An open mind

How could you know if you had an open mind? If something disproves what you believe you know, could you change your opinion, or would you just ignore it?

I still debate with young-earth Creationists, mainly on Violet’s blog. I listened to this fascinating programme on the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum. About 56m years ago, over a period of about 1,000 to 20,000 years, vast amounts of CO2 were emitted into the atmosphere, by volcanoes and burning coal deposits, and the temperature of the planet increased. There were forests at the poles. Global temperatures increased by 5-8°C. Different assertions will have different levels of dispute or certainty, and for the educated layperson a scientist might elide certain details for ease of explication, but the broad outline is clear. I find it wonderful how the evidence is recovered and interpreted, the care and precision of the investigators, the wealth of evidence. So I recommended the programme to two YECs, hoping that they would be as inspired by it as I was.

Sadly, Tiribulus wasn’t. He did not intend “sneering derisive dismissal”, he said, but accused the scientists of “spectacular intellectual dishonesty”. He claimed to understand their “claims”, but also their “method bias and out of hand pre-conclusions”. All unbelievers have similar bias, he says.

His response makes me miserable. The language of “bias”, formulated to enable us to see how we misinterpret evidence and help us perceive more clearly, he uses to write off something which challenges his view. Unbelievers cannot think properly, he says, as Jesus quoting Isaiah predicted- He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.

He is defended against challenge to his falsehoods, because he has a great need to believe them- so that he can remain part of his community, so that he is not distressed by the falsehoods the community spouts, perhaps so that he can feel superior to outsiders, or ignore them, and possibly because he experienced his life before conversion as chaotic and “sinful”, and feels any backsliding from his current position means falling into similar sin.

He has threatened to recommend something to me, claiming “fairness” would oblige me to listen or read it. I might not spend fifty minutes on it.

How would I know if I were open minded? I am open minded on Creationism. I am aware of theories of the origin and development of the Bible, and how the story of the Flood was adapted from a Sumerian legend, part of the epic of Gilgamesh. As I pick up more about the detail and complexity of understanding of the geologic column, I am inspired by the beauty of it. But then my community does not require me to believe idiocies.

Why does he comment there? Because he sees unrepentant sinners, and wants God to “save us from our sin and give us a new heart”- Because you are fellow bearers of the image and likeness of our God and I care about you. 

Tiribulus believes he understands about the Bible and the errors of unbelievers, and that prevents him coming to the truth. I will not be open minded where I particularly need to believe something, or imagine I understand but do not. When I am not open minded I may imagine I am- for I could not know. I have sought out hints and subtle indications, and sometimes been rewarded.

Perhaps it is all a waste of energy. I grope for greater understanding, but perhaps those who are satisfied with their understanding are better off, devoting their attention to more important, worthwhile things. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. They might be more effectual.

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