It’s always nice to see Christians and atheists (and others) reaching out to each other to have conversations about religion and the nature of God.
But don’t do it the way Christian theology professor Randal Rauser does it.
Some advice to him is below.
Tip #1) Don’t begin a note to atheists like this:
I must say that as a general rule I like the atheists I meet. Oh sure, there is the odd mean fundamentalist atheist out there, just like in every other belief system. But most atheists I talk with are intelligent and thoughtful, if at times overly defensive.
I tend to like Christians I meet, too.
Except the ones who believe in Christ.
But the rest of them are intelligent and thoughtful.
(What is a “mean atheist fundamentalist” exactly? He never explains. I’d like to know…)
Tip #2) Explain the problem at hand:
Sadly, I have found that atheists often misunderstand both the nature of atheism and of Christianity…
That’s a good start. Put the blame on the other side.
But if you do that, don’t imply that Christians know better especially when you yourself misunderstand the nature of atheism (see Tip #3).
Tip #3) Don’t you yourself misunderstand the nature of atheism:
The problem here, in short, is that atheists often are not clear either on what atheism is or on what its rational defense requires…
*sigh* No, that’s completely wrong.
Problems begin when atheists confuse atheism with agnosticism (a confusion which in my experience happens quite often). Atheism is the affirmation of the proposition (1) “there is no God”…
Strangely enough, Rauser goes against his own definition in the comments:
Okay, here is the single definition provided in Merriam-Websters: “one who believes that there is no deity”. And here is the Longman dictionary’s single definition: “the belief that God does not exist.”…
Let’s be clear on this: Atheists don’t believe a god exists. That’s very different from claiming that one absolutely, positively doesn’t exist. I don’t believe in a god for the same reasons I don’t believe in unicorns, Santa Claus, and ugly-looking-Swedish-people.
Might they exist? Maybe. Do I think they do? Nope.
Tip #4) Don’t try to converse with atheists and then call them agnostics:
Agnosticism is the stance where one affirms neither (1) “there is no God” or its negation, (2) “there is a God”. Agnosticism is a respectable position. One may very well believe there is inadequate evidence either way to settle the question. But I have encountered a number of people who took the agnostic position, and yet persisted in calling themselves atheists.
How dare you…
We’re not agnostics. We are not in the “middle” when it comes to god’s existence. We’re clearly leaning in one direction.
Frankly, I’m not a fan of people who call themselves agnostics. It’s the more politically correct position, perhaps, since atheist has a stigma attached to it, but it’s weak.
As the popular example goes (work with me here), we can’t say that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists nor can we say He doesn’t. Are we agnostic about the FSM? No. We’re atheists regarding Him.
Tip #5) Stop the attempt at conversation until you can stop digging the hole you’re already in:
Good try. It’s a worthwhile thing to do. But this is a bad start. Maybe some other time.