Conversing with atheists and former christians

To follow up on a previous guest post I have had (http://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/how-does-the-online-ex-christian-community-affect-those-who-have-questions-of-faith-or-doubt/) I asked unkleE of http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/ to answer a similar question from a Christian perspective and to touch on what its like to converse with ex-Christians. UnkleE has impressed me on other blogs with his calm and considered responses to questions where others have become defensive and aggressive.

The below is his post for me on the subject of conversing with atheists and former Christians.


 

Human beings are tribal

Most people seem to like to be part of a group and to take sides against other groups. Football fans cheer, argue and sometimes even fight on behalf of their teams.

It seems that atheists and Christians are often tribal too. Each group has its own heroes and gurus, its own predictable arguments, and, too often, a penchant for scorning those they disagree with.

 

Justifying nastiness

Both sides can find ways to justify nasty behaviour towards their opponents. Some Christians argue that atheists are dishonest and rebellious, and need to be forcibly reminded of their perilous position. Some atheists, finding their arguments bouncing off, conclude that Christians are delusional, and since rational argument isn’t working, ridicule just might.

It rarely works of course, but who needs truth to justify tribal behaviour?

 

The web is a different ballgame to real life

Often we use pseudonyms. It is easy to feel anonymous or separated from others, and easy to press the ‘Post Comment’ button too quickly.

When I first ventured onto the web about 7 years back, I found myself in an argumentative and polarising environment. At first I argued back, but I now feel there is a better way.

 

The world doesn’t need any more aggro

I don’t think many of us think the world needs more aggro. Yet somehow, we can convince ourselves that our little nasty comment is OK.

But as a Christian, I believe humans are made by God to have worth, gifts, feelings and logical minds. We are made for relationship and we need some affirmation. People should be treated with sensitivity and respect, something the New Testament emphasises.

So I try very hard now, without always succeeding, to respect each person, and only make comments that add to the discussion, not attack them. I try to ignore barbs that come my way and not respond in kind, even if it means I miss an opportunity to ram a point home.

 

Responses

I find many atheists I talk with appreciate this. But unfortunately many atheists on the web still seem to follow the inhumane model of ridicule a lot of the time. To my chagrin, a fair number of christians are just the same.

Consequently, I avoid some forums and blogs, and I avoid or ignore some who comment. It’s just not worth the aggro. Fortunately, there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who are happy to play by rules of common courtesy, and I gravitate towards them.

 

Talking with ex-Christians

Talking with ex-Christians is a special challenge. I naturally feel sad that they have given up what I believe is the truth. But often they have been hurt by the church, sometimes leading to their change of mind, sometimes as they went through the process of leaving. I think they need special sensitivity and patience from Christians - fierce argument is likely to be specially harmful here.

It is easy to feel they have betrayed the team, and to wonder whether they were ever personally convinced or their ‘faith’ was just cultural. But I cannot know what has happened in their lives, so I should respect what they tell me.

Perhaps the hardest thing is when I feel they have rejected a form of Christianity I would reject too. I want to explain this to them, but sometimes they are not ready for anything except friendship, the wounds are still tender. Sometimes I think they are better off out of there – as long as they come around eventually to a more thoughtful form!

Ex-Christians often assume they have made a permanent and final change in their worldview, but statistics show that people who change once are quite likely to change again. So patience and courtesy are needed.

 

Ways forward

We all need to learn not to take offence easily, to have limited expectations of changing people’s minds and not to take it personally when others don’t agree with our arguments. We should enjoy getting to know and understand people who are different to us, and be willing to be in conversations for the long haul.

At the very least, we may help remove some misunderstandings, and who knows, we may even be part of a process of someone changing their mind. I still hope and pray for the people I talk with, for I do indeed want what is best for them.

About these ads

21 thoughts on “Conversing with atheists and former christians

  1. Pingback: I’m a guest blogger (again)

  2. A very gracious blog post, thank you. Perhaps the most perceptive comment is “I feel they have rejected a form of Christianity I would reject too”. Young earth creationism is one such. Ever since i went to school I knew that the world wasn’t made in 7 days, and it kept me from even considering Christianity until the age of forty. Since that time I’ve had my ups and downs with certain ‘napoleons’ in the institution of church but largely through intellectual thought and support of close friends I’ve lived and believed in Christ. It’s so important to allow people the freedom to explore the important decision of whether to follow Christ without insisting that they believe a strict (and largely man made) dogma.

  3. I have come to question my own beliefs to some extent. It has come to my mind that we live in a paradox. On the one hand the world appears to have a designed origin. On the other hand, the exact nature of this origin is difficult to prove and the designer often seems uninvolved in the design. There is a struggle to unravel the truth as much as possible.

    • Hi Pencil,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I think the key question to ask is, what is it that makes some see design? Then ask, what would we expect to see if the world evolved . An evolved world will contain species that are unique to certain areas and appear perfect for their environment. That is how evolution works and why some look at the world and see design.

      • Hi Limey,
        I am an engineer and a designer. I think the world is confused about what design actually is. We use evolutionary techniques in designing things, so evolution is completely compatible with a designer and is a form of design…

        • Hi MC,

          There are two things that occur to me in relation to your comment.

          1) Yes, humans tweak and change designs to improve them. This is because humans create and craft things continually. The leap from that being true to an invisible designer behind evolution being true is not a valid logical step. Evolutionary theory does not require an external force to drive the changes. The compatibility you state is only true if your belief requires there to be a designer. The theory itself does not need one on order to be accepted. If a designer was indeed involved in evolution, what would we see in evolution that is different to evolution without a designer?

          2) If the Christian God is true and is the perfect being that he is supposed to be. How come he needed the long and tortuous process of evolution in order to result in mankind that is very good and in his image? Surely such a designer would have created his perfect creation as is and not take a long and messy process such as of evolution. The suggestion implies that the designer didn’t really know what he wanted, which I think is a powerful argument for there not being a designer in the first place.

          It also begs the question of at what point is the evolutionary process did humans, as defined by the creation account, get created and since genetically we know that there were never just two humans on the planet, what does that mean for the genealogies in the bible?

          • Hi Limey

            1) Not only do engineers tweek things, but we develop tools that carry out that tweeking without our intervention. Of course one can accept the theory if one believes that there is no designer – may people do. Evolutionary theory requires a number of givens whose origin requires explanation – the raw ingredients for instance (Molecules, atoms, sub atomic particles, matter itself….). Of course, it requires replicating molecules and entities which pass on heritable traits etc.

            How would evolution look different without a designer? How would a production line look different without a designer? How would a complex CFD computer calculation look different without a designer? Equally valid questions I think? Equally unanswerable.

            2) Who is to say what is perfect? Why do we bother to read a book when we could skip to the last page and know the outcome? If we consider time as a fourth dimension, the question you pose is like asking why we have a three dimensional world – it would be much more efficient to use two or one dimension; a creating, sustaining God is present throughout space and time.

            I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about what God actually is. See my post http://philhemsley.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/proof-of-god/

            I don’t think we need to get hung up on trying to interpret genesis literally. Denis Alexander writes interestingly on this issue in ‘Creation or Evolution, do we have to choose’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creation-Evolution-Do-Have-Choose/dp/1854247468/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1368035019&sr=1-1&keywords=creation+or+evolution+do+we+have+to+choose

            I also see the genealogies as irrelevent. We shouldn’t let these trivial issues detract from the essence of the message that Christ brought….

            I see you are folloiwng my blog – I cover quite a few of these issues there :-)

            • Hi MC,

              I think the analogy of a humans designing things with designer behind evolution is invalid. For starters there is no theory that can explain a computer without humans and no one would seriously suggest it. Evolution on the other hand does explain the progression of one species into another and it explains it well and without the need of a designer. In fact when you see the waste and inefficiencies that exist within evolution it is reasonable to suppose that there is no designer. Just because we humans recognise stuff that other humans designed doesn’t equate to nature also being designed by a higher being, the logic simply does not follow.

              I have read the book you suggest, it was lent me by my pastor friend when I told him of my journey out of faith and the reasons why.

              Here are my thoughts on it: http://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/book-review-creation-or-evolution-do-we-have-to-choose/

              • Hello Limey,
                You still seem to be looking at things from an economic outlook, wanting efficiency and wanting simply a material outcome (human beings). From that worldview, novels are a waste of time, art is pointless, that messy business of having to fall in love, get married etc before procreating is simply wasteful and inefficient… Yet all of those are examples of the things that are important to us. It seems to me that such issues are just the sort of things that would equally be more important to a creator God. So I will not convince anyone who does not want to be convinced that evolution is a process designed and sustained by God, but hopefully I can convince that it is a process that is completely consistent with a God of everything.

                Evolution requires a universe, and it requires laws of physics, both of which require an explanation. You cannot take either as ‘given’ without God. I would define God as the essence which sustains (or even is) the laws of physics, the essence that is love, beauty, joy etc. – as indicated by the Christian (and some other) religion.

                Not had time to look at your link yet, but will try to do so… :-)

                • Hi MC,

                  I don’t fully understand your comment about me wanting efficiency and a material outcome. It doesn’t fit with what I said previously.

                  With regards to emotion and to the appreciation of beauty, that too can be explained through evolutionary theory. Sexual selection is one such way, you only need to look at the effort some birds put into getting a mate in order to appreciate that non physical concepts are widespread throughout nature.

                  • you were commenting on waste and inefficiency in a process that led to us being here today (a material outcome)…

                    In my view, beauty, an in particular our appreciation of it cannot be satisfactorily explained. Neither can free will. Those exploring free will often like to argue that there is no such thing as free will (yet exhibiting free will in making the argument). There is also a lot of dispute about ‘self’ – what is it that makes us aware that we exist – what is that awareness. It seems to me that the more we look beyond the trivial the more inexplicable life becomes. :-)

                  • Hi MC,

                    I think I get you, though I wasn’t meaning that I wanted efficiency. More pointing out that I consider the lack of it as good evidence for evolution being natural and unguided by an external intelligence.

                    I agree with you that beauty is not easy to explain. Though I would suggest that in an evolved world it only natural to expect intelligent creatures such as humans to appreciate the natural world around them and call it beautiful. Beauty in each other is easily explained through sexual selection.So some parts of what we call beautiful can be explained and I know its a subject that is being worked on. Why we call art or music beautiful will likely be challenging and I look forward to see where studies on that subject lead.

                    Free will is a much more interesting area to me and I am still unsure on what side I sit. I understand the logic behind the no free will argument but at the same time it leaves me uncomfortable but I can’t fully explain why. Relinquishing free will to simple chemical interactions can be a difficult thing, but that doesn’t make the argument less true. My thoughts on the subject are here: http://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/wherefore-art-thou-free-will/

                    One point I would make is that just because we don;t fully understand or can explain something now, doesn’t mean we won’t. I’d also caution against invoking those areas as evidence for ID because one day a naturalistic explain may come up.

  4. I’m told that’s how it feels trying to converse with an evolutionist (or an atheist). Do you atheists/evolutionist think its time to remove the scales from your eyes before its too late?

    • My what a strange name you have, maybe you’re not a real person, however I shall address the question anyway, even though this blog post is not specifically about evolution.

      Evolutionists do not have scales over their eyes, as is so often explained and so often not understood, evolution is a valid conclusion from the thorough investigation of science.

  5. Sorry I have not posted in a while. There was a time when I thought I had it all figured out. I now realize that parts of the puzzle are missing. I want to share something. I do notice that what creationists call “micro” evolution is far more capable of amazing changes than I realize. We go from flowers that need no sunlight to ones that do. We go from snakes that are poisonous to ones that aren’t. We go from fish that have no glowing parts to ones that do and live deep in the sea. These are all amazing changes just within the same kind. I somewhat understand this. Complex patterns can “emerge” from chemical interactions . . . like snowflakes. Micro evolution is powerful.

    • Hi Pencil,

      Welcome back :-)

      You describe some of what I went through when I first started on my journey. There is so much more to evolution when you start to investigate the detail. When I eventually did that, I too realised just how much I was missing.

      I wish you well in your journey, keep testing the concepts of evolution and examining how it works. There are many science blogs and podcasts on the subject, find one that you like and you’ll discover a wonderful world.

  6. By the way, in my view the evolutionary process is incredibly fast and efficient. First animals 500 million years ago, first humans 250 thousand years ago, give approx 250 million generations / iterations. Two hundred and fifty million iterations to refine a human being from a primitive animal does not seem that many. With only twenty variables, each with only two settings, the possible number of combinations exceeds one million. Humans are far more complex than such a system but the complexity increases exponentially. Forty variables with four alternative settings would give a possible number of combinations of 10 to the power 24, against which 250 million generations are remarkably small numbers.

    • I guess when put like that, yes it can be argued that evolution is both fast and efficient.

      When you look into body features though, you see items that make little sense in the animal concerned, but make sense in light of unguided evolution. The easiest example is that of the Giraffe, why doe it have a nerve that goes up its neck and back down again when the start and end points are literally only inches apart? Its this sort of thing to which I refer when I talk about inefficiency.

  7. I do agree with you on Unklee handles himself on his blog and his blogoshere. He is really the only christian blog I visit anymore. …oh and sifting reality once in awhile

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s