Maybe I came on a little strong yesterday? I was thinking about this again this morning and came to something of a mini breakthrough…
Every believer who debates atheists believes in god. (Obviously.) But what does that mean? … It means that in every case, they believe that they know god exists. If you accept some claim as fact, then it is difficult not to be biased toward it, because you take it for granted that the claim is true. In every case, for every theist I have ever debated, and every argument for the existence of god I have ever read, it is crystal clear that they start with the assumption that god exists. Then they work backwards from there, coming up with strange pseudo-logic that only appears logical to fellow believers (who also think they know god exists) and non sequiturs. Thus every single argument produced is not about evidence for god, but about something else.
Consider this statement, which happens to be the most concise example of the argument, without the bullshit logical statements and other word salad:
Every creation needs a creator.
Now consider this equivalent statement that could be made by a flat earther:
The flat earth is flat.
If you are religious and can’t see the similarity between the two statements, you might have a problem.
In the case of “Every creation needs a creator”, the assumption is obvious. Existence is called creation. A creation needs a creator because it was created, because that’s what a creation is. But by assuming creation, you also assume a creator (implicitly). The second statement, “The flat earth is flat”, is also logically sound. If the earth was flat, it would indeed be flat. Both statements assume their conclusion, and while the first is one a creationist wrote in a debate, the second one was written by me to be funny and doesn’t disguise the circular reasoning by assuming the conclusion implicitly, but states it explicitly instead.
When we debate, we atheists ask for evidence of god, and none is ever produced. Actually I once had the misfortune of debating a group of people who asserted that evidence exists, and then declared victory. They became angry when I questioned what that evidence is and pointed out that asserting that evidence exists is not the same as producing evidence. (Seriously. It pissed them off. “You have not provided evidence. You just asserted that evidence exists, which is not the same thing.” That made them livid.) So we point out that their arguments are invalid. Because they are. Every argument makes as much sense as the single line example given above, just with more words. (And more words makes the assumption less obvious. It usually isn’t stated directly. And the words can be several points, paragraphs, or hundreds of words, or entire books, which seem logically valid, but still only work if one assumes god exists. And anyone else who shares those beliefs does not see through the poor logic.)
And can you guess what we get in return?
In return, we are told what atheism is. We are told what we believe. Then the debate goes off on a tangent about what the definition of atheism is.
And here’s why they do that: On some level, theist debaters must realize that they start with the assumption that god exists. Of course they do, but admitting it would be to admit dishonesty. It would mean admitting that the “logic” isn’t really logical but is working towards a conclusion that was assumed up front. Rather than do that, they frame atheism as a polar opposite belief, the belief that god doesn’t exist. Because if it were true, if we atheists started out with the assumption that god doesn’t exist and worked backwards towards it, we’d be “equal” to them somehow in the debate. And yes, that would make our arguments equally wrong. It’s a tu quoque fallacy of course to accuse your accusers of doing exactly what you’re doing, but let’s not go further down there. I’m mostly trying not to name the fallacies in this post, but I’ll tag them.
Of course that’s not what atheism is about. Many of us start out believing in religion and doubting it. The claim that a god exists is just that, a claim. We simply question that claim, and when no evidence is produced to support it, we reject it. We don’t claim anything at all. We simply reject your claim that a specific god exists. Then we move on… Looking at other religious claims, we see the similarities and the lack of evidence in all such claims. When someone says we “hate god”, we ask, “Which one?”. But theists ignore that, because they assume a specific god exists and ignore all others, ironically believing that those other gods don’t exist. I don’t do that. I don’t hold up your Christian god, for example, and give any more credence to it’s claim than say, Zeus, or Odin.
So at the end of the day, theists claim that atheists are making a claim just like them, because it would be easier if we were. It would be easier if my argument was “there is no god” rather than the more nuanced, “I reject your claim that god exists because I have seen no evidence to support it. Please produce something to show me it is real”.
And that’s why I see no reason to debate them any more. When all I get is someone who assumes their god exists and pretends to be logical about it, dishonestly not admitting the assumption, and who tells me what I believe no matter how many times I correct them, there is nothing to debate. We have no common ground and I am bored of telling them that their straw man of atheism is nothing to do with actual atheism, and even more bored of pointing out how pathetic their arguments are. Reading their nonsense over and over again also makes me angry; it leads to an emotional response. And I am tired of it.
Edit: My apologies for so often adding points in after publishing, but this post was written in a hurry… Also worthy of mention is their argument against atheism is often also phrased something like “It takes just as much faith to be an atheist”. No, it doesn’t. Faith is belief despite no supporting evidence. Atheism is precisely about rejecting such faith because of the lack of evidence, thus it can’t be about having faith. To insist it is, you are again claiming that atheism is the belief that your god does not exist, just phrased differently.
Imagine for a moment that their straw man of atheism were correct. It would result in a debate where you assume one thing, I assume the opposite, and neither of us is willing to change our mind. In reality, since many of us started out as believers, we have already changed our minds. That’s why we’re atheists. It’s the theists who set out to “win” a debate and are unwilling to change their minds. I’m not interested in winning a debate. I’m interested only in the truth. Thus I am not interested in how good your vocabulary is, or how well your prose flows, or how logical your pseudo-logic appears, or how confusing your word salad is, or how much philosophy or scientific jargon you throw into your arguments. If it doesn’t cite evidence for the existence of a god, it’s just words. Words are easy.