John Loftus had an interesting post at his site last week noting that there are very few atheist blogs that work to directly debunk Christianity (and religious arguments in general):
The reason so many atheist sites largely talk about atheist concerns is because people generally want to be relevant to their communities. If people are considered part of a particular community then in order to be relevant they must weigh in about the concerns of their community. So it’s important to have good leaders who focus on the overarching issues, while not neglecting the concerns within their own communities.
When it comes to atheist concerns we should focus on the majors by focusing on debunking the dominant religion of our geographic locations. In my case this is Christianity in America. If you own a blog count the number of times you write or link to arguments that debunk Christianity, compared with the times you write on atheist concerns. I know, it gets boring doing so, since it doesn’t take long for people convinced of atheism to move on to other, more interesting subjects. But we should never forget that while our numbers are presently increasing we face a future of declining numbers according to polls.
Loftus didn’t single me out or anything, but I wanted to offer a response. I agree that it’s important to combat traditional arguments against religion (and Christianity, specifically, in the U.S.), so let me make my case for why it’s not my focus:
1) It’s been done in this medium
There are no arguments Christians have that I can’t find strong rebuttals to via a Google search. People have been writing about things like Pascal’s Wager for a looooong time. So doing that on this site, when those explanations already exist to my satisfaction on other sites, seems unnecessary. If I need to explain it, I can easily direct you somewhere else.
When I started answering some basic questions about atheism on YouTube, however, I didn’t see a lot of similar material that really stood out to me. I wasn’t alone. Those videos garnered a lot of views, and the comments suggested that others appreciated the explanations. Moral of the story? When there’s a new kind of technology, there’s value in rehashing old arguments for a new audience.
That said, Richard Dawkins‘ The God Delusion presented (and debunked) several common arguments for religion, all of which had been debunked a long time ago, and his book was enormously powerful. Does that contradict what I’m saying? I don’t think so. I would argue that his name and his writing style (matched with a powerful marketing team) really pushed those arguments beyond academia to a new audience. I’m sure if Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote an introduction to astronomy, it’d become a bestseller, too, even if the subject has been written about many times over already.
2) More people are curious about how they should think about current events, not age-old philosophical questions
That’s not to say that one is more important than the other. But the Cosmological argument doesn’t come up at parties; modern politics does. So it’d be more useful for more people to offer them both the news and a perspective on it. One of the things I’ve tried to do on this site is offer my takes on current events because I want people to see things the way I do. (Don’t we all?) Turns out a lot of people are interested in that sort of commentary.
I would bet that if I put the same amount of energy into debunking religion on a broader level, unattached to the news of the day, it wouldn’t have the same reach. (And it wouldn’t be very fun for me, either.)
3) Academic arguments don’t appeal to everyone
If I want to convince you there’s a problem with Christianity and you should reconsider your faith, I could show you a long list of biblical contradictions… or I could show you how Mike Huckabee‘s policies as President would be awful for America. Both are important, but there are a lot of people who just gloss over the Bible stuff. Or they see the list, read the first line, say “Okay, I get it,” and move on. But they’ll pay attention if I can frame those arguments inside a story people are talking about.
I would also argue that discussing the awful implications of religious beliefs make for a more effective argument than the inherent illogic of them.
At least that’s the case for me. It’s why, when I’ve heard atheists speaking at conferences talking about why Jesus might not have existed or why the universe isn’t fine-tuned, I completely zone out. It’s not just because I’ve heard it before; it’s because it doesn’t interest me. I didn’t grow up with those arguments, so hearing rebuttals to them has little effect.
If you grew up reading C.S. Lewis or Lee Strobel, however, I can see how traditional rebuttals would be fascinating.
4) The material never ends
Because I focus on current events, I always have something to write about. The well never runs dry. The religious will keep doing ridiculous, outrageous, infuriating things, propelled by their faith.
5) I can do both things at once
Maybe this should be first on the list. I don’t believe it’s an either/or proposition that I have to focus on rebuttals to religion or (mostly) avoid them. In the process of commenting on why, say, the Creation Museum is a farce, it’s easy to bring up what the Bible says in Genesis and why it’s so obviously wrong. Same thing when a politician rails against marriage equality.
So, in a way, if I think counter-apologetics is like eating raw celery (ugh…), I can put a lot of peanut butter on it and try to make it delicious. That appeals to me, anyway, and I think that appeals to many of you.
6) I’m not speaking only to atheists
Based on the responses I see to the posts we make here, on other websites or in the comment threads, it’s clear that the audience isn’t just atheists (or even people interested in religious debate). The articles reach people who have an interest in whatever topic the post is about, whether it’s LGBT rights, politics, math, or anything else.
The last thing I want to do is limit myself to an atheist audience, even though I’m bringing an atheist perspective to the table, and the posts often break out of that bubble.
I’m sure I could think of more reasons, but those are the ones that came to mind immediately.
I want to reiterate that none of this is intended as a slam on counter-apologetics. I think it’s incredibly important to cover that topic — on its own and not just as a part of something else — and if you have a way to present the material that may be more effective than everything else out there, then please pursue it!
The more voices we have presenting our side of the debate, the more ability we have to reach people that others aren’t getting through to.
(Image via Shutterstock)