I’d like to start by saying your site is one of the most cogent and well-written expressions atheistic ideology. I was raised in a household essentially devoid of religious practices, though I was aware of the existence (and prevalence) of religion in society from a young age, and I really appreciate your site.
During a considerably thorough perusal of your site (specifically the comments and responses), I couldn’t find a single argument of yours that I disagreed with. This should not be taken as a statement of how similar the tenets of our respective strands of atheism are, but rather as praise of the skill with which you present arguments. Well done.
However, after some thought I noticed an unsettling trend in the responses that I’ve read (though I admit I have not read all of them):
It seems to me that when you respond to a comment that takes issue with any part of your site in any way, you never give any ground. You seem unwilling to accept that points other people raise could have merit, unless those points perfectly agree with or directly support your Ideas. Often I read a well thought out critique by an intelligent reader, and see that your response treats all their points as statements to be disproved or otherwise invalidated, and this is unsettling.
For example, in a recent correspondence, somebody suggested that arguing with a theist on the existence of a deity is counter productive because the argument itself gives credence to the theist’s point of view.
This comment reminded me of a discussion I had recently where my friends and I concluded that a debate between an evolutionist and a proponent of “intelligent design” would, regardless of the outcome of the debate, give strength to “intelligent design” because some evolutionists would be suggesting that there is even a debate to be held.
There are slight differences between this hypothetical debate and a debate between atheism and theism, namely that evolution is supported by overwhelming evidence, so a debate on whether or not the theory has merit ignores evidence, which is counter productive. Similarly, the existence of god is supported by minimal (dare I say, ‘no’) evidence, so a debate regarding his existence supposes some substantial evidence where in fact almost no evidence is present, which is counter productive.
I’d like to apologize to the author of that comment if I misrepresented his/her views, but that is what I took from the comment.
I was sorely disappointed when the response offered superficial agreement, but then disagreed with almost every point raised.
I feel that it defeats the purpose of a comments section with prompt responses (so rare these days) if no actual discussion is facilitated, and people just expound their own ideas and ignore (or in this case always disagree) with anyone else’s ideas.
Sorry if I came off a bit angry, because I didn’t mean to. I have a ton of respect for you and your great site. You’re doing a great thing.
Also, If you choose to disagree with every point I’ve raised, you have my word that I will not take it as your admission of the validity of my overall point.
First and foremost, I want to thank you for your thoughtful and well-thought-out note. I am flattered that you think my site worthy of such deep thought.
Addressing your points, it is true that I tend to “give little ground” in my discussions. This is because, after so many years of going over this same territory, I rarely hear a new argument, so it would be unusual for me to run into something that would change my opinion on this subject. That said, there have been cases where I have changed the site’s intended-as-humor content based on reader feedback. As you read through the correspondence, you will also see that I have no problem with “agreeing to disagree” when sharing points of view. Looking at this another way, I try to never berate someone just because they disagree with me, and I do not make it a personal goal to try and turn everyone into an atheist.
I do not, in any way, mean to imply that those points which I disagree with do not have merit. For example, if someone says that they have a deep feeling that there must be a deity, I will argue that this is not proof of a deity, but I do not in any way mean to imply that I deny the person’s feelings or think less of them for having those feelings. I also do not feel that someone who does not agree with me is therefore somehow less than me. I sincerely hope that my disagreeing with people is not taken as my somehow judging them.
You give the example of avoiding arguing with a theist because such arguments give credence to the theist’s point of view. I am of the opinion that, in most cases, discussion and polite debate is far better than not sharing thoughts and opinions. On the subject of evolution vs. creationism, I think that sharing of information is important, but I also think we need to be very careful not to give the impression that formal debate (in which debating skills are often more important than facts) is part of the scientific process.
I agree that there is no compelling evidence for the existence of god. However, the people who wish to discuss this subject with me believe that there is such evidence. I would not feel right saying to them that I will not discuss their evidence because I already know it to be poor. Refusing to enter in to the discussion neither helps the theist reflect on their own beliefs nor helps them understand the thinking of an atheist. If my goal is to share information, encourage dialogue, and promote understanding, then discussing whether or not god exists is not, in my opinion, counterproductive.
So, although I do agree that there is merit to the belief that discussing god in some way gives god some validity (as proponents of the linguistic argument for atheism would agree), I think that there are other factors which render this point less significant.
It makes me sad that you might feel that I do not facilitate discussion and “expound my own ideas and ignore (or always disagree) with anyone else’s ideas.” I have had several nice discussions as part of this site (as you can see in the Notable Conversations section) and would like to have more. I also have no problem at all with any reader who wants to go through my statements and tell me why s/he disagrees with all of them. I am very, very interested to know if and why people disagree with me.
I should also point out that I do not publish some of the correspondence from people who just plain agree with me. Let’s face it, that’s not too interesting to the world at large. I also believe that it is much more likely that someone will write to me if they disagree with my beliefs than if they agree with them. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t run into a whole lot of people that I completely agree with. I obviously disagree with theists on many topics. I disagree with most people who call themselves agnostics. I disagree with atheists who say that there is definitely no god. I disagree with atheists who deride people just because they are religious. Let’s face it, I disagree with a lot of people.
Be assured that your note didn’t sound angry at all. You are voicing a sincere and reasonable concern, and I’m hoping that I can reassure you that I am not as much of a gainsayer as I may come across. I’ll try and keep an eye out for that tendency in the future, because it really isn’t how I want to be seen.
Oh, and thanks for not throwing me into a logical conundrum for disagreeing with every point that you raised, because I think that may be what I just did
By the way, if you’re willing to share, I would be very much interested in what your personal religious philosophy is.