Why a Smug Writer for io9 Has No Idea What She’s Talking About

Charlie Jane Anders has a post up at io9 in which she urges atheists to read more science fiction… which isn’t a bad idea, except she frames her argument as something atheists should do because we are smug, arrogant people with no humility or respect for viewpoints other than our own.

You can’t be on Twitter these days without being bombarded with atheistic smugness. You know what I mean. People who can’t just profess that they don’t believe in God — they have to taunt religious people for believing in “fairy tales.” Or the Tooth Fairy. Most of the time, these are geeks who have immense respect for science… and yet, they won’t recognize a situation where they simply have no data, one way or the other.

In any case, plenty of people have personal experiences, which could be immensely meaningful or could just be their own faulty perceptions. They can’t say which is which, with an absolute certainty, and neither can any of us, from the outside. Once you’ve read enough science fiction, you start to allow for at least the possibility that other people might be seeing stuff that you can’t see but which still affects you in some massive, important way.

… it’s great to be atheist — and I strongly support arguing publicly and loudly in favor of atheism as a point of view. Just, you know, don’t be smug about it. You don’t actually know any more than the rest of us, and the universe is a much stranger, more bewildering place than any of us can really begin to grasp, and the only thing that would be surprising is if we stop being constantly surprised. If you don’t believe me, just read some science fiction.

Anders fails to give any examples of this atheist smugness, of course. She falls into the same trap as so many Christian apologists. She thinks atheists are smug because we brush off religious claims as silly and demand evidence for supernatural claims. She thinks that calling out unsupported beliefs for what they are is disrespectful. She thinks that the fact that there are many things about our universe we don’t know about means that we should let religious uncertainties slide.

Calling that out doesn’t make us smug. It makes us smart. It means we’re skeptical. I wish everyone criticized faulty thinking.

Just because you’re an atheist doesn’t mean you’re right about everything, obviously, but it means you’re probably somewhat decent at demanding evidence for unbelievable claims. After all, many of you became atheists after realizing your parents’ religion lacked a logical foundation.

To point out otherwise doesn’t automatically make you smug or arrogant.

Anders also writes that “someone else’s subjective experience is as valid as yours.” No, it’s not. Atheists don’t deny that subjective experience can have a life-altering effect on people, but we reserve the right to challenge whether others’ experiences are grounded in reality or something they conjured up in their own minds.

Wes Fenza at Polyskeptic has a much more thorough takedown of Anders’ entire piece and I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but his closing is worth repeating here:

… Almost all of the atheists that I know agree wholeheartedly that the universe is a strange, bewildering, and ultimately unknowable place. Our frustration is with religious believers who claim to know things that they cannot possibly know, based on holy books or intuition. It’s the atheists who are insisting that the universe is a giant mystery, and the believers who claim that they have it all figured out. Atheism is nothing more that the belief that the idea of “god” is unsupported by the available evidence.

As other atheists have said so many times before, it’s not a bad thing to question baseless ideas or take pride in your skepticism. You can have wonder and humility about your surroundings and still know that a worldview based on our scientific understanding of the world is better than one based in mythology and pure faith.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Whatever else you may say about her, Charlie Jane Anders is most definitely a she

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Fixed. Thanks!

  • Freelancer

    Charlie Jane Anders is a woman.

    • Sarah

      And the description snippet on the main page is still using male pronouns… weird.

  • jdm8

    This person must have learned how to ignore religious smugness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351473675 Matthew Baker

    I think that was the longest io9 post I have ever read. As far as I can tell most of their stuff  is often very short and often off subject from the article’s title. The touch of vitriol is a strange depart from their normally geek friendly fare (but I guess that is what we get from the rant section). 

  • Helanna

    Also, I think we should quit saying dragons aren’t real. Try reading some fantasy, guys! They’re clearly right there!

    I mean freaking seriously? Her argument is that the universe is crazy and unknowable because she read science fiction? She understands what the word *fiction* means, right? 

    And, of course, that stupid “Well you can’t prove God *doesn’t* exist, therefore you have to give just as much respect to my position.” Yes, a lot of geeks do love science, and that’s why we understand that “There is absolutely no objective data or evidence for X” does not mean “We should never criticize X, guys, some people really believe in it.”

    • Daniel

      According to Anne McCaffrey dragons are (okay, can be) science fiction. :p

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I love science fiction, but if anything I think it contributed to my atheism. Of course, that could be because I love the famously humanist Star Trek series and Robert A. Heinlein.

  • Baal

    “Atheism is nothing more that the belief ”  I usually think of this statement as strictly true but somewhat misleading.  I agree that if someone states “I am an atheist.” you can’t predict too much from it.  Regardless, the assertion of atheist does foreclose a small host of ideas and behaviors that are dependent on god belief so the statement isn’t really one tiny narrow idea as it gets played up to be.

    I reject Charlie’s point.  It’s christians who need to read sci-fy.  I’ve known a few atheists who got to that position from reading sci-fy and have in-laws who banned reading of sci-fy to their children for explicitly the mind opening effect of considering different worlds / peoples / what if technology.

    • Tom_Nightingale

      not sure what foreclose exactly means in your statement, but if what you’re saying is that in general there are patterns of behaviors that atheists tend to exhibit, then I agree with you

  • Blasphemous_Kansan

    Has the author ever partaken in this ‘Science Fiction’ stuff that she claims to know so much about to the point where she can prescribe it to others?  As other pointed out, science fiction has provided the groundwork for, and continues to strengthen, my skepticism.

    I’m reminded of an old episode of Star Trek TNG where Dr. Crusher goes back to the family estate when her Grandmother dies.  There she learns that the females in her line have been haunted  for hundreds of years by a Swayze-esque ghost lover that lives in a haunted candle.  She hears these tales and spends the first third of the episode saying “that’s BS.  Ghosts don’t exist, and your opinion is not grounded in reality”.  Well, of course there is a crazy candle and soon enough her ghost lover appears and bonds to her as it did to her ancestors.  Turns out it’s actually some kind of alien that bonded to her family centuries ago because they had some energy that it could absorb and prolong it’s own life within the candle.  **SPOILER**: The ghost is defeated, everyone is happy.

    It seems like the author would see this episode and then wag her finger and say “See?  Ghosts can exist!!  Don’t be so close minded!”, when the actual point (which Star Trek made effectively on a regular bases) was that even in the strangest cases, that which appears supernatural is likely to have a natural explanation.  Even if it cannot be sufficiently explained at the present time, the smart money says that we’ll be able to explain in eventually, so in the meantime let’s not pretend that [insert supernatural force here] is responsible for [insert phenomena here].  And that Dr. Crusher was correct in the beginning to call out the legends as crap, based on the perceived evidence that ghosts to not exist.

    Or, less wordily, Ms. Anders has taken the old canard “Have an open mind, but not so open that it falls out of your head”, and simply disregarded everything after the comma.  Either way, she shows very little knowledge about what most science fiction is actually trying to say.

    • Tainda

      I love that episode

    • Edmond

      Excellent analogy from a crappy episode.

      • Blasphemous_Kansan

        Yeah, IMO Dr. Crusher’s amount of dialogue is usually inversely proportional to episode quality, since she is usually the typecast voice of reason and compassion.  But, from a purely critical thinking perspective, I think this one has grown on me over time.  In my collection it’s still in the ‘watchable’ category!  I think I’ll use it, along with ‘Darmok’ and that one where the proto-vulcans think that Picard is a god, to teach my spawn about various critical thinking tools.

        • Edmond

          If only there was any significant quality to be found in Star Trek 5.  “Why does God need a starship?” is such a GREAT line… and then Uhura fan dances, and Spock gives the Vulcan nerve pinch to a horse.  Ugh.

          Star Trek has some FANTASTIC moments for teaching “spawn” important messages about inclusion, exploration and discovery, and awareness of our impact on our environment (not to mention critical thinking), but every once in a while you just want to cringe, and cover the eyes of anyone you’re introducing it to.  “Just ignore those emus on the promenade, it’ll get good in another season”.

    • BillStewart2012

      If, by “ever partaken in this ‘Science Fiction’ stuff”, you mean “won a Hugo award for her amazing science fiction writing”, the answer is “Yes.”   Or if you mean “been one of the main writers from a long-running science fiction blog site”, the answer is “Apparently you don’t actually read io9, do you?”  Or if you mean “would you run into her at Worldcon?”, the answer is “if you’re at the right parties, or at a panel she’s speaking on, or maybe just at random but Worldcon is pretty big so you could miss her.”

      (Sorry, but it sounds like what you’re really saying is “How can she be a *real* Science Fiction fan, she’s a *girl*!) 

      • Blasphemous_Kansan

        I was with you and taking the criticism in stride up until you accused me of making a gendered insult, which I did not, and I’m not sure how you could get that from my post.  Alas, I am not familiar with the author, do not frequent io9, did not research her past accomplishments before writing my comment (but seeing as my comment was limited to her remarks as outlined in this article on this web site, I’m not sure if that is very relevant).  Guilty as charged, on all counts of accusing someone of not knowing much about sci-fi who is actually more of an accomplished figure on the subject than I will ever be.

        But these comments have my own ignorance of her past as their source, NOT because she is a woman, and thus can’t be a True Scotsman…..er, um, I mean sci-fi geek.  If anything in my comment led you to believe that is my opinion, I formally retract it now.

        • Reginald Selkirk

           It’s obvious that BillStewart2012 is just criticising you because of your race.

          • BillStewart2012

             Yup.  Humans.  Bah!  They’re even made out of meat.

        • BillStewart2012

          I’m glad to hear that wasn’t your intention.  You started off by accusing a woman who’s well-known in SF circles of not knowing anything about SF, and that sounds so much like the kinds of “you’re not a real hacker” “you’re not a real gamer” “what are you doing coming to our comic convention just to wear cosplay outfits when you don’t read the comic books I do” misogyny that have led to a lot of net.flamewars in the last few months that it was an unfortunately tempting mistake on my part.

    • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

      “It seems like the author would see this episode and then wag her finger and say “See?  Ghosts can exist!!  Don’t be so close minded!”, when the actual point (which Star Trek made effectively on a regular bases) was that even in the strangest cases, that which appears supernatural is likely to have a natural explanation.”

      Very true. Another classic example of this sort of plotline is in Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question.” 

      • pcloadletter

        “The Last Question” is one of the best science fiction short stories of all time.    It might actually be the greatest influencing factor in my own early adoption of atheism.  If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes and do so:  http://filer.case.edu/dts8/thelastq.htm

        • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

          It’s a great one. Another Asimov story that might appeal to atheists and freethinkers is the similarly named but quite different “The Last Answer.”

        • machintelligence

          As a contrary example, you might like Arthur Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God”.
          http://www.scribd.com/doc/2352899/The-Nine-Billion-Names-of-God

          • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

            Also a terrific story. But even better is Clarke’s “The Star.” It’s very short and very, very heartrending, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it contributed to my atheism, too.

  • http://IAmDanMarshall.com/ Dan Marshall

    I am sad to see that io9 is going down the same road of the rest of the Gawker network– tabloid and trash, designed to shock and offend instead of stimulate and explore. It’s all about the pageviews.

  • TiltedHorizon

    Normally I see eye to eye with these posts, this one is the exception. Charlie is directing “smug atheists” to read more scifi, she makes distinctions between the “Neener neener!” i.e. smug atheist and atheists as a whole. I don’t see the blanket generalization so I don’t see why this one should ruffle feathers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thom-Coyne/100000974347088 Thom Coyne

      The main thing that was wrong with Charlie’s post was that it wasn’t written for the audience at io9. A lot of io9 readers are atheists that enjoy sci-fi. If she was trying to try to calm down internet trolls, singling out atheists is not the way to do it. If  she was trying to get more people to have a sense of wonder, people that read io9 probably already have it.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Yo! As thought-provoking as it may be, it’s science FICTION. When someone believes that Star Trek is real, it is just sad. CJA is way off base here.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Most of the time, these are geeks who have immense respect for science…
    and yet, they won’t recognize a situation where they simply have no
    data, one way or the other.

    Generally, I see atheists recognizing a situation where thereis no data, but somebody else is making a truth claim as if they have data.

    I know how to argue well without being smug, but I don’t know how to argue well without the other person characterizing me as being smug. If I show their argument to be faulty, it doesn’t matter how gently and respectfully I do it. If they’re emotionally attached to their viewpoint, they’ll be tempted to fall back on the ad hominem of “You’re so smug.”  Then if I call them on that, and make a statement about how tone, smug or not, does not invalidate my argument, and even if I express my sincerity and earnestness, they will just twist that into an example of more smugness.

    My only recourse is to not get further sucked into that trap. I deny the smugness briefly once, and then ask them politely, without any tone or gesture of triumph, if they have an argument about their claim rather than an argument about me.

    • Marco Conti

      Very good as usual Richard.
      I also think this writer is confusing the effect the anonymity of internet postings has on human relations. Saying that “atheists are smug” ignores the fact that many people invested in a position tend to be smug and offensive when dealing with others using the mediums available on the internet.

      A small part of it is the necessary brevity of the communication medium, but the most important factor is the ‘protection’ these mediums give to someone that wants to be rude, offensive or smug. 

      I have no problem admitting there are a lot of smug atheists on the internet, but there seem to be a lot of atheist on the internet in general. If you visit a forum about topics other than religion you’ll see a lot of the same behavior  except that it’s related to a different topic.

      Try reading the comment section of the Huffington Post. You’ll see both conservatives and liberals trow insults at each other all day. Lots of smugness there too, but they are not all atheists.  

    • Ronlawhouston

       “Always try your best to stay on the high road. You can see more and see farther.”

      Richard that is awesome, can I steal it?

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Be my guest.  Be sure to practice it even when it’s difficult, otherwise saying it can be used against you. 

        • Bad_homonym

          Thanks for that! I can usually keep my cool for a bit before getting dragged down, but eventually I usually fall prey to.. um.. that thing my name sounds.. all too similar to! I shall always try to reflect on this idea!

    • Isilzha

      Well, one problem is, they get on their high horse and think we’re on equal footing!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    One of science fiction’s all-time great writers, Philip K. Dick, had a
    religious experience where he felt as though he saw God in 1974 — and
    this experience informed his increasingly weird writing for the last
    eight years of his life.

    Well that, and his massive use of mind-altering drugs; which come to think of it, also influenced his religious experience. And your point was…. ?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    At the same time, Sagan was an agnostic, because there was no proof either way.

    (roll-eyes) This person is ripe for the Santa Claus argument. CJA, do you believe in Santa Claus? What’s that you say? I was sure you would insist that you are agnostic about Santa, because there is no proof either way. And to believe something without absolute proof (no matter how overwhelming the likelihood may be) is just smug. Your smugness about Santa is an affront to us all.

    • Dan

       I suggest you read some Sagan.  Check R. Dawkin’s 1-7 scale and I think you’ll find that Sagan was a least a 6.

  • ortcutt

    I want to resist the claim that the universe is “unknowable” if that is taken to be the claim that knowledge is impossible or even hard to achieve.  According to the standard formula, knowledge is justified, true belief.  We all have beliefs on various subjects.  I believe it’s Wednesday.  I believe that the freezing point of pure water is O C.  I believe that the Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old.  If I am justified in those beliefs, and they happen to be true as well, then I have knowledge.  That’s it.  Having knowledge doesn’t require superhuman capabilities.  We all know many, many things.  Futhermore, claiming to have knowledge means nothing more than that claiming that I believe something, claiming that I am justified, and claiming that it is true.  Claiming that P is true is nothing more or less than claiming P, and my claim that I believe that P is something that generally doesn’t require some other justification.  Generally, I am considered a reliable authority on my own beliefs.  If I am aware of the evidence justifying a claim, then why shouldn’t I claim justification as well.  So, why good god, would anyone go into righteous indignation that someone would claim to have knowledge of something?  It’s Wednesday and I know that it’s Wednesday.  Saying so doesn’t make me a dogmatist or a lunatic.  

    • Reginald Selkirk

      I believe that the freezing point of pure water is O C

      I believe you are making an unstated assumption as to the pressure.

      • ortcutt

        I also believe that it’s Wednesday at my location and at the time of utterance.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    Charlie seems to think sci-fi is all about “transcendence, and
    encounters with something huge and unknowable”.  It’s a rather narrow
    view of a very diverse genre!  But actually, I’m currently reading something that fits that description…

    The Book of the Long Sun, written by a Catholic (Gene Wolfe), centers on a priest of a distant future religion that seems to parody Catholicism.  At the beginning, he is enlightened by a god, who is implied to be the real god, unlike the other software-based gods that they worship via animal sacrifice.  It’s left open to interpretation whether his enlightenment experience really came from a god.

    But even so, I have no idea what Charlie is talking about.  So I’m reading some fiction about characters with extraordinary experiences.  How exactly is this supposed to make me one iota more forgiving to religions?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    You don’t actually know any more than the rest of us..

    Prove it. And if you can’t prove it, you’re smug.

  • walkamungus

    Heck, you don’t have to read science fiction to know that the universe is a marvelous, weird, strange and bewildering place — just keep track of the science headlines!

  • C Peterson

    Being an atheist doesn’t give me any sort of attitude at all. How could it? On the other hand, being a skeptic does mean I actually do know more than religionists about how the Universe works. Does that mean I lack humility? Fine with me… I don’t see humility as a virtue. That’s a particularly Christian notion… although not one that I often see observed. So at least in my lack of humility, I’m not also a hypocrite!

    • Reginald Selkirk

      I don’t see humility as a virtue. That’s a particularly Christian notion… although not one that I often see observed

      You have to understand that the Christian notion of “humility” means that the very Creator of the universe is your own special invisible friend, and is saving a seat for you next to Him for eternity! You can’t get much more humble than that, can you?

      • Graham Martin-Royle

        And created the whole universe, just for you. Oh to be so humble.

  • Stonyground

    “You don’t actually know any more than the rest of us”

    I would like to suggest that I do actually. I have an extensive library. I read non-fiction books constantly. The subjects that I read cover history, biology, physics, cosmology, linguistics, religion – both pro and anti, technology, the history of technology, the history of science, mythology,  philosophy,  politics and basically any subject that piques my curiosity.

     I have read the entire Bible from cover to cover. It is not smug to inform religious Jews and Christians that they are hopelessly deluded, I have read their foundation documents. Most of them haven’t even bothered to read, if their religion is true, the most important book in the world. Why would I view such people with anything but condescention, especially when they are so keen to tell me from their position of laughable ignorance that it is me who is misinformed?

    As for those who think that I will regret my presumtion after I’m dead, there is no life after death, the Bible says so. Ecclesiastes Ch. 9 Vs. 4-10. 

      

    • machintelligence

      especially when they are so keen to tell me from their position of laughable ignorance that it is me who is misinformed?

      The Dunning-Kruger effect in action.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

      • http://twitter.com/cr0sh Andrew Ayers

         The DK effect works both ways: In theory, if Stonyground is as truly knowledgeable and informed as claimed, the lack of humbleness seems to belie it…

        Stonyground – I am not insinuating that you aren’t well read, nor am I claiming that believers are somehow “right” or don’t deserve to have their beliefs challenged.

        …just being a bit less…ahem…smug in the future may help to get other people to listen to your position and knowledge.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Just because Charlie doesn’t cite examples doesn’t mean that atheist smugness doesn’t exist.  Honestly Hemant, you, Charlie and Wes all make valid points.  The problem is that each one of you is so intent on proving that you’re right and the other person is wrong (I’d call that a form of “smugness”) that all of you simply talk past one another. 

    If you ask me “smugness” all depends on context. 

  • noodlezoop

    I’m having a hard time understanding what she’s getting at with lessons for atheists in science fiction. Let’s see, how’s that saying go…it’s one that a science fiction author/advocate should be well familiar with…? Something like, “anyone who claims to be god is probably lying…?”

    • The Other Weirdo

       10 years of Stargate basically bashed in the final nail in the coffin of that particular trope. :)

      • BillStewart2012

         But if somebody asks if you are one, you still say “Yes.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    wfenza lays it out clearly at polyskeptic

    The first problem here is that Anders is attacking an attitude without
    citing any examples, just saying “you know what I mean.” This is an
    almost guaranteed straw man…

  • http://twitter.com/RothAnim Jonathan Roth

    There’s definite slight of hand between experience and the explanation for that experience. Recognizing a person’s subjective experience is a good thing; accepting a subjective explanation without evidence is dangerous. 

    This goes well beyond whether a person believes in ghosts or god: this has a strong political element too. Bigotry of all forms thrives on just-so stories, word of mouth, personal subjective experiences, coloured by personal and cultural bias. The story of how one avoided a mugging by a scary black man might be accurate, or a paranoid recollection of a completely innocent encounter tainted by personal bias. 

    Anecdotes aren’t data: it’s impossible to tell without statistics whether that story is common or rare, or whether one’s beliefs and experiences are reliable. When unfounded gut feelings and unsupported assertions become policy, terrible things happen. 

    We human beings are not infallible chroniclers of our own experiences. Believing we are is not only arrogant, but dangerous.

  • Coyotenose

    My smugness is unrelated to my atheism, thanks.

    “someone else’s subjective experience is as valid as yours”? Aww, that’s an adorable sentiment! …when a small child expresses it.

    • Ronlawhouston

       Careful now your smugness is showing. 

      Let’s say you have phantom limb.   You know you have an amputated limb, yet your brain tells you that you have a hand that is tightly clenched and causing you pain.  Is your subjective experience of pain somehow invalid?

      • Coyotenose

         People who are high and see angels telling them they can fly are also having subjective experiences. And nobody said “invalid”.

        • Ronlawhouston

           Yet more smugness – you used the phrase valid.  “Invalid” is simply not valid.  Don’t bother yourself to think to deeply about subjective experiences.  Apparently your smugness prevents you from that depth of thought.

          • Coyotenose

            You somehow forgot that “less valid” was a possibility. Perhaps your douchey need to be right despite lacking a counterargument was making you even stupider than usual. Please don’t sprain anything patting yourself on the back while not successfully defending anything.

      • ha2

         Well, if he’s using it to draw the conclusion that the phantom limb is actually there… yep.

  • Carmelita Spats

    So, then, atheists who laugh at religion are “smug”? Meh, some just have a great sense of humor. Religion is funny. Try reading the Book of Mormon…Specifically, Nephi’s rants about his rashy”loin fruit”, the part where God physically shocks the hell out of Nephi’s wayward brothers, the magical floating ball in the Negev desert, Nephi being tied up on a ship by his “evil” brothers who had had enough of his insufferable sanctimony….The bible (Revelation 19:16 states that Jesus has a tattoo on his thigh… and if you dare giggle, then you are a “smug” atheist, you deserve to be smacked with a sock full of wooden screws, because atheists should never, ever, laugh at someone’s “personal experience which was quite meaningful”…and that includes Joseph Smith’s wacky world of SciFi fun. Fortunately, laughter is something you cannot escape, such as death, or a cheesecake that has curdled, both of which turn up sooner or later.

    http://youtu.be/krgUVduKFL4

  • SJH

    Part of the smugness she is referring to is the idea that there are skeptics and there are non-skeptics; the idea that the skeptics are smart and the non-skeptics are less smart. It doesn’t seem to occur to many atheists that maybe there are skeptics that are also smart and also concluded that God exists. There seems to be a lot of judgement on both sides of the discussion. If you look online you might presume that Christians are followers that can’t think for themselves and atheists are angry, arrogant haters. Why do we have to be so polarized. The fact is, there are too many Christians who blindly follow a book and there are too many atheists that are smug religion haters. I would suggest that these Christians start thinking for themselves and that these atheists focus less on ridicule and more on humility and searching for truth.

    I have been participating in this blog for a while now and I have found the attitude that she is describing is very prevalent.  Obviously it is not wrong to point out that someone’s line of thinking may be flawed but it is wrong to imply that they are not smart or somehow prejudice. Often times it seem like if a person disagrees then they must have an inferior intellect or are not skeptical at all as if there are only two states of being; smart and dumb or perhaps skeptical and gullible.

    There are various levels of skepticism and intellect. The beauty of humanity comes in our diversity. Some people are very skeptical and require absolute proof while others are more trusting and humble. Some people are more able to think in terms of logic and science and others more able to think in terms of art and relationships. There is room for all. When you imply or state that it is better to be a skeptic then you imply that the other way of thinking is inferior. It is not inferior but equal to and contributes to diversity, beauty and success of humanity.

    • Tom_Nightingale

      Thanks for your post.  This is refreshing to hear on this site.

    • Alconnolly

      There are a number of issues with your post. It would be helpful to understand your processing process that leads you to conclude you have experienced the “smugness” often on this site if, you were to tell us if you find your average Christian blog to be tens times more so, then I will understand why you find smugness here. If you find on this blog equal or greater smugness than the average Christian blog, I would say your perceptive powers are seriously skewed. An indication of the likely hood of your skewed perception is this sentence: “some people are very skeptical and require absolute proof, while others are more trusting and humble”. The fact that you equated trusting and humble as being peas in a pod as opposed to the flip side being skeptical shows your bias. Is it humble to say “I know based on personal experience that the creator of the universe “x”, or I don’t know everything, and prefer sufficient evidence for extraordinary truth claims.

  • Rwlawoffice

    From one who is on the receiving end of the smugness she describes, with one noted exceptions of those like Richard Wade or c. Peterson among a few more, she has a point. It usually only takes one or two posts in a conversation before I am insulted.

    • Piet Puk

      That is probably your persecution complex talking.

      • Rwlawoffice

        Thanks for proving my point. Touché

        • Piet Puk

          Wow, there is no reason for you to be this smug!

  • Mike Laing

    Confirmation bias.  More specifically, going from specific situation to a generalization.
    “You can’t be on Twitter these days without being bombarded with atheistic smugness. You know what I mean.
    People who can’t just profess that they don’t believe in God — they
    have to taunt religious people for believing in “fairy tales.” Or the
    Tooth Fairy”

    Those are responses on twitter, and they probably do not represent the average atheist – but there is no data one way or the other.

    This in character, though. Charlie Jane Anders thinks that no data = most unlikely option is true.  Using CJA’s definition of smug, if a christian proclaimed that 1 = 1 = 7, but a mathematician said, “Sorry, but that is incorrect: 1 + 1 = 2,” the mathematician is smug!

  • Guest

    Yet another atheist trying to co-opt agnosticism as if it were their own to defend the fact that the philosophy makes its *own* false truth claim.  A true agnostic rejects both the atheist and the theist, as well as the atheist’s tortured attempt to subsume agnosticism as some sort of “weak atheism.”  Even a cursory knowledge of the history of agnosticism is sufficient to realize that Huxley’s origination of the term was a response against both theism and atheism.  Anders recognizes this, and uses “atheist” as fundamentally different from “agnostic.”  Can’t blame him for using terms correctly.

  • SeekerLancer

    I’m sure Isaac Asimov and Gene Roddenberry would tell this person where to stick it.

    We accept the fantastic elements of science fiction because they’re JUST STORIES. They’re supposed to fuel your imagination not make you believe they’re real. Also you mustn’t be that into sci-fi if you haven’t realized just how many of those stories end with “god is a lie.”

    I would go as far as saying that being into science fiction since childhood has actually trained me to think more critically about the world and lead me to skepticism.

  • ORAXX

    When religious people fail to receive the deference, they think their super natural beliefs entitles them to, they complain of persecution.   And yet, a great deal of the genuine persecution found in history, came at the hands of religious people, acting in the name of religion

  • Pawel Samson

    Hmm, I visit i09 every day but I missed this post.  Judging from the comments over there, it was not well-received.  Geeks always seemed to me to be more atheistic than most people, so I don’t really see the purpose of this article being anything other than “hey atheist readers, please behave nicer.”

  • Sami Hawkins

    I’d like to argue Atheists being sci-fi geeks is a stereotype, but it’s kinda hard when I have a worn-out copy of Foundation in my pocket right now…

    • allein

      I’ll be your anecdotal data point!

      /not a sci-fi geek but may check out some of the short stories mentioned in this thread nonetheless :)

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Most of the time, these are geeks who have immense respect for science… and yet, they won’t recognize a situation where they simply have no data, one way or the other.

    That’s the crux of the problem right there. The logical response to having “no data” is not to blindly accept whatever crazy thing some human society made up. In the total absence of evidence, the logical response would be to acknowledge the fact that there is no reason to believe in something when there is absolutely no indication that it exists.

  • http://twitter.com/yjmbobllns Yojimbo Billions

    As a regular reader of both this site and Charlie’s articles, I found myself disagreeing with her rant yesterday when I read it, but after seeing all the backlash since, I think I’ll stick with her writing from now on, “Christian apologist” or not.  Did you not go back and look at the dozens of articles promoting science literacy?

    Not every battle needs to be taken to the mattresses. 

  • VorJack

    I’m stunned that anyone can even make this argument.  How do you mention “smug atheists” and “science fiction” in the same sentence without having your mind immediately jump to people like Isaac Asimov or Harlan Ellison?  If science fiction cures smug atheism, it strangely hasn’t worked on some of the people that produce science fiction.

  • Uilium Powell

    Atheists shouldn’t read Science Fiction, they should see things as they are aware in the present moment, something hardly nobody does because we all see through the filter of concepts. I am speaking of mindfulness. We have just started getting real scientific evidence of it’s validity. Before this evidence (that still isn’t proof), mindfulness required a little faith in the beginning of those in training and anyone that won’t even try it, out of some need for materialistic proof is one closed minded individual who thinks in a deeply superficial way. Mindfulness is the only self help book anyone needs. Mindfulness Kicks *SS!!

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    Most of Anders’ examples of smugness aren’t examples of such, but she does give at least one. It IS disrespectful to get in a stranger’s face, literally or on FB, and compare their deity to the tooth fairy. So what if there’s parallels, and a reasonable argument to be made there? If you’re an ass, people won’t listen nor care that you’re right. Also, you just shouldn’t be an ass. There is atheist smugness out there, especially on the net where anonymity makes it easier. Often the smug do advance arguments about empiricism, subjective experience, all the stuff Anders mentions, and smugness gets conflated with our position on these topics. We should point out Anders errors and overgeneralization, but also think about why she’d write this. It isn’t all just Christians misunderstanding, imagining things, being prejudiced, and claiming they’re oppressed. There really are smug asses in our community.


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