“Ok, Sarah, “ I hear you saying, “so it’s pointless. Atheists and theists can’t talk to each other. Awesome. Thanks for the despair. Now what?” So, is dialogue between people holding different axiomatic systems/world views impossible? No, I don’t think so. But we first have to acknowledge the difference is deeper than the level at which we usually discuss, and examine our own axiomatic systems. Otherwise, you’ll just end up preaching to your choir.
Here’s an example, which a friend of mine thought of. It was my experience that I didn’t really learn English grammar until I started to study a different language, in my case, Latin. English is my native language, so I think in English. In order to understand how Latin worked, I first had to understand how English works. I had to go beyond the intuitive understanding of English that I absorbed through growing up speaking English, and really learn the rules and mechanics. Once I understood how English worked, I could understand and appreciate the difference in how Latin works. And, most importantly, this native English speaker could begin to understand things written in Latin.
Saying listening to God is the intellectual equivalent of listening to a hair dryer will be thought clever by atheists and dismissed out of hand by religious people. Quoting the Bible to prove why God is not like a hair dryer would be respected by Christian religious people but dismissed out of hand by atheist. In spite of their validity within their own circles, there will be no dialogue using these methods.
The importance of understanding axiomatic systems/world views is similar to the importance of learning grammar. First, you need to understand your own axiomatic system, so you know how you view the world. Examine what you accept as authority. You may need or want to change things. Do what you think you believe—what you accept as axioms—line up with how you live your life? Second, you need to understand other people’s axiomatic systems. Understand how they think and reason, and what they accept as authority. Understand how someone who accepted those axioms would live their life if they applied them.
I am not equating dialogue with winning or losing, but a useful analogy is video games. The rules and game play of Super Mario Brothers is different from Zelda, and is even more different from Words with Friends. You won’t find a fire flower in Zelda, and a sword is only useful in Words with Friends because a W is worth four points. You have to know the rules of the game you’re playing. Just because you can beat Super Mario Brothers in an hour doesn’t mean you’re awesome at Words with Friends. If you know and understand the rules of how you think and believe, and put the effort into knowing and understanding the rules of how others think and believe, then and only then can you start true dialogue.
The goal of dialogue is understanding, not winning. The goal of understanding is to reveal and know more Truth. I personally hold that objective, capital T, Truth exists. Dialogue is one tool to discover and learn more of it.
Some closing thoughts.
Knowing your world view is like stating your bias when you are reporting or researching. It is much more honest—and useful—to state that bias, than to assume erroneously that you do not have one. Because that’s silly, if you breathe, you have a bias.
People, myself included, need to be prepared to discard or change their axioms, their givens, if they discover that they don’t work. Just like with Euclidean geometry and planes flying over the poles.
Lastly, I don’t believe that all axiomatic systems are created equal. Some reflect reality and Truth better than others. Nor do I believe that Truth is unknowable. Can we know Truth exhaustively? Remember that chick at the end of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull? If we had exhaustive Truth downloaded into our heads, I think they'd explode. But can we know part of Truth truly? Yes, absolutely. I invite you to interact with me and others on this blog as we search for what Truth we may find. Please do leave comments!
The Truth is out there. –Fox Mulder, X-Files
Seek, and you will find. –Jesus Christ, Book of Matthew