Arguing with the religious and other loons

Look, I think it’s a waste of time to try and convince anyone that their religious indulgence is silly and potentially harmful. It’s not based on rational thought but rather rationalizations to silence the doubts and the conscience in order to keep indulging, so logic probably won’t work. You could pull the same trickery they use, and probably be more successful but, to me, that’s rather shady and you really haven’t changed anything since if the basis of one’s belief is emotional or some similar crap, then that’s not a solid foundation so they could easily shift back or to something else that’s bad or even worse. I find there are three reasons for engaging in arguments with the religious and evangelists of irrational beliefs, and that’s to disarm, to educate, and for self satisfaction.

Since we know the religious use any means to get their ends, dismantling their arguments can help to get rid of some of their means. Sure, they still use them, like Pascal’s Wager, but it’s also easy to dismiss publicly as well because the argument has been so thoroughly dismantled that the dismantling is common knowledge to the rational. I know some poo-poo the idea of atheists reading atheists books in which arguments are dismantled, suggesting that they’re merely books to embolden the faith of atheists, but I think it’s a mistake to assume every atheist is a wildly intelligent person well versed in logic. Look, religious arguments can be very challenging and obviously work very well to convince people. They’ve been designed and modified over millennias. The initial dismissal of a god claim can be simple enough for a child to do, since refusing a claim for lack of evidence can’t get much simpler, but the religious have cooked up some rather devious tricks to get you to believe, so even though you know what they’re saying is a con of some sorts, you may not be either smart enough or educated enough to see through it and dismantle it yourself so having resources out there where the work has already been done is something I see as a good thing.

Now obviously having these dismantlings out there publicly addresses my second reason for arguing, but also I’ve always thought that debates are really for the onlookers, because you most likely can’t change the mind of the religious person you’re arguing with. They possibly have had a lifetime of both being fed outrageous rationalizations and emotional appeals to believe as well as ample experience cooking up their own more personal ways of maintaining belief, so a dismantling of their arguments as well as some clear, rational arguments of your own probably won’t undo all of what they’ve got going on in their head to safeguard their indulgence. However, who knows what state the minds of the onlookers are in? They could be convinced, or at least have some failings occur in their indulgence protection grid, and that could have a cascading effect. And again, the exercise could also serve to educate those who knew the religious arguments were just a con but couldn’t work it out on their own what the trick was.

The third point can be taken many ways. You could gain self satisfaction by believing you’re helping others by killing these arguments. You might gain pleasure by believing you are in fact taking some means away from these people to push their snake oil. You might want to flaunt your intellectual muscle. You might be a recent deconvert and doing this is cathartic, allowing you an outlet for the anger and shame of having bought into this nonsense for so long. Ultimately, I believe all of our actions eventually boil down to acts of self satisfaction anyway, so regardless of the why, if you take the time to argue with and dismantle the arguments of the religious and pushers of similar nonsense, you’re doing so for some for of self satisfaction.

But why do they do it? That’s something for a post of its own probably, but I’d say it’s mostly due to wanting to spread their belief to others, and to bolster their own faith in the belief. In the case of religions, there’s the added incentive of making a show of being a good believer, which may have rewards now but the rewards they’re primarily after are the ones they believe they’ll eventually receive after they die.

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14 Responses to “Arguing with the religious and other loons”

  1. But why do they do it?
    Probably for exactly the same reasons as you listed:
    (1) to help atheists get rid of some of their most effective means of sending others to Hell;
    (2) to demonstrate to onlookers how evil atheists are and how insidious secularism is; and
    (3) to gain satisfaction by believing they're killing our logic with their faith.

    Obviously, there are some debates we must have. When theocrats and god-pushing educators try to impose their collective Christian will on everyone, we have to stand up and fight.

    But here in BlogWorld, when we debate with the religious, we partly do it to gain "props" from other non-theists. Having fought a successful "bout" feeds our egos. There's also a lot to be said for creating an atmosphere of solidarity, for giving other freethinkers a temporary cause around which to rally. We atheists find some level of commonality in rooting for Dawkins, for Hitchens, for Harris, and for one another when we're confronted by ignorance. That's why most of us can't resist "feeding the trolls."

    But mostly, debating with the moronically smug is great intellectual amusement. Some people enjoy solving equations. Others get a kick out of tinkering with inventions. We atheists, many of us, experience great joy in deflating stupidity.

    That's why, outside the political arena, overly serious atheists can be as tiresome as the most zealous religious fanatics. They don't seem to be having any fun.

    On a completely unrelated subject: Is that first photo an old picture of you and your wife having an argument?

  2. Mrs. Chief doesn't yell, she punches… hard.

    I think a large part of the self satisfaction for the religious is in the bolstering of their faith. If they feel they can win (and definitions vary on what a win is) engaging an atheist, then their faith is justified. A loss feeds doubt.

  3. I think a large part of the self satisfaction for the religious is in the bolstering of their faith.
    I agree. Perhaps some of our loudest challengers are actually teetering on the brink of doubt. Debating is a way for them to pull themselves back into the fold, if they can work up enough animosity against "secularism."

  4. Yes, but they could go either way, which tends to justify continuing to argue with them. They could pull back into the fold, or, better, they just might succumb to their doubts. If the latter possibility exist, then the argument was not for naught.

    I know, before I discovered blogs (indeed before there really were a lot a blogs) I spent a lot of time on what was then known as Internet Infidels, when I was trying to sort it all out in my head. I spent a lot of time simply reading comments and posts from others, and I learned a lot from that. Don't underestimate the power of being able to convince lurkers. The ratio of readers to commenters is probably quite large, as I think you noticed lately, Larry.

    Philly, do you have a subscribe option? I keep missing your posts because I don't check every day, and find I am usually late to the discussion. With WordPress blogs, I get a notification every time a new post goes up.

  5. Since I created the style sheets, I'll have to figure out what the code is for that and try and add it.

  6. I remember Internet Infidels. I read a lot of their stuff when I was deconverting. That was right around the time some internal squabble broke out over there; I don't know what the result of all that mess was. At any rate, they had some excellent essays in their archives.

  7. If you do, you can use my email as a test to see if it works.

  8. You could pull the same trickery they use, and probably be more successful but, to me, that’s rather shady and you really haven’t changed anything since if the basis of one’s belief is emotional or some similar crap, then that’s not a solid foundation so they could easily shift back or to something else that’s bad or even worse.

    These people won't feast on the logic if they view you as a non-credible source, that is why religious leaders take so much time demonizing the credibility of those whom think differently. If they think you are in bed with the devil then suddenly all the things you say have some kind of evil intention, those axiomatic trees start looking very scary and the whole argument forest becomes haunted. They're used to their own unfounded axiomatic trees, such as god exists, miracles happen, the world doesn't make sense, and etc, but they can't see the fact that their forest of belief is only a movie set within the greater forest of reality. (I hate using analogies like that, but it at least builds a credos with those whom are spoonfed parables, right!?)

  9. Note – My new official response when people tell me I don't see their forest through my trees is "Ever think that your forest is merely a 2 dimensional movie set with fake cardboard cutout trees within my 3 dimensional forest that has real trees!?"

  10. I'd simply ask what evidence do they have that their forrest exists.

  11. Cardboard Cutout Tree Axiom 3 – the world doesn't make logical sense

    There doesn't need to be any any inductive evidence for them to believe that their forest exists, that is why faith is a virtue (they are either casting their faith in religious leaders or in religious books). The answer is either because their leader (pastor, priest, rabbi, avatar, parents, buddhist monk, teacher, etc) told them so or because their book (Bible, Torah, Koran, Vedas, Ghita, Book of Mormon, conspiracey theory, etc) says something (peotic, magical, allegorical, fascinating, sexual, scary, etc) that gets them all emotional inside so that they believe it or want to believe it without actually seeing it. In their minds you are commiting the fallacy of disbelieving authority figures that they trust.

  12. Ah, but we're talking about two different things, why they believe and why I should believe. That shit may suffice for them, but not for me. That's fine, except they want me to believe what they believe, and to do so, they have to provide a stronger warrant.

    Look, if I looked through a window and saw a fairy wearing boots dancing with a dwarf, I could tell you I saw it with my own two eyes and that you gotta believe me but why should you? You'd probably say I've gone too far, perhaps even accuse me of tripping and smoking.

    [youtube EvuI8d57N9I http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvuI8d57N9I youtube]

  13. I would venture to say they only want other people to believe what they do because then they don't feel so stupid about it, and because then they can manipulate you into serving their group purpose. They are believing merely to gain acceptance or status and other benefits from their religious peers, not because there is truth in their belief system though. You aren't confronting just an individual when you ask for evidence though, you are confronting a unit within a greater hive mind (sphere of influence) that believes nearly as they do (they can gain advantages from the idiocy of others in that group so long as there are an adequate number of members who play by the same group rules of conformity).

    My belief is that all groups will merge with a consistent view of reality eventually.

  14. Trying to de-convert Christians directly via argument, in my opinion, is futile because they're so emotionally attached to their religion that, even if you corner them, they will never admit on your face that you're right.

    I think the best way to go about it is to avoid putting them in that position. When I was de-converting, I remembered almost every off-hand comment atheists ever said to me.

    When you are talking to a religious person, throw in quick comments that don't invite debate and, if possible, walk away right after. The person will have no choice but to ruminate on it, for years even.

    For example, you could say something like, "Sure, the snake spoke to Adam. What are the chances of that?"

    Then you walk away. Years later, during a crisis, the person may remember the comment, and this time, he or she will give it a second thought.

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