March 28, 2007

Atheist-Theist Dialogue: One Obstacle

Is it possible for atheists and theists to have a meaningful dialogue? Forget for a second whether such a dialogue would be beneficial and consider whether it is possible. If so, what might it look like? As atheism becomes more common, this question will be asked even more frequently by both atheists and believers. I see one fairly massive obstacle to such a dialogue, and I am not sure what it will take to overcome it.

The obstacle can be illustrated best with the following quote from Daniel C. Dennett (italics added):
"..can we public atheists have productive conversations with believers? Certainly. We can discuss every issue under the sun...respecting each other as citizens with honest disagreements about fundamental matters that can be subjected to reasonable, open inquiry and mutual persuasion... As long as those who are believers will acknowledge that their allegiance gives them no privilege, no direct line to the absolute truth, no advantage in moral insight, we should be able to get along just fine."
I told you it was a big obstacle! I think that Dennett is absolutely correct here. As long as believers insist that their faith counts as some sort of special knowledge, that they are the only ones capable of being moral, and that they alone have "the truth," it is difficult to imagine meaningful dialogue. Sadly, I am doubtful that believers will do this.

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