Offered For Your Amusement and Edification

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.

httpv://youtu.be/BwaIulSZ9-I

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.

The next:

“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.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • noahsarkive

    Ed, you really watched this entire piece of shit? I lasted less than a minute, though it seemed like an eternity in idiot hell; my eyes crossed, a migraine pulsed, my bowels threatened to loosen.

  • barry21

    I congratulate you for making it through the inane, stream-of-consciousness rant. He speaks in the same pressured cadences as Bradleeeee Dean.

  • barry21

    I was not using “pressured” in the technical sense.

  • Al Dente

    I did better than noahsarkive. I made it into the second minute before I turned Mike’s rant off. A famous quote from Shakespeare came to mind when I was listening to him:

    It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. –Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5

  • laurentweppe

    he seems to think that the louder you say something and the more adamant you seem about it, the more true it becomes.

    Or the more likely people won’t dare to contradict him. Bullies have perfected the art of making themselves sound passionate over the ages.

  • Michael Heath

    Mike writes:

    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?

    Mike reaches a YEC-level standard of ignorance. The grandfather of U.S. religious freedom, Roger Williams, was not only a loud, fiercely devout Christian, but the same when it came to secularism. So we don’t find the roots of secularism coming only from apathetic or liberal religious believers, but even some of the most the ardently devout believers promoted secularism – at least in early American history.

    It’s also damn stupid for Mike to believe (he’s not credibly thinking) that how one imagines others should act is how they act.

  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

    That’s the exact phrase I was thinking of reading the first few paragraphs.

    I wonder, though, if Mike isn’t attracted to atheism by that very concept. I’ve run into a few atheists who seem to come at it from that direction. No logic or reason, they just don’t want to be ordered around. I wonder what Mike’s opinions of Ayn Rand are????

  • dugglebogey

    It’s a logic problem.

    Atheist = not christian, therefore not christian = atheist.

    Demonstrably false.

  • lou3jay

    The term “free thinker” is overused and oft misunderstood. In its most liberal sense, sure it can mean that every individual can think whatever they want, but even this does not imply that what they think is ‘true’, or that it is free from criticism. Apart from that, this clown obviously has no clue what critical thinking is. I have also seen the phrase “free thinker” pop up on meetup groups related to Eastern Religions, TM, “Quantum fill-in-the-blank”, etc. These folks love to claim that they are thinking freely merely for shedding the shackles of one religious/faith-based paradigm only to replace them with another “more exotic” religious/faith-based paradigm. Well, exotic to them at least. I’m curious. Do any of you know of any “born-again” Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists or whatever that have converted to Islam or Christianity and then called themselves “free thinkers”? Or is it just Westerners who use/misuse the term?

  • John Pieret

    OK. I girded my loins (and, no, I have no idea what that means) and made it to minute 5:00, when I crashed into his argument about Ed’s discussion of “all babies are born atheists.” He then demonstrates an inability to understand the phrase “trivially true.” He criticizes Ed for saying “Babies are atheists in the same sense that an office chair is an atheist” because an office chair “has no brain, has no consciousness.” For some reason he thinks the fact that newborns aren’t aware of the Christian concept of “original sin” is relevant to a claim they are atheists. He then goes on to say “all children are born atheist; all children are born not knowing about the world they live in; they have no capacity to understand; to conceive of or accept God” … sort of like an office chair.

    Of course, newborns aren’t aware of the arguments for atheism either but never mind … Mike doesn’t. Apparently, in his mind, atheism consists of complete ignorance of the world. In his case, he may, more or less, be right.

  • themadtapper

    OK. I girded my loins (and, no, I have no idea what that means)

    For future reference, the phrase refers to putting on protective armor. The loins, depending on context, can be the lower back (think “tenderloin” or “backstrap” as it is sometimes called) or lower abdomen (“burning in one’s loins” referring to being horny). The lower back and abdomen are places where pointy weapons tend to be super effective, so girding (“to put on”, as in clothing/armor) one’s loins with protective gear helps keep the pointy weapons out of the soft places. Used metaphorically, it just means preparing for something that could be painful/troublesome.

  • anbheal

    Yeah, I’d reckon about one time in twenty, across the FtBs I peruse regularly, a commenter, often a new one, will pose a fairly legitimate logical counterpoint, will get ganged up on by an Amen Corner (tee hee), and will say, wai-wai-wait, can’t I express that free thought, presented politely and thoughtfully. The other 19 times the quasi-troll or full-on troll is essentially saying: “hey, how dare you criticize my really stupid or really ugly comments, this is supposed to be a place for free thinkin’, and I’m thinkin’ free as all git-out, you should welcome my stupidity and ugliness, under the banner of free thought!!!”

  • Sastra

    I’m afraid I didn’t listen very far — just far enough to hear him explain that the title of your blog is “Atheists, please stop saying these things.” Wouldn’t that be the title of one particular blog post? The title of your blog is “Dispatches from the Culture Wars.”

    Perhaps he makes that clear later, but given what you quote from his other arguments it sounds unlikely.

    Forbidden Fruit: the authority behind advice need only be that it’s good advice.

  • dingojack

    And, of course, there’s Mike’s more fundamental failure, even if the founders of the US were raving, foaming-at-the-mouth, knock-’em-down Atheists (or Muslims, or Buddhists, or practitioners of Quantum Woo, or whatever) – so what?

    This group of men would, in all probability, think that modern Americans should be not be compelled to follow the religious ideology they themselves followed, no matter what that ideology was.

    Dingo

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrewasante andrewbrown not the one from the grauniad

    This is like watching the equally painful video of the Megan Fox the creationist idiot going round a museum proclaiming it to be all lies whilst never having heard the term Eukaryote. Dunning Krueger, it’s not just for theists you know,

  • John Pieret

    themadtapper:

    Thanks. I knew the metaphorical meaning but not the origins of it (and was too lazy to look it up).

  • wscott

    Sadly, his sort of binary thinking seems all too common among some atheists, at least online: you’re either a full-on fundagelical theocrat, or you’re an atheist. Excluded middle? What excluded middle?

    .

    On a brighter note, I think the original post was one of Ed’s better ones, so nice to see it getting some attention.

  • ehmm

    36 minutes of equivocations, non sequiturs and begging the question. Ugh.

    On the other hand, I like his energy.

    @14) I get into this discussion from time to time and I make a similar point: It doesn’t matter what the personal religious beliefs of the founders were. What matters is the framework they built. The conspicuous absence of explicit christian references in say, the declaration or the consitution should be big clue. I would argue that these men understood fully the kind of damage that sectarianism and religiosity in gov’t. does. It’s also simply false to equate the religeosity of the founders to the fanaticism of the “christian nation” types (which some of them love to do).

    I would also argue that Article 6 paragraph 3 and the 1st amendment are irreligious to say the least.

  • laurentweppe

    Sadly, his sort of binary thinking seems all too common among some atheists, at least online: you’re either a full-on fundagelical theocrat, or you’re an atheist. Excluded middle? What excluded middle?

    That’s sectarian supremacism for you: Everyone who isn’t us is an Ennemy

  • marcus

    How is this for a response?

    Hey dumbass! It was a request! Just a thought. Please continue to be just as fucking stupid as you are wont to be. Nobody cares. Nobody is trying to tell you how to think!”

    Please consider, however, that some thinking might be nice, even necessary.

    Up to you, no pressure.

    Now fuck off.

  • inquisitiveraven

    Sastra@13: I’ve noticed a growing tendency in some circles to use “blog” as a synonym for “blog post.” Why, I don’t know, but it’s definitely a thing, and I don’t like it.

  • inquisitiveraven

    On the phrase “girding one’s loins,” if we believe this article, it’s more about adjusting a potentially restrictive garment to be less restrictive so one can move in it that protecting vulnerable bits.

  • Synfandel

    I found Mike’s incessant use of the word “fucking” highly persuasive.

  • http://composer99.blogspot.ca composer99

    Not so much “Forbidden” Fruit as Mushy and Spoiled Fruit, if you ask me.

    One of the obnoxious elements of Mike’s rant is that, as far as I can see, he concedes the rhetorical field about ‘what constitutes Christianity and who is a (“true”) Christian’ to fundagelicals.

    (I say ‘as far as I can see’ because I don’t really have the stomach to spend my free time watching the video.)

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    …he concedes the rhetorical field about ‘what constitutes Christianity and who is a (“true”) Christian’ to fundagelicals.

    People like Sam Harris do that nearly every damn time they talk about religion, especially WRT Islam: the fundamentalists define the belief system, merely by being fundamentalists, and anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is a “marginal” or “nominal” or “not really authentic” follower of that faith.

    What’s the point of being an atheist if you have to take the side of the most extreme theists?

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/LDORIGINALS Dalillama, Schmott Guy
  • Michael Heath

    Raging Bee,

    Citation requested regarding your criticism of Sam Harris.

  • lou3jay

    Raging Bee wrote: “People like Sam Harris do that nearly every damn time they talk about religion, especially WRT Islam: the fundamentalists define the belief system, merely by being fundamentalists, and anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is a “marginal” or “nominal” or “not really authentic” follower of that faith.”

    No, what Sam Harris contends is that only the fundamentalists are being intellectually consistent, and I agree with him. (Letter to a Christian Nation, and others) He also makes a point to say (during NPR’s Point of Inquiry podcast when he discussed this book http://www.pointofinquiry.org/sam_harris_letter_to_a_christian_nation/, among others) that while he states that the “moderates” have made compromises to justify their belief system which are inconsistent with what their holy book says, he would much rather deal with these people because they are more socially rational (that last part is my interpretation, not his exact words). He has also conceded in multiple forums/venues that the “religious moderates” of all faiths are probably the only ones who really stand a chance to influence those who are teetering between fundamentalism and a more rational world view. Very view Christians or Muslims will be swayed by outspoken atheists, if they even grant them an ear in the first place.

    I’ve never heard nor read anything where Harris refers to non-fundamentalists as “marginal”, “nominal”, or “not really authentic”… In fact, the folks that use those words tend to be believers, and usually those who lean closer to the fundamentalist side than the folks they are describing. You may have misinterpreted something he said or wrote, or heard it second hand. If you have a reputable source or citation quoting Sam Harris using those terms please include it here and I will promptly eat crow. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but what I have read and heard him speak has been consistent.

  • lou3jay

    ^”…very few…” not “very view”.