I‘m sure many of you remember a blog post I wrote almost a year ago entitled Atheists, Please Stop Saying These Things. It was just a critique of what I think are some very common and very bad arguments made by atheists. Someone posted a link to it on Google+ a couple weeks ago and that prompted several hangouts and discussions of it, including two by a guy named Mike, who goes by the name Forbidden Fruit. I’ll post the Youtube video below the fold, then take a look at some of what he has to say.
I’m sure you’ll notice right away that, frankly, Mike just isn’t very bright. Oh, he thinks he is. He’s very good at sounding really cocksure and he seems to think that the louder you say something and the more adamant you seem about it, the more true it becomes. That cocky tone adds to the hilarity when accompanied by some extraordinarily dumb arguments. Frankly, he isn’t worth answering at all, but I’m not doing this for him but for others who might view it — and because it provides a perfect illustration of why I wrote the original post in the first place. He begins by bellowing this:
“The title of this blog is ‘Atheists, please stop saying these things,” which just immediately gets under my skin and seems to be a completely hypocritical statement, since his blog is titled, his overall blog is freethoughts (sic) blog. And then he turns around and tells atheists what not to do. That seems to me the opposite of free thoughts. If you’re trying to promote free thinking, then why is it that you’re telling other people what not to do or what not to think or what not to say or how to behave? Who the fuck gives you the authority to tell atheist people what they should and should not say?”
Ah yes, the juvenile stomps his feet and screams YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME! I never claimed to be, of course. I’m just critiquing bad arguments, just as Mike falsely imagines himself to be doing in his video. Keep your irony meters handy, there’s more of this blissful lack of self-awareness and self-contradiction to come. A few minutes later, he returns to this theme and continues to miss the point completely:
There’s no reason for to be making any of these statements because, once again, whose authority is he making these statements with, what group of atheists is he talking to? You can’t just make blanket statements about what atheists should do when atheism is not a community. I don’t recognize the community of atheism because just to say that you’re an atheist doesn’t mean that I’m in communion with you…So when you, Ed, try to lump me in to this group of atheists and try to tell me what not to say, I just think you’re a fucking moron and should shut the fuck up and mind your own business and do what you want to do as an atheist, don’t tell other people how they should fucking behave, that sounds like fucking religion.
This doesn’t seem that difficult to figure out, really. It’s made pretty obvious in my post. What group of atheists am I talking to? Atheists who make the claims that I’m criticizing. I’m a little baffled as to why he seems not to understand something so obvious. Whether atheism is a community or not is utterly irrelevant. Of course, since he does make those arguments in this very video, my post was, in fact, aimed at him and others like him. But again, his initial response boils down to this: “Who the fuck are you to tell other people that their arguments are bad? Now I’m going to spend the next 30 minutes telling you why I think your arguments are bad.” Bloody genius.
I’m gonna skip over most of the terrible arguments and move on to the end, which I think you’ll find highly absurd and amusing. He’s responding to this statement in my post:
“The founding fathers were all deists” (or worse, atheists). No, they weren’t all deists. In fact, they weren’t even mostly deists. Most of them were Christians of one type or another. The leading founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin) were something in between. I’ve long advocated for Gregg Frazer’s description of “theistic rationalist.” And for crying out loud, don’t ever claim they were atheists. None of them were atheists.
Now here comes the fun, as he inexplicably screams in response:
How the fuck do you know, Ed? How do you know none of them were atheists? You admit that Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were something in between, how the fuck do you know these people weren’t just pandering to society at large when they made any, when they showed any respect for religion? Because I’m about to quote you a number of statements by each one of these men, you didn’t meet any of these fucking people personally, you have no fucking clue whether they were in fact atheists.
Bryan Fischer would be so proud of this amazing lack of self-awareness. He asks me how I know what these men believed and then reads a bunch of quotes that he claims represent what they believed. Well gee Mike, maybe I know what they believed because I’ve actually read thousands and thousands of their writings on the subject. Unlike you, I didn’t just go to Addicting Info to get a list of quotes, I’ve actually read the original sources. And yes, it’s possible that their public statements were pandering, and in some cases they clearly were, which is why historians put much more weight on their private letters and documents than on their public speeches and public documents.
He then proceeds to read several quotes from this list of 35 quotes from the founding fathers, not one of which is even remotely relevant to the question of whether they were atheists or not. I knew well the list he was reading from, which comes from the hack site Addicting Info. I read the list quite some time ago and was surprised to find that the quotes are accurate and have specific citations. But that doesn’t make them at all relevant to the question of whether any of them were atheists. Here’s the first one he read:
“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”
~Founding Father George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792
I have no idea why he thinks this has anything whatsoever to do with whether Washington was or was not an atheist. It’s a statement that Washington hoped that the new attitude toward religious freedom found in the Constitution would reduce religious disputes. Absolutely not relevant. We have mountains of evidence that Washington believed in God, though he almost never talked about Jesus or Christianity. He was a universalist, influenced by enlightenment deism but certainly not an atheist. We can see the evidence of this in his private letters, from the statements of those close to him and from his actions (he went to church, for instance, but refused to take communion). What’s really funny listening to him read this quote is that he really emphasizes certain phrases that have nothing at all to do with whether Washington was an atheist or not.
The next quote:
“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”~John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788
This is a wonderful quote, of course, and I’ve cited it many times and used it in my debate a few months ago as evidence that the Constitution was not based on the Bible or Christianity. But it has nothing even remotely to do with what John Adams believed about the existence of God. We know what Adams believed about that subject because he wrote at enormous length about it in a remarkable series of letters he and Thomas Jefferson exchanged between 1813 and 1826. We know that this was not pandering because they were private letters between two men who had long left public service and were enjoying their retirements. The public had no access to them and would not see them until generations later.
Like Washington, Adams was a unitarian and a universalist (not to be confused with the Unitarian Universalist church, which did not exist at the time, though the theology is similar). He was a staunch critic of trinitarianism and rejected most of the Christian mythology (the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc). Jefferson was as well. Indeed, the irony is that during the election of 1800, supporters of John Adams tried to call Jefferson an atheist to hurt his campaign. It turns out, as we clearly see from their later letters, that they were mostly in agreement in believing in a personal, provident God but rejecting most of the Christian doctrines and dogmas.
He then quotes the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Tripoli’s famous statement that, “…the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” I have no idea why. It certainly helps prove that the country was not intended to be an officially Christian nation and that the government was not based on Christianity, but I can’t imagine why he thinks it has anything to do with whether Adams was an atheist or not. He really seems to almost completely lack the ability to think clearly and logically.
“Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”
~Founding Father John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)
No kidding. Still not in any way relevant to whether Adams was an atheist. And another:
“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.”
~Founding FatherJohn Adams, letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785
Yep. Still completely irrelevant. His conclusion from these quotes, delivered at his usual ear-splitting volume for some reason:
Clearly these are not Christian people. To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus Christ is the one true fucking son of God, that the God that you worship, his father, is the one true God, and only through a saving faith in Christ can you find salvation.
No shit. But I didn’t say they were Christian people (not these specific founders under discussion; most of the lesser known ones were Christians to one degree or another). I said they weren’t atheists. Those aren’t the only two options, you know. Just because someone isn’t a Christian doesn’t make them an atheist. Is this really that difficult to grasp? Or is Mike really this stupid?
The truth is that atheism was pretty much unheard of in late 18th century America. In France, Enlightenment philosophy had already begun to spawn atheists like d’Holbach and Condorcet, but in America those who rejected the dogmas of Christianity tended toward deism. And there were two wings, one highly anti-Christian and one more moderate on the subject. But even the most militantly anti-Christian among the founding generation, like Thomas Paine, still believed in God. In the very first chapter of Age of Reason, his tome that demolished nearly all of Christian mythology, he wrote:
As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
He obviously was not an atheist. Nor, just as obviously, was he a Christian. That’s why I said that those leading founders were “something in between” atheism and Christianity. I prefer the term “theistic rationalist” to deist. How the fuck do I know that, Mike? Because I’ve actually read their writings on the subject — the same way we know what anyone believed about anything at any time in history. This is the difference between being educated on the subject and going to a hack website to crib a few quotes (and then claim that they’re relevant to the discussion when they’re not).
Here’s the reality: You cannot find a single historian, even an atheist one, who has found any evidence to suggest that any of the founding fathers were atheists. It just doesn’t exist, while volumes of evidence to the contrary exists. And just as I have strongly criticized David Barton and the other Christian Nation apologists for dishonestly trying to claim that those key founders believed the same things they believe, I do the same to those atheists who act just as dishonestly in doing the same thing. That’s what an intellectually honest person does.
Why would a Christian person promote equality amongst all religions, promote that a person of any religion or no religion could hold political office in this country?
This is a rather baffling question. Being a Christian does not require a particular position on separation of church and state or on religious tests for office. Some of the most vehement backers of a strict separation in those days were Baptist ministers like Isaac Backus and John Leland. He even goes on to read from the letter the Danbury Baptists wrote to Jefferson about separation of church and state, literally 30 seconds after finding it inconceivable that a Christian would promote that idea.
Again, he just doesn’t seem to be able to think coherently or logically. But he’s damn good at ranting and raving while being completely unaware that he’s contradicting himself and not making any sense. And he seems to think that making claims very loudly and very adamantly is an adequate substitute for being thoughtful and reasonable. Thankfully, it isn’t. Mike is an absolutely textbook example of the type of atheists I wrote that post for, people who settle for the least thoughtful and most simpleminded arguments rather than ones that can be logically defended.