Archive for the ‘Counterapologetics 101’ Category
There’s an Australian series called “The Gruen Transfer”. It’s kind of a comedy show with political context. I can’t really claim to have seen it, as it’s an Australian show and I only get to see snippets on YouTube. However, One of these snippets is what I’d like to share with you today: It’s a segment called “The Pitch”, in which they apparently ask different advertisement agencies to produce TV ads advertising completely unsellable ideas, such as “bring back child labour” or “Let’s Invade New Zealand”. In the end they vote for the best of the submitted ads.
In the following segment, the chosen theme is “Ban All Religion”. Two Agencies took up the challenge, and here is what they came up with. Enjoy!
Personally, I’d vote for the first ad because the second one is based on an argument that has been shown to fail repeatedly. That wars are waged and people are killed in the name of religion is nothing new, it has been pointed out millions of times. The only reaction it gets is “well, that’s just the extremists.” It’s the old and tired the-center-vs-the-fringe-debate, and it’s unlikely to be won by posing the same argument yet another time. The subversive argumentation of the first clip is way more likely to actually change minds, plus it’s not as negative as the second one.
“Religion is bad, let’s do away with it!” puts most people instantly on defense, even if they are not themselves religious. “Religion is outdated, we can do way better than that!” is a message much more likely to open people up to reconsider their views.
Yesterday I received a comment on my latest post that is exemplary of the condescending attitude of believers who believe that, simply because they are a few years older than me, my views are not even worth listening to. They’ve got it all figured out, and they’re just trying to help a poor, young and obviously confused soul.
That comment is so exemplary in fact, that for a second I wondered if it was just some fellow atheist’s idea of humour. In the end I was convinced of the authentic nature of the comment by the author’s abuse of punctuation and generally faulty grammar. Here it is, in all its beauty:
I stumbled upon your website and will probably never be back. I have no agenda other than to leave you with some thoughts you might find helpful. I know a lot of young people in their mid-twentys…none of them blog. I wonder why you do? Are you happy…I mean deep down? Life is short, death is certain, eternity is forever…Faith comes BEFORE knowledge and understanding, it must…the Truth is a Person…that Person will be with you every step of your journey despite your rantings. You sound like a smart guy…you can figure this out. I wish you well…Regards from America.
As I said, this is a perfect example of an attitude I encounter all the time. My usual tactic is to smile and ignore. It’s an invite to a game that I have stopped playing some time ago, when its predictable patterns started to bore me. This comment being on my blog however, for anyone to see, I felt obliged to answer. Having just had a really great although exhausting day, and feeling relaxed and a tad bored, I was in just the right mood, too. So I blew the dust of my trolling-gloves and accepted the invite.
I appreciate your kind but entirely misplaced concern for my personal happiness. If you would actually wonder why I blog, you could of course simply have asked, but if you prefer to stick to your preconceived notion of the angry and frustrated young atheist who blogs because he has nobody in real life who will listen to him, that’s just as fine with me.
I can’t help wondering a little myself… those people you know, presumably my peers by age, do they watch a lot of quality TV like American Idol or Big Brother? Do they drink a lot of alcohol? Because I don’t. And I’d like you to consider which is the more fulfilling past-time: That, or blogging about the kind of political and ethical issues that I find interesting, in a foreign language?
I know you weren’t really interested in an actual answer to your rhetorical question in the first place, but here it is anyhow: I blog because I enjoy writing. I enjoy playing that weird but beautiful instrument that is the english language, enjoy to improve my grasp of it. I rant because it’s something I enjoy doing from time to time. It’s an intellectually engaging way to keep my english-skills alive, and it most certainly beats watching TV. Satisfied?
I am a smart guy, thank you, and I already figured this out. I know it makes you uncomfortable to even consider the possibility of a happy atheist, because that might mean you need to seriously reconsider your world-view, but YES, I actually am happy deep down.
You are right, faith does indeed come before knowledge. That is because it acts as a gap-filler in its absence. Those who choose to still stick with it once actual knowledge is available are cowards, too afraid of change to opt for improvement and a widening of their horizons. Terrified, they stick to the mundane and shrink away from exploring the realms of intellectual growth and sensual fulfillment in which true happiness can be found.
It’s kinda cute to see you try to patronize me, Jim, but your petty fairy-tales and empty promises of a better beyond fail to impress: With music, philosophy, art, literature and human relations I have a wealth of experience and beauty at my disposal right in the here and now that makes your promises of heaven look pale by comparison. My faith is in people, and it’s a faith stronger than yours will ever be.
UPDATE: Despite his announcment not to be back, here he is. The discussion continues in the original comment thread.
I want you to picture a guy, let’s call him Paul, walking into an urban police-station. Beaming, he proclaims that he knows what happened to the dead body that was found in the river five days ago; that he’s solved the mystery.
Let’s assume that by some random chance, or maybe out of desperation, the police actually take him seriously. So they ask him in, lead him into a room, sharpen their pencils, switch on the tape-recorder, and take a statement. This is how it goes:
PAUL: “You ready? Can I start?”
OFFICER: “Sure. Please tell us what you know.”
PAUL: “You see, he was murdered. Frank did it.”
OFFICER: “Frank… Frank who?”
PAUL: “Well, Frank of course. Frank Frank. Who else would I mean?”
OFFICER (With disappointment at the realization that this won’t be the clue they’d been hoping for): “That’s it? That’s what you came to tell us?”
PAUL (Genuinely puzzled): “What do you mean? I told you what happened. What more could you want?”
We could imagine this going on indefinitely, but this little conversation is enough to convey my point. Merely tossing a name out there and proclaiming that a murder took place is not the same as truly solving the mystery of an unidentified body.
Yet, this is exactly how religious people tackle the question about the origin of our universe. They proclaim that it was “made”, and that it was “God” who made it. And then they lean back, satisfied with their accomplishment of having “solved” the mystery, gaze us a beaming smile, and react confused when we reject their “explanation” as preposterous and stupid.
To complete the analogy, let’s have Paul defend his thesis by proclaiming that it’s more likely Frank committed a murder than that the water of the river simply morphed into a dead body.
Theists frequently claim that, due to the apparent fine-tuning of our universe, it being made is more likely than it just coming into existence “by a giant explosion”. Of course, nobody ever said that a giant explosion was the origin of the universe, just like nobody at the police-department proposed that the body is actually magically transformed water of the river.
The Big Bang Theory is actually not about the origin of the universe: Like the police, we’re still pretty clueless regarding that mystery; like the police, it’s likely we’ll solve it eventually. What the Big Bang Theory actually is about is the early development of the universe: The theory states that the universe transformed from a very hot, very dense state to a less hot, less dense state, which is analogous to the police stating that it’s very likely the body they found was, at some point in the past, alive. It’s something we know beyond reasonable doubt. It’s something we can prove pretty much for sure.
What bothers me about all this is not that there actually are people like Paul out there, who really do not see the problem with the sort of oversimplified skyhook-explanation they give for complex problems.
What bothers me is that my analogy fails at one very important point: Paul the potential witness is regarded as a lunatic by society, and will probably find himself in a mental institution in the near future. Paul the theologean, on the other hand, is a highly respected member of society, gets invited by TV-stations to comment on enormously important political topics and has a huge influence on public opinion regarding an incredible variety of topics.