The Rift Between Atheists and Christians


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

Continuing the discussion from The @Swamidass Model. What is "seeking peace"?:

This is a great question @AndyWalsh, and deserves its own thread.

First, the problem. Christians often demonize atheists. Atheists often demonize Christians. The two communities are at odds. That much should be obvious. One of the biggest surprises I had in science was discovering that the vast majority of atheists were “friendly”, and not precisely anti-religious. They were often surprised to find a Christian that was “friendly” and “intelligent.” The surprise was mutual. How did we get here? I think there has been a great deal of injury and fear on all sides.

The way I see it, Peaceful Science is seeking peace in the Creation Wars. Atheists are part of the Creation Wars too. There have been poor ambassadors of science (Dawkins), but also really admirable peacemakers (Eugenia Scott). Part of what have to do is seek peace with atheists too, as far as we can without loosing our integrity. We will still disagree at the end of the day on some things, but we can still serve the common good together if we find better paths to peace.

Second, the solution. I think this tension is resolved with honesty and empathy. We are to be very empathetic to those outside our community, but also honest with what we think. One example of how this plays out is this quote from a while back:

I can treat atheists respectfully, honoring their path away from man-made religion, while at the same time confessing my experience with Jesus. There need not be a conflict. Of course, atheists can and will put forward an honest account of their view of the world too. There is a give and take, a back and forth. We don’t really have to try and change one another.

Instead, we work hard to understand and be understood. In that truthful exchange between fellow travelers, both can walk away changed in unexpected ways. That is what I aim for here at Peaceful Science. I know that this seems unlikely, but I see a hidden order that is beginning to emerge. This sort of community can become reality.


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(Andy Walsh) #2

Thank you for these thoughts and elaborations.

My own experience is that my friends and colleagues from all stages of my education and career who have different religious beliefs from mine, including none at all, are universally respectful and peaceful regarding my beliefs. Sadly, I cannot say the same for all of my friends and colleagues who share my religious beliefs, when it comes to my scientific and nerdy passions.

Indeed, which is why I think more amplification should be given to the peacemakers. To that end, I have appreciated how Sean B. Carroll has made efforts to extend an olive branch to believers in his writing on evolution. Bill Nye has also made some gestures in that direction; based on some of his comments, he may benefit from some more personal interaction with believers. Jonathan Marks had some interesting discussion of how religious beliefs can be respected in a pluralistic setting in What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee, alongside a scientific defense of human distinctiveness. I’m not sure how mainstream of a voice he is. Rachel Gross, Science Editor at Smithsonian Magazine has a wide interest in positive science/religion interaction (e.g. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-to-talk-evangelicals-evolution-180968839/). To name just a few.