I Have Received An Open Letter

In reply to my post Why Atheists Should Not Give Up Challenging Theism And Theists (and to the subsequent overly-dramatic fallout in that post’s comments section), comes this “open letter” to me from GreenGeekGirl. I do not think I have ever received an open letter before (unless we count the one from that rabbi to the entire atheist community).  As a member of the entire atheist community, I did take it to heart. But, nonetheless, this still feels like my first official receipt of an open letter.  It feels good.

I would quote the letter but its author is not that open about the contents of her blog posts.  Nonetheless, out of a spirit of open-mindedness towards dissents, I will relay the YouTube videos she posts therein which she offers as a rejoinder to my defense of trying to argue believers out of their faiths.  They are by the estimable ProfMTH and I featured them before.  I think that was also the occasion that I luckily actually got his attention and some words of support for Camels With Hammers (or at least he signed up to follow me on Twitter).  I admit, as a big fan of his, I appreciated that quite a bit and have enjoyed the few subsequent chances to interact with him on Twitter.

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Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com George W.

    In regards to your disagreement, I would like to relate this to a few of my own experiences. As with my atheism, my views on morality, determinism, meta-ethics, presuppositionalism, and materialism all came by argument. I held one belief-then through argument-came to a different or more fully formed opinion.
    Arguments are only futile when you want to “win” or when you feel that ideas aren’t powerful without immediate consensus. If I didn’t argue, I would never have been the person I am today.

    I don’t disagree with these sentiments from her open letter:

    By nature, a transitional state in belief implies that you have heavy doubt already about your former beliefs, and thus, are much more willing to consider alternative arguments. Doubt caused by fear, by negative experiences, can rock one’s belief foundation in a way that argumentation alone cannot.

    I just wonder if doubt cannot under any circumstances be planted in both hearing a new argument as well as defending your own. In essence, I wonder if you can remove the “ideas” from the “argument”-and truly ever end up with “argumentation alone”.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Exactly, George.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Actually, wait, no. I had doubt that was caused by neither fear nor negative experiences, just argumentation, so that part of what she says is nonsense too.

    There are people who actually use their reason without being driven by emotions to do so.

    • Daniel Fincke

      In fact, I am actually dubious of people insofar as their conversions or deconversions hinge on emotionalism and negative experiences, rather than their reason. I may be interesting in seeing people abandon their false faiths, but I would only want to dissuade them, never ever exploit their emotional vulnerabilities. That she is interested in the latter but rejects the former outright is just completely morally and epistemologically backwards as far as I am concerned.

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com George W.

    I agree with the spirit of her comment, though I agree, it is incomplete. I also think it creates an imaginary “argumentation alone”, where no ideas are being presented, absorbed, or defended. In only the most extreme of cases have I ever seen something like that happen. When it does, I would caution you not to call it an argument and instead call it proselytizing.

    I also am dubious of the emotional conversion. I witnessed it far too often in my religious days. I think (and please don’t quote me) that she is pointing out that religious sentiments are very likely emotionally inoculated against reason. I don’t think she is wrong.

    • Daniel Fincke

      I think (and please don’t quote me) that she is pointing out that religious sentiments are very likely emotionally inoculated against reason. I don’t think she is wrong.

      Well, of course they are. But that does not mean all is hopeless and that with enough care, strategy, reason, and patience we can make no difference.

      I just think it is an obvious truism that religion has powerful mechanisms for keeping its psychological hold in place. We are talking here about the most ancient and enduring form of brainwashing the human mind has ever developed.

      But the idea that this should be met with defeatism and surrender is just ludicrous. It’s a virus which has evolved enormous success in evading T-cells. So, we just need to engineer better antivirals.

      I want to stop having these pointless conversations about whether we should just surrender, which focus on just how mighty and scary what we are up against is. That goes nowhere. I want to know what to do to combat it. Only constructive advice really interests me. I only engage with defeatists as a way of trying to prevent them from discouraging and dissuading others into their concessions to the power of religion.

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

    I think you know that I am all for head on criticism.

    I agree that the defeatist attitude of some atheists should not go unchallenged. I postulate that this stand they take is entirely reactionary, both to the proselytizing of Christians and the occasionally untactful assault lodged by Gnu Atheism.
    People are so defensive (and offensive, too) about this subject that those who wish to avoid the unhelpful aspects of confrontation are bound to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I agree with you challenging her, I also understand her sentiments; though not the projection of her feelings onto everyone as if she were giving facts.

  • http://www.meetup.com/GrassrootsAtheism/ Chris McLaughlin

    Most (if not all) of the atheists that I know would tell/have told me that they would change their mind about the non-existence of gods, given sufficient evidence. Contrast that with the admission of all or most of the theists that I talk to who say that no amount of evidence would change their mind.

    I make it part of my business to persuade agnostics, and open-minded theists and even the hardcore dogmatic theists I mention above. Why would I even make the attempt if I trusted what the theists say about never changing their minds? Because I know atheists who are former thiests who say that the seed of doubt planted in their minds by being exposed to the atheistic side of religious arguments started them on the path to atheism.

  • J Hauser

    I have seen some of your videos although certainly not all of them. You bring up some well thought out points. I see some Christians tend to attack or become defensive. I have to admit, I am offended at some of what you say (since I am one). From a respectful standpoint I do not agree with most of what you say. My faith has come through God doing things in my life that no one could ever convice me otherwise (healing during prayer, speaking in touges, filled with the Holy Spirit, seeing the world in a Biblical perspective). To me none of these are things I can convice myself of from a pyscological perspective just because I “want” to believe. They are beyond the power of sugestion or leaning on religion. I have stepped out of my comfort zone and seen God move when I have. If you do not mind my asking, what lead you to losing your faith? Thanks.