I have commented before that discussions between atheists and christians, on the internet at least, seem to be mostly unproductive at best and downright nasty at worst (Atheists vs christians: does it have to be war?.) It seems no-one is listening and a lot of the ‘discussion’ is more name-calling than information exchange.
So it is gratifying to be able to report that it isn’t always so – and that an atheist is setting the good example.
An atheist with an open mind
James Fodor is the President of the Secular Society at the University of Melbourne. Recently he wrote an article for a christian newspaper and website (An atheist’s point of view: why Christians aren’t being heard) about how he attends many christian events, and explains why.
Why don’t christians and atheists talk more?
James believes christians and atheists can learn from each other, and so be challenged by the other. “We both share the same objective: to come to a knowledge of the truth, and help others to do likewise”, he says, and goes on to quote CS Lewis.
He believes interacting, rather than talking only to people we agree with, refines our own opinions as we benefit from “hearing the perspectives of thoughtful, intelligent people”.
Rather than seeing each other as adversaries, therefore, I think atheists and Christians should consider one another as allies in a difficult journey to discover what is really true—no easy task in this immensely complex and confusing world.
Atheists can learn from christians
He doesn’t expect to find evidence or arguments that show that christianity is true, but christianity makes “very bold” claims, and if it was true he would want to know.
He observes that christians are “more active and committed” than atheists, and atheists can learn from this.
Christians can learn from atheists
Atheists emphasise reason and evidence, which christians don’t seem to discuss much. He recognises that reason and evidence are not the opposite of faith, but the basis for it, but believes christians would benefit from employing reason and evidence more “to guard ourselves against self-deception, overconfidence, and other sources of false belief”.
So why don’t we talk more …. and more politely?
Let us sit down together, Christians and atheists, and politely but honestly share our best reasons in a spirit of good faith and friendship. Let us do this not occasionally, but often. These issues are too important to be neglected as a result of our tendency to separate ourselves from those we disagree with.
What do you think?
Do you think he is right? Do you think it could work?
Do you think that such a discussion could fairly represent the christian view that belief is a matter of experience, faith and the illumination of the Spirit as well as evidence and reason?