Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Truth? Pinterest censors opinion on climate change!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 08, 2022

It’s amazing what comes through in the technology newsletter I read. It turns out that Pinterest has added to the “opinion control” movement on social media by banning “false” and “misleading” claims about climate change. I have two questions about this growing trend: (1) Why would anyone use social media as a way of acquiring trustworthy information about anything? and (2) Why would anyone regard social media companies as competent to decide what qualifies as an acceptable opinion?

As far as I know, the only organization that has at least a rational claim to be able to definitively settle any question—such that people are under a moral obligation to accept its authority—is the Catholic Church, and even the Church confines its certainties to what has been disclosed through Divine Revelation. That is, the Church’s competence depends on a privileged source of information concerning the plan and the will of God. Our understanding of the material conditions of life in this world, by contrast, relies entirely on human study, which is prone to honest mistakes, subjectivity, cultural conditioning, and special pleading.

This being the case, you would think that, for reliable information, people would look to sources which are devoted to a particular area of study and have a track record of providing information that stands the test of time—neither of which leads us directly to social media. Moreover, you would think that people would select multiple sources of information so that they can weigh the pros and cons of various opinions in the attempt to discern not only the most trustworthy sources over time but the relative merits of sources which present different conclusions. All of this is part of the process of drawing the most reliable conclusions we can, with the understanding that such conclusions are always provisional. But once again, interest in this process does not normally draw us to social media.

By contrast, when it comes to the exclusion of selected information and opinion from social media, the criteria will seldom be truth. Most decisions will be based on “what everybody knows”, which is another way of saying “what all the best people agree on”. Now, if “everybody knows” something, then there is little danger of widespread opposition on social media, so we must really ask ourselves who “all the best people” are. And what we will find, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, is that “all the best people” means the same thing as (wait for it) “the dominant culture”.

Which is not, and never has been at any time, a reliable source of truth.

Escaping an accidental correspondence with reality

Truth is the mind’s conformity to reality. Yet if human history teaches us anything, it teaches us that most people are far more interested in the effort to learn the ideas and attitudes they should hold in order to make their way in the world advantageously than they are in any sort of independent effort to examine and mentally grasp reality. Moreover, to address this issue with the assumption that “progress” is inevitable—and so the latest ideas always represent the most perfect conformity with reality yet achieved—is to utterly fail the first test of an authentic quest for truth.

Of course even in cultures which have no notion or expectation of progress, it is always the currently dominant attitudes and assumptions which are considered normative. The idea of “progress” simply provides a handy club with which to beat those who are slow to “catch up”. No wonder, then, that every human culture has seen some things clearly while failing to see others at all, and that this combination of success and failure has been, in a word, kaleidoscopic. Is there any possible way to escape the mysterious cultural changes and upheavals that constantly obscure our grasp of reality?

Well, there is no question that an effort at disinterested study and reflection is a prerequisite (“disinterested” meaning untainted by self-interest). Even a rudimentary understanding of human thought processes leads us to recognize how often our opinions are backed only by unwarranted assumptions coupled with the personal passions and temptations to which we are all subject. There is much to be said for the classical type of philosopher who is willing to distance himself from both human comfort and human approbation in order to critically examine the world in which he finds himself, so that he might arrive at a basic understanding of both “how things are” and “how things work” in nature and in human affairs. A deliberately-imposed detachment from desired outcomes is critical to this process, which is precisely why so few people engage in it.

But at an early stage of this process, the question arises of what we can know inductively and what we can know deductively. In some matters, it is clear that we can make progress in understanding by studying multiple instances of natural things in ever-greater detail, and so rise to certain general understandings and corresponding workable axioms (or laws) about natural things. All of these axioms and even laws change and develop as knowledge grows. But in other matters, we realize that whole areas of inquiry are closed off to us unless our reason can formulate initial principles about reality, and then proceed deductively to various conclusions which flow logically from these principles.

Among these principles are two particularly important ones: First, that all matter is contingent: An infinite regress of material causes is impossible, and so nothing material could exist unless it is caused to exist and sustained in its existence by some non-material creative and sustaining power. Second, that the human person has certain non-material characteristics (intellect and will), which demonstrate that the human person must have as part of human nature a spiritual component lacked by other material things. We call these two realities God and the soul.

Closing in?

Now there are sources even on social media which deal with questions like this and the conclusions to which they lead, but there is no reason that those who control social media platforms have any better judgment about which sources to trust than have those who use them. And if those in charge simply represent the leading ideas of our current dominant culture (as they surely do most generally), then these are the last people who can help us discern truth and falsehood by screening out opinions according to their own assumptions about what “everybody knows”.

In any case, there are a great many issues that face us today (natural things like climate change, food shortages, immigration, social inequities, conflict among nations, and all kinds of human and even broadly cultural discontents) that cannot be addressed without careful study, reliable presentation of the facts “on the ground”, and prudent conclusions. But whenever the dominant culture—powerful governments, corporations, major universities, the media and the rich and glamorous few—take a particular view of these problems, the research grants (along with the desired results which favor a continuation of these same grants), always favor certain kinds of studies and a certain range of acceptable conclusions.

Moreover, once a certain view of things gains traction, it becomes increasingly difficult for divergent interpretations of the data or opposing conclusions to gain a hearing—without being dismissed as inconsistent with some “established consensus”. Indeed, sometimes whole sets of assumptions must be discarded and replaced to make even a truly scientific kind of progress, which is why both theories and fears that held sway in one period, even in modern times, have taken so long to be replaced by new theories which struggle to gain a hearing. Think of Newtonian physics in relationship to quantum physics, or the “population bomb” in relationship to our modern demographic winter—or even the new ice age predicted by some scientists and many media outlets in the 1970s.

In fact, there is no escape from this process in our understanding of natural phenomena; as a practical matter, then, suppression of ideas concerning the interpretation of evidence about nature tends to be stultifying. If we are thorough, we must, again, find sources that appear to be the most trustworthy while remaining aware of dissenting opinions.

On truth and theory

Fortunately, this is not true for the ultimately far more important cases of spiritual and moral truths. Our reflections and even deductions about God, the soul, and the natural law, while always involving our own fallible reason, can be guided to a considerable extent by God Himself, Who alone can transcend our human limitations and assist our minds in conforming to reality—that is, in grasping the truth. Or even more profoundly, in becoming one with Him.

Here the essential argument is quite simple. We all have an innate sense that we exist under a judgment, which makes what we call our consciences uneasy when we do what we know to be wrong. This sense is as close to universal as can be imagined in human affairs. It leads us to reflect that there is a moral law that governs our affairs, and, if a law, then a law-giver. When we combine this with other natural arguments, we begin to perceive that not only must there be a God but also that this God must care about what we think and say and do—about how we act.

Now, if God exists and cares about how we act, we must assume that He would reveal Himself to us more distinctly at some point. Therefore, we comb through past history in search of such a Revelation. It turns out that the only Revelation that has been attested with signs and wonders that indicate a Divine origin is found in the history of the Jewish people culminating in the coming of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, and His establishment of what we now call the Catholic Church, which has continued to exhibit miracles throughout its history.

There is simply no other alleged Divine Revelation in all of human history which is attested in this miraculous way with countless witnesses over time. In fact, no other religious claim is like this at all. All other religions are either based on human philosophies, human mythologies, or claims of a private and personal revelation uncorroborated by witnesses. Therefore, within the areas in which she claims competence—that is, in her constitution, her official teaching of faith and morals, and in her administration of sacraments which draw us into ever-greater union with God—the Catholic Church possesses an ultimate authority that cannot logically and without prejudice be contradicted or rejected.

But within the framework of this Divine guidance—based on “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 Jn 1:1)—there are thousands of questions which can be answered only by human investigation operating under sound human judgment. These too are important, but social media moguls are not up to the job of regulating them. Nor should we ever trust them to do so, when they have no institutional allegiance whatsoever to the deepest truths of all

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Apr. 13, 2022 3:04 PM ET USA

    Regarding your first question: People go to social media for information because many, many of them are simply lazy. Add confirmation bias and rank ignorance to that and you have the ugly result we see today.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Apr. 09, 2022 10:40 AM ET USA

    Worthy of a frame and a prominent place on the wall over my desk.

  • Posted by: fatheratchley - Apr. 08, 2022 8:48 PM ET USA

    Great article!