I've been pondering this for a couple of weeks now, and I think I've come to a conclusion. The current "cultural conflict" between atheists and the religious has little to anything to do with belief in any gods. It has to do with what the "New Atheists" believe and what the relgious don't believe.

This isn't a battle between theists and atheists. This is a battle between naturalism and supernaturalism. This is a battle between rationalism and irrationalism. This is a battle between skepticism and faith.

I realized this when I came to the conclusion that a deist can be rational. I don't agree with the deist stance, I find it useless and failing Occum's Razor. It isn't, however, necessarily irrational. Perhaps it is not fully informed, but due to the lack of a rock-solid explanation for the existence of something instead of nothing there is an argument that something had to "start" it all. Not that I find necessary the assumption that there was a start, but one can make the argument, and that argument is why I am an agnostic atheist and not a strong atheist.

Now, why a deist can be rational, acceptance of New Age claims by atheists is inherently irrational. New Age claims stand on the basis that confirmable evidence is not necessary. New Age claims accept supernaturalism with no evidence for such a thing and in fact there is evidence against it. New Age claims have been tested repeatedly and found wanting. Deist claims, on the other hand, are not currently testable, but if they were I would suspect many would drop the claim if they found the results compelling.

The question is: what do we do about our supernatural, faithful, irrational atheists?


Should we try more arguments from emotion and less logical arguments? I know it may turn a lot of stomachs, but if it is more effective to get people to be skeptical and rational it may be worth it.

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Comment by John Secular Smith on September 24, 2009 at 3:51pm
The Nerd:
I'm sure we could try more emotional arguments without lessening the logical ones. The two can be best buddies!

I think so too, but I still cringe at the thought. To me, when figuring out the best road on an issue, emotional arguments shouldn't enter into the fray. I feel like I'd be cheating to convert, then I'd be just as bad as the religious.
Comment by John Secular Smith on September 23, 2009 at 10:52pm
John D:

Well, I don't care if they pray, prayer can have a lot of relaxing benefits to the person praying. The moment they choose to pray to do something instead of DOING something, then there is a problem.
Comment by John Secular Smith on September 23, 2009 at 10:04pm
I think you may be right, Outlaw. Perhaps we need to start combining our rational reasons with emotional details. Sure, some might think that our emotional appeal weakens our rational argument, but we could turn a lot more heads with it...
Comment by John Secular Smith on September 23, 2009 at 9:40pm
Outlaw: thanks for the input...hopefully others will throw their hat in...but this is just a blog post.
Comment by OutlawGirl on September 23, 2009 at 9:31pm
Here's a good pathos argument against New Age medicine: Which would you rather do; send your loved one to a doctor for a well-tested, proven treatment or risk their life on an untested cure-all?

Notice how I made the first option sound more appealing than the second. That's the only thing we should be careful about when we use pathos. You have to put a bit of spin on it. Sometimes you almost have to become a salesperson. A lot of atheists probably wouldn't like that, even if the position they're arguing for is the right one, because of the nature of pathos. Ever seen that ASPCA commerical that shows a bunch of black and white clips of suffering animals while "In the Arms of an Angel" plays over them? That's how devious pathos can be.
Comment by OutlawGirl on September 23, 2009 at 9:19pm
Just to clarify: I'm not advocating one tactic over the other. I'm not saying focus solely on the children and leave the grown up believers alone. We should do both. If we can get more grown ups on our side we'll have more punch in the voting booth and that will help us de-convert more younglings. One hand washes the other. =]
Comment by OutlawGirl on September 23, 2009 at 9:11pm
Thomas: I'll give you an example using an argument against war.

The logos argument would go something like this: War costs too much money and too many lives. [Insert facts and reasoning to back up thesis statement]

While an argument from pathos looks like this: War costs too much money and too many lives. [Insert a heart wrenchingly sad anecdote about a little girl who lost her father during a war, how her mother now struggles to make ends meet because of the deteriorating economy, and the family’s struggles. Close with something like: “Little Suzie’s story is tragically common in the US today.”]

Logos and pathos can work together to create very powerful arguments. For example, you could follow up the story of poor Little Suzie with statistics showing the number of families affected by war.
Comment by OutlawGirl on September 23, 2009 at 9:03pm
Stephen: Yes and yes, though an arguement from logic is still our most powerful weapon. In the end only reason can get people to abandon their religious beliefs completely. For example, I only got interested in atheism when I started learning more about the affect religion has on politics and people's lives. Prop 8 was my first wake up call (I had no idea California had so many stinking Mormons) and others came after. It broke my heart that people's lives were being affected by this irrational thinking. I just couldn't stand to associate myself with it anymore. That was an emotional decision. Later on I began to understand the arguments for atheism and realized it actually made a lot more sense than just being agnostic, at least for me. I was an agnostic atheist for a while but now I'm more of a strong atheist. I still say that I could be wrong about deitys for the sake of appearing open minded, but I don't really mean it.
Comment by John Secular Smith on September 23, 2009 at 8:53pm
The way I see it, fighting irrationality with rationality for the masses will always be a losing battle.

The only way we can "win" is to keep pushing for an atheist voice in America and above all else, the one thing we cannot back down on is science education.

Seems to me you are saying that we shouldn't be trying to de-convert with logic, we should be inoculating the children. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Addition to the post: should we be using emotional arguments if they are more effective?
Comment by OutlawGirl on September 23, 2009 at 8:26pm
Thomas, I never said that they were irrational. All I said is that when used skillfully, pathos (argument from emotion) usually trumps logos (argument from reason/logic), and this holds true for just about everyone. To argue for religion is to argue pathos. To argue atheism is to argue logos.

People do try to rationalize their religious beliefs. Even if you show their rationalizations to be irrational they may not believe you because of their emotional attatchment to their faith (not to mention the social implications). Sure, you can de-convert anybody with the right mix of theology and philosophy and other sciences. I just see it as more efficent to teach kids about science when they're young.


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