Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Are Atheists Too Offensive? (or, 'How To Debate a Believer')

I have been involved recently in a debate of sorts, through email, with a good friend of mine who is a Deist. While he does not believe in the God of religions, he believes in a "force" or "energy" which exists. I guess you'd say he's a Spiritual Deist, if you had to label his beliefs. Reading over our discussions, I can find nothing that is truly offensive. I wrote nothing with the intent of offending anyone, and yet he was offended.

The main issue that came up over and over in our discussions was that he felt I was being offensive. I believe the main reason is that I compared his beliefs with other beliefs (Religions, belief fairies, mythology, etc.).To quote someone, I basically said something regarding the reason Atheists sometimes seem to be ridiculing religion.

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." In other words, it is impossible to truly respond to something not based in reason, with reason. People that belief in something unbelievable are basing them on ridiculousness, as they have no evidences, and are just guessing, so to speak. I will let you know who the above quote was, at the end of this article.

Here are our emails, which began simply with my sending a quote out through email. I am not going to go through every one of his emails, which were written on an iPhone, so take grammatical errors as such as having a (sic) after them. It is quite long, and took place over a couple of days. Keep in mind it is email, and thus there are often mistakes in grammar conventions and things like that, and it takes a few back-and-forths between us before we get into the meat of everything. Please pay attention to how I address most of what he says/claims, while he responds without really adressing a thing I said. I wonder if he even read my emails!

My emails are in bold, his are the ones between.

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"I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
...Stephen F Roberts


I watched Religilous this weekend, pretty funny but he just entrapped idoits and religion is chalked full of those. However, he never addressed some points that make me consider that their is more to life than what we perceive. Edward Cayce is a pretty strong example.

Is he the medium guy? What points are you talking about that they didn't address? You didn't address them either :)

I beleive I pointed out the life of Edward Cayce as an example, his life is rather unique and causes one to question a great deal. He was in touch with something that science has not been able to explain away.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" The inability to disprove does not the proof make. You should know that! I can't disprove Russel's teapot, but that does not mean it exists. Read up on the concept of "burden of proof": the burden lies with the claimer.

It is not up to science to disprove everything that everybody can claim...it is the other way around. That's the most basic rule in scientific theorizing and evidences.


You are trained well in the art of defindinf this point of view. I'm glad that I got to your ace up your sleve so quickly.

Read up on Cayce, no you will not find "proof" but it is some crazy shit that can not be shrugged off. Its not like he became wealthy for what he did.

If there is no proof, then it's irrelevant, really. I mean, what merit can it hold for anyone? I can claim all I want, but for people to base their own convictions or life on things I say, without me being able to back them up in any way other than feelings, is ridiculous and harmful.

True, and to claim that that someone speaks to god is the only explanation because there isn't any other explanation will be a part of your next defense. I use Cayce as an example not because I really think he had a direct link to God, but that his message was so powerful and acurite that it makes one wonder where did he get the information. Truely miraculious and if science isnt able to explain then what other tool do we use to rationalize.

Have groups of scientists really spent time examining his claims with scientific rigor? Has research gone on for years to back up what he is claiming? You know, up until the 1940s, scientists thought that bats navigated in darkness through some paranormal means. It was only after many years of research they discovered the fact that they used Sonar. You should watch the documentary. Part 4 of episode one is a great one, if you don't watch the rest. It deals with superstition in animals, etc.

There is a great deal that science can not explain. One of them is the multitude of scenarios of interactions with spirits. Just because it can not measured or recreated In a reliable manor does not mean that it is all happening. It would be great if science actully did prove the essence of life continues beyond the body dying (higgs boson possibly). I love to tell you I told you so!

There has been continuous and grand research into these paranormal claims, none of which have shown any evidence whatsoever. All experiences are measured in brain activity, and that ends when the brain ends, obviously. Science cannot prove life after death, any more than it can prove The Flying Spaghetti Monster or Unicorns or Fairies don't exist. The reason it can't prove they don't exist is because they don't. There is no evidence for something which does not exist, see? Personal claims of people are not science, they are internalized feelings and false-positive experiences, and self-fulfilling prophecies, nothing more. I'd love them to be proven...I'd change my stance immediately. That is the difference between faith and science...faith will not change in the face of evidence, but rational thought will.

Again just because science fails to able to detect something does not mean that it isn't happening, just like the bats sonar. And for anyone to stand all high and mighty a proclaim a way of thought/belief is wrong and dangerous (which is right for a lot of the nutty things people beleive, but nots always) is dangerous in itself. It begets discrimination and intolerance.


Well now you are talking about something different. I do have intolerance for people that believe in things that make the world a more dangerous place, or things that degrade human decency. Are we supposed to be tolerant of that which causes people to murder and torture others? I think not. In any case, science does not claim to have the answers. It is constantly searching for answers, and constantly checking and re-checking hypothesis and theories. Faith and spirituality does none of this. It take a person's feelings, and without any testing, declares them fact, and those that argue are called "intolerant." For instance, our Supreme Court recently gave the rights to a religious organization to use hallucinogenic drugs in their rituals because it was their "religion" while cancer patients across our country suffer under Federal law for wanting to use marijuana to ease their diseases. Religion and spirituality trumps everything else, and it is wrong. Religion and spirituality degrade humanity: without them you have good people doing good things and bad people doing bad things; but only with religion and spirituality do you have good people doing bad things.


I completly agree with everything you just stated their! I personlly draw a big line between religion and spirituallity.

Well, you could say that religion is public avowal of the belief in fairies, while spirituality is the private belief in fairies. That's really the only difference...one is internal, and the other is externalized.

Somewhat harsh. Being able to discuss your views without insulting others valued beliefs is difficult. I suppose that I'd the greatest obsticile atheist face.

Still science can not explain everything that occurs and an overwhelming "feeling" exist throughout every culture that has ever exsisted that a power greater than ourselves connects us all. Religion wrangles cultures togeather, where as spirituallity is a personal relationship with that greater power. I beleive it should a personal relationship rather than a cult. To each there own.

It's not meant to be harsh. It's not an obstacle to an atheist at all, so I'm not sure why you say that, unless you are stating some personal issue you have with atheism, in which case it makes perfect sense in the context of it being an ad hominem argument.

In any case, when facing something based on the ridiculous (religion/spirituality/fairies/santa), the only response is ridicule. It is impossible to address with reason that which is not based upon reason.

Your statement about every culture in history believing in that "Feeling" is incorrect. Ask the Russians, Chinese, etc. etc.

Science could not explain thunder or the rising sun. That did not, and does not, mean that it is caused by some sort of magic. It simply means science hadn't explained it yet.

If spirituality and the power of the human mind to reach out and affect the world exists, then why doesn't prayer work? If we are all connected through some energy field, why can't we reach out to one another?

You seem to believe in a "God of Gaps," which is the same one tribal people who did not understand fire/thunder/wind/the sun/etc. Science advances, and will (eventually, with enough time) answer every unknown thing we can conceive of. Just because it has not explained everything we can conceive during the time we live in, again does NOT mean those things exist.

All psychic/prayer/wishes are coincidence and false-positives, and nothing more. Why doesn't prayer/wishing/rubbing magic lamps heal amputees?

Take ten minutes and watch this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH0rFZIqo8A

http://cectic.com/172.html comic about religion getting respect it doesn't deserve

Personal experience is valueless. To quote Richard Dawkins:

"You say you have experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn't impress you. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn't vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction). Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is conspiring against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people's heads. We humour them but don't take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them. Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous. Sam Harris was not being overly cynical when he wrote, in The End of Faith:

"We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them 'religious'; otherwise, they are likely to be called 'mad', 'psychotic' or 'delusional' ... Clearly there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely and accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.""

It is an obsticle to advance your thoughts if you offend the individual you are try to convince.

No, their are many other options other than ridicule. I would say scientific reasoning is your best tool. Insulting and being insensetive to others beleif will create additional barriers between yourself and those you are trying to influnce.

Religion exsist within Russia and china; there just oppressed.

According to your reasoning just because science hasn't proved an the exsistance of spirits and an afterlife yet it doesn't exist? Just becuase it can't be explained doesn't that it's non-exsistant.

Have you ever tried to reached out to another. I've had prayer work for me. I don't think a scientific experiment can measure if it works of not. Besides if prayer is taken away what else will the hopeless turn to when all else fails.

Yes, yes your god's gap argument, you told me before. You can't just throw out as everything as coindince just becuase it doesn't fit into a neat little modle. If it was easy explainable it wouldn't be as wonderous.

You seem to beleive in extremism, it's all or nothing with you. I couldn't talk to when I cursed and didn't beleive that dinosaurs co-exsisted with man and now your totally on the other end of spectrum. Could the right answer just possible be in the modle somewhere. Does it have to be all or nothing.

Take 10 mins and watch a vid about Cayce. Science can't and won't explain his ability to accuratly predict medical conditions regardless of the distance between him and the patient. I'm telling their are miricles regardless of what has or hasn't been proven by science and the world is better off becuase of it.

We cannot offend, we can only be offended.

They are not repressed (what I think you meant as opposed to oppressed), but simply the minority. Traditionally, these two countries have (mostly China) been non-theistic. There are dozens of others as well; India comes to mind.

Your comment about "reasoning just because science hasn't proved..." completely ignores what I tried to convey to you about Burden of Proof. Burden rests with the claimer of a positive, not the denier of said positive statement, ie: God exists, Bundy killed them, the world is flat, etc.

Yes, science can measure if prayer works or not. There have been countless studies on this, using rational double-blind methodology as all good science should. There are control groups, etc. etc. etc. The most well-known of these was done by the physicist Russel Stannard (one of Britain's three well-known religious scientists), that was funded by the Templeton Foundation (a religious-science organization). Look it up. The results go beyond a simple email. Suffice to say that the results showed that surgeries went no more well for those being prayed for than those NOT being prayed for. In fact, those being prayed for had slightly WORSE results. Chalk it up to performance anxiety. In any case, those that did not know they were NOT being prayed for (the control group) had the same results basically as the group being prayed for. Three different churches were used, across the globe, etc. etc. etc.

In any case, I have reached out to people as a Christian, and as a Christian, prayer worked. Of course, now, without the blinders of religious/spiritual dogma, it is clear that it was all false-positives and coincidences.

If religion is taken away, the poor and helpless will quit casting stones at the sky, and instead get up and DO something about their situation. A hospital built is better than a million prayers.

The difference between our views is that, to me, the world is wonderful ENOUGH AS IS, without coating it in some mumbo-jumbo about energy fields and spirits.

Well, whether there is a god or not is an all or nothing belief, really. There's no middle ground, is there? Just maybe? Well, if you say MAYBE, then you don't actively believe in a god, so you are an atheist. Besides, I don't think any rational person would say they are really agnostic; I mean, who thinks there is really a 50/50 chance of God existing? I'm sure everyone is more on one side or the other.

Again, science can't and won't explain the ability of Jesus to raise the dead. Does that mean it happened? No, it doesn't. It means that there were extraordinary coincidences and situations, along with a lack of scientific rigor and understanding, and the willingness (which unfortunately exists today) of people to believe in fairy-tales.

Did he have dozens of scientific tests done on him, over the course of many months and years, to prove he did what he claimed? No, there weren't. There is a reason James Randi's $100,000,000 prize for scientific proof of ANYTHING paranormal still stands (since 1964); no one is willing to disprove themselves by exposing their claims to true science.

Point me to a good video about him, and I'll watch it. I know a bit about him though already: that he said China would convert to Christianity by 1968, that 1933 would be a good year (umm...Great Depression?), and that we'd discover an Atlantean Death Ray in 1958. Oh yeah, he was also wrong about everything he claimed regarding the Lindbergh murders. None of his claims regarding healing or auras were ever tested under controlled settings. Claiming he did what he did is like you believing Jesus walked on water, turned a fish into many, water into wine, raised the dead, is the son of god, etc. Oh, wait...that's crazy talk, isn't it?

90% of his cases were not cooberated, and were based simply on peoples' testimonials, which we know are not trustworthy. The couple cases where it was sure he was a part of the curing are no more likely psychic than they are placebo.

In regards to offense, I would say you being offended by me lumping spirituality and the belief in fairies together says more about you than me. I didn't mean it as an offense; the fact that you took it as such would be seen as offensive perhaps to those that believe in fairies.

And science will never explain the things Cayce did because he is dead, lol. That's an easy one...Xtians say the same about Jesus. Sure, we can't disprove he did or did not do those things because he's NOT ALIVE to be proved or disproved. Again, people can't claim something that can't be proven/disproven and state it as fact simply because it cannot be tested. It's simple logic, man


Your right, I am offened. The energy that existist within myself, that is myself is all the proof I need to know that your cold closed-minded atheisim is wrong. I can't back it up with amy study or proof that you be able to see or touch, but when I die I'm coming to haunt your ass.

Your discarding absolutley everything that science can't explain. You want to place the burden of proof upon beleivers. Why is it that most cultures develope religious views that very similar to each other, cultures seperated by millinum and vast distance. I'm sure you some snappy comeback but the truth is that the truth (which most religions decree) is the way that we should live our lives and something writen into our exsistance conects us all and brings these truths to us regardless of where people live.

Again being offensive, and disrespectful to people you are trying discuss this topic with is not a good method to have them accept or even consider the atheist way.

I'm sorry you are offended that I disagree with you. As I said, there are all sorts of people claiming things themselves that others know aren't true, that have no basis in any sort of reality, that are false. We call these people crazy. I'm not getting upset that you disagree with me, why are you? It's not close-minded atheism...it's the exact opposite. I'm willing to change my opinion on this if shown some (ANY) good evidence. That's the thing...skeptics change their beliefs all the time in the face of evidence, and I have in the past as well. Those of faith, such as yourself, will not, and do not, change when confronted with factual information. These email strings are proof of that.

I'm not discarding everything science can't explain. I feel as if you aren't even reading my emails. I am open to new ideas that contradict my own. Cultures? Perhaps they visited each other. Up until recently we didn't think people came to the Americas until 1492. We have found this to be wrong. The burden of proof isn't on believers, it is upon claimers. That's just the most basic tenet of logical and rational thinking. If I say someone murdered someone, I have to prove it...they don't have to prove they are innocent. It's like the silly stuff going on with Roland Burris on the news recently. He is being blocked from Senate, despite having been appointed in a fully legal way. People have claims, but no one has evidence or has proven that anything was done. People must prove HE is wrong, not that he is innocent. Saying I might have some snappy replies shows that you understand my replies make sense; you are just ignoring them. I'm sorry you are getting frustrated. I find it's the normal response when someone has no further arguments: they descend into emotional responses and ad hominem attacks.

Again, we cannot offend, we can only be offended. You are choosing to feel bad and feel offended simply because I disagree with you and am trying to show you the reasons I feel the way I do. I claim nothing with certainty, even that God doesn't exist. However, the preponderance of evidence leans one direction, and that's the direction I choose to think is most plausible. We can't know anything, however, we can know at such a high rate of probability that to believe otherwise seems irrational. That is where the evidence points in regard to God's existence and the feeling of "energy" inside you. In that regard, the things you claim seem irrational. Sorry if that makes you sad or makes you feel bad.

I've shown tons of evidences, some research, some plain as day videos, etc. but you probably haven't watched any of them. I've asked you for some supporting your claims, but you have given me none. I still want that video on Cacey, but you haven't sent me one. I did spend about forty minutes last night reading about him on various places (wikipedia, and other google hits, some of which were in support of him, and some that weren't).

People do get offended when they're told they are most likely wrong, especially regarding spiritual/superstitious beliefs about death/life. That in no means makes them correct, however.

And how is atheism cold? Please expound on that for me. Life is beautiful, and so are all of nature's creations and, in general, people. I celebrate this life, without that celebration being clouded by some hope for things to be better after I die.

Furthermore, the people that have similar ideas throughout distance or geography have had similar experiences and beliefs simply because certain things remaining from our primitive eras exists still within all humans. There are certain wants and needs within us and these things get expressed in certain ways, which are common among humankind. You should read some books by Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Primitive Mythology, etc.) regarding man's history and mythology and the common themes that exist. Try that or Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung.

I'm also curious what was so offensive in what I said? I don't think anything was, and yet you still come back to saying I won't win people over by saying offensive things. You are saying I won't "win" (when was this a battle?) because I am offensive. Whether or not I'm offensive has nothing to do with the validity regarding the things I am claiming, but to do with the way I choose words. That is basically the text-book definition of an ad hominem argument: attacking the merit of a person's character/morality/makeup instead of addressing the issues at hand.

If you can't take ten minutes, take seven, and watch this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r053ImV03Ss

I can't paste and copy on this yet and links to vids in email is difficult also, but your reference to Santa and fairies is insulting and attacking someones inteligence creates strife. Your just coming across as pompous, as if you have all the answers.

I agree that religion has done a great deal of damage to mankind, thief is also a great deal of positives as well. It's not all bad

I never said religion was "all bad." What about people that believe in Santa? What about people that believe in fairies? As I said (all ready), there are people that believe in fairies, etc. and to say it is offensive to be grouped with them I am sure would be something those people found offensive. What is the difference? You believe in something unproven, and so do they. You are saying it's offensive to be grouped with them. Why? It wasn't meant to offend you, as I said. If by speaking intelligently, and presenting facts, I am pompous, then I guess I am pompous. You trust in and use science constantly, and appreciate what it does, you believe in it's validity on so many things, such as the device you are using to communicate with me on. Why do you stop short in that trust when it comes to certain things? I doubt you'd distrust science if it discovered stars that orbit other gravitational bodies in less than two seconds, but it is true. It sounds outlandish, and I would not believe it either, unless there was near-fallible proof of them, which there is.

Let's just drop the debate I guess, if it's something that upsets you. Again, I'm not trying to be offensive, so please don't take that last sentence as such.


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Please comment and let me know what you think. As far as the quote at the article's beginning, it was the great Deist Thomas Jefferson. I presume you know who he was.

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2 Comments:

Blogger jesusconrad said...

I've found in my dealings with Christians and other people who believe in the supernatural that, whenever a point comes up against them that they can't refute, they play the offence card.

The problem is most people get offended when they have their beliefs threatened and cling to them as long as they can. Once they get "offended" the argument is pretty much over since they won't listen to anything else you have to say.

Just for fun, here's an argument I had with a girl through email. After my last post, she didn't respond and hasn't actually talked to me since. Reading it again, maybe I was a little harsh near the end, but when people talk like that it just irritates me.

Her:
ok so....you believe that there is an invisible spaghetti monster that created the entire universe after drinking a lot? is there any proof of this...I just don't really understand this religion. Doesn't it take the same amount of faith or more to believe in God.

Me:
Alright, yes I believe in an invisible spaghetti monster and, no, there isn't any evidence of this, just like every other religion.

I would say that it would take the same amount of faith to believe in god, who, by the way, is only listed as being an omniscient being or god in the bible. Who's to say that that being isn't made out of pasta and meatballs?

And, if you don't mid me asking, who was it that was asking about me being a Pastafarian?

Her:
Ok...but if you can believe in a spaghetti monster then why can't you believe in God? Me and Matt just saw it on your facebook. God isn't made out of pasta because God created pasta...pasta didn't create God.

Me:
No, I agree that pasta didn't create god. god is a concept only the human race could dream up. It is, unfortunately, a side affect of being a race that, not only fears death, but longs to be in total control of everything else.

Her:
Ok, I don't know you or what has happened in your life...and I don't know what kind of bad experiences you've had with Christianity. Christ never gave up on you, and He never stopped loving you...and if you would only come back and put your faith in Jesus, He will forgive all of your sins and give you eternal life with Him. You may have doubts but just ask Jesus to reveal himself to you and He will.

Me:
Look, I'm not sure why people always ask me about bad experiences I may have had, but I'll assure you now that I've had none, with the possible exception of having to sit through the occasional church service. It's an assumption most people make about those of us who don't believe, and I don't quite know why nor am I sure that I like it. It kind of gives the impression that non-believers are the irrational ones, when, to be fair, christians are following a religion that was created two thousand years ago, when the highest level of education was learning to read and write, which the majority of the population was not able to achieve, by the way.

As for Jesus revealing himself to me, and I'll leave out the numerous jokes that come to mind with that sentence, I'll try asking Jesus to appear before me, and I'll even let you know what I say and what the results are.

Now, let's first remember what the bible says in John 14:14, as well as a few other passages that are similar in content that I don't feel like looking up at the moment. However, if you want a list of them, I'll go through what I have to find them, it just might take a few days.

"Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it."

So, if I say something like, "Dear Jesus, please appear before me, so I can see you and believe and, remember, you did say you'd do anything I asked of you in John 14:14 if I asked for it in your name. So, in your name, I ask you to appear before me, as a living human being, so I can believe you really exist."

So, I'm sitting here in my room, without Jesus appearing before me, waiting for something to happen. And, you know what? Not even a messenger in his place is bothering to show up. So, I can only draw two possible conclusions. Either Jesus told the world a bald faced lie, or he doesn't exist.

8:13 PM  
Blogger ramatheson said...

I love that this was regarding The Invisible Spaghetti Monster. I'm a bit of a pastafarian as well. ;-)

8:22 PM  

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