I just had to say something about the Nightline debate...
I had a lot of things in my mind that I wanted to put down in writing here and I felt like I had to voice out my humble opinion regarding the debate on Nightline. Sorry if it was a little too drawn out. =P
I’ve just finished watching the Nightline debate on the ABC website, and while I think that you guys did a good job, I also think that it could have gone better. First of all, I can’t make a stand regarding the issue of whether there was really a historical Jesus or not since I have very little knowledge of that. In my opinion, if I were in that debate, I would not have brought up that topic at all. It’s a matter of historical debate; whether or not there really was a Jesus is of no consequence at all to the position of atheism. To an atheistic agnostic watching, this particular issue does not benefit nor disadvantage his atheistic view, so the issue was actually more of a nuisance in the debate. To a religious believer, on the other hand, hearing the assertion that “Jesus’s existence is still debatable” is most definitely going to turn them off regarding atheism. You have to realize that religious believers do not think [yet] in the same way as atheists who think with plain and simple logic and reason. Even though I’m an atheist, as a former Christian I know exactly how believers would have felt regarding that statement: “that this assertion exactly was proof that I shouldn’t even consider listening anything atheism has to say, how atheism works, and what they say about logical thinking and reason because they are MOCKING my God.”
God and religion for them is a huge source of comfort, and it would be unwise to attack that. I used the word “attack” because I felt that that was the intent and tone of this statement. “Attacks against those who believe otherwise” is not what atheism is about; rather, don’t you think this is what part of the definition of theism is? Atheism is simply a lack of belief in a god/s. Theists, on the other hand, believe in god/s and therefore need to support that belief. It is also both permissible (for lack of a better word) and necessary that theists also attack others who believe in a different deity, ala “my God is bigger than your God,” for their religion’s continuing survival. As people not holding any beliefs at all, atheists shouldn’t be attacking others’ beliefs, but rather question them with reason and logic. The atheistic cause is not about conversion, because we’re not converting anyone to another religion. I think the best approach to the believer is to offer them an alternative way of thinking about the world and juxtapose reason and logical thinking alongside the thought process of religious people. I think it is important that they be able to compare the two ways of thinking (if following religion can be called thinking at all) and let them make an informed choice, hopefully to replace their religious thought process, rather than attack their current views about the world and attempt to create a vacuum in their minds before putting reason and science in its place.
Also, you were asked that big question, “What if you were wrong?” I rather liked Bryan’s answer, but what disturbed me was Kelly saying that she’d rather stay in hell than worship a dictator-like god. An atheist would undoubtedly applaud that statement without giving it a second thought, but to a believer it was rather careless and off-putting, not to mention callous, enough to probably make them turn off their TVs, turn a deaf ear to reason, and pray to their God for “guidance” instead. Again, I think that the major reason why we put up with these debates and create conversations with the other side is so that we can present the tremendous benefits and advantages of a thought process without invoking a God to the believing audience, especially to the fence-sitters who probably already have doubts about their religion in the back of their heads. We don’t want to them turned off by atheism; rather, we hope that maybe they might consider. We want to make them THINK and QUESTION things that religion has previously forbidden them to do so by way of fiat.
I remember Richard Dawkins’s answer to that same question when asked in Lynchburg, Virginia (the video is on youtube). He answered it by throwing the same question back to the inquirer: “What if you were wrong about Zeus, Apollo, Baal, and Amen-ra? What if it was really Allah that you meet in heaven?” (Sorry, this might not be the exact same words, but you get the point.) I would have given Dawkins’s answer to the question, as he stated in one of his interviews on youtube (user: richarddawkinsnet), that he would have told God that he had been a good son, a good father, and raised a family well, contributed to society, and lived life well and to the fullest. He then posed a question in the end: “Wouldn’t that have been enough? Why, then, would belief matter? What’s so important about belief?” If this answer was thrown into the discussion, you could have very well shown the viewing audience what the very point of nontheism is and why religion isn’t a historical and societal necessity any longer. You could also have asked Ray and Kirk the same question, “What’s so important about belief?” It would have been really interesting to hear their response (if they would have had any).
There were also points during the debate that I thought you could have used Carl Sagan’s words, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” Also, I liked your response to the question asked by Martin about how atheism can explain violence such as rape and murder without a sense of a higher authority, i.e. God. But I think it would have really helped a lot if Steven Weinberg’s words were thrown in with your response, that “With or without religion, you have good people doing good things and bad people doing bad things. But for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”