It is generally considered good practice to frame your opponent’s argument in the best possible light–to try and explain it charitably and discuss your own assumptions in addressing it. The practice is a good one for more than just the sake of manners. It helps your audience to evaluate the arguments more objectively and enables them to better spot flaws. And, if he or she is open and honest, it will do the same for the writer of the rebuttal. We all stray from this at times, but one oft repeated argument continues to catch my attention. It is the quick dismissal of atheism by apologists as a hopeless sort of worldview. Here is a recent example from a Christian website:
Atheism posits that we are accidents of evolution, with no transcendent or lasting purpose. The universe just happens to exist and we just happen to be the unintended byproduct of a string of events which were set in motion randomly untold billions of years ago. We pass our brief moments in the sun, and in the end, we simply return to dust. The quality of the lives we lived, and our desire to continue thinking and growing and being count for nothing. There is no ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, neither punishment for evil deeds nor rewards for the good that was done. It’s hard to view this worldview as anything but futile and barren.
Now, hopefully the tactics at work here are obvious enough that I don’t have to completely deconstruct it. It suffers from straw men, ambiguity, and loads of assumptions, among other issues. Yet, just like that, atheism is dismissed as a viable worldview. It’s dismissed by one short paragraph that both fails to engage with a proper treatment of atheism and fails to establish any reasons for falsifying atheism. It’s simply trying to motivate action based on what the author hopes the reader will find distasteful.
These are the tactics that lead to the depressing results of studies, like those that show believers distrust atheists as much as rapists. This is not the making of a civil discussion. If apologists want to be viewed as anything more than a joke among philosophical communities, then perhaps they should start fixing a few of their tactics. They can begin with working to understand an opponent’s argument and to frame it in the strongest light. If you have an actual counterargument, it should be able to work against such a charitable framing.
Or you can continue on the current path, which, as far as I can tell, has no regard for the damage being done in the court of public opinion and the much wider effects that result from such opinion.