September 2007

So, what do I do if I really like messing with people! I am an atheist, and I know I Should be representing my point of view rationally, and when I meet someone rational, I will.

But I LOVE to create misconceptions. I like pretending that I believe in God, but hate him…it is so funny! I like pretending to be a polytheist and threaten people with sacrifice! Is it really worth it to try and teach everyone about our views? Don’t you just LOVE to rip into an unsuspecting victim? to SCARE people?

Sorry if my note is a little incoherent, but I have been online getting material for my college application essay and haven’t slept for a while.

I admit that these things are fun, and I admit that they are hard to give up. The good news is that there is a way to have some of the same kind of fun while remaining true to the principles of moral atheism and making the world a better place — both for atheists and for theists.

You love to create misconceptions. Think about this — most theists are going to assume that you are a theist unless told otherwise. I find that it is generally useful not to get into religion unless it is really necessary to get into it (it’s a personal matter, after all). Just be a good person and a picture of morality, and when people talk about their religion, keep the conversation focused on investigating their beliefs instead of on yours. When people finally find out that you are an atheist, those with strong prejudices against atheism may be shocked. I still remember how some of the people in my college dormitory were surprised to find that the one person on the floor who didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or “fool around” wasn’t a die-hard Christian (which many people thought I was). I’m hoping I made an impression that will last the rest of their lives.

Is it really worth teaching others about our views? I think so. But I think it’s even more important to teach people about their views. Ask them about their beliefs. Make sure they are being consistent and that they wouldn’t condemn someone else for reasoning as they do. You may be able to show them that they don’t know as much about what they believe as they think they do. In my life I’ve seen many people become atheists, but not one of them became an atheist because they were told about atheism. All of them became atheists because they examined their own thoughts and found them wanting. And those who didn’t become atheists ended up with more robust, well-thought-out theistic beliefs, which generally has the side effect of making them more tolerant toward of the rest of us.

You say that you’ll represent your view rationally when you find someone rational. Be careful about thinking of those you disagree with as irrational, even if they are acting irrationally. It can lead you to giving the impression that you are biased or bigoted, and frankly atheists don’t need that. I’d recommend that you go in the other direction. Treat everyone as completely rational. When they make a statement about their beliefs that you disagree with, take it at face value and ask them if they really mean what they are saying. If they say they follow the example of Jesus, ask them if they have any personal possessions. If they do, then ask them exactly what Jesus meant when he said to give up such things. If they don’t have an answer, suggest that they find one and get back to you.

I can’t advise you to scare people as I see it as generally counterproductive in the long run. But what you can do is, when someone comes up to you with a religion-based argument that you see big holes in, make them put something on the line before you’ll answer their challenge. For example:

Theist: Everything must have a cause so the cause of the universe must be God.

You: Is that why you believe in God?

Theist: Yes.

You: Okay. So if I can refute that argument, you won’t believe in God any more, right?

Theist: You can’t refute it.

You: If I can’t refute it, then I promise to start believing in God. But if I can, then will you give up your religion?

Theist: No! I won’t deny God.

You: Then you must have reasons to believe in God other that this “first cause” argument. Why don’t we start with your strongest argument and skip this one since even you don’t find it compelling.

Theist: You’re avoiding the question because you can’t refute the argument.

You: Sure I can refute it, and we can go into that if you want, but at this point it’s just a word game, isn’t it? If you really think I should believe in God, then try and convince me that your viewpoint has merit. Don’t play games with me. I know you don’t mean it this way, but it’s a little insulting. Your religion is obviously important to you, so let’s talk about it honestly instead of trying to be clever.

If you keep your cool and sound polite through all of this, you can get some very interesting reactions from those who know little about their own beliefs but have heard a few “atheist stumper” questions. Here’s another example:

Theist: Micro evolution can occur, but not macro evolution. One species can never give birth to another species. God made a number of kinds of animals, and all animals are variations of these created kinds.

You: How would you define a “kind”?

Theist: A kind is a group of animals that can interbreed. For example, all dogs are a kind.

You: So if two animals can mate and have viable offspring, they are a kind?

Theist: Yes.

You: Okay. So if it could be proven that a human and a chimpanzee could have a viable offspring, that would mean that humans and chimps are the same kind, right?

Theist: That’s disgusting!

You: Yes, but I’m just talking about it as a concept. Say a human egg and chimpanzee sperm were put together in a lab and began to form a fetus, as in Dr. Il’ya Ivanov’s experiments in the 1920s — you’d agree that we were the same as chimps.

Theist: Did he really do that?

You: We’ll talk about that, but I want to get your position straight first. Do you agree that if a chimpanzee sperm can fertilize a human egg then humans and chimps are the same created kind?

Where the conversation goes from here generally depends on how badly the creationist is freaking out. They probably don’t know if such an experiment has taken place, but if they really believe what they are saying they should agree that it’s a fair test. If they do agree, then you can agree with them and talk a bit about ethics and the fact that Ivanov’s experiments were a failure, but that he had to operate in secrecy so it’s not clear how valid his results are.

Thanks for writing. Let me know more about your adventures as an atheist!

Posted on September 21, 2007 at 11:36 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Dealing with religious folks

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