Copyright Dennis Mitton

Change Your Mind?

I’ve wondered lately about why people live with broken things. What do you have lying around? Broken appliances? A toaster with only one working slot? Clothes that don’t fit? A cabinet drawer that doesn’t slide? Why don’t we take the time to fix these things? What would it take for us to change our mind and quit living with broken and dilapidated stuff?

This leads me to wonder about broken relationships: is there a correlation between your overflowing junk drawer and the health of your marriage? If you put up with a broken heater in your car are you more prone to put up with something less in your relationships? I’m don’t know but it’s worth thinking about. There’s a post or five in there somewhere. Or a short-story.

The other side of that coin is that we can change our minds about these things. At least that’s the premise of self-help. But can we?

An Example

I’ve had an online conversation with a so-called intelligent design adherent and author. We’re talking about research regarding bacteria that grow new flagella over a weekend after having the protein that regulates flagellum construction knocked out.

The research is interesting. I argue that it’s a prime example of a mutation adding something positive to a genome but I’m just as fascinated at how both of us present the same information and arrive at different conclusions. I emphasize ‘arrive’ because I wonder if either of us is truly looking hard at the evidence and searching for an answer. Maybe we are just regurgitating our biases. He would have to argue against his own book to agree with me. I would have to shuffle off my standard evo-devo arguments to agree with him. I don’t like thinking that I do this but how many times have you ever really listened to someone and weighed what they were saying and then changed your mind to agree with them? I’m in that same boat and it just might be leaking.

In this case, knowing that evolution is an idea that describes a group of facts, I stopped to observe my own reasoning. I wrote down each step in the research finding and asked if they are reasonable findings. I think they are and they are consistent with other facts about evolution. In the end, I state that this shows how mutations can add information to the genome and increase fitness. My chatting partner looks at the same list and concludes that this can only be accomplished by a designer. Something or someone had to make things work this way. I can’t say that there is no designer but only that a designer is not needed: the process works repeatedly using itself as a repair tool.  He argues that there is no possible way that this could happen without an intelligence behind it. When this kind of teleological glove is thrown down there is just no more room for scientific discussion.

Beliefs And Not Decisions

I’m not talking about decision-making. That’s the easy part. I’m talking about beliefs. I’m talking about the set of rules that you’ve glommed onto or slapped together that dictate your worldview and how you live. We tell ourselves that we have examined the evidence and have come to a thoughtful position but that’s very rarely true. Instead, we get our ideas about right and wrong and truth from our genes, from our parents, our school, our culture, from the books we read, and from friends.

There are other things that I almost forbid myself to think about:  I am strongly against capital punishment and feel queasy about abortion as taking away something too precious. I don’t want to be the arbiter of what life we value over another. I recognize my own inconsistency here since I eat meat and have dispatched plenty of research animals. If I’m wrong, and if god is a rat, then I am in some serious trouble. I don’t hunt but have no real argument with it other than just killing for fun. Trophy hunting, though, stupefies me.

And as I raise my girls, I have to wonder about the American tropes that I’m teaching them. Are they still true?

Work hard and get good grades.
Education is the best way to take care of yourself as an adult.
You can be anything you want to be.
Don’t worry. It will all work out.

How about you? What have you changed your mind about?


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