Can there be a productive conversation between believers and atheists?

The Faith ColumnSally Quinn and Jon Meacham on the On Faith column ask “Atheism is enjoying a certain vogue right now. Why do you think that is? Can there be a productive conversation between believers and atheists, and if so over what kinds of issues?” Here are selection of positive responses:

Karen Armstrong“Even the most fervent atheists often have sacred things in their life: They see humanity or the natural world as inviolable, uniquely precious and mysterious…. It may be that the atheism that is taking hold is a rejection of a widespread idolatry which has forgotten that any conception of the divine is bound to be inadequate.”

Karen Armstrong

John Selby Spong“I am confident that a dialogue with those who call themselves “atheists” would not only be good for the church but it would also allow deep and profound truth to emerge”

(ex-Bishop) John Shelby Spong


Pastor Lyle Dukes“…we have too much in common for us not to talk.”

Pastor Lyle Dukes



Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger“The moderate voice has been a weak one, allowing both religious extremism and militant atheism to capture the headlines”

Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger


Sally Quinn“I have also, all of my life, been baffled by the notion that you cannot have values, ethics, or morals unless you are religious. I find it appalling how atheists have been reviled, unaccepted, and held in contempt. Isn’t the most important thing how you live your life?”

Sally Quinn


Daniel Dennett“..can we public atheists have productive conversations with believers? Certainly. We can discuss every issue under the sun…respecting each other as citizens with honest disagreements about fundamental matters that can be subjected to reasonable, open inquiry and mutual persuasion… As long as those who are believers will acknowledge that their allegiance gives them no privilege, no direct line to the absolute truth, no advantage in moral insight, we should be able to get along just fine.”

Daniel C. Dennett

William Tully “I would say to my friends who don’t believe in God: Those of us who do believe, know—and honor—more about your position that we or our institutions may say. We should do better. We should be clearer that we include doubt in the life of faith. And, we don’t expect to be free of your hard questions, ever. Yet we believe, and practice, and face life everyday as you do. There’s common ground here, plenty enough to have a productive conversation.”

Rev William Tully

Sam Harris“As to whether atheists and believers can have “a productive conversation,” I am quite sure that the answer is “yes.” But I am uncertain whether this conversation can bear fruit quickly enough to keep civilization from becoming fully engorged by Iron Age stupidity and horror”

Sam Harris


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz “’s underlying emotional stance is something that cannot really be changed, and therefore there cannot be a really productive, fruitful dialogue.  However, what sometimes happens is that people of different belief systems meet each other and somehow come to appreciate that the other is also a person. And that is a great achievement.”

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 


Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori “There are innumerable opportunities for believers and those who deny any belief to work for the betterment of other human beings as well as the earth and its non-human inhabitants.”

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori



Donna  Freitas“Dialogue between atheists and believers is no different than dialogue between members of two different faith traditions. If both parties come to the table…with the conviction that conversation is not to destroy or even best the other’s thinking and rather to find common ground and exchange what is of consequence—then true, productive dialogue has a solid foundation.”

Donna Freitas 

Susan Jacoby“I could not care less whether any elected official believes in God: I care about what he or she does on earth. As an atheist, I believe precisely what the Bible says on this subject: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Susan Jacoby


Nicholas Thomas Wright“The dialogue between believers and atheists… needs to be as courteous, listening and careful as all other dialogues. I look forward to it…”

Bishop Nicholas Thomas Wright


William J Byron“Atheists deserve respect and a respectful hearing. But the acoustics necessary for such a hearing are not to be found in an arena of argument, only in a context of conversation.”

Reverend William J. Byron


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