The title of this article begins with an ambitious promise: one simple way to tell that a particular atheist lacks intellectual credibility. But as with many ambitious promises, this one comes with a couple caveats.
First, the lacking of intellectual credibility is pertaining only to one sphere: the debate between atheism and contrary perspectives. Thus, the atheist in question may still retain all sorts of intellectual credibility in other spheres. The claim is only that she will lack credibility when it comes to defining and defending atheism over-against alternative perspectives.
Second, the atheist may still make many interesting and valid points within the sphere of atheism and its discontents. I am only advocating a general skepticism toward any further pronouncements in the area in question from this individual, not a categorical rejection of everything she says. (By the same token, even if the Ford salesman is not a reliable guide on the best family sedan in the market you can still learn something from him.)
Okay, now that we have our two caveats out of the way, I can move onto the topic. How does one tell that a particular atheist lacks intellectual credibility as regards the debate between atheism and contrary perspectives such that we should adopt a general skepticism toward her pronouncements in this area?
Here’s the answer: Ask her what she thinks of “faith”. Her answer will likely be very revealing.
Before we get to the bad responses that undermine her credibility, let’s consider a couple good answers:
(1) “That depends. How are you defining the word ‘faith’?”
(2) “Faith is commonly defined as trust or confidence in a person or proposition or thing. In that sense, we all exercise faith and we are surely rational to do so. Is that all you mean?”
Good replies such as (1) and (2) are appropriately qualified in recognition of the range of ways the word “faith” is used. They are also appropriately dispassionate and objective. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they seek further clarification from the interlocutor in pursuit of mutual understanding.
By contrast, here is the kind of response that undermines an atheist’s credibility in these matters:
(3) “Faith is irrational. I reject faith and exercise reason instead.”
(4) “As Twain said, ‘faith is believing what you know ain’t true.’ It’s fear-based. I follow science and reason.”
If you hear an answer like (3) or (4) then consider yourself warned: this person has no credibility on these topics.