An opinion piece in USA Today invites atheists to “play well with others.” Karl Gilberson, a professor at Easter Nazarene College and co-president of the Biologos Foundation, a group dedicated to working on the issues of faith and science, complains about the tendency of notable atheists to deny that one can be a person of faith and a scientist. Even if there is no such thing as religious truth, as Richard Dawkins claims in The God Delusion, “it still appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies,” according to Gilberson.
“Our commitment to pluralism and individual freedom should motivate
generosity in such matters and allow people ‘the right to be wrong,’ Gilberson continues, “especially when the beliefs in question do not interfere with us.
Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on
the beliefs of fellow citizens.”
Ah, but Gilberson may be wrong in his last sentence. These days, it does seem that “loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens” can work, if by “work” one means “gain the upper hand in public discourse.” The strategy of many leading atheists, which seems to be “blast away without discretion,” may very well get more and more people to assume that science and religion, especially Christianity, are incompatible. Ironically, the question of truth is lost in this kind of verbal warfare, which is most unscientific.
Nevertheless, we who claim to follow Jesus must not get down into the same mud with those who might sling it at us unfairly, however tempting it might be to do so. We are called to respect all people, to love even our enemies, including those who who think of us are their enemies. Thus, Gilberson’s invitation to “the New Atheists” to play well with others is worth offering, even if those to whom it is intended show no interest.