This weekend I debated Dr. Michael Murray, a professor of physics at the University of Kansas, over whether or not science and Christianity can coexist. Dr. Murray is a soft-spoken British man, the kind that is nearly too timid to make eye contact. When we first met he produced a deck of cards from his pocket and gave them to me. They contained facts about the LHC in Geneva. He then told me if I was ever in Geneva that he’d arrange for me to have a tour.
Debates are necessarily contentious, so I admit there’s always a little part in the back of my mind that hopes my opponents are assholes. That way I can bring my full ferocity to the table and not feel guilty for doing so. Dr. Murray greatly disappointed that part of my brain.
Religion and the institutionalized unreason that accompanies it are bad for the world. Sadly, this wholly maladaptive idea barricades itself within the minds of very good people. It is that scenario that causes me to wind up debating someone with whom I’d much rather be sharing a meal. But as much as I don’t want to lock horns with nice religious people, it must be done, and I acknowledge that.
The culture war has much at stake, enough that battles of ideas must be fought with no quarter given. Sometimes it’s easy to dehumanize the other side, to think that they don’t also have their own reluctant warriors. A lot of them are the nicest people you’ll ever meet, like Dr. Murray, who are not born fighters but are brave enough to stand up and try. Even if I disagree with them, even if I must want to beat them to produce a better world, I still must admire those qualities. And I also must lament having to fight someone with whom I’d be friends outside the culture war. Every time I go feral on someone I acknowledge this.
And I fight anyway, because religion must die. Every general wishes wars could be won without casualties. The best we can do in the war of atheism and religion is to never forget that not all of our opponents are evil, even if they remain our opponents. If it could be destroyed without ever railing against someone else’s ideas, I’d do it that way. But it can’t.