The godless raged at me on youtube and twitter, thanks to the recent broadcast of my talk in Montreal. I have a tangent in that talk where I deplore Dictionary Atheists, going so far as to say I hate those guys, because they're so superficial. Apparently some people identify with shallow atheism, because they took it personally and got rather upset.
I had to think about this. Should I back down and apologize, and maybe revise my opinion of this subset of the atheist community? Have I gone too far?
Nah. Obviously what this calls for is an escalation. I think I need to summarize all the things about atheism that bug me, and that I wish people would stop doing. There simply aren't enough atheists angry at me now. So let's get to it and piss everyone off! It'll be fun! Here's a list.
I agree with Meyers that he should not apologize. It is shallow to not be able to articulate why you take a position you hold and criticize others.
In that Montreal talk, I explained that there is more to my atheism than simple denial of one claim; it's actually based on a scientific attitude that values evidence and reason, that rejects claims resting solely on authority, and that encourages deeper exploration of the world. My atheism is not solely a negative claim about gods, but is based on a whole set of positive values that I will emphasize when talking about atheism. That denial of god thing? It's a consequence, not a cause.
Of course I disagree that Meyers has valid and good reasons for his atheism, but at least it amounts to more than "I don't believe God exist." He also wrote:
"I just believe in one less god than you do". OK, I don't hate this one. There is actually a germ of a valid point in there: disbelief in itself is good and normal social practice, and even the most zealous theist actively disbelieves in many things. That's a good point to make in a world where people cite blind faith as a virtue.
And here is an important point that I can't fully agree with. I agree that our culture has watered down "Faith" to be blind. It's thought of as believing in things that one has no evidence to believe at best and contradicts facts at worst. This may be what some people think and teach faith is but it is not how the Bible describes faith or admonishes us to have. Blind faith cannot save you. Wow! Something else we agree on.
But that's the only point that can be made from it, and it has its own perils. It implies many things that are not true. The theist you're arguing with did not go through a process where he analyzed his beliefs logically, and excluded 99% of all gods by reason and their lack of evidence; in fact, he probably never in his life seriously considered any of those other faiths (he is 99% Dictionary Atheist, in other words). He came to his personal faith by way of a series of personal, positive (to him!) predispositions, not by progressive exclusion of other ideas, and he's simply not going to see the relevance of your argument. Would you be swayed if someone pointed out that you disbelieve astrology, homeopathy, tarot, witchcraft, and palmistry, and he has simply gone one step further than you, and also disbelieves in evolution?My Question is how does he know that all theists have never looked at other religions and progressive ly excluded other ideas? How does he know that I have not searched other ideas and found them wanting? Why would he assume that no one has truly searched and knows why they are Christian instead of a Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, Wiccan, Astrologist, Norse, Greco-Roman, Verdun, or Muslim? It can't be just because my Mommy is a Christian. I disagree that naturalism is a better explanation of reality. Lame indeed.
Similarly, you did not go through a list of religions, analysing each one, and ticking them off as unbelievable. I certainly didn't. Instead, you come to the table with an implicit set of criteria, like evidence and plausibility and experimental support, and also a mistrust of unfounded authority or claims that are too good to be true, and they incline you to accept naturalism, for instance, as a better explanation of the world. Turning it into a quantitative debate about how many gods we accept, instead of a substantial debate about the actual philosophical underpinnings of our ideas, is kind of lame, I think.
I admit I also Liked Meyer's conclusion:
I could probably come up with a few more peeves — I am genuinely a world-class expert in finding fault — but let's stop there. My main point is that one general flaw in many atheists is a lack of appreciation for why they find themselves comfortable with that label, and it always lies in a set of sometimes unexamined working metrics for how the world works. You are an atheist — take pride in what you do believe, not what you deny. And also learn to appreciate that the opposition hasn't arrived at their conclusions in a vacuum. There are actually deeper reasons that they so fervently endorse supernatural authorities, and they aren't always accounted for by stupidity.I like this because Meyers inadvertently underscores the problem with atheism: a negative claim is all most atheists have. Both sides also make the mistake of underestimating the reasons why the opposite side holds the views they hold. It's not that they more stupid than you and if they knew as much as you doesn't mean they would change their mind (they may know more than you do).
Why are you an atheist? : Pharyngula