Why I Respect Pascal

To the readers of this blog – I appreciate the ability to share my thoughts with you, if only so the reasoning and justification for my position is available for some future descendent who demands to know “Why?” As I described in About Russell, I would also like to see both Christians and non-theists learn to understand each others’ positions and treat one another with respect. It is honestly not my mission to cause anyone to lose their faith, though I wouldn’t mind if some people reigned in the certainty a bit. 🙂

The following two excerpts are from the audio lectures called Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide To Critical Thinking Skills

“When two or more people disagree over a factual statement, what that means is that one side or both sides must be wrong in some way. Obviously, two mutually exclusive conclusions, by definition, can’t both be correct at the same time. So immediately when you and another person disagree over a factual statement, you know that one or both of you is wrong.

The goal should therefore be not to, again, martial whatever evidence you can to defend your side, but to examine both of your arguments to find where the assumptions are in the premises, where the false premises are, or where the errors in logic are. You know that there has to be one of more of those somewhere. If the two of you can work together in order to discover the errors in assumptions or logic then you should be able to resolve your differences and come to a better conclusion. That is a much more practical approach to a disagreement than simply defending whatever side you happen to take at the beginning, regardless of the validity of logic or the correctness of the premises.” – 6:58 – 8:13 in Chapter 7

“It is important to apply the rules of critical thinking to yourself most of all. The famous physicist, Richard Feynman, famously said, ‘The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.’ But there are barriers to being more critical thinking ourselves. Once you invest, for example, your ego into a conclusion, then motivated reasoning will kick in and distort and bias your critical thinking into that direction. In the end, your education, your knowledge, and your critical thinking skills will still lead you to the wrong answer, you will just be much more confident in your error because you have rationalized it in a much more sophisticated way. Unless, of course, you really apply that critical thinking to your own beliefs.

If, on the other hand, you invest your ego in the process of critical thinking and not in any particular conclusion, then you’ll be more free to follow the logic and evidence wherever it leads. You will, in fact, take pride in your ability to change your opinion as new information becomes available. Being called on using erroneous logic or biased reasoning or incomplete data, that will be what you will fear. And in order to seem consistent, and in order to meet the emotional needs of your ego, you will focus on getting the process correct, not on being correct in any conclusion that you have set your stakes into.” – 8:01 – 9:38 in Chapter 12

Certainty is galvanizing, but it can also be blinding. I think the most courageous and one of the most admirable qualities in an individual is their commitment to truly question their most invested beliefs.

There are Christians who, misunderstanding the arrogance of some outspoken non-theists and their contempt for the Bible, choose to judge and hate all non-theists equally. That is not Pascal.

Pascal is a genuine Christian who is committed to science and evidence as well as to faith. He has respect and reverence for the atheists in deference to the dignity of their humanity, despite his disagreements. Most importantly, he takes the above excerpts seriously. He is able to jump in the gutter with the non-theist and make a serious effort to take a critical look at his own beliefs. That is why I have immense respect for Pascal. This blog and our friendship have demonstrated that he, more than any of my believing friends, genuinely deserves that respect.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

8 comments

  1. This is an impressive forum, gentlemen. I commend you for creating a space for friendly discussion. I tried something similar a few years ago with a Christ follower pastor friend. It fizzled fast, I think because the hard honest questions were a bit much for him. I think what you both are doing is a good model. I’d like to see more of this.

    Liked by 1 person

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