Sunday, January 24, 2010

Atheist Tactical Secrets: Overwhelming Christians with Information

I've been receiving friendly emails from believers and nonbelievers alike commenting and sometimes even complimenting my writing here. I'm truly grateful for all the positive feedback.

One recent email got me to thinking, and I want to re-post my commentary here, because I think it's a great insight into one of the many transitions of the religionist mind set to a more free thinking mind set.

Dear Friend,

I've been out of Christianity for roughly a year now. I was a Fundamentalist Christian for 29 1/2 years, nearly 3 decades. But even though I'm happy that I've gained enlightenment, I don't regret my time as a Christian, because I learned a lot about the faith and without those more evangelical and radical experiences I may still be a believing Christian today. So in a way, I have my piety and zeal to thank for showing me the corrupted and dangerous ways of dogma.

That said, one does have to desire to, as Kant phrased it, dare to know. Pretending to know, as many Christians are wont to do, just doesn't pass muster. What's more, I tend to agree with Socrates that the unexamined life isn't one worth living, since you'd simply be living somebody else's ideal life according to their views, not your own. It would amount to little more than intellectual slavery, and I find that's what most religion amounts to too.

Friend, I'm glad you think I express things clearly. That's been the biggest challenge... to write comprehensively.

When I get emails from Christians they are frequently all over the place, they rarely ever have a decisive point, other than they're rehearsing all the rhetorical arguments they know, quoting them line and verse. Theists rarely ever support their comments with sources or citations. They rarely ever go outside of the Bible to argue their position. They know almost nothing about Christianity's origins or the history of their faith. When I realized I was this sort of Christian, I realized I was talking out of my hat, and I went back to re-educate myself on what I thought I knew.

I have many friends which are still devout Christians who email me regularly with criticisms of my writings or things I say and they always seem more confused than clairvoyant to me. That is to say they don't see all they claim to and rarely do they ever make any decent sense of what they affirm a belief in, since much of what they profess to believe in is nonsense anyway.

They often make simple logic mistakes, but this is forgivable, logic and critical thinking are skills which need to be honed. They state that they are using reason and then say something totally unreasonable,  such as talking about Croccaducks and how Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous earthquake which rocked Haiti was the consequence of sinfulness. They defend their positions as rational and then ask you to take at face value irrational assumptions and unfounded claims. They often cite their championed holy book (whatever version it might happen to be) as the definitive authority on matters, even as they show their own credulity by doing so.

And all this is called Christian apologetics. 

So, I appreciate your comments about my crystal clear clarity. I'm trying to avoid the pitfalls of what I know all too well to be an inadequate defense when it comes to arguing for what I believe in.

Assuredly, the best way to argue your position, I find, is to be well informed. I don't expect anything less of anybody regardless of their educational background. We all have the ability to find the nearest library and check out a good book. I hold everyone to the same stringent standards I hold myself to. 

Knowledge is the atheist's greatest weapon, and it is the Christian's greatest foil, because anytime an atheist overwhelms a believer with information this puts upon the believer a great hindrance, for now they are stuck with the responsibility of checking up on that girth of information for validity and confirmation.  If they refuse they are ducking the obligation and this detracts from their argument instead of bolstering it.  It's not surprising many choose the latter. It's easier to assume you're right and pretend what you know is credible than having to do the work to prove something correct and thereby gain credibility. Yet this stratagem will never be sufficient to make your claims truth, because the truth is, if it doesn't hold up to scrutiny then it's probably not very reliable.

Most of us find that experience plays a big role in helping us formulate our views and opinions, but it's the uniformed opinion which leads to uniformed views. No matter how convincing the experience may be, it still has to meet the prerequisites of dependability. So, in actuality, I do not pity those who cling to a dwindling faith for the consoling sort of comfort they find in it, but I do pity them because this is the only sort of faith they'll ever allow themselves to have. For those who chime in with the catch phrase 'faith is all you'll ever need', just know that for some people it's not.

There is more. All you have to do is dare to know. 

Meanwhile the atheist is re-arming herself with further details, facts, and increasing her knowledge until she is brimming with information. Why does this tactic work? Because it simultaneously builds the strongest defense for atheism and also causes the most devastating volley against the theist claims. 

Probably this is why so many Christians resort to making the defensive claim that atheists are being snobbish, elitist, sophists as a way to dodge the intellectual attack. But in the end, all that fancy footwork doesn't ensure victory for the theist, it merely postpones the inevitable--the increasing difficulty of validating their claims the more nebulous and out of touch with reality they become. 

When the religious held convictions, views, and ideas no longer fit within the frame or scope or human experience, then they have ceased to be pertinent, because they have ceased to be real to us. This is when religion recedes, slowly growing antiquated, only to turn into mythology, as most religions seem to do given enough time. Faith is reserved for other things, such as science, reason, and humanism; just to name a few selected from an unlimited string of philosophies to gain from.

I find a proper education often leads to a keener understanding--or to put it another way, an education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know. Once properly informed, you might find out that you are wrong about your assumptions, and you can re-educate yourself on what you thought you knew. It boils down to what is quantifiable, not what is merely plausible, and certainly not what is supposedly possible. Being erudite will yield a greater chance of actually being correct, and likewise, being knowledgeable will give one the greatest chance of recognizing the truth whenever they should stumble upon it.

In my opinion, Atheism is currently winning the religious debate for the following reasons: 1) the atheist has the unique ability to admit that they don't know what they are talking about, or that they are wrong, or that they have erred, and 2) they have the distinct privilege of going back and correcting their mistakes. 

How many religious people have admitted they were wrong and dropped certain religious claims altogether? Very rarely I should think, since one finds it increasingly difficult to override their dogmatic convictions so easily. That's why there are still people such as Young Earth Creationists, Calvinists, Evolution deniers, not to mention Ray Comfort and Pat Robertson. I guess the adage is true: ignorance is bliss.

The challenge of examining the evidence and looking at all the information is too great for some people, so denial becomes their greatest ally. The religious hardly ever admit error, because if they did, their beliefs would be more than just challenged, they'd be largely discredited. 

Changing one's mind about one's convictions without losing one's faith is a rarity, but I suppose it happens in ecumenical settings often prompting larger overall changes in orthodox opinion when that opinion has ceased to be sensible, such as the Vatican relinquishing the doctrine of Limbo.  It will only be a matter of time before the erroneous doctrine of transubstantiation follows suit and becomes extinct as well. Perhaps after that the idea of virgin births. What will be next? It stems to reason that you can only hold conflicting or incongruous beliefs so long as you are able to reconcile them away. When that luxury ceases to be possible, skepticism wins out.

More importantly though, is that all this assures that Atheism has the upper hand. Thomas had it right, doubting is the only way to test the sincerity of the claim. If you say you are Jesus reborn, then I too want the proof. Balderdash is no supplement for the authentic truth, especially when the truth is readily available! 

Only the foolish would take up blind faith and follow a person without first authenticating the claim or without so much as a care in the world. I guess this means Obi-wan was right to inquire, "Who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?"

Free thinking, critical inquiry, diligent scrutiny, along with a healthy dose of skepticism are the atheists tools. But more importantly still, intellectual honesty is our greatest asset. It makes our atheistic position that much more genuine--therefore all the more believable.

And every time a true believer and a Christian brushes aside my skepticism as rebellion, I simply retort, "I guess the devil is in the details."


Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist