Relax. You Don’t Need to Have an Opinion on Everything

So, after that interview, are you Team Markle or Team Windsor? You have made your mind up already, right?

After Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan, public discussion has been polarised. On Monday I heard activists swear that British royalty was inherently racist on the basis of Meghan’s claims alone, while tabloid newspapers, unable to tolerate any criticism of the monarchy, trashed Meghan and Harry as publicity seekers. Meanwhile, breakfast shows asked us to take sides before both sides of the story were known.

Such pressure to judge is nothing new. When I first entered talkback radio I quickly discovered I could get listeners calling in faster by couching complex topics in simple binary ways: “Is this right or wrong?” “Do you agree or disagree?” “Is she guilty or innocent?” Nuance didn’t get the phone ringing. (I soon tried hard to avoid such tactics.)

Social media has taken this tendency for quick judgement to another level, often giving us the impression we must have an opinion on everything, or that our opinions, however ill-informed, matter. But beware the twin fallacies of omniscience and omnicompetence that lead us to believe we’re competent to judge and speak. 

The Fallacy of Omniscience

Remember the OJ Simpson trial? Or the Azariah Chamberlain case? Or Christine Blasey Ford’s claims against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh? Remember how confident people were about the person’s guilt or innocence based on limited news reports, their own political bias or the person’s likability? Public demonisation nearly destroyed Lindy Chamberlain, who was later found innocent of her daughter’s death.

The fallacy of omniscience is the belief that we know all the facts. In most cases, we don’t. Mark Stephens put it well

“Truth be told, I don’t know exactly what to think [about the Meghan Markle interview], and even less what to say… The temptation is to rush to judgement, to make sense of the script by casting this person as the villain and that one as the hero. But I’m not in a position to know. And in my rush to opine on the difficulties of someone else, I’m uncomfortably reminded by the teachings of Jesus that I need to remove the plank out of my own eye before I try to remove the speck from others’.”

So before we next ‘opine’ on such stories, we should ask ourselves some questions:

Q:

Do I know enough to comment on this topic?

Am I pre-casting someone as the hero or villain without knowing the facts?

The Fallacy of Omnicompetence

Main image: Steve Johnson Above: Mika Baumeister (creative commons)

A couple of weeks ago I had a tussle with someone on Facebook who claimed that no studies had been done on the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines. When I told him that many studies had been done, not least my wife’s defining paper on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, he proceeded to pick that paper apart for its scientific and statistical ‘weaknesses’. Was this man a vaccinologist or a biostatistician? No, he was a church pastor. But somehow he’d come to believe he was qualified to critique the peer-reviewed work of scientific specialists. 

The fallacy of omnicompetence is the idea we have authority outside our expertise. Whether it’s a pastor judging scientists’ work, or a scientist judging theologians’ work (hello Richard Dawkins), or a lawyer telling a singer how to sing, it’s a problematic route to take. And for some reason us Christians can be prone to it, some of the most ill-formed comments I’ve seen on matters like Coronavirus, vaccines or climate change coming from Christians making categorical statements beyond their level of competence.

And so another couple of questions we can ask ourselves when tempted to speak out:

Q:

Do I have the knowledge and expertise to speak on this?

Have I checked my facts and know what I don’t know?

The Right Kind of Opinions

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have opinions. We should: on Coronavirus, climate change, and other things that matter. But what’s really needed are informed opinions, ones based on wisdom, credibility and hospitality, opinions humbly held that actually help. If we can’t offer them, let’s stay silent. The truth is, the research required to have well informed opinions means we can’t have an opinion on everything. And that’s actually freeing.

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Comments:

  • March 11, 2021
    Bev Murrill

    I absolutely agree, Sheridan. And, like you, I wonder why Christians are so susceptible to fear and conspiracy theories, seemingly in many cases, even more than people who don’t love the Lord.

    reply
    • March 11, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      The best I can come up with is a) some popular eschatologies leading us to look for the coming mark of the beast in every political announcement, and (more potently) b) the influence of a small number of well-followed Christian voices leading the charge on the ‘culture wars’. Anything else you see, Bev?

      reply
  • March 11, 2021
    Ted

    It is sad that private lives are so often spread across our National and International media. Comments made by one person to another can and often is misunderstood as to the motivation for making the comment or asking the Question. Then rather than seeking clarification WE all jump to our own preconceived perception (planted by the enemy) of what is or was meant. To be on one side or the other is like following the sheep (which oft go astray). You can then fall into the crowd wanting to stone the person(s) you feel is guilty. As Jesus said let the person without guilt throw the first stone. I chose not to watch the interview as it would only put one side of the story.

    reply
    • March 11, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      Sometimes that’s the best strategy. Thanks Ted.

      reply
  • March 11, 2021
    Joy

    An excellent article. Thank you. I truly don’t have enough information to judge but we can pour Gods love into this situation and pray for all those involved.

    reply
    • March 11, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      Now there’s a great strategy!

      reply
  • March 11, 2021
    Sally Hinderager

    Thank you !

    reply
    • March 11, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      Freeing, isn’t it?

      reply
  • March 11, 2021
    Robert Blackman

    Good point about how pastors are merely regular people. Don’t always have the facts. Interpret events through their particular “lenses.” Remember Tim La Hay in the 80s & 90s, and his diatribes on homosexuality? What gall! Guy had no clue. Then there was financial “guru” Larry Burkett. Warned in the 80s & 90s that government would one day seize private retirement savings. Didn’t happen! Pastors put pants on one leg at a time, like the rest of us!

    reply
    • March 12, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      I’m not familiar with those examples, but you’ve got that last line right!

      reply
  • March 11, 2021
    Kathryn Gallagher

    Your writing here…”opinions humbly held that actually help. If we can’t offer them, let’s stay silent.”
    Thank you for the nudge to wisdom, when the whole world is talking.
    Kathy

    reply
    • March 12, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      Thanks Kathryn. Maybe it’s because I need that nudge myself daily.

      reply
    • March 12, 2021
      Robert Blackman

      Hello Kathryn. Your post reminds me of 2 sayings: a) “If you can’t be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem.” b) “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, & slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

      reply
  • March 12, 2021
    Jeremy Lucas

    Agree with what you say Sheridan. As a lawyer myself, when I hear one version of events, I automatically tend to ask myself “Now I wonder what the other person would say.” Just one thing I will add and that is the suggestion was made that Archie didn’t receive the title of “Prince” which is a sign of bigotry. In reality, as the protocol goes; a sovereign’s children and grandchildren get the title of Prince or Princess and the only great- grandchildren who do are the children of the eldest grandchild, hence why the children of William and Catherine are “Prince” and “Princess” but not other great-grandchildren. Also I understood that Archie was offered a title which Harry and Meghan declined

    reply
    • March 12, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      Interesting. Hence the need for both (or all) sides of the story.

      reply
  • March 15, 2021
    Annatjie Muehlberg

    Thank you very much for this article. Some of the comments are brilliant. We can never know everything and cannot dare to comment on everything.

    reply
  • March 17, 2021
    Mike

    The Pastor you ‘tussled’ with is correct. Demonstrate to me one paper outlining the effectiveness of ANY COVID drug.
    By definition COVID is not a vaccine, yet its pushed as such. The word used in the Lancet study is efficacy, so yes there still stands the question of effectiveness of the drug – NOT vaccine!
    Bill Gates is a shareholder with Pfizer and numerous other drug companies – your comments on Vision Radio are false!
    The American FDA has classified the COVID drug as a ‘non approved drug’ BUT has been pushed out for emergency user under the guise of a safe vaccine…

    reply
      • March 18, 2021
        Mike

        Hi Sheridan:

        The Lancet paper is nothing more than NAZI style experimentation.
        This study and I emphasise ‘study’, was performed over a seven month period: April to November 2020 (seven months). The study MUST first be tested in animals prior to clinical trial in humans, in the case of COVID this step was skipped, in fact WE, humans, are the animals for this experiment.
        Source: WHO (How are vaccines developed and tested?)
        https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/vaccines-and-immunization-what-is-vaccination?adgroupsurvey=%7Badgroupsurvey%7D#

        An experimental vaccine is first tested in animals to evaluate its safety and potential to prevent disease. It is then tested in human clinical trials…

        Some companies like: Pfizer ran so-called trials in parallel, animals/Humans without and regard for mistakes or miscalculation, we are yet to see the long term affects of this outrageous NAZI-style testing on the Human population.

        Under normal circumstances, scientists will tell you it typically takes between 5-15 years, (others say up to 29 years), to develop a vaccine in a safe and EFFECTIVE manner, explain to me how this period was ignored and condensed into 7-months?
        Source:https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/vaccine-development-testing-and-regulation

        As for the first of your included links, the Oxford University:
        1. AstraZeneca, did not produce a COVID vaccine, Oxford University did.
        2. AstreaZeneca struck a $750 Million dollar agreement with Bill Gates to have the vaccines ready for distribution.
        3. AstraZeneca stated it would begin Human trial at the end of April (how is this possible when the trials commenced in April?)
        4. AstraZeneca stated it would check to see IF the vaccines actually worked by July – admitting its an experiment!
        5. AstraZeneca stared the vaccine would be available by September IF the ‘Trial’ proved successful.

        How is this possible? November was meant to be the trial conclusion, yet they state it would be ready by September, 2 months short of their initial statement on the efficacy of its vaccine studies.

        Source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/astrazeneca-starts-manufacturing-potential-oxford-university-vaccine-and-strikes-deal-with-bill-gates-backed-health-organizations-2020-06-05

        Explain to me Mr Voysey, IF this so-called vaccine is safe why then are the investors of AstraZeneca filling law-suit against AstraZeneca for malpractice, concealing data, misrepresenting facts…The list goes on…

        Source: https://www.tenlaw.com/cases/AstraZeneca/

        AstraZeneca has an appalling track record for litigation:
        Source1: https://www.standard.co.uk/business/astrazeneca-takes-6m-hit-after-faking-conferences-to-bribe-doctors-a3333166.html
        Source2: https://violationtracker.goodjobsfirst.org/parent/astrazeneca

        The list goes on and on, I’ll leave you to research.

        I ask you, would you trust AstraZeneca ?

        Did you know that Human DNA, derived from a Fetus, are used in vaccines – a shock?
        Source: https://www.astrazeneca.com/content/dam/az/PDF/2016/Bioethics_policy.pdf

        Source: https://www.ncirs.org.au/sites/default/files/2018-12/vaccine-components-fact-sheet.pdf
        Which vaccines have used human tissue sources in their production? Certain viruses grown for use in vaccines require the use of ‘cell lines’. These cell lines (called human diploid cell lines – WI-38 and MRC-5) were originally derived from human fetal tissue.

        Whether or not the production of COVID vaccine uses Human fetal tissue is beside the point. The whole process stinks!!

        reply
        • March 19, 2021
          Sheridan Voysey

          Hi Michael

          1. “The study must first be tested in animals… this step was skipped.” No it wasn’t. From someone directly involved in the trial: “Before going into a human, the vaccine had been tested in four animal species, including mice, ferrets, pigs and Rhesus macaques. For the last two studies, the animals were also exposed to the virus after vaccination and were protected from severe disease.”

          2. “Under normal circumstances, scientists will tell you it typically takes between 5-15 years… to develop a vaccine… explain to me how this period was ignored and condensed into 7-months?” As widely celebrated, yes, what typically takes 10 years to do was done in 10 months (the work began well before the first trial started enrolling volunteers). How? Because hundreds of Oxford University (and other) researchers, like my wife, worked 6 or 7- day weeks for those months, and evenings, to do so – because the world was facing a pandemic and lives were being lost. I can tell you the cost for many has been great.

          3. “AstraZeneca did not produce a COVID vaccine, Oxford University did.” I’m not sure why you’re stating this given it’s fully known, hence it often being called the ‘Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine’. OU created it, AZ manufacture it.

          4. “AstreaZeneca struck a $750 Million dollar agreement with Bill Gates to have the vaccines ready for distribution.” I’m assuming you’re talking about the Gates Foundation’s COVAX program, which is about financing vaccines for poor countries that couldn’t afford them even at cost price.

          5. You raise charges against AstraZeneca. I’m not here defend them as I’m not up on such things. It’s a matter of public record that they were chosen by Oxford University to manufacture the vaccine because they agreed to distribute it at cost – a good thing in a global pandemic, especially for the poor.

          6. Regarding the ethics of the cell lines used to produce vaccines, yes I am aware – although you’ve copied and pasted incorrect information in this case (from the rubella, MMR, hepatitis A, rabies etc vaccines, not Covid-19 vaccines, which use different cell lines depending on the vaccine being discussed). The ethics are complex, and I believe Christians should have liberty of conscience here. I note though that even the strictest when it comes to ethics in this area – the Vatican – say that the saving of life takes priority over any ethical concern. And that’s the situation we’ve been in. Here’s a good overview: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/coronavirus-covid19-vaccine-ethical-issues

          7. Let’s keep the important things in all this central: a) the world is facing a global pandemic with hundreds of thousands of lives already lost, b) the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine (and others) has been proven in clinical trials and real world studies to dramatically reduce infection. It’s being distributed at cost, and the poorest countries with the world’s most vulnerable people won’t miss out.

          reply
          • March 21, 2021
            Mike

            Hello Sheridan

            The Lancet paper does NOT clearly indicate contiguous testing. According to the paper, humans were the only subjects! Following is a snippet from the paper, you’ll find this is the ONLY reference to animal models:

            Snippet from Lancet paper:
            No previous trials have been published on the efficacy of a viral-vectored coronavirus vaccine and so this study provides the first peer-reviewed evidence that induction of immune responses against spike protein using viral vectors provides protection against the disease in humans, as has been seen in animal models.

            The snippet above, clearly states NO contagious study was performed.
            Here is the exact wording:

            Snippet:
            No previous trials have been published on the efficacy of a viral-vectored coronavirus vaccine and so this study provides the first peer-reviewed evidence……in humans.

            This is clear. Humans are the ‘test-subjects’ for this so called vaccine. To further my point, the US National library of medicine states this vaccine is STILL in trial til Feb 2023!!
            Source: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04516746?term=astrazeneca&cond=covid-19&draw=2

            Secondly, the last part of my except from the paper indicates there has (past tense) what they claim as evidence in ‘animal models’.

            Where is the evidence for these so called animal models the Lancet paper refers to – NONE!!! There is nothing available in the paper to support any of their claims!

            Show me the animal models Mr Voysey, where are they?

            As for the ‘ethical issue’ on human aborted embryos, with your link to the sciencenews, IF you truly believe this to be of good conscience, that’s something you will answer for in the end.
            In essence you’re are in favour of abortion for experimentation purposes, for the sake of saving a human life?

            Let me ask you, can you show me any Biblical reference where a human life takes precedence over ethical issues? If this were the case, why was Jesus allowed to be crucified?

            What of the reformation? – are you suggesting all those people died in vain?

  • March 19, 2021
    Mike

    Mr Voysey
    I take it from your continued censoring of my posts that there is significant truth backing my material.
    What part of my posts do you NOT want the general public to see?

    What are you hiding Mr Voysey – this is NOT how a true Christian behaves.

    reply
    • March 19, 2021
      Sheridan Voysey

      Mike, calm down. No one is censoring your posts – as this proves. Because your comment was so long, with so many links, my blog automatically marked it for review before posting thinking it was spam. I’ve approved it now on waking up and will reply soon.

      reply
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