This week’s question: Why can’t atheists be more open-minded about God?
The concept of “closed-mindedness” is often ascribed to those who value science over easier or less closely examined explanations for natural phenomena — those who are willing to dismiss the supernatural or pseudo-scientific upon presentation. The logic of the question is flawed, and it is oddly asked of those who are usually more open-minded than those leveling the accusation of “closed-mindedness.” Science requires an open mind and a willingness to accept new ideas for any sort of development or growth. The very process of scientific inquiry requires a strong filter through which to observe reality.
By observing an unexplained event and labeling it supernatural, one is likely making invalid connections and too readily eliminating countless other possible logical explanations. This is the definition of closed-mindedness. Belief in the divine or supernatural is often accompanied by personal stories of an experience that cannot be explained and must, therefore, be supernatural. If an experience cannot be explained, this does not strengthen the argument for the supernatural in any way. The believer is contradicting him/herself by saying that they are able to explain the unexplainable, for that is all the unexplained is — unexplained phenomena. There is a marked difference in the acceptance or proposal of supernatural or superstitious concepts and the discounting of them due to a lack of evidence. Acceptance of a concept without any justification discounts any future evidence that could be presented and more accurately represents closed-mindedness..
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.
Open-mindedness, or the willingness to entertain new ideas, is a crucial element of critical thought. There can be no greater failing in the rational mind than to refuse to listen to something new simply because it does not line up with what one already believes to be true. The misconception that atheism is “closed-minded” exists because many atheists (myself included) realize that eventually, one must stop merely entertaining and begin evaluating.
For example, imagine that a traveling salesman comes to town and claims to be able to offer your ancestors expedited entry into Heaven — he can help Granny cut St. Peter’s line. The rational person’s response is to first entertain the idea. After all, if the salesman is telling the truth, there is much to be gained, because we buried Granny without her walker and it’s a long and tiring line. But in order to move from entertaining to accepting the idea, the rational person must demand some proof. After all, what if there are two salesmen that both claim this ability? What if there are a thousand?
Not giving this lying jerk your money is not “closed-minded,” but a rational evaluation of a wild claim. We are all presented throughout our lives with thousands of claims by thousands of religious salesmen, and we fend them all off to some degree. As Stephen Roberts said, “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do.”
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.
A study from the Pew Forum found that atheists and the non-religious were more knowledgeable about Christianity and other world religions than any other religious group. Indeed, atheists know more about different religions in general, at least when compared to other religious groups. How much do you know about the beliefs of others? Are you open-minded about other gods aside from your own?
I’d say we are so open-minded that we perceive all claims relating to the supernatural to be equal, as each one claims to have the ultimate proof of its claims. Miracles, science revealed in holy texts, premonitions, “truth,” reward and punishment — they are all present in one form or another in every religious text or dogma. This leads me to a position where I have to reject some claims, but any grounds for rejecting one supernatural claim is grounds for rejecting many others.
I therefore simply withhold judgment. I am open to be convinced into believing any supernatural claim, but for now I will live my life the way I wish to live it, employing the best humanity has to offer in philosophy, science or reason, to pursue whatever I decide is worthwhile. I reserve the freedom to change my mind or change the way I live at any time.
David Urzua is a fifth-year philosophy major.