I have been approached in two different ways recently by people asking if I have considered opposing views. I consider those two different approaches to be morally telling.
The first approach took the following form.
"With regard to your claim C, writer W says “Quote”. How do you respond to that position?"
The second approach took the following form:
"Have you read anything people who hold an opposing view such as W. If not, then you are condemned for even thinking that you are qualified to make claim C."
The main atheist writers of this decade have faced the second form of objection many times. It takes the form of raising the objections apply only to the unsophisticated claims commonly held within the religious community, but fail to address the sophisticated claims held by a small group of elite thinkers within that community.
This form of objection is often imbedded in a fallacy. Usually, the person raising the objection is claiming that, "Since you have not considered the sophisticated view of this extremely small elite minority, your objections against the unsophisticated view of the common majority must also be rejected."
That implication is wholly invalid. Regardless of the views held by any elite minority within community, the common and unsophisticated views of the majority shown to have significant flaws are still significantly flawed.
It is like inspecting a dam and discovering a significant number of cracks and design flaws that make the dam likely to collapse at any moment. The engineer then says, “Ah, but have you considered the construction of that dam over there. It is well put together. Since that dam over there is well constructed, we have good reason to dismiss your claim that this dam over here is about to collapse.”
In the moral realm, we have reason to judge people according to what they actually do, without regard to the possibility that somebody else might have had a good reason to do exactly the same thing.
Let us imagine a case in which two people, Jack and Jill, each aim a gun at a third person, Paul. Jack ends up firing a second before Jill and ends up killing Paul. Jack is small-time drug dealer. He has just discovered that one of his best customers has started getting her drugs from Paul at a reduced price. Angry at Paul for cutting into his business, he finds Paul and immediately shoots him.
Jill is an undercover detective. She has spent several months trying to collect evidence against Paul and the people Paul works worth. Paul had just discovered that Jill was a cop and had reached for a gun in order to kill Jill. Jill pulls her gun and prepares to defend herself.
Now, imagine Jack going into court on murder charges and claiming, "Hey, look, Jill had a perfectly legitimate reason to shoot and kill Paul. Because she had a good reason to kill Paul, I am innocent of murder."
In both the legal and the moral realm that defense has no merit. What matters in the moral realm are not the reasons that somebody might have had for performing an action, but the reasons that the agent actually had. Jack is still guilty of murder, regardless of the quality of whatever reasons Jill had for killing Paul.
So, the fact that there are people who give sophisticated arguments in defense of certain religious beliefs does not invalidate the claim that many of the common assertions that we hear people give every day are intellectually reckless (or deceptive) and morally bankrupt – and worthy of condemnation.
To draw out the relevance of these points, there are people out there who ground the belief that others may be subject to harm on groundless, evidence-free faith. The fact that there are others with more sophisticated view does not give us reason to dismiss the moral charges against those who base their call for doing harm to the life, health, and liberty of others on groundless faith.
Whether we are talking about outright dishonesty or intellectual recklessness, either way we are talking about a moral failing. We are talking about people whose values are such that they are disposed to act in ways that bring unjustified harm to others. Consequently, we are talking about people who deserve not only criticism for their actions, but moral condemnation. These are not virtuous people. A virtuous person has more concern than this over the possibility of bringing unjustified harm to others.
Now, I do have a couple of posts to write from some people who have brought me points to consider using the first method, I hope to get to them in the near future.