Monday, August 21, 2006

The Way We Want The World

Often disagreements about the world are really disagreements about the way we want the world to be. Consider the following questions:

  • Morality: Is morality absolute? What should our morality be?

  • Origins: Were we created by God? How and when?

  • Afterlife: Is there a heaven and a hell?

  • Supernatural: Is there a hidden supernatural world that can affect our lives?

These are difficult questions, and yet many people confidently assert affirmative answers to these questions. Why can people make these assertions so confidently. It is not due to physical evidence or logical necessity. Neither of these lead to these conclusions, at least not definatively. I think the reason people have these strong beliefs is that they want the world to be a certain way and so believe it is that way. They want things to be always right or wrong, and so assume morality must be absolute. They want their lives to have a personal cause and so choose to believe they were created by God. They want hope for heaven after death and hell to punish evildoers. They want to affect the world through prayer and so believe they can via influencing the supernatural.

Letting our hopes and desires swing our beliefs about the world is a strong form of bias and so is likely to lead to false conclusions. If we want to discover truth, then we need to step outside of our wants and judge the world based purely on the evidence. Yet humans have a natural tendency to bias their beliefs based on their wants. I acknowledge that is hard to eliminate this bias in questions about the world that affect our well-being, yet truth seekers must seek to be unbiased.