BALANCED DEBATE: In Praise of An Atheist

Written by Wes Walker on August 30, 2014

For anyone who thinks I have nothing good to say about people I disagree with: Last week, I presented an article written by a moderate Muslim (as he’d likely be described), serving his country well by warning the rest us about some dangerously militant Imams in our midst. This week I’m praising somebody from within the Atheist camp.

This is an atheist with whom I could at least have a rational conversation over a beer. He’s as ready to shoot down some of the anti-intellectual tactics employed by people on his side of the debate as I am to shoot down (say) a TV huckster, or the Westboro Baptists.  I have more respect for his mind and motivations than I do for some folks from (so to say) “my team”.

The Boxing Pythagoras blog offers an attempt at intellectual honesty too-often lacking on both sides of the atheist/religious internet interaction, and he is calling “foul” on post by one high-traffic pop-culture atheist site.

B.P. sets out some good advice for his fellow atheists on how to avoid some of the more foolish, wrong-headed and outright dishonest interactions often employed when dealing with Christians.

At the end, the blogger makes a very astute and intelligent statement about the burden of proof, as well. It is one that might be helpful in moving toward actual positive interaction and conversation between both groups, which I will mention after I sample his objections:

A few highlights from his list of Twenty: (paraphrased, unless in quotes)

  1.  There’s no evidence
    Not true. “…if one of your foundational arguments is as thoroughly untrue as this statement, it gives your audience a reason to immediately dismiss your position.”
  2.  Who created God?

“If you are not familiar with the concepts of non-contigency and eternity, or with the manner in which these concepts are applied to deity in classical theology, you really should not be asking this question.”

  1.  Ten Commandments left off “No Slavery” and “Rape is Bad”

“Generally, ‘your god doesn’t behave a way that non-believers want a god to behave’ is not the most convincing argument”

There are more. I encourage you to read them. (Particularly #19)

To return to his main point of burden of proof. He is right… to an extent.

If a person makes no claim whatsoever about whether God (as offered by Christianity) as described is who believers claim him to be, there is no burden of proof, and the conversation is at something of a stalemate. But there is, it seems to me, a way to press reasoned conversation beyond that step.

There are many aspects of life profoundly affected by personal beliefs, whether they are founded on theistic or non-theistic assumptions.

An atheist may (in one sense) be silent about his belief on whether God must exist or not, and avoid asserting any such opinion. [This is, naturally, position which most theists would call something more than merely problematic on several levels.] But that doesn’t exactly wave away the problem.

Much of life, ranging from the value of life per se, standards of human interaction, moral obligations or lack thereof, understandings about the mind, human failings (and their remedy), public policy, and balancing private vs. collective good (to name but a few) do not exist in a vacuum. Those views we have spring from somewhere, from something that must eventually rest upon axiomatic ideas.

If we want to truly enter into meaningful conversation, we could take a page from Socrates in uncovering one another’s axiomatic ideas (hint: mine is Christian theism), and comparing between two positive assertions, (ours, and whatever you might agree yours to be), rather than our positive assertion, and your negative one, which won’t really move the conversation forward.


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