One of my most basic axioms is that there can only be one truth and one standard of right and wrong as far as empirical facts as well as ethical standards go, but that the limited vision and knowledge of human beings makes us unable to know absolutely what that truth or that ethical standard is; we can only approximate it in our minds. If this is true, how does one explain the incredible diversity of opinions regarding what is true as well as what is ethical? Why the clash between Creation and evolution, between various religions, and between supporters and opponents of the death penalty, abortion rights, or other political and moral issues?
I believe that we humans, for all our intelligence, are still limited in our minds as well as our preceptions of reality. We can only know so much or sense so much and thus when we form opinions based on our knowledge and preceptions, we are prone to error. The problem comes when clashes between people with different opinions occur. Often, debates result in which efforts are made by both sides to show that the other side is in error. Usually, however, most supporters of both sides refuse to budge in their positions, and so the debates prove fruitless. Why is that, if we all live in the same universe, use the same senses, and sometimes communicate the same ways? What’s stopping us from reaching the same conclusions?
I think the primary factor in people stubbornly clinging to an opinion, even if it is highly questionable, is that a community has formed among holders of that opinion, and there is the ever present fear that being willing to change your opinion to fit all the facts you know would lead to one being ostracized by that community. To reinforce the social bonds of that community, its leadership will put out propaganda, distorting the facts and the issues to demonize the ones opposed to the goals and beliefs of the community, even going so far as to accuse the opponents of being dishonest and unfair, without any clear evidence for this. This gives doubting members of the community all the excuses they need to put aside their doubts and remain in the community.
As an Honorable Skeptic, I find that totally unacceptable. Over the course of my life, I’ve been in and out of several communities, having been a Southern Baptist, an agnostic, a Baha’i and an agnostic once more. Sure, leaving those religious communities when I became disillusioned with their teachings was painful, but in the end I felt being liberated from unfounded dogmas was worth the agony. Sadly, most people seem unable to make that transition. I consider them weak. Meanwhile, they consider me disloyal and without firm principles, which only shows the depths of their own delusions. It was BECAUSE of my principles that I abandoned them and I had more to lose socially than gain from doing so.