The Atheist Approach

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The Atheist Approach

The Atheist Approach

Last night I had the good fortune to catch a debate with a christian in the new Reason vs. Faith stickam room. It's a great new feature to the site, it adds a whole new dimension to interacting on the web.

I happened to make some interesting observations about how discourse among Christians and Atheists goes. I really thought that the rational side of the fight won a sound victory in the debate, it was pretty one-sided. Well, that's no surprise. The arguments for belief in god have been presented again and again in a seemingly immeasurable amount, and our side has won quite easily every time.

Unfortunately, I see it is very hard for some people to get past what has already been established: that the arguments have been won, and now it is time to change people's minds. I heard the most anger and intensity from the atheist debater when there was a false statement made or a refusal to look at the facts. Rightfully so. In the world of reason, blatant untruths and false statements cannot be left unattacked for fear that they may corrupt the very element that makes the rational world what it is: the truth. The unfortunate part is that it is at this point in the discourse that there is greatest risk for closing off the very minds we are trying to change. The intense anger expressed at the opponent's refusal to acknowledge the truth initiates a built-in human defense mechanism that erects walls around the mind, preventing any change from happening. This reaction is complicated in itself, and the explanation goes out of the scope of this discussion, but it occurs often nonetheless. If the goal in the beginning was to convince this person that there is no god, then the rational responder has failed.

This does not mean that the person is free to believe whatever they want and that truth can be whatever they want it to be. Definitely not. When those in power in our government attempt to establish laws that protect lies from being removed from our society, we should provide the rational response. When fundamental Christians try to convince the nation that stem cell research is equivalent to killing babies, we should provide the rational response. When they preach that condom use is sinful and in the process cause the deaths of millions of Africans through the spread of AIDS, we should provide a rational response. What I want to point out is that in a purely rational world, the rational response would work 100% of the time, and since it does not, it suggests there being more to this world. And there is. There is the human world out there, and it often requires an understanding of human nature in order to achieve success in it. We want humans to be more rational, but we have to consider the way humans operate in order to do so.

So what is the key? I say compassion. Compassion, in the sense that we understand the human condition, and that we often do not act rationally. Compassion, in the sense that we as humans make mistakes, and that there are times in a person's life where they are lost, confused, and simply unready to accept the cataclysm that is a shift in world view. Compassion, in the sense that we know the person whom we are talking with may be extremely emotionally attached to what they believe, and that they may respond in an irrational way in order to defend that which holds their own little world together.

This does not mean we are relativists. The above approach is the approach we take when we care what someone thinks. When we are faced with a world where power is decided through a democracy, for instance, we care what other people think. When we have a loved one who is suffering through horrendous guilt because they feel ashamed for not being as perfect as god may want them to be, we care what they think. When we want to change people's minds, this is a wise approach to take. When we don't care what people think, we don't have to be so compassionate =P. We don't care what people think, for instance, when we establish laws. The stakes are much higher here. In the example of religion, the first amendment states this implicitly in that you can believe whatever the hell you want, just don't impose that on anyone. So, to sum up an important point, YOU MUST CHOOSE WHAT YOUR MAIN GOAL IS: 1) TO CHANGE HUMAN MINDS or 2) TO DEFEND REASON**

I'm going to do something that is rare in the atheist community and end on a part of the Bible I think is wise and worth reading (forgive the Lord reference, use it metaphorically):

“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." - Colossians 3:12-14

** not mutually exclusive

The Enlightenment wounded the beast, but the killing blow has yet to land...

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An approach I am a big fan

An approach I am a big fan of is the "passive-aggressive" approach. One of the best and most succesful example of this approach is the "Atheist" video on YouTube.

I would place this in the "Compassionate" category, mainly because it appeals to the human conscience, it doesn't directly attack theistic belief, and shows how atheists are wrongfully judged by the Bible (and society in general) as bad people. Its mere presence as a counter to theism is the aggresive side of the defenition. It throws a wrench in the generalization that without god you are a bad person, and it has made a VERY noticable impact. So noticable in fact that I have NEVER seen such positive feedback from Christians/theists on a pro-atheist arguement. NEVER EVER! Here are just a few of the comments on the video. Many are from Christians, but others are just interesting ones that I think are worth noting:

"Im a christian and even though this doesnt intervene with my faith, think this video is very logical and actually makes sense."

"I never knew atheists were hated so...
Why can't some people respect the beliefs of other people?

'I get the message of the video and agree that atheists aren't necessarily bad, but I don't know what to think of this vid =/"

"Though I am Hindu, and believe in God, I find nothing essentially wrong with Atheists (or Agnostics) because of the good they have done to the world, to the people and also even to religion. I respect them without a bit of hesitation. I believe that if Brahma (or the Creator) didn't like them, he wouldn't have created them (or the factors that would lead to Atheism)."

"Now i'm christain... i'm not going not goin to sit here and tell you you;re going to hell for not beliveing in god... we were givin free will... we can belive what we want... i don't belive in the bible... i think alot of it is wrong... i think over the decades it's been rewritten and mistranslated... i do belive in god tho but science is also very valid..."

"A person would be a fool to limit themself to science. And none of these statistics ever seem to realize their are two kinds of Christians; the ones who just call themselves Christians but are no different than any person, and the ones who actually make an effort to mirror Christ, to be love incarnate. The first kind are the majority and are responsible for pretty much every negative stereotype associated with Christians and bad statistics." - this is an important post in that it shows how this video divides the Christian community against itself: another sign it works

"Problem is, most christians are weak.
No honor amoungst you." - more Christian division

"What is the point of this. I am a christian and I have no problems with athiests... My entire family isn't christian but I am from choice. You don't see me attacking athiests for no reason. Why do you all have to make such a fuss over this kind of stuff. Its someone's opinions and Beliefs. How does it affect you if I am a christian? Likewise, how does it affect me if you are an athiest?" - cool, when's the last time you heard this from a Christian?

"That was AWESOME."

"Great video. I didn't know some of those people were atheists. Very well done."

"Interesting video, but it doesn't prove or disprove anything. The Marlon Brando photo has a spelling error on it."

"his ending quote is a powerful one. I'm not athiest. However, as great of a spiritual guide it is, religion does blind us against many apparent realities in this world. We sometimes need to open up to new realities and possibilities and not just remain in the comfort zone of our religion. Religions have dated back long through our history, however science has evolved a tremendous deal since then. It is not very rational to reason all these new knowledge and understanding to an aged belief."

"Yea, im christian but i don't mind atheists. just as long as they don't try to sway me from my belief"

"that was a good presentation
still christian though"

"Sometimes I feel so restricted by my family by their morals brought to them by a lifetime of religion. The other day, we were going at it over same-sex couples, and the thing is... whatever I said would automatically be challaged with "It's wrong...The Bible says it is. It's sinful." Mind you I'm bi. But still. One of the people of "their" side even had gay friends. She is okay with being with them, but thinks they are sinful. Christanity is so repressful towards others. Thank you for this!"

"Lookie, I'm a christian, I liked the video, I learned a lot, And yet I'm still a Christian.."

"This video is interesting, I hope people will realize that everyone commits errors being christian, atheist or mulism, scientoligists or whatever. Nobody is perfec, and if some thing as simple as not believing or believing makes you a better person. Why not try to stay that way? If it makes you happy, well good for you~"

"Hehe, thats pretty neat Smiling
Its put so simple that even the most numb-minded christian or islamic person should be able to get the message, well done Smiling"

"While we look at achievements, God looks at the heart.

"The world will not-and never will-tolerate real Christianity." A quote from Charles Wesley I believe.

It's strange though...if God is not real, how come we argue about Him so much? How come we can't get him out of our minds? If there isn't a God, how come we even TALK about Him? It's as if...there was something put there in our hearts to think about God...
I'm not being closed to your ideals...I think they are rather interesting..." - Mmmm, you can just taste the congnitive dissonance building up to a cataclsymic world-view change...

"What is funny about this debate is that the athiests will keep disproving religion, and the theists will keep defending it. But over all, no ones opinions will matter, no one will change, nothing different will happen. That means all of you are arguing just to make the other side mad, which is really sad. I'm a Christian and I am not going to tell another person what is real and what is not."

" I'd stick to my guns if I were promised hell.
I don't think you understand the depth to which this extends. This isn't a reward-driven lifestyle. Jesus was God's son and he was sent to die.
Peter told Christ, "You have the words of life, where else can we turn?" I don't think he was concerned with heaven.

" something you must truly love, in order to understand it. I'm an on-and-off Christian-Atheist, as a new idea comes my way about God, I start to believe a little again, but sooner or later, I can find how easily that idea maybe false, the Christian religion, is full of control, like back in the ancient Greece/Greek times. Despite my user name, I AM NOT, a 'super Christian' it's more of a joke between me and my idiot friends." - confused Christian

"you are basing your beliefs by labeling all christians. I am a christian and I don't hate athiests. But you all hate us because of certain haters that exist. Real slick. I am not going to try and preach like other are, that is wrong, but so is rideculing others based souly on the beliefs of a few christians..." - this guy is clearly worried about how "slick" aka powerful this video is

"America sounds like a horrible, horrible place to live. So much discrimination. I'm glad that I live in the Netherlands. Btw, I'm a christian and I don't hate/dislike atheists or whatever other people are. Everyone is allowed to believe in whatever they want. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you"."

"I can't believe you had to go and write that. Now I have to log in just to respond to you. I'm Christian. I believe in God and in many of the values that Christianity holds so dear. However, there are things I don't agree with. I believe that everyone is entitled to their views and their beliefs."

"Well, I don't know if he really was the son of God- I never met him personally. Perhaps he was just a normal person who preached what Christianity is all about- loving others- and they thought he was so great he might as well be the son of God. Religious texts never were famous for being 100% literal.
Would it make his word less meaningful if he wasn't the son of God? All I know is a good Christian loves others that deserve love, which is what I do."

"Organized religion is different from religion. I am a Christian and anti-organized religion, not because I am lazy. But I do not feel any extra spiritual comfort in a church, I do not like preachers or people that try to convert. I belief you chose what you choose, that is why my christianity is not corrupt." - a Christian who is diest and doesn't know it yet. He'll learn that word pretty soon if we keep up the good work

"First, I am not criticizing you, I am practicing a Biblical principle called rebuking. I do not condemn you at all, I am simply speaking the truth in love. Tell me where you live and I will help you find a fellowship of believers that will embrace you and not judge. Not all Christians are whack jobs. I like to think I am quite normal but I am lucky to have grown up in good company." - put this fella in good atheist company and it wont be long before he realizes his mistake

"Thank you for making this. I take so much shit for being an atheist, that it makes me glad when people point out stuff like that. Great video."

Ok I'm too tired to keep finding quotes. I made it about 1/8th the way through the comments, and there are TONS of good ones left

Lets use a little scientific method here, shall we? Lets look at the many atheist videos out there that focus on the falacies of Christian thought or how hypocritical and foolish it is to believe in a god. Take note of 1) the views and comments, and 2) the positive comments by theists.

"Proving that prayer is superstition" at the time of writing has over 77,300 views and over 1400 comments. Hardly any positive comments by theists

"Atheist" at the time of writing has over 213,000 views and over 5300 comments. Relatively a TON are positive comments by theists.

Both were released on YouTube in July of 2006, with "Prayer" having a 2 week head start

While "hardly any" and "relatively a TON!" are not scientific terms, I believe they are easy enough to observe if you are curious enough to see for yourself.

Now, again, please do not mistake this as a weak passe to theism. This is the approach we take when we focus on changing minds. When someone is spreading lies and dogma so that it is significantly impeding the progress of secularity and reason, then we can change the focus to combating their unreason. Again, when the stakes are high and there is an obstacle thrown in the way of reason, we should engage the offenders in discourse and fight for what is true. Do not mistake my compassion for weak atheism, or I might have to engage =P

The Enlightenment wounded the beast, but the killing blow has yet to land...

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Some good points about

Some good points about compassion ... most of the theist arguments we get can be filed under two headings

1) those who are ignorant of the fact that these old arguments are flawed and already refuted

2) those who have some dim recognition of point 1, who are here to spew anger and project their own flaws onto others....

The only way to deal with group 2 is to be compassionate towards their emotional reactions....

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'

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Can I have a link to the

Can I have a link to the video?

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Eric Ferguson
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From one of the most

From one of the most brilliant minds to ever exist...

You can't Solve a Problem with the Thinking that Created the Problem

Before God we are all equally wise - and equally foolish.

It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere.... Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.

- Albert Einstein

Consider this account closed. It's disgraceful this site has no function to delete an account. I cannot be part of an organization that seeks only to replace the religion of the god of the bible with the religion of "poor me" bleeding heart liberalism. Rational my ass! Not believing in a god is one thing. A rational view of the rest of the world is something else, which isn't found here.

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Albert Einstein once said,

Albert Einstein once said, "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." Einstein is one of the most admired intellectuals of the 20th century, most likely in all of history. Yet we know from stories told about him that he was often the stereotypical "absent-minded professor." He would lose things constantly. He would forget where we was going. He needed help just to keep himself together. It was fairly obvious what the cause of such obliviousness to his surroundings was, and it was that he was constantly obsessing about the next big discovery, the elusive theory of everything. He was a scientist to the core, a thirst for knowledge of the truth that could only be quenched by constant rumination about the answer. We rightfully admire such a desire high and lofty, but there is something to note about Einstein: he was addicted.

And I notice how addicted to the truth many of us are, and specifically in this case, us atheists. It is an addiction you can notice among highly intellectual people (I'd wager that the average IQ on these forums is amazing). For instance, it seems that when a typical false theist argument is brought up, it is pounced on by us addicts for the truth with the craze of a crack junkie trying to get his next fix. But a crack junkie for truth? Doesn't really seem that bad does it =P

How many times do you find yourself ruminating about some really interesting idea, only to miss the turn you were supposed to make on the road? Or completely forget where you were going? Or where you put something? I end up doing this a lot, especially when something interesting is going on that I’m mulling over! I’ve had to realize how pursuing truth actually be an addiction, and can cause you to bypass being plugged into this world to be lost in thought, and especially relevant, your emotions.

I have been amazed at how intensely people in the atheist community feel about the truth. Watching Dawkins in person on his book tour is a great example. He gets pissed at lies. He hates liars, unsupported claims, and anything that is dishonest. It is really amazing to see his passion. I see this same passion in others as well. Unfortunately, passion can cause us to act on spur-of-the-moment emotions when it would be best to take a breath and not react mindlessly.

I want to mention compassion again, and I would suggest looking what I said about it in my first post to get it fresh in your mind. Understand that, lets say the Christian you are talking to, may not be able to see what your saying and IS going to speak irrationally in defense of their world view. That they may be simply scared of having someone put their beliefs into question and are simply trying to prevent themselves from going crazy by lashing out. Having an understanding of psychology and pathology of belief can give great insight into approaching the theist with the intent of deconversion.

The Enlightenment wounded the beast, but the killing blow has yet to land...

Eric Ferguson
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I completely understand that

I completely understand that for somebody to give up their (and all) faith in the divine is terrifying. For somebody that has been told their entire life these tales of a God above and then to have that challenged... I can't imagine there'd be anything but an irrational response. Faith is a funny thing. It's not tangible, it's only faith, there's no rational way to fight an atheist's challenge. This explains why as I understand it, so many people that move from theism to atheism it is a slow process, especially early on. Just as the brainwashing took a lot of time, it takes as much time get the brain "dirty" again.

Einstein... Like many people with that sort of intellect and vision there are often quirks and even disorders. Hitler, absolutely brilliant, and absolutely insane.

The truth, as I fight irrationality on political issues I often get furious. I have to set back for a moment and cool off. It's important to do that. If I'm going to attack global warming and second hand smoke for example I must remain calm and on point. It's tough when the one you argue with just blows up.

I can't tell you how many times I've missed my turn because my mind was busy processing ideas.

I also imagine the IQ here is relatively high. I hang out at the James Randi Educational Foundation forums as well. There's some brains in there that can be downright intimidating. And I have yet to encounter a theist. We're talking members of mensa. Some of these cats are the very scientists we read an talk about. They're only trying to be helpful, but if you make a comment and don't have every detail perfect they will definitely let you know.

Consider this account closed. It's disgraceful this site has no function to delete an account. I cannot be part of an organization that seeks only to replace the religion of the god of the bible with the religion of "poor me" bleeding heart liberalism. Rational my ass! Not believing in a god is one thing. A rational view of the rest of the world is something else, which isn't found here.