Instead of loving God with a careful mind, we can have a tendency to be intellectually careless. We jump to conclusions not warranted by the evidence. We more heavily weigh evidence in favor of our cherished beliefs and discount that which might count against them. We also can be too influenced by emotions or image rather than by careful thought and intellectual substance. Or we may just be tired and overwhelmed by the information that is constantly streaming our way.
Over the years I’ve heard many people say something along these lines: “No one has ever been argued into following Christ.” Usually, people nod approvingly and add something about how God doesn’t need defending. I understand why people say this, and there is something true behind the claim, but it is, nevertheless, false.
I’ve read essays by people who describe becoming followers of Christ based on a good argument or set of arguments. Augustine, for example, describes his own conversion as in part a response to the arguments against Manicheanism and for Christianity. It was not the arguments alone that accomplished this, but they played a significant role.
What does it mean to be fair-minded? In his book, Virtuous Minds, Philip Dow makes the case that there is a good deal of confusion about this trait. Many people wrongly equate intellectual fair-mindedness with some sort of relativism. This, Dow aptly argues, is a mistake.
While it is true that we should be open to new or different ideas and ways of thinking, this is not the same as the belief that all claims are equally valuable or worthy of acceptance. In fact, acceptance of this kind of relativism is harmful to learning, growth in knowledge, and the acquisition of wisdom. If all ideas are on an equal footing, then questioning ideas and the evidence for or against them is nonsensical.
As children, we were naturally curious about almost everything. This may have annoyed our parents and teachers, but it is also an essential part of human development. If we want to grow intellectually, morally, socially, and spiritually, we need to ask questions and seek answers. We need intellectual curiosity.
At some point, however, many of us lost this initial curiosity. Perhaps we feared looking unintelligent or ignorant, or maybe someone in school mocked us for our curiosity. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to retrieve this trait.
Most people have a sense of what it means to be morally courageous. To put oneself in harm’s way for the sake of others, or for the sake of some just cause, is an admirable thing to do. As Jesus tells us in John 15:13 (NIV): “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
We rightly praise those who display such courage. We see it most clearly exemplified by Jesus as he goes to and suffers on the cross. The intellectual virtue of courage is also important, but we tend to be less sure about what it is.
What is intellectual courage?