Saturday, August 10, 2013

Tablet Thoughts: Incredulity, Speculation and Open-minded Thinking

GK Chesterton once said that an open mind was like an open mouth... it was intended to be closed over something solid. What he meant was the purpose of an open mouth was to close it around food and the purpose of an open mind was to close it around truth.

You don't want to your mouth to admit disease or poison into your body and you don't want your mind to permit error into your mind. So the concept of the "open mind" is not accepting any idea as valid as any other, but assessing each idea to see if it is true or not.

Modern society seems to make two errors when it comes to an open mind.  One is incredulity. The other is speculation.

To be incredulous is to be "unwilling or unable to believe something."  To be speculative is to be "engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge."

Neither behavior indicates an open mind. The incredulous person refuses to consider whether a thing is true.  The one who speculates does not give enough consideration before accepting a thing as true.  They aren't opposites however. One can be incredulous because of a speculation they have previously formed.

The open minded person,  in contrast to the incredulous or speculative types, seeks to learn what they can about what is true. He or she recognizes when his or her knowledge is lacking and does not think this lack of knowledge means that the idea can just be accepted or rejected. "I don't know" means "I must learn more" to the open minded person.

Open minded thinking doesn't mean never reaching truth.  Rather, it means that once we recognize something is true, we're no longer free to accept error on that subject.  Once we realize [X] is true, all other considerations which revolve around [X] must recognize that truth.

Unfortunately, the incredulous person begins with the assumption that [X] is impossible and therefore can never happen -- he or she thus refuses to consider any theory that argues [X].

The problem is, many people simply hold "X is false" based on conjecture and assumption.  While one can reject something based on reason (for example, identical twins having drastically different levels of happiness show a fatal flaw with astrology), many simply hold their assumptions without questioning if they are true.

Let's consider the concept of life in places other than Earth. Personally,  I'm agnostic on the subject. An argument based on the huge number of star systems claiming such life must exist is speculation. But on the other hand, it's foolish to claim such life can't exist because we haven't found it yet. That's incredulity.   We can't know it does exist unless we find it, but we can't know it doesn't exist unless we explore every planet in the universe. The only open minded approach is to say, "I don't know, but I will consider credible evidence if it appears."

Some might wonder if the above example would justify agnosticism in considering the existence of God. I would say "not really." If aliens exist,  that is a matter of physical existence and physical proof. But the concept of God is supernatural. Literally "above nature." You can't use science (by nature aimed at the physical universe) to prove the existence of the supernatural -- that's like expecting a microscope to prove astronomy.

Aha! you might say.  "Without physical proof, it means you can't prove the existence of God, but can only speculate!"

To which I reply, "Prove you love your spouse or child."  See, things exist that do not have a material existence we can scientifically study. You can say you love someone,  that you are thinking a thought, but if the only proof that exists is physical proof, then only things with physical existence can be proven. If only things which can be physically be studied exist,  then none of our thinking, reasoning,  etc. exist.

The thing is, despite the claims of 'freethinkers,' the denial of Christianity is not an open-minded act of rationality.  It is incredulity formed by speculation,  a refusal based on a too hasty assumption made without proof.


  1. The problem with your concept of the opened mind Catholic is that he or she is helpless through total and frankly non moral obedience to correct the Church's Magisterium which historically needed correction if in fact section 80 of "Splendor of the Truth" by Blessed John Paul II is correct that "torture" and "coercion of spirit" are intrinsic evils. This places "Splendor of the Truth" at total contradiction to Pope Leo X's condemnation of Luther's opposition to burning heretics in " Exsurge Domine", art.33 condemned.

  2. I thought your name looked familiar, so I looked it up. It seems you show up all over the internet making comments on Catholic blogs concerning Exsurge Domine , trying to tie it in to whatever topic the blogger is writing about.

    That seems like trollish behavior to me. But, since you’ve decided to come to my site, my response will be in relation to my topic of the blog: Open mindedness vs. incredulity/speculation.

    The problem is, you’ve effectively made my point about speculation and incredulity vs. the open mind. The open minded person would seek to understand the Church understanding of this document, asking him or herself, “Do I understand what the Church actually intends by this document?”

    For example, there is a vast difference in the eyes of the Church between a person who formally rejects the Church and leaves her vs. the person who was born outside the Church and never knew the truth about her. The Church has always expressly forbade forced conversions, considering them invalid.

    But, instead of recognizing these facts, you’ve instead contrasted your personal understanding of the meaning this document with Veritatis Splendor, seeking to indicate a break in teaching where there is none.

    What you have done is to form your idea through speculation… making a conclusion on an inadequate number of facts and then become incredulous, refusing to consider claims which challenge your understanding. The mention in Exsurge Domine #33 does not assert all non believers must be burned. Rather it points out that the Church has authority to inflict penalties.

    In the 21st century, we find the concept of burning barbaric (and it was). But, it was considered a common means of punishment in a much more violent age – look up the drawing and quartering practiced in Protestant England for example.

    Heresy was considered a capital crime punishable by burning in Protestant (Remember John Calvin and Geneva?) and Catholic countries. That doesn’t make the harsh customs of the times right, but it shows that they were the customs of the times and not religious doctrines.

    Exsurge Domine is a document which does not lay out formal definitions on how heretics are to be treated. Rather, it condemns Luther for his claims which deny that the Catholic Church has authority to judge right and wrong (compare this with the 95 theses and it will give a fuller sense of what the Pope was opposing). Pope Leo X condemns Luther’s claims denying Church authority and calls on him to repent and return to the Church.

    As I said in my article, “Once we realize [X] is true, all other considerations which revolve around [X] must recognize that truth.” So once one recognizes that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Christ and has His authority, it follows that this recognition of authority follows in considering all claims made about the Church, rejecting those claims that contradict the truth.

    If you want to be open minded, it would serve you to seek to understand how the Church understands the topics you claim are contradictory, recognizing that it is never right to make a judgment without all the facts.