My Live Writer spell-checker suggests that “respectworthy” isn’t a word. I’m going to assume it’s wrong. The evidence to support my claim that respectworthy is valid, is that several internet dictionaries list it. Anyway, on with the post…
The last couple of days, I spent some time in those atheist versus theist debate groups again. I figured that maybe seeing their arguments after taking a break would be refreshing, that I wasn’t giving them enough credit, and that the theists who debate aren’t idiots after all. Boy, was I wrong.
The first post I read contained nothing more than the proclamation, “Jesus is Lord”. That’s it. No argument. No logic, no reason, no point. Just another assertion. The poster didn’t respond to any questions or points in any arguments that were countered – he simply declared his assertion again.
Then his friend stated (twice, like repetition makes the statement truer or something) that “atheists are dead”. Also she alleges that we can’t understand the scriptures because we aren’t “Sealed by the Holy Spirit”. (“Hoo hoo hoo ho. The little wascal has spiwit.”… Obligatory Monty Python reference – I can’t help it.) After that she started about end times…
Ignoring the end times and that reading the Bible makes it clear that the world was supposed to end within the lifetimes of the generation who wrote it… I find the claim that we can’t understand the Bible quite interesting. What she is saying is that she can understand it (because she believes it), but we can’t (because we don’t believe it). That is, it’s a fine way of dismissing anything that doesn’t support what she believes. If she sees criticism, she ignores it without thinking. Not that thinking would do her or her friend much good, I’m afraid, but still… It’s an awful mindset to have. She even quoted a Bible verse that makes the claim that the Bible can’t be understood. Then of course she ignored my comment that asked how she could know what that means. (Sarcasm. Not everybody gets it.)
I wonder how much of this kind of belief has to do with that horrendous Bible verse they love quoting when indoctrinating children: (Matthew 18:2-4)
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
That verse confused the hell out of me when I was a child. They’d often bring it up in Sunday school, and I’d be thinking, “But I am a child. What does this mean?” I gather it is supposed to mean that one must believe without question. But even as a child, I didn’t. I believed my parents, up until I was about 12 and figured out that they didn’t know everything and weren’t as smart as I’d always thought they were, but I’d already learned along the way that believing anyone else was a judgement call. For example, I was supposed to go for my First Confession (Roman Catholic) at 8 years old before I could do my First Holy Communion. I pretended to be sick to avoid the first confession because I didn’t believe it then. (I went a week later though, and got the grumpy other priest that nobody liked. Father Roche was his name.) Often I’d believe someone at first and then find out they were either lying or wrong. Mostly people are wrong about most things, not because they are deceitful but because they are mistaken. So my default position came to be one of skepticism… Give others the benefit of the doubt if it isn’t important and doesn’t affect me directly, but otherwise assume they are wrong until it is proven otherwise.
To start with the assumption that anything outrageous is true, that’s not a virtue. It’s not respectworthy. It’s stupid. It’s worthy of ridicule. Of course I don’t disbelieve everything. If you tell me (for example) you have a degree or you studied a particular subject, I won’t assume you are lying, unless you follow it up with something absurd that contradicts what you told me. But if you tell me all about your adventures in a parallel universe, where you were king of the butterfly people and supreme ruler of the fairy lands, I’m probably not going to believe you.
One does not start out with the assumption that the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot exists, and that UFOs are abducting people and sticking probes in their anal cavities. That’s not how the burden of proof works. Claims require evidence. When there isn’t any, the claim is probably not true. Some claims can be debunked; some can’t. For example, UFO abductions can easily be explained by sleep paralysis, whereas claims for the existence of gods are unfalsifiable. You also can’t refute that there isn’t a boogeyman under my son‘s bed or in the cupboard (because when you look and he isn’t there, maybe he moved). That doesn’t change the fact that the claim probably isn’t true, it just changes the nature of the claim itself. It means that the person who believes in it, believes despite a lack of evidence, and is willing to argue about it, and do things like try to shift the burden of proof, despite not having anything valid to debate.
Getting back to that Bible verse… One thing I have noticed is that the adults who “believe like children” don’t actually believe like children at all. Children are impressionable, yes, because their brains are not fully developed. Up until a point, they will accept whatever nonsense you tell them, because they don’t know any better. But as I have learned with my son, when he is presented with something that contradicts what he was taught, with criticism of what he has been taught, he is open to thinking about that criticism. This idea of a child, as presented by that horrid Bible verse and accepted by adults who are brainwashed, is nothing like an actual child at all. Real children are growing and learning. They adapt and when presented with information objectively, they reject nonsense quite quickly. (Try telling a child that dogs like to roost in the trees. Just try.) It is only when they are pummelled with nonsense from the time before they learn to think critically, until they accept it, and then hammer it in some more… that they end up as adults who are incapable of questioning the nonsense they were taught not to think about.
I deliberately included an absurdity in the previous paragraph, about dogs roosting in trees, knowing that brainwashed people would think me facetious. But consider this:
- Nobody believes dogs roost in trees.
- Some people believe that a man walked on water.
- Some people believe a man flew on a magic donkey and split the moon.
- Some people recognize that a flying donkey is ludicrous, but that doesn’t stop them from believing a man walked on water, even though that’s physically impossible.
As we see from point four above, if you are invested in a particular belief, if you assume it to be true, that allows you to recognize that other things are false, but you still don’t question your own belief even though it is just as absurd. Walking on water is no less absurd that flying a magic donkey. It is only when you accept the rest of the nonsense leading to that… that this magic man was the son of god, or god himself and also his son, that you can then accept other things that are so obviously untrue to critical thinkers. So was I really being facetious after all?
People like those two idiots I mentioned earlier are not childlike at all. They are not innocent, trusting and unbiased, with minds a clean slate ready to absorb and think about information and gain knowledge. Instead they are childish – they’re ignorant and are wilfully so, choosing to remain ignorant and believe in nonsense despite a lack of evidence, rejecting valid criticism and logic because of their bias to continue believing what they already believe, and are willing not only to defend their unfalsifiable position in arguments that they don’t or can’t understand, but also willing to mock the people much smarter than them who are trying to educate them. Of course those two Nigerians represent the extreme of their religion. But there are atheists in Nigeria too. In my experience debating theists, the arguments used by extremists, by the most stupid of the believers, are no different to those used by the more intelligent believers. They aren’t cluttered by added verbosity, syntactic complexity and hidden behind ambiguous rhetoric. They’re less wordy and of course simple-minded morons are less likely to toss red herrings every couple of sentences, but the fundamental arguments and the fallacies and flaws in those arguments, are the same.
The more I debate these people, the more I understand them, and the less respectful I become. I had some really good discussions with an agnostic a couple of months ago, but I left that group because it was full of asserters.