If I say I am an agnostic, that is an invitation to ignore me. This is socially acceptable, and is not perceived as a challenge. If I say I am an atheist, that is an invitation to battle. It is us versus them. Thinking stops and the big guns come out. They shoot the standard talking points which somehow always seem to miss their target. The result is always stalemate. I think that this is the greatest single barrier to changing ones beliefs -- the idea that there are sides and that the other side is simply close-minded and wrong.
One suggestion has been to use some different word than atheism, or perhaps no word at all. So far no good alternative word or phrase has been proposed, but perhaps the idea of just starting a discussion without a declaration of sides does have some merit. In my book I have chosen, for now, to use the word minimally, but to try to soften its definition. Under my definition an atheist may be open to evidence for the existence of god. The difference is that, when presented with the evidence, the atheist goes to the lab, not to church. Now this position too already has talking points ready to fire against it. First, they will say, faith does not require evidence, and second, the lab is just another kind of church, so it is your church versus our church.
Fortunately, I think that a useful discussion can be had without fighting over these points. Eventually, though, they do need to be answered, and I think there are good answers for both of them, which I'll address in future posts.