Open and Closed-Mindedness

It looks as if a previous entry about atheism and closed-mindedness has caught the attention from one of the FTBers.  Someone with the name Digital Cuttlefish wrote:

 I meant to post a comment (not my verse; that came later) to this site–but they want me to sign up in order to do that, and I am unwilling.

Er, this is just one of those standard, free WordPress blogs.  As with hundreds of thousands of other WordPress blogs, people who comment have to provide some username and some email address.  I have no control over what is required.

DC tells us that I have missed the point entirely in that “Open-mindedness has nothing to do with whether you expect to find the evidence–it’s a matter of what you do when actually presented with the evidence.”

So DC claims he/she would have posted this in the comments section of this blog:

How open are believers to the possibility that god might *not* exist? That should be your standard of comparison for “open-mindedness”. We have a better set of case studies there, because we can actually (for some, but not all believers) disconfirm some basic beliefs, and see how open-minded they are. Given the reams of evidence regarding the age of the universe, the age of our species, etc., we can see young-earth creationists as particularly closed-minded (or, to use their vocabulary, “faithful”).

For starters, I am not a young earth creationist.  What’s more, I fail to see how certain Christians being closed-minded about the age of the earth is supposed to mean there are no closed-minded atheists.  As to the question, “How open are believers to the possibility that god might *not* exist?”  I can’t speak for believers, but I can speak for myself.

Answer – I’m quite open to the possibility that God might not exist. First of all, I already mentioned that I would score myself as a 2.5 on Dawkins scale.

Contrast this with Dawkins’ 6.9.  Recall that a perfectly agnostic person is a 4.  So while I am three steps from agnosticism, Dawkins is six steps away from agnosticism.  Ironically, while atheists and agnostics are often grouped together, I, as a Christian theist, am closer to agnosticism than Dawkins and most atheists.  In other words, I am more open-minded about this issue.

Secondly, keep in mind that I am one who has said, “I am happy to acknowledge that atheism is a reasonable position to hold.  I don’t agree with atheists, but that does not mean I think they are unreasonable or stupid.”

Does anyone really think Dawkins could reciprocate and acknowledge that Christian theism is at least reasonable?   Of course not.  To people like Dawkins, Christianity is not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense.  And people simply don’t keep an open mind about dangerous nonsense, now do they?

DC then asks:

What evidence can you think of that would give an equal test for a Dawkins-type atheist?

It would all depend on what data Dawkins was willing to count as evidence.  My guess is that he needs a Super-Duper Miracle that no scientist could every possibly explain.  And nothing less.  For the door to his mind is shut.  Not just shut, but locked, dead-bolted, and nailed shut.  Thus, he would need something that would “blow his mind” open – a Super-Duper Miracle.

Open-mindedness does not, and need not, speak to how open one is to the possibility of evidence existing. Open-mindedness speaks to how one reacts when evidence is actually presented.

It’s not either/or.  It’s both.  If one is not open to the possibility of evidence existing, not only is it closed by definition, but it means the brain is excessively predisposed to engage in disconfirmation bias when presented with any candidate for evidence.  This is because once someone has reached the state of a closed mind by denying the real possibility of evidence existing, a consideration of evidence that is presented is no longer just about some search for truth, but now also entails the need to justify one’s previously reached conclusion of closing their mind.  That is, the disconfirmation bias functions as a rationalization and self-justification. And if the atheist is also an activist for atheism, then there is also the “cause” to think about.  And if the atheist is a somewhat famous activist atheist, then there is the need to keep his/her fans happy.   Again, it’s clearly no longer just about some search for truth,

I can be absolutely certain that no evidence for god will ever be forthcoming, so long as I am willing to admit that I was wrong when (or if) evidence actually shows up. That’s the thing about evidence; it doesn’t care if you expected it.

This is inaccurate.  Evidence does not show up.  Data show up.  What one’s mind does with the data will determine whether or not it is mentally transformed into evidence.  If someone is absolutely certain that no evidence for god will ever be forthcoming, then we know from psychology that people tend to see what they expect to see.  Thus, we would expect this closed minded person to be blind any to evidence for God (short of a Super-Duper Miracle) since the power of expectation fuses with the power of disconfirmation bias.

If atheists can’t see this, how would they react if a single word change was made and a creationist said, “I can be absolutely certain that no evidence for evolution will ever be forthcoming, so long as I am willing to admit that I was wrong when (or if) evidence actually shows up. That’s the thing about evidence; it doesn’t care if you expected it.”

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18 Responses to Open and Closed-Mindedness

  1. Crude says:

    Mike,

    For starters, I am not a young earth creationist. What’s more, I fail to see how certain Christians being closed-minded about the age of the earth is supposed to mean there are no closed-minded atheists.

    There’s an additional problem here: if I believe X, and there’s great evidence for !X, something else is needed for me to have had the chance to change my mind. Namely, my being aware of, and understanding, X. So saying “there’s all this great evidence that the age of the earth is old, etc, so YECs are close-minded” isn’t so clear-cut. What if they sincerely, but incorrectly, believe the evidence is flawed? What if they’re unaware of the evidence? Those really don’t seem like very unlikely things.

    That’s not to say YECs can’t be closed-minded – I have no doubt they can. I just don’t think it’s that simple, unless ‘inability or unwillingness to understand the evidence/arguments’ is made part of being close-minded.

    Another issue, which I think you get into greatly: positions aren’t really what is or isn’t close-minded. People are. As you say, data becomes evidence. YECs are entirely capable of insisting that just about every piece of ‘evidence’ for an old earth “really isn’t evidence” for one reason or another.

    So saying “well, I just haven’t seen the evidence my position is wrong” isn’t a talisman that keeps someone from being close-minded.

  2. Crude says:

    Also,

    Contrast this with Dawkins’ 6.9. Recall that a perfectly agnostic person is a 4. So while I am three steps from agnosticism, Dawkins is six steps away from agnosticism. Ironically, while atheists and agnostics are often grouped together, I, as a Christian theist, am closer to agnosticism than Dawkins and most atheists.

    That’s a real good observation. I never thought about it that way.

  3. chunkdz says:

    So being 100% sure that God exists makes me closed minded?

  4. Crude says:

    So being 100% sure that God exists makes me closed minded?

    Are you open-minded about the possibility of God not existing?

    I don’t think Mike is at this stage saying that being closed-minded is itself a bad thing – he came right out and said he’s closed-minded about fairies. It’s just a matter of not pretending otherwise.

  5. Michael says:

    Chunkdz,

    I’m not saying being closed-mind is bad. Crude has it right. I freely acknowledge that I am closed-minded about the existence of fairies and the validity of astrology, for example. The problem is as Crude notes – it’s a matter of pretending otherwise.

    I think this issue is much more significant than most realize. How so? Consider that the atheists have been trying to frame the ENTIRE debate around the ability of theists to convince atheists with “evidence.” Dawkins, for example, likes to say that if there was only evidence for God, he would believe. And theist after theist falls for this trick by trying to convince him. I think the evidence indicates Dawkins is dishonest – either with himself or with us all.

  6. chunkdz says:

    I’m just wondering if closed minded is the way to describe it. If I see a stop sign I perceive it to be red. I’m “closed-minded” about the sign being red. However, there is a sizable minority of people who say the sign is brown. They are “closed-minded” about the sign being brown.

    I think it’s fair to say I’m “closed-minded” about God and red stop signs, but I’m “open-minded” to the possibility that some others are unable to perceive what I perceive.

    That’s why I don’t see the point of a “2.5” or a “6.9”. Either you see it or you don’t. Anything in between seems to be saying “It looks really red but it may also be brown” or the inverse of that. And now you are telling me that a 4 means “I can’t see anything”.

  7. chunkdz says:

    I don’t think Dawkins is closed-minded simply for choosing a “6.9”.

    He becomes closed-minded when he asserts that anyone who chooses “1” must be delusional.

  8. Michael says:

    That’s why I don’t see the point of a “2.5″ or a “6.9″. Either you see it or you don’t.

    And the Muslim sees Allah as God and Mohammed as His prophet. The Muslim is open minded to the possibility that you cannot perceive what he perceives.

    It all boils down to this – either theists are deluded or atheists are blind. We either see what does not exist or they cannot see what does exist. I know of no way to resolve this ambiguity such that we all can occupy either a 1 or a 7.

  9. Michael says:

    I don’t think Dawkins is closed-minded simply for choosing a “6.9″.

    I agree – it’s not “simply” for choosing a 6.9. The score is just a piece of evidence. Other evidence would be as you say and I say in the opening posting.

    6.9 tells us that Dawkins has made up his mind about this issue. It’s closed. He’s done with the “search for truth” thing. That’s why he has moved onto full time advocacy.

    Like I said, the problem is that he dishonestly postures otherwise, as if he is still on the lookout for some evidence of God. Just bring it to him, and he’ll believe (wink, wink).

  10. chunkdz says:

    “It all boils down to this – either theists are deluded or atheists are blind. We either see what does not exist or they cannot see what does exist. I know of no way to resolve this ambiguity such that we all can occupy either a 1 or a 7.”

    But you just have! It’s an either/or proposition as you say.

    Why do we need 2 thru 6? So that a theist or atheist might speculate about what degree of delusional or blind they may be?

    If you actually were delusional, Michael, how would you ever know?

  11. chunkdz says:

    “6.9 tells us that Dawkins has made up his mind about this issue. It’s closed.”

    I can imagine a color-blind person who insists with all of his being that stop signs are brown. That person is not closed-minded (by definition unwilling to accept new ideas). He’s simply incapable of seeing it.

    That’s why I think closed-minded is a poor choice. There is a difference between being “unwilling” and being “unable”.

  12. Bilbo says:

    Some atheist positions:

    1) The concept of God is somehow self-contradictory, therefore God does not exist.

    2) The concept of God is not self-contradictory, but there is no evidence that God does exist and lots of evidence that he does not exist, therefore it is reasonable to believe that God does not exist.

    3) The concept of God is not self-contradictory, and there is some evidence that God exists, but there is more evidence that he does not exist, therefore it is more likely that God does not exist, and it is reasonable to believe that God does not exist.

    I would guess that Dawkins fall under (2). Bradley Monton would, I think, fall under (3). I think we tend to think that Dawkins is closed-minded because we think there is at least some evidence for God’s existence to which most reasonable people would agree. Likewise, we would think that someone who adopts the view that there is lots of evidence that God exists and there is no evidence that God does not exist is also being closed-minded.

  13. Bilbo says:

    Then there is Alvin Plantinga’s view that belief in God is properly basic, just as belief in a physical world that is independent of me, and a belief that there are other minds. Neither of these can be proved, but we consider them to be basic rational beliefs. Plantinga would say that belief in God falls under the same category. For Plantinga, someone who does not believe in God has cognitive faculties that are not functioning properly.

  14. Michael says:

    Chunkdz,

    But you just have! It’s an either/or proposition as you say.

    Sure, either position 1 or 7 is true. But this is a question of knowing what is true.

    Why do we need 2 thru 6? So that a theist or atheist might speculate about what degree of delusional or blind they may be?

    Because the human brain is terribly fallible and has a record of believing things to be true when they are not, and not believing things to be true when they are.

    If you actually were delusional, Michael, how would you ever know?

    I wouldn’t.

    I can imagine a color-blind person who insists with all of his being that stop signs are brown. That person is not closed-minded (by definition unwilling to accept new ideas). He’s simply incapable of seeing it.

    Which works until he meets someone who says he is wrong and that the sign is red. At that point, he become closed-minded if he fails to consider his perception is in error.

    Bilbo,

    I think we tend to think that Dawkins is closed-minded because we think there is at least some evidence for God’s existence to which most reasonable people would agree.

    Good point. When Dawkins insists there is NO evidence, entailed in this claim is that everyone who thinks evidence exists is delusional and wrong. Add this is his self-score of 6.9 (about as extreme as extreme can get) along with his disdain for religion and his identity as an activist, the evidence clearly indicates closed-mindedness. In contrast, is there any evidence he is open-minded?

  15. chunkdz says:

    So the scale is not really about belief. It’s just about whether you think most of mankind is deluded or if a smaller segment of mankind is blind.

  16. Atheist Max says:

    The Closed Mind: “There is only one God and I know which one it is”
    The Open Mind: “There may be many gods, even thousands of Gods – let’s find out! Or maybe there are no gods at all – let’s keep looking around!”

  17. Michael says:

    Wow. This post is about 3 1/2 years old and I had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder, as I should really repost it.

  18. Kevin says:

    What about atheists who claim “there is no god”? Closed mind?

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