January 09, 2006

A Waste of Time? You Decide.

For the past few months (ending at the end of December) I've been conducting a little experiment. I went to multiple xtian boards trying to see if discussion between the two camps produces anything of value. In this case, by 'value' I mean an understanding can be reached, ideas exchanged and preconceived notions validated or annihilated.

I started this because I've noticed that on atheist forums theists can get run off fairly quickly. This is mostly due to their own behavior, but they claim victim status. I have seen countless accusations from theists that atheists just hate god/religion/believers. Also, countless pleas for us to "consider the evidence" or to "take an honest look at faith."

So, I gave them a chance.
Why did I stop at two months? Well, answering the same questions over and over again can wear on one's nerves.

35 forums later all I have to say is: Oy. (now, 35 boards is by no means a fair crossection of xtian boards out there. However, I am only one person with a job, a boyfriend and a life so shut-up ;) ).

Disclaimer: This is clearly an informal experiment, and I make no claims to its
infallibility. This is just what happened to me. I encourage other atheists - with knowledge of the common fallacies and apologetics used, and plenty of patience - to try it themselves. Maybe bridges can be built.

A few notes:
-As I've said before I chose Xtian boards because I'm American and that is the prevalent religion here.
-Initially, it was my intention to post links to all the boards I visited - however, this was before I knew the outcome of this experiment. At that time I was expecting to find many good discussions out there in cyberland. After two months, I'd had very few. Now those of you that know me know that I can get fairly abrasive so you may be thinking that I was mean so they were mean to me. Not so. I made it a point to be as friendly, respectful and patient as I think guests should be. So, in hopes of sparing my fellow atheists from being subjected to this I will only post those forums which were good or not so bad. The
Progressive Christians at Beliefnet.com, & Xnforums.com (a few flatout whackadoo posters, but the board has a rocking Moderator).

What I found:

The 11 most common misconceptions about atheists:

1. Atheists hate god/are jealous of theists
2. Atheists are arrogant and don't want anything "superior" to them
3. Atheists have never experience religion
4. Atheists have never read/don't understand the bible
5. Atheists just don't want to receive the truth
6. Atheists are bitter/angry
7. Atheists just don't want to admit they sin
8. All atheists support abortion/evolution/liberal politics/communism/fascism/etc
9. Atheists are gay
10. Atheists want to destroy/limit religion
11. Atheists think they know everything

The 5 most common excuses for having no evidence of the existence of god:

1. god doesn't need to prove himself to his creations
2. the bible says {insert nonsense here}
3. the evidence is all around us - (meaning existence is proof of god)
4. Faith is all we need
5. Pascal's Wager

The 14 most commonly used fallacies:

1. No True Scotsman fallacy - "That person/group isn't a True Christian(tm) person/group."
2. Appeal to ignorance as evidence for something - "We have no evidence that God doesn't exist, therefore, he must exist."
3. Argument from omniscience - "All people believe in something." or "All people have faith in something."
4. Appeal to faith - "if you have no faith, you cannot learn" or "You must have faith to understand."
5. Appeal to tradition - "People have believed in gods for thousands of years."
6. Argument from authority - "Professor so-and-so believes in creation-science." or "A lot of prominent scientists believe in god."
7. Argument from adverse consequences (also known as the Pat Robertson special) - "Disasters occur because God punishes non-believers/sinners"
8. Appeal to fear or threat - "If you don't believe in God, you'll burn in hell"
9. Begging the question (or assuming the answer) - "We must encourage our youth to worship God to instill moral behavior"
10. Circular reasoning - "God exists because the Bible says so; the Bible exists because God influenced it"
11. Confirmation bias - "I prayed for X to happen and it did, therefore God exists." (nevermind the countless unanswered prayers)
12. Proving non-existence - "Prove God doesn't exist"
13. Special pleading
- Question: How can God create so much suffering in the world?
Answer: You have to understand that God moves in mysterious ways

and we have no privilege to this knowledge.
14. Straw man: creating a false scenario and then attacking it. - "Atheists just want to be promiscuous/steal/do drugs/etc without consequences so they reject god."

The 4 most commonly used bits of known hoaxes/forgeries:

1. The Lady Hope story (Darwin converted on his deathbed)
2. Josephus (see next link)
3. Anything used to "prove" Jesus really existed (this
Link is a fabulous resource for debunking "proof" of Jesus's existence)
4. Various stories that the poster failed to provide backup for - Bit of the true cross being validated, bits of Noah's ark found on a mountaintop, aparititions of the Virgin Mary, multiple faith healing stories, prayers being answered

Some notable outcomes:
1. Seven forums banned me outright after I said I am an atheist
2. One moderator accused me of trying to corrupt the young
3. I was asked "If you don't believe in god, why care about anything" a total of 17 times.
4. On the flip side, I was welcomed (after outing myself as a non-believer) at the other 28 forums
6. Moderate and Progressive/Liberal Xtians are just as worried about the separation of Church and State as we are
7. Most Xtians I had contact with do not support Bush or the war

The entire experience can be summed up fairly easily. Generally speaking, they know next to nothing about atheists, they are extremely emotionally attached to their deities, and they are just people looking for truth as we are. The animosity that sparks between atheists and theists seems to stem from the two camps speaking two different languages - atheists speak in terms of empirical evidence and logic; theists speak in terms of faith, emotion, and the unknown. An atheist expects proof before acceptance, a theists sees acceptance as proof.

Do I see it as a waste of time? On some of the boards (*cough*HolyCultureRadio*cough*) it was a waste of time. On boards frequented by a large teenage population or a way-out-there new-agey element, it was a waste of time. But this is not the case overall -surprisingly some of the more useful conversations happened on some fairly conservative forums.

Lastly, I think there are some allies to be made out there in the fight against an impending American Theocracy (okay, that's a little dramatic), women's rights and anti-war activism. There are plenty of good, decent xtians out there. However, we are never going to understand each other. We speak different languages.