Good Advice for Internet Christians

I think Crude nails it here:

Here’s something I’ve seen happen over and over: a theist makes an argument, or a criticism of atheist or popular secular reasoning. It happens to be strong. Atheists realize – well, THIS conversation can’t be won. So they immediately try to change the topic. The best bet: criticizing God, or the religion of the people involved in the discussion, especially if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. And it’s the best bet because inevitably someone decides that they have to defend each and every slight against Christ or God or Catholicism or Protestantism or what have you, and before you know it the topic is no longer the weakness of a given atheist or secular claim, but Christianity or (worse) Christian in-fighting.

In a word, they get suckered. They go from focusing on a failing of an atheist or secular claim to being on defense. And the worst part is, they think they’re helping their cause. After all, look at them – they’re defending Christianity or Catholicism or whatnot!

Except, sometimes the appropriate thing to say is ‘Your criticisms of God are irrelevant here. We’re talking about another subject, and it stands or falls regardless of the truth of God’s existence, or your views of His moral character.’

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11 Responses to Good Advice for Internet Christians

  1. TFBW says:

    Tom Gilson recently posted an article on the argument from reason, and the first comment (from an atheist) struck me as falling into exactly this category (of responding off-topic). On the other hand, any sufficiently advanced form of cluelessness is indistinguishable from a deliberate attempt to change the subject, and it’s possible that the atheist in question simply misunderstood the whole argument That Much.

    I suppose that’s another thing to bear in mind: the New Atheist crowd, having been trained by the likes of Dawkins and Boghossian to think of the religious as clinically irrational, tend not to waste any effort in attempting to actually understand the finer details of the arguments presented by such addle-minded plague-carriers. The well is poisoned in advance, and the New Atheist participants will naturally reach for whatever point seems like the best knock-down justification for their continued attitude of superiority, regardless of how little it relates to the argument just presented. We can not reasonably expect genuine engagement from such opponents: they are prejudiced into thinking of the religious as intellectually incompetent (or else they would be atheists, of course).

    On further reflection, though, I shouldn’t be at all surprised. Not only is Dawkins fond of his meme-theory of religion, and keen to classify theism as delusional, his currently advocated approach towards deconversion of the religious is not to engage in reasoned argument, but to mock and ridicule the worst offenders in the hope that the less committed will shy away for fear of similar treatment. Whereas Dawkins is quite candid about it, Boghossian seems to want to disguise much the same approach in the respectable garb of philosophy, but he gives the game away with his faux-clinical diagnosis of “faith virus”.

    In any case, we should expect a lot of monkey-see-monkey-do imitation of such New Atheist leaders among their admirers, whether intentional or unwitting.

    As for how to deal with it, I’m personally in favour of beating the “off topic” drum, as opposed to being led, or responding in kind. It gets tediously repetitive, but I find that it can help one’s own focus to explain exactly what the topic is, and why a response misses the mark.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    I wish I could “like” the OP and TFBW’s answer here!

  3. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    “We can not reasonably expect genuine engagement from such opponents: they are prejudiced into thinking of the religious as intellectually incompetent…”

    —… While we non-believers can not reasonably expect genuine engagement from theists such as yourself: you are prejudiced into thinking of the non-religious as intellectually dishonest.

    Psychological projection is such a tired game.

  4. Crude says:

    Psychological projection is such a tired game.

    It’s not really projection, it’s honest evaluation. The Cult of Gnu isn’t merely ‘we non-believers’ – it’s a specific subset of them. In fact, other non-believers often find them pretty off-putting.

  5. TFBW says:

    It’s also more than just honest evaluation: it’s an observation about the distinctive style of New Atheist thought-leaders like Dawkins et al. We can read and hear what they say just as much as those who admire them do. If an admirer of Dawkins takes his writings seriously, he will think of those who believe in God as delusional, and those who don’t believe in evolution as ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked. If an admirer of Boghossian takes his writings seriously, he will think of the religious as clinically mentally impaired. This isn’t just something that can be inferred from the behaviour of those who adopt a particular style in their advocacy of atheism: the influence is there for all to see in black and white, and we have a fairly clear idea of how popular these books and authors are.

  6. Michael says:

    What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity? – Jerry Coyne

  7. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    TFBW says:
    “If an admirer of Dawkins takes his writings seriously, he will think of those who believe in God as delusional, and those who don’t believe in evolution as ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked. If an admirer of Boghossian takes his writings seriously, he will think of the religious as clinically mentally impaired.”

    —Or… it’s an ‘honest evaluation’ of the long-shown emptiness of theism, an ‘observation’ of the consistent harm anti-evolution forces have inflicted upon society, etc. You’re reading cult worship into what is effectively common skeptic-sense… Dawkins and others really have just pointed out the obvious.

  8. Kevin says:

    —Or… it’s an ‘honest evaluation’

    It may be an honest evaluation. My evaluation is also honest, and comes to the polar opposite conclusion. Honest and correct are not synonymous.

    of the long-shown emptiness of theism

    Shown by whom? Many of the world’s greatest thinkers throughout history, as well as scientists, were and are theists. Having read many of the writings from Harris, Dawkins, etc, I have yet to be shown any credible reason to think theism is “empty”. Far less empty than atheism.

    an ‘observation’ of the consistent harm anti-evolution forces have inflicted upon society, etc.

    Not necessarily disagreeing with the general thrust of this, but could you cite nonbiased studies showing the harm here, with direct correlation demonstrated? In other words, 1/4 of people apparently not knowing the earth revolves around the sun is not proof that anti-evolution forces have done harm. Nor, I might add, are anti-science and theism hand-in-hand. I know anti-vaccine people who are atheists, and obviously there are millions of Christians who don’t cry over evolution.

    You’re reading cult worship into what is effectively common skeptic-sense… Dawkins and others really have just pointed out the obvious.

    I wouldn’t describe it as cult-worship, so much as a sense of self-superiority inspired by people like Dawkins. I find his ideas on religion to be garbage personally, but whatever. At any rate, what is “obvious” to you could very well be wrong, but you’ve admitted that you believe there can be no evidence for God (which I await your justification for holding before responding, in another thread) so you would apparently deny that you could be wrong. With that mindset, I don’t really see any good coming from this general conversation, since you think there can be no evidence for God and I find atheism to be the single most illogical worldview that I’ve ever encountered.

  9. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    Keven says:
    “It may be an honest evaluation. My evaluation is also honest, and comes to the polar opposite conclusion. Honest and correct are not synonymous.”

    —You have not shown that your contention is correct, or theirs as incorrect… indeed, I’m not sure what about their positions you are addressing exactly, as the straw-men still have to be threshed out.

    “Many of the world’s greatest thinkers throughout history, as well as scientists, were and are theists. Having read many of the writings from Harris, Dawkins, etc, I have yet to be shown any credible reason to think theism is “empty”.”

    —I would suggest people such as Bertrand Russell or Michael Martin, or go back to Kant and Hume. The classic arguments for (mono)theism have long been discredited… versions of the Cosmological and Ontological arguments keep popping up and getting smacked down, Design shambles along like a zombie, Presuppositionalism and other related definitional-deck-stacking strategies hardly suffice…

    “Not necessarily disagreeing with the general thrust of this, but could you cite nonbiased studies showing the harm here, with direct correlation demonstrated? In other words, 1/4 of people apparently not knowing the earth revolves around the sun is not proof that anti-evolution forces have done harm.”

    —… similar to you setting the terms of verification here. Forcing nonsense onto students (or preventing them from learning the facts) via various religious-right legislative initiatives impedes understanding of biology at the very least… and the entirety of science at worst (understandings of fact/theory, ‘bias’, etc) When politicians such as Paul Broun (on the House science committee) think evolution and climate change science are ‘lies from the pits of hell’, are we to trust they will make good decisions concerning this country’s health and well-being?

    “I wouldn’t describe it as cult-worship, so much as a sense of self-superiority inspired by people like Dawkins. I find his ideas on religion to be garbage personally, but whatever.”

    —Do you find yourself.. superior to Dawkins? After all, do you or do you not believe that you have access to absolute truth, one that finds you on the right side of a cosmic war that will punish people like Dawkins for all eternity? Check thyself.

    “At any rate, what is “obvious” to you could very well be wrong,”

    —As we are both, if we pretend to know anything about the metaphysical: with infinite possibilities and zero chance of verifying any of them, such matters are pointless to pursue. I do not claim to be ‘right’ about the absolute… I claim that no one has the place to claim that they are ‘right’ about it.

    “With that mindset, I don’t really see any good coming from this general conversation, since you think there can be no evidence for God and I find atheism to be the single most illogical worldview that I’ve ever encountered.”

    —Because…? The last dozen or more blog posts I have read of yours does little more than decry the lack of “open-mindedness” of atheists (whatever that’s supposed to mean). Could you concisely summarize your position for me?

  10. TFBW says:

    I think at this juncture, the only observation worth making is that phillip lightweis-goff seems to be giving us an interactive demonstration of the problem that I am describing. For example, he thinks that Dawkins has merely “pointed out the obvious” when he describes theists as delusional, etc. Well: poisoned. Chance of productive engagement: approximately nil.

  11. Michael says:

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I overlooked it. So…..

    TFBW: If an admirer of Dawkins takes his writings seriously, he will think of those who believe in God as delusional

    phillip lightweis-goff: Or… it’s an ‘honest evaluation’ of the long-shown emptiness of theism

    Very interesting. So what do we have. Dawkins thinks those who believe in God are delusional and this is just an “honest evaluation.” Yet in another thread, when I note that the New Atheist posturing of being open-minded about the existence of God could be delusional, the same phillip lightweis-goff complains this is “invective.”

    Crude noted similar behavior in yet another thread. He summarized it as follows:

    Me: ‘Various New Atheists say science shows God does not exist.’
    Philip: “Ha! Provide a quote of them saying this!”
    Crude: ‘Let’s start with Victor Stenger, who wrote a book called God: The Failed Hypothesis. How science shows God does not exist.’
    Philip: “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

    I think both of these examples converge on a conclusion that is difficult to deny – phillip is here merely to troll.

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