Less Wrong

When comparing two differing opinions or world views, it is possible for both of those opinions to be technically “Wrong”, yet have one of those opinions significantly less valuable than the other. This is a reality which many people seem to misplace when analysing different philosophies, paradigms and arguments and one which I would like to rectify.

Let me explain this error in a bit more detail with a very straight forward example.

Assume that the mean wavelength of light visible in the earths sky is actually 487nm. Assume this is the objective fact, and thus all other numbers are wrong. We then ask two people to measure the wavelength of light and tell us what they think it is. The two independent answers we then recieve are 484nm and 673nm.

Technically, they are both ‘Wrong’, but they are not wrong to the same degree. One is significantly more wrong than the other. In fact, for practical purposes, one is ‘basically correct’ while the other is ‘dead wrong’. In essence, we have one person saying the sky is blue and another saying the sky is red. The fact that the ‘blue’ answer was not exactly correct does not make it equivalent to the red answer – and this analogy applies across the board.

It is possible to be more or less wrong about things, and the degree to which a statement is wrong matters!

Religion vs Science

It is absolutely true that scientifgic theories are traditionally wrong. They have been wrong constantly throughout history, and are probably full of errors more far reaching than any of us alive today can imagine. But they are less wrong than every other non-scientific theory ever invented, and continue to be less and less wrong all the time (in general).

I have seen the following reasoning used by religious apologists numerous times in the past – they imply or directly state that the errors of science in some way justifies their ongoing belief in the paradigms outlined in the bible, or held by their chosen church. They have ignored the fact that theories can be more or less wrong than other theories and thus they are assessing two vastly different qualities as equivalent.

One of the beautiful things about science is that it follows the same general pattern as any other progressive, evolving thing in the universe – it builds on previous knowledge, adds to that knowledge and generally improves (value call) with time. So from every generation to the next (at least since the enlightenment to now) we have manged to get our scientific theories to be less and less wrong all the time.

Religions on the other hand continue to maintain their original positions (generalising of course) that ‘God’ told them the answers to begin with and that there is no need to continue enquiring.

So what we end up with is something like this:

How science gets less wrong with time and religion doesn'tThey’re both wrong the whole time, but science just continues to get less wrong, while the religious perspective is still stuck on the same religious text and/or teaching which it was founded with.

Being less wrong is an important distinction to make.

Shane

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