In the past, I have often lamented the way that people exhibit cognitive biases in their critical engagement with opposing views. I have especially noted how Christian apologists are prone to do this (as in this critique of Andy Bannister and this critique of Paul Copan).
But this isn’t just about Christians: non-Christians do it as well. Indeed, for all their talk of “reason” and “evidence,” atheists appear to be as prone as anyone to exhibit bias and caricature the beliefs of others. (In this article, I illustrate how both Christians and atheists caricature their opponents.) In other words, neither believing in God nor disbelieving in God bestows epistemic virtue. Rather, you need to work at it.
In the past, I have also offered a simple but challenging solution: the golden rule. At times, I have adopted the more unwieldy phrase the “golden rule of hospitable dialogue” but the idea is simply this: treat the views of others the way you’d like the others to treat your views. In short, if you want other folks to steelman your views rather than strawman them, then for goodness sake, steelman the views of your interlocutor rather than strawmanning them! This ain’t rocket science.
I often encounter people who insist that they really do this when, in fact, they don’t. (It’s the same old story: we think we’re far more virtuous than we are. Self-serving bias is a killer.) So here’s my question: how can we encourage more people to develop the discipline of the golden rule in their interactions with others? What practical advice might one follow? To that question, I offer a simple and concrete solution. I call it the 50/50 rule:
50/50 rule: devote as much time to (a) defending the beliefs of your opponents and critiquing your own beliefs as you devote to (b) critiquing the beliefs of your opponents and defending your own beliefs.
The problem is that it is natural to focus on (b) and to neglect or completely ignore (a). Do that long enough and you become deeply entrenched in your cognitive biases. So the best solution to breaking out of that vicious cycle is to be intentional about redressing your own biases by intentionally pursuing the defense of the beliefs of others and the critique of your own beliefs.