Make Money for Charity Debating Fundamentalists, Part III: More Ideasby Robert A. Yourell, MA | March 14, 2008
In part one, I gave an example of a book that you could have someone read, when that someone preferred a Biblical version of the age of the earth. The book was Mysteries of Terra Firma: The Age and Evolution of the Earth. The reason I’m suggesting this book as an example is that it takes you through the history of the discoveries. Stories engage minds that are vulnerable to fundamentalist thought. They need the story in order to get more of a gestalt, rather than having facts thrown at them. Facts are like an attack, while a story involves the reader and gains mental real estate in an attractive way. Stories create images and interest in actual people and their struggles. Don’t create a push-pull and arouse knee-jerk defenses.
Fundamentalists need to realize what a big world it is that they have insulated themselves from. One way to get through to them (my educated guess) is to walk them through the history of the science involved in determining the age of the earth, so that they could see the pieces fitting together, and gain a more realistic respect for science, and for what challenges these scientists faced in breaking out of conventional reality.
Fundamentalists don’t realize that there is a vast range and quantity of information behind major scientific theories, and they don’t know how many scientists and researchers have been involved and for how long. They don’t know the extent to which diverse fields offer information that supports a single theory.
But fundamentalists need to realize that when there are discrepancies, this is part of the process. It doesn’t mean that the theory should be abandoned. I saw this kind of thinking in writings on intelligent design, when I participated in a challenge from a fundamentalist. A good theory gets refined or expanded because conflicting information is used to generate better questions and hypotheses. When in history did a major theory not only turn out to be wrong, but also revert back to the superstition or religion that it attempted to supplant? Never. The early theory of autism (that it was caused by cold mothers) was wrong, but it was abandoned when it was subjected to scientific scrutiny. It did not come from scientific thought. The theory was a mashup of ideology, coincidences, and maybe some issues with mom that never got resolved.
Here’s a big challenge, and it is much of my motive for suggesting the games. Normally, when magical thinkers are confronted with new information, they generate post hoc rationalizations. Sociologists have marveled at this for a long time, and published an interesting account of cult members who were anticipating the end of the world. When it didn’t happen, they came up with an explanation about getting a reprieve, and hung onto their belief system.
Imagine this reality TV show, Creationists vs. Scientists. The question wouldn’t be, “Who’s right?” but rather, “Who can debate the most ethically?” The final scoring and money going to a charity would add interest. Or have a series of very polarized debaters, such as Bigots vs. Civil Rights Activists, or Scientologists vs. Psychiatrists. The possibilities may not be endless, but they’re worth a TV season!
Now imagine that our public schools all require a basic knowledge of the ethical rules of debate. Imagine a country in which every citizen can see politicians through this lens. If a democracy depends on having an educated public, then this might be the best possible place to start. Without it, any good idea is vulnerable to unethical attack. Judging from what goes on in what passes for news in the United States, I think democracy is straining under a concerted attack.
Introducing the word “ethical” is an important part of this. After all, what fundamentalist doesn’t want to be a champion of ethics? And it would be very difficult for a person to challenge these rules.
I’d like to see every child play this game at least twice a year from the time they are eight years old. It should also be a structure for political and policy debates, with a profession of moderators who provide the scoring service. I’d also like to see this happening on the news and analysis shows, in which a running score is kept as a percentage of ethical versus unethical statements by leading figures, especially politicians. News services could add a truth percentage as well. What percentage of their assertions is true versus untrue versus “as yet unverified”? Imagine comparing the politicians side by side on the ethical debate and truth telling percentages? How would the public react to this? What kind of public discussions would this create? Some folks posting to YouTube.com are having a lot of fun posting contradictory statements of politicians together in the same video. It’s better than a lie detector!
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