Atheism and Closed-mindedness

Remember Dawkins’ scale?  It looks like atheists have been asked where they would fall on this scale:

Here

Here

Here

If you scan through the comments, you’ll find that most score themselves between 6.9 and 7, just as their leaders Coyne and Dawkins do.  So why is it that atheists cannot take the next intellectually honest step and acknowledge they are closed-minded about this issue?  Such atheists tell us God belief is no different from belief in fairies.  Okay, I can easily admit that when it comes to fairies, I am closed minded about their existence.  See?  That was easy.

So why can’t atheists admit they are closed minded about God’s existence?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 Responses to Atheism and Closed-mindedness

  1. Bilbo says:

    I’m a 2 on God. If I were God I would create fairies. Since I believe I’ve been created in the image of God, then I believe that my inclination to create things has at least some resemblance to the things that God would create. Therefore, I give myself a 4 on fairies. Somewhere, in some universe, I think there’s a good chance that fairies exist.

    Of course, if our universe is infinite, or if there are an infinite number of universes, then the chances that fairies exist some place or other should be very high, even if God does not exist. Therefore, I change my number to 1.1 on fairies. (This should all be read in the voice of Sheldon Cooper).

  2. Bilbo says:

    Of course, if there is no God and we live in a finite universe, and if the origin of life is rare, and planets on which complex life can survive is rare, then the chances of fairies existing is rather low, and my belief in their existence would be 6.9. (In Sheldon Cooper’s voice, again).

  3. I think there can be more than one way to interpret Dawkins’ scale – meaning that certainty does not necessarily entail “closed-mindedness” (although that term is very nebulous and prone to goalpost-moving). For example, I can be quite certain, based on the current evidence, that a particle resembling a Higgs boson which has a mass of around 126 GeV exists. But I wouldn’t describe myself as closed-minded towards the truth or falsity of that proposition – if there is good evidence which indicates that the data was a fluke, or that a technician willingly manipulated the graphs, I would be happy to read it to decide again whether I should revise my level of personal certainty. Being open-minded should also include being open-minded towards evidence of clear certainty .

    So while I agree with you that the majority of atheists are deluding themselves about their open- or closed-mindedness, I don’t think it can be concluded from just their response to the Dawkins scale test.

    On the other hand – concerning the existence of “fairies” – if by it one includes demons and other lesser spiritual beings, as the son of a pastor in a third-world country who has performed quite a number of exorcisms, I really wouldn’t definitely rule out their existence, even after having lived in the “enlightened” West for sometime and being a physics major. I hate the fact that atheists use that term (along with unicorns and leprechauns) so freely to indicate anything which they regard as ridiculously untrue or unreal. I would never use that term without first doing literary research into what fairies and unicorns really represent.

  4. if our universe is infinite, or if there are an infinite number of universes, then the chances that fairies exist some place or other should be very high, even if God does not exist.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics is accepted (as some top physicists have surprisingly revealed lately), or even any theory which incorporates an infinite multiverse, then there are certainly an infinite number of universes in which fairie-like creatures have evolved and perhaps even rule the universe.

  5. Bilbo says:

    Hi Phys,

    I’d be curious to hear more about your father’s experiences regarding excorcisms.

  6. Crude says:

    physphilmusic,

    I get where you’re coming from, but something strikes me as off-base. Someone with a 6.9 or 7 certainty doesn’t strike me as someone who would even be open to evidence existing. I think you could be very confident in your belief, but confidence wouldn’t mandate a 7 or a 6.9. That seems to be the issue here.

  7. eveysolara says:

    I would love to see absolutist atheists locked in a room with presuppositional Christians and watch them go at it ad infinitum.

  8. Michael says:

    I think there can be more than one way to interpret Dawkins’ scale – meaning that certainty does not necessarily entail “closed-mindedness” (although that term is very nebulous and prone to goalpost-moving). For example, I can be quite certain, based on the current evidence, that a particle resembling a Higgs boson which has a mass of around 126 GeV exists. But I wouldn’t describe myself as closed-minded towards the truth or falsity of that proposition – if there is good evidence which indicates that the data was a fluke, or that a technician willingly manipulated the graphs, I would be happy to read it to decide again whether I should revise my level of personal certainty.

    Interesting. But what you have done is to purchase certainty on the back of assumptions. In others, assuming the data are legit and assuming the data can be repeated, then you can be quite certain…. To reach the level of certainty, I would think you’d need to replace the assumptions with knowledge.

    Nevertheless, I do agree that the scale does not necessarily entail “closed-mindedness. But I think it would be a very useful tool for flushing out a hidden closed-mindedness. And this is quite important given that atheists invest so much in trying to frame the debate such that they sit in judgment. I’ll expand on all this in the next posting.

  9. I get where you’re coming from, but something strikes me as off-base. Someone with a 6.9 or 7 certainty doesn’t strike me as someone who would even be open to evidence existing.

    Interesting. But what you have done is to purchase certainty on the back of assumptions. In others, assuming the data are legit and assuming the data can be repeated, then you can be quite certain…. To reach the level of certainty, I would think you’d need to replace the assumptions with knowledge.

    After doing some more thinking, I think that my view (and your concept of “hidden closed-mindedness” seems to be actually based on the following conjunction of premises:
    1) For every proposition P there is a personal certainty level C ranging from 1-7 on the Dawkins scale associated with it which is possessed by the knower (the original claim),
    2) For every proposition P there is a associated, objective “permissible range” of C, say Cmin<C<Cmax, within which a rational, open-minded knower will surely decide to place her personal certainty level,
    3) Cmin and Cmax is determined by the amount of legitimate evidence E which has been brought forth and perceived in the debate concerning the truth or falsity of P, and
    4) For the proposition "God exists", the permissible range of C is 1<C<7.
    Hence
    5) It is possible that a person is rational and open-minded yet decides to place her certainty level at 7.

    The main point of the "permissible range" system above, of course, is to make it possible for two people to disagree about the truth of P yet still deem each other as rational and open-minded. Now it seems that you (Michael) doesn't believe that (4) is true. Perhaps you think that the permissible range is around 3<C<6 or something like that. And thinking about it again, it seems right – the amount of evidence for the existence of God which has been marshaled recently surely decreases Cmax. But I think it is still possible that an intelligent person who has somehow never heard of William Craig, Richard Swinburne or any contemporary philosopher of religion can have a personal certainty level of 7 w.r.t "God exists" and yet still be counted as "open-minded".

  10. Note: the following veers on being off-topic, but since we were talking about the existence of “fairies” and “demons”, and why I refuse to absolutely rule out their existence, it is somewhat tangentially relevant.

    Dear Bilbo,

    I’d be curious to hear more about your father’s experiences regarding excorcisms.

    I can’t give you a complete suspense-filled, detailed account of a modern exorcism, but there are a few points which I’ve come to learn about them, based on some snippets of stories of what happened from my parents. Read on if you like. Feel free to regard it as bits of superstitious, speculative thinking; I’m not 100% sure either, and I have never shared this with a Western person.

    1) Exorcisms, in my father’s experience, are infrequent special cases (i.e. not every sign of mental illness in my church is deemed as being caused by a demon). He does about one every two years at the most. This is unsurprising given that he didn’t come from a charismatic or pentecostal tradition, where the idea of demons as direct causes of sin or illness is much more commonly thrown around. In fact, my father spends most of his time doing regular (psychological and Christian) counseling for troubled people. Not everything is caused by a demon, and I don’t believe Benny Hinn flailing his “holy jacket” around in front of worked-up crowds has anything to do with genuine exorcisms.

    2) Demon possession is usually correlated with the person interacting with the occult, or the “dark arts” – she has kept or become attached to a magical amulet, charm, talisman, or she has went to a shaman or witch to ask for assistance in exchange for some sacrifice.
    This may seem laughably ridiculous and superstitious to you Western observers, but in the country where I live the existence of genuine shamans and medicine men are commonly accepted. And they are regarded as a different from run-of-the-mill fortune-tellers, psychics, cold-readers, or magicians who accomplish their feats through cheap tricks, which are also plentiful (as they are in the West).

    3) There is no special “ritual”. A demon-possessed person might even initially look and act normal. Usually what happens is that my father invites people to sing hymns praising God in the presence of the person. No instruments or music – just simple singing of hymns which contain direct reference to Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. Only after some time will the person’s personality and behavior start to change – e.g. the person’s voice changes audibly and screams for the singing to stop. The actual exorcism is performed by a simple but direct command to “get out, in the name of Jesus”.

    4) Sometimes nothing happens even after long periods of singing. In those cases I am more skeptical that the person is actually demon-possessed; it might be that she is simply depressed or mentally ill.

    5) Ultimately, the long-term success of the exorcism depends on whether the person willingly decides to repent and accept Christ, burn their amulets and charms, and cut off any further association with shamans and the occult. Otherwise the demonic spirit will simply return after a while, in line with Matthew 12:43-45.

    6) Interesting facts: what made me much more open towards the reality of these lesser spiritual beings are bits and pieces of stories, which individually may be explained away as being caused by superstitious beliefs, but when taken together seem to create a reasonable case. For example, it’s said that my grandmother from my mother’s side, who initially violently opposed the marriage of my parents (and was not a Christian then), and tried every way to separate them, including going to a shaman to place a curse on my father. However, upon hearing that my father was a pastor, the shaman refused to do it, saying that Christian pastors have a different, “white” (esoteric) knowledge which make them immune, compared to his own presumably dark knowledge of the occult.

    Another weird incident: A long time ago my father was out doing an exorcism, my mother was taking care of me as a toddler, and I was playing some sort of electronic toy which emits songs or bits of dialogue when you press buttons on it. My mother said she heard the toy suddenly say a sentence which had a clear reference to Lucifer. She interpreted it as a active effort to thwart the exorcism being done by my father. A mundane case of psychological projection? Perhaps.

    There’s also been a case during the regular prayer meeting at my former church where during a prayer session, a person suddenly lost it, jumped down to all fours, started growling and acting in a threatening manner. My father (together with a group of other people present) immediately started an exorcism right there. Apparently the person was possessed with some kind of spirit which manifested itself in the form of tiger-like behavior. Again this was linked to him consulting a shaman.

    So if demons are real, why don’t we see more of them in the modernized West? Is the greater presence of modern psychiatry and psychology in the West the reason, i.e. that demon possession is always merely misidentified mental physiological illness? A possible answer is that the Devil works in two ways: in less modernized places, he works directly through the occult. In modern places where the “scientific worldview” is more prevalent, he works through planting unbelief and denial of the reality of the supernatural. Ultimately both of these are a form of rebellion against the Christian God.

  11. Bilbo says:

    Thanks Phys,

    Yes, I suspect you’re right about why demonic activity may be more apparent in less modernized countries. The part about the singing of hymns brought this to mind:

    http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/2012/05/magic-of-song.html

  12. chunkdz says:

    And yet they all believe that (dirt + water + deep time) = Leonard Bernstein.

    Atheists are funny!

  13. AgeOfReasonXXI says:

    “So why can’t atheists admit they are closed minded about God’s existence?”

    because they are not close-minded. that’s one of the major differences between the free-thought community (and academia), and those still living with iron Age fairy tales, which is why the perceptions of Bible-believing faith-heads there is… well the fact that God is frequently compared to fairies and unicorns should give you a clue. still, it’s good that you admit your close-mindedness, I wish more believers would do that, so that they might stop whining when atheists refuse to debate them and address their “arguments”. it’s also revealing that you seem rather keen on dragging those who are open-minded down to your own level.

  14. Michael says:

    When Gnus score themselves as a 6.9- 7, that is evidence of their closed-mindedness. And there is no evidence that Gnus are open-minded.

    Yes, I admit my closed-mindedness with regard to fairies. Since you liken God to fairies, does that mean you are open-minded about fairies? Or is it that you don’t want to be honest about your closed-mindedness?

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