As my old professor Carl Sagan said, ‘When you’re in love, you want to tell the world’. And I base my beliefs on the information and process that we call ‘science’. It fills me with joy to make discoveries everyday of things I’ve never seen before. It fills me with joy to know that we can pursue these answers. It is a wonderful and astonishing thing to me that we are - you and I are - somehow at least one of the ways that the universe knows itself. You and I are a product of the universe. Its astonishing that we have come to be because of the universe’s existence. And we are driven to pursue that - to find out where we came from…
The process of science, the way we know nature, is the most compelling thing to me.
Do you think academic journal articles are really going to convince your classmate? They aren’t. I could print you reams of them, and all we’d do is kill a few trees in the process.
In my experience, and the experience of people I know whose job it is to try and convince folks that science is “right” and whatever they currently believe is “wrong”, people who deny things like climate change aren’t denying it because they think they have a better scientific argument or because no one’s ever showed them the facts.
I mean, they might think that they have a better scientific argument, but that never holds up when challenged. Do they change their mind when their leaky ship of logic sinks? Rarely. Not never, but rarely.
Chances are your classmate has a deeper reason to not believe in the science. Maybe it’s rooted in politics, or religion (again, they won’t say that it’s rooted in those, but connect a few dots, and … well, yeah). These are two things that are so tightly tied to our familial and social bonds that sometimes one part of our brain will literally lie to another part, telling us to believe the equivalent of “up = down” or “2 + 2 = Thursday” so as not to put ourselves through the typhoon of neurological distress known as cognitive dissonance.
The human brain hates to hold two conflicting truths simultaneously. It’s like a neurological version of the Hatfields & McCoys when that happens – there’s a lot of chemicals flowing and someone’s bound to start shooting before too long. Changing one’s mind about a deeply values-based belief when presented with contrary evidence is like walking on hot coals, in that it takes a lot of training to get accustomed to the pain, and there might be some magic involved to actually do.
Most people never get used to it. More people should try, though.
The human brain is the most powerful analytical tool that we know of, but it’s also deeply emotional, and highly social, and it would much rather bathe itself in pleasurable reward neurotransmitters and maintain its comfy fiction than upset the psychological status quo. That’s been a recipe for conflict since we were chasing wooly mammoths.
You won’t win this battle by beating your classmate with the knowledge stick (although that might make you feel better). You have to first understand why they are afraid of acknowledging what is real, and only then can you understand them and know what knowledge they really lack. Then you’ll have a better chance of reaching them and showing them that when you embrace the Zen-like mantra of “everything is science”, then nothing hurts.