Tom Gilson

Not Safe For Uninformed Self-Confident Error

Series: Safe For Humans

The bottom line: Speak what you know, ask questions about what you don’t, offer tentative opinions about what you think might be true, and feel free to test out ideas that might or might not be right. Watch out for uninformed self-confident error, though.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of environment I want this blog to be. I want it to be safe for humans, but as I wrote in the blog post of that title, that doesn’t mean it must be safe for every thought or idea that humans might bring up. Vigorous debate requires that we challenge ideas. My own need ideas need challenging.

Recently I’ve realized that I’m especially not making this a comfortable place for uninformed self-confident error. I think that’s the right policy. Making this blog unsafe for inappropriate pronouncements makes it safer for real thought and discussion.

Okay vs. Not

I’m okay with confidence: if we are quite sure that something is true, we ought to be able to say so.

I’m okay with people being uninformed: no one knows everything.

I’m okay with error: we all make mistakes. I’m okay with all of those taken separately.

I have hardly any patience, though, with the triple-barreled combination of uninformed error confidently pronounced as settled fact.

An Example

It happens most frequently when atheists and skeptics try to explain theology. Recently it was, paraphrased, “Jesus definitely wasn’t God in the Synoptic Gospels,” stated just that baldly, without any justification or supporting argument, as if it were an obvious and widely agreed fact. In fact it is neither obvious, nor widely agreed, nor fact; yet when I pointed that out to the commenter, with an appropriate reference, he repeated the claim anyway.

That’s one example among many I could give. I will always feel free to challenge people — not rudely, but emphatically — on that kind of uninformed error.

What then do we do when we’re not on our own turf?

I have an advantage here: I choose what I write about, so it’s rare that I would speak on anything on which I’m not at least somewhat well-informed. (You’re always welcome to point out my mistakes, though.)

You have a different advantage: you can choose which conversations you’ll take part in.

Do we have to know everything about a subject before we join in, though? Definitely not! You’re always welcome to take part. Speak what you know, ask questions about what you don’t, offer tentative opinions about what you think might be true, and feel free to test out ideas that might or might not be right. I want to make it very safe for that here. (I may not always succeed, but that’s my goal.)

Feel free to apply my standards upon me. That’s always my policy, too.

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2 thoughts on “Not Safe For Uninformed Self-Confident Error

  1. I’m glad your wrote this post, Tom.

    I accept that for the sake of a particular conversation we may not always be expected to give or receive a full justification for such and such a claim.

    However, there are some claims that I take to be nothing better than a cheap trick. People reading either let it slide (and perhaps this is perceived as a victory of sorts by the person making the claim) or they are led down various dead-end rabbit trails and the expense of the original topic. Then again, sometimes people seem to genuinely think that typing an opinion is the same as demonstrating that veracity of said opinion.

    I’m not sure whether Ben’s comment about Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels and his subsequent analysis of the study of ancient history are examples of trickery or someone confusing opinion with fact.

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