The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

The Importance of an Open Mind that Closes


Minds Were Made to Shut

We typically think having an open mind is a good thing. And in certain situations, it certainly is a good thing. For example, we should have an open mind when we are beginning an inquiry. If we have no settled views on some matter, then it would be quite foolish to hold strongly to a particular view. We should be open to a variety of voices of authority on the matter as begin our inquiry.

But once we have settled our views about some matter, it seems our minds should shut. That is, once we have surveyed and evaluated the most plausible views on some matter, we need not and should not stay completely open minded any longer.

G.K. Chesterton once said:

An open mind is really a mark of foolishness, like an open mouth. Mouths and minds were made to shut; they were made to open only in order to shut. (Illustrated London News. October 10, 1908)

Open Mindedness as a Virtue?

When we begin to think carefully about open mindedness, we see that open mindedness, without qualification, is not a virtue. To remain completely open minded about p when we have good reason to believe p is, say, false is not acting with intellectual virtue. As evidence comes, then we should, in a sense, become more and more close minded.

Is it really okay to be close minded at times? Yes, because not all views are equally plausible, especially after some reasonable inquiry. If a view proves to be false or irrational, then it seems to be a good idea (and very normal) to foreclose on that view as a genuine possibility. After we have looked into the matter, we may not know exactly what view to hold, but we often know which views are clearly false.

Should We Ever Be Absolutely Close Minded?

Do we ever come to shut our minds completely and absolutely? Though it isn’t really implied by the Chesterton quote, my own view is that it should be very rare for our minds to shut completely and absolutely. That is, we should shut our minds on things we have reason to believe are true, but be willing reopen when countervailing evidence presents itself. This is because it is at least possible to be wrong about the things we believe. Again, we need not be completely open to any and all views given the evidence we possess, we should still listen to the most plausible opposing views in case we need to reopen in light of new evidence.

My Mind is Shut on Christianity

It was really important for me, in my Christian journey, to have an open mind about alternative views. I came to doubt my faith and the truth of Christianity. Consequently, I systematically considered as many relevantly different worldviews as I could. I had an open mind and tried to approach these without bias. In complete honesty, I found myself surprised at how badly supported nonchristian worldviews are compared to the support and evidence for Christianity, including atheism and even agnosticism. Most other worldviews do not even think in terms of evidence and objectivity. For example, one is hard pressed to find Buddhist apologetics these days! And it seems this is for good reason. There isn’t much for evidence for Buddhism as a worldview. When it came to atheism and agnosticism, there were far too many questions that these left unexplained. In fact, it has always seemed to me that atheism fails to explain the most important aspects of life.

My mind came to shut on Christianity. It would take quite a lot, at this point, to unseat my Christian intellectual commitments. It’s possible, but I don’t think it is likely. If Christianity is false, there should be plenty of evidence that presents itself in which case I would reconsider my commitments. But I’ve been at this pursuit for almost 20 years and the counter evidence is lacking. There are objections, but I find satisfying answers to these objections and then some.

So here I am, I have been completely open minded along the way and I’m willing to reconsider, but, at this point, I am shut on truth of the Christian way.



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