The IQ2 ‘Atheists Are Wrong’ Debate – If You Can Stomach It

Okay – is there ANYONE out there who can debate (even as an atheist! I’m open to that!) the AFFIRMATIVE to ‘Atheists Are Wrong’ without going off-topic?

Seriously. I was looking forward to this debate. I thought ‘Excellent, a good teaching resource, it’ll be something that I can use for discussion and students who want to come up with good pro-and-cons as to being religious or being atheist can keep this in mind and perhaps be inspired.’ But this one went… and I guess it’s the first thing that came to mind… all wobbly.

I should point out – I am firmly of the opinion that dialogue between people of faith and atheists is needed, especially when it comes to helping atheists understand how to best communicate and develop resources that can progress goals that they have which will benefit people of all kinds, regardless of their faiths. This debate, on the other hand, seemed to very much indicate that it would greatly benefit people of faith to get to know atheists much better as well.

I’m going to make myself watching it for the second time. Yes, sure, I’m biased and I’ve attended lectures done by the Negative side before (Pataki, Caro and Blackford), but the Affirmative side so far boils down to:

Jensen – pretty much concedes the argument that they’re not all wrong… in fact, starts saying that he himself has ‘an atheistic mind, and an atheistic heart.’ and defines the debate to be about the ‘problems of atheists’ instead of ‘completely wrong’. Well, probably the best way to go about it, until he starts to do some rather interesting things with history:

My problem with many contemporary atheists is that they seem like flat-earthers: they look at our world, its origin, character, nature and history, and declare that it can all be explained on simple materialistic principles. They are simplistic. They turn a world charged with grandeur into grey on grey. They forget that William of Ockham and even Galileo are actually ours, not theirs.

…I didn’t realise that we were picking football teams here for Team God or Team Not-God.

Yes, Ockham and Galileo were clearly aiming to make the science and empirical evidence of their findings so much less obvious than their wearing of the God Squad jersey, while they painted the world a shade of hot pink and thus sing in perfect harmony, because reason what?

Maybe the reason why there’s ‘grey’ is because it’s not so black and white? Never fear – as Jensen says, it’s not ALL atheists, just many contemporary ones and maybe we can spot them because of their rose-coloured glasses that they have to wear just to get through life.

Amongst the things Rowland says (and I had to walk out of the room and walk back in to review it again upon listening, I was so astounded):

Sexual relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become mutual manipulation; political relations hollowed out into their materialist shell become brutal power; and market relations hollowed out into their material shell give us consumerism and status anxiety.

If our cultural horizons are determined by our behaviour as meme machines, then it is no wonder that we have ended up with the cult of the celebrity and that people pay a fortune for a pair of Dolce e Gabbana underpants because they have seen a poster of David Beckham wearing them. But I think even Nietzsche would have found this tragic.

This is the sad condition of the homeless ego.

In case you didn’t realise, she means atheists = homeless ego. I don’t know what brand my underwear is, because I don’t idolise Beckham. Considering the rather dire circumstances Nietzsche lived and died in, I’m not too sure whether he’d be rolling in his grave about something like knickers rather than – say – famine, war, political injustice and the continuing existence of Neo-Nazis anyway, but it’s her debate not mine.

Stephens then finishes off with talking about politics (which completely threw me and I thought there was a mistake on the video somewhere) and then got into denouncing a particular ‘type’ of atheism (which I can understand, but it seems to be heading down the same path as Jensen regarding moving goal-posts somewhat) with:

It is apparent, is it not, that the current batch of chic atheists are but a symptom of a more general cultural decline, the steady impoverishment of what Hilaire Belloc perfectly described as “the Modern Mind,” which ceaselessly explains away its own moral deficiencies by projecting them onto God and banishing him into the wilderness.

It is just as apparent why such an atheism – with its cartoon versions of history, its theological illiteracy, it fetishisation of science, its hostility to the humanities and aesthetics, its flattened-out brand of morality as mere “well-being,” its cheap gags and mode of incessant piss-taking cynicism – should appeal so powerfully to a culture that has grown accustomed to the vulgarities and trivia enshrined in the modern media.

…which led me to think it was a pity that he was not coming up with stronger arguments that could apply to atheism in general. I don’t see all atheists ‘fetishising science’ (in fact, I’ve interacted with a few who seemed downright antagonistic… which, I hasten to add, is certainly abominable!) and the ‘hostility to humanities and aesthetics’ I really don’t see at all… is there a gang of atheists destroying art galleries that I’ve missed somewhere or something?

As for ‘cheap gags’, I know examples of humor that just have never appealed to me, regardless of the subject or the person delivering them. Anyone know of examples of bad piss-taking cynicism about atheism?

Yes, I can see how this stereotype persists and I’ve had numerous run-ins with people who just seem to forget that defining oneself as atheist doesn’t immediately exempt one from defending such a stance with logic, let alone plain good manners… but I really don’t see how this is going to be the best approach to establishing “Atheism As Wrong.”

So, I was disappointed with this debate. I’d really love to see one where the atheists present on ‘Christianity is Good, Atheism is Bad!’ and vice versa, in order to interrogate the topic more thoroughly.

The IQDebate poll (as you might expect) ended up having the undecided population mostly move over to the Negative:

Pre-debate poll For: 28.5% – Undecided: 15.5% – Against: 56%

Post-debate poll For: 28% – Undecided: 6% – Against: 66%

All the arguments are transcribed and featured on the ABC Website (Jensen, Rowland and Stephens, with the Negative featured at Pataki, Caro and Blackford).

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.


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