Welcome, theists and religious people, to Camels With Hammers. My name is Dan Fincke and I am happy to have you at my atheist blog alongside my existing audience of passionate, knowledgeable, and (usually) friendly atheists. Please use the comments section of this post to ask me any questions you have about me, my philosophy, or this blog. The more charitable your spirit the more likely we will enjoy having you here and the more you will like us. This blog alternates between material that is critical of religious beliefs and material that addresses philosophical, political, and social justice issues that are either neutral with respect to religious belief or that are important specifically to irreligious people and to non-theists.
Before you start asking specific questions, let me give you the very basic overview of my life and philosophical development.
I am an atheist now but I was once a theist. I grew up as a devout Evangelical after my older brother and my mother converted from Roman Catholicism when I was in kindergarten. We belonged to the non-denominational Church of Christ (but we had instruments and alcohol was not considered sinful—this was Long Island). Most of our congregation was comprised of ex-Catholics who considered themselves to have been “born again” when re-baptized as adults discovering the Church of Christ.
Throughout most of high school I dreamed of being a Christian minister as my older brother, by that time, had become. My Christian faith was utterly central to my identity, my beliefs, and my values. I was giving other kids the Gospel by the time I was 12. I was advocating for an abstinence only approach to sex education against the guest presenter on safe sex when I was in 9th Grade. By the time I was in 11th Grade I was a pamphleteer putting together a monthly journal of writings solicited from numerous ministers I knew and including my own pieces and passing them out in my high school. Nearly all the music I would buy was Contemporary Christian Music. I spent increasing numbers of weeks of my summers at Christian camps, first as a camper and a garbage man and eventually as a counselor. And I attended the youth conference Christ In Youth for several incredibly influential weeks of my life. I was also intensively discipled by my youth minister and then by our new senior pastor throughout my high school years, which had a huge impact on who I am today.
I didn’t grow up in the easiest of environments for an Evangelical Christian teenager. Growing up on Long Island in New York, most of my friends that were not from my church or from our church camp were Jewish, Catholic, or merely nominally some form of Protestant. The only Evangelical friends I had were typically from my church or from the camp I went to in the summers. I spent a tremendous deal of energy trying to convert my friends to Christianity as I believed it was truly to be understood.
From there I went off to Grove City College, one of the most educationally well-ranked politically and religiously conservative Evangelical Christian colleges in America. My goal when I arrived was to become a church history professor. I fell in love with philosophy quickly however and found that I persistently wrote my theology papers more philosophically than theologically. On the flipside, I studied philosophy somewhat myopically focused only on what I saw as relevant to my theological, and specifically my apologetic, interests.
While at Grove City, theologically I struggled a great deal to accept the Calvinism that was dominant among my classmates and theology professors. I was for a time both a Kierkegaardian and a presuppositionalist apologist. I spent two incredibly impactful summers as a Christian camp counselor at Ligonier Camp and Conference Center in Pennsylvania.
At the end of my first three intense college years of rapidly learning as much philosophy and theology as eating, sleeping, and drinking the subjects could yield me, I read Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Portable Nietzsche (Portable Library). Afterwards my faith would never be the same. In 6 months, even, it would be gone altogether.
By the time I showed up at graduate school at Fordham University I was an apostate from the Christian religion. I was an atheist. And I was committed to a principle of radical Cartesian doubt. I was comfortable not adopting any positive philosophical propositions until I simply couldn’t refute them. In the meantime I was an extreme skeptic enamored with postmodernism and studying primarily historical philosophy and 20th Century Continental philosophy. When it came to moral philosophy I was essentially some sort of an emotivist or projectivist.
When it came time to write my dissertation, I finally started focusing my full time energies where I had wanted to since leaving my faith. I started writing my dissertation on Friedrich Nietzsche very much as an exercise in making clear and systematic the reasoning process I had undergone by which he led me out of my faith. I felt compelled to show systematically how his epistemological, ethical, and metaphysical views were deeply interrelated with each other and just how they compelled me to abandon Christianity as a deep matter of intellectual and moral conscience.
And just before starting my dissertation, I also began teaching classes at Fordham University and, quite soon after, at William Paterson University as well. For my next seven years at Fordham, while researching and writing on Nietzsche for my dissertation, I was frequently teaching the core course on philosophical ethics. Relatively quickly it became my favorite philosophical subject. And I came to be profoundly impressed and influenced by the moral philosophies of Aristotle and Kant.
In the later stages of writing my dissertation, I increasingly restructured it primarily around understanding Nietzsche’s views on morality as coherent, consistent, and, most importantly of all, constructive. Towards the end of the project the influences of Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant, Nietzsche himself, and numerous contemporary philosophers had convinced me of the reality of objective values which are wholly discoverable and discussable within a naturalistic framework that is completely independent of all supernaturalism or religion.
I then spent the final chapter of my dissertation developing my own account of metaethics and proper normative thinking. By the end of the previous chapters of the dissertation I had developed a systematic Nietzschean philosophy of morality. In the final chapter, I tried to develop an updated and revised version of it that incorporated the insights of 20th Century moral philosophers and of historical philosophers Nietzsche himself had underutilized or underappreciated. My updated Nietzschean ethics also conscientiously broke with Nietzsche himself anywhere that I simply thought his thinking wrong or harmful.
The summer before completing my dissertation and receiving my PhD in philosophy from Fordham, I decided to become a regular blogger. Previously I had fiddled on and off with a low profile blog called Nietzschean Ideas. In June 2009 I enlisted the help of an old friend, and now fellow apostate, from my days at Grove City College, to redesign and relaunch my blog as Camels With Hammers. My earlier stabs at blogging had been more aimless. I tried them while I was more absorbed in the scholarly pursuit of the meaning of Nietzsche’s texts than in the contemporary world. I cared quite a bit about politics and atheism was already a deep part of my identity, my philosophy, and my values. My constant linking on Facebook to articles about religiously influenced conflict, coupled with my unequivocal denunciations of faith as a vice led friends to suggest I should start directing all this passion into a blog already. And so the decision to focus in earnest on blogging happened.
It did not take long though before I discovered the online atheist community and got sucked into it. And as my readership slowly grew that first year, I came to realize that my audience was overwhelmingly atheists. And so a lot of the disagreements I started to get into were with other atheists. And a lot of the blogs I was reading were by other atheists, rather than theists. So my thoughts were increasingly about points of disagreement with other atheists. I would still spend time working out responses to religious arguments but increasingly over the last two years, and especially during my year at the center of the atheist blogosphere, Freethought Blogs, the audience I wrote for was an atheistic one. In my mind as I wrote I was talking to other atheists. Maybe some theists were looking on but they were infrequently the target audience. In recent months, religion seems to have even become quite a side matter to me as disputes with fellow atheists and between other atheists became all consuming.
So part of what intrigues me about moving to Patheos is the prospect of having more of you theists ambling through these parts and replying to what I say. I am deeply grateful to, and happy with, my atheist audience and hope all those readers follow me over here. I hope now we just have you theists as sparring partners. I want to get dragged back into debates with you real live believers. I want to mix it up with my new religious blogger neighbors too, while I am at it.
The only thing I ask of you theists and religious believers who read this blog is that you respect that my readers and I are not simply ignorant about your beliefs. I like seeing people who disagree with me in my comments section. But I am turned off by people who treat me or my friends with chest thumping and contempt.
The more you demonstrate an ability to argue with thought provoking precision and passion and the more you present yourself as a person of good will who has an open mind, the more I will be inclined to spend my time engaging your questions and challenges. The more you resort to polemics and strawmen of atheism, the less likely I am going to see replying to you as worth my limited writing time. You will not ingratiate yourself to my atheist readers either if you treat them with interpersonal hostility or dismissiveness. This is an atheist blog, so please respect the atheists.
And, for the record, I have spent a lot of energy and political capital in the atheist blogosphere defending to my fellow atheists your moral rights to be treated with basic civility no matter how false or dangerous many of us find your ideas. I have a low tolerance for hasty personal attacks or abusive insulting language aimed at anyone in my comments sections. This is a safe space for debate.
But that will not exempt any positions from harsh moral criticisms, as long as they are grounded in evidence. People are allowed to argue with emotional force, as long as they do not try to bully others with abusive language, subtle goading, presumptuous personal jabs, trolling, etc. Your religious ideas and values are open to full moral and intellectual examination and refutation, as are our atheistic ideas and values.
But also keep in mind, as you challenge our most fundamental beliefs and values, in return for us challenging yours, that a lot of this blog’s readers are feminists, gays, transgendered people, atheists, political leftists, or have other identities which are typically subject to a lot of abuse from religious people. Do not be any more personally antagonistic of our identities as such than is necessary for trying to prove us wrong on intellectual or moral grounds. Keep criticism of our ideas and values as impersonal as possible and we will try to do you that same courtesy.
With all that on the table, what would you like to know about me or my philosophical views?