Monday, May 22, 2006

Doggerel #5: "Worldview"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Today, I deal with a word that is, by itself, fairly okay. The problem with "worldview" is a lot of the context and false enthymemes that go along with it.

"You're just ignoring everything that doesn't fit in your worldview!"

When this is stated as a conclusion, based on the arguer's behavior, it's okay. It probably doesn't contribute to the discussion, but if that particular conclusion is valid, then there's probably not too much point to continuing.

The problem arises when this phrase is used as a pretense to ignore a person's arguments: It becomes a transparent ad homenim. To boil it down to its essence: "You disagree with me, therefore I'm not going to listen to your arguments because they're inherently worthless!" In such a case, the fallacious person is playing the part of the colloquial pot calling the kettle black: He's ignoring arguments because they lead someone else to a worldview contrary to his own.

Of course, most woos don't realize that the problem with much of their data is that it fits perfectly into our skeptical worldview: It can all be explained by natural means like cheating, small bits of dumb luck, and a lot of human perceptual failings. It's just that there's nothing in that data to merit their paranormal conclusions.

"According to the ----ist worldview..."

This is typically a warning sign that reads "Straw man ahead." In the case of evolution, often inserting a disingenuous -ist on the end, it typically involves the words "random," "selfish," and/or the name of someone particularly nasty associated with Germany or the Soviet Union. Based on my personal experience, woos often have little or no concept of what views their skeptical opponents actually hold. They only know what public opinion and the mainstream media says about skeptics: That we deny the existence of the monster/ghost/whatever until we're the first to be killed in the most horrible manner by it. Of course, reality more often resembles Scooby-Doo: It's always some guy in a mask with a few clever tricks up his sleeve. And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for us meddling skeptics. Unlike Scooby-Doo, however, no one ever seems to care when we unmask the weekly villain.

Of course, some people do know their opponent's views quite well, often seeing the flaws that usually go unnoticed. You can typically spot an unexamined worldview when the person holding it refuses to discuss the hypothetical implications of it. And, in my case, I typically qualify it with things like "as I see it," and "apparently," since I could have misread something.

"You only see it that way because of your worldview!"

While some things like art and literature are arguably subjective, science is not. For example, let's say Sylvia Browne took the Randi Challenge. (I know. Not going to happen in a million years, but stay with me.) If she succeeds a statisically significant number of times, and keeps doing so under tighter and tighter conditions, my "worldview" isn't going to magically alter the numbers. If I find myself unable to admit that I'm likely wrong in such a hypothetical case, you'd be able to point out fallacies I employ. But that isn't going to happen, either. Data isn't going to change, no matter how much I may or may not like it. The arguments for and against conclusions drawn from that data aren't going to become any more or less fallacious, no matter how much I may or may not like them.


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1 comment:

Michael Bains said...

...Data isn't going to change, no matter how much I may or may not like it.

And that, my good Dog, is a reality far too many folk can't get their brains around.

Homo Sapiens have yet to alter earth's star system in any way outside the atmosphere of our li'l planet. If we "poofed" into dust and smoke tomorrow, there would be no repercussions for the rest of the system, much less the Milky Way or our entire universe.

We just folks, eh. Gnarly smart critters evolvin' away. No matter how important we like to think our mythological makers have made us, we only matter to each other.

Or should matter to one another at any rate.