Talking About Atheism… On The Edge
Atheism is not my only interest in life but I find that it is one of those topics that is not like others. When people draw venn diagrams they put circles around the objects being discussed. I think that my interest in atheism is not so much about what is in the atheism circle but about the circle around it itself and where that circle overlaps on and moves inside other circles. The part on the cutting edge. the blurry bits where it might be difficult to contrast the difference or even detect it… the very fine edges of the overlap.
It is on that fine blurry edge where reality happens; where conversation happens; where understanding begins. Of course, life does not give us those lines to work with very often unless you’re talking to folk like a Ken Ham or a William Lane Craig who are very crisp in defining where their own edges are.
I noticed this distinction demonstrated today … heh, so I don’t have to explain it in depth. Let’s let Ryan Bell do the talking for a bit: (bold font added by me)
This morning I woke up and was suddenly aware of how my foray into the world of skepticism/agnosticism/atheism is precisely walking into a conversation already well underway. Those of you who were here before me have a language, definitions, metaphors and expressions that are useful in helping you explain how and what you think. There is a lot to learn just about the basic semantics and dynamics of the conversation, let alone the subject matter being discussed. I’m not sure why I didn’t think about this because the same is true—and probably more true—in the world of theology. Talk about code language! You almost need to be a member of the guild just to have the conversation. The uninitiated use a particular word and those of us who have been in thinking about these things for couple of decades just look at each other like, “Gimme a break!”
That is to say that most of us stick strictly inside the circle in our part of the venn diagram, we don’t venture out to the edges where there is a defining line and things are not so safe. I think that you can tell if someone is trying to stand out there on that fine but fuzzy line and perhaps dip a toe in the water on the other side when they acknowledge the difficulty of standing there. Bell says this:
Thank you for humoring me where I’m getting into something I’m not entirely prepared for, and thank you for taking my questions and inquiries seriously (or at least trying to). Judging from the response, it’s more than just me out there who is somewhere along the continuum of faith and certainty, theism and atheism, knowing and not knowing and needs to be a part of this conversation. Thanks for making room for us.
He even recognizes that there are many others sticking a toe in the water on the other side. I believe this to be quite important for all of us to recognize. That is not to say that I find compatibility between atheism and theism or science and creationism, but that there is a continuum between one end and the other and we arbitrarily draw the line around what we subjectively feel is the stuff that should be inside the circle we stand in.
There have been attempts by several groups to define humanity by gender or privilege but all they are really doing is defining some subset of human thought and then getting grumpy that not everyone else is inside their subjective circle.
What? Where are you going with this?
Our prejudices stop the conversation or keep it away from the topics that we should be talking about in the first place.
- Theism is not true – should be why do you think there is a god?
- Atheism is a sin – should be why don’t you think you are sinning?
Rather than make declarations we should be questioning the motives behind the beliefs of others. It is when we do this that we can begin to understand how they think about life and the world around us. A discussion about Noah’s ark should include all the evidence – you know, teach the controversy because until we all actually think about what we believe and why we believe it, we won’t be crossing any lines soon. When enough people trample on the lines, all the barriers will come down and one or more of those circles will shrink allowing for the correct circle to get bigger. This is, after all, how science works. What I’m talking about here is peer review on a daily and opportunistic basis.
No, I’m not trying to tell you to ‘be nice’ but I am hopeful that we will all work harder to bring the conversation to what we believe and why rather than what school of thought is wrong and which is right. The one with evidence and support will show itself to be right – which ever that turns out to be.
No, I don’t think this contradicts what I’ve written in my blog. I claim a lot of labels yet don’t find them sufficient so I’ve written a few posts whose title starts with ‘My Word View’ and will continue to do so… what I understand to be true and why I understand it that way. I often have trouble finding believers that want to do the same thing. I’m hopeful that Bell’s experiment will encourage this method of discourse in many of us – what do you believe and why? Finding a common language is just the first step but if we manage to carry through with it we should all end up better educated and education is the answer to many problems in human life.