In the process of engaging skeptics with the evidence for Christian theism, I have met, spoken with, and learned from many wonderful people with whom I disagree with in a fundamental way.
The political atmosphere of the United States has created such a divided and polarized country, one wonders if there is any room for civil dialogue between disagreeing parties. If we take the current political dialogue as our cue, we may think it impossible for such fundamentally different positions as Christianity and Atheism to come together and speak civilly.
However, I have found the majority of my conversations with skeptics to be quite enjoyable and beneficial. For this reason, I find it appropriate to “give credit where credit is due” and list some attributes that I find admirable in my skeptical friends.
- Critical Thinking. My skeptical friends often poke holes in my own thinking and for this, I am grateful. I want to know where my thinking is flawed. For without this knowledge, how can anyone improve? Criticism is necessary. We can’t be content to stay within our “echo chambers” if we wish to advance in knowledge.
- Free Speech. My position on free speech has always been “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.” I have found that my skeptical friends also share this value. In fact, the world’s foremost atheist, Sam Harris, recently closed his Patreon account because he felt they were censoring more conservative voices. Sam himself is certainly no conservative, but he values free speech even for those he disagrees with. This honorable and worth commending.
- Honesty. It has been my observation that many Christians are functional atheists. If you hand them a survey, they’ll check the “Christian” box, but that’s about it. In other words, a lot of people in the Christian community are pretending. Perhaps, this is the result of the left-over cultural norm that being a Christian and going to church is the “good thing” to do. Even today, in more local communities, there is still societal pressure to be a “Good Christian” and go to church. I admire my skeptical friends for their honesty and refusal to “fake it”. I wish more Christians would be honest about their doubts, for I am fully convinced that addressing our doubts head-on will lead to answers, which in turn will lead to a stronger faith.
- Truth. The truth is that which corresponds to reality. For the atheist, the statement “God exists” does not correspond to reality. I admire the atheists commitment to follow the truth wherever it leads. I happen to think that the truth leads us to to the proposition “God does exist,” but nonetheless, I admire anyone who is honestly seeking after the truth. Living in falsehood, or at least in something we know to be false, is no way to live. This goes back to being honest.
- Fairness. While it would be easy to succumb to the temptation of treating Christianity as intellectually void, as some skeptics do, the majority of atheists I have engaged with take the Christian apologist at her word — she believes because of the evidence and reason. There is no reason to assume that someone we disagree with is irrational and only believes what they believe for purely emotional reasons. Some believers have said atheists believe what they do not because of the evidence (or lack of evidence), but because they want to be their own god and live however they’d like. On the flip side, some skeptics have said that Christians only believe what they believe not because of the evidence, but because they have a fear of death and religion helps them cope. Both positions are vacuous. You can’t prove them. They are just easy ways of dismissing your opponent’s position without dealing with any of their reasons or evidence.
In conclusion, I have thoroughly enjoyed my engagement with skeptics and am happy to confirm the five points above. Thank you to all of my skeptical friends, and I look forward to future dialogue.