Today I’ve had another 9/11 Truther email me wanting a “debate,” and you know, I’m all out of love. As a skeptic and freethinker, I cherish good argument. I think we all do. But the question always arises regarding when argument is pointless. While I categorically reject the defeatist attitude some people give us, that Christians’ minds are carved in stone and any debate with them is a waste of time (all of us who came from Christianity to atheism, like myself and Matt and many of you, disprove that), it is the case that there are some people it’s pointless to try to reach rationally. And while everyone’s different, I can say one thing they all have in common is the use of their favorite, fallback phrase, which many of them wield as if it were some kind of secret smart-weapon.
So this is a general post, both for the benefit of skeptics and believers, as to why the dumbest and most futile thing you can say in any argument you conduct is to tell your opponent they have a “closed mind.” And while it may seem somewhat ironic that I am saying this while, in the same breath, talking about people you can’t reach with a rational argument, you will see what I mean below, under point 3.
Here then, in a Cracked-y kind of list, is why you will always, immediately lose any argument you’re in, the instant the words “closed-minded” pass your lips (or your keypad).
1. It’s an admission you haven’t got your shit together.
I have most commonly been called “closed-minded” when I’ve done such a thorough and comprehensive job of fisking the other guy that the only piece of his ego he can salvage from the shrapnel is just big enough to write those twelve letters on, provided he squints and uses an extra-fine Rapidograph. Calling someone “closed-minded” in response to total pwnage can simply be translated as, “You know, I just can’t respond to that. I have no response to make. I am empty like a church on Monday.” But you can’t just let yourself be totally humiliated, dropping to the mat without so much as taking a final, wild and aimless swing, can you. So what do you have left? Nothing but, “Yeah…well, if you weren’t so closed-minded, you’d understand why I’m right!”
The solution here is to make sure you’re prepared to defend whatever position you’re trying to defend. Have your facts in order. It may not be that you’ve brought no evidence. But if you’ve brought voluminous evidence and your opponent is still trashing it, don’t just get indignant that he’s not overcome by the brilliance of your oratory and spiffy colorful pie charts. Listen to what he’s saying, and if it’s bullshit, show why, and if it’s a sound criticism that you really can’t rebut, make a note of it, concede the point, and go back to do further homework. You may yet be able to take him down in round two, in which case you’ll have learned something. Or he may be right and you were full of beans all along, in which case you’ll have learned something. Even when you lose, you win.
2. You’re acting like your position is entitled to less skepticism than others.
Complain all you like about the unfair one-sidedness of that old “burden of proof” thing, but whatever your claim is — that God exists, that alien chupacabras caused 9/11 by transmitting subliminal murder commands into N*Sync lyrics, that Grover was the greatest Muppet — you bear the burden of proof for it. The guy who disagrees or says he doesn’t believe you is free to sit on his ass and smile like a smug douchehat (a skill we have honed to a fine performance art in 15 years of The Atheist Experience, I am proud to boast), still not believing you, until you meet your burden of proof.
Just because the scintillating truth of your beliefs is obvious to you doesn’t mean it will be obvious to others, or that it even should be. People believe things, whether they are true or false things, because they have been given reasons that they think makes whatever they believe worthy of belief. Whining that someone’s being “closed-minded” because they don’t find the reasons you’re giving them persuasive is, like point 1, just you throwing up your hands and giving up.
You simply can’t get around having to provide good reasons (what skeptics call “evidence”) to someone you think should, if not share, at least give some degree of merit to your beliefs. If you’re tempted to throw “closed-minded” at them, remember that “open-minded” doesn’t mean “believe whatever you feel like, because why not.” Though the two are often confused, “open-minded” is not another word for “gullible.”
3. You are in all likelihood being a hypocrite who’s projecting his ass off.
Allow me to present salient clips to illustrate the point from the Truther email received earlier today. Early on, he states…
It has been awhile since I popped by the 911Debunking site, but as you requested, I spent a couple of hours there again. What can I say…terrible articles and silly rhetoric backed by unsubstantiated photos and randomly chosen witness reports. It is a terrible site.
And then later:
Unfortunately, their evidence and science contradicts what I see, so I cannot believe what they say. What could their motivations be? Perhaps they are simply lying to themselves (denial) – that is my gut reaction. But perhaps they are being malicious, or are trying to save their skins. Whatever the reasons, it doesn’t matter – the evidence does not support their flimsy claims. And as I am a skeptic, I cannot accept their arguments, no matter how many credentials they wish to display.
Get all that? Any evidence that opposes what he’s chosen to believe deserves nothing less than instantaneous, categorical, contemptuous dismissal. Obviously, these scientists are mistaken, or lying, or have some shadowy nefarious agenda, or have been been cowed in their terror of Trilateral Commission ninja assassins. But whatever it is, they’re wrong. Full stop.
If the atheist experience was able to objectively look at the evidence provided by the truth movement, you would be compelled to support. This would be powerful, as I am finding that almost all atheist organizations seem to tow the line. You are looked up to – inspiring leaders of reason. Please re-consider your position, as I think you may start the house of “skeptics” to fall if you relate the proper information. This would be a great thing for society, as IMHO, the atheist and skeptics societies have failed miserably with their duty to seek the truth. But this can change, and reason and evidence can push through faulty conjecture.
I will end with a few video links – I beg of you, watch with an open mind – a thinking mind – ask yourself “what am I seeing”.
Please consider my evidence with an open mind, a thinking mind! You know, like the kind of mind I had, until I learned the truth, and decided I could finally go ahead and close the fucker.
So, yeah. Hypocrite. Projector. Don’t be That Guy. Thank you.
Disclaimer and disclosure.
Is it the case that, the utterly useless fail of the insult notwithstanding, there are closed-minded people in the world? Why, yes. See above. The people who plea most for open-mindedness are usually the ones whose minds are most closed to others. Have I ever been closed-minded about anything? Am I still? I hope not to be. But I may be. And in circumstances where the facts — “facts” defined here as objective truths independently verifiable, regardless of how I feel about them — are solidly against a particular view, like creationism or geocentrism, I feel very comfortable having a closed mind to those ideas. Though I would add that in the case of proven falsehoods, you’re not being “closed-minded” to reject them, simply smart.
But as a tool in your rhetorical arsenal, to call your opponent “closed-minded” is pretty much only ever used by people with untenable positions that they defend poorly, with a surfeit of emotion and too little evidence. The minute you say it in an argument, you’ve lost. You should have brought your A-game in the first place.