Am I Saying All Atheists MUST Argue Against Theists?

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I can deal with people telling me I’m wrong and should stop saying what I say on that account. But it irks me a great deal when atheists tell outspoken atheists like me that we’re basically right–but should shut up anyway. So, yesterday I tried to provide a comprehensive reply to such atheists, so that my fellow (respectfully) confrontational atheists and I have a thorough resource available to answer their wide range of complaints in the form of one sustained case for speaking up about atheism.

But I still missed at least one reason other atheists react with disdain towards us. It’s a reason that has only hit me recently. These atheists are sometimes resentfully reacting against feeling conscripted by us into a fight against theists that they personally want no part of. So not only are they put off by perceptions of even the civil confrontational atheists as proselytizers and find that whole business distasteful (my key defenses of trying to deconvert others is here and in the December issue of Secularite’s digital magazine) but, further, they sometimes seem primarily agitated at the implication that they themselves should be having arguments over religion with their family, friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances. Similarly, I have found that some of the visceral pushback against atheist attempts to form quasi-religious groups and practices for providing secular alternatives to theistic community and ritual has been based on an unfounded fear that they will be pressured to join.

So, whereas my inclination has been to defend atheists’ rights to stand up for ourselves and what we think is true and to encourage efforts to make available to atheists quasi-religious alternatives that meet their communal and “spiritual” needs while respecting their atheism, a certain segment of atheists reacts as though all of this is a threat to their desire to not associate with other atheists and, especially, not have boring, intrusive, potentially destructive fights with religious people over issues they don’t personally think are worth fighting about. But is that what I or others are really demanding of them?

Written By: Dan Fincke
continue to source article at patheos.com

32 COMMENTS

  1. Cheap jokes aside, now that I have actually read it, Mr Finke’s piece doesn’t seem any more substantial than his previous one.

    I can deal with people telling me I’m wrong and should stop saying what I say on that account. So, yesterday I tried to provide a comprehensive reply to such atheists, so that my fellow (respectfully) confrontational atheists and I have a thorough resource available to answer their wide range of complaints in the form of one sustained case for speaking up about atheism.

    I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt by the myriad comments about the excessive verbosity of this earlier submission, Dan, but implying ex post facto that the reason for its poor reception was because you were speaking to an audience already hostile to butch, uncompromising atheists like yourself just will not do.

  2. P.S. The fewer references to yourself you include in your essays, the less chance there is of your readers concluding you’re a raving egotist. I counted a staggering ninety six ‘I’s in this article.

    • In reply to #3 by Katy Cordeth:

      P.S. The fewer references to yourself you include in your essays, the less chance there is of your readers concluding you’re a raving egotist. I counted a staggering ninety six ‘I’s in this article.

      I’m beginning to think Mr. Fincke is the M. Night Shyamalan of atheist blogging. The actual work is awful but the reviews can be very fun to read.

      • In reply to #4 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #3 by Katy Cordeth:

        P.S. The fewer references to yourself you include in your essays, the less chance there is of your readers concluding you’re a raving egotist. I counted a staggering ninety six ‘I’s in this article.

        I’m beginning to think Mr. Fincke is the M. Night Shyamalan of athe…

        We’ve had The Village and The Magic Chick who Lives in the Swimming Pool now. When do we get The Sixth Sense?

    • In reply to #3 by Katy Cordeth:

      P.S. The fewer references to yourself you include in your essays, the less chance there is of your readers concluding you’re a raving egotist. I counted a staggering ninety six ‘I’s in this article.

      Thanks, you’ve saved me the trouble of finishing the article.

      S G

    • In reply to #3 by Katy Cordeth:

      P.S. The fewer references to yourself you include in your essays, the less chance there is of your readers concluding you’re a raving egotist. I counted a staggering ninety six ‘I’s in this article.

      So, is this an irticle?

  3. The author needs to explain who these mysterious “people,” “atheists,” or “theists” are that keep nagging him so much. Otherwise, I get the impression he’s fighting strawmen. He also needs to keep things short. To be honest, I never know what he’s going to say next partly because he wants to hit a million birds with a billion stones. Finally, if he is going to insist on these long, rambling essays, perhaps sign-posting them with sub-titles would help. As a philosopher, he should know that both content and form are important in any argument. If he does all this, perhaps many of the interesting things he has to say will be more clear. Failing that, we can expect to be tortured with an eternal recurrence of the same — something Mr. Fincke is an expert on.

  4. Fundamentally, I agree with Mr. Fincke’s premise, that we should not shy away from polite but active disagreement with theists for no other reason than that public enlightenment must come from some place, and each of us can do our little bit to bring it about.

    However, he takes far too long to say it and I stopped reading after I ‘got it.’

  5. In reply to #9 by aroundtown:

    We had better hone our own agenda and stop the infighting if our understanding is to survive the test of time as well.

    I’ll try to keep this brief because I don’t want to fall into the same verbosity trap. The problem, as I see it, is that Mr Fincke’s sermons are being posted here on a site where we are more or less in agreement. We like to think that there are two categories of reader. The first is the like minded atheist that just needs a reassuring pat on the back that we are no alone and would like a chance to scoff at the misguided delusions of the other side. Then we hope there are a number of people who are theists who are visiting the site perhaps to read what we have to offer or perhaps to scoff back at our sinful lack of belief in their chosen deity. I really don’t think the posted essays that are presented are really suitable for either group.

    Infighting is just part of the human psyche. You’ll notice that we quickly rally together when a theist visits the site. Perhaps what we need is more theist visitors (or people masquerading as theists) to keep us united.

  6. Methinks he doth protest too much. Yawn.

    The long and the short of it is that I am not going to go round evangelising people and trying to convert them to my view of the world, because that then makes me “religious”.

    Whether or not you believe in any god (and I do not), it is hard to disagree with the idea that organised religion is by and large an obnoxious, pernicious blight on the face of the planet, and forming another one seems to me to be singularly counter-productive.

    I confess I am coming at this from a European perspective, where probably most people no longer believe in god and most people don’t really give a toss about whether anyone is an atheist or not. But we did not get to that level of enlightenment by aggressive sermonising, and I suspect American people won’t like being hit hard on the head with a sledgehammer either.

  7. also want them to care more generally about actively learning more philosophy and being proactive about refining and spreading a Humanist perspective… Philosophical questions about the natures of the self, knowledge, reality, ethics, science, freedom, justice, language, mind, and even semantics is at the root of how we live our lives.

    Me thinks you might have a professional bias.
    Isaac Asimov Knew a lot of stuff about a lot of topics but he didn´t like Economy. You can’t force anyone read stuff they don’t really like just because you think it’s the mos’t important topic in the universe. In this atomic age and out of control microbial multi. resistence, i could reading about atomic and microbial stuff is far more important than reading the nature of the meaning of meaning or whatever.

  8. I’d rather see a sermon
    than hear one any day;
    I’d rather one should walk with me
    than merely tell the way.

    The eye’s a better pupil
    and more willing than the ear,
    Fine counsel is confusing,
    but example’s always clear;

    And the best of all preachers
    are the men who live their creeds,
    For to see good put in action
    is what everybody needs.

    I soon can learn to do it
    if you’ll let me see it done;
    I can watch your hands in action,
    but your tongue too fast may run.

    And the lecture you deliver
    may be very wise and true,
    But I’d rather get my lessons
    by observing what you do;

    For I might misunderstand you
    and the high advice you give,
    But there’s no misunderstanding
    how you act and how you live.

    –Edgar A. Guest–

  9. In reply to #9 by aroundtown:

    The focus on this guy’s delivery is becoming a little odd. I don’t get the vitriol.

    I’m one of the critics so I’ll tell you my motivation. And I know the mods don’t want us diverging to this topic — although for once I disagree with them, to me the quality of any work is always a relevant topic but I won’t comment on it again on this thread.

    I’ve tried not to make my criticisms of the style vitriolic. But I think there is an important point here and it’s more important than one blogger. It’s the distinction between Twitter-Dawkins and Devil’s-Chaplain-Dawkins (TDawkins vs. DCDawkins).

    DCDawkins is the Dawkins I love. He is passionate about science and also about life in general. DCDawkins will skewer pseudoscience and pompous rhetoric no matter where it comes from. DCDawkins would never have published the article “Why I won’t Shut Up” because he would recognize the writing as a quality so low that it would be at best a C- in an Oxford philosophy class.

    TwitterDawkins seems to want to be a pop star and a cheer leader for atheism. As an atheist myself I don’t need cheer leaders. But I have no problem if other atheists do need them and if they have to have cheer leaders I can’t imagine a better one. But when I go to a Dawkins talk I don’t want to hear him say the same thing I’ve heard before. I want to argue with him. I want to challenge him. To me that is what DCDawkins would respect the most not fawning hero worship but stimulating others to the same ideals that he has and turning those ideals back on him to perhaps make his arguments also a bit stronger.

    Posting stuff like this, that IMO is intellectually empty and nothing more than preaching to the choir rhetoric — that should be below the standards of any atheist movement I want to be a part of.

    All the defenses from people who “won’t shut up” seem to me to come down to “we have the right to be as borish and petty as the theists” and OK I guess you do. And yes I agree even at our worst the many stupid jokes on this site at the expense of theists pale next to the rhetoric that theists send to atheists. So it comes down to what are your principles and standards? Do you want to be just a little better than theists? Maybe you do but I don’t. I want to be a lot better. I want to always stick to reason and critical thinking and always try to keep an open mind that I might learn something even from people I think are mostly wrong. I want to be that way because it’s a core principle I have but also because I believe in the long run it’s the best way to win more people over to atheism and critical thinking, to show them that people can argue rationally — that I can disagree with someone and still treat them with respect. I don’t at all see that as a weakness on the contrary I think it’s a core ideal going back at least to the Enlightenment. Indeed to me the weakness is people who feel so insecure in their beliefs that they have to be rude or prattle on endlessly about how they won’t shut up rather than focus on having rational intelligent discussions.

  10. Psssssst…..

    Some of us here are atheists who became such, knowing it is merely the disbelief in some crazy shit.

    Forming a club or bat-shit insane counter-insurgence isn’t on our minds. We stick around because there’s a maximum education one can reach without identifying as atheist. Thus the best messages we can read from distant keyboards, are likely read here.

    The article falls into the trap of “belonging”. Tearing humans away from the “clubs” of religions isn’t achieved by forming a club. Some seem incapable of championing disbelief, without identifying their “club”. I’ll never acknowledge there’s a department of our minds religion once occupied, that must then be filled with something else. Ignorance, and a need to belong, are the only logical culprits responsible for such an existence.

    “Secular alternatives” ??????????? Screw alternatives. Just stick with reality. No “club” needed there.

  11. I have commented before on my exasperation with people who wishy-washily agree with my atheism, but tell me to cool down and not be such a hothead about it. I wonder if part of the reason it took so long to abolish slavery in the U.S. was that there were so many people who were kind-of, sort-of against it, but weren’t willing to speak out.

    • In reply to #23 by 78rpm:

      I have commented before on my exasperation with people who wishy-washily agree with my atheism, but tell me to cool down and not be such a hothead about it.

      I sympathize with your view. But for practical purposes and living with close family/friends, many are allergic to use the A word, this blocks communication since you cant take out of the mind of many that atheism= godless=immoral .

      What about recommending the ” deist” (see definition in wiki)- not “theist”? This is better than agnostic . It gets rid of revelation, miracles etc…with a nod to a god (an entity or concept) which however does no intervention.

      I understand that this basically the position of modern day Quakers. If all religions are like this do we need to attack religions?

    • In reply to #24 by Bob Springsteen:

      In reply to NUMBER 3 by Katy Cordeth:

      I counted a staggering ninety six ‘I’s in this article.

      Katy, you appear to have far too much free time on your hands.

      In my defense, I did just make that number up. I have no idea how many ‘I’s were in this article, but I wouldn’t imagine it’s anywhere near ninety six. I was employing hyperbole, Bob.

  12. “So, whereas my inclination has been to defend atheists’ rights to stand up for ourselves and what we think is true and to encourage efforts to make available to atheists quasi-religious alternatives that meet their communal and “spiritual” needs while respecting their atheism, a certain segment of atheists reacts as though all of this is a threat to their desire to not associate with other atheists and, especially, not have boring, intrusive, potentially destructive fights with religious people over issues they don’t personally think are worth fighting about.”

    Holy run-on sentence Batman!

    I really hate to comment on the author’s writing style rather than the content, but something must be said. The above selection is ONE bloody sentence, and the point at which I stopped reading. It’s at least the second run-on sentence in the space of two paragraphs. Please Dan, edit for clarity and conciseness – reading your stuff is like wading through sludge.

    It is all the more ironic to have this style of writing posted on RD.net. Richard was/is able to convey interesting and complex ideas in a clear and concise way – I suggest going back to some of his books for a few pointers.

  13. People pay far more attention to form than content. The endless, heated comments to this article are living proof of that. Sure his article was too long, but so was Daniel’s Dennett’s response to Sam Harris’ book “Free Will” and nobody can accuse him of “using cheap rhetoric”.

    Fact of the matter is… many articles on this site are way too long. If you have time to real all of them and all the comments, you have way to much time on your hands.

    One thing I do find deplorable is people who enjoy criticizing/mocking shortcomings and flaws in others. I call this human trait the “dunk the pool clown” syndrome. It’s deplorable how the mere act of being rude towards others gives some people a feeling of superiority. If you think you could have written a better article, then why don’t you? Get up there and sit on that chair above the pool so you can learn what it feels like.

    • In reply to #26 by NearlyNakedApe:

      People pay far more attention to form than content. The endless, heated comments to this article are living proof of that. Sure his article was too long, but so was Daniel’s Dennett’s response to Sam Harris’ book “Free Will” and nobody can accuse him of “using cheap rhetoric”.

      It’s not so much the length, it’s that much of what Dan F. writes could easily be conveyed in a much more straightfoward manner. In other words, his rather simple ideas do not require such verbosity to develop. This is in stark contrast to Dennett’s article. I read it and it is longish, but I did not experience the exasperation that I did while reading Ramblin’ Dan. Dennett’s ideas are much more complex and necessarily require more explication, but his writing style is such that one can follow the argument.

  14. Thanks Dan,

    If it wasn’t for that dick Phil Plait we wouldn’t have to deal with this. Don’t let anyone tell you how to be yourself and never shut up for the sake of someone who thinks they know the only way to do anything. It’s such a small point, I’m always surprised it has to be said but obviously it does.

    I know the article was a little nebulous but for anyone who’s confused, good news – you don’t have to be a dick! (or anything else for that mater)

  15. This is the best platform I can think of to say this.

    Premises.
    1. Scientific claims need to be reproducible.
    2. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
    3. Anyone can publish scientific claims without evidence.
    4. Few if any scientists have the time and/or resources to reproduce all the main-stream results claimed by other scientists.
    5. Valid and Sound arguments require the person hearing them to know the premises are true to recognize the Sound part.
    6. Faith is the idea that although not knowing something is true, acting as if it were anyway amounts to a cure causing reality to change.

    Conclusion # 1 : It is unreasonable to expect anyone ignorant, especially a layman, whether they be theist or atheist, to accept a scientific claim purely on the speculation it were true. Advocating there is evidence, doesn’t amount to evidence in itself.

    Conclusion # 2 : Asking a person who can’t reproduce evidence for a claim to instead take said claim on faith is anti-scientific and irresponsible considering the job of a good scientist is to at-least try to prove his peers wrong. By proving wrong I mean more than merely finding flaws in a person’s logic, but also gathering evidence that might contradict a claim. An example would be leaving your arm chair to do an experiment.

    Regarding Premise 2, it’s important to understand evidence is not web-research, library research, viewing video streams, or something you heard over a radio. No matter how respected the sources are, nothing short of reproducing a claim gives you an opportunity to judge it as true. (I’m not anti-research, but please don’t presume anything is true or presume it to be false because you read it somewhere)

    I want to emphasize that dangerous beliefs are beliefs without evidence. We don’t know about an outcome until we observe it comes out of a test in reality. Just supposing you’re right instead of experiencing the truth is akin to believing you are infallible and can’t make false suppositions, or even somehow that all suppositions have meaning.

    I know this is already a long commentary but I foresee someone sharing a specific nagging dissenting view. Often expressed like this: we can assert rather paradoxically we can’t always trust ourselves. Thus our personal experiences are worthless and we can ignore our duty to personally verify claims accepted in the mainstream. Wow! If that were the case we would observe no individuals make any discoveries on their own, and groups certainly would fail too. So no I don’t accept that view as relevant.

    Finally, if in addition to denying personal experience as trustworthy, you decide the hive-mind approach (peer review) is sufficient, you have forgotten you aren’t the hive-mind thus don’t have the right to believe in its superiority as the superior opinion. See premises 3 and 4 for complications. (p.s: I’m not objecting to peer review, i’m objecting to the ludicrous notion our peers individuality is worthless)

  16. Mr Finke, apart from explaining how you think everyone who discounts the GOD concept should behave,
    is there anything else you have to say??

    This is the second time I have forced myself to read through your LONG articles. Im afraid I find nothing inspiring in your writing.

  17. I think we have a responsibility to be create cultural forms and to popularize more scientifically informed, ethically advanced, and philosophically contemporary conceptions of reality, the self, and values.

    Yes, but not from the platform of Atheism! And certainly not in its name. It is far too narrow.

    Use atheism to find secularists and, best of all, antidogmatists, to gather the people needed, perhaps. Creating any “cultural form” of Atheism is excluding of atheists who think the whole basis of “us” and “them” groups part of the problem (of theism).

    This is why I want here to be more than just about Atheism. I want here to be about the promotion of evidenced reason and the tackling of its manifold roadblocks. I want it to be about processes that will remain indefinitely useful and not be hinged on a concept (theism) that will slowly shimmer into non existence.

    Dan’s is, perhaps, an American vision in response to a parochial (sic) American problem.

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