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Can We Be Openminded and Christians?

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[Originally published in 2014 as What Does It Mean To Be Open-Minded?]

Those who have been homeschooling for many years probably recognize the name Cathy Duffy. For years, her Christian Home Educators’ Curriculum Manual was the main reference homeschooling parents used to choose among their various curriculum options. Over the years, other means by which home educators can get curriculum advice have been developed. Nevertheless, Cathy Duffy continues to be a trusted resource for many homeschooling parents.

Her latest book, 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, is a set of reviews of what she considers to be the best curriculum available to home-educating parents. I was honored to find out that my new elementary science series has been included in that book. In her review, she writes:

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I’m not aware of any other science curriculum similar to this. While it is a Christian curriculum, it avoids the apologetics flavor of some others that spend a lot of energy arguing for creationism and against evolution. Nevertheless, it helps students view science from Christian worldview. The use of hands-on activities to introduce lessons, the multi-age format, and the chronological approach in this series are also features likely to appeal to many families. This seems to me an excellent way to teach science, and an approach that should have exceptional appeal for classical educators.

I truly appreciate Cathy Duffy’s kind words!

Of course, there are many other reviews of my new series, and most of them are very positive. There is one negative review as well. In addition, there is one review that is a bit mixed, and it’s the one that caused me to write this post.

The reviewer is obviously not a fan. He calls me “squishy” and doesn’t like the fact that I try to expand my students’ horizons. That doesn’t bother me. It also doesn’t bother me that he wrote a mixed review. However, there is something in the review that really does bother me. His biggest complaint against me is that I am open-minded. Indeed, he writes:

He’s a young-earth creationist but touts open-mindedness, ascribing value and legitimacy to opposing views. This is fine to an extent, but its logical conclusion is a total lack of certainty and a dismissal of confirmed (and confirmable) truth.

I personally think this statement couldn’t be more incorrect. Open-mindedness and certainty about specific truths do not conflict. In fact, I think open-mindedness can lead you to becoming certain about specific truths.

For example, I was originally an atheist. However, even though I thought that there was no God, I was open-minded about it. I listened to (and valued) the opinions of others who thought differently from me. As a result, I began to see the serious rational problems associated with an atheistic worldview and began to believe in some sort of Creator God. As I continued to be open-minded, I ended up becoming convinced that this Creator is the God of the Bible, and I became a Christian.

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Since I sincerely believe that open-mindedness helped me find the truth of Christ, I continue to be open-minded, reading works that range from atheistic to fundamentalist Christian. Does this make me any less certain of Christianity? Of course not! It just allows me to learn from a wide variety of people, even those with whom I disagree.

Perhaps it’s my scientific training that makes me see that open-mindedness and certainty go hand-in-hand. I am a nuclear chemist. I study protons and neutrons, which are things we can’t see. Even though we can’t see them, I am absolutely certain they exist. Nevertheless, if someone came up with a hypothesis that indicates protons and neutrons don’t exist, I would not dismiss that person out of hand. In fact, I would be very interested in finding out the specific evidence and reasoning he used to come to that conclusion.

Why would I bother to spend the time investigating a hypothesis that goes against something about which I am absolutely certain? Because in learning about a hypothesis that rejects the existence of protons and neutrons (and especially the evidence used to support it), I might come to a deeper understanding of how protons and neutrons behave. After all, evidence that causes a rational person to doubt their existence must have some bearing on their behavior and properties. If I can understand that evidence, it’s possible that I can figure out some new, as-yet-unknown aspect of these interesting particles, whose existence is certain.

In my mind, open-mindedness is one of the most important qualities that a scientist must have. Consider, for example, the quantum-mechanical revolution. How did it begin? It started because scientists like Niels Bohr looked seriously at the evidence that seemed to indicate that Newton was wrong. These scientists didn’t believe for a second that Newton was actually wrong. A couple of hundred years’ worth of scientific data clearly supported his laws of motion, the law of gravitation, etc. Nevertheless, there were a few odd experiments out there that seemed to indicate Newton’s laws were wrong.

Scientists like Bohr decided to take those experiments seriously, even though they were absolutely certain that Newton’s laws were correct. As a result, they ended up discovering that while Newton’s laws are, indeed, correct, they do not completely govern the atomic world. This started the quantum revolution, which gave us a new set of physical laws. At the same time, however, it also brought us a deeper understanding of Newton’s laws. We now know the situations to which Newton’s laws apply, and we understand how they are a macroscopic result of the quantum mechanics that govern the microscopic world. If it hadn’t been for the open-mindedness of those scientists, we would not understand these basic truths.

In my mind, then, certainty and open-mindedness go hand-in-hand. If I had not been open-minded, I would not be certain of Christianity today. I continue to be open-minded in the hopes of learning new truths and coming to an even deeper understanding of the truths about which I am certain.

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Dr. Jay Wile

Written by Jay Wile

As a scientist, it is hard for me to fathom anyone who has scientific training and does not believe in God. Indeed, it was science that brought me not only to a belief in God, but also to faith in Christianity. I have an earned Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in nuclear chemistry and a B.S. in chemistry from the same institution.

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