From the Huffington Post from 1/15/2014

Any thoughts ?

"As an atheist who is also a humanist, I find that in our efforts to point out the dangers and failings inherent in religion, we sometimes fall into the language of arrogance. I read arecent quote from famed evolutionary biologist and past Humanist of the Year awardee, Richard Dawkins, which, upon reflection, showed that even he can fall prey to this tendency. He stated that "religion is an organized license to be acceptably stupid." While Dawkins certainly has a valid point regarding mainstream religion's frequent opposition to critical thinking and empiricism, he makes his point in such a way that is likely to leave religious people offended by, instead of interested in atheism and rational thinking.

Dawkins did something similar when he stated that the combined number of Nobel Prizes won by Muslims was less than that w..., implying that the notoriously nonreligious achievements of academia are superior to those of adherents of an entire religion. Yet again, Dawkins has a valid point -- that the anti-science mentality of many religions has limited its adherents from learning about science and working in the scientific field, but by saying it in such a way, he is less likely to inspire mainstream religious people to care about science, and more likely to offend and antagonize them.

I know Richard Dawkins to be a self-effacing and warm person, but when he says things like that above, it harms more than helps. Unfortunately, he is not the only atheist to make these kinds of statements, as our movement has a history of sometimes blatant elitism. Past American Humanist Association Honorary President Gore Vidal once said, "There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise." Clearly, even humanists aren't immune from such arrogant behavior.

It's important to note that the subset of atheism I think is a problem isn't the so-called "militant atheism" that encourages evangelizing disbelief; there's nothing inherently wrong with promoting one's position to others. And I'm definitely not talking about the so-called "angry atheism," because the nonreligious should be mad about abuses by religious organizations and discrimination against religious and irreligious minorities. What's often holding us back is "arrogant atheism," which is seen when atheists speak as if their view is infallible, and act as if their unwavering non-belief makes them superior to those who do believe.

The problem with arrogant atheism is that it scares away those who would otherwise self-identify as atheists, and it prevents us from building the alliances we need in order to achieve our aims. This is an argument about tactics and attitude. Religion is by no means beyond criticism, so we should feel free to critique and even poke fun at the occasional absurdity. Most people appreciate humor, whether it's in the form of stand-up or just friendly banter. But when that humor is used to hurt others, it becomes a form of derision that is inconsistent with humanism's compassionate principles. When critique becomes belittling, when poking fun becomes ridiculing, the respect that is the foundation for any meaningful conversation is lost.

Encouraging is the fact that a new generation of nonreligious public figures from diverse backgrounds have emerged to spread the word about disbelief in a compassionate and unpretentious way, as exemplified by groups like the Secular Student Alliance. The emphasis on a less monolithic and more empathetic strand of atheism is one of the main reasons that the number of self-identified atheists is rapidly growing and relations between the religious and nonreligious communities have never been better.

If we ever want to truly reach the general public with our message of skepticism, scientific inquiry and a conviction about the importance of basic civil rights and liberties, we need to recognize that you can respectfully disagree, but you can't respectfully ridicule. Let's drop the arrogance and reemphasize the humanist values that appeal to so many people of varying faith traditions. We can still be vocal about our disbelief and should seek to challenge ignorance (be it religious or otherwise) whenever it rears its head, but we should do so in the way that opens minds instead of closes them."

By Ron Speckhardt

Executive Director, American Humanist Association.

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I think the article is well said, and it reminds me of times that I know I come across wrong in talking to others. I have times I could be considered an arrogant atheist. Just as often I could be militant or angry. In fact, I identify mostly with these last two -- militant in what I am doing and angry that someone had the gall to indoctrinate me in religious matters. The indoctrination was done by my parents. If it happens to you later in life you can be more angry at yourself for falling for it. Here are a few imaginary encounters:

Me:  I know your group well, and I used to be one of you. I'm amazed that you believe in the Garden of Eden with trees of knowledge, and talking snakes.

Xtian:  What's wrong with you? Don't you know who that snake was??

                                           TALKING TO A SNAKE IN MY YARD

Hey, snake. What's your name? Come on now. I know you can talk. I've read the Buybull. How does it feel not to have legs anymore and have to crawl around? What about your relatives that still have legs? Do you really eat dirt? Why did they say later that you had wings, then they wrapped you around a pole and used you for healing? What was that all about? Hey, snake. Why are you crawling away? Talk to me and I'll give you a whistle. You can't fool me snake. I know you can talk.

The problem is that we are told we must respect somebodys religion. I have ZERO respect for those who can believe something like the above. Yes, they think it's absurd that I talk to the snake in my yard, but they claim to believe every word of Genesis. How can anyone say this and keep a straight face? I believe that christians and atheists poke fun at each other repeatedly, and each group thinks they have the truth.

There is a bottom line here. It is the same for every claim. Show me your evidence!

Two issues here...

I've witnessed this type of arrogance which results in no progress on either side. Just visit any conservative website visited by atheist trolls. That's not to say I disagree with the position of the trolls, just identifying them by their actions. If the purpose is to engage and convince, often it's not working. As has been said before, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

We need to have more confidence in the methods we advocate. Also, the limitations of knowledge must be more clearly understood and conveyed. We don't need to claim we "know" everything to advocate either Atheism or scientific theories. To do so is to invite accusations of hubris and arrogance. In short, it takes patience but we must have some "faith" in the abilities of our fellow man to understand what we're advocating.

This guy is writing in the Religion section of the newspaper. Professional people may be perceived as arrogant by weak, easily offended  people and those who profit from them, like this guy. The Dawkins quotes don't seem arrogant to me and if perceived as such, would not necessarily have a negative impact on religionists. On the contrary, it might make them think and inspire.

I agree Bony. As the article says, we can't respectfully ridicule, but it is valid to say that some aspects of religious belief are ridiculous, and ridicule might be appropriate.

In addition to this, I think that outspoken atheists need to have as many intellectual weapons in their arsenals as possible. One of the keys in that endeavour is to use watertight logic and sound evidence, in arguing against religious beliefs. This requires that to speak out in favour of atheism, a good understanding of a wide range of topics / subjects is required.

Among these subjects I would include a good knowledge of what atheism actually is and can or can't be as well as knowing the details about the various religions, and what they teach and believe, as well pure science and related fields such as medicine.

A good handle on the Bible, The Qur'an, etc., and on history in general are also good foundations for constructing sound arguments in promotion of atheism.

Of course a good understanding of how to construct a sound and logical argument, which does not admit any fallacies into the content, are necessary to be convincing to anyone who can appreciate such virtues.

My only answer is to quote Thomas Paine:

"He who dares not offend cannot be honest".

Is it arrogant to state facts, to be able to back up statements with hard data, evidence, and proven theory?  At times, I think this is the objection believers have with us.  As Richard Dawkins has said, clarity threatens them, I suspect because the bible in too many places is anything but clear.  Oh, it makes positive statements: "Whosoever believeth in him shall not die, but have eternal life," but nowhere is that statement or any of its brethren substantiated.  Because of that and the necessity for faith and its attendant vagaries, even the heartiest of the faithful may not feel as though they stand on solid ground.  They figure that NOTHING is certain, because the one thing that is most important to them isn't defined in sufficiently certain terms.  Confronted with atheists who reject the woo and the hand-waving, and who are far more certain of their position than they are, and can back it up, they may think we are being arrogant.

Are we sometimes arrogant?  Yeah, sometimes.  Are we sure of our stance?  I am.

I feel as certain as I feel the sun will rise tomorrow, that science is the way to ask questions about the universe.  I feel that certain, as well, that all gods are fictions, stories evolving through millennia of history by humans as flawed as I am and as varied and complex as the rain forests and jungles.

I suppose that could be taken as arrogance.  Looking up the definition of arrogance - an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people - I don't think I'm better, smarter, or more important.  I am not intentionally insulting.  I do think I've gone about this in a thoughtful way, and my experiences, thoughts,  and readings inform  my conclusions.

Anthony, thanks for posting this article.


The article brings out a number of thoughts.  I certainly don't like dealing with arrogant people.  I don't like being thought of as arrogant.  Like many things, arrogance is in the eye of the beholder, and one person's arrogance is another person's frustration with having to deal with the same situations over and over again.


As others point out, there is no lack of arrogance from christian, muslim, and jewish leaders, followers, pundits, politicians, family members, teachers.  I often have to delete news articles and commentaries without reading them, they are dripping with arrogance.  


That doesn't make it OK for me to be arrogant.  No sense in "you did it so why can't I do it?"


I take the article as being some public soul searching.


Then again, I love watching "The Cult of Dusty".  He might be taken as arrogant, but I view him as being almost unbearably funny, insightful, courageous, human, and intelligent.  He expresses the understandable anger and frustration felt when dealing with arrogant theists.

Video not safe for work due to language.


That was awesome. Hope he doesn't have to use that knife ...

While I don't follow Cult of Dusty all that closely, that he got such a big rise out of the DD community is pretty astonishing.  What is equally amazing is how defensive they get about their presumed heroes when someone like Dusty calls them on their bullshit.  Then again, it's the same kind of knee-jerk reaction we see from the same people any time their faith is challenged.

Keep the logic coming, Dusty!

 Like many things, arrogance is in the eye of the beholder, and one person's arrogance is another person's frustration with having to deal with the same situations over and over again.

Peter Boghossian writes in A Manual for Creating Atheists about persuasion. 

One does not persuade by insulting people.  Insults are about making oneself feel better, not about persuading someone else.  He says that what we know about people's beliefs changing is that it has to happen in an open, accepting environment. 

I wrote a blog post The dysfunctional relationship between skeptics and true believers in a similar vein - that the skeptics aren't going to convert anyone if they don't acknowledge what's true or possibly true in the claims of the believers. I wasn't talking about religion, but rather about alternative medicine.  When the skeptics substitute "knowing that a claim is not true" for "not knowing", they are creating a social norm in the group of skeptics, by which they satisfy their need to belong and pat their egos.  Similar things are sometimes true of atheists.  What you're talking about seems like human self-centeredness, the tendency to not notice the other people. 

Peter Boghossian's method of Socratic questioning of believers is actually quite gentle.  I have been trying it with religious people on Youtube - asking questions to get them to move past the rhetoric about God and heaven, to ask them what really do they believe (and what causes them to believe, if it ever gets to that point).  PB gets demonized a lot by religious people, but that only indicates how threatening his method is, to their beliefs.




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