I often return to this great piece that looks into how people form their opinions and why facts often play a secondary role. It talks about how identity drives our beliefs, a theme mentioned by Nick Green in his comment on this post. We have a sense of which groups we belong to, and we are inclined to accept beliefs held by those groups. Accepting certain beliefs is in fact necessary in order to function socially within certain communities.
An idea: what if we view this power of identity as a tool, rather than an obstacle, for encouraging open-mindedness? Just as one might say they are a Christian, a vegetarian, or a gay rights activists, what if one could say they are part of a group that is committed to always allowing for the possibility that they are wrong.
An acceptance that we don’t know all the answers is the actually the central driver of science. The scientific methods starts with an acceptance that we’re not sure, and then we test and refine our hypotheses. Intellectuals seem to sometimes forget this when making arguments. Knowledge and evidence is a double-edged sword, because it can lead you to a degree of certitude that may be too high.
The scientific method and demand of evidence pervades society. (It wasn’t this way for all of human history.) One is looked down upon for not having opinions on major issues, and one is looked down upon for being unable to provide evidence to support their opinions. Unfortunately, the world is so complex that it’s not reasonable to expect people to have deeply informed views about all major issues. So we end up latching onto the shortcut arguments exposed by our identity groups, leading us to views that appear to be evidence-based but are in fact a facade. We are then trapped by the illusion that we have used the scientific method to come to opinions, but we haven’t.
Society wants us to have to be “smart”; to have opinions; to know the answers. What if certainty became taboo?