Pharyngula

Advice for atheists?

We’re getting advice from Christians now! Look and laugh at this list: Five things that would make atheists seem nicer. It’s gone awry even with the title. I especially appreciate the word “seem,” because Lord knows there’s nothing that could make us actually nice, and obviously we need the suggestions of a Christian, since we’re all such not-nice people. I should make a counter-list of “five things that would make Christians seem intelligent” — maybe then one of them would notice the nasty implications of this clown’s title.

But I’m the wrong guy to do it. You see, I’m not nice, and proud of it. I have no interest in being nice, and I think it’s rather pathetic to start an argument by baring your throat to my teeth and begging for mercy before you’ve even started. It just makes me smirk and snap. It doesn’t help, either, that his list is so snide and feeble…so sneebly.

1. Stop being so smug.

Make me.

Look, you start an argument, you don’t get to whine at your opponent to be humble about his ideas before you’ve even taken a stab at criticizing them. Show me a reason not to be smug about atheism, and reason, and science, and the superiority of our beliefs over that pile of superstitious dogma you call faith. Don’t simply instruct me to stop regarding atheism as possibly not superior to your cultish apologetics.

Christians also don’t get to play the humility card, anyway. People who believe they have privileged access to mysterious information direct from the brain of a cosmos-spanning super-intelligence, and who believe everyone else is damned to eternal torment, aren’t exactly poster-children for modesty.

2. Don’t assume every piece of Christian evangelism is directed at you – we want the undecideds, not the decided-uns.

Oh, my, no. You think we see the inane dreck Christians propose as an argument, and you think we assume it’s directed at us? We’re “smug,” remember — we figure there’s no way you can really be so stupid as to think we’re going to be swayed by Pascal’s Wager or handwaving at vague quotes from the Bible or threats of an imaginary Hell or promises of an imaginary paradise. We’re after the undecideds, too. We love tearing up your stupidity in public for that reason.

For instance, I know that the Christian who wrote this list wasn’t directing it at me, and probably never even heard of me. That doesn’t stop me from pissing on it.

3. Admit that the debate about God’s existence is complex – and that it can, depending on your presuppositions, be quite possible for intelligent and rational people to intelligently believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.

The debate is complex because a lot of intelligent, educated people buy into those ridiculous presuppositions and then toss a lot of noisy chaff in the air. There is a simplicity at the core that is not in Christian interests to expose: is there a god or gods, and is there any reasonable evidence for him, it, her, or them? And further, is there a reason to believe in your specific god over Thor or Xenu or Moroni or whatever other fiction some cunning con artist chose to peddle to the gullible?

And your ‘intervening deity’ (the existence of which is an assertion not supported by any evidence) ‘communicates’ (you are using that word in some strange fashion that is not reasonable) ‘through a book’ (that was cobbled together from scattered scraps of theological rants, old poetry, and self-serving pseudo-history over 1500 years ago)? That’s crazy talk right there.

4. Admit that the scientific method – which by its nature relies on induction rather than deduction (starting with a hypothesis and testing it rather than observing facts and forming a hypothesis) – is as open to abuse as any religious belief, and is neither objective nor infallible.

No. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We are not going to get anywhere if you expect your opponents to simply fall over and accept a bogus mischaracterization of science.

Science uses both inductive and deductive logic. Induction is the idea generator, the process that spins out tentative hypotheses that can be evaluated by observation, experiment, and deductive logic. Science is not infallible, and no one ever claims that it is, but it has something that religion lacks: a process of testing claims against real-world observations. To claim that science is as open to abuse as religion is ignorant nonsense. You can claim virtually anything about gods in religion, and all that matters is how many rubes you can persuade to believe it. Scientific claims are constrained by evidence.

Of course individuals can abuse both religion and science. The difference is that science provides objective criteria to assess the viability of truth-claims.

5. Try to deal with the actual notions of God seriously believed in by millions of people rather than inventing strawmen (or spaghetti monsters) to dismiss the concepts of God – and deal with the Bible paying attention to context and the broader Christological narrative rather than quoting obscure Old Testament laws. By all means quote the laws when they are applied incorrectly by “Christians” – but understand how they’re meant to work before dealing with the Christians described in point 3.

OK, explain Ganesh to me. Explain the prosperity gospel. Explain why Christians reject the prophecies of Mohammed, while millions of Muslims think they’re just peachy. Explain premillennial dispensationalism. Explain whether Episcopalians or Baptists are right. Explain how Spong is wrong. Or right. Who would win a cage match between Karen Armstrong and Pat Robertson?

What is “the” Christological narrative? There is none, or rather, there’s a thousand of them. We know the context, too — that the Bible is an evolving mess of over-interpreted poetry and tribal stories and crackpot history. Why you guys choose to selectively declare one interpretation of one subset of the conglomeration to be the absolute truth as dictated by anthropomorphic vapor, while another arbitrary subset is archaic and doesn’t apply anymore, is completely incomprehensible…not just to us, but to you, too.

We atheists actually do address the claims fervently held by millions of people. The sneaky trick the theological wankers pull, though, is that once we’ve smacked them down, they announce, “Oh, no — we didn’t mean those millions of believers. They’re stupid. We meant these other millions of believers.” It’s a big game of whack-a-mole. What you call “obscure Old Testament laws,” someone else will call the core of their faith. What you value as the “Christological narrative,” a member of yet another sect will call pretentious confabulations.

Atheists just cut through all the noise and call it all sewage.

And some of us see no reason to be nice to sewage, and get really cranky at demands to respect your steaming pile of ordure.

Comments

  1. #1 qwr
    January 1, 2010

    Im not even religious and i can see that alot of you are smug S.O.B. If you want people to listen to your argument. You have to treat people with some respect.

  2. #2 aharleygyrl
    January 4, 2010

    i think #558 missed the point altogether.

    i was told the other day that all i do is tell people to study dawkins and i cuss and that i need to stop both because no one will take me seriously.

    so i said, fuck you, study dawkins.

  3. #3 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 4, 2010

    Im not even religious and i can see that alot of you are smug S.O.B. If you want people to listen to your argument. You have to treat people with some respect.

    Oh please. If people come here wanting to discuss in good faith they generally get treated fine. That doesn’t mean we have to respect their opinion but at least they get to present it and have all the reasons why it is stupid pointed out to them.

    In fact I feel this place is doing them a favor.

  4. #4 Kel, OM
    January 4, 2010

    You have to treat people with some respect.

    The problem being that often one cannot separate beliefs from their persona. Ergo, if you call their beliefs nonsense you are showing them a great disrespect. Hence you get people taking cracker desecration as a personal insult, or cartoons mocking their prophet as a means to riot.

    The question is, how can you argue against the nonsense one holds dear without making them feel like they have just been hit with a sledgehammer?

  5. #5 Patricia, OM
    January 4, 2010

    You have to treat people fools with some respect.

    Fixed it for you. You religious types deserve the same respect as a steaming pile of bull shit. Which is – hold your nose and try not to step in it.

  6. #6 WowbaggerOM
    January 4, 2010

    Playing the whole ‘disrespect’ card is pathetic – to the contemporary theist there is no way (in their mind) for an atheist to be respectful of their beliefs unless it’s a fawning, grovelling, apologetic request to have it quietly acknowledged that maybe it’s possible for some people to perhaps not believe in gods – and it must be made in such a way to make it appear that the atheist acknowledges the superiority of believers and is very embarrassed about his/her lack of faith.

    That’s what passes for respect amongst the woo-soaked. I’ve got three words to say about that: fuck that shit.

  7. #7 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 4, 2010

    I’m perfectly willing to treat people, even goddists, with respect. However, I expect certain things in return:

    1. Don’t lie to me. Especially don’t lie about things I know are true.

    2. Don’t tell me why I’m an atheist.

    3. Don’t tell me that I’m immoral because I don’t believe in The Big Guy In The Sky (TBGITS).

    4. Don’t redefine atheism to fit a particular sociological or political agenda.

    5. Don’t threaten me with Hell.

    In short, treat me with a modicum of respect and I’ll return it. But if you tell me that I hate TBGITS or if you assume that I’ve never, ever, in my entire life, heard of Jesus then I will make recommendations about what you can place in your rosy-red rectum.

  8. #8 WowbaggerOM
    January 4, 2010

    4. Don’t redefine atheism to fit a particular sociological or political agenda.

    That’s the one that shits me the most. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods – and that’s it. It’s not a religion; it’s not a name for people who are angry with a god (how can you be angry with something you don’t believe exists?); and, very significantly, it does not include any instructions or motivations for behaviour.

  9. #9 aratina cage
    January 4, 2010

    Im not even religious and i can see that alot of you are smug S.O.B. -qwr

    Just because you are not religious doesn’t mean you are godless or rational. One of the qualifications for posting here according to Nathan is that you must be a smug atheist. You certainly qualify in the smug department.

    If you want people to listen to your argument. You have to treat people with some respect. -qwr

    When people come here to argue, they can respect our way of doing things or leave. You too.

  10. #10 jcbmack
    January 21, 2010

    It has been awhile since I have been here. I am glad to see all the responses I received.

  11. #11 John Morales
    January 21, 2010

    jcbmack, your gladness is noted.

    Have you any response to the responses?

  12. #12 jcbmack
    January 21, 2010

    John Morales,
    yes I do have some responses. Not all people who believe in God or gods for one think he/seh/it/them interferes in the affairs of man directly and can typically be referred to as deists. Others who are theists do believe God is more personal and tend nowadays to be mono-theists and they ofcourse consist of many divisions. Some think God is not intimately involved in our affairs while others do but this God makes it so it is not evidenced by a tool like science. Still others believe that the universe/nature is a kind of God, and not a literal “man with a beard up there.” This aforementioned belief system is commonly refrered to as pantheism.

    From the recent evolutionary biology literature (excluding Dawkins) it seems religion as actually been a powerful evolutionary adaptation despite its many pitfalls and low moments. Joseph Campbell the late and well noted anthropologist documented the positive points of religion and belief in a power greater than oneself in many forms. Carl Jung also did extensive research on the role of religions in reating solidarity within societies.

    Interesting little article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=is-religion-adaptive

    Of course Dawkins refers to religion as an evolutionary byproduct of our huge brains, but just as confirmation bias may play an active role in a religious person’s attribution to some occurrence they as from God, so too can someone with their mind made up that there is no God (I will talk in the singular for the most part due top my own Westernized bias) brings there own set of biases to the discussion or research.

    Ultimately, however, science lacks the tools to measure whether or not there is a spiritual realm, a God, life after death, and although science had, does and will continue to expose charlatons/fakers of supposed miracles, it will not and cannot measure the God or the probability of God’s existence.

  13. #13 jcbmack
    January 21, 2010

    The late and great evolutionary Biologist and Paleontologist who was an agnostic with a Jewsih upbringing, has stated and written time and time again that religion and science are two different domains that cannot overlap. In an essay written in 1996 after a stay in the Vatican Gould writes about the assurances he gave the Catholic priests that their religion and evolution are completely compatible. Francis Collins who is a physical biochemist and who headed up the sequencing of the some 23,000 or so genes in the human genome is a born again Christian.

    Now to address this appeal to or from authority. If I believe in God it is not because of Collins or Gould. It is also not because of my science and psychology background either. I merely state these to show that one can have a science background and be well educated and still be a person of faith without it being ridiculous.

    Keep in mind “nonoverlapping magisteria,” coind by Gould for this very issue. Now in science inductive and deductive reasoning are employed in many cases, but we cannot put ‘God’ in a test tube or use physical means to deconstruct spiritual faith.

    I know evolution is a fact, (it is only some of the mechanisms being worked out) the big bang is a probable explanation in light of big bounce theory and that the earth is around 3.8 billion years old. I do not believe in a 6 or 7 day of creation and I as, Francis reiterated from experiments of old do not think a vital force carries out our physiological processes. I know DNA makes proteins through an intermediate known as RNA and that one of the processes is through alternative splicing in humans and many other animals. (one mechanism is transesterication of the spliceosome)

    When I wake up I may pray, but I still look both ways before I cross the street, but keep in mind most things require a little faith when we think them through. Even in science we need to have some faith. I am not telling people they have to believe in God, or gods, I am merely pointing out that it is not so silly and ridiculous for people to believe and keep in mind that many great minds in science were and are religious. Personally I prefer a quiet faith in God than belonging to religion, but religion is not a bad thing a priori either.

  14. #14 jcbmack
    January 21, 2010