Follow up to: Why Argue About Religion
Earlier, I wrote about how arguing about religion is not a waste of time, how it can be beneficial for everyone involved when done right, and how arguments against religion should not be seen as insults. But there’s another critique that I’ve seen recently employed against me — calling me close-minded.
It’s definitely a large step down from “your arrogance is astounding”, but it’s still an ad hominem fallacy where the belief of a person is said to be false because the person who said the belief has a negative characteristic. “You’re wrong because you’re close minded” is no more valid of an argument than “I won’t listen to what you say because I don’t like your eye color”, though it may be a bit more reasonable sounding.
Normally that would be enough to end all appeals to close-mindedness, because it does not actually address my argument. You’ve only said something negative about me; you’ve said nothing about the things I have said. Actually arguing is “here’s some reasons why you’re mistaken” or “you made the following mistake in paragraph four”. Dancing around the argument because you don’t like what the argument says looks like “your arrogance is astounding” or “you have a stupid face”.
Still, I think I have a duty to defend my character even from the fallacious arguments, so let it be said: I am not close-minded, and naturalism is not close-minded.
The Beauty of an Open Mind
What is an open mind, exactly? What does a person with an open mind do differently than a person with a closed mind? I think the article about “open minds” on EssentialLifeSkills.net puts it best:
People who are open-minded are willing to change their views when presented with new facts and evidence. Those who are not, and are resistant to change and will find life less rewarding and satisfying, not to mention dull.
Modern science has taught us lots of crazy things about the universe we inhabit; even bold, stunningly surprising things that we would have never otherwise guessed. Despite how flat the world looks to our senses, we learned that our senses were wrong, and our world is actually round. Despite how it appears that all the stars and planets orbit our Earth, we learned that initial appearances can be deceiving, and instead our Earth orbits a star.
We then learned that this star is one star among nine septillion other stars, and there is nothing to indicate that our star is all that special.
Later breakthroughs in physics lead to even more outlandish, yet true claims: that our universe is expanding, and that it is composed of things that are both particles and waves, with matter and energy that are really the same thing, inhabiting space and time that are also the same thing.
These claims are all true, and for each claim we can show exactly why they are true. The idea of a Big Bang being the origin of the universe sounds crazy, but it has been overwhelmingly proven by General Relativity, Vacuum Energy, other proofs of expansion, Microwave Background Radiation, and the number of light elements, among other things. The idea of wave-particle duality makes close to no intuitive sense, but we’ve proved it with neutron interferometer experiments. The idea that time is dilated by acceleration also seems crazy, but we’ve proved that too by experiments with atomic clocks.
Carl Sagan summarizes this open-mindedness in his book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” as follows:
At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes — an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterproductive, and the most ruthless scrutiny of all ideas, old and new…
Consider this claim: As I walk along, time — as measured by my wristwatch or my aging process — slows down…
Here’s another: Matter and antimatter are all the time, throughout the universe, being created from nothing.
Here’s a third: once in a very great while, your car will spontaneously ooze through the brick wall of your garage and be found the next morning on the street.
They’re all absurd! But the first is a statement of special relativity, and the other two are consequences of quantum mechanics (vacuum fluctuations and barrier tunneling, they’re called). Like it or not, that’s the way the world is. If you insist it’s ridiculous, you’ll be forever closed to some of the major findings on the rules that govern the universe.
Minds So Open The Brains Fall Out
I can already hear the comments in response to the previous section:
But what about claims of the supernatural? Stuff like souls, miracles, and gods? Doesn’t naturalism exclude those? What about claims of the paranormal: like ghosts and ESP? Those stuff are metaphysically natural and you still exclude them. But they’re no less counterintuitive or outlandish than wave-particle duality. You skeptic types are so close-minded!
But these criticisms are missing the point; they’re missing the key difference between ESP and wave-particle duality: the “reasons for why I should believe this”, his alter-ego “the evidence”, and his trusty steed “the justifications”. Wave-particle duality has been demonstrated again and again in experiments, whereas ESP has a more questionable track record.
Now, you could say that your position — whether it be ESP or Christianity — does indeed have plenty of evidence. You could say that you have reasons to hold your position. But, and here’s the shocker, that’s exactly why I’m writing! Don’t you see that I’m carefully outlining the specific reasons I don’t believe? Have you not seen my commitment to change my mind should these reasons be overturned?
My mind is open. It’s just not so open that my brains fall out. I consider things based on evidence, not just on assertion. You can’t just say “Christianity is true, and you’re close-minded” you have to say “Christianity is true because of A, B, and C” and then defend those reasons. The second one will change my beliefs, and the beliefs of the open-minded. The first one will only change the beliefs of fools.
Dealing With the Uncertainty
Now let me anticipate another complaint:
But you skeptic naturalist atheists are so dogmatically 100% certain that ESP is just coincidence, that souls and miracles don’t actually exist, and that God isn’t real. How is that not close-minded, let alone annoyingly arrogant?
This complaint is half right. Being 100% dogmatically certain is indeed close-minded and annoyingly arrogant. …But us skeptic naturalist atheists are not dogmatically 100% certain. Think of Zeus, or Blainetology, or Russel’s Teapot. Are you dogmatically 100% certain that these three things don’t exist? Are you close-minded for not considering them?
Of course not, because they don’t have the evidence behind them. You may admit that there is a very small, but existant, chance of you being wrong about Zeus, Blaine, and the Teapot. You may admit that you’re willing to hear justifications for the three and possibly revise your judgement after considering them. That’s all there is to open-mindedness when it comes to theories like that.
And that’s what we’re saying. Us skeptic types say the same for the things you’re talking about. We think there is no noticeable difference between Zeus and God besides the fact that one of them still has followers. So there’s nothing to the critiques of atheist close-mindedness.
Simply back up your position with more than ad hominem attacks, and we’ll have a lively, open-minded discussion. And if you’re not willing to do this or if you’re not willing to consider that maybe us skeptic, naturalist, atheist types are right… then perhaps it is you who has the closed mind, eh?
It’s funny that the ones accusing others of being open-minded also tell you exactly what you need to consider in order to get the much hyped “open-minded” mark of approval, and aren’t willing to consider that they’re wrong. If being open-minded means you can never criticize religion, then being open-minded is a farce.
Followed up in: This is What I’m Fighting For
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