We are all stubborn, once we pick a team, it is easy to highlight the good and downplay the bad. Admitting that your team is wrong means in some way you were wrong, again, this doesn't feel good and we try to avoid it. Once we realize we generally agree with someone, it can be hard to admit when they say something we disagree with. It breaks that little story in our mind that says "this guy knows what he is talking about". Once we have made a decision, it is hard to reevaluate and change our mind. Doing so is admitting to ourselves that our first decision was wrong.
Knowing how stubborn people are can make debating seem like a fruitless endeavor, I have 2 main reasons for thinking this is not the case. First, I know my transition from Christianity to atheism took quite a long time. I have plenty of debates with people and I just brushed them off, probably called most of them idiots too. I wouldn't be surprised if they walked away thinking I was a lost cause. But the good points stuck in my brain, even if I didn't really acknowledge them at the time. They all built up slowly over time and I eventually realized that my previous position didn't hold water. Secondly, there are often other people listening to the conversation. If you refute someone's point, they themselves might stick to it very stubbornly, but someone watching might be able to see how silly your opponent is being.
I thought I would end this post with an example of someone being extremely stubborn. This is a conversation I had on twitter a short while ago. I thought about linking the actual tweets, but I'm not really sure of the etiquette so I figured I would just type them out. It would probably be fine to link to them as posting to twitter is inherently public, but it still seemed like it might be rude to do without permission, so I will leave the other party anonymous.
It started with a tweet that included the following:
You have a 50% chance of dying now!I figure that the way I'm reading this must not be what she means, so I ask
What do you mean by 50% chance of dying?She replied
It means there are 5 births to every 2.5 deaths per second.So she has done a simple calculation, and determined that 5 births for every 2.5 deaths means that every person has a 50% chance to die every second. We go back and forth, me trying to explain the mistake she has made, and her just showing me the arithmetic she has done. She even told me I need to learn some math :) I try a different technique to highlight the absurdity of what she is saying with the following
think about the consequences if that were true. The odds of living a minute are the same as flipping 60 heads in a rowThen I say
regardless of the math you did to get there, can't you see that there has been some kind of an error?of which she gives he final reply
No. The math is accurate. And No,it would not be similar to flipping for heads on a coin.You have a bigger chance landing tailsSo what really happened here? I think part of it is she knows that I'm an atheist, and therefore I am wrong. No matter the topic, she has it in her mind that I am wrong. I don't think she even entertains the idea that I might be correct now and then. And once I declared her statement wrong, she decided to double down. I think she could see that the coin thing I said was obviously wrong, but was unable to see that it was equivalent to the statement she made. Perhaps part of her knew that she was wrong, and that is why she tried to deflect the conversation.
So the question becomes, was this conversation a waste of time? I think no. I think that perhaps she will realize later that she had made a mistake, and maybe she will in the future entertain the thought that she might be wrong now and then. That alone would be a little progress. (If we can't accept that we might make a mistake how will we ever learn anything?) Also, anyone following either of us might have seen the conversation. I'm assuming it is crystal clear for any observer to see how ludicrous her statement was, if nothing else they might realize how easy it is to make such a mistake and they will be careful in the future as well.
I can dream right?