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Austin Cline

Comment of the Week: Why Do Atheists Argue?

By January 8, 2008

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Many religious theists are strangely surprised that atheists would trouble themselves to argue about or even discuss the existence of gods and reasonableness of religious beliefs. Some theists are under the odd impression that if one disbelieves in gods and isn't part of a religion, then the "appropriate" standpoint should be to ignore them entirely, never voice an opinion, and perhaps never even have an opinion in the first place. I have no idea where they would come across such bizarre notions, but it's a fairly easy mistake to correct at least when the other person is sincerely interested in learning or listening.

Forrest writes:

I argue because I care about people, because it saddens me to see people frittering away a good portion of their very short time on earth in pursuit of pointless things, like worshipping and praying to a malicious supernatural entity, e.g. the Abrahamic God. Think of how many things you could otherwise be using that time for, things that would actually be helping to make this a better world to live in.

I argue because this is one of my moral values, to place the welfare of human beings in the here and now above any and all unfounded and speculative beliefs of a better life(?) to come once we are dead. How does it make any sense to say that in order to enjoy a better life than we have now, death is mandatory? To hold that view is to say we'd all be better off dead, (presuming we've all first converted to Christianity, in your view). If that isn't a notion worth arguing against, what is?

I argue because willful ignorance is a cancer of the mind. To go on proclaiming belief in some principle that has been thorougly debunked, such as the notion that babies come from the cabbage patch, or that demons cause physical illness, is willful ignorance that can never produce anything good.

I argue not because I believe anything I say will ever convince anyone of my views, but rather that something I say may cause someone to start thinking for themselves, and they will convince themselves that their formerly held convictions were wrong. It is neither crime nor sin to be mistaken, but it is moral bankruptcy to refuse to admit when you're wrong.

I argue because I believe that a world without the divisiveness of religious factions, without all the griefs and calamities religious conflict has produced, would be a better world to live in than the one we have now. The world to come is the world our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren (and on and on) will have to live in, and I only want the best possible world for them. Your god does not seem to want such a world for them; your god seems content to let this planet and its inhabitants self-destruct. Such a god, if existent, is a loathsome god. To believe in such a god is to acquiesce to the destruction of this planet. I am morally compelled to argue against belief in self-destruction.

I argue to protect your right to believe such nonsense, but at the same time it is imperative that I argue to prevent you from acting on those beliefs. Everyone has the right to believe any way they want, but no one has the right to behave any way they want, especially when such behavior is detrimental to the welfare of human beings. Acting on certain religious beliefs, such as calling for the execution of anyone who does not subscribe to a particular religious belief, is one example of such detrimental behavior.

I argue because I believe in people, not gods. I argue because it is the morally defensible position to take, that the welfare of my fellow human beings is more important than attempting the impossible task of satiating the ego of some mythological creature.

I argue because I am morally compelled to champion reason over superstition, to champion knowledge over willful ignorance, to champion understanding and compassion over blind faith and indifference, to champion justice over injustice, to champion love over hate.

[original post]

I think that these are all good reasons for debating religion and theism, but as I make clear above a person has to be sincerely interested in learning or listening before any of this can have a chance to make an impression. Some religious theists, I'm sorry to say, are already so convinced of their "insightful" ideas that they don't care what real atheists might have to say about themselves clearly they are too deluded to know their own minds, right? So they'll just keep repeating the idea that atheists have no business debating religion or theism.

Could it be a coincidence that if they succeed in getting atheists to believe this, then they would thereby suppress a significant source of questions about, challenges to, and critiques of their beliefs? Perhaps, but I have trouble believing that.

January 8, 2008 at 10:17 am
(1) CrypticLife says:

I find the very question disingenuous. The religious never think they don’t have any right to express an opinion about other religions. They would indeed like it very much if atheists did not argue, did not raise awareness that there are other reasonable views, and did not allow themselves to be demonized.

January 8, 2008 at 3:56 pm
(2) Patrick Quigley says:

Atheists argue against the gods we don’t believe in for exactly the same reason that the early Christian fathers spent 300 years arguing against the existence of the Roman pantheon of deities. Why is this so difficult for Christians to understand?

Perhaps because so many Christians are ignorant of the history of their own religion. The Roman government asserted the existence of those gods, used the trappings of government to promote belief in them, and then invoked those gods to justify policies that the Christians disagreed with. Now the Christians are in power and we atheists find ourselves in position that the Christians once occupied. Considering that the Romans referred to Christians as atheists for denying the existence of the Olympian gods, one would expect well-informed Christians to empathize with our position.

January 9, 2008 at 12:14 am
(3) Paul Buchman says:

Why do atheists argue when experts in argumentation cannot convince each other?

For example, William Lane Craig (theist) and Quentin Smith (non-theist) both have Ph.D.s in philosophy and have been arguing with each other for years over the existence of god. The arguments continue. If experts like these fail to be convinced by arguments made by their peers, what hope have we to nail a conclusive argument? I’d really like to know.

January 9, 2008 at 6:14 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

Why do atheists argue when experts in argumentation cannot convince each other?

The same is true in many fields. Experts in the ethics of capital punishment routinely fail to convince each other, so why do non-experts argue about the subject? Your question can be rephrased as: why do non-experts bother arguing about anything where experts are not unanimous?

January 9, 2008 at 11:44 am
(5) Paul Buchman says:

According to Bertrand Russell, when experts disagree, laymen are entitled to choose whichever they prefer. The arguments for atheism make a lot more sense to me than the theist arguments.

January 10, 2008 at 5:14 am
(6) Pujjuut says:

Seriously, who doesn’t argue?????

But since you asked, it’s because religious people are always pushing what we don’t want pushed on us, so we push back. simple

January 15, 2008 at 3:20 pm
(7) John Hanks says:

Arguing maketh a ready man. Reading maketh a full man. Writing maketh and exact man.

Religion maketh a double-talk man.

January 16, 2008 at 6:20 am
(8) Torbis5661 says:

Argueing,is nothing more than another form of discussion.
It’s not just athesist that argue,but any and all religion’s as well.
One X-ian group points their finger at the others and say “Your not x-ian enough”
Or “You should belive as We do”
chath-o-licks say”Your out side of holy mother church You have no salvation!”
Even jews and islamist have diffrent levels of faith.
In other words opions are like hearts
every one has at lest one.

January 16, 2008 at 8:38 pm
(9) lesspain says:

Thank you for the “arguments”. I’ve made up my mind, but it can be changed by convincing arguments!

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