Heard Today…

…from graduate students:

  • 9/11 was an inside job
  • The moon landing was faked
  • Morality is “moral on the quantum level”

This was all from one class, “Conflict & Religious Peacebuilding.”

Update (11:19 PM):

Having had a decent nap, I can now stand to blog about what these three conversations were like.

These are not remarkable examples of fuzzy thinking — not in and of themselves, anyway. These are common. These are easily debunked. Give me a discussion of the Historical Jesus any day. I just wasn’t braced to have all of these things thrown at me when I went to a class in peacebuilding. In some ways, though, it was a relief to show that being a “skeptic” doesn’t mean I’m skeptical about all of The Official Stories. Just skeptical that your god rose from the dead, really.

In a philosophical discussion of “truth,” I was advocating for small-t truth; there are things that are true in the world. I respect that people feel that they have their own capital-T truths, because I have those as well, although mine are derived from reason, evidence, and empathy instead of a Bronze Age text. I was directly asked how I would recognize small-t truth when I saw it, and I gave what I felt was a standard answer about externally verifiable evidence and testable, repeatable proof.

“Well, what about 9/11?”

Me: “What about it?”

“There are all these experts who say that the towers had to be demolished from the inside. They can give you externally verifiable evidence. Why are you ignoring them?”

At this juncture, I wish I had pointed out that, even if the conspiracy theorists were right that 9/11 was an inside job, different “truths/Truths” would still be mutually exclusive in that the preponderance of evidence can only support one conclusion, or else it wouldn’t be a preponderance. I ended up defining “preponderance” instead. I did not avoid the fight that resulted from pointing out that citing “experts” without citing their research is an appeal-to-authority fallacy.

From a second and third student:

“I have my doubts about the moon landing.”

Me: “Why?”

“Well, it looks so fake.”

Me: “Fake compared to what? What do you imagine that authentic pictures from the moon would look like?”

*crickets*

I did not get to point out that you can look through a telescope here on Earth and find the lunar lander on the moon’s surface.

And from the first student, once the question of the moral relevance of truth came up:

“What if things are moral on the quantum level?”

Me (assuming that this is a joke): “Let’s just assume that all of my statements about morality don’t apply at the subatomic level.”

“Well, I don’t think that’s true at all!”

Me: “…what?”

I’ve been mulling this over, and I’ve decided that defending compatibilism would have been the wrong action to take at this juncture; for starters, I bet I would have had to define “determinism” and contest whether or not our universe is deterministic at the quantum level. Clearly this student was coming at word “quantum” from a nonsensical, Deepak Chopra-like point of view, where “thoughts are quantum events!” (Deepak, everything is a quantum event.)

Here’s the thing about me ‘n’ morality: I’m a social constructivist all the way down. Yes, I’m engaging in moral relativism, in that it is descriptive moral relativism. People with different life experiences (we don’t even have to consider different ages or cultures for this to be true) can legitimately conclude that different actions are moral. Developing and exercising your moral compass is a life-long project; immorality is then, by definition, the abdication of that project — the abdication of reason, evidence, and empathy. Claiming that ours is a deterministic universe at the quantum level and that therefore morality is a valid inquiry to make of reality at the quantum level is just a pretentious way of abandoning your responsibility to exercise judgment. (Nota bene, I’m on board with Hannah Arendt’s view that thinking and exercising judgment are essential components of what it means to be human — not moral or immoral, but human.)

This are the absurd things I heard just from students. The absurd thing I heard from the instructor is a different post…

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