I’m proud of Common Sense Atheism.
I am happy to have provided great study resources for believers and unbelievers alike: 400+ atheism vs. theism debates, 50+ christian vs. muslim debates, hundreds of research articles in philosophy of religion, various bibliographies, atheism audio, Best Atheism Books of the Decade, and more.
I’ve enjoyed sharing my personal story. I’ve enjoyed interviewing really smart people for my podcast, Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot. I’m happy to have begun compiling a comprehensive resource on desirism.
And I’m glad that I keep learning. From life, from my own studies, from my supporters and critics.
One thing I’ve learned is that most people retreat into a shell when they feel attacked. Anything perceived as arrogance or vitriol can be used as an excuse to avoid seriously considering what I have to say. So maybe I can gain more comrades in the search for truth and be more persuasive if I am less abrasive.
I’ve considered this point many times, but it really came home to me when I encountered Todd White. Todd wrote to me in an email:
I’m quite impressed by your intellectual integrity, your willingness to share your personal experiences, and dare I say, your benevolent soul.
So I guess I was in a position to gain an ally of sorts, and extend my influence. He also sent me a link to his post The Best Evidence for God in One Paragraph. His best evidence was the anthropic principle, Intelligent Design, and Near Death Experiences. It so happens those are three of the least impressive arguments for theism I can think of (along with Pascal’s Wager), and I told him so:
Huh. Not what I expected. Those are some of the WORST evidences I can think of. The “best” theistic arguments I can think of are the Kalam Cosmological Argument and some forms of ontological argument. I suspect there is a huge gap between which arguments believers find reassuring and which arguments might be somewhat persuasive to atheists.
Well, nobody likes to be told that the best they’ve got is pretty bad. After that, Todd’s attitude toward me completely changed:
At first, I thought Luke was a sincere lover of truth and reason, but now – based on our email exchange – I’m not sure. Actually, I doubt it… And I fear that Luke enjoys his ignorance too much to consider other possibilities.
What a difference one little paragraph can make! What’s more, I realized that Todd’s negative reaction could have been completely avoided had I tweaked the tone of my email just a bit. For example, I could have written:
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet written much about the anthropic principle, Intelligent Design, or Near Death Experiences. What do you think of the Kalam Cosmological Argument and various ontological arguments? I find them to be the most persuasive theistic arguments I’ve yet encountered.
Now, many atheists are going to tell me: “Luke, you’re backing off too much! Theists constantly make the most outrageous, unfounded claims, and you have no duty to respect their superstitious beliefs just because they are religious beliefs!”
And these atheists are right. I don’t have any such duty. And I suspect their worry – that atheists grant too much for a kind of “political capital” with believers while believers never grant anything back as hoped – is valid. But that doesn’t mean that we need to engage believers with the aggressiveness of the New Atheists.
It is my personal choice to ease up a bit with believers. I think our common search for truth can be interrupted when emotions run high and people feel attacked – whether or not there is any rationality at all to our beliefs (theistic or atheistic).
But don’t expect me to become meek. I still think it’s useful to use the terms “supernatural” and “magical” interchangeably. I will continue to point out the flaws in theistic reasoning. I will continue to warn about the dangers of many religious sects. I will continue to make claims of moral fact.
In closing, I am inspired by the aims set forth by “ex-apologist” – who is smarter, more thoughtful, and better educated than I am – for his own blog:
Although I enjoy scrolling through a number of blogs regarding theism in general, and christian theism in particular, I’m often discouraged at the tone of the discussion. It’s all too easy for interlocutors to be so caught up in “dueling” their “opponents” that they lose sight of the goal: the pursuit of truth and understanding and the avoidance of falsehoods and incomprehension. I have no illusions about changing all of this, but at least I can try to make a difference, however trifling.
Let me just say what should be obvious: any one of us, including myself, may be completely wrong about our views on some matter. Therefore, it’s important to cultivate truth-conducive intellectual virtues that will increase the likelihood that we’ll come to have more true beliefs than false ones. Thus, one of my main goals for this blog will be to exercise, as best as I can, the virtues of honesty, civility, humility, and clarity.
I take these to involve the following: giving the best and most powerful construal of the points of one’s interlocutor; giving one’s interlocutor the benefit of the doubt; pursuing truth instead of “victory”; aiming to understand and internalize one’s interlocutor’s views before a critique ever occurs to one. In doing so, I ask those who may choose to join the discussion here to do the same.1
- Paragraph breaks added for readability. [↩]