Bridge and Diverge: A Respectful Theist-Atheist Discourse Explores Nuances and Missed Opportunities

Published on 29 December 2023 at 19:32

On December 26th, I ventured into unfamiliar territory, engaging in a live on-air conversation with Daniel, a relatively new yet amicable acquaintance. Typically steering clear of on-air discussions, my aversion stems from a profound distaste for the resonance of my own voice and a tendency to become scattered-brained, often losing track of my thoughts.


To my pleasant surprise, this encounter defied my expectations, unfolding in a remarkably cordial manner. This entry delves into my reflections on the conversation—appraising what transpired favorably, identifying areas that fell short, and contemplating the scenarios I wish had unfolded differently.


What Went Well:


I trust in my ability to navigate the intricacies of my own thoughts and ideas, remaining impervious to being bamboozled during the conversation. I adeptly articulated my positions, effectively preventing Daniel from wielding the ontology of objective morality as a weapon, a tactic he has successfully employed against others. As a staunch subjectivist, I diverged from the conventional path often traversed when discussing objectivity in both ontological and epistemological realms.


My presentation of my viewpoint was marked by a blend of confidence and humility. I openly acknowledged my minority stance in philosophy, proudly standing outside the realm of moral realism. Despite the philosophical boogeyman, David Hume, making an appearance, I held my ground resolutely, refusing to yield an inch in my convictions.


What I intended by my statement is that the typical "is-ought distinction" tends to make atheists uneasy. As I've previously discussed and articulated in our conversation, I diverge from the conventional perspective by not viewing "oughts" as inherently ontological entities. To me, the concept of "ought" lacks coherence without a contextual, relational goal. For those intrigued, detailed entries on my thoughts regarding morality are available for exploration.


Upon reflection, I recognize the need for a dedicated entry on this very distinction. Despite its full development in my own musings, I realize I have yet to comprehensively articulate this point, prompting my consideration of a forthcoming entry to address this aspect in depth.


The cynical side of me can't help but notice a potential slippery tactic employed by Daniel. It seemed like he attempted to introduce the concept of human flourishing, likely armed with arguments in its favor. However, my moral stance remains silent on the matter of human flourishing. At most, one might argue that it is implied by well-being, but I find that objection unconvincing. My moral framework, as I see it, doesn't inherently tether itself to notions of human flourishing, and I'm cautious about allowing such assumptions to be imposed upon it.


The next point of contention revolves around the emphasis on intuition, a line of argumentation that I perceive as a pseudo-appeal to popularity on Daniel's part. His repeated assertions that everyone shares intuitions about the objectivity of morality struck me as fallacious. Merely because a consensus exists in interpreting moral intuitions as objective doesn't render them objectively so. Importantly, moral intuitions are inherently tied to human minds and, by extension, are subjective. They find their roots in our evolutionary development as a social species, a product of our adaptation to thrive in groups and civilizations. The notion of objective morality, based on widespread intuitions, seems dubious when placed under the lens of our species' evolutionary programming. I find myself quite disappointed for not firmly asserting these points during our conversation.


Daniel demonstrated commendable skill in presenting his case and articulating his views. His well-spoken manner, coupled with a notable absence of insults, hyperbole, or gotchas (with a single exception), contributed to a conversation that left me with a clear understanding of his perspectives and the reasons behind them. This credit is undoubtedly due to him.


The overall tone of the conversation remained respectful, cordial, and enjoyable. It prompted me to reconsider my almost categorical ban on such on-air discussions. While the written word will remain my primary mode of expressing thoughts due to its reflective and articulate nature, I am inclined to open up to further on-air conversations, particularly with Daniel. The prospect of these exchanges becoming a valuable complement to my written expressions is one that I am willing to explore.


The paramount takeaway from our conversation, in my perspective, lies in the areas where we discovered agreement. It's a testament to the power of earnest dialogue—revealing that, in many instances, agreement surpasses disagreement. Acknowledging these commonalities paves the way for progress, fostering the possibility of maintaining amicable relationships despite differing viewpoints.


An illustrative example of this lies in our shared recognition that the apparent fine-tuning of the universe constitutes compelling evidence for the existence of God. While nuances exist in our interpretations—I characterize it as "apparent fine-tuning," whereas Daniel leans towards "actual fine-tuning"—the overarching agreement holds true, both in general principle and practical significance. This shared ground serves as a reminder that, amidst divergent beliefs, common understandings can be discovered and serve as bridges for constructive discussions.


A noteworthy point of agreement in our conversation was the mutual recognition that individuals on both sides of the ideological spectrum could benefit from improved representation and more earnest discussions. It's a shared understanding that both atheists and theists have a responsibility to contribute to a more constructive dialogue.


For atheists, the acknowledgment that rhetoric akin to Hitchens-style empty polemics doesn't serve their cause favorably is crucial. Opting for more nuanced and substantive discussions can contribute to a more positive image and foster genuine understanding.


On the theist side, the recognition that meeting atheists where they are at is essential for meaningful conversations is pivotal. An openness to engage with differing perspectives and a willingness to understand the atheist viewpoint can create a foundation for more fruitful exchanges.


This shared commitment to better representation and earnest dialogue underscores the belief that progress and understanding can be achieved when both sides actively work towards bridging gaps and fostering a culture of respectful exchange.


What did not go well:


Arguably, assessing one's performance in a debate or discussion is often the most challenging aspect. Few individuals readily admit their shortcomings, and even fewer possess the ability to objectively recognize their own faults. In my case, I acknowledge that my scattered thinking, compounded by the uncertainty regarding the discussion topics, hindered my overall performance.


A specific area where I believe improvement is needed pertains to articulating the reasons behind my atheism. I sense that I fell short in addressing the question of why I identify as an atheist. I intend to rectify this by dedicating some focused words to elaborate on this particular point and provide a more comprehensive and compelling explanation.


 Here are the top four reasons why I identify as an atheist, ranked in order of importance from my perspective:


The Dependency of the Mind on the Physical Brain:

I briefly touched on this in our conversation, but there's much more to explore. I've delved into this topic in detail in three separate entries on my website, providing a comprehensive exploration of the intricate relationship between the mind and the physical brain. I welcome further discussion on this, and perhaps in our next conversation, Daniel and I can delve deeper into the nuances.


The Oppy-esc Cumulative Case for Atheism:

Dr. Oppy's works, particularly "Arguing Against Gods" (2006) and "The Best Argument Against God" (2013), have significantly influenced my atheistic stance. The comprehensive compilation of over 200 arguments for atheism compiled by the "Exapologist" further bolsters this cumulative case, providing a robust foundation for my position.


My Own Semantic Argument Against a Necessary Being:

I have developed a semantic argument challenging the existence of a necessary being. While not fully explored in our discussion, it remains a pivotal aspect of my atheistic worldview.


Irreconcilable Moral Differences with Posited Deities:

Examining the moral attributes ascribed to many deities, especially the monotheistic god of the Abrahamic faiths, reveals stark differences that I find irreconcilable. This moral misalignment is a substantial factor in my atheistic convictions.


These reasons are not exhaustive, and within the extensive list of over two hundred arguments, I endorse some but not all. However, these four represent the primary pillars of my atheism. I regret not having the opportunity to delve into the remaining three during our discussion.


Notes and Hopes for the next one:


While generally satisfied with the outcome of our conversation, I acknowledge my role in allowing it to lean towards an interview or interrogation style. While Daniel shares some responsibility, the majority of it falls on me. I failed to balance the interaction by actively engaging with his beliefs, neglecting to ask questions and explore his perspectives.


Additionally, I recognize that I exhibited some stuttering, attributed to the novelty of the experience and the accompanying nervousness. As this was a new venture for me, these aspects affected my delivery. Moving forward, I aim to enhance my conversational skills by ensuring a more equitable exchange, actively involving myself in understanding the beliefs of others, and addressing any nerves that may hinder effective communication.


My aspiration is that, through dedicated practice, I can refine my vocal articulation to match the clarity and depth of my written expression. I acknowledge that honing this skill requires consistent effort, much like the progress I've made in my written work through practice and writing classes. This evolution is evident when comparing my current writing style to that of when I authored "Shadow of the Dead God."


When Daniel inquired about recommendations for works on atheistic morality, particularly those that explore godless objective morality, my instinctive response was Shelly Kagan. I stand firmly behind that endorsement, and I'd also like to recommend the insightful works of Eric Wielenberg, encompassing both his books and academic publications. Additionally, Robert Bass, Jeremy Koons, and, on the YouTube front, Emerson Green, offer valuable perspectives worth exploring in the realm of atheistic morality. These thinkers contribute richly to the discourse, offering diverse insights that can deepen one's understanding of the subject matter.




There's virtually nothing I can genuinely say I disliked about this conversation, except perhaps my irrational aversion to my own voice. We managed to cover a substantial amount of ground in just over two hours. While we may have skipped some nuance, I believe both ourselves and the listeners gained a clear understanding of our perspectives, leaving with a grasp of the essence of our discussion.


A special shout-out to Daniel, who proved to be an outstanding host. Despite the fact that neither of us shifted our positions, a rare occurrence in a single discussion, there's a lingering sense that we've both been left with ample food for thought.


I encourage you to explore the hyperlinked content and anticipate the inclusion of the discussion at the bottom for a more comprehensive experience. Cheers to thoughtful conversations and the pursuit of understanding.


For the time being, I'm signing off to delve into Daniel's defense of a Craig-style moral argument for God. It stands out as one of the most compelling defenses available online, and I'm committed to investing significant time in comprehensively reading and understanding it. This will be my primary focus in the days ahead until I've thoroughly absorbed the nuances and intricacies of his perspective. Stay tuned for my insights and reflections on this captivating exploration.

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