How Not to be a Bad Atheist

In this great skeptical movement of ours we have had the opportunity to grow complacent. Of course, being the enlightened intellectuals that we are, we have not squandered this opportunity. Here are some problems I have with public skeptics I’ve watched.

1. Regarding Logical Fallacies

So you took a Logic class and you are now entitled to win arguments, I understand. But the point of those informal fallacies you learned was not to be able to relate them in the middle of a conversation and expect your opponent to understand your jargon. Explain to them in the midst of your argument with a counterexample, do not simply accuse them. The ultimate fallacy is strange idea that the first one to mention fallacy wins the argument. For example, if someone calls you an asshole, which if you’re like me is not at all a rare occurrence, do not say “Hah! That, my mere plebeian opponent, is an Ad Hominem informal fallacy. Had you been considerate enough to memorize that section of our textbook, you would be qualified to continue this conversation, but seeing as you are unfit, I will have to claim this verbal challenge for myself!” Instead, agree with them as you are, in fact, an asshole! But then go on to say “but I don’t know what that has to do with the efficacy of duct tape in improving survival rates of patients with gunshot wounds in the neck!” In doing so you explain to the commoner what an Ad Hominem is, without risking associating yourself with those amateurish logicians who apply their informal fallacy education as if it was a weapon.

2. Regarding Gender

So you’ve come out of the metaphorical closet of atheism and stepped into the literal light of day. Suddenly a new creature appears, a female who dares speak her mind in public! Worse yet, you’re attracted to her! Now, before you criticise feminism with your newfound skeptic methods in order to impress her, consider the facts for yourself, on your own time. Otherwise you risk making unintentionally controversial statements. How can you explain your problems with the theory of Patriarchy if your audience is busy criticizing your use of pronouns?! But there is another audience I’d like to address on this matter. Atheist feminists. Take it easy on us. Many of us are trying not to be sexist, and agree with many of the sentiments of feminism. Being a part of a disenfranchised group does not put you above criticism. The most common manifestation of this silly glorification of disenfranchisement occurs with the phrase “as a…”. For example: “as a woman, I think I better understand the irreparable damage an immature atheist can cause to my gender, and thus conclude that anyone who makes such blunders must be burned on a suitably phallic stake.” Though I would applaud your sense of irony, I would remind you that your argument from authority is everyone’s least favorite valid form. Because I said so.

3. Regarding Defining Atheism

Atheists are people who do not believe in God. That’s it. Don’t try to ascribe additional progressive goals to them. It is possible to be a sexist atheist. Don’t go around arguing what atheists should or shouldn’t do, by arrogantly titling your blog posts things like “How to be a Good Atheist” or presumptuously assuming your atheist audience will be interested in your advice about relating to the minority of public atheists. Even though atheism can and should serve as a platform for additional progressive discussion, we should not try to insist anything but disbelief should be a part of “real atheism.” Thanks for your time.

-Luke Smithems

  • http://www.facebook.com/meaty Robby Bensinger

    Is this satire? Your first point is not to overuse fallacy terminology. You then proceed to immediately cite the argument from authority fallacy to substantiate your primary criticism of ‘atheist feminists.’ But… the example you list is not in fact an argument from authority fallacy. It’s an ordinary and reasonable appeal to personal experience, like if a black person in the U.S. predicted that he probably knew more than a randomly selected white person about the potential harms of racism. Being a woman really does change the kinds of experiences you’re likely to undergo in our culture. Remember, a fallacy is only a fallacy when it’s irrelevant to the substance of the argument.

    • Luke Smithems

      My apologies but you have lost me with your definition of “immediately”, but I can clarify what I am arguing. An argument from authority is not a fallacy. It’s just a very weak valid argument. There’s no subtle irrelevance going on when you ask your dad why you have to clean your room and he says “because I said so”; it’s just an argument from authority. You’re calling it “personal experience” but it’s the same thing. By claiming you have perspective on a situation that your audience does not, you are establishing your authority and going on to say, explicitly or otherwise, that this authority allows you to see the truth of the matter. I am arguing here that this kind of perspective is overrated. Being a woman does not make your claims about patriarchy true, but a logician would still call them arguments from authority.

  • Robby Bensinger

    Is this satire? Your first point is not to overuse fallacy terminology. You then proceed to immediately cite the argument from authority fallacy to substantiate your primary criticism of ‘atheist feminists.’ But… the example you list is not in fact an argument from authority fallacy. It’s an ordinary and reasonable appeal to personal experience, like if a black person in the U.S. predicted that he probably knew more than a randomly selected white person about the potential harms of racism. Being a woman really does change the kinds of experiences you’re likely to undergo in our culture. Remember, a fallacy is only a fallacy when it’s irrelevant to the substance of the argument.