Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is dialogue with an atheist possible?

rmatrgu asks, in light of my skepticism of the Strange Notions project,
I'm obviously late on this comment and this post but where would you say there were possibilities for dialogue between catholic and atheist, if at all? What are the areas in the dialogue where both parties could put up their hands and admit to having views that are contingent on further information?
I want to be clear. My skepticism of Strange Notions' project comes down entirely to their stated decision to have dialogue with New Atheists specifically. That's not reaching out just to atheists - that's reaching out to a subset of atheists. In particular, it's a subset of atheists that sets itself apart from the pack largely in terms of its militancy. Dialogue is not possible where mutual respect is not present - and respect is verboten on Cult of Gnu terms. The absolute best you get is conditional faking of respect, but that's only going to get you an imitation of dialogue.

It's the difference between having a conversation with 'Christians' and 'Westboro Baptist Members'. It's possible to have a fruitful discussion with a Catholic about the authority of the pope, the existence of God, etc. But WBC's schtick is goading and taunting people, and having zero respect for anyone who disagrees with them. There is no 'let's sit down and have a proper conversation' possibility with a WBC member who is adhering to WBC principles - at best, you talk at them, not with them.

Sometimes, dialogue is not possible.

But, that's the WBC and the Cult of Gnu. You can have a good dialogue with other atheists and Christians. If Strange Notions was just reaching out to atheists, period, I wouldn't have been skeptical. But their stated target is 'New Atheists', and that's just a project waiting to fail.


Heuristics said...

Yeah, I would have to agree. It's been 11 years now since they appeared where I like to browse the net. For me, after hundreds of attempts at discussion with them there is no other conclusion to be drawn. No-matter how nice, respectful or logical I have been in my attempts to just have a nice enjoyable discussion with them not a single one of those attempts have been successful. If they ever show the slightest hint of being a member of the cult then it's a near certainty that they actually are. Actually just showing a blatant disregard for double checking their facts against even wikipedia nearly guarantees that they are a part of the cult and any attempt at correcting them will be met with a slew of insults.

In the beginning of this zombie uprising there were normal atheists available for discussion on the internet but they drifted away (I think in horror) when these people showed up.

Ah well, at least the feminists (involuntarily) kicked their asses. Those two groups deserve one another (cruel a punishment as that may be). I suppose one of the downsides of refusing to define some core principles for your group means that you leave yourself very vulnerable to a fifth column attack.

Crude said...

Yeah, if you're referring to the Atheism+ thing, that was a riot. I loved Carrier attempting to become the leader of the whole thing and angrily talking about how he's going to kick out atheists, only to have people almost immediately turn around and make an example out of him.

I've run into reasonable atheists who you can have a real conversation with. The problem is, they tend to be outnumbered on the internet.

What's more, I think there's a sizable number of people who are embarrassed by Dawkins and company, but are absolutely loathe to say so or criticize them. Sometimes it seems to be because doing so will get them kicked out of their atheist social circle. Sometimes it seems to be because, while they think Dawkins and company are embarrassing, they think they may nevertheless be effective with complete idiots, so they have a pragmatic reason to keep quiet.

rmatrgu said...

I certainly take what you say in good faith (pun not intended) and I would agree with you that some of the main expositors of the New Atheism are clearly not people who you can have dialogue as this entails a degree of integrity that seems to be absent in some of them (as was clearly shown recently over at Victor Reppert's blog)

I suppose my question was more in terms of those outside that particular denomination. My observation would be that authentic dialogue centres not so much on "religious" questions per se but on the underlying philosophical framework in which the parties operate, be it AT or methodological naturalism. Perhaps that is one (more) reason that the new atheists disdain philosophy so much.

Crude said...

I think non-Gnu atheists are in principle people you can have a real conversation with, yes. It usually comes down to the metaphysics and core beliefs, quickly, and sometimes that may be where you hit a wall. On the other hand, I think the number of people who are even aware of their core beliefs is pretty thin.

Brian said...

I think we need a Called to Communion for atheism, but Strange Notion isn't it, and I fear it could set back the emergence of such a site. Oh well.

I agree with you entirely, btw. The Cult of Gnu needs to be handled differently. We need to make fun of them! Expose their immoral, shrill, and childish tactics, and simply hold a mirror up to them. They are already becoming becoming the butt of jokes and "naked contempt."

Crude said...

In fairness, I think the Strange Notions people may be using 'New Atheist' as a catch-all term for 'recent atheists'. I mean Ed Feser's one of their contributing writers, and really, at the very least Ed knows the Cult of Gnu is full of crap.

We'll see how it goes I suppose.

BenYachov said...

I used to think so but have you noticed when dguller who till lately I used to think highly of has morphed into a total Gnu when it comes to discussing the Trinity? He actually said we Catholics don't understand our Trinity doctrine?

I think we need an intervention at this point because he has gone off the deep end.

Crude said...

I tend not to pay much attention to those threads that last for weeks and weeks and involve arguing about what seem like the most minute aspects of doctrine. There's value you that, but when it comes to atheist/theist dialogue, I actually think that the further down into really specific revelation you get, the more time you've wasted.

Unless dguller is now a theist, what's the point of discussing that with him other than for him to think he may find the most fringe technicality of what often is an argument that isn't even required to be held as dogma? And if he concedes that theism is either rational or valid or even intellectually compelling, well, then it's not atheist/theist dialogue anymore in any meaningful sense anyway.

However, seeing him endorse the Outsider Test for Faith actually really reduces my respect for dguller. That 'argument' is absolutely inane, and the only valid parts of it are completely unoriginal. If he's running defense for that argument (or for Loftus in particular), he's just bottomfeeding.

ozero91 said...

The comments on that site can be summed up as:

The Hourly "QM and Cosmology refute the Causal Principle" Show.

It's a nice attempt, but I think I'll stick to reading Feser's blog.

Crude said...

Which site?

I recently had a long discussion with a Gnu-style atheist who complained that theists always have these wacky premises and that's why he can't have a calm and reasonable discussion with them. Then he demanded I give him a reasonable premise.

So I chose the PSR. Cue a couple days of him frantically trying to defend the claim that believing events take place due to causes or that they have explanations is some kind of craziness.

ozero91 said...

I was referring to Strange Notions. I honestly think that it would be more effective if we simply took a series of Feser's and other bloggers' post and organized them into a coherent "reading plan." Like maybe the first few could be about the division of metaphysics, phil of nat and science, then some about the history of metaphysics and the moderns, etc. Of course, it would be a lot to read, but I suppose that would separate those who are actually interested in fairly evaluating classical theism from those who aren't. Maybe then we would see less "mah (naturalistic understanding of) science proves this wrong."

Crude said...

Ah, alright. Yeah, I think it was a mistake ultimately. Targeting the Gnus in particular for dialogue was just such a bad idea - they are a subsection of atheists, and the worst one. Worse, trying 'dialogue' in what amounts to combox conversations? It's literally the last thing that group in particular needs.

Especially when it comes to metaphysics, where the causal principle arguments show 'If any basic principle, no matter how obvious or reasonable, seems to lead to God... then I will reject it.' is operative on the part of a certain class of atheists.

Crude said...

If there's one thing that's amusing about Strange Notions, it's that you get to see the Cult of Gnu hypocrisy on display. Feser, at his worst, is vastly more respectful thank Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, or just about any of the other Gnu regulars... but if he tweaks or pokes fun at Gnu heroes, they go absolutely ballistic at how unfair that is.