Thirty minutes ago, CNN Breaking News released the following headline.
A now-retracted UK study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud,” a medical journal reports.
It’s hard to think of an issue that is not more emotional than autism. It involves children and parental responsibility. Love, guilt, shame, anger, and fear all played a role in a few parents and doctors taking 2 co-occurring events–the appearance of autism and vaccination–and running the notion past science before science had time to react. The the return to truth has now been much more painful than necessary due to the emotions of so many who hold to this myth. [http://whatstheharm.net/autismdenial.html]
We can say that this emotional reaction is very human. But this does not mean the emotions validate the belief. Emotions may serve us well to provide an initial unreasoned but useful response when a reasoned response would take too long. However, any intuition we have normally needs to be passed through the filter of science for it to be taken seriously. Mere correlation is not causation, and the added factor of fear does not make it so, not even if the fear is a mother’s.
No one is exempt from falling prey to their emotions. I happen to be atheistic in respect to the god of the bible. Theists often accuse me of having left christianity out of an emotional desire to break away from the restraints christianity imposes. It is a healthy reminder for me to regularly question my motivations.
Keep in mind that wrong motivations do not invalidate the position, but they do often lead to an incorrect disposition towards that position such as being more confident than is warranted. For this reason, I carefully present a nuanced description of my atheism.
The Abrahamic god is illogical, a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god not certain.
I have less certainty about the absence of an Einsteinian god than I do a personal god, and I have to revisit my motivation and reasons behind my position regularly. It is like holding onto a ball with your palm down rather than up; if you release the ball, it will fall away from your hand. Beliefs ought to be held in such a way. And take your hand out of the cage of the emotional monkey, and put it into the cage of the rational monkey, and let him try to wrench your beliefs from you with proper evidence and argumentation.
There is one concept that we should not relinquish if we want to maintain an approximation to truth; our degree of certainty should correspond to the degree of evidence. If there is insufficient evidence, say “I don’t know.” If the evidence leans in a particular direction, say “I tend to believe…” Unreasoned certainty has not served humanity very well. Myths and stories that have been generated and propagated through emotions have been the cause of far too many conflicts.
So, let’s regularly revisit our motivations from time to time. Remove the pull of emotions, reassess the arguments, and follow those arguments wherever they may lead, even if that may be somewhere unpleasant. I’ve found that unpleasant soil often yields the sweetest fruit.