Being Wrong is Good

Scientists often do it.

Politicians rarely do it.

Religionists almost never do it.

Admitting you’re wrong is tough. It’s one of the most difficult experiences you can have. But it’s also one of the most liberating.

The attitude I‘m talking about goes like this: “I am willing to change my mind if I come across better evidence and better arguments than those I currently hold. My mind is amendable to new evidence and I am eager to discover if I am wrong”.

When we scale our convictions in proportion to the strength of the evidence, rather than to the strength of our emotions or beliefs, we become much more likely to discover errors in our thinking.

Why is this important? Because it makes us more likely to discover the truth of whatever we‘re thinking about.

Even when we admit our errors to ourselves in private, it can still be very difficult to prise ourselves from the intellectual and emotional ties that bind us to our previous convictions. Why? Because we’re too uncomfortable with being wrong and “losing face”. Changing your mind is seen as a weakness.

Not for critical thinkers though. Realising when we are wrong is often the catalyst towards a better opinion – an opinion which is more consistent with the evidence, an opinion that takes into account all the evidence, an opinion that is more likely to be true.

Critical thinkers readily welcome this.

(Incidentally, why are the dumbest people often the surest?)

To be a critical thinker you have to be comfortable with being wrong. Indeed, you’re likely to be wrong in some of the opinions you hold right now.

But it doesn‘t matter. “Get over it”, “deal with it”, as they say. That’s life. You’ve can’t be right about everything.

So long as you’re willing to change your opinion in the face of better evidence, you won’t go far wrong.

In fact, it’s your surest bet of being right.

Science and reason lead to real knowledge – religion doesn’t

Science is the accumulation of knowledge using objective means in order to understand the history of the natural world and how the natural world works. Observable physical evidence, either from observations of nature or from experiments that try to simulate nature, is the basis of that understanding.

Of course, scientific knowledge changes over time when new evidence becomes available. We can’t know many things with absolute certainty – we only know the observable evidence. However, we can reach the best possible conclusion based on the most complete and modern evidence available. The result is that scientific knowledge is constantly changing and evolving but is proceeding toward a more correct view of the world.

This contrasts strongly with the knowledge claimed by many religious people who claim that they, or a book they endorse, holds all relevant knowledge and that such knowledge is absolutely and unquestionably true. The Bible, for example, is often held up as containing all knowledge, and as being literal and infallible Truth. Some of them will say that the world was created by a certain deity a certain number of years ago. If asked about their level of certainty, these people generally respond that they have absolutely no uncertainty!

Interestingly, many eastern religions are more encouraging of sustained inquiry and less insistent on unquestioning faith than the three major monotheistic religions. The Dalai Lama’s enthusiasm for unfettered scientific study of meditation is an example.