June 29, 2015

Changing Our Minds

Habits of Minds
Habits of Minds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many skeptics, atheists, and/or freethinkers pride themselves on their willingness to change their mind on the basis of reason, evidence, or other new information. This should be a source of pride and should be far more common than it is. After all, we are the ones who often claim that we are not beholden to any sort of dogma, tradition, or authority. This leaves us free to follow the evidence without being locked into maintaining views that are inconsistent with reality. It also grants us the room to change our minds as we identify the shortcomings of our previous positions.

We skeptics, atheists, and/or freethinkers should not only be willing to changes our minds; we should celebrate it when others do so. Again and again, we say that this is how reasonable people are supposed to behave. If the Bigfoot skeptic was presented with solid evidence supporting the existence of such a creature, we would expect him to change his mind and acknowledge that such a creature could be real. If the third-wave feminist was presented with clear evidence calling commonly cited rape statistics into question, we'd expect her to stop repeating them as if they were 100% accurate. When we encounter someone who willfully disregards the evidence to maintain a belief (e.g., creationists, climate science deniers, GMO opponents, users of homeopathy), we tend to be critical. We seem to expect that rational people will allow themselves to learn, changing their minds based on the evidence.

Strangely, we often seek to penalize others for changing their minds. Some went so far as to join the chorus calling John Kerry a "flip-flopper" when he ran for president in 2004. I remember wondering at the time why any sane person would want to elect a president who did not regularly change his or her mind. How could such a person be rational? But we do not have to go to presidential politics to find examples of people who should know better penalizing others for changing their minds. Many engage in the sort of "gotcha" tactics in which they attempt to assail people with their own words, sometimes from several years ago, as if changing one's mind was undesirable.

I don't know about you, but I am committed to changing my mind as I learn new things, interact with new perspectives, and have new experiences. I am willing to be wrong, to learn, and to grow. This inevitably means that I will change my mind. This is not a bug but a feature of freethought. Not only that, but I view others changing their minds as a positive. I'm happy to see them learning and am glad that they've had the opportunity to do so.

I have written some posts here at Atheist Revolution with which I no longer agree. I've been at this for more than 10 years, and I have certainly said things previously in ways that I would not say them today. I've changed my mind many times on many subjects. If someone wants to confront me with some old content and suggest that I have been inconsistent, he or she is welcome to do so. Of course I've been inconsistent! This is what happens when one is not wedded to dogma or tradition but allows oneself the room to learn, grow, and change. I plan to keep changing my mind for some time to come. I hope you'll join me.

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