On Objective Christianity, Part 3: I Never Thought to Think Differently
This is the third part in a series describing limits on objectivity. This third part describes an important way that culture limits the ways one can think critically, and different conclusions the culture will allow them to reach. The purpose of these posts is not to totally destroy belief in objectivity, but to develop a more accurate understanding of our own limitations. Hopefully this is the first step towards compensating for them, at least a little. 
In widely discussed questions, it’s hard to think of answers that have not been pre-legitimated (Legitimacy in this article will be used in the technical sense). In common debates, usually a few positions come to define the debate, and it’s really hard to come up with a position that isn’t one of those two or three. Now, to be clear, it isn’t quite impossible for you to have a different view, but it’s very unlikely. Further, if you do have an outside position, nobody else is going to recognize it, and you’ll wind up treated like you fit into one of the standard answers.
For a concrete example, consider the abortion debate. There are two positions which are legitimated: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. I don’t even have to introduce these ideas for the purposes of this discussion: you know what these views are. So you can think a fetus is a human being, and therefore deserves protection from being purposefully killed, or you can think a woman should have rights over what goes on in her own body. You think one of these two things; it’s as simple as that. Almost everyone in the United States does. These are the two ideas the debate has given legitimacy, and everything takes place in the context of selecting one of these two options. Therefore when someone newly encounters the debate (say a young person growing up in the United States), they select one of these two options. There just isn’t a third position to have. Or is there?
What if you thought a fetus is a)too dissimilar from a fully developed human being early in its development to be considered genuine human life, but that b) as it approaches full-development it comes close enough to deserve protection? Maybe you think that for the first trimester or two the fetus is just too dissimilar to deserve protection (that’s just not a person yet), but in the last trimester or two it deserves protection (that’s getting awfully close to a person, and I’m uncomfortable letting someone destroy it)? In this way, you respect the rights of a woman to control what goes on in her life until it’s a question of a human being aborted, at which point the right to life trumps the right to self-determination. In some ways this view is very pro-life, but in other ways it is very pro-choice.
Recognize that I’m not advocating the particular theory, I’m just saying it’s a view that doesn’t fit well into either of the socially Legitimate positions. Imagine yourself telling one of your friends you believe this. Your friend will probably think of you as either pro-life or pro-choice. Heck, when you read this view, you probably thought of it as “well that’s pro—X” where X is the view you do NOT hold. This is a classic example of how culture shapes one’s thinking.
In fact, I think if you held to this view, sooner or later you would “recognize” that you are what others tell you, and become either pro-life or pro-choice. You would, in effect, accept the labels people put on you and adjust your view to be in line with your label. You would probably (not certainly, but probably) eventually and gradually abandon this position and embrace whatever view you believed you had become part of. So if you held the view described above, eventually all your friends would tell you that this view is pro-life, maybe. You wouldn’t think it really was at first, but over time, hearing that you are pro-life every time the issue comes up, you will probably change your position to the standard pro-life model. Now, it’s easy enough to accept that this happens to others. The more important lesson is that the only reason we don’t immediately assume it weighs on us is…well…uhm…there isn’t a good reason. These same factors weigh on your perceptions. This problem shapes your thinking.
For another example, see this story. Though it is not quite as strong an example, it is another way to see this basic principle in areas in which most of us believe we are objective, and have principled stands. Other scientists are unable to accept this professor’s views, which are neither Creationist nor accepting of Evolutionary theory. See that they throw him into one of the two pre-legitimated positions. Since he has serious qualms with their view, he is assumed to be a Creationist (which is to say, a “Not-One-Of-Us.”) Now, I’m not the sort of person who assumes there is a widespread conspiracy to present a united front pushing evolution so that the world will be able to accept atheism, as many Creationists argue . I assume these scientists are as generally reasonable as are the rest of us. In fact, they are, at least in certain circumstances, such as a laboratory, probably much more reasonable than most of us are. However, they seem to have been genuinely blinded by this very common social phenomena discussed in this blog post. Much of the time, we do not have the principled stands we think we have. We are not as objective as we think we are.