Sunday, May 11, 2014

New Atheist Truthiness?

A fellow blogger called Eric Mader wrote an entry the other day that really seems to miss the mark at every step. Reading it, I leave myself asking one question... Is he basing his entire argument on a single interaction, or simply building a straw man?
The New Atheists have been with us for some time. Shrill positivists who've made public careers out of fashioning the same straw man over and over, their impact on our culture is getting harder to ignore.
Really? I'm an atheist. When the vocal atheists speak up I usually take notice to see what they have to say. Considering that this stuff interests me, I feel like new news from Dawkins and Harris doesn't come across my news feed very often.

What straw men are they fashioning? Bacause I can tell you that in my experience, it's the believers that tend to throw around the straw man arguments much more often.
Their few talking points have been absorbed widely and are regularly regurgitated any time one tries to discuss Christianity or either of the other two Abrahamic faiths. The results for serious discussion of religion have been reprehensible: a substitution of soundbites for thought.
Have you ever heard your average Christian apologist?  I don't think I've ever debated a Christian that's ever presented an original argument.
One need only raise religious concepts in almost any mixed company and immediately there pops up one or two bright-eyed keeners with: "So I suppose you believe in the Tooth Fairy too!" Or: "There is zero concrete proof that God exists! Period!"
Sorry, but I have a hard time believing that someone led with either of those quotes. I have known atheists to mention the Tooth Fairy, but not in that accusing tone. Say someone asks me why I don't believe... I'll likely say that I don't believe because there is no evidence that God exists. Maybe one would continue that you probably don't believe in the Tooth Fairy, and the same reasons we don't believe in her, are the same reasons I don't believe in God. Nothing malicious or jumpy in that.
I especially like the line, traceable to Richard Dawkins: "You can believe that nonsense if you like, but don't think you have the right to teach it to children!"
I'd have to look it up, but I think you have the quote incorrect. The jist of it is that most believers believe only because they were indoctrinated as children. They didn't really get a fair chance of making up their own minds on the subject. Thusly, parents should educate children in a way that they can be educated on many religions and let them choose, or wait until they are old enough to make a sound decision on religion.
But try to take such debaters seriously, begin to engage actual argument with them, and they typically come back with things like: "Look, I'm not really interested enough in this topic to continue. It's not my concern."
Honestly, I must say that finding a theist that will take such a debate seriously is rather rare. I can't remember a time a believer presented a decent argument in debate. Typically it's a dance of regurgitating Bible verses and sound bytes, and rephrasing the same things over and over.

I have given up on a debate before, but only when it becomes a futile exercise. The theist will often ask me what would change my mind. I tell them that all it will take is evidence, and ask what would change their. The reply I always get back is that nothing will ever change their mind. They will never consider they could be wrong. These people are the definition of close-minded, so unless I have onlookers that seem to be appreciating what I'm saying, the entire exercise simply becomes a massive waste of time.
Just like Dawkins himself. Not interested enough to actually study what he claims to refute.
I don't know the extent to which Dawkins has studied religion. I'd say he seems to know it quite well. And I dare say he knows it better than most believers I know. In fact, studies have shown atheists to know religion much better than your average Christian.
In my mind the saddest part of the rise of Dawkins, Harris and Co. is that a New Atheist theology has actually taken root. Yes, it is a theology.
Um... How does that make any sense? Theology is defined as the study of the nature of God and religious belief; religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed. Atheism has no god, so it's not theology. Many atheists are interested in theology, but that doesn't make atheism a theology.

This little clique's arguments only hold water to the degree that their portrayal of Christian and other monotheistic theologies is accurate. But it is not accurate in this least; it is laughable. Thus even as they forge their neat bullet points they're compelled to project a theological target at which their bullets can be fired. And since they haven't studied actual theology, they draw the target on their own. 
Examples please... You can claim straw man all you want, but without an example it's a rather meaningless accusation. I also find it laughable that Eric prevails with the claim that atheists haven't studied actual theology. Most of us were believers once. Most of us have read the Bible. More often than not, the average atheists has read more of the Bible than your average Christian. I know that I've more than a few times told believers about verses that they had no idea where in the Bible. What about ex clergy who are now atheists? Did they somehow teach theology without actually studying it? And what of the many atheists that used to argue for God prior to losing faith?
Since no serious theologians subscribe to the kind of thinking they project, it is all their own: an in-house project.
Except for atheist theologians of course.Or is Eric not counting them as 'serious theologians' (No True Scotsman fallacy)? What, all the Christian theologians don't agree with atheism? Gee, what a shock!
Trite, shallow, grade-schoolish--of course this theology they revile is easy to take down. They made it for that purpose. VoilĂ  the whole New Atheist project in a nutshell.

Him: "So I suppose you think you think Adam and Eve rode around on dinosaurs, right?" Me: "Actually I think evolutionary theory is correct about the rise of species."
Him: "Well then you're not a real Christian, are you?"
Me: "Uh. Sorry if I suggest that you're not the one to tell me what a real Christian is."
What an absurd example! First of all, we are usually the ones pointing out the widespread use of the No True Scotsman fallacy by Christians. In fact, Eric just committed that very error just prior to typing this laughable example.

Why is it absurd? For starters, I've only know atheists to pull out the Adam and Eve dinosaur shtick when they are debating a believer that is actually advocating the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. A perfectly valid statement in that context. As for the 'you're not a real Christian' claim... I have a hard time believing it, because I've lost count of how many times I've had a Christian call another Christian 'not a real Christian', and I'd have to point out the relevant fallacy.
The tedious arrogance of these people! It's lucky most "real Christians" are reluctant to resort to violence. There'd be plenty of broken noses out there by now.
Arrogance? I, and most atheists will admit that we could be wrong, and will change our mind if given evidence. Meanwhile, almost every believer I've debated has said there is absolutely no way that they  could be wrong, and that they would refuse to consider any evidence that counters what they believe. It sounds to me like that shoe is actually on the other foot. As for violence... Are Christians really reluctant to resort to violence? After all, the majority of prisoners are Christians, and former president Bush decided to invade Iraq because he said that God told him to...
An example of how NOT to debate.
I'd like to suggest three new words we may use when writing of this gang and their rude followers. Instead of the cumbersome "New Atheist" or "New-Atheistic" or "showing a shallowness similar to that of the New Atheists" I will use:
Or you could just use the term 'atheist'. After all, the only thing different about 'new atheists' is that we are no longer staying silent and in the shadows. We are quite simply speaking our mind and fighting back when religious liberties and the Constitution are under threat or being violated. Rude? Pray tell? What is rude about simply having an opinion and refusing to be silenced any longer?

Newther: This term is good in response to people who immediately feel it their duty to insult you when they learn you're a believer. As in: "So you think that the earth is ten-thousand years old, huh? I bet you think God hates fags too."
Again, I have never known an atheists to open discussion in such a manner. Are there some asshole atheists? No doubt. Go out in public on any given day and it should be clear that assholes are everywhere, and in every walk of life. But presenting the straw man that this is typical atheist behavior is far from productive. Oh... and it should be no surprise that none of the other proposed names really work either. All very strained and could easily be reversed to label a theist, or slapped on to any group.
With my new term newther I can save my breath next time. I can just say "Fucking newther soundbites" and walk away.
 And everyone would look around confused having no idea what you're talking about...
Which is more or less meeting the newther on the level of debate he (and it always is a he) prefers.
 Actually, that's the exact opposite of the kind of debate the average atheists wants.
(Indeed--why are New Atheist converts so overwhelmingly fat, white and male? Is it straight from Dungeons and Dragons to Dawkins and Dennett or what?)
Wow, just wow... I can tell you that atheists aren't all fat white males. I am a white male, but I am quite slender. When I was at the Reason Rally, I saw atheists of all different sizes, shapes, genders, and races. Why do most atheists you may meet tend to be white males? For one, we're in the United States, so that stacks the odds far more in favor of meeting a white atheist than one from a minority group. The same is true for other countries. Where atheism is catching on in Europe, the majority of the population in those countries tend to be white as well.
Just a refresher... This is a wonderful example of a straw man
argument, because it fabricates an ugly stance that isn't atheist
but claims it is. Way to take down that imaginary enemy!

Sometimes culture plays a part as well. Some cultures are just more religious than others, so finding an atheist in that group may be more difficult. As for female atheists... They are certainly out there. I've talked with some, and saw plenty at the Reason Rally. But for various reasons female atheists just seem to be less vocal about atheism (sometimes there's a different issue that is more pressing to them). Atheists all being fat... That's just patently false and smells a bit like an as hominem...

Oh, and it's definitely not 'straight from Dungeons and Dragons to Dawkins and Dennett'... I've actually never played D&D in my life, and have almost no idea how it's played.

After reading this whole article I find myself wondering one thing... Suppose that all of Eric's claimed interactions with atheists actually took place in some semblance to how they are presented here. If that's the case, I'm forced to ask the uneasy question of if Eric has considered that it could be him. Because if his every interaction with an atheist is the rude coarse behavior that is actually quite abnormal for atheists, something is amiss. And reading the tone of this article makes me think that the possibility has to considered that Eric provoked it, because this does read in parts like a person with a hostile/provocative personalty. Is that the case? Who knows... But what is sure, is that this was quite a caricature of a blog.

-Brain Hulk

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