We don’t need no stinkin’ zeros!


I just read an article at of all places, belief.net, entitled ‘I was never a real atheist’. It’s a little tale about the author’s experience being introduced to an atheist and in an attempt to make small talk I guess, said he used to be an atheist. The atheist naturally responded by telling him he wasn’t an atheist then, to which the author got pissed.

I think this is an interesting exchange. Atheism is the reject of god claims because they’re unwarranted. Now generally, an atheist would require demonstrable evidence as a warrant (no demonstrable evidence = unwarranted belief), but yes, it’s certainly possible someone might consider god claims unwarranted for irrational reasons. Clearly the atheist considered himself one of the former, and the author one of the latter, for indeed, if the author were one of the former, then he wouldn’t be going to church now.

If your basis for not believing is irrational, then it stands to reason that you could be made to believe through irrationality, but if your basis for not believing is rational, then no irrational plea to believe would sway you.

This is what the atheist was saying with his response. I can see how his response could appear illogical and guilty of the infamous ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy, though. Personally, I think there needs to be a new word to distinguish rational and irrational atheism in order to avoid such nonsense like this. The best one I’ve heard so far for a rational atheist is “faithfreeist”.

In an article I linked to in a recent post, it was shown how some Christian groups evangelize and how they readily admit the conversions they get don’t always stick. There’s an eagerness to enlist people on team Christian more than I feel there is a motivation to actually convey why someone should be on the team. This crap of swelling the ranks and advancing the flag without serious thought as to why, I think, is behind much of the ‘ends justify the means’ antics of Christians, but are atheists just as guilty?

I look around at some atheist blogs and atheist groups and I’d have to say yes. There are some truly moronic and asinine atheists out there (and I’m not just talking about the dipshits who call themselves atheists despite believing in a god), and mindless efforts to swell the ranks. Nietzsche has a great line about this. He said it’s a shame that some, so eager to increase their number, merely line up zeros behind them.

Advancing atheism shouldn’t be a goal itself, but rather, critical thinking, rationality and empiricism should be, and with that in mind, we should try to make a distinction about what kind of atheist we are. Personally, I don’t want to share a label with the caricature atheists that theists always paint in their arguments who are really just angry at their god or lost faith because they hit a rough patch in life. No, I want to share a label with intelligent, rational, critical thinkers, and if making that distinction between atheists means I’m party to a smaller group, so be it. Better to separate the wheat from the chaff than to line up zeros behind us.

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19 Responses to “We don’t need no stinkin’ zeros!”

  1. I think you’re right there. In fact, I am more than happy with my theist readers. (Oddly, most of my theists are pagans.) I don’t care what you believe, I just want to be equal to you. I want to be able to run for President. I want to be able to tell people I am an atheist without fear of retribution.

    I do occasionally call BS on some people claiming to be atheists/agnostics. If you’re not an atheist, don’t pretend to be. And if you believe Jesus was the son of God, you’re not an agnostic.

  2. While I hesitate to call BS on every theist who says they were once an atheist, simply because there is such a wide diversity of people who are current atheists for numerous reasons, but I have found that, almost without exception, the theists who do it as a gimmick are invariably lying.

    At the very least, I’m convinced that rational atheists, those who demand rational, evidence-based, well-reasoned arguments in order to believe something will never be swayed to religion because religion has none of those things. The only “atheist” who can be converted are the ones who said they were atheists because they thought it was cool, because they were mad or for other non-rational, purely-emotional reasons. I don’t want to start playing the “no true atheist” game, but like theism, people can be atheists for all kinds of bad, irrational, ridiculous reasons. It’s hard to quiz people because there are no tenets of atheism, no scripture verses, no universal belief structure, so pretty much anyone who wants to claim they were an atheist, like anyone who wants to claim they’re a theist, can do so as far as I’m concerned. But if they start trying to use that as leverage to con people into buying their “new, improved religious beliefs”, all I can say is that they were pretty piss-poor atheists, if they were at all, and leave it at that.

  3. Post and preceding comments all very good.

    Advancing atheism shouldn’t be a goal itself, but rather, critical thinking, rationality and empiricism should be

    YES.

    I don’t care if you label yourself an atheist, agnostic, whatever. I DO care that you can use critical thinking, which will inevitably lead to a rejection of religious dogma.

  4. I’d hedge that last bet. Certainly one can compartmentalize, and if that’s possible, then accepting dogma is possible, too. You’d think it would make it less likely, though.

    Theism, although potentially harmful, is mostly just a silly indulgence. It’s the baggage, the dogma associated with the belief that’s hazardous.

    As for the “I used to be an atheist” thing, yes, that is one of those ‘Way of the Master’ charades which is another reason why an atheist might respond like the guy in the story did, suspecting bullshit.

  5. Emphasize rationality, critical thought and empiricism, and the beliefs will take care of themselves. The labels are far less important than the processes people use to sort through the various forms of bullshit that get thrown their way every day.

  6. If you want to keep insisting that requiring demonstrable evidence for accepting claims is merely an opinioned position, then be intellectually honest and live your ENTIRE life without bothering with demonstrable evidence and when you decide to, let me know, because I could use your help. You see, I have all this money tied up in an account I can't access, but if you could forward me some cash until it comes available, I'll pay you back double. The more you can send me, the more you could make."Correct me if I'm wrong, but this transaction occurred between three people: Geek Squad guy at Best Buy (GSG@BB), John the Atheist (JA), and Joan Ball the Former Atheist (JBFA)."Ok, you're wrong. The three people are:1) Joan Ball2) Unidentified friend of Joan Ball3) Geek Squad Guy, introduced as "John (not his real name)"I didn't bother reading your "parsing" since I figured it wouldn't make much sense since you've got the characters wrong. Feel free to re-parse.

  7. Appeal to rational logic, to irrational emotions, and to credible ethos makes for a stronger argument than just rational logic alone does. That is why the religious are so effective at recruiting, they use emotions of fear and love in place of evidence and logic. Certainly fire needs to be fought with fire, but it does help to fan the flames a little bit too, and maybe a little trusty gasoline on your fire too.

  8. (and I’m not just talking about the dipshits who call themselves atheists despite believing in a god)

    No, please, do talk about it. That’s like Jews for Jesus, or those so-called lesbians that fuck dudes.

    Personally, I don’t want to share a label with the caricature atheists that theists always paint in their arguments who are really just angry at their god or lost faith because they hit a rough patch in life. No, I want to share a label with intelligent, rational, critical thinkers, and if making that distinction between atheists means I’m party to a smaller group, so be it. Better to separate the wheat from the chaff than to line up zeros behind us.

    I wanna be you when I grow up. . . .

    I don’t get why people are so ashamed to say what they really are. As PersonalFailure said, if you believe Jesus was the son of God, you’re not an agnostic–or a Jew, I would add. You’re a Christian. If you actively sleep with people of both sexes, you’re bisexual. If you believe there’s a god, even one measly supernatural overlord . . . you’re not an atheist.

    And this former atheist . . . maybe he got scared straight by something–a health scare, or a loved one dying. Maybe he’s nuts. Maybe he’s just an attention whore (if someone once swam across the English channel, then Former Atheist did it, too, back in the day).

    But it’s more likely that he was just BSing, either to get some kinda cred, or to show that even you, too, can become a theist through the love of Jeebus.

    Who knows why people do crazy things? But I do think a case of crazy/scared can eradicate even a lifetime of critical thinking. Maybe not often, but it’s bound to have happened at least once.

  9. This post was cool and and I’m not trying to be condescending here but give an honest compliment: Your writing was always good and entertaining to read, but as of late it’s gotten better. It feels like you’re slowing down and spending alot more time critically thinking. Again, lack of inflection’s a bitch, and I’m not trying to make a backhanded dis, but being honest.

    This was spot-on, indeed worthy of a “bravo” to you:

    “There’s an eagerness to enlist people on team Christian more than I feel there is a motivation to actually convey why someone should be on the team.”

    I still have a few quibbles about some of your logic in other areas, though:

    “Atheism is the reject of god claims because (one feels) they’re unwarranted.” (paren. mine)

    To maintain full intellectually honesty, we would add the parenthesized words. And then there’s this:

    “Advancing atheism shouldn’t be a goal itself, but rather, critical thinking, rationality and empiricism should be…”

    Hey, gets my vote 100%. However:

    “This is what the atheist was saying with his response.”

    Hmmm… (red flag goes up). Correct me if I’m wrong, but this transaction occurred between three people: Geek Squad guy at Best Buy (GSG@BB), John the Atheist (JA), and Joan Ball the Former Atheist (JBFA). So let’s parse this out.

    JBFA records that the extent of JA’s statement was to merely claim JBFA was never a “real atheist,” then walk off with no further explanation. While I can understand the psychological need to absolve your fellow brethren of their logical transgressions if that’s the underlying motivation here, I do wonder on what demonstrable evidence you actually stand other than your own subjective inference that JA wasn’t really making a No-True-Atheist argument, but that JA actually meant (fill in the blank with your own subjective inference).

    Where is the demonstrable evidence for your claim? Did you ask JA whether or not he intended to make a No-True-Atheist argument? Maybe that’s exactly what JA wanted to do? Maybe JA had some prior motive for making such a statement to JBFA? Note that you were not at Best Buy on the night in question, or if you were present, such was not stated in either the OP or the source material. Further note that you did not record any transaction between yourself and GSG@BB, and that JBFA did not record any further transactions with JA.

    So how might you know the subjective content of GSG@BB’s mind? Have you actually solved the enigmatic Problem of Mind, and no fine publisher of philosophical tomes has yet heard? The list of if’s here is a mile long, and if rationalism and demonstrable evidence are your guidestones, why throw them out the window to make some particular claim of your own, yet demand their rigorous application from those who make claims to you?

    “no demonstrable evidence = unwarranted belief…”

    Indeed, and as such, your beliefs about JA’s intended meaning are unwarranted by your own definitions.

  10. We could go with the terms implicit and explicit atheism, the author being most likely an implicit atheist – having no god belief but also having no conscious rejection of it. Babies and young children being good examples.

    Everyone on the planet was once an implicit atheist.

  11. I think I prefer irrational and rational atheist.

    Frankly, we have no idea what babies and toddlers think since they can’t communicate and none of those memories remain accessible to us once we’re adults. Further complicating things is the constant implanting of god, god, god by most parents and families. Has anyone ever bothered to ask those feral kids or those sad cases you hear of where they were boarded up for years with no outside human contact? Did they ever imagine a god, or were they implicitly atheists?

    You’d really be hard pressed to create an experiment to test if people are implicitly atheists or theistic.

  12. Thought I would weigh in for clarification. I was brought up in a secular home, raised on rationality and the belief that I could do most anything that I put my mind to. I studied mathematics and economics in college and admit that I had a desire to believe in something during those years. That desire was not realized, however, since what I read about Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and a host of New Age stuff I looked into at the time made no sense to me. This confirmed what I had believed leading up to my “search”. There was no God and religion was a construct – a dangerous construct that had been created by man to corral weak-minded sots. In fact, I spent many hours engaged in debates with people of faith whose “I can prove that God exists” arguements did (and still do) fall short for me in terms of rational thinking. In retrospect, I had a particular (and somewhat irrational) venom for Christians, but I cannot put my finger on why I singled them out. I still cannot imagine attmepting to defend the Christian faith I now embrace with rational arguements. In fact, I still can’t believe I landed as a Christian – nor can members of my family or people who I used to fight with. But I have come to believe and I am going with it. Will leave it there, since I can see that more than one of your commenters are convinced that this is all a ruse to change people’s minds. I assure you it is not – nobody could have changed mine, so I know better than to try it.

    One more clarification. Pissed is not an accurate description of my response to the guy in Best Buy. Quite frankly the whole exchange was pretty awkward, not anger inducing. I was happy to get back to my computer and it was not until I was walking out of the store that I began to reflect further on the exchange.

  13. First Joan, thanks for stopping by.

    Second, as your story prompted another post for you, that new post also prompted yet another post here, and I feel both have prompted some serious thought for me, so again, I thank you. It’s nice to engage in some serious brain activity instead of simply fuming over some nonsense.

    Third, I’m sure I’m not alone in being curious why you chose to believe, and I’m certainly intrigued by your comment that you can’t imagine attempting a rational defense of your religious belief.

    Wasn’t pissed? Got it. I was being rather loose with paraphrasing your story.

  14. PhillyChief,

    Ah, you’re right! I did mess up the cast of characters. My mistake. JA and GSG@BB are the same person. Either way, you’re still left with an epistemological nightmare. Let’s re-parse:

    “Advancing atheism shouldn’t be a goal itself, but rather, critical thinking, rationality and empiricism should be…”

    Hey, gets my vote 100%. However:

    “This is what the atheist was saying with his response.”

    Hmmm… (red flag goes up). Correct me if I’m wrong, but this transaction occurred between three people: Geek Squad guy at Best Buy (GSG@BB), Joan Ball the Former Atheist (JBFA), and her Unnamed Church Friend (UCF). JBFA records that the extent of GSG@BB’s statement was to merely claim JBFA was never a “real atheist,” then walk off with no further explanation. While I can understand the psychological need to absolve your fellow brethren of their logical transgressions if that’s the underlying motivation here, I do wonder on what demonstrable evidence you actually stand other than your own subjective inference that GSG@BB wasn’t really making a No-True-Atheist argument, but that GSG@BB actually meant (fill in the blank with your own subjective inference).

    Where is the demonstrable evidence for your claim? How the hell do you know what GSG@BB really meant? Did you ask GSG@BB whether or not he intended to make a No-True-Atheist argument? Maybe that’s exactly what GSG@BB wanted to do? Maybe GSG@BB had some reasonable motive for making such a statement to JBFA? The list of if’s here is a mile long, and note that you were not at Best Buy on the night in question, or if you were present, such was not stated in either the OP or the source material. Further note that you did not record any transaction between yourself and GSG@BB, and that JBFA did not record any further transactions with GSG@BB.

    So how might you know the subjective content of GSG@BB’s mind? Have you actually solved the enigmatic Problem of Mind, and no fine publisher of philosophical tomes has yet heard? If rationalism and demonstrable evidence are your guidestones, why throw them out the window to make some particular claim of your own, yet demand their rigorous application from those who make claims to you?

    “no demonstrable evidence = unwarranted belief…”

    Indeed, and as such, your beliefs about GSG@BB’s intended meaning are unwarranted by your own definitions. Unless of course, you have demonstrable evidence besides your own subjective inference that shows GSG@BB actually meant otherwise.

    Now – you continue to make the same mistake with me by taking a statement I made, and framing it as your understanding of said statement. Observe:

    “If you want to keep insisting that requiring demonstrable evidence for accepting claims is merely an opinioned position,”

    Show me where I said that. Show me were I said or implied that, “requiring demonstrable evidence for accepting claims is merely an opinioned position.”

    Incidentally, PLEASE tell me, if you want to keep insisting that claims require demonstrable evidence to be accepted, on what demonstrable evidence do you rest your claim that GGS@BB really meant what you inferred? Again, if rationalism and demonstrable evidence are your guidestones, why throw them out the window to advance some particular claim of your own, yet demand their rigorous application from those who make claims to you?

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, no?

    Joan Ball,

    “I spent many hours engaged in debates with people of faith whose “I can prove that God exists” arguements did (and still do) fall short for me in terms of rational thinking.”

    Ditto.

  15. Experience served as evidence, the experience of reading numerous atheist writings, available online and in print, to form a probability. Do I KNOW what he was actually thinking? Would I truly know even if I asked him and he gave me an answer? How far do you want to go with “know”?

  16. “Experience served as evidence, the experience of reading numerous atheist writings, available online and in print, to form a probability.”

    So then, is it okay to just abandon the need for demonstrable evidence from time-to-time? If so, why won’t you accept “experience” as demonstrable evidence from a believer?

    “Do I KNOW what he was actually thinking? Would I truly know even if I asked him and he gave me an answer?”

    Keep the waters clean, please. Your advancement of a claim sans demonstrable evidence is the matter at hand here. Had you asked him, you may or may not have really KNOWN, but you would at least have acquired demonstrable evidence to support your claim instead of subjective inference. Going off nothing other than GSG@BB’s “you weren’t a real atheist,” you went ahead and concluded,

    “If your basis for not believing is irrational, then it stands to reason that you could be made to believe through irrationality, but if your basis for not believing is rational, then no irrational plea to believe would sway you. This is what the atheist was saying with his response.” (bold mine)

    Sure seems like an appeal to knowledge to me. Again, how do you know GSG@BB wasn’t one of those cookie-cutter thinkers who just parrot the trendy axioms of the moment? Maybe GSG@BB was using the argument illogically. You have no means of knowing other than your own subjective inference, or your “experience” or “probability” or whatever you want to equivocate to, which is exactly the same thing I’ve heard you harshly criticize believers for.

  17. Forgive this question, CL. You have to appreciate that I haven’t spent nearly as much time in conversation with you as Philly and others have, and I honestly don’t know your positions on many things. So, again, I’m just asking…

    Are you one of those theists who attempts to turn rationality and reason on their head and tries to equate it with the subjective ways of “knowledge” obtained through religious experience?

    Do you feel that I only BELIEVE that I can know things by critical analysis – in much the same way that a Christian BELIEVES he can know things from the spirit of god?

    I really hope your underlying argument is not either one of “equivalency of methods” or the old “non-overlapping magesteria”.

    If so, I can start to understand why you seem to find “material facts” so unpalatable. But I should wait for your response…

  18. Warrants aren’t exactly black and white. Most of the time, they’re like puzzle pieces or clues which, if you have enough of them, you can be reasonably sure what the picture is. If you’ve ever watched a mystery or cop show, then you should understand this.

    Personal experience works for you, but unless you can demonstrate it, then believing you isn’t warranted since you could be lying or crazy like Mr. Crackers.

    Much of the experience I was relying on, cl, was reading written works by other atheists, so that makes for demonstrable evidence since they exist for anyone to go examine for themselves. I did not “abandon the need for demonstrable evidence”.

    In contrast, god claims are unwarranted to accept for they lack ANY demonstrable evidence. The closest god believers come is point to things like existence or a holy book, but then there’s nothing to tie the supposed evidence to the gods. Such “evidence” merely digs the whole deeper, for now a warrant is required for acceptance of the evidence! At this point, believers really are just left with arguments which often contain faulty logic like personal incredulity, appeals to emotion, and so forth.

    “Keep the waters clean, please.”

    Right back at ya. Again I ask, how far are you going to take “knowing”? Are you going to take us to the inevitable brains in vat?

    Yes, I made a conclusion based on experience which is in part demonstrable, which is an acceptable manner of speech outside of tv news and court. Language would become unduly cumbersome if instead I had to write ‘This is what I conclude based on reading (link), (link), (link), (link), etc, the alleged atheist who allegedly is real and allegedly met with the alleged Joan Ball and allegedly is an actual atheist was saying with his response which he allegedly said.’

  19. John Evo,

    “Are you one of those theists who attempts to turn rationality and reason on their head and tries to equate it with the subjective ways of “knowledge” obtained through religious experience?”

    Unload the question. I don’t suggest that anyone “turn rationality and reason on their head.”

    “Do you feel that I only BELIEVE that I can know things by critical analysis”

    No. Let’s avoid solipsism, which seems not too far around the corner from that idea. My gripes here aren’t about certainty, in case you’ve taken Philly’s bait, rather about Philly making claims sans demonstrable evidence, holding himself to different standards than others, prefixing “in part” to “demonstrable,” etc.

    “I can start to understand why you seem to find “material facts” so unpalatable.”

    I didn’t say I find material facts unpalatable; I’m a lover of science and empiricism so why would I? I did say that you loaded things when you asked me to show one material fact better explained by religion than science, and that’s an entirely different conversation that I believe we were having at your place. There’s a good reason I said I don’t want to open up a bunch of different cans of worms here.

    PhillyChief: “Warrants aren’t exactly black and white. Most of the time, they’re like puzzle pieces or clues which, if you have enough of them, you can be reasonably sure what the picture is.”

    Good, I’ll remember that next time I hear you harping on how somebody’s warrant is unfounded.

    PhillyChief: “Much of the experience I was relying on, cl, was reading written works by other atheists, so that makes for demonstrable evidence since they exist for anyone to go examine for themselves.”

    BWAHAHAHAHA!!! What a steaming pile of fly-attracting hypocrisy that is, relying on what many atheists denounce as hearsay when draped in religious verbiage! Much of the experience believers rely on is reading written works by other believers and the Bible, and anyone can go examine those for themselves, too. So are the Bible and “written works by other Christians” also evidence now? Don’t let all your atheist buddies find out!

    PhillyChief: “I did not “abandon the need for demonstrable evidence”.”

    Then demonstrate it. Tell me Philly – where is your demonstrable evidence that GSG@BB actually meant (fill in the blank with your own subjective inference)? I don’t see it. Where is it? I’m still waiting. It’s a very easy challenge, you know, if you possess said evidence. Reading “written works by other atheists” doesn’t give you the right to tell us that you know what GSG@BB actually meant. Curtail the damage already done to your own intellectual integrity and admit this please.

    PhillyChief: “The closest god believers come is point to things like existence or a holy book, but then there’s nothing to tie the supposed evidence to the gods.”

    “The closest god believers come is point to…?” Huh? What does that mean? Doesn’t seem very, you know, clear, tee-hee! And the closest you’ve come here is to point to “experience” and “probability” and “written works by other atheists.” What’s the difference? What ties the opinions of other atheists to GSG@BB, unless of course we presuppose that GSG@BB holds said opinions because he’s an atheist? For Pete’s sake Philly, you’re sounding like the rankest and most amateur of apologists here.

    PhillyChief: “Yes, I made a conclusion based on experience which is IN PART demonstrable, which is an acceptable manner of speech outside of tv news and court. Language would become unduly cumbersome if instead I had to write…” (caps mine)

    Is the ground soft where you live? Been raining much? Because the way you yanked that goalpost out of the ground and ran with it, I’m really wondering. Now it’s acceptable if our evidence is in part demonstrable? And you’re only making illogical mistakes to avoid cumbersome language? Please! I don’t suggest you have to write the utter nonsense that followed the ellipsis, so again, let’s keep the waters clean, cement the goalpost back into place, and burn all the straw.

    See, from the beginning, you could have simply said, “You know what, good point cl – I don’t know what GSG@BB actually meant, because I never asked him – but this is what I’m inferring / speculating / conjecturing he meant from other atheists writings I’ve read..” What’s so bad about that? You rather nonchalantly admitted your error of inaccurately presupposing you knew the contents of Joan Ball’s mind. What’s the difference with GSG@BB?

    Although such might still entail logical difficulties, as it stands, per all these fallacies you’ve badly undermined your own authority to speak on warrant and demonstrable evidence from here on out in my book. Not that you care what I think, but your appeals to logic and rationalism are quite a crock at times, Philly.

    You made me say it.

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