Thursday, February 17, 2011

Critiquing an Atheist's Critique of Atheists

I have the same tendency as everyone else to become at least slightly defensive when my views are attacked or criticised. This is human. However, I will generally be thoughtful and make every attempt at analyzing and deconstructing the critiques before any acceptance of fault or irrationality will be admitted; though this has happened. I have been wrong before and likely will again at some point.  It is with that I mind that I read and dissected a post on the HuffPo (ugh, I know I am terrible...) entitled The Top Mistakes Atheists Make by fellow atheist Phillip Zuckerman who criticizes fellow atheists for some “serious mistakes” in our thinking.   

To be fair; Zuckerman shouldn't get the No True Scotsman treatment.  He is not a “fake” atheist (*cough* S.E. Cupp *cough*).  He has done some good research into religion and secularism. I do think he has a tendency to concede false points for what I can only imagine is an attempt to not appear as an angry, new atheist (see the final paragraph in the hotlink and, of course, the post below).  

I suppose I could have just posted this link in the FLD and simply called this a list of straw men, but that would been too simple and I wanted to post something for Thursday...  

Here they are:

1. Insisting that science can, or will, answer everything. When Bill O'Reilly or your Baptist in-laws ask you pointed questions like: "How did the universe get here?" or "What caused the Big Bang?" or "Why is there something instead of nothing?" don't insist that science has the answer. It may not -- ever. It is far better to simply say that we don't know everything, and may in fact never know everything. There will always be some mysteries out there. Just say: "Yeah -- it is quite a profound puzzle. No one knows the answer. But just because we don't know the answers to everything, doesn't mean we then automatically accept some made-up possibility."

Who makes the claims science will someday answer everything?  Tell me who? This is either a false identification or a straw man (or both).  If you hear someone claiming that scientists have all the answers or will ever know all the answers you can be sure of two things: 1) that person is not a scientist (nor are they rational) and 2) the person making that claim will likely, in fact, hate or have no understanding of science.  By that I mean they are likely a theist/religionist making their straw man claim.

Science answers questions about the natural universe which almost always requires new questions to be asked. You cannot stop. I have never heard an atheist make this claim.  Ever.

Ever ever ever.  

2. Condemning all religion, rather then just the bad aspects thereof. Religion is man-made. It is socially constructed. It grows out of human culture. As such, religion inevitably contains, reflects, and reveals all that is within the realm of humanity: the good and the bad. It is like any other facet of human civilization: some of it is noble and inspirational, much of it is nonsensical and even dangerous. But to condemn it all as poisonous is to be in serious denial.

Condemning that which reinforces what is untrue is denial?  Replace “religion” with “witchcraft.”  See what I did there?  

This is a Naturalistic fallacy.

1) Religion is man-made (and contains aspects of good and bad).
2) It cannot be condemned.  

3. Condemning the Bible as a wretched, silly book, rather than seeing it as a work full of good and insightful things as well. The Bible was written by humans. It has no other source. The evidence is clear on that front. And similar to point two above, given that it is a human creation means that it isn't all good or all bad -- but contains both. Its contents can be downright absurd, flagrantly unscientific, embarrassingly racist and sexist -- not to mention painfully boring. But it also contains brilliant insights into the human condition, fun stories to entertain kids, and heady poetry. It even has solemn stretches of unbridled skepticism and existential angst. Check out Ecclesiastes.

1) See #2.  
2) Fight Club also “contains brilliant insights into the human condition,” but you don’t see people basing their lives on it.  

4. Failing to understand and appreciate "cultural religion." There are tens of millions of people out there who are part of a religious tradition, but don't actually believe in the theological teachings thereof. They go to church, they get bar-mitzvahed, they identify with a religious tradition, and yet they are basically atheists, agnostics, or skeptics at heart. Why do they stay religious? They like it. They enjoy the traditions, the songs, the rituals, the community. These people should be seen as allies, not enemies. And every time we condemn their religion as idiocy or wickedness, we simply turn them off. Religion is not a black or white thing. Neither is secularity. There is a lot of gray out there. Deal with it. Appreciate it.

Not because of familial pressure, societal pressure, fear or ignorance? NOOOO.  That's not why people stay in religion. Nope.  I am not stating that there are not people who simply enjoy the “traditions, the songs, the rituals, the community.” Yet again, however, we are to commend someone for living a lie and propagating untruths? Do the fundamentalists have any power to influence society at large or even oppress those who disagree with them or are considered abhorrent without the complacency of those who do not believe and do not speak up?  

This is a Moralistic Fallacy.  The assumption being that the status quo is how things ought to be.  

5. Critiquing God as nasty, wicked, and immoral. There is no point in critiquing a deity that doesn't exist. There is no need to catalogue the horrors, hypocrisies, or genocidal tendencies of a god that is imaginary. The reason we don't believe in God is simple: lack of evidence. That's it. Stay focused people.

I agree with that. HOWEVER, criticizing an individual for their blind following of and adherence to an immoral deity (regardless of its obvious fiction) and that deity's immoral behavior and teachings as prescribed by their "moral" book is not the same thing. Guess what? That is a fair criticism.   

6. Focusing on arguments against the existence of God, rather than working to make the world a better, more just place. People who believe in irrational things will rarely change their minds by listening to rational arguments. And yet atheists expel so much sweat constructing philosophical, scientific, or logical arguments against the existence of God. Think this will change people's minds? Perhaps. But only rarely. What really lowers levels of religiosity, the world-over, is living in a society where life is decent and secure. When people have enough to eat, shelter, healthcare, elder-care, child-care, employment, peacefulness, democracy -- that's when religion really starts to lose its grip.

a) So you should let people wallow in ignorance? It's for their own sake? How paternal and condescending. This has been the modus operandi of those in power for millennia and it has been a constant in the exploitation of the religious mind.  This is a major factor in the atheist/antitheist argument against ignorance and you are, in fact, stating: “Ahhh fuck it.” Incredible.  

b) Atheists are giving and do want to create a just and better world. They just don't donate to or volunteer at churches that get a cut.  

7. Arguing about morality in the abstract. Don't get sucked into arguments about "Can we be good without God?" Don't try to convince theists that secular morality is actually more rational and, well, more moral. Rather, just insist that morality is ultimately revealed and shown through human action and deed. And we can plainly see that the least religious countries and states are generally the most moral, peaceful, and humane, while the most religious countries and states are the most crime-ridden, corrupt, and socially troubled. End of discussion.

Nonsense. Again, arguing with someone is futile since they cannot possibly be swayed? I don’t buy that. You also seem to be stating that non-religious or secular nations are less troubled, but don’t try and advocate against religion or anti-secularism or for a non-religious, secular nation. How is that “end of discussion?” This makes no sense.  Again, Moralistic Fallacy.  

8. Not having more kids. The sociological evidence is clear: religious parents tend to have religious kids and secular parents tend to have secular kids. The demographic data is unambiguous: religious people have far more kids than secular people, with religious fundamentalists having the most kids of all. And the highly religious societies on earth tend to have the highest birthrates, and the most secular nations have among the lowest. So if you really want a godless world, better get busy.

"So we breed them out.” On a planet that is likely rapidly approaching its carrying capacity you advocate increasing the human population in lieu of education as both a weapon against ignorance, but overpopulation and taxation of our environment as well.

9. Always making top ten lists. It is so "Old Testament." Let's start going with top nine lists instead. Nine is divisible by 3. And 3, they say, is a magic number.

I gotta say here, Phillip...This is not that well thought out.