Having spent more than five years consistently debating religious topics online, I’ve come to quite a number of conclusions. I’ve realized that debate can stretch the mind, and that I was far too sure of my own expertise, among many other things.
I’ve also realized that there’s little more to be gained from it.
I really don’t mean to be dismissive; there is a great deal of good that has come from the experience. Still, the area of thinking which can be exercised in such debates is highly specific.
Though I am sure an atheist encounters similar problems, that she would label somewhat differently, my experience has slowly become an argument against what I call “perpetual incredulity”.
I do not mean to argue against a general skeptical approach. I fully agree with atheists that we should draw our conclusions carefully. Or, rather, I agree with those atheists who actually do so. As often, I’ve encountered a non-believer who, while ostensibly championing rationality, refuses to admit anything which could be construed as favoring theism – regardless of the actual facts.
While it may seem effective in debate to declare that there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence pointing to theism, or that ignoring a claim can be equated with neutrality toward it, this is where I lose interest. Far from impressing me, I’m left feeling like I’m butting against a mind as closed as any fundamentalist.
Slowly, I’ve come to see that it is only those who realize that there are reasonable people on both sides of the argument, and, by extension, there are reasonable arguments on both sides, that are worth attention. Those who see nothing reasonable about those across the divide can never understand more than the most unreasonable part of the opposition. That is, they can never understand the debate in more than its crudest form.
There, of course, is the balance that reason demands. Judgmentally concluding that the opposition has no rational case is as detrimental as pseudo-intellectually refusing to take a position. These are traps for the intellectually lazy; the greatest minds avoid them.
And this is the last challenge of debate, I think. To abdicate neither to unthinking strife nor unthinking diplomacy. There comes a time, however, where those are the only paths remaining if one wishes to remain involved in such discussions on the web. It does not take a herculean effort to exhaust the intellectual level of a popular debate. While one may occasionally contribute in spite of this, I find the repetitive demands that I undeniably support every statement I make – in the eyes of an opponent determined to deny – a pointless and exhausting one.
Frustrating though this is, I happily endured it until it became boring. That is to say, until I began to ask what alternative view of morality and meaning in life were being supported by my opponents – and was told that there was no answer.
That was the point at which I lost all interest in listening to those individuals’ attacks of my position. We’ve all known relentless critics, and I’ve never known them to contribute nearly so much as they destroy.