Six Temptations Atheists Must Avoid

One of my mantras is that it is more important to me that we atheists live, think, and debate as rationalists and truly model rationalism (rather than tribalism), in our attacks on religion rather than that we deconvert people by any means necessary. If we make everyone atheists but those atheists are comparably irrationalistic and thuggish as the worst religious people are, then we have not gained a whole lot.

There at least five general temptations that atheists need to conscientiously avoid. They are the following:

1. We atheists need to remind ourselves that figuring out that the interventionist gods of the major religions are false is a fairly easy intellectual discovery. We are not geniuses or especially smarter than the average religious believer simply on account of our ability to figure this out. We have just, for whatever combination of reasons, either assiduously avoided or managed to escape the emotional, social, and identity entanglements that cloud the minds of otherwise smart religious people. We need to recognize it is just stupid to call religious people stupid just because their ideas are ridiculous. We need to remember all we know about psychology and take it into account when thinking about religious people’s errors.

2. We atheists need to remind ourselves deliberately that even as we may be extremely frustrated with both the serious intellectual vices and poor moral judgments that religions actively inculcate and celebrate in believers, nonetheless religious people can have a number of moral virtues and life-enriching practices that are no less estimable for taking religious forms of expression. It is for this reason that I encourage us to take the effort to see and love the good virtues that are in religious people, even as they wear off-putting religious disguises. We need to take deliberate steps to humanize rather than demonize religious people in our hearts, by frequently reminding ourselves that often the hurtful things they do are done without mean-spirited hearts. In general, we should go so far as to train ourselves to actually love religious people in order to most ethically, fairly, and constructively be the vocally unabashed and intellectually uncompromising critics and challengers they sorely need.

3. We atheists need to hold ourselves to high ethical standards, independently of whether they are effective. Monday Natalie Reed wrote a great post denouncing the ways that religious proselytizers seek out vulnerable people like sharks going after blood in water. In reply, a closed minded Christian friend of one of my openminded Christian friends on Facebook dismissed Natalie’s honest and tempered critiques by saying “It seems like the person who wrote the article is going to find fault in Christians no matter what they do.” To which I sarcastically responded, “Phew, so I guess that means you can just ignore her feelings and get on with trying to manipulate her.” It would not matter even if Natalie were impossible to please by religious people, her complaints about emotionally exploitative attitudes should be taken seriously on their own merits since direct emotional targeting of the vulnerable for their vulnerability is despicable.

Similarly in the case of atheists receiving criticism from theists: it does not matter if we think our opponents are over-sensitive, we need to be properly sensitive. Saying, as many atheists do, “they’ll be offended no matter what we say” is not an excuse to say things they have a genuine moral right to be offended by. We should challenge their erroneous conceptions of what they have a moral right to be offended by rather than just take license to be indiscriminately obnoxious to them since they won’t give us credit even when we are being civil or take our rational objections seriously even when they are meticulously politely worded.

There are times and ways, constructively and without personal bullying or manipulative pressure, to use irreverence to break the spell of religious reverence, to blaspheme, and to ridicule patently illogical beliefs in ways that effectively make religious absurdities, fallacious reasoning, and cognitive dissonances unavoidable for believers to face. We can do all of this without being assholes if we remain conscientiously concerned about others’ actual good.

4. We atheists should hold ourselves to higher intellectual standards and avoid closed minded partisanship and anti-philosophical scientistic backlash to religious abuses of free speculation. Unfortunately many atheists’ primary exposure to a good number of philosophical questions and categories comes through religious apologists who use them in dubious ways. I can understand this leading to a suspicion that philosophy is just the lipstick on the pig of theology. But it’s not.

Atheists should rightly wave away with intellectual contempt completely superstitious beliefs in invisible super-persons who meddle unseen in human affairs and all other comparable magic. But it is hasty over-confidence to then go wave away all philosophical questions that are not solvable (either yet or ever) with scientific methods as though they were transparent nonsense. Sometimes religious believers raise important epistemological, metaphysical, and metaethical concerns.

However contorted their reasoning for their positions on such issues may be, the questions themselves that they raise sometimes need to be respected as serious and not just laughed off as beneath refutation or consideration. Philosophical questions notoriously, in many cases, admit of no answers that have universal consensus but that does not mean ignoring them makes them go away or makes our thinking any clearer. Our answers to philosophical questions, imprecise and endlessly debatable as they may be, quite often do have serious implications for the rest of our thinking and so require that we think as carefully as possible, rather than as dismissively as possible, about them.

Even where philosophical questions are remote enough from life to not be immediately relevant, lovers of truth should be open to speculation. The vice of religious people is not that they engage in theoretical speculation. It’s that they believe highly unlikely things with willful prejudice and with intense life commitment. We can do better. We can speculate and hold our speculative beliefs proportionally to the philosophical and scientific evidence they have. When atheists intellectually intemperately eschew all philosophy, I often hear a troubling absolutist’s obsession with certainty and fear of uncertainty.

True commitment to reason embraces rational uncertainty without frustratedly storming off. Atheists confronted with an actually difficult metaphysical, epistemological, or metaethical question posed by a believer may be tempted to try to invalidate the entire question as a means of avoiding having to admit the slightest incompleteness to the case for their atheism. That’s intellectual and moral cowardice. We should be above it.

Our goal should not be beating religious believers at all costs. This means not denying the validity of questions just because they do not have conclusive enough answers for us to have unambiguous enough victory over believers. This even means trying to make and defeat better cases for theistic or pro-religion positions than religious people do.

5. When we atheists think our fellow atheists are failing in any or all of the above respects, we should not draw a false equivalence and lazily accuse them of being “as bad as the religious” when they really usually are not. Atheists are grouping together. That’s a good thing. Inevitably, all groups have temptations to tribalism. But if we are to give emotional and intellectual support to people who reject all the social and emotional lures of religious delusions and promises of community, then we need to band together and it’s a good thing that atheists band together. The good does not mean we should not vigilantly protect against tribalism, but it also means we should not destroy the potential for constructive community out of an obsession with the reputation purity that is only possible when one never commits to other people or to causes larger than oneself.

Atheists are people too and the movement towards creating an atheist identity and resources for atheists—especially for the closeted ones in oppressively religious families, communities and workplaces and for the traumatized new apostates painfully alienated from their prior worldviews and communities—is a vitally good thing.

Atheists who turn their back on other atheists lest they be associated with the perceived vulgarities of the mob are as smug and counter-productive to making an intellectually and morally strong atheism as they accuse the New Atheists of being.

You don’t like some aspects of the New Atheists or the community of movement atheists? Okay, then you speak out against religion in better ways and you provide constructive support for your fellow atheists in better ways. And then we can dialogue believing you criticize atheists in good faith and not as a concern troll. Embrace the “A” word and your fellow atheists. Demonstrate your palpable interest in rationalism and in secular alternatives to religion flourishing rather than attack atheists while blithely excusing (or failing to equally criticize) religious privileges, falsehoods, and moral harms.

6. Finally, atheists should not go so far in trying to distinguish atheism from faith-based, authoritarian, patriarchal, supernaturalistic religion that we fail to take seriously the value of numerous psychological and social mechanisms for providing people with communities that help them integrate their values, their desire for philosophical coherence, their “spiritual” sides, and their psycho-social emotional needs. I have in the past done a lot of work to explore the potential pros and cons of conscientiously reclaiming and adapting traditionally religious mechanisms for meeting these needs. (However this ought to be done, it’s not by following too closely the sloppy and regressive recommendations and attitudes of Alain de Botton.)

I felt it necessary to reiterate all these thoughts as a background for my next post(s). My next post will answer some of the more prima facie salient objections to my recent defense of Dawkins (which received favorable feedback and a further formulation of his position from Dawkins himself). Having reiterated above my explicit stances against atheistic bullying of believers and overestimation of ourselves, I will explain why Dawkins’s admonitions to atheists do not constitute calls to bullying or anything else that is antithetical to the ideals I’ve laid out above.

Your Thoughts?

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.

  • Tony

    Wow! This is an excellent post, Dan!

    May I add (perhaps as a subset of point 4) that atheists’ arguments against religion shouldn’t focus too narrowly on the caricatures of religion (e.g. “sky daddy”, “zombie Jesus”, etc) or the extreme incidentals of religion (e.g. terrorism, the crusades, the Catholic sex abuse scandal). I think that narrowly focusing on such issues is intellectually dishonest, lazy, off-putting [to believers and some other atheists], and unlikely to sway anyone with any intellectual integrity.

    In other words, if people are going to be swayed by caricatures, what won’t they be swayed by? They could just as easily be swayed back. And is there any real pride that can be taken in their [de]conversion under such circumstances? And although extreme incidentals may be factual, they are by no means representative of those religions, but rather symptomatic of unchecked institutional prejudice and corruption, to which any institution is vulnerable.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks, Tony. I mostly agree except that I think some of those harsher charges and reductionistic characterizations have a place in an overall strategy. If what you say boils down to “everything is sky daddies, zombie jesus, terrorists, and pedophile priests” then, yes, you are an eminently easy to ignore extremist. But these are good things to pepper an otherwise more careful and dialectical approach with.

    • Tony

      I think we’re probably in violent agreement, Dan :) Those topics DO have a place in the conversation, they cannot be the entire or main focus. I most often see this misstep either in immature/young rebellious atheists who were raised in the church, or atheists who have little-to-no experience with religion other than what they hear about in the news. I’ve observed this genre of atheist in blogs, podcasts, videos and at the Reason Rally. They hate religion, but they don’t really seem to have a grasp of the more sophisticated philosophy, theology, beliefs, identity, or practices. They take ignorant, angry swipes at low-hanging fruit rather than digging down a bit deeper to get to the roots. They think they’re fighting the good fight, which they might be doing, but I can’t help feel that all too often they’re just noisy distractions.

    • http://www.facebook.com/phatjmo justinzimmer

      Agreed, awesome post Dan, especially your comments about religion and De Botton. I also agree with Tony about the religious characterizations. I relished these when I first embraced the “A” word, and still find them funny at times, but as I’ve followed the deeper arguments, they’ve gotten tiresome and trite. That’s not to say that they can’t be useful at times, especially when using blasphemy as a tool (as opposed to a weapon), but at some point these characterizations just become bratty and childish.

      You are spot on with this post, Dan and I look forward to this next series!

  • Megan

    Awesome post that I think everyone should read. I am guilty of number 5.
    “Atheists who turn their back on other atheists lest they be associated with the perceived vulgarities of the mob are as smug and counter-productive to making an intellectually and morally strong atheism as they accuse the New Atheists of being.”
    I agree with this, yet I kind of have turned my back on other atheists because I felt defeated. When I spoke up, I was verbally berated for being too nice about religion and called an apologetic atheist. I may be sure in my own mind there is no god, but refusing to belittle the religious doesn’t make me any less sure or any less helpful to the cause.
    Thanks for writing this and encouraging atheists to be a little more respectful to the religious. I frequently defend my religious friends who are extremely intelligent people. I find issues with calling all religious people stupid, when I know some who definitely aren’t. It’s wrong to generalize, especially if we are fighting to NOT be generalized ourselves.

    • http://songe.me Alex Songe

      I have a similar problem but for different reasons. I seem to hold fellow atheists to a higher standard, and so I’m more disappointed when I disagree with a fellow atheist. Often times, I find myself advocating that people make more modest cases in their arguments because they’re easier to defend, they’re just as outrageous to the believer, and it gives you greater leverage with liberal bystanders to show that you’re being generous. The more bold claims in atheist arguments often invite derailing by bringing up so many topics. When debating religious conservatives, I avoid evolution like the plague, as you’re not going to get anywhere. Even if you beat them, they don’t trust you enough to believe you. For this, sometimes people say I take it too easy on religion.

      Most of the time, when I get that criticism, it’s because I don’t always criticize religion. I’ve found myself sometimes spending time arguing with Christians not to debate them, but to learn exactly what their beliefs are. I think this is essential for atheists, because Christian statistics are showing that heresy is up a lot among my generation (25-35) and the younger generation. How good is a criticism of hell when 30% or more of evangelical youth are annihilationists or universalists? What about the emergent church? I’ve also seen an upsurge locally among the Orthodox church because of their views on premarital sex and homosexuality.

      Sometimes it sucks when you see the disappointment on people’s faces when you mention that while people do believe in the Christianity they criticize, there are many Christians who justifiably don’t.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks Megan and Alex. It’s atheists like you that I think need to be active contributors to the movement if it is to moderate against its own excesses. It’s tough but all good things are.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I think the only thing I disagree with here, Dan, is the concept of a belief as “ridiculous”. Beliefs, even when they are expressed in community, are highly personal things. Moreover, there is no logical or scientific way to “disprove” a belief – if I believe that my SUV runs based on angels carrying it down the road, you can scientifically demonstrate my belief is inaccurate, but you can’t prove I don’t believe it.

    And the problem we have is we spend so much time trying to “prove” our own beliefs or “disprove” the other guy’s. Heck, why not just set up an environment that allows people to make decisions on their own, and if they come to a different conclusion than you, as long as they aren’t hurting others with it, spend your time learning from them? SOME of what they say may expand your own belief system.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      There’s nothing mutually exclusive between proving something and letting someone make her own decision in response. Reasoning with people is respecting people’s ability to think for themselves and then giving them something to think about.

      Good thinking is done for ourselves but not by ourselves.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    Great post as usual. The main problem I have with the more mocking strategies is that they put religion in terms the believer won’t accept. As far as they are concerned, you’re arguing with a straw man. (For instance, they can point out lots of ways Jesus was not like a zombie.) You have to tie it to their own beliefs if the objective is to get through to them and not just win some sort of pwnage contest as judged by other atheists.

    • Kevin

      You mean like “Jesus didn’t eat brains…well, duh.”

      Stuff like that?

  • durham669

    This is a very well-written article and I agree with your points although I think your criticism of Alain de Botton is a bit harsh.

    If institutions such as the Catholic and Mormon churches would stay out of politics I wouldn’t care a lick about religion. To each his own. But when these institutions spend tax-free dollars trying to defeat issues such as marriage equality I take notice (California’s prop 8 for example).

    Thanks for this article. But let’s all remember that the stakes are huge especially in the United States right now. It’s not a war on religion, it’s trying to put religion in its proper place.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      No, I care about truth and modern moral values. I want the Catholic Church out of people’s minds and hearts, not just out of politics.

  • laurentweppe

    the extreme incidentals of religion (e.g. terrorism, the crusades, the Catholic sex abuse scandal)

    I’d say that targeting extremism or abuse commited by religious authorities is a great way to build an anti-clericalist argument.
    But since it seems that many atheists still confuse anti-clericalism with atheism you sometimes end up with variations of the child rapist ergo no god non sequitur.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      An anti-clerical argument IS a no good God argument. An omnipotent omnibenevolent being cannot even manage to hire morally respectable people as representatives? Would you trust a CEO or school superintendent or governor, etc. with that track record in hiring people?

    • laurentweppe

      omnipotent omnibenevolent being cannot even manage to hire morally respectable people as representatives?

      An omnipotent omnibenevolent being gives absolute freedom to its sentient creatures: some of them abuse this freedom by proclaiming themselves Its spokespersons, yet it s better to risk evil than to remain eternally cuddled y an overprotecting parent.
      Come on, that’s Hallowed be Thy Free Will 101: you’re not even trying here.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      But it’s absurd. Either the religion is getting special guidance from God or it’s not. If it winds up with just as equal a mix of good and evil people then there is no essential difference that proves anything. We can have a mix of good and evil people with or without that religion apparently. Religious leaders are no more reliable or trustworthy or truth-conveying than anyone else? In fact they’re worse than many others in many areas? Then that’s a disconfirmation. If it’s not a disconfirmation, then the thesis is all unfalsifiable unpersuasive claims.

    • laurentweppe

      Either the religion is getting special guidance from God or it’s not

      You’re mixing religion and priestdom here. And the fact is, the idea that a religious community may be led by a corrupt clerical hierarchy is not an idea alien to religion: virtually every offshoots of abrahamic faith start with someone saying “Ok, God gave guidance to priest, but after X years of dominance these idiots stoped listening, so let’s start over with someone who listens“, a notion which eventually ends up in the Bahá’í Faith’s “God give universal truth after translating them in a language the local culture can understand, time pass, the culture change and/or the priesthood starts to become part of a corrupt nobility, so God retranslate his universal truth, a new religion arises, time pass, the culture change and/or the priesthood starts to become part of a corrupt nobility, so God translate again his universal truth…“, rince, repeat until the Universe grows cold.
      Or, if you look more toward the east, you have the Mandate of Heaven: the Heavens gave mankind guidance, if the rulers follow said guidance and are just and moral, they’ll thrive, if they don’t, Heavens will find a way to screw them and let another one gain their favor, and if this means replacing the Shang Yang following (did I ever mention that I loathe Shang Yang as much as I loathe Plato?) Qin dynasty by the confucianist Han then so be it.
      In every case, you don’t have “God gave no special guidance to religion“, but “God gave special guidance, then the higher-ups screwed up
      ***
      Now, the real problem with such a vew is that it gives ammunitions to fundamentalists: their main argument being that:
      Religious elites have strayed from the path showed to them by God Or Fundies are dedicated to go back to the original meaning of the religion and cleansing it from the sin of its contemporary elite Ergo Giving power to fundies is the virtuous thing to do.
      Of course, the fact that Fundies become corrupt as fast or even faster than the previous elite and the fact that they always ignore the parts of the religious message which do not go well with their lust for power shows that they are no more honest than the corrupt elite they want to replace, yet the argument often works by virtue of the fundies not being in charge and not exposing their corruption.
      *****
      *****

      We can have a mix of good and evil people with or without that religion apparently

      Religious leaders are no more reliable or trustworthy or truth-conveying than anyone else? In fact they’re worse than many others in many areas?

      The thing is: you don’t know. You don’t know if the mix of good and bad people is at the advantage of atheists or believers, you don’t know if the evil done by religious institution is caused by the fact that they are religious institutions, by the fact that they remained dominant for too long, of by Great Puppy in the Sky knows what reason. Since you don’t have a planet sized control group, any statistical data you may gather will be screwed by statistical noise.
      *
      So in the end you don’t have any disconfirmation: you built an argument which boils down to “There are more evil people on the other side of the fence than on mine” which is in itself unfalsifiable and unpersuasive.
      *
      The problem of your argument is that what you built there is not an argument against the existence of God, but an argument against Pangloss (“tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possible“, yeah, right…), a fictional doppelganger of Leibniz which Voltaire created because he was angry that his girlfriend was a Leibniz fan. I’m sorry, but for all his talent, Voltaire’s pillow talk is not going to qualify as a strong argument.

  • timberwoof

    Dan, you said, “I can understand this leading to a suspicion that philosophy is just the lipstick on the pig of theology. But it’s not.”

    Can I shout an Amen, brother? Until I started reading your blog here, that was a fairly good description of my attitude. I’m learning that philosophy is, like science, a tool kit. This one analyzes and verifies systems of thought.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks so much, that’s great to hear!

  • Desert Son, OM

    We need to recognize it is just stupid to call religious people stupid just because their ideas are ridiculous.

    Corollary: it remains important to demonstrate why a behavior, action, or argument is stupid.

    reminding ourselves that often the hurtful things they do are done without mean-spirited hearts.

    Except when they are done with mean-spirited hearts. It seems to me one of the problems with religious trappings and doctrine is how often (and how successfully) it masks the means to make the distinction you request in item 2. Sometimes “I’ll pray for you” is genuinely meant in a compassionate desire and caring about another’s difficulties.

    Sometimes “I’ll pray for you” is code for “I enjoy the prospect that you’ll burn eternally in conditions I genuinely believe exist.” Beyond all the other indicators humans use to gauge intent (tone of voice, visual cues, relationships, etc.), religion provides another level of obfuscation to intent.

    It’s what I think of as the “Professional Hitman” side of religious doctrine or psychology: “It’s nothing personal; it’s just business.” “I don’t hate you, but my god does and tells me that’s how it is. Coffee?”

    We should challenge their erroneous conceptions of what they have a moral right to be offended by

    Thank you.

    We can do all of this without being assholes if we remain conscientiously concerned about others’ actual good.

    I advocate there are times when being an asshole demonstrates an actual good. I don’t think you’re in disagreement, given other posts you’ve made about tone, but if I’m misrepresenting your stance, I apologize for my ignorance and poor comprehension. I want to also acknowledge that my advocacy may be related to the semantics of “asshole,” a term for which varying values potentially apply.

    This even means trying to make and defeat better cases for theistic or pro-religion positions than religious people do.

    I can see this as an intellectual exercise in rigor, but I’m leery of it as a mode of significant time/effort investment, especially since the burden of proof rests on the religious claimants, not on the atheists.

    Why should I work to help make their case (regardless of whether I can build a still-better counter argument), especially since they’re the ones making the claim about reality? Or am I misunderstanding your point (only too likely)?

    we should not draw a false equivalence and lazily accuse them of being “as bad as the religious”

    I haven’t seen this happen, though I am a sample size of 1 and therefore useless as a predictive element. What I have seen is people who declare no belief in god but insist that extraterrestrials built the pyramids of Egypt get called out for failing skepticism 101 in one area even though they passed the course in another area. Or, again, is that not what you’re talking about (I’m becoming increasingly worried that I don’t understand your subject post much at all).

    Whatever this ought to be done, it’s not by following too closely the sloppy and regressive recommendations and attitudes of Alain de Botton.

    Thank you. Surely the positive features are not functions of religion per se, but facets of collaboration by social animals in ways to enhance things like psychological reward, cooperative success, and cohesion. I have yet to meet the atheist who thinks that group activities in mutually supportive environments including aspects such as aesthetic buildings or artistic performance are somehow anathema to lack of belief in the supernatural. But again, I’m an n of 1.

    Still learning,

    Robert

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Why should I work to help make their case (regardless of whether I can build a still-better counter argument), especially since they’re the ones making the claim about reality?

      Because when you only attack their poor comprehension they often console themselves that surely theological experts would have fared better so they can go on believing even if they themselves don’t know the right counter arguments. If you can walk them through the best versions of their faith that even they don’t understand, then you powerfully demonstrate you fully understand even what they don’t. This also gives them temporary hope as they root for you to make so good a case that maybe it can stand up where their own didn’t. Then when you knock it down they are more likely to lose hope.

    • Desert Son, OM

      Because when you only attack their poor comprehension they often console themselves that surely theological experts would have fared better so they can go on believing even if they themselves don’t know the right counter arguments. If you can walk them through the best versions of their faith that even they don’t understand, then you powerfully demonstrate you fully understand even what they don’t. This also gives them temporary hope as they root for you to make so good a case that maybe it can stand up where their own didn’t. Then when you knock it down they are more likely to lose hope.

      Thanks for this response, you make an excellent case and I am strongly persuaded.

      For clarification, is “attacking poor comprehension” the same thing as “demonstrating flaws in arguments?” I can see how it is if pointing out, say, a tautology to someone who doesn’t understand what a tautology is and why it’s a problematic approach to argument. Is there a case for those things being different?

      Still learning,

      Robert

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      For clarification, is “attacking poor comprehension” the same thing as “demonstrating flaws in arguments?”

      I mean that often people will blame the limits of their own understanding and not their beliefs for losing an argument. That’s the poor comprehension you expose when you defeat them, it’s their own limits of understanding. You need to go an extra step to show the beliefs fail even more sophisticated tests than they themselves were able to come up with.

    • Desert Son, OM

      I mean that often people will blame the limits of their own understanding and not their beliefs for losing an argument.

      Ah, I see. Very helpful, thank you for the follow up and further elucidation!

      Still learning,

      Robert

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
    – Oscar Wilde

    • DSimon

      That didn’t work so well yesterday when I was tempted to eat a potato chip. I ate it, and afterwards I still wanted to eat another.

  • http://www.reason-being.com reasonbeing

    Daniel—great post. I must admit that I have been guilty of all of those things, to at least a minor degree, at one time or another on my blog except for number 5. Thank your for being a voice of reason and rationality when it is so often needed.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      And thanks for hearing me out! #5 is for all the people who felt superior reading #1-4 to get called out and for all those feeling guilty reading #1-4 to get a boost :-P

  • AZ Skeptic

    Dan:

    Outstanding post. Your comments always give me something to think about, but I think this post ranks among my favorites.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks AZ Skeptic! It concisely sums up conclusions I’ve worked out at length before so I find it pretty satisfying too!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001262785490 brianwood

    I think so long as we respect humans as humans while recognizing that we have NO obligation to respect their beliefs we’ll be fine. No one respects my belief that canned beets make women bowlegged, but plenty of people who know about that belief treat me well.

  • http://polyskeptic.com Ginny

    As an addendum to point 6: Atheists (at least in my experience) tend to be much more individualistic, socially independent, and insensitive to mass disapproval than the average human. To succeed, and to meet the needs of the broader human community, they need to recognize that many people have a genuine emotional need for things like community, harmonious social relationships, and ritual to mark important life changes. I’ve seen a lot of atheists heap scorn on these things because of what is, in my view, a personality difference: they don’t find as much value in these things, they see that they’re commonly attached to religion, and they assume that people who do value these things are weaker or less rational.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Yes, this is a serious problem.

  • Jeff Sherry

    An excellent post Dan.

  • http://jfinite.blogspot.com Justin Bonaparte

    Good post, I tend to agree.

  • consciousness razor

    Good post overall. I agree with basically all of it, even some of #4 about philosophy, but I don’t think you’ve characterized that problem accurately.

    But it is hasty over-confidence to then go wave away all philosophical questions that are not solvable (either yet or ever) with scientific methods as though they were transparent nonsense. Sometimes religious believers raise important epistemological, metaphysical, and metaethical concerns.

    Logic is central to scientific methodology. No one claims that all scientific methods necessarily apply to a given problem, but I see no reason to think there are any problems that don’t require some, which includes logical analysis. Perhaps you insist on calling that a philosophical tool rather than a scientific one, but the fact remains that it isn’t science if it doesn’t stand up to that kind of analysis, so considering “scientific methods” separately from it doesn’t seem to be a valid move. Furthermore, applying logic to terms which do not refer to any observable phenomenon (i.e., not merely actual phenomena which aren’t being studied rigorously with the support of empirical evidence) serves no rational purpose. One isn’t being hastily over-confident by waving them away, because they are literally about nothing and this isn’t an episode of Seinfeld. If we take philosophical questions seriously (as we should), then at a minimum they need to be well-posed and about something.

    You can distinguish between those which appear to be unresolvable now and those which we know could never be given a valid or sound formulation, but that’s not what you appear to be doing with this objection against “scientism” (which raises my alarms every time), so I hope you’d either concede the points above or explain why I’m being irrational.

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      I think you are using an odd definition of science. Lots of thing can’t be solved with experiments, but only through straight reason. Math is an obvious example, but hardly the only one. Science needs logical foundations like this to do any experiments.

    • consciousness razor

      I think you are using an odd definition of science.

      I think it’s a systematic method of studying and explaining observations.

      Lots of thing can’t be solved with experiments, but only through straight reason.

      Did I say every solution required experiments? Did I use that word even once? No and no.

      Math is an obvious example, but hardly the only one. Science needs logical foundations like this to do any experiments.

      That is consistent with everything I said. Would you please read my comment again?

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      You claimed that logical analysis requires science. I am wondering how this could be. It seems self-evident to me the reverse is true.

  • John Morales

    about temptation

    1. “I can resist everything except temptation.”

    OSCAR WILDE, Lady Windermere’s Fan

    2. “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

    BIBLE, 1 Corinthians 10:13

  • Amy

    Try reversing athiest and christian. Makes just as much sense.

  • see_the_galaxy

    A wise and thoughtful post.


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