chapter  20
11 Pages

Filling the space between: what we can learn from Plato


It might initially seem surprising to claim that Plato is a rich resource for people concerned to promote dialogue between believers and atheists. Does not the imaginary state depicted in his nal work, the Laws, say that certain kinds of deceitful and unrepentant atheists are to be put to death (907d-909d)? Nor does the imaginary state of the Laws appear to permit any genuine dialogue between believers and atheists.1 Yet I want to propose that if we take Plato’s works as a whole (including the Laws) we will nd that they provide an excellent resource for those who are interested in such a dialogue. And this is for three reasons: rstly, he provides a model of how such a dialogue might be conducted (even though he does not give us an example of precisely such a dialogue himself); secondly, he provides us with the materials to construct a case for the potential benets of dialogue to both parties (not simply the atheists who might be converted); and, thirdly, he writes about religious beliefs in such a way that those beliefs can be (and, I shall suggest, have been) fruitfully reworked within a secular framework.