Thought for the day

If, like most of mankind, you have passionate convictions on many such matters, there are ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias. If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If some one maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion. So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.

Bertrand Russell

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3 Comments

Wonderful… I follow you via rss, and it is worth it…

Using the strongly emotional word “persecution” when referring to theology betrays some of his own subconscious anger and, by his own argument, indicates that his belief in the falsehood of religion “is going beyond what the evidence warrants”.

His argument also implies that being angry about racism means you have no good reason to think it is wrong.

Good points, though I don’t think ‘persecution’ is an unfair attribute to ascribe to theology and the resulting arguments, especially historically. But we could substitute it for something else, if you like: “Burning people alive is used in theology, not in arithmetic…” 🙂 That’s not to say that all of theology is about persecution; he’s just pointing out the differences between science and religion.

The racism point is an interesting one, though. I guess one could say that racist attitudes are not fundamentally about science and evidence; they’re partly about the rejection of such evidence, and so the conviction could be dismissed without anger — but the resulting actions are about lack of compassion and humanity, and anger is more natural there. I’m probably splitting hairs!

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