... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Monday, August 22, 2011

378: Your opinion is worthless...

"I think": a worthy opinion.
...and so is mine. 'You' believe that evolution is just a theory, and your opinion is that it's wrong? Your opinion is worthless. I happen to believe that evolution is a theory. Partly this is because I actually know what the word theory means (an explanation of phenomena that conforms to the available data, as opposed to a hypothesis which is an explanation of phenomena as yet unconfirmed by evidence), and partly because I trust the authorities on the subject. Over the last one hundred and seventy-ish years, the evidence has been gathered, tested, re-tested, filtered, boiled, bubbled, stirred, purified, brewed and confirmed. The result is a massively self-supporting structure of empirical evidence which provides the best explanation we have of the diversity of life. Yet my opinion on the subject is still worthless. Your belief that it is false, and mine that it is true, does nothing whatsoever to add to or subtract from the theory. It remains robust and unchallenged.

The fact is that there are a huge amount of subjects that the majority of people can make no contribution to, and as such their opinions are utterly worthless. I used the example of evolution, because popular science books on the subject are amongst my favourite reads, and over the years I have met creationists, and other truth-deniers. The world is full of them. What would it take for a evolutionary disbeliever's opinion to matter? They would have to be a respected (but not neccessarily well-known), honest scientist, working by strict established scientific standards, checked by their peers, working to allow the evidence to wobble evolutionary theory, as opposed to any personal biases. As a sound scientific theory Evolution (yeah, capital E) is falsifiable. This does not mean that it is false, but that if it is false it can be proved to be so by observation and experiment.

A commonly given example of the falsifiability of evolution is "if rabbit fossils were found in the Precambrian era". Other "conceivable lines of evidence which could falsify evolution [include]:

  • a static fossil record;
  • true chimeras, that is, organisms that combined parts from several different and diverse lineages (such as mermaids and centaurs) and which are not explained by lateral gene transfer, which transfers relatively small amounts of DNA between lineages, or symbiosis, where two whole organisms come together;
  • a [natural] mechanism that would prevent mutations from accumulating;
  • observations of organisms being created."

If any of these could be discovered and proved then the entire scientific community would have to, and would enthusiastically, rethink the theory. The theory is dictated by the evidence, not vice versa. Back to my original point; there is currently no evidence which falsifies evolution, therefore disagreeing with it puts you in possession of a worthless opinion. My opinion on its truth is also worthless because I am not a biologist, examining and working with the evidence on a daily basis. I rely on these authority figures to do the work for me.

I think it's probably a difficult thing for people to accept that their opinion is worthless. I recently heard the sincere and innocent expression of the opinion that homosexuality is a choice. It was not meant to be offensive, it was simply a naive opinion. I politely tried to explain some of the more obvious reasons why it was wrong, such as the universal nature of homosexuality in the animal kingdom, and the fact that nature never produces entirely uniform results. What I wanted to say was your opinion is worthless, but felt this wouldn't have been entirely constructive.

There are plenty of things that people can have worthwhile opinions on, but probably these all boil down to subjects of personal preferrence (this might not be true, and I will surely rack my brains as I try to sleep tonight). For example, the opinion Manchester United are my favourite football team is entirely valid if spoken by someone for whom it is true. However the opinion Manchester United are the best football team may not be valid. Depending on how the quality of best is examined there will be true facts to discover. It may be who has won the most trophies, or who has scored the most goals, etc; but whichever way you choose to look at it there will be certain facts that opinion can not touch.

You and I have our delusions compounded on a daily basis. Television shows and (the lesser) newspapers ask we text in our opinions on factual matters we have no insight into; televised news offers talking heads and public opinion; the comments, opinions and feelings of crime victims are offered as news. Opinion is not fact. Fact is fact and opinion has no bearing on this.

Thank you, and good night.
(What was all that about?)

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