It’s a refrain that’s heard often by skeptics – “You’re close-minded!” “If you’d open your mind, you’d understand!” “By ruling out the possibility of (fill in the blank) you’re closing your mind to all possibilities!” The thing is, in pretty much every instance, these insistences are completely wrong. The believer is the one whose mind is closed. Let me outline why this is.
Someone who believes something is, by definition, rejecting all evidence and argument that contradict with those beliefs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a belief that was taught to them, or when it was taught to them. It doesn’t matter if they came to the belief via anecdotes or personal experience. The core of belief is that it is not based on actual evidence. What a believer views as evidence is actually confirmation of belief. Evidence is reliable, consistent, and reproducible. Evidence doesn’t happen only under certain circumstances or only when observers are believers.
To a believer, evidence is inextricably bound to belief. Stories that support the belief are considered evidence, while those that contradict the belief are picked apart and dismissed as inconsequential. Supporting information is accepted, regardless of whether it is actual evidence, and dissenting information is rejected, even if it is actual evidence. If we’re talking about what constitutes closed-mindedness, I’d put this way up at the top of the list.
A skeptic, on the other hand, by definition, is someone who is skeptical of things that lack solid supportive evidence. On the flip side, a genuine skeptic will also re-examine his evidence-based beliefs if stronger evidence comes through that shows that they are incorrect. (N.B. – I’m talking about skeptics, not deniers who like to call themselves skeptics – they go in the believer category!) Imagine that. In what way is the willingness to change one’s mind in the face of stronger information that contradicts what was previously accepted a sign of being close-minded?
To sum up – someone who is close-minded will:
1. Accept teachings, anecdotes, personal experience, unique events, unlikely correlations, and give them the weight of evidence, as long as they reinforce a belief. If necessary, apologetics will be devised to explain why these things constitute evidence (e.g., argument from antiquity, “universal truths,” “inspired knowledge,” and such.)
2. Deny, question, or denigrate information that contradicts said beliefs, regardless of the weight of evidence, amount of research, or strength of methodology.
3. Continue to hold a belief even more strongly if it is challenged.
4. Challenge people who do not accept the belief without being open to having their own belief challenged by others.
Someone who is open-minded will:
1. Consider the quality and quantity of evidence when forming opinions, and believe said evidence only when it meets the burden of proof.
2. Consider possibilities if there is an indication of possibility, consider probabilities if there is an indication of probability, and accept that these may have an effect on established knowledge – but reject information that is merely speculative or already disproven by evidence.
3. Change a belief, perhaps several, if new information is deemed to be more reliable or factual than what the belief was based on.
4. Challenge people who believe differently not only when they’re wrong, but also when they might be right, because there might be good evidence of which they’re not aware, or bad information they need to know how to counter.
The ones who are telling others that they are close-minded are, in the end, the most close-minded of all.