A self-proclaimed atheist was giving a scheduled two-hour-long sermon to me and a dozen of my friends and acquaintances recently. I was quietly listening, because I like to let a person get their position stated clearly, with a reasonable number of the subtleties inserted, before saying anything. Quite frankly I didn’t like the way things were going, but I did get some good ideas for future blog posts written down in my notebook, but they weren’t the speaker’s ideas; they were my reactions to his statements. Perhaps my thoughts were just subtle quibbles, but real enough to me.
I didn’t want to ask questions until the conclusion of the lecture time, but I was feeling annoyed. My problem was his habit of coming to reasonable and scientifically defensible positions and then consistently intellectually backing down. He had said that in discussions with religious believers he often softened his argument with the statement, “I wish there was a god!”, and then proceeded with a presentation of generally proven scientific theories. Such scientifically accepted things as evolution, or the composition and development of the universe, he claimed were preceded with that softening statement, and perhaps followed with it too. To my ears and mind he totally destroyed any chance of reaching his traditional god-believing audience, and to a rational and scientifically inclined person, such as I intend to be, his presentation sounded false, flimsy, hypocritical and worse than worthless. His style of talking to young people, say of high school age, would be counterproductive. Then it happened, I lost my composure, not really ranting, but with an uncharacteristically high and raspy tone, I spoke up.
I said, “Your saying, ‘I wish there was a god!’, is terrible thing to say! That statement totally undermines everything you have to say; it corrupts your facts and lets people distort anything you say into their own preconceptions. That statement ruins their chance to explore new ideas from a new perspective.” That was especially true because several times he assured us that he was a firm church-going believer until reaching young adulthood, and he probably said that to every audience in an effort to soften his presentation. He even said several times he was presenting his ideas in a more forthright way to us, than he did to the kids. But even this stronger version was very weak. Any statement starting with “I wish” is probably going to be followed by nonsense.
When you have a scientifically defensible position assert it clearly, boldly and with an example. Let your audience cope with seeing the conflict with their previous untestable and unprovable assertions.