Of Atheists and Weasels

“A lovely collection of uncited straw men. Argument is so easy when you can just make up your opponents’ positions. But that’s the Christian way, eh? Whatever it takes to further your position; who cares if it’s actually true.”

I have come into possession of a comment (on the post below) that so precisely epitomizes the problems with Common Atheists that I have decided to hold it up to examination. It is a matter of almost sheer luck that I have been furnished with such an example, so I’ll not pass up the opportunity. I dare say that it’s better than the original sentiment I wished to express.

The central (implied) premise of my previous post was that many present-day Atheists are encumbered by a number of poisonous qualities and/or dubious dogmas that stain their credibility, and demonstrate that they are blinded by bias, irrationality and emotion (ironically so, considering that they are often arguing with individuals who are equally blinded by bias, irrationality and emotion). This prevents me from regarding the bulk of them–the New Atheists, that is–as a group of even-handed and rational individuals with whom I can have anything meaningful in common. So hear me out, all ye who read this, because you too can be taken more seriously, and be more persuasive, if only you are more careful with what you think, say and write.

I have admitted that my observations may be confined to the Internet. But the Internet has a lot of people on it, and thus, I am inclined to presume that it represents a lot of people. This being said, there are recurring, and problematic, traits that keep on cropping up.

Perhaps the most glaring problem with our friend’s criticism (and for which he loses credibility) is that he calls me a Christian, and fails to discern my intent. Even through the introduction of the very post that received this comment, it is possible to recognize that I am not writing polemic from a Christian view – but our commentator fails on this count.

One might argue that this is a forgivable mistake. I disagree. This kind of a mistake is only possible if one is unwilling to spend a few extra seconds reading. It substantiates the fact that many people simply respond emotionally to text that they read,  especially when that text criticizes a group that they identify with.

The next problem is that the comment has no substance. Let’s take another look at it without the padding:

“[These arguments are] uncited straw men.”

Citations do not affect the truth claim of a statement, mind you, but there are nonetheless two serious problems with a comment like this.

First of all, the complaint about the straw men is, presumably, directed towards my bold headings (“Atheists do not really think that way”). The complaint about the lack of citations is, presumably, directed towards my responses (“You have not proven those Atheist views wrong”). But you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either Atheists do not hold those views–in which case the views are straw men, my responses are moot, and I don’t need to cite them–or Atheists really do hold those views, in which case I ought to cite my responses, but there are no straw men.

Let us neglect the possibility that he was calling the Atheist beliefs straw men while simultaneously asking me to cite them, since that is just ridiculous. It amounts to: where are the Atheists who believe those things? I don’t believe that! Provide citations so I can find the kin who have slandered my belief system!

The second problem is that a straw man is a false representation of an opponent’s position (in this case, Atheism).* If our commentator had paid any attention, however, he would have noticed that there was no attack on Atheism. There was only an attack on a list of particular Atheist beliefs and attitudes that I have seen all over the Internet. By invoking the “straw men” fallacy, the commentator wishes to tell me that I cannot destroy Atheism by destroying those views–but he fails to notice that my only point was to attack those views themselves. There is no comment on the actual evidence, or lack thereof, for the existence of God. Since he continues on to say “Argument is so easy when you can just make up your opponents’ positions,” it seems obvious that this is what happened.

Does the commentator really think that Atheists do not hold any of the positions I listed below? I would like it if they didn’t, but I have seen them espoused many times over.

Whatever kind of a person this man may be, his comment is nonetheless a perfect example of the qualities that I cannot abide by in today’s Atheist movement: namely, laziness, hatefulness, shabby logic, and dogmatism. Laziness for failing to understand the opponent’s position. Shabby logic for writing an incoherent critique. Hatefulness for spending more time on insults than on substance, and dogmatism for providing a knee-jerk defense of “Atheism” when the subject of attack was not even Atheism, but merely the dogmatic tendencies of some Atheists (such as providing knee-jerk defenses of Atheism).

* A small revision: I recognize that the straw man is a false representation of an argument, not a position (such as Atheism); but the practice of destroying straw men is generally used to demolish the opponent’s position, and this is what I meant to say here… lest I be accused of not knowing what a straw man is.

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9 Responses to “Of Atheists and Weasels”

  1. First of all, the complaint about the straw men is, presumably, directed towards my bold headings (“Atheists do not really think that way”). The complaint about the lack of citations is, presumably, directed towards my responses (“You have not proven those Atheist views wrong”).

    First, a citation is the exact location of the specific statements from others that you are using or responding to. Thus the observation regarding the lack of citations is also directed toward the bold headings, not your responses, which I presume were your own ideas and words.

    Since you appear to have the mentality of a smart-assed twelve-year-old, I’ll spell it out precisely: most of your statements about what atheists believe are straw men. Citing any original material which substantiated these assertions would have easily rebutted that charge, but you failed to do so.

    There was only an attack on a list of particular Atheist beliefs and attitudes that I have seen all over the Internet.

    I do not believe you have seen these beliefs and attitudes. I believe you are lying.

  2. Hello there.

    You’re right; sometimes I am bit smart-assed. But if I do use insults, I try to keep them directed at what was actually said, rather than generalized personal attacks.

    Oh… so you really *were* asking me to cite the “straw men…”

    I didn’t take this possibility seriously, because, as I said, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for you to care about that. You’re calling it a “charge.” But what’s the charge against you? Atheists are not a homogenous group, and if you don’t believe any of those statements, I see no reason for you to be offended–especially since the case for Atheism is not much affected by any of the things I listed.

    I really am surprised that you’d be offended by the suggestion that some of your colleagues (who have, for all intents and purposes, nothing in common with you except for a lack of belief in God) think certain things.

    Since you asked, I’ll throw you a few bones. But think about it for a minute: why would I “lie” about this? Clearly I wrote that post because I take issue with Atheists proclaiming those statements. If they aren’t proclaiming them, then why would it matter? Where would I have come up with them, and why would I care to attack them?

    – Americans fretting about the religion of the founding fathers: http://freethought.mbdojo.com/foundingfathers.html

    – Hitler: http://www.evilbible.com/hitler_was_christian.htm

    – Accusations that the Inquisition and Crusades provide evidence that religion is bad for the world are ubiquitous.

    – J’adoube – Many people have denied or downplayed the *link* between Atheism and the terrible things done by the Soviet Union (presumably because they worry that to accept this is to accept implications that state Atheism causes bad behaviour–are they justified in worrying about that? I’ve no opinion). Peter Hitchins discusses this a bit in “The Rage Against God,” in response to his brother’s writings. At About.com, you can watch someone trying to seriously downplay the ideological motivation of the USSR atrocities against religious people: http://atheism.about.com/od/isatheismdangerous/a/AtheismKilled.htm

    – The Atheist argument that meaninglessness and absurdity are subversive Christian inventions (and moreover, irrelevant to Atheists) is sufficiently widespread on the Internet that I will not deign to cite anything.

    – Richard Dawkins says something to the effect of “You can be an atheist, and you can be one of the best and the brightest” in The God Delusion.

    – Accusations that religion is bad for the world (i.e. makes people unhappy) are everywhere. Hitchins writes about it, Dawkins writes about it, and there are T-Shirts that say “Imagine no Religion” with the two towers still standing. Many people (though not all) who deconvert from Christianity proceed to argue that religion made them unhappy.

    – “Good people doing bad things? That takes religion” – this is a paraphrase of Steven Weinberg’s famous quote.

    – Claims that “I am an atheist, and I am happy” (presumably to deny claims that Atheists cannot be happy, or that atheism is depressing) are quite common. I could collect some from friends of mine if need be.

    – “There is a natural explanation for everything” is another common statement in forums and arguments – http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-are-there-natural-explanations-for.html – my critique is a minor philosophical tweak.

    – The “Jesus didn’t exist” camp is bigger than it ought to be, and was promoted most notably by “the God who wasn’t there.”

    – Dawkins calls free will an illusion (“The illusion of free will is so strong we might as well have it”), and so do a lot of the big names.

    I’m running out of time right now so we’ll leave it at that.

    Again, if you don’t even agree with these statements, I don’t think you need to be offended.

  3. As a militant agnostic, I’d don’t have a particular dog in this hunt. You are both True Believers. However, to imply that atheistic arguments are weak because they contain logical pitfalls opens up any religionist to defend himself to a similar critique. In such a he said/she said debate, I suspect, the religionist will appear as illogical, if not more so, depending upon one’s flavor of faith, some being sillier than others.

  4. I don’t know why you’re calling me a True Believer, but I agree with everything you said.

    I attack arguments (or statements, rather) that are overreaching and tenuous because I think that they are overreaching and tenuous. I hope (perhaps vainly) that if there is less bluster on both sides, things will get better somehow.

    • My sincere apologies. I just now read your About page, wherein you say you let your Christian faith go. So, perhaps, you are like me (and many, many others) who find matters of belief unprovable and (to me, at least) largely irrelevant. Again, I am sorry I accused of defending a religious faith when, in fact, you were merely questioning an atheistic one.

  5. It’s OK.

    I suppose I do differ in that I do find them relevant to me. Is it a contradiction for me to feel that certain answers are important (and to keep on digging) whilst deeply suspecting that they are unavailable (and that they may be dangerous)? Maybe. But this is just the way I have turned out.

  6. In order to refute an argument, you have to state it precisely and accurately, to ensure you are responding to the actual argument made. It is extremely easy to subtly change an argument so that it is easier to refute. Hence careful scholars cite and quote their sources, so that readers can ensure that the scholar is accurately representing the argument actually made.

    I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to match up your citations in this post with your arguments in the earlier post. If you want to do your own scholarly work, citing and quoting your sources, let me know: I would be happy to feature your work again on “The Stupid, It Burns!” for the poor quality of your reasoning instead of your earlier straw men.

  7. wabasso Says:

    @The Barefoot Bum:

    I thought rwzero did quite a good job of backing up his claims. I was hoping you would have a rebuttal that at least met that standard. So far we have seen that his claims hold up to the evidence at the links he provided. Your latest reply seems to simply say that the bar could easily be raised further, as is done in academia. Fine. But you have not provided arguments to the contrary and, if you were to, you would need to hold these to the same level of scrutiny you are demanding.

    I don’t know how to say this without it sounding rude, but you are providing an example of the laziness complaint made in the post. To compare his examples with his previous post requires just one link click and a quick glance at bold text. It would have taken no longer than twice the time of reading the post once.

  8. Wow!

    I provided airtight verbatim references for 7/15 of the original statements. I was sloppy, perhaps, on the one regarding meaninglessness–I would prune the Atheist claim to “The meaninglessness of life without God is a theistic invention/prejudice” (and there is an essay fully supporting this claim on Ebon Musings). The last two are, of course, just tongue-in-cheek jabs at the general inflation of intellectual narcissism.

    However, this isn’t the point (and you can’t prevaricate your way out of the point, at this point): to all appearances, you breezed in here thinking I was a Christian apologist trying to knock down Atheism by fabricating some weak atheistic positions. But I am not a Christian apologist, nor was I trying to knock down Atheism, nor did I fabricate the positions that I cited as frustrating.

    Yet you vaguely insulted my reasoning again, and pasted my text into a post diplomatically entitled “The Stupid! It burns!” (complete with a little cartoon man and everything), where your critique consisted of… supporting two of the claims, and calling a couple of my responses fatuous. But your originally-expressed purpose was to *disclaim* these statements, not defend them.

    You have nothing to fume at me about (I do apologize for making a post out of your comment, however–that was unnecessarily antagonistic).

    Moreover, I’m comfortable standing by the two responses you singled out. I find it rather silly that many Americans seem to be as passionate about the beliefs of the Founding Fathers of their country as they are about their metaphysical worldviews. I also know a great many “bad people” who became very “good” because of Christianity, and this is a regular phenomenon that I have personally witnessed and read about throughout my life. I witness, and read about, less of the converse (in present day). Though you might point out that I have blundered by thinking only of Christianity, and that’s fair–you would definitely have me on that point.

    You’re making an awkward and embarrassing attempt to shellack me here, because I have no motivation for tweaking such arguments and making them easier to refute. I have no cause to further by doing so.

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