When I first read the post If I wanted to argue with atheists by SirNickDon, I was sympathetic with his points about objectivism as he described it, very much agreeing that there is no neutral ground on which we can stand due to the fact that while we may live in the midst of a reality that has certain properties regardless of our perceptions, one such basic property of reality is that the propositions we formulate regarding that reality are inextricably bound up with the limitations of our traditionally inherited points-of-view and are inherently a practice we impose upon that same reality rather than being a perfectly accurate representation of it.
I was less sympathetic with the allegation that Christians and atheists do not occupy the same world and the implication that Christians and atheists are necessarily talking past each other in certain contexts. It is true that no matter how we squirm, the Problem of the Criterion, the Problem of Infinite Regress, and perhaps other key issues in the realm of epistemology are serious difficulties that both theists and non-theists both must face if we are to be honest with ourselves, and that this might be a good reason for “epistemilogical humility”. It is also true that Christians and atheists generally have very different responses to those problems. For example, with regard to the Problem of the Criterion, we could go so far as to say that Christians often take a particularist approach and atheists often take a methodist approach in the sense that Christians generally wish to start with particular beliefs about God and Scripture and then develop a method for determining what can be known whereas atheists generally wish start with rational or empirical methods and from there develop particular propositions. On the other hand, those important differences do not necessarily detract from the ability of atheists and Christians to dialogue in a productive way.
I’ve had some very productive dialogues with atheists precisely because I recognize that we do occupy the same world and share many of the same tools for perceiving and arriving at conclusions about it. Of course, I’ve had some spectacularly non-productive dialogues with atheists too. I call these encounters arguing with atheists rather than a dialogue precisely because they are non-productive. Interestingly, my reason for not wanting to argue with atheists is exactly the same as my reason for not wanting to argue with Christians; it’s simply not productive. Some of you may have noticed that this doesn’t always stop me from arguing with either party. I’ll sometimes wade in with the +2 Hammer of Intellectual Honesty on occasion when either a Christian or an atheist is taking gross liberties with the facts for the sake of taking shots at their favored intellectual whipping boy. (I am improving my patience with such people slowly.) I don’t mind if people have a biased perspective, and I freely admit my own, but I have no love for a prejudicial perspective in which it’s concluded that another group is evil despite plenty of evidence otherwise. And there are both Christians and atheists with prejudicial perspectives towards each other, folks willing to contend that atheists are immoral commies wanting to destroy us or that Christians are unintelligent fascists wanting to ruin our lives. Such perspectives do not reflect either the expected rationality and objectivity of an atheist or the expected love and compassion of a Christian.
Thankfully, there are plenty of both Christians and atheists who can manage to have a productive dialogue with each other and perhaps even develop a sense of mutual respect for each other. I’ve met several atheists that I ended up being on very good terms with. There was one gentleman that I had a great deal of regard for because of both the learning he brought to any discussion because of his degree in philosophy and his personal integrity, and he confessed to me that although he and I had debated in the same circle for a couple of years, he had never debated me personally because he was pretty sure that I would win. I was flattered that a person with considerably more philosophical education than me would make such a positive assessment of my abilities, but I also had to wonder if he wasn’t illustrating a serious problem with the way we view debate. If we want to get a win over the other person, to show them in a bad light and/or make ourselves look good, maybe that’s why we so often don’t uphold the ideals of either Christians or atheists during debate and as a result tend to argue rather than dialogue productively.