I've heard at least one good argument from creationists,
too, which I cannot refute: i.e. the theory of evolution is just
that -- a theory. That means it has not been conclusively
Admittedly, the reason it cannot be definitively proved is
because nothing's been alive long enough to completely see or
record it. Thus we use the next best thing to empirical proof
-- we examine the data and draw what we believe are logical
conclusions from it.
To me this is conclusive enough. I have examined and pondered
historical data; I have seen and touched fossils. Both are quite
miraculous and wondrous to me -- and also quite convincing.
In a nutshell, to me there is enough data to conclusively
demonstrate the existence of the slow, constant miracle of
However, even though I've never seen any proof of the existence
of a creator deity, and have determined personally convincing
logic which precludes the existence of one, for me... I cannot
conclusively prove one does not exist! Furthermore, even though I
have no such proof, I know there are individuals who feel they
do have such proof. I may not find it convincing --
but they do.
Does this make them wrong? I don't know, but I'm guessing
we'll find out definitively, after our individual deaths,
whether or not there's a creator deity.
Does this make creationists liars? I don't think so, using
this article's working definition of lying. They're asserting
what they honestly believe to be truth. At best they're right,
and I'm the one who's wrong; at worst they're simply mistaken.
Gathering together all the ramblings and data we've gone
through so far, we can now hopefully reach some useful insights
on dealing with issues such as these.
Note: please consider the
pronoun 'you' to be a general reference term for myself and
First, let's state the goals
for which we performed this thought experiment:
- To remain honest in day to day life, and
- To recognize and avoid lying and liars
Second, here's the basic information
we've come up with:
Using vague speech or silence to deliberately give a
false impression is lying,
Speaking what you believe is the truth is not lying,
even if you are mistaken, but
Deliberately promoting falsehood, to yourself or others,
Now to put it all together, into a useful framework for daily life. How to avoid lying
and remain honest, with situations such as those mentioned in
When asked a question you do not want to answer, cannot
answer without hurting someone, or cannot answer without
- Try stating an intention to not answer, or a truthful
inability to do so
When faced with an absolute belief system, try to figure
out if self-deception is involved:
If yes, be extremely wary, as the speaker is likely to
be both unpleasantly adamant, and mistaken in their beliefs,
If no, the speaker may still be mistaken on some subjects,
but at the very least they're trying their best. Reasoned
argument with them could be fascinating, regardless of whether
or not anyone's mind is changed.
Finally, when given the opportunity to engage in reasoned
debate about your personal beliefs with someone, take it! I
know no better way to check and see if you're harboring a
self-deceptive belief system.
If you find yourself constantly getting angry, sarcastic,
defensive, or upset when thoughtfully questioned... you might
want to take a good, long, hard look at yourself, and make some
changes. Living in deception or constant fear of self-discovery
is not healthy.
I so love philosophical debate... I wonder if I'm any good at
12.01.04: Fascinating Comments from Ian
I don't have much to say about creationism; other than not
to bother arguing with them for the most part. Most of them are
going to view refutation of their belief as refutation of their
god and view it as a personal attack.
What I did want to comment on was this statement here, which
put me in mind of a conversation I had with a good friend of
mine a few days ago.
Finally, when given the opportunity to engage in
reasoned debate about your personal beliefs with someone, take
it! I know no better way to check and see if you're harboring
a self-deceptive belief system.
This is a well-intentioned idea. However I'd be reluctant
to just go tell everyone to do it. The simple fact is, not
everyone's a good debater. It's a skill, and you'd be surprised
how few people actually possess it.
Worse, if you don't know you're not a good debater,
and take this advice and get your ass shot off the first time
you try, it would be a short logical hop to assuming your ideas
are just bad.
[P]hilosophy is one of those things that's a lot harder than
everyone thinks it is. The fact is that it's easy to fall on
your face when logically confronted. I could tell you, "The sky
And if you told me that it was only the phenomenon of my
perception which had no substantive connection to the apparent
object -- if I hadn't actually read Merleau-Ponty -- I'd have
to go, "Uh, okay, it's not blue then."
My idea's not wrong, and yours is patently goofy, but if I
don't have the means to say so, that's it -- debate's
over and you won anyway. Silly example, sure, but if you're
not quick on your feet, if you don't have the benefit of good
logical training, or hell, even if you're shy, it's really easy
to get hammered by someone who is.
So how's this relate to the article? What's the advice for
someone who can't argue? Good question. ...
I suggest the following before you run out to lock horns with
someone over personal belief: ask yourself, first. Ask yourself
honestly why you feel the way you do, walk backward through the
cause and effect chain.
And then ask yourself what the other person believes. And
then try to go back through their causes and effects. You can
still apply the same sort of didactic questioning you list in the
article to these reasons, but do it all by yourself first... then
ask the other person how close to the mark you were.
People have an innate psychological reaction to the concept
of 'debate', that it's a confrontation of sorts and they
instinctively want to 'win.' Asking them for their thoughts
first is a little less aggressive.
And this also cloaks your intention of determining whether
their beliefs are deceptive. This can be useful for sussing out
the 'friend' you think is lying to themselves, or maybe lying to
you; and for the prickly sort who takes any challenge of their
beliefs as a personal attack.
A little philosophical guerrilla warfare, if you will. Not
the method for everyone, but for those that don't like/don't
know how/just suck at arguing, or are trying to be unobtrusive
about it, it's a reasonable alternative.
03.01.04: Thought-provoking Comments from Eric
I think the things that are competing here are the desire for
truth and the desire to avoid harm. Examine the following two
Does this make me look fat?
Does this make me look fat, you asshole?
I bet that many people would respond differently to question
2 than to question 1. The answer to question 2 would normally be
structured to cause whatever level of discomfort to the
questioner that the answerer desired, as opposed to optimizing
truth (although they may have the same result.)
When we say "avoid harm" what we are really identifying is
our desire to extend respect and courtesy to people. This
includes extending our hospitality and courtesy, sympathy and
empathy, understanding, and trust. Trust is the most important
in that it defines a level of expectation, unilaterally or
bilaterally, which provide the framework for affirmation and
Someone that fervently believes in the correctness of divine
creation may be quite happy with their own beliefs. When those
beliefs are not accepted by others and the covenant of "social
trust" is broken, we dispense with reciprocation and things
degrade from discourse to points south.
So, if you are offended that I don't believe in evolution, I
posit that your offense is unjustified, which breaks the social
contract and makes discourse unproductive. So we have:
Tenet 0: As a social contract, we expect a quid pro quo.
Tenet 1: I will respect your rights if you respect mine.
Tenet 2: As people, we have equivalent rights.
Tenet 3: I will respect your opinions if you respect mine.
Tenet 4: I will respect your feelings if you respect mine.
So, the exchange of trust is a transaction in which we expect
equitable treatment. We acknowledge that we each have rights,
and that they are equivalent. Since we respect our rights, we
can decide to respect out opinions. Further, we agree not to
hurt each other without respect.
In the examples you gave, at least one of the parties
violated the tenets. For self-absorbed individuals, they usually
fail almost all of these, in that since they are so very
important, there is no necessity of a quid pro quo. Without that
simple notion, all other tenets are meaningless. For a
creationist that insists you adopt her or his beliefs, they
violate Tenet 3 at least, maybe Tenet 2 (They aren't
Christian, so burn them at the stake.)
In the evolution vs creationism debate, what is important to
note is the satisfaction of the above tenets, as they provide a
necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) basis for the discussion
itself to be meaningful.
Religious beliefs are based upon faith, almost by
definition. Things which have tangible, reproducible
results and irrefutable proofs are usually not categorized
as religion, but rather as Science. Theology is an
interesting concept, as it seems to me to be the adoption
of logical reasoning to religion.
The problem with this is that often the notions of "mystery"
are used to avoid the examination of inconsistent results or
clearly conflicting theory and data. "We know this is so, so we
must find a logical framework within which to explain it" is the
basic tenet of both religion and science. Science adds the
restriction that "...explain it in a way that is consistent
with all known facts." whereas religion is not so
Is evolution provable? It depends on your definition of
proof, but I would posit that it is not yet provable. Are the
theories of evolution provable? Not yet. At the same time, it
does not make the theories false.
The same is true of religion. Can we prove that
there is no God? I don't think so (Kant et al
notwithstanding.) Does that make God exist? No! Not being
able to disprove evolution doesn't make creationism
correct any more than not being able to disprove
creationism proves evolution is correct.
The issue is not about proof, however. It is about
persuasion. People constantly use analogy to "prove" things.
Reasoning by analogy proves nothing, and cannot. What it can do,
however, is sway minds that do not think critically or already
have an answer in mind and are just looking for any means to
show that their beliefs can be true. If they can be true, then
they are legitimate and deserving of respect.
Which brings us to the great debate, to which I think the
next millennium will be dedicated. That is the acceptance of the
Tenet X: I will incorporate new information into my beliefs.
Tenet Y: I will value logical deduction if you will.
Tenet Z: We can agree to disagree until we know more.
Dogma cannot be reasoned with, as it assumes its conclusions,
disregarding inconsistent facts while embracing supportive
facts. Tenet X means that someone is open to an expansion of
their views, the first step in overcoming dogma. Tenet Y means
that people will agree that the process of determining a logical
result (aka the truth) should be universal. Finally, Tenet Z
allows us the luxury of permitting other beliefs to exist
without endangering our own.
The egotists that you mentioned have a personal dogma that
denies most of the basic tenets, which is why they are
impossible to maintain a discourse with (sorry about the
dangling bit here.)
There are religions where unbelievers are doomed to hell.
There are others where unbelievers must be converted or
murdered. These violate the earlier tenets where we agree to
respect each others rights, such as "to exist."
Creationists with whom I have spoken have, by and large,
desperately wanted to convert me to their thinking, because they
need to know that they are right. Evolutionists want me to
believe them because they want to know the truth. Logic,
persuasion, force... all manner of techniques have been used
throughout the ages to change minds. There is one, simple fact,
however, that makes this an easy choice for me.
False premises prove all statements.
That is, given even a single false premise, you can usually
find a way to use it to "prove" something that is false.
Furthermore, there are definite limits to what is provable, what
is knowable, and what is computable.
So to accept truth is to believe in logic and critical
thinking, to accept the Tenets above that permit the
growth of truth and knowledge. Once we do so, we can
then accept that we will have to change our beliefs
when we act based on theory instead of fact, and be
So, there is the word we have been looking for...
responsible. To deny truth, to lie, to deny the rights of
others... it is simply not responsible. To live in denial is
irresponsible as well.
Responsibility -- that is a whole different essay! In my
view, that is about what duties are placed on my behavior based
on the number of tenets to which other parties agree.
For instance, if someone doesn't agree that any relationship requires
a tit for tat exchange in any way, then I have no responsibilities to
them (or do I?) Are there cases where two parties can agree to different
tenets and still maintain discourse? Are my responsibilities with respect
to each tenet differently weighted? Are theirs?
07.01.04: Extensive Comments from Lou
"Kant would have one believe this sort of lie is reprehensible. More
pragmatic philosophers suggest that kind of lie is commendable, or at
worst forgivable. I happen to agree with the more pragmatic
philosophers, in this case. A self-righteous 'honesty' achieved at the
cost of the life of another, just to assuage Kant's definition of truth,
is no honesty at all, in my book."
I'm not sure that defining this as not being honest is the right
thing to do. It may be all right for the limited scope of a single
article, but telling the truth is honesty, even when it's horrible. Just
because it's honest does not make it any less reprehensible or wrong,
It sounds to me like you're defining "honesty" so you can say simple
things like, "It's always good to be honest." That sounds like a stretch
of a definition to me, because you're clearly suggesting that it isn't
always good to be honest. It's usually good to be honest. Is it always
bad to be dishonest?
The ethical dilemma of whether or not to tell my Grandmother that my
sister had had her lip pierced is an example of this. It would very much
upset Marion, for no real reason, were she to find this out. So, we're
all lying about it to her, or, more likely, not mentioning it. The
family has chosen to deliberately promote this falsehood. Is it
You use the example of not telling someone of a problem with a car as
a lie. I don't like your definition, because they didn't tell any lies
or falsehoods. They did do something wrong; they decieved someone of the
truth, and did it deliberately. I just don't know if the description of
this as a lie is accurate.
You also describe vagueness as a way to lie. In that case, the
problem is the person who makes the assumption's assumption, or that the
person who was vague's using that as a way to get what they wanted;
again, it's a deliberate, malicious deception. If the vague person was
saying, "Mmmm?" to suggest they didn't hear or weren't listening, and
the other person took it as, "Go ahead." then the person who was vague
hadn't deliberately decieved the speaker; they'd merely not realized
that this was important, and missed a part of the communication. In
either case, demanding clarity could prevent this.
As you can guess, I'm writing this as I read the article. Eric's
conclusion about trust, and mine about deception are similar
observations about what your article has labelled "lying". The
dictionary describes "lie" as "A false statement deliberately presented
as being true; a falsehood." An omission or an avoidance aren't really
such an act.
I think, as Eric suggested, the breach of trust, or the deception is
the part that bothers you. This goes along with what I know of you,
where trust is a very important and sensitive issue.
You write: "Therefore, in the arena of real-life honesty, silence or
vagueness to promote falsehood is not truth -- it is an unequivocal lie.
A desire to avoid any kind of confrontation is not sufficient cause to
do this sort of thing. If my personal goal is an honest life, this sort
of hypocrisy is emphatically not acceptable."
The sentence "A desire to avoid any kind of confornation is not
sufficient cause to do this sort of thing." seems out of place here to
me. The beginning and end of this paragraph talk about what lies are,
and that they are not acceptable. This one cites a common excuse for
doing so, that of being a spineless weasel, rather than a malicious
Would it be useful to discuss what are possible valid reasons to lie
(and here I mean "utter an untruth"), or to discuss others that aren't,
but are often used as excuses?
Question: "Does this make me look fat?" Answer: "No." Why is this
If they're overweight, it's not what they're wearing that makes them
look that way. It's the fat that makes them look fat.
Worse, that's almost never what they're asking. This is not a
dangerous question because there is no good answer; it's dangerous
because it's a loaded question, full of implications which can hardly be
predicted. (Are they looking for reassurance that they aren't fat? Are
they trying to see if you think they look nice? Are they, as your
sidebar suggests, an idiot?)
So, avoiding an answer is okay, but a falsehood is not. How is that
different? In a situation that's more critical than the one you
suggested, avoidance is just as bad as vagueness, perhaps more so,
because it's deliberate. You can breach trust by changing the subject
and not dealing with an important issue that the other person would have
thought important or expected you to be honest about. Wouldn't that be
as bad or worse than the lie of omission?
Wouldn't it be better to try and answer truthfully but not hurtfully,
"Gee, I don't know if that is the right style for you." or, "No, you
look great." are both fine answers. Also, many people will take, "Gosh,
I don't know." or refusal to answer as "Yes, you look like a bloated
cow." This likely does not help.
(And, what about the others who'll take "No, you look great!" as,
"Yes, you look like a bloated cow." This question is horrible because
there IS NO RIGHT ANSWER, even when it's TRUE. I honestly don't know if
it's the best example, because it's not the question that is the
problem; it's the baggage that goes with it.)
One avoidance which would not be a lie that you didn't mention is to
turn the question back around; "Hmm. Well, what do you think?" This
doesn't dodge the question; they'll answer it or not, but it means you
don't have to tell them something they might not want to hear. (Even if
it's good news.)
For the second issue, is these poor deluded souls' goal to always get
their way, or is it not to have to face something they find scary or
horrible? Is it demanding rudeness or fear?
There are reasonable creationists? Woah! =)
If there is such a thing, and they really have reasoned arguments,
then I don't think there is a lie. Regardless of subject, there may be
something we don't understand, or information we lack, that they
interpret one way and the evoloutionists interpret another. At some
point, you have to agree to disagree and just say, "We don't agree on
this." That doesn't make either of you liars, or mean that either of you
is ignoring obvious truths. It means we don't know. Nothing is wrong
with not knowing.
(Most Creationists are overly sure zealots, though, which never
I think I have concerns with the suggestion that people go around
gleefully challenging people's thoughts and opinions on things. That
sounds dangerous. You want to make sure that you've got an understanding
of how to have this kind of discussion, and that you know and can
respect the other person's limits, even if they don't.
That last is particularly imporatnt when arguing against someone less
prepared than you, or against one of the self-deluded. Either of those
types can find themselves standing on very thin ice over a huge lake of
uncertainty on something they thought they understood. Neither one of
those people has a positive response in the event that they fall through
the ice. One of them attacks. The other just drowns. The reaction to the
thin ice will tell you which kind of person they are. One will deny
violently, or try and lead back to more solid ares, and the other will
have to stop and think or research.
The hard part is knowing which is which.
Hmm. I see that Ian has described some of my concerns better. Not
only, though, are lack of skill debating, or the challenge of views as a
personal attack issues, but also the person who has not got information
or has not had time to consider the issue must be taken in to
(For instance; for me to debate anything from the Bible or most of
mythology with you is silly. You've got lots more informaiton, and had
lots more time to consider it. For you to debate Perl with me, however,
is just as silly; I've got the preparation and experience on you there.
And Eric could talk about either of those subjects. Perhaps at the same
Nothing is wrong with asking the question and getting them thinking.
Pushing them too hard, right out in to that frigid lake, is unhelpful at
best and malicious at worst. Yes, debate can be used as a weapon. Why do
you think so many avoid it?
People need time to learn about topics, particularly ones that have
had a lot of other thought put in to them and which have a lot of
related information and areas of study.
And, as far as Eric's comments... I wish I were that smart. I like
most of his tenents, and wish people would actually believe them.
Our current society, however, makes that hard. While you're told to
act like you believe them, it's really difficult to do so. Many people
aren't willing to take the time and effort, and don't like the apparent
pain it causes them.
I suspect there's another essay there. =)