New Research: It’s the Atheists Who are Closed-Minded

By Tom Gilson Published on July 8, 2017

A new research study released to the press this week says atheists may have a problem with closed-mindedness. Two problems, actually: Compared to believers, they have real trouble seeing both sides of an issue, and they don’t do as well handling contradictions.

This may come as a shock to the so-called “free-thinking” atheist community, many of whom consider Christians closed-minded. It’s no surprise to me, though. I’ve experienced it often, including once very recently. A couple of days ago, an atheist Facebook friend mentioned me on his page. I stopped by, and as we chatted there I got treated to gems like these:

Theology is the particular field of those who don’t like to get out in the real world and find things out, but who prefer to sit in their enclave and pretend their imaginations are reality.

The religionist watched science debunk every god-claim, but rather than admit defeat, continues to seek gaps in human knowledge in which to insert his magic being.

I used to think that all christians [sic] went through the debilitating doubt I did in the 3 teenage years I believed it. And that they were pretending not to. Because you CAN’T “know”. Only now, 40 years later, am I getting hints that some simpletons really don’t ever get the doubts.

The Other Way Around?

There’s more, but you get the picture. It’s rude, stereotypical and dismissive. But note what the last commenter said, in effect: Christians are so simple-minded, they haven’t even considered the possibility their beliefs might not be true. This recently released research shows that in fact, it’s mostly the other way around: Atheists and agnostics in secular, Western countries are less likely than believers to open their minds to the possibility they might be wrong.

“In highly secularized religious contexts,” says the report, “non-believers, compared to their religionist peers, [are] less prone to be interested in, consider, understand and appreciate perspectives that oppose their own.”

I’ll say. I’ve seen it many times, not just during this latest Facebook foray.

Take a look at Craig Keener’s massive two-volume Miracles and you’ll have to wonder who’s really resisting the evidence.

Who’s the Real Dogmatist?

The study was led by Dr. Filip Uzarevic, of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. Some might pounce on that as proof of research bias: “There were Catholics involved!” Let me set your mind at ease. The researchers were biased against belief.

This is clear from the way they defined dogmatism. To be dogmatic, in their view, means to have a firm belief in “ideas that seem implausible or even contrary to evidence (e.g. miraculous phenomena).” The researchers seem to think the evidence against miracles is so strong, only “dogmatism” could cause anyone to believe in them.

That’s hardly the case, however. Take a look at Craig Keener’s massive two-volume Miracles, with its many examples and its strict controls guarding against doubtful miracle claims, and you’ll have to wonder who’s really resisting the evidence. (Eric Metaxas’ much shorter book on miracles covers much of the same ground.)

Naturally, believers scored higher than atheists or agnostics on the “dogmatism” scale, which supposedly shows there’s something inflexible — and therefore wrong — about the way we think. I’d say instead that the scale was misnamed. At any rate, it’s quite clear the researchers weren’t biased in favor of belief.

Richard Dawkins’ Closed-Mindedness

The research results remind me of the nonsense Richard Dawkins spouted in his 2006 bestseller, The God Delusion. Scholar after scholar (I could link to dozens more) criticized the book severely, demonstrating how amazingly little Dawkins knew about what or why Christians believe. When they showed him his errors — which he obviously made in pure ignorance — his answer (colorfully crafted by fellow atheist P. Z. Myers) was essentially this: “That’s no problem! Religion is so silly, I don’t need to know what I’m talking about.”

I’ve learned from both Scripture and experience to avoid lengthy debates with people so unwilling to listen.

It’s a near-perfect picture of a closed mind.

Four years ago Dawkins was voted Britain’s “top public intellectual.” That vote sealed a standard for Western secularists. Do you want look smart, without bothering to do the hard work of actually learning? Just do like the atheists quoted above did: Dismiss Christianity with nothing more than a smug sneer. Christians are “simpletons,” “religionists” who “pretend their imaginations are reality.”

Can Atheists Open Their Minds?

Or say something like this, which just came in while I was writing this article: “I think that Mr. Gilson is intelligent, but then that means that he realizes how weak his apologetics is and must therefore be deliberately lying to his readership.”

I don’t visit atheist Facebook pages like these very often. I haven’t dived very deep into this particular discussion, and I’m not staying for long. I’ve learned from both Scripture and experience to avoid lengthy debates with people so unwilling to listen. It doesn’t do much good to try.

Now, I won’t let this research mislead me into thinking it describes every atheist. It’s about group tendencies, which may not be the case for any one person in that group. So I won’t assume it’s true for any individual — not until I have good reason to think it is.

Still, it helps to know that if some atheists can’t imagine an intelligent person choosing to believe in Christ, part of the reason could be that they’re too closed-minded to consider the possibility they might be wrong themselves.

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