Is there such a thing as cultural evolution? I don’t believe so. But my belief stance on this issue is not important for this post. Instead, I want to discuss how I arrived at my belief/opinion on cultural evolution.
I disbelieve in cultural evolution not because I know a great deal about the subject (though I know much more than most of my biology-naive acquaintances), but because each time I read someone writing on the issue, I tend to agree with those who also disagree with cultural evolution.
Who did I read first? I forgot. What are the various authors I have read? — well, I forgot that too. Why did I first find the cultural evolution arguments so weak? I am not sure of that either. The information I hold on this issue, though apparently solid with each reading, quick slips from my mind while the opinion remains firm.
Discouragingly, perhaps just such a process informs the vast majority of our beliefs. We don’t believe something because of the evidence, but because we are persuaded by authorities with whom we sympathize.
Sure, it is more complex than that, but I think this insight can help us hold our opinions with more humbly.
Religious folks likewise hold opinions about many subjects in a very similar manner to us lay skeptical science advocates. It seems we are all taking stances in very similar sloppy ways.
Yet “sloppy” seems the wrong evaluation. Instead, this method is highly useful because there is only so much time in the day, we have limited access to information and we can only be experts in limited ways. So we need to rely on the expertise of others — on authority.
Yet authorities — those with much more information, and more experience — inevitably disagree with each other. So how do we chose? And the embarrassing answer to that question is that we usually chose those whom we like, those who reinforce our prior opinions or those who are liked by those who we like.
Question for readers: Give us an example of an belief/opinion that you merely because of the power of authority of others.