On this blog I've gone back and forth with moderating comments. After deciding a few weeks ago to return to approving comments before they're published on this blog, I'm feeling good about doing this.
I'd rather have just a few -- or even just one -- thoughtful comments on a post than a bunch of irrelevant comments, especially if they're of the "Praise God!" or "Praise Guru!" variety.
But for many years my boundless Buddha-like compassion for religiously-minded beings has led me to offer an "open thread" option to those who want to express themselves in a fashion that isn't appropriate for comments on regular blog posts. Such as, being preachy.
(Here's the newest Open Thread that I just put up.)
This is a big difference between open-minded atheists like me, and dogmatic religious devotees.
I can pretty much guarantee that few religious web sites or blogs allow commenters to criticize their faith, while most non-believers are fine with open discussion of their viewpoints.
Critical thinking is key. I love comments that exhibit thoughtfulness, even if the commenter disagrees with me.
Now, I don't have a definition of "critical thinking," nor do I feel like looking one up. Instead, here's my ideas about what this entails.
I'll start with the most important word, critical, since I think most people understand what thinking means. Critical can mean "important," and that's certainly true with critical thinking. It also connotes a certain skeptical questioning, not taking things on faith.
A critical thinker isn't a blank slate, since all of us have preconceived ideas, assumptions, world views, and such.
However, we need to be willing to hold the attitude "I could be wrong." Many, if not most, religious believers aren't willing to do this. Though they may use critical thinking in other parts of their lives, they put it aside when it comes to their belief in God, heaven, life after death, and so on.
The main goal of critical thinking is to understand reality as clearly, completely, and accurately as possible. A related goal is to enable individuals to have productive discussions of what reality consists of, since without critical thinking as a foundation for such discussions, they'd degenerate into people making claims that stifle open debate.
Let's imagine a group talking about global warming -- it's causes, consequences, and what should be done about it. Then someone chimes in with "Jesus saves!" or "God is in control, so no worries." That would stop the discussion in its tracks.
Critical thinking mainly is directed at objective reality, the world outside of our internal subjectivity.
If someone says, "I believe in God," or "I like chocolate ice cream," there's little that I'd feel like saying in response except, perhaps, wonderful. However, if that person says "God is real," or "Everybody should like chocolate ice cream the best," I'd want to argue with them.
During the 15 years I've been posting regularly on this blog I've seen countless (almost) examples of religious believers mixing up their subjective faith with objective reality. No reasons need be given for subjective faith, but very good reasons must be provided if a claim is made about objective reality.
Typically, truths about objective reality require an extensive process of review, discussion, debate, and criticism.
No one gets to say "the world is like this: _____" without that claim being put under the microscope of critical thinking. Saying so doesn't make it so. Facts, evidence, sound arguments -- those things make it so.
Look, I'm not saying that every comment on this blog outside of an Open Thread needs to be an intellectual tour de force. I'm simply encouraging visitors to this blog who want to leave a comment on one of my posts to be thoughtful in your arguments. Which doesn't mean serious, necessarily. Humor and thoughtfulness are allies, not enemies.
Each of us should be able to laugh at our mistakes, our tendency to believe that we're correct even in the absence of evidence, our unwillingness to admit I could be wrong.
Again, I see this as a difference between us atheists and religious believers.
I'm not certain that God doesn't exist. I'm open to evidence and arguments that God does exist. All I ask is that religious believers have the same attitude. Admit that you aren't certain God exists. Be open to evidence and arguments that God doesn't exist.
If this happens, we can have a dialogue based on critical thinking.
Here's a few cartoons about critical thinking.