As an outspoken atheist, I’m often bombarded with atheist straw man arguments. I suppose this is not unusual. Some of those arguments are subtle, and others not. This post will deal with one or two of them…
The worst part of dealing with those straw man arguments is that they are often not presented as arguments. More frequently, they’re presented as questions, some of which are easy to refute – but the refutation is unexpected and unwanted by the person asking the question, since their questions are loaded with assumptions about atheism, assumptions that they are not prepared to question. Whenever I’ve been asked these questions, my answers, which explain the fallacies about atheism that the questions are loaded with, are met with hostility. The person asking the question always reacts that way, and seemingly does not want the fallacy in the question exposed. They then either declare the debate “won” because I couldn’t answer their question (even though it doesn’t really apply to atheism) or they respond with aggressive hostility, all while claiming that I am rude, intolerant and disrespectful. It’s highly ironic, because not only am I not disrespectful, but I am then criticized for refusing to defend a position that does not represent atheism at all. (I call this “defending a straw man.” It’s a term that I made up without knowing or caring if anyone else has used it, but I’m writing it here in case I ever mention it again. Normally phrased as “I will not be goaded into defending a straw man” or something to that effect.)
- How can you believe in nothing? The old nothing and then nothing exploded meme. No, I don’t have to explain that, because that isn’t what atheism is about.
- Explain how this thing (holds up some complex thing) came to exist by chance alone. How can you possibly believe this came to be by chance? Sorry, but I don’t believe that. That isn’t what atheism is about.
- You must have some special knowledge, to know that god does not exist. You’re so arrogant to think that you have this knowledge. Nope. No special knowledge here. In fact it isn’t the atheist who is arrogant. You have that backwards.
Here’s what atheism is about… It isn’t a belief system. It is the rejection of belief systems. It is the theist who presumes that a god created the universe, but not just any god… the same one that he or she was taught about since childhood. Atheism is the disbelief in that assumption. It is the theist who assumes, without evidence, that this specific god created the universe. Thus it is the theist who assumes to have knowledge that he or she could not possibly have. The atheist simply says, “No, that doesn’t make sense. Where did this god come from?” It’s arrogant to provide a magical explanation for everything, and then it’s disingenuous to insist that anyone who points out how preposterous that magical explanation is, is arrogant.
To assume that atheism is the belief in nothing, or that it’s the belief in things existing by chance alone, is a kind of false dilemma. What you have is your belief, and you then insist that atheism is some kind of polar opposite of that belief. As if belief comes down to one of only two possibilities. Evolution is not about anything appearing out of nothing, or by chance alone. Natural selection is a kind of selection, which involves many factors that affect the gradual changes in life forms over millions of years… factors that are far from random. Evolution also has nothing to do with explaining how the universe came to exist. You’re conflating it with cosmology.
But I don’t have to explain evolution to anyone. I rejected your belief in magic purely because there is no evidence for it. I reject not only the god you think of when you say “God”, but all the others that humankind has created.
And when all other arguments fail, I’m told that I (and others like me) are angry. If I were angry, wouldn’t I be the first to say so? Angry with what? Angry with whom? I can’t be angry with god, and which god do you think I should be angry with anyway? I don’t differentiate between them. They all explain what we do not understand using magic. I can’t be angry with the bible. If I am, then I gather you are angry with the Book of Mormon, the I Ching, the Tripiṭaka and the Dhammapada, the Vedas, and a bunch of other “holy” texts.
The simple truth is, calling someone angry is just a way of taking the focus off their argument and attacking the person instead of what they argue. It is ad hominem.