Monday, November 14, 2011

A Skeptic's Duty

A credulous mind will believe whatever it's told and, generally, will put the most weight on the last statement heard. A skeptic, however, is not so easily persuaded. With any subject, it is reasonable to start with the null hypothesis and require evidence in order to believe. For example, if you told me that you had an alien spacecraft in your barn, I'm not likely to believe that until you show me the evidence. The same applies in everyday life: if you tell me that an extraordinary thing is true, then I'm going to need to see some extraordinary proof.

Amending a Constitution falls into the realm of the extraordinary as far as I'm concerned. Constitutions aren't easily amended for a reason and they certainly aren't something we should tinker around with on a whim. Changes are difficult to make and just as difficult to repeal; therefore, if there is any doubt as to whether an amendment is good, then the skeptic must (in good conscience) vote no.

It's very telling that many Mississippians fell into the "yes" category solely on the basis of the feel-good language and that they had to be educated into voting no. If our society were skeptically minded, the opposite would have been true. We must work to educate our families, friends, and neighbors into the skeptical mindset - not just for future elections, but so that these people can better protect themselves from the schemes, frauds, and fakes that assail us every day. We must help them understand the value of the null hypothesis and the importance of evidence in their daily decision-making process.

The poster boy for failed skepticism over 26 is Gov. Haley Barbour. He was skeptical about the amendment - unsure of its consequences and ramifications. And yet he claims he voted for it. He offers us no new evidence that helped change his mind. He appears to have voted for it (or at least said he voted for it) simply because it pissed off the AFA and its cronies. If he didn't vote for it and said he did, then he's a tool. If he did vote for it after expressing such concerns, then he fell victim to sloppy thinking and emotional appeals. He failed in his duty to uphold the Mississippi Constitution. Either way, I think he did himself and our state a great disservice.

In the days to come, let's remember to focus on the fact that the null hypothesis is the way to go. We must teach others to be skeptical of personhood claims (especially religious claims) and not be afraid to demand good evidence to back up all the assertions. People must come to realize that credulous belief is no virtue and may, in fact, cause a great deal more harm than anyone realizes.