Its Your Right To Be Wrong

Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong (At Least Once)
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Or about other matters of pure logic? That there is a force of gravity pulling us to earth? When did you realize you were a machine?

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A fancy machine, for sure. But one whose parts and operations can be described like the components of a computer.

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I remember a day in when this thought pierced me to When fallibilism starts to seem paradoxical, the mistakes begin. We are inclined to seek foundations—solid ground in the vast quicksand of human opinion—on which one can try to base everything else. Moreover, look more closely: It claims literal infallibility too. Can anyone be infallibly right about the probability that they are right? But wait. Have we now gotten lost in the paradox of being wrong about being wrong? There really is such a thing as existing knowledge—including a vast amount of useful, salutary truth.

Parents really do know more than children about everyday dangers; your physician does know more than a passing hobo about your illness. To defer to the opinion of the experts who have a lot more knowledge about the matter? That is not only an irrational answer but, catastrophically, the wrong question. But first, consider infallibility itself.

It's Your Right to Be Wrong

So, consider this thought experiment: You seriously believe in papal infallibility. Because for you, ideas are about something—important precisely because they have consequences for how you think, feel, and act. And so you would have to drop some assumptions that you hitherto considered true incontrovertibly—or even infallibly. Furthermore, one cannot seriously believe that the pope is infallible while also believing any rival religion, or atheism. So the implications of papal infallibility, even more than parental infallibility, are sweeping. Despite its narrow nominal scope, it is functionally equivalent to the entire gamut of Roman Catholic doctrine.

But there is another class of implications—even more sweeping—in the opposite direction. Consider the steps you are obliged to follow, from hearing of an ex cathedra declaration to believing its content. A passing hobo tells you that he saw the pope making the declaration ex cathedra.

Do you therefore accept that there is no force of gravity?

And the same would hold even if an archbishop were to visit you and swear that he had witnessed it too, and stated his expert opinion that it met the requirements for being ex cathedra. Since the doctrine does not ascribe infallibility to archbishops, you would still not be required to accept the claim about gravity.

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Thus the doctrine of in fallibility has made you take the fallibility of archbishops more seriously than you otherwise might. Even if the pope himself were to swear that his claim about gravity was strictly ex cathedra , you would not be forced, by your faith, to believe it. The doctrine of papal infallibility does not say that the reminiscences of a pope are infallible—unless they are ex cathedra reminiscences. So, there you were, visiting the Vatican and you took a wrong turn and found yourself witnessing the pope as he solemnly declared that there is no force of gravity.

You happened to have purchased, from the souvenir shop, a checklist of the official requirements for a declaration to count as ex cathedra , and you took the trouble to verify that each one was met. None of this constitutes direct observation of what you need to know. Did you observe infallibly that it was the pope? Did you do a DNA test?

Can you be certain that souvenir checklists never contain typos? And how is your church Latin? Have you never mistranslated anything? Indeed, experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues, given substance only by fallible expectations, explanations, and interpretations. Those can easily be more mistaken than the testimony of the passing hobo. If you doubt this, look at the work of psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons , and verify by direct experience the fallibility of your own direct experience.

Furthermore, the idea that your reminiscences are infallible is also heresy by the very doctrine that you are faithful to. You witnessed a dress rehearsal. The real ex cathedra ceremony was on the following day. But that very seriousness has forced you to decide first on the substance of the issue, using reason, and only then whether to defer to the infallible authority.

This is neither fluke nor paradox. It is simply that if you take ideas seriously, there is no escape, even in dogma and faith, from the obligation to use reason and to give it priority over dogma, faith, and obedience. The real pope is unlikely to make an ex cathedra statement about gravity, and therefore you may be lucky enough never to encounter this particular case of the dilemma.

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But if your faith in papal infallibility depends on reassuring yourself of things like that, then that just goes to show that for you, reason takes priority over faith. It is hard to contain reason within bounds. If you take your faith sufficiently seriously you may realize that it is not only the printers who are fallible in stating the rules for ex cathedra , but also the committee that wrote down those rules. Legal protection should be significantly improved and this can be done without damaging the human rights of other minorities.

And this protection needs to be part of a broader cultural commitment to and modelling of true tolerance in our pluralist society. In Australia, we are struggling to learn how to discuss deep differences with one other privately and in the public square, how to negotiate the differences where public decisions may or must involve a choice between those differences, and how to live together before, during and after such decision without hostility. Too often we simply go to war over the issue of the day, each side trying to win the battle outright by demonising opponents and opposing views rather than acknowledging that they may have some valid points to be negotiated and that they have the right to disagree.

Too often, the war footing carries on and, for some winners, the losing view and hence the losers must be excluded forever, at least from the public square the same sex marriage issue is an example. Some religious people have done this in the past to their opponents e. Our society must have ways for people to live in peace with one other despite our differences, without establishing an authoritarian State that imposes conformity or that silences selected non-conformist views.

This requires true tolerance, which means that we each have a responsibility to give others the right to be wrong in our eyes Seamus Hasson, The Right to Be Wrong, It means we accord to others the right to express worldviews and beliefs we suspect or are convinced are wrong, and the right to act subject to limits based on core shared commitments such as preventing physical violence on those beliefs.

It is a two-way street — both a right and a responsibility. Those religious persons who believe that homosexual acts are sinful must respect the right of gay and lesbian people to believe and express the opposite view. And the atheist or libertarian activist who believes there is no God and no moral basis for regulating sexual behaviour, and that religious people are nuts, must respect the right of religious people who hold to a traditional definition of marriage to believe and express the opposite view.

This Orwellian doublespeak will not help us to live together with our differences — it is a dishonest weapon. True tolerance is not the same as avoiding conflict. It does not require us to agree with or celebrate or be publicly silent about views or ways of life we disagree with. Disagreement should be expressed respectfully not in ad hominem or prejudiced attacks but can be plain, robust and public.

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The same happened with an experiment performed by Rebecca Lawson, a psychologist at the University of Liverpool. Good for him. Clubs for preserving a minority culture can limit membership to the minority culture. The other group reacted precisely in the opposite way. In the bigger picture, it is a mechanism for promoting the creation of consent , by creating objectively better ideas, by eliminating errors from existing ones. Post-script : Make sure you apply this advice to things that matter. Trinity Western University in British Columbia required their students and staff to sign a community covenant which included a promise to abstain from sexual activity, unless it was between a husband and wife.

Christians should disagree with humility, gentleness and respect. True tolerance is not the same as never giving offence.

Reasoned disagreement with another person about a matter that they believe is core to their identity or worldview such as the truth of that worldview or the morality of an action or way of life may lead them to feel offended or insulted. Of course we should be careful to avoid giving offence by the manner in which we express the idea on which we disagree. But if a disagreement does result in offence, this does not necessarily mean anyone was guilty of intolerant speech. A minority of Australians are active adherents of a religion measured by weekly or monthly attendance at places of worship.

But religions have an accepted cultural place in the lives and self-conception of most Australians, although the number is declining. Another 8. These figures from the general population do not reflect the attitudes and increasing suspicion of, or hostility to, religion among many Australian cultural elites. There are many causes for this, including:. The shift in attitude among cultural elites has provided the context for increasing disdain for and some significant incursions into religious freedom. It does not mean opposed to religion. Australia is not a secular society, because its people and their communities embrace a wide range of religious beliefs. Australia does have a secular system of government in the sense that the institutions of government:.

Part of the success of Australia as a multi-cultural and multi-religious country has been its ability to allow the expression of a range of religious beliefs, which are supported on a non-preferential basis by government. For example, government funding supports private schools and tertiary institutions run by religious organisations on an equitable basis with other private non-religious institutions.

That is permitted by our Constitution. Freedom of religion, conscience and belief is, I believe, a foundational human freedom. Os Guinness has written:. Nothing comes closer to the heart of our humanity than the self-understanding and the self-constitution made possible through [this freedom]. As a right it is primary, foundational and indispensable. The Global Public Square, , The First Amendment of the US Constitution drafted expresses this by protecting from legislative incursion not merely freedom of religious belief but also the free exercise of religion.

The right to freedom of religion and belief is declared in international human rights instruments but it is not created by them. Article 18 restated and expanded on the right as follows:. Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The Committee also emphasised that the permissible limits on manifestation in Such limitations must be established by law, not discretion. They must be necessary limitations, rather than simply reasonable or convenient ones, for protecting one of the stated goals.