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Time to Give Up

Is there a time when people should give up on their beliefs? Superficially the answer perhaps should be “no” because, as I often say in this blog, nothing is ever proven 100% and there is always room for doubt and new evidence about old subjects should always be taken seriously. That is true but what about old evidence about old subjects? That seems to be about all that various believers in fringe subjects can manage.

I first thought about this subject because of what I heard in some recent podcasts and blogs. First there was the news of a conference about to be held which supports the idea of an Earth-centered universe. Their tag-line is something like: science is wrong, the church was right. Then there was the findings of a recent study which showed no connection between the preservative used in some vaccines and autism, contrary to the beliefs of the anti-vaccine crowd. Oh and just to round things off with the ultimate case of old, discredited information being used to support an old discredited belief, I have had a couple of discussions with creationists as well.

There are some subjects where there has been nothing really new for many years and where the existing arguments have been totally discredited. The three examples above would all be in that category. People should really just shut up about those topics unless they can find something genuinely new. Just telling us that the Bible says the world is at the center of the universe so it must be, or that some mothers are sure that vaccinations caused their children to become autistic, or that life is too complex to be the result of evolution just doesn’t work any more. We’ve heard those arguments before and they have been discredited. Either show us something new or just give up!

While there have been a few groups within science who have hung on to theories which have not been well supported by the data (Fred Hoyle and the Steady State Universe for example) that is very much the exception rather than the rule. And even in those exceptional cases the theory was eventually abandoned although if new evidence appeared supporting the Steady State (maybe the greater multiverse works that way) I’m sure that the theory would be revived. But the critical difference is that it would require new evidence. No one would drag out the old data from before the time that the microwave background and universal redshift was discovered and expect that to be taken seriously. Everyone knew that it was time to give up on that theory.

So maybe the difference between people who really want to know the truth and those who just have decided on some sort of world view for religious, political, or other arbitrary reasons is just knowing when it’s time to give up!

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