In most debates, especially arguments over the internet, each side brings along a list of premises, premises that originally gave rise to their conclusions and often go unaddressed. Unless a counter argument addresses any of these often unstated premises, all it accomplishes is bringing in a whole new set of premises to be addressed, and nobody gets anywhere.
Given a recent list I saw floating around twitter titled “10 commandments of faitheism,” which is nothing but a list of things nobody associated with the term “faitheist” actually believes, I thought it would be a good exercise to try to list all of premises that we at NPS, at least, bring to the table. I should state upfront that, obviously, only Chris Stedman can speak for Chris Stedman, but since most people lump us at NPS in with him anyway and “faitheist” is the most convenient term on hand right now, I decided to use it.
Our 10 Premises of Faitheism.
1) God probably isn’t real.
2) Attacking people is a bad way to change their mind. This has been folk wisdom for as long as people have been talking about persuasion, but it’s been backed up in recent years by a host of psychological research. All anti-theists often bring to counter this claim is a collection of anecdotes, but no one would take these seriously for any other kind of empirical claim about what is or isn’t effective. Research shows criticism is almost always unproductive, and usually leaves the instigator feeling morally superior and both parties walking away more convinced of what they originally believed.[1. Criticism of harmful practices should be just that, criticism of the practice, and attacking the religious for these practices, often members who don’t engage in it themselves, is unproductive at best.]
3) More atheists won’t necessarily make the world a better place. Atheism is inherently neither good nor bad. The wealth of a nation and its secularization are pretty strongly correlated, with any outliers easily explained away. Improving the quality of life and adding stability to people’s lives in our own nations and across the globe seems like the quicker and easier way to a more secular world. Trying to deconvert believers isn’t an effective way to increase the number of atheists, and does nothing to make the world better.
4) Whatever goals we do have for making the world a better place require cooperation with the religious. Gay rights were not an atheist victory. Civil rights were not an atheist victory. Women’s suffrage was not an atheist victory. Gender and sexuality equality will not be an atheist victory. We simply lack the numbers to cause meaningful change, and it’s much more pragmatic to work alongside the religious whose values we share than it is to deconvert the majority of our nation.
5) Religion is not a monolith. For better or worse, religions are larger than their foundational texts. Religions are individual and social phenomena lived and expressed and transmitted and transformed through diverse human beings and diverse human communities. There is not one Christianity, there are Christianities. There is not one Islam, there are Islams. Of course moderate muslims say that their Islam is the true Islam, and extremists say that their Islam is the true Islam, but that’s because they’re assuming their religion is true. Given that 1) God probably isn’t real, atheists can’t play the “no true Scotsman” card and say what a religion really is. To point out here that the Islam practiced by our neighbors is not the Islam practiced in Somalia is no gesture at all toward true Islam.
6) Given the hard-to-define-ness of a religion, it isn’t clear how much religious belief causes anything. Scientists, however, are very good at parsing out causal relationships. Causal relations are empirical claims about the world. If you think religion causes behavior, find a psychological or sociological study to support it. Correlation is not causation, and armchair theorizing on empirical matters is a waste of time. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence, and saying that the data isn’t there because of overly politically correct scientists puts you on par with those who deny climate-change or the effectiveness of psychiatry and traditional medicines because the scientists were paid-off.
7) Dogmatism is bad, whether religious or secular. Atheists, as human beings, are just as prone to tribalism and bias. An understanding of science does not make you less prone to fallacious reasoning than anyone else.
8) Minorities and marginalized groups are not props. The suffering of religious people aren’t opportunities to score cheap rhetorical points against religion. You shouldn’t exploit slavery or domestic violence to one-up believers. Deconverted religious fundamentalists are not poster children up until they say something nice about the religious communities they left.
9) The problem atheists face in the West is a PR problem. Far too often, atheist awareness-raising is done through confrontation. We need to move beyond insensitive billboards and jumping on every opportunity to score points against religion. If our goal is to end atheist stigmatization, our first step should be to stop embodying negative atheist stereotypes. [2. The criticism that “‘we should just shut up and be positive’ was the same advice offered to women who wanted the vote, and, later, blacks who wanted equal treatment under the law” should be such an obvious false equivalence that it doesn’t need more addressing.]
10) “Faitheist” is a term for a strawman. When people criticize “faitheists,” they aren’t criticizing anybody. It’s at best a strawman, and at worst a simple ad hominem, on the same level of maturity and intellectual honesty as a bully who changes a child’s last name to include the word “fart” in it. Coyning the term “accommodatheist” is no better.
Though we’ve all endorsed this list, other writers on this blog may have drafted a different list giving priorities to different premises, but, well, one is an ex-fundamentalist Christian, another is a queer ex-mega-church-goer, one is Scandinavian, and two of us are twins. As far as I can tell, every premise on this list is true or the best guess we can make given the data we have and reasonable reflection. At the very least, they’re something that can’t easily be waved away. If you accept these premises, most of the things written on this blog follow naturally.