Debating the Wrong People

Cafeteria Christians versus Creationists

"We who love science must realize that the enemy of our enemies is our friend". These words come from a Playboy article written by philosopher Michael Ruse. Ruse, who describes himself as a non-believer, expresses his annoyance towards evolutionists and atheists. "Too often evolutionists spend time insulting would-be allies. This is especially true of secular evolutionists”. Ruse continues: “Atheists spend more time running down sympathetic Christians than they do countering creationists”.

Ruse seems to take in a rather popular point of view. Many atheists seem to be annoyed by their more outspoken comrades who actively go against religion. For this there are many reasons: To some atheists, these anti-theistic views lean against the same type of extremism they dislike so much in religion. To them, it’s the non-religious equivalent of the infamous Jehovah witnesses or street preachers.

Others are sincerely concerned about the community. They think running down sympathetic Christians is counter productive, and will cause more hostility towards atheism. It will also discourage ‘closet atheists’ from coming out, because they don’t want to be associated with the community.

Professor Richard Dawkins, famous and infamous for his stance on religious matters, decided to address the article in his bestselling book: The God Delusion. Dawkins seems to understand Ruse’s concerns, but from a purely tactical viewpoint. “I can see the superficial appeal of Ruse’s comparison with the fight against Hitler” he says. Dawkins is referring to a few lines from the article in which Ruse claims the fight against religion can be compared to World War II. During World War II, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt disliked Stalin and communism, but were forced to cooperate with the Soviet Union in their fight against Hitler.

However, Dawkins doesn’t fully agree with the statement. He sides with his colleague Jerry Coyne, a Chicago geneticist who also wrote a reply to Ruse. According to Coyne, Ruse fails to “grasp the real nature of the conflict”. He claims that this is not an evolution versus creationism situation. To scientists, like Dawkins, it is all about rationalism and superstition. He considers creationism to be a symptom of what can be seen as the greater enemy: religion. “While religion can exist without creationism, creationism cannot exist without religion”. But are they right?

Scientists don’t compromise on the truth. To them, sympathetic Christians are still in the wrong. People like Richard Dawkins do not give in so they can meet their opponents halfway. A religious person who believes in evolution can expect to be accused of nitpicking in their holy book. In fact; some consider these people more threatening to atheism than fundamentalists. That’s because these mild religious people gain sympathy in the name of religion. Conservatives and fundamentalists, on the other hand, will scare off a lot of potential followers. They won’t last long in our modern civilized world, which could be in the benefit of atheism in the long run.

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It’s important to ask yourself what your ‘goal’ is as an atheist. A scientist, who cares about the truth and nothing more, might not be interested in the social aspect of atheism and religion. Maybe he just cares about the ignorance that religion spreads. In that case he couldn’t care less about being tolerant of a modern, non-threatening Christian viewpoint. After all, to him the conservative and the progressive Christians are both wrong.

If your goal is acceptance, then you probably agree with professor Michael Ruse. Being tolerant of other worldviews will only increase the chance of people being tolerant of us. It will reduce the hate and discrimination and it might help to win the affection of religious people. But is that what we are after? Some people have compared atheism to equal right movements like feminism. Their argument is that every minority who stands up for equality goes through the things atheists have to go through. To them, the road is long and hard, but the best road to go down.

I find it weird that the different sides in this debate are so black and white. I myself am convinced that one can criticize beliefs without being intolerant of those beliefs. I have several Christian friends who have a very modern worldview. They don’t oppose gay marriage or abortion, and believe that everybody is equal. Yet I still debate them on their religious views. Most Christians don’t seem to mind it if you ask questions. It might just depend on how you ask the question.

Is that the case everywhere? No. I live in the Netherlands, which is a pretty non-religious country. Most Christians here can handle it when you question their beliefs. I am aware of the fact that this is not the same in other countries around the world. The average American atheist might have more issues questioning religion than the average Dutch atheist does.

The way I see it, exposing every single error in religion will open eyes. It will also show that science and reason doesn’t compromise and is reliable. No one gives in to make friends. You try to respect people, but won’t be afraid to say what others don’t like to hear.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be like this 24/7. If I would pounce on my Christian acquaintances every time we meet each other, I would be very unpleasant company. There’s a time and a place for everything, and that also counts for debates. Debates in which you criticize and respect at the same time.

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