Thursday, January 04, 2007

Constructive, Enjoyable Atheist-Christian Discussion Perfectly Possible

By Dave Armstrong (1-4-07)

Benjamin Cheeks (aka "soulster") - a Protestant Christian - wrote on his blog, philaletheia:

The Holidays led to a lengthy absence from this blog and most online activity for me and I've spent that last couple of days catching up reading comments, etc. All I can say is ouch. It probably isn't productive to dissect what happened, but I've noticed this: comments have lessened and so have our hits.

Perhaps our statements about our original intents caused people to hope. Some thought it couldn't be done and it would degrade into the same useless back-and-forth with someone eventually taking their ball and going home. But I think others wished, just for once, this would be different. That people would listen, find common ground, and move forward. I still hold to that hope.

If I were to talk about the game I am playing here, I would say I'm playing a cooperative rather than competitive game. Competitive games are intended to inspire excellence using motivations of fear of humiliation and lust for dominance. That, I believe, already exists between atheists and believers, but I do not care to join in such a game.

For the first time I played a cooperative game over break with my wife and parents. It was a strange Sudoku game where we worked as a team to beat the clock. My mother, who is very intelligent but does not like to be rushed, could play along with the rest of us because there was no humiliation waiting for her at the end of the game. It was an experience providentially timed, and I think it reinforced what this dialogue is all about for me: comprehension in all things, cooperation in most things, and synthesis wherever possible.

Hi soulster,

I'm leaving this blog (yes I am, despite my lengthy posts today!), precisely because I feel that drunkentune and beepbeep have expressly contradicted the laudable goals you set out above.

They have consistently called theists names and implied that they are abnormal, gullible, stupid, and mentally ill. This is "cooperative?"

Some (perhaps even you yourself) may think that I am in the merely "competitive" mode in some negative sense of that concept. But, rightly-understood, this is a gross, simplistic caricature of my approach, which is one of dialogue building upon common ground. I've written about it at length and for years. There is no mystery as to my approach to dialogue with others of different persuasions.

The problem I ran across here is that drunken and beepbeep consistently refuse to accept common ground between Christians and atheists. They imply we are fundamentally irrational and anti-scientific. Proof is everywhere, and unnecessary for me to provide.

Now, such an "us vs. them" attitude is the very antithesis of finding "common ground." I have long maintained that atheists and Christians can find a lot of common ground in moral issues, and also that we can meet on the playing-field of logic and science.

I am saying that both atheists and Christians (i.e., the best and most thoughtful representatives in both camps) can do both science and logic together, by starting with commonly-held premises.

drunken and beepbeep deny this. They claim that our starting-point is irrational faith and gullibility (with faith butchered and not even understood in its definition). I, on the other hand, have argued that both sides start with unproven axioms, so that we are all in the same epistemological boat.

That fosters intellectual humility and mutual respect, but the opposing view fosters condescension and always regarding Christians as inferior. Hence, good dialogue is an impossibility.

Nor do I think that "competition" is a bad thing in and of itself, and in antithesis to "cooperation." I think the proper way to look at it is to seek after mutual respect by acknowledging common ground and the willingness of both sides to seek truth and care about it.

With that background, one can vigorously debate competing ideas without acrimony, just as occurs in philosophy and science (and in a different way in, e.g., economics and sports). The cooperation is methodological and in the context of mutual respect, but the competition of ideas is the really exciting thing. The competition brings energy and motivation. But it need not be with a "superior-subordinate" mentality. It can be completely friendly.

Indeed, most of my 360 + posted dialogues were with friendly opponents. But sometimes one runs across people who insist on being insulting and condescending. That wrecks dialogue.

"Competition" or simply believing strongly in, and defending ideas is not the problem; certain personalities or approaches that misunderstand the nature of both dialogue and epistemology (as well as particular dialogue partners whom they regard as "enemies" to be smashed) are causing the problem. It's a "human-specific" difficulty, in other words, not a "methodology-specific" one.

I was called all sorts of names and various snide insinuations were made about my supposed opinions and attitudes before I got fed up and described drunkentune as a "pompous, condescending ass."

The description accurately portrays how he treated me, as far as I was (and am) concerned. I don't see how anyone could doubt that he has been condescending and insulting. He simply couldn't take my criticisms and so lashed out.

If my reaction is so terrible and indefensible, then certainly the many insults of drunken and beepbeep prior to my calling a spade a spade (as I see it) are equally blameworthy.

But I'm outta here, whatever happens. If someone thinks I am or was the cause of this thing breaking down, you'll see whether that is true or not after I leave. But drunken is also quite capable of treating different people in different ways. He has approached me like I am a moron and an imbecile, but he doesn't approach you that way. This happens in life; different temperaments clash. You two get along; he and I don't.

If he treats people more like you, this thing can still work as planned, but whenever he treats people like he has myself, it won't work (so I would predict). So it comes down to drunken's almost "divided" (elsewhere I described it [quite justifiably, in my opinion] as "schizoid") personality and methodology.

Farewell. If anyone wants to interact with recent comments of mine on cosmology, they are welcome to do so on my blog, but I will ignore drunken and beepbeep there, for reasons outlined above. I have an extreme lack of patience for insulting "discussion." Life is too short to ruin something as fun and exciting as good intellectual discussion, with a descent into schoolyard polemics and posturing.

Others are, of course, free and encouraged to interact with them on my blog as they wish, per my belief in free speech, which includes the "right" to ignore people one deems not worth interacting with, also.

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