and white thinking.
What does this mean?
The most common example is scientific thinking.
Religious believers are often viewed as uneducated and dogmatic people who mindlessly believe in unprovable propositions. Scientists often view these people as intellectually inferior to them because they don’t believe in obvious facts that are backed by mathematics and rationality.
But scientists are hypocrites.
Let me explain.
There are two primary reasons why scientists consider their knowledge to be superior to the dogmas of others: 1) physical evidence that can be corroborated through sense experience and 2) numbers and statistics that can support rational arguments.
Both are misleading ideas.
Consider experimental science and the Cartesian scientific method. This method relies on an inductive argument that examines an alternative hypothesis to a preexisting claim and examines whether the data indicate that the alternative hypothesis deviates from the original proposition in a statistically significant way.
Another way to think of this inductive reasoning is to consider the following example: Since the sun has risen everyday since your existence, it will necessarily rise tomorrow.
Or because you’ve only seen white swans throughout your life, there does not exist any black swans.
Although the inductive method is useful in understanding trends and patterns in the world, it is not a sufficient way to establish absolute truths (i.e. facts).
Now let’s consider theoretical science. Scientists believe that because their arguments are supported by statistics, mathematics, and logic, that their beliefs are absolute facts.
This is simply not true.
When you trace mathematics to its most generalized and abstracted form, topology, you can reduce mathematics and set theory to its most elementary axioms.
In fact, you can trace it back to the well-ordering principle.
But in order to prove the well-ordering principle, you need the axiom of choice.
The axiom of choice states that given an arbitrary collection of sets, one can construct a new set containing an element from each set in the original collection.
Although it might seem intuitive, it’s not provable. Thus, even the foundations of mathematics are built upon intuition and faith.
Although the study of mathematics is a beautiful and enjoyable endeavor, it does not produce absolute truths. It’s more of an art than a science.
Scientists typically believe that their paradigm of viewing the world consists of provable and unrefutable facts, but this is an intellectually arrogant point of view.
To think that their body of knowledge is somehow superior to that of anyone else simply because they rely on numbers, logic, and rationality is misguided.
As a whole, human beings place too much faith on their sense-based faculties and rationality, thinking that reason will allow us to see the ultimate truth. It gives us a false sense of control.
Instead of just saying that we believe in something because it resonates with us, we want to support our beliefs with a logically consistent and sound web of facts. But, ultimately, all systems of logic boil down to pure intuition and raw faith.
I’m not saying that science isn’t useful; in fact, it’s incredibly useful. But to think that it’s anything beyond a tool for seeing patterns in the world is placing too much importance on it. It should be considered an instrument, not the sole cornerstone for one’s belief system.
Most scientists don’t think critically about where their beliefs actually come from, and they aren’t humble enough to admit that their core foundational tenets are just as faith-based as religion.
They think that simply because they have mathematics, statistics, and physical corroboration supporting their claims that their methods are superior for understanding and that their conclusions are closer to the “ultimate truth.”
However, there is no objective “ultimate truth.” When I say “truth,” I don’t imagine some objective substrate of truth that demands the same ubiquitous interpretation for everyone across the board.
Instead, I imagine truth as a mountain. We are all trekking up the mountain taking different paths. Some of us take the religious path, and others take a scientific route. And yet others take a spiritual, more agnostic journey. The journey itself is the truth. We are all traveling up the mountain and exploring our own unique “truths.”
And we aren’t just restricted to two paths. Sure, there are paths that are more well-traveled than others, but we’re always free to pave our own routes.
To admonish others for taking a certain route, to create an adversarial mentality of black and white thinking, and to assume that your route is superior is intellectually immature.
We’re all paving our own truths, and no truth is superior to any other.
So instead of having to take sides, think about the truth that you are following, why you’ve chosen that path, and be willing to explore other paths as well.
Recognize that listening to your soul is just as important as listening to your rational mind.
There are so many people in today’s society who have lost touch with their inner dialogue because they are constantly focused on defending their egos from others with rational arguments. This restricts one’s vision from seeing the other paths.
When you’re willing to admit that, at the end of the day, we’re all struggling up the mountain to figure out our own truths, then your humility will allow you traverse a greater part of the mountain.
Socrates himself admitted, “I know one thing; that I know nothing.”
When you question others on why they’ve chosen their paths, don’t just compartmentalize them into “that type of person.” Instead, explore their perspective too.
Come to understand their journey and path as well and allow that to shape your journey. In doing so, you will enrich your own journey and the overall landscape of truth.