Why argue?

I recently had a friend send me the quote below – I’m sorry I can’t provide wider context for it, as it is all hidden behind Facebook’s privacy settings. Anyway, it probably doesn’t need much wider context:

If you’re an atheist, uhm, why are you arguing with fellow atheists???

The answer to this doesn’t get much more complicated than to paraphrase Joss Whedon and say; “because you’re asking me that question“.

It’s very simple, really. The problem with indoctrination is that it’s indoctrination – not that its indoctrination about an unfalsifiable almighty Creator Deity. The problem with homophobia is that it’s homophobia – not that it’s justified using the Bible. The problem with the anti-science movement is that it’s the anti-science movement – not that it uses the Christian creation myth at its core. And so, all of these problems that people seem to associate with religion are, in fact, problems that can occur in any worldview, or any movement, or any group of like-minded people.

All people suffer the danger of groupthink. It’s something we’re prone to because it’s just plain easier that way. It’s probably impossible to completely eradicate it, but we can take steps to minimise it – or at least minimise its harmful effects – or track the degree that it’s happening and adjust for it. That’s the trick we need to master. Closing yourself off from criticism or challenges is a self-perpetuating cause and effect of irrationality; and you don’t have to believe the world is 6,000 years old to fall victim to it. Asking why someone would argue with their “fellow” atheist isn’t just a precursor to this danger of groupthink,  it’s a full-fledged symptom.

Surrounding yourself with people that disagree with you is healthy. Everyone has a fundamental right to disagree – although with the caveat that no one has the right to disagree after being proven wrong (yadda yadda, we all know this). Surrounding yourself with sycophants who continually click the “like” button just because you said “Jesus is a zombie!!!11 LOLZ!!” for the hundredth, unimaginative time, is not.

I don’t mean to say atheists should hang around with priests and try in some abstract clichéd way that they should “see things from their view” because that’s not as constructive as you might think – as anyone who has seen Richard Dawkins in a well-publicised debate with a theologian should attest to. It ends up being fundamentally uninteresting because you end up just debating axioms, can’t really progress anywhere, end up “agreeing to disagree”, and with anyone watching left unfulfilled and even less enlightened than they started with. Yawn. I may think that presuppositionalist apologetics has absolutely dire axioms, but I’m not going to change someone’s mind through rational argument over that – almost much in the same way I doubt anyone is going to change my mind regarding the tautological validity of using empirical methodology to make empirical statements about the universe (aka, looking at the world rather than making shit up).

I mean  that you should hang around with people who can challenge you on the things you can flex over, based on systems and axioms you do agree with. You want a real debate? Watch researchers fight over the evidence, rather than Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams – or at least Copleston and Russell because they’re at least talking the same philosophical language. Talk with people who have a different view of the extent linguistic relativity plays on our perceptions, or discuss differing approaches to social justice issues. Or if you’re serious about being a non-believer, chat with people who hold more robust views on the historicity of Jesus rather than derping on about Jesus being a sun god, or even try to consider why certain atheist clichés are a load of crap. The list of things you could do to become a more well-rounded person and better because you’re non-religious is extensive – just leaving it at “being” non-religious and assuming it automagically makes you smart just turns you into a bullshitting moron.

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One thought on “Why argue?

  1. And I’m again reminded to exit my comfort zone. Thanks. Too often I forget how important that is while I’m dealing with life’s daily challenges.

    My wife, years ago, told me she hated the word ‘contented’ because of the implication that you were comfortable and not seeking new things. I’ve never forgotten that, but I do, sometimes, neglect to find people who challenge me.

    Reply

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