Open-Minded Versus Close-Minded

Attack of the Close-Minded Scientists

I read a fellow complain about how close-minded the scientific community is. Scientists don’t believe in the supernatural. They don’t believe in the paranormal. They close themselves off to so many possibilities….

Here’s my perspective.

Open-minded is, according to various online dictionaries, “willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced.” Thus, open-minded people are willing to bring their opinions, views, and ideas they hold to be accurate knowledge in line with the best information available, no matter what that may be.

Imagine two people, an occultist and a scientist.

The occultist believes in pyramid power, crystal healing, astrology, the evil eye, chakras, seances, astral projection, numerology, palmistry, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and the law of attraction.

The scientist doesn’t believe in any of those.

From what little I’ve outlined above, who would you guess is more open-minded? The occultist or the scientist?

This may seem counter-intuitive, but the scientist is probably the more open-minded of the two.

How could someone who doesn’t believe any of that be more open-minded than someone who believes all of that?

Our scientist doesn’t believe these paranormal notions because they fail to withstand rigorous testing. However, if telekinesis, crystal healing, or the others had worked when tested, she’d have no problem accepting them. She’s not prejudiced against these possibilities. She is, in fact, open to them; they merely need to work for her to accept them. She’s very open-minded about modifying her views based upon the available facts. Our occultist, on the other hand, keeps these beliefs regardless of their failure when tested. He’s prejudiced in favor of these possibilities. It doesn’t matter what the results are. He doesn’t change his mind. He’s close-minded to the possibility that pyramid power, astrology, and the rest are erroneous.

The scientific approach is inherently an open-minded one in its willingness to adopt anything that works and reject anything that doesn’t. Scientists change their views based upon new information quite routinely. For examples, they switched from the Steady-State theory to the Expanding Universe theory, and from Catastrophism to Uniformitarianism. They’ve thrown away innumerable of their previously held concepts, such as phlogiston and phrenology. Likewise, they’ve adopted all kinds of hard to believe concepts when the best available data led toward them, such as quantum entanglement, and Godel’s incompleteness theorem.

Conversely, the approach occultists take is intrinsically close-minded, if there’s refusal to modify a currently held position based upon newer, better data. With the occultist’s approach, beliefs are held regardless whether they encounter fatal contradictions, regardless whether new theories supersede the ones they currently hold, with greater precision, better predictive power, broader explanatory power, and / or better corroboration.

Which do you think is more open-minded, one who keeps whatever ideas work and rejects whichever don’t? Or one who insists on keeping some and rejecting others, regardless whether they work?

Scientists actually tend to be more open-minded in their rejection of the paranormal than occultists are in their acceptance of it.

The same applies to theists who believe by faith as applies to our hypothetical occultist. To give two examples:

1) When Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis ministry, debated Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and the moderator asked them both, “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?” Ken Ham answered, “As Christians, we can say we know. And so, as far as the word of God is concerned — no, no one is ever going to convince me that the word of God is not true.” Meanwhile, Bill Nye answered, “We would need just one piece of evidence.” (Click here to watch the video of this.)

2) When an interviewer asked theologian William Lane Craig, “What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing serious doubts [about their Christian faith]?” Craig replied, “They need to understand the proper relationship between faith and reason. And my view here is that the way in which I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the witness of the Holy Spirit, in my heart. And that this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true, wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore, if in some historically contingent circumstances, the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity, I don’t think that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit. In such a situation, I should regard that as simply a result of the contingent circumstances that I’m in, and that if I were to pursue this with due diligence and with time, I would discover that, in fact, the evidence, if I could get the correct picture, would support exactly what the witness of the Holy Spirit tells me. So I think that’s very important to get the relationship between faith and reason right. Otherwise, what that means is that our faith is dependent upon the shifting sands of evidence and argument…” (Click here to watch a video of this.)

Ham and Craig are not being open-minded in their religious beliefs, they are being close-minded in their refusal to be swayed by data toward any other position. Bill Nye, on the other hand, is demonstrating open-mindedness.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every scientist perfectly embodies the scientific method, nor that every occultist or theist perfectly embodies a faith-based epistemological methodology. But science itself is more open-minded in its methodology than occultism and theism, and tends to therefore attract a more open-minded community.

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