Atheist Tactics Debate June 29, 2007

Atheist Tactics Debate

Chris Hallquist and I will be appearing on The Debate Hour online radio show on the evening of Friday, July 13 at 8:00 p.m. (EDT) to discuss atheist tactics. The host of the show is none other than The Infidel Guy himself, Reginald Finley.

Here’s a sampling of the issues that Chris and I disagree over:

  • Should we care about the “angry atheist” stereotypes? (I say we should)
  • Should we present atheism as involving more than just disbelief in God(s)? (I say yes)
  • How awesome is my book? (I say *really* awesome. And that’s not biased at all…)

The show is live and listeners are welcome to call in with questions! More information is here.

And if you have thoughts on the topics above (or other issues dealing with how atheists present their message), feel free to discuss them in the comments.

[tags]atheist, atheism, God, Chris Hallquist, The Debate Hour, The Infidel Guy, Reginald Finley[/tags]

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  • What on earth does atheism involve beyond disbelief in gods? What else do atheists who are Objectivists, Humanists, Raelians, Buddhists, Jews, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, monarchists, etc all have in common? Nothing – they all disbelieve in gods, but are united by nothing more. Indeed, they may disagree on everything else. Atheism isn’t a philosophy, religion, belief system, worldview, ideology, or anything similar.

    Now, if you wish to argue that it’s important to promote more than just disbelief in gods, then I’m with you there. I have long agreed with George Smith that there is no value in mere atheism, but only in an atheism which proceeds from a “habit of reasonableness.” At the very minimum, atheists should be promoting skepticism, naturalism, science, and critical thinking – not atheism itself. There is nothing to atheism to promote – only the reasonable means by which one (hopefully) arrives at atheism. There’s a world of difference between a person who is an atheist for skeptical, naturalistic reasons and one who is an atheist simply because that’s what they learned.

    Also, if you wish to argue that atheists should go even further and promote atheistic belief systems – be it Objectivism, Humanism, or whatever – then I’m with you there as well (even if I disagree with the belief system in question). Where you completely lose me is if you launch into any efforts to transform mere atheism into whatever atheistic belief system you think is best. Far too often I’ve seen people go from “I’m an atheist who believes A, B, C and values X, Y, Z” to “Therefore, atheism means believing A, B, C and valuing X, Y, Z.” I don’t care how good A, B, C and X, Y, Z are, they aren’t atheism and not all atheists will subscribe to them.

  • TXatheist

    Do you think your Jain upbringing creates a less argressive debate style? I was raised competitive and confrontational so it rolls over into my atheism. You can answer now or something similar may be brought up in two weeks.

  • Bravo Austin! I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

  • miller

    I agree with Austin Cline on that particular question.

    First, even if all atheists had a common view of some unrelated issue, the most we can say is that atheism is correlated with that viewpoint, but not that they amount to the same thing.

    Second, I think you overestimate the conformity of atheists. It is important to remember that severe selection bias is at work. Only certain kinds of atheists will ever read and comment on a blog. Only certain kinds of atheists join a secular organization. Only certain kinds of atheists even think of themselves as atheists. When I was first deconverted, I did none of these, and I probably would have disagreed a great deal with the online atheist community, had I ever heard of it. I think it is entirely possible that I might have stayed that way.

  • Maria

    will you be posting the debate on here so we can download and/or hear it if we miss it? I hope so!

  • Austin (and others) — You got it right with your comment. It may just be a different interpretation of what I wrote above. I would argue that atheism alone won’t do it for most people, but we need to explain the positive aspects of not believing in God/superstition. Hope that makes sense. I agree with you that atheism by itself is just a disbelief in God– it’s not a belief system, philosophy, etc.– though admittedly, I make the mistake sometimes of calling it more than what it is.

    Do you think your Jain upbringing creates a less argressive debate style?

    TXatheist– I don’t think it’s my Jain upbringing as much as it was just learning how to make my points via public speaking or through discussion. Aggression doesn’t work if you’re trying to make a point. The Jain belief may have influenced me a bit, but I don’t think it was the main thing at all.

    will you be posting the debate on here so we can download and/or hear it if we miss it?

    I will.

  • I would argue that atheism alone won’t do it for most people, but we need to explain the positive aspects of not believing in God/superstition. Hope that makes sense.

    It does, and I don’t disagree, but it’s important to be careful in order to avoid the trap of treating atheism as more than it really is.

    For example, you say that we need to explain the “positive aspects of not believing in God/superstition,” but again there’s nothing positive about disbelief in gods if you are otherwise pretty gullible and irrational. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating here: if stranded on an island, I’d rather be stuck with a generally skeptical and critical theist than a gullible atheist. Why? I have a lot more in common with the former and can have a more productive, beneficial relationship with them than with the latter. Merely disbelieving in gods, or even superstition generally, doesn’t automatically tell me that this person has a leg up on others.

    So I would rephrase the above to: we need to explain to people the positive aspects of a generally skeptical/critical perspective on gods/religion and a naturalistic/scientific approach to the world around us. When a person has this, it isn’t guaranteed that they will also be atheists, but I think it is more likely — and, if they aren’t, they should be a skeptical sort of theist who’s a lot easier to get along with and with whom we’ll have a lot of common ground.

    To put it another way: it’s not your position that matters as much as your methodology. Your position, atheist or theist, isn’t as important as the methodology you use to arrive at it, evaluate it, and support it. The atheist position isn’t intrinsically superior and the theist position isn’t intrinsically inferior – it just tends to appear that way because of the poor methodology which is often used to defend theism. This, however, too often leads atheists to conclude that the positions are what matter most.

    I would thus revisit your second point above and say: should we atheists present more than just disbelief in gods and instead argue for the importance of skepticism, critical thinking, naturalism, and science? Should we promote a methodology of skepticism and scientific naturalism? I say yes.

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