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How to engage in debate with the New Atheists

by
19 April 2011

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From Kathleen Kinder

Sir, — We read much these days, within the comfortable confines of the Church and the Church Times, about the New Atheists. In this context, I found Paul Vallely’s article “The atheists invent false polarities” (Comment, 15 April) helpful and enlightening. But how many of us would chose to follow, at a less august level, Canon Giles Fraser’s example, and engage directly with a New Atheist?

I was so incensed by Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s biased presenta­tion in the three programmes The Bible’s Buried Secrets that I looked online to see what comment there was. Quite by accident, I came across the BBC’s blog on the series, and found myself getting involved with New Atheists, Christians, Muslims, and Jews in discussion.

It was tough, but I stuck at it. The good thing was that one could pray first and then check on the facts and the evidence for one’s views before putting them into a message box. Moreover, one could go to the discussion in one’s own time (from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed at night), and some days, not at all.

When the BBC closed the discus­sion, the assistant content producer, Gary Andrews, wrote: “I think I know more about theology and the various arguments around it than I ever expected after reading every­one’s comments on here. It has been fascinating to see all the debates unfold.”

At the time of writing, the discus­sion was still available online at www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2011/03/bibles-buried-secrets.shtml.

I then realised that our com­ments could influence perhaps the choice and content of future BBC religious programmes. This is indeed a new and challenging area of evangelism. I found that what I was learning was going into the Bible study I lead, and into my preaching. At the end of his remarks, Mr Andrews directed us to continue our discussions on the BBC Message Boards at www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbreligion.

There is no need for any reader to contribute to a Message Board; reading the discussions alone can prove very enlightening. I have chosen to enter discussions on the Religion and Ethics Message Board, where there seem to be more New Atheists than on the Christian Topic Message Board. There are quite a few “seekers” on the latter.

On the whole, I would say that well-informed Christians able to hold their corner in debate are in a minority. We need more people to engage with all aspects of this threatening and often very unpleasant phenomenon that we call New Atheism.

KATHLEEN KINDER (Reader)
10 Northfields Avenue, Settle
North Yorkshire BD24 9JR

From Mr Ian Trickett

Sir, — Easter Sunday this year falls on 24 April, this being the first time since 1859, the year of the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. This has been followed by many forms of the ongoing “science v. religion” debate.

Might Easter 2011 be the end of the term of these debates, started after Easter 1859? Might we expect that there will be an outbreak of tolerance and understanding, even of peace, between the proponents of the different factions?

IAN TRICKETT
Granville House, Tyning Road
Combe Down, Bath BA2 5ER

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