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Closed Versus Open Minds

It is interesting that devout/militant atheists, like I once was, seem to have no doubts about their philosophical commitment and worldview. Just ask the Illuminati of the “new atheist” movement (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al) — or our good UD friend Nick Matzke — and they will tell you that there is absolutely no question that materialistic processes can explain everything.

Most of the Christians I know express doubts, and struggle with difficult questions, as I do, always have, and always will.

I therefore put myself in the camp of legitimate skeptics, as a former mindless Dawkins clone with a bunch of Hitchens, Harris and Matzke thrown in for good measure.

It was in no small measure that ID theory brought me out of the intellectual stupor of materialistic philosophy, just as it did for Antony Flew, perhaps the most influential intellectual atheist of his generation, shortly before his death.

The really interesting thing is that my liberation from the Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris-Matzke nihilistic stupor in which I lived and suffered for so many years was to a great extent the result of my interest in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Since becoming a Christian in 1994 I’ve discovered an incredible world of intellectual, philosophical, and scientific profundity that I had no idea even existed when I was an atheist.

Atheism and materialism closed my mind to possibilities, questions, and evidence that I would have investigated much earlier had I not been infected with this pernicious philosophy.

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29 Responses to Closed Versus Open Minds

  1. It is interesting that devout/militant atheists, like I once was, seem to have no doubts about their philosophical commitment and worldview.

    As far as I can tell, lack of reasonable doubt is a malady that afflicts people across the entire philosophical spectrum. Of course, those who have no doubts are most conspicuous to those of different opinions.

    Just ask the Illuminati of the “new atheist” movement (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al) — or our good UD friend Nick Matzke — and they will tell you that there is absolutely no question that materialistic processes can explain everything.

    As I read it, these people argue that natural phenomena have natural causes. I seriously doubt that they would consider the limited scope of natural phenomena to be “absolutely everything” – and if they do, I would consider them fools.

    Most of the Christians I know express doubts, and struggle with difficult questions, as I do, always have, and always will.

    I would say this places you comfortably in the majority, again across all philosophical or ideological lines. I’m reminded of the dyslexic agnostic insomniac who lies awake at night wondering “Is there a Dog?”

    It was in no small measure that ID theory brought me out of the intellectual stupor of materialistic philosophy, just as it did for Antony Flew, perhaps the most influential intellectual atheist of his generation, shortly before his death.

    I’ve read about this from a wide variety of sources, and I think your representation lies at the tail of the curve. The middle of the curve, so to speak, has Flew in his dotage being confused about the claims ID made, endorsed his misunderstanding of it, and subsequently recanted. I think using poor old confused Flew as a PR piece for ideological leverage is kind of unsportsmanlike. I may, of course, have completely misread this circumstance.

    Atheism and materialism closed my mind to possibilities, questions, and evidence that I would have investigated much earlier had I not been infected with this pernicious philosophy.

    While I’m delighted that you experienced this liberation, I also wonder if maybe you used to suffer from a particularly malicious form of these afflictions. Because oddly enough, in my long life, I have heard precisely this same sense of relief, insight, and widening of the mental horizons from several other people who converted to Christianity, several who abandoned what they called the “straitjacket” of religion for atheism, and one who converted from Catholicism to Buddhism! I’m going to speculate that almost ANY sea change in philosophy, starting anywhere and ending anywhere else, is going to be an eye-opening experience.

    The culprit here isn’t atheism, or Buddhism, or Christianity. It’s philosophical complacency. Or, as you put it so properly, the lack of sincere doubts.

  2. Here is the Anthony Flew video:

    Famous Atheist Antony Flew Changes Mind, Believes in God – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNkxpTIbCIw

    ====================

    Interesting that many ‘new’ militant atheists, instead of heeding the words of wisdom from a elder leading statesman for atheism for decades, turned on their own and immediately declared him a senile old man who had lost his marbles. Seems that many ‘new’ militant atheists, besides having no qualms being extremely rude, and hateful, to Theists in general, also have no hesitancy disrespecting the wisdom of a man who has probably thought longer and harder about atheism than many of them have even been alive.,,, But alas Flew committed the unforgivable sin in Atheism, he doubted the almighty power of neo-Darwinism!

  3. I have no problem with Flew finding God. Many do. Flew did say he was a deist and not a theist, and that his God was not the God of any revealed religions. Flew stated “I’m quite happy to believe in an inoffensive inactive god”.

    I sincerely believe that, like GilDodgen, Flew experienced the same sort of mind-expanding insight. He had an open mind.

  4. As I read it, these people argue that natural phenomena have natural causes. I seriously doubt that they would consider the limited scope of natural phenomena to be “absolutely everything” – and if they do, I would consider them fools.

    Dear David,

    Natural phenomena explaining “absolutely everything” is precisely what they argue, and therefore I agree with you. They are fools.

  5. Dear David (once again),

    You make an interesting point in general. However, I would argue that the Judeo-Christian worldview has much more to recommend it than any other.

    It was the source of the modern scientific method. It has produced more prosperity, justice, and freedom than any other, in the long run. When Jesus was asked how to identify false prophets He gave a simple and obvious answer: They will be known by their fruits.

    Look around the world and see the fruits of the false prophets of atheistic “scientific” Marxism in just the 20th century: at least 100,000,000 people starved, tortured, and murdered in the name of utopia.

    I am an empiricist, and therefore agree with Jesus.

  6. I think materialism explains “absolutely everything” on one level.

    But often it’s not the most interesting level, nor even the level that corresponds to the question we want to know the answer to. It makes no sense to say that someone sacrificed her life for someone else because of some configuration of molecular movements in her brain. That doesn’t mean that at some level of explanation the events that happened can be explained at a molecular level. At the other extreme, we can say that the reason I am typing this post is because Big Bang occurred (I wouldn’t, after all, be typing it, if it hadn’t). The problem is that neither explanation addresses the question we want to know the answer to.

    Materialism, in other words, can be true, and yet not the answer to all questions.

    Materialists are not the fools you take them for :)

  7. BTW, Gil, I do agree with your fundamental point, that Certainty is the real enemy of us all.

    That’s why my new site has the strapline (currently):

    “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

    All here are welcome to drop by :)

  8. Most of the Christians I know express doubts, and struggle with difficult questions, as I do, always have, and always will.

    I wonder if you – or indeed any of the Christians on this forum – would like to share some of their doubts? BA77 for example?

  9. Then what is the definition of materialism? Because my experience with materialism has been this comment by materialists about a phenomenon:
    “Oh, that’s merely [fill in the blank].” In other words, something like sacrificing one’s life for another is reduced to something else, something material, deterministic and thereby taking away its meaning.

  10. markf,

    Let me start by saying that I am convinced that there is a God and that Jesus is my Savior. I do sometimes wonder why He would do things a certain way. Why would I need ten toes on my feet? Why does my newborn son have stomach pains and have to be burped? What’s the point of that?

    However, I think there are good (although not perfect) answers to those questions.

    Now, markf, do you have doubts?

  11. It makes no sense to say that someone sacrificed her life for someone else because of some configuration of molecular movements in her brain.

    Problem is Elizabeth, materialists really have no other options. All biology is chemistry, and all chemistry is physics. Thus, to materialists, physics is it.

  12. Stupid website. I clicked reply, it sent me to the login page, and my comment ended in the wrong place?!

    Anyway, here goes again…

    It makes no sense to say that someone sacrificed her life for someone else because of some configuration of molecular movements in her brain.

    Problem is Elizabeth, materialists really have no other options. All biology is chemistry, and all chemistry is physics. Thus, to materialists, physics is it.

  13. Yes markf, I have struggled very much with doubt in my life. Especially with the tragic deaths of so many close and dear loved ones of mine as I was growing up. But the fact that God is really real, Jesus really did rise from the dead, and that neo-Darwinism really is a ‘cunningly devised fable’, even a dogmatic religion, is established beyond all reasonable doubt. And these facts are established by as thorough a search, and defense, of the facts as is possible for me in my very limited ability. Perhaps the greatest ‘selling point’ of Christian Theism for me now is the sheer amount of blatant deception that I’ve encountered, and have had to deal with, from those who try to defend the atheistic worldview from the Theistic worldview. Exactly why should such blatant deception be employed time and time again by those who oppose Theism? Does this not clearly point to a much deeper ‘battle’ in the ‘heavenly realms’ between truth and lies, between light and darkness? If not, then why is such blatant deception used time and time again by atheists about ‘simple’ points of science??? Exactly why should this be so if there was actually not much more going on that we are not fully aware of just as the Bible warns us???

    Ephesians 6:12
    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

    Kingdom Of God Vs. Kingdom Of Darkness – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4060606/

    ===================

    Skillet – Awake and Alive – music
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aJUnltwsqs

    Creed – Bullets (Video 2009) – music video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPzhUp8mWgs

  14. Now, markf, do you have doubts?

    About all sorts of things. For example:

    I have not yet across a convincing argument for any kind of deity, but I do not rule out the possibility that one day some kind of convincing evidence will crop up (which I think is roughly Dawkin’s position).

    I certainly accept that current evolutionary theory might be wrong in some respects. But that is just standard science.

    Perhaps most importantly I recognise that there may be questions that I am fundamentally incapable of answering because it is beyond the capacity of the human brain.

  15. I was thinking of current doubts – not past ones.

  16. I think you missed my point :)

  17. 17

    David W. Gibson makes an excellent point, which corresponds to a recurring theme in existential debates – how people “feel”. People often “feel” that their mind has been “liberated” when they change their world-view; and afterwards, almost universally look at those they left behind as “close-minded” or the products of some kind of “brainwashing”.

    Because something “feels” or “seems” convincing or “right” is relatively meaningless; people can feel, and have felt, that all sorts of exclusive, contradictory, and patently absurd views are/were correct. Because something “feels” or “seems” valid or correct is insufficient; one needs a means of discerning, from a field full of “feels right” and “seems correct”, which views warrant belief.

    Unless one can supply an argument why and how their worldview provides warrant for belief other than “feeling” and “seeming”, then their worldview cannot be distinguished from any other rooted in “feeling” and “seeming”.

    One way to understand the difference is to examine how one’s current belief was adopted; if it “seemed” to be “right”, or if you “felt” it was right, was it because of a logical examination of the fundamental principles to see if they rationally led to consistent, non-contradictory conclusions? Or was it because it just “felt” more right to you? Often, when we say “it made more sense”, what we really mean is just that it better comported with what you already felt should be the case.

    Also, can your (the general “you”) principled worldview veto how you “feel” about something? Or, do you look around for justifications for how you “feel” and how things “seem”? If your principled worldview cannot veto “what feels right” or “what seems right”, then your real principles are feelings and seemings, and your so-called principles are ultimately just smokescreens for those that ask for a logical argument.

    Thus, no worldview rooted in “seems and feels” is essentially more liberated or more open-minded than any other based on “seems and feels”. What would one be liberated from, if one is still rooted in whatever they happen to feel is correct? If one adopts (or remains) a Christian or materialist view based on no more justification than “feels and seems”, there is no essential difference in principle, even if one happens to be correct.

    Where materialists necessarily fail, and theists at least have opportunity to succeed, is in making a case for a principled world-view that can identify one’s own erroneous feelings and seemings. Materialists ultimately have no fundamental, axiomatic principle that can elevate their arguments beyond being what chemical interactions make them feel; theism offers a premised source of objective, uncaused discernment.

    IOW, materialists might be right, but they have no fundamental means of knowing or demonstrating it (which would require acceptance of necessary logical principles and uncaused will as objectively true), while theists have the necessary first principles and framework by which their claims can be known and demonstrated beyond “feeling” and “seems”.

  18. OK, this needs sorting out: tell me what you mean by “feel” and how it differs from what you advocate as a sounder basis for decision-making :)

    I have a suspicion that your conjugation goes like this:

    I infer
    You feel
    She imagines

    We observe overwhelming evidence
    You are blinded by your commitment to your worldview
    They are making up just so stories.

    amirite?

  19. BTW, Gil, I do agree with your fundamental point, that Certainty is the real enemy of us all

    Are you sure about that? :-)

  20. 20

    If you don’t know the difference between “a logical inference extrapolated from sound premises” and “a feeling”, but rather equivocate the two based on nothing more than that competing positions exist, I’m not interested in sorting it out for you.

  21. Elizabeth Liddle wrote:

    I think you missed my point

    I think you didn’t make your point clearly enough.

    Or did you mean to write “That doesn’t mean that at some level of explanation the events that happened can’t be explained at a molecular level,” rather than, “That doesn’t mean that at some level of explanation the events that happened can be explained at a molecular level”?

    Because if you meant to write what you did write then it seems to me that you have contradicted yourself.

  22. 22

    Materialists like to keep a nice, comfortable ambiguity (often referred to magically as “emerged property”) between molecular determinism and what they think and say in order to justify the idea that what they say differs substantively from barking dogs or rustling leaves.

    They like to imagine that free will fundamentally subsumed by physical determinism can be somthing other than determined will. It’s sort of like saying that a 4-sided triangle might be able to “emerge” from a box of 3-sided triangles. You can say it, but it really doesn’t make any sense.

  23. 23
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    Here is an interesting 17-minute TED Talk entitled “On Being Wrong” which I think should be of interest to all parties:

    On Being Wrong

  24. 24
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    Elizabeth,

    I am curious, do you believe in:

    1. The Big Bang?
    2. The Conservation of Energy?

  25. I think materialism explains “absolutely everything” on one level.

    What level is that? Am I accurate in restating this statement as “materialism explains ‘absolutely everything’ that can be explained by materialism”? If that is the case, then I guess we are all materialists…

    Why did the apple fall to the Earth? We can explain that with materialism!

    Where did complex, specified information in the genome come from? Well, we don’t have any evidence of how that would/could have happened due to materialist explanations, so it is outside the scope of materialism, for now.

    The problem is that this is not a world view, which is necessarily all-encompassing. I’m not saying you should have all the answers, but a world view is necessarily the framework for interpretation for EVERY question, even if we don’t definitively know the answer.

    It makes no sense to say that someone sacrificed her life for someone else because of some configuration of molecular movements in her brain. That doesn’t mean that at some level of explanation the events that happened can [I assumed you meant "can't"] be explained at a molecular level.

    I don’t understand this statement. If you could prove that any human action can be explicable purely by the physics of the brain (i.e. a computer simulation that replicates human behavior), then that would make perfect sense, although maybe not to a layperson. Of course, materialism cannot answer the burning question of why we know something is right, even if it involves the sacrifice of ourselves and our own genes. Perhaps that is the question that you admit materialism can’t answer (which, again, would lead me back to that “what the heck is materialism, then??” question)

  26. An exercise in worldview level warrant, here on.

  27. Borrowing an anchor they have no worldview right to, slowing progress in the reductio . . .

  28. And they say Christians are irrational. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so pathetically sad.

  29. Dear Liz,

    You might remember that I defended you, much to the consternation of some of my fellow ID proponents. I admire your courage and appreciate your contributions.

    On the subject of doubts: I’ve always had them and always will. I’m a legitimate skeptic, not a selective one. Even in my discipline of aerospace software engineering I like to see the computer code written by others, and evaluate to what extent it has been empirically verified. Con-artists abound everywhere, and they are especially prevalent when “free” government funding is available. Sadly, this degenerative process has to some extent infected even the hard sciences.

    It was my skepticism about the presumably infinitely creative powers of the Darwinian mechanism that eventually led me to realize that Darwinism is atheism in an expensive tuxedo.

    As far as my Christian conversion is concerned, I have doubts, as do all the Christians I know. But there are a few things about which I have no doubt: I’m not basically a good person. I’m in fallen state. (I used to take great pride and delight in tormenting people of faith, especially Christians, just like Saul of Tarsus and people like Richard Dawkins.) I have no power in my own strength to redeem myself from this fallen state, and therefore need a redeemer.

    This is the message of the Christian Gospel, which I have adopted, and which I will never abandon.

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