Revitalizing Discourse: Navigating a Course from Toxicity to Civility.

Published on 21 November 2023 at 21:06

Those acquainted with my persona recognize my avid appreciation for a stimulating debate. I relish engaging in a robust interchange of ideas, recognizing it as the lifeblood of intellectual currency. Delving into profound contemplation of philosophical quandaries and subsequently pitting those musings against others serves as the cornerstone for expanding the collective knowledge of those participating, and notably, for the broader audience. Yet, an issue plagues this discourse—a problem not novel but steadily gaining prominence, exacerbated by the prevailing culture of internet debates.


Let me begin by establishing a clear distinction between engaging in an internet debate and succumbing to the prevailing culture of internet debate. Examining individuals on the theistic spectrum, such as Josh Rasmussen and Michael Jones (Inspiring Philosophy), alongside their atheistic counterparts like Joseph Schmid (Majesty of Reason) and Justin Schieber, unveils a cadre of earnest and serious philosophers committed to engaging in profound and thoughtful discussions. While these four represent merely a fraction of those contributing to the discourse, they exemplify the caliber of intellectual exchange that certain individuals strive to uphold.



Individuals such as Josh Rasmussen, Michael Jones, Joseph Schmid, and Justin Schieber stand apart as exemplars of substantive discourse, steering clear of the problematic tendencies found in figures like Andrew Wilson, Frank Turek, the Hovinds, Jimmy Snow, Aron Ra, and others who align with the lack-theist perspective. The crux of the issue lies in the latter group's perception of debate as a zero-sum game, an arena where victory must be attained at any cost. This subset, featuring prominently in the debate landscape, reflects a concerning trend that goes beyond isolated instances and forms a notable part of the debate culture.


The crux of the matter, as I perceive it, extends over the past two decades during which lack-theists have demonstrated an insufferable demeanor in their conduct— a trait I, too, once exhibited. This behavior is characterized by dismissiveness, condescension, smugness, and gratuitous insults. Figures like Matt Dillahunty embody the epitome of the angry atheist stereotype, consistently engaging in the aforementioned actions. Credit is due to Matt for his intelligence and a commendable level of philosophical understanding, a quality not uniformly shared among many lack-theists, including those mentioned earlier.


Indeed, Christians are not exempt from contributing to the toxicity that pervades this cultural issue. From individuals like Frank Turek and Lee Strobel resorting to outright falsehoods about atheists and their positions, to the polished yet thinly veiled insults by figures like William Lane Craig directed at individuals such as Scott Clifton, both sides are culpable for fostering an environment of hostility. The pervasive win-at-all-costs mentality, embraced by elements on both sides, serves as a blinding force, obscuring the potential for genuine dialogue and understanding. The toxic culture, fueled by the actions of individuals from various perspectives, hinders the pursuit of constructive discourse.


It would be a grave disservice to remain silent on the issues within my own ideological circles while addressing those on the opposing side. For every theist, such as Frank, who resorts to dishonesty in his apologetics, there exists a counterpart like Jimmy Snow, spewing crude jokes about individuals and their beliefs. As repugnant as the ideas propagated by figures like Andrew Wilson, tainted with misogyny and homophobia, may be, there are atheists who have shamelessly built careers around derogatory name-calling, dismissing beliefs as irrational delusions, and relentlessly berating prominent figures like Matt Dillahunty. It is imperative to confront and rectify the shortcomings within our own ranks with the same vigor as we critique those on the other side of the ideological spectrum.


Can lack-theist atheists genuinely absolve themselves from the responsibility of creating figures like Andrew and conveniently wash their hands of the monstrosities they've contributed to? I contend that such a disassociation is not feasible. When atheists habitually brandish insults, labeling theists as stupid, delusional, and subjecting them to a barrage of derogatory remarks, what should we realistically anticipate? Engaging in a culture of incessant sword-swinging, it should come as no surprise when theists, weary of the onslaught, decide to forgo their shields and wield swords of their own. Personally, I find no astonishment in this; it's a culture we've actively nurtured and brought into existence.


Furthermore, the art of genuine debate has regrettably become a rarity on the internet. Lack-theists, more often than not, enter debates not with the intent of exchanging ideas or understanding opposing viewpoints, but rather to inflate their egos and assert their correctness while belittling the other side as a collection of intellectual inferiors—an ultimate exercise in one-upmanship. Predictably, someone might interject with the argument that they've heard all the theistic perspectives countless times before. Yet, superficial familiarity with an argument hardly translates to an in-depth understanding of the underlying ideas and philosophies it embodies. Regrettably, many among us fail to make the effort to delve deeper into these perspectives. While I, too, may be accused of such shortcomings in my writings, the distinction lies in my acknowledgment of these flaws and my active commitment to rectify them.


Atheists subscribing to the lack-theism perspective have firmly entrenched themselves in a debate culture marked by a regrettable descent into name-calling and relentless berating. The prevailing attitude seems far removed from an eagerness to learn and engage in the exchange of ideas; instead, the focus is on winning at all costs and rendering the opposing party as intellectually inferior. This approach does a disservice to all involved. The prominence of figures like Wilson and Turek can be traced back primarily to the culture that we have actively cultivated and perpetuated. It's high time for a reassessment of our approach to debates, fostering an environment that encourages genuine dialogue and intellectual growth rather than perpetuating a cycle of hostility.


The impetus for this post stems from the recent spectacle of the Dillahunty vs. Wilson debate on Modern Day Debate. However, it's a topic I've been contemplating for some time. Both gentlemen, Matt and Andrew, serve as prime examples of the troubling direction this debate culture has taken. Let me be clear: I don't hold Matt accountable for walking out of that debate in the face of the vicious personal attacks unleashed by Andrew, especially against him and the transgender community. I empathize with the sentiment that engaging with someone like Andrew, who propagates such repugnant and abhorrent ideas, is not only challenging but also a moral quandary that many would understandably prefer to avoid.


The recent "debate" serves as a masterclass in how not to conduct oneself, particularly exemplified by Andrew Wilson. However, it's crucial to recognize that his style of debate is, in many ways, a product of how atheists have behaved over the past few decades. Consider this: we've fostered a culture where hurling insults like "you believe in a sky-daddy" has become commonplace, even among those who haven't invested the effort to truly understand opposing beliefs. Mere former adherence to Christianity doesn't automatically imbue someone with a profound understanding of every other theist's belief. This lack of nuance and substantive engagement has contributed to the toxic dynamics we witness in debates like the one between Dillahunty and Wilson.


It is imperative to unequivocally condemn harmful and perilous beliefs. However, this imperative should not be misconstrued as a sweeping condemnation of all beliefs as if they were uniform. The belief system asserting that trans individuals are not deserving of recognition as human beings is fundamentally distinct from the conviction in the existence of deities. It is high time we cease treating these disparate beliefs as if they were interchangeable. It's crucial for both factions to grasp that most established theologies remain silent on transgender issues, not due to an explicit stance, but simply because the concept did not exist when these theological frameworks were originally formulated. A collective recognition of this historical context is essential for fostering a more nuanced and informed discourse on these intricate matters.


While it's true that the Bible condemns homosexuality, a concept quasi-related to transgenderism, it's important to note that not every theological perspective aligns with this condemnation, and there are Christians who diverge from such views. Nevertheless, it is entirely warranted to scrutinize and criticize the Bible itself for espousing a bigoted stance, and similarly, to call out those who uphold such perspectives rooted in their theological beliefs. Simultaneously, it is crucial to criticize the belief system, elucidating why the condemnation is problematic, all without targeting individuals personally. The likelihood of fostering understanding and potentially changing minds increases when we engage in a discourse that does not resort to personal attacks.


There was a time when a perspective like Andrew's would have led to him being shamed and shunned by the entirety of his theological community. Truth be told, there are individuals within the Christian intelligentsia, such as David Wood, who actively call out such actions and remarks. Nevertheless, it's now an uphill battle that seems nearly impossible to conquer. This challenge arises from the fact that we've indiscriminately labeled everything that disagrees with our viewpoint as bigoted, to the extent that the term has lost much of its meaning. For instance, when a Christian expresses the belief that abortion is wrong, atheists hastily brand them as misogynistic and anti-woman, even when these labels may not necessarily be warranted.


Atheists who identify with the lack-of-belief perspective often display a tendency to label anyone who disagrees with them as "stupid" or "irrational"—not critiquing the positions themselves, but attacking the individuals who hold them. This shift has evolved from a time when theists were meticulous about their epistemological positions to a current state of indifference. The reason behind this indifference lies in the realization that they are bound to be personally attacked and labeled with these derogatory terms, irrespective of the quality of their positions or how well they are articulated. It's not entirely unjustified for theists to develop a thick skin and become indifferent to the insults and opinions of lack-theists given the consistent barrage they face.


Admitting my own shortcomings in this regard is a necessary truth. In a recent Twitter exchange, I found myself resorting to similar derogatory remarks when confronted by an individual dismissing not only my views but also rejecting the insights of several others attempting to correct him. Despite his numerous unwarranted accusations of fallacies, my behavior was undoubtedly inappropriate. It's essential to emphasize that my actions were unequivocally wrong. This example, even at my own expense, serves as a stark illustration of the pervasive issue, underscoring the challenges we face in maintaining civil discourse, especially within our own atheist community.


This brings us back to the crux of the matter: the internet, while a remarkable tool, has opened the floodgates for everyone to engage in debates and discussions. While participation is encouraged, it should come with a prerequisite willingness to learn, accept constructive corrections, or possess the necessary knowledge to contribute meaningfully. I personally steer clear of conversations where I lack the required expertise. Currently, I am dedicating considerable time to grasp the intricacies of Michael Jones' digital physics argument before attempting to write about it. This level of commitment may delay the entry on this topic for years, emphasizing the importance of thorough understanding and informed discourse over hasty and uninformed contributions.


The culture we've cultivated is characterized by an alarming openness to disrespect individuals, fueled in part by the anonymity the internet provides, but also because it has become an unfortunate norm in our interactions. This trend is not confined to the online realm; it's seeping into real-life, in-person exchanges as well. The concerning aspect is the potential for these situations to escalate into dangerous and volatile encounters when insults, disrespect, and general meanness become the norm. It is disconcerting to witness this shift, recognizing the potential real-world consequences of a culture that thrives on hostility and incivility.


The emergence of this trend is unmistakably apparent, particularly highlighted by the conduct of a former president. The erosion of intellectual conversations on what is arguably the most important topic in existence is genuinely disheartening. While political debates are expected to be heated, it's alarming to witness similar dynamics infiltrate what should be thoughtful and intellectual dialogues. Politicians bear a share of the responsibility, as their actions often contribute to the intensification of these conflicts. There was a time when statements made by President Trump would have relegated him to the fringes of history, a mere footnote. However, much like the experience with individuals such as Andrew Wilson, the relentless labeling of bigotry has dulled its impact, even when justified. This, coupled with the prevalence of mockery, insult-slinging, and the diminishing of potency of being labeled with of the “isms’, has inadvertently fortified the resilience and success of figures like President Trump. It underscores the peril of a culture saturated with ceaseless accusations, insults, and criticism.


Concluding these reflections, I emphasize the crucial need to overhaul our toxic debate culture, reintegrate respect, and revive civility. I implore you, dear reader, with the same insistence I place upon myself: in your forthcoming interactions, take a moment to reflect before expressing your thoughts. Let's usher in a new era, reclaiming a culture characterized by both respect and dynamic exchanges of ideas, fostering truly productive dialogues. Recognizing my own imperfections, I underscore that the onus is on each of us to strive for improvement. Our collective well-being hangs in the balance, as previously underscored.

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