Deaf or Blind

I came across this quote, shared as if it’s something clever: “Atheism is a deaf man insisting he finds no evidence for music.” Perhaps, then, Christianity is blind men arguing about what an elephant looks like.

The metaphor falls flat because music can be explained and detected without hearing, so while a deaf man may not fully understand it, he at least knows of its provable existence. Since god isn’t a repeatable phenomenon that produces consistently measurable evidence, he has very little in common with music. You cannot say “a deaf man is to music what an atheist is to god”, particularly since being deaf is not defined as disbelieving in the existence of music. The deaf man’s relationship to music is much different than an atheist’s relationship to god.

A more accurate metaphor would be something like “atheism is a geologist insisting he finds no evidence for a flat earth”, although I have a feeling the author of the initial quote wouldn’t like that one. The people who believe in a flat earth probably would, at least.

It seems popular to call intellectual opponents deaf or blind, as if they have some fundamental disability to observe the same evidence. It’s an inaccurate comparison, though. Everyone has the same evidence available to them, we just take different approaches to interpreting and understanding it.

It’s a very divisive attitude to assume that if you disagree on something, the other person is simply unwilling or unable to see the truth that you just know. It may be true that they’re mistaken, or you might be the one who is mistaken. Either way, if you try to back up your claims by insisting you know the absolute truth of the matter and anyone who disagrees is deaf or blind, you’ve lost. You’ve proven that you are not interested in really seeking the truth, and if I were to evaluate you objectively given the principles in my last article, I would have to conclude it’s more likely that you are the one who’s wrong.

Maybe that’s why we appreciate people who own up to their mistakes, admit when they were wrong, and don’t act like they know everything. Such people are admirable because they are generally more kind and likable, but perhaps we also know subconsciously that they are more likely to be right, and thus are more inclined to follow them. The humble leader is a timeless trope in storytelling for a good reason.

People who see new things every day, whose understanding of the world evolves as they gain more information, who discard incorrect ideas readily, they’re the ones who get the closest to truth. Those who stubbornly cling to their beliefs and shoot down anything that might conflict with them are the ones who could be called deaf or blind. There’s no attitude more like deafness than a dogmatic adherence to preexisting beliefs despite any reasonable criticism.

Of course, this isn’t a disability but a conscious choice. Let’s rework the metaphor into something that applies to the stubborn and arrogant people on every side: “Dogmatism is a man plugging his ears and insisting that sound does not exist.” That’s more like it.

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2 responses to “Deaf or Blind

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