We have all been there. We’re reading a blog, watching TV, scanning social media, or maybe just having a conversation. And we are thinking to ourselves, “This person is a complete idiot.” Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. But our reaction to that alleged stupidity speaks volumes about us.

What is the relationship between emotional control and intelligence? I suppose if our emotions are off the charts we aren’t going to be very articulate, but I have yet to see anyone react this way in a debate scenario and then later calm down and make more sense. Like, ever. If your contribution to a debate is something along the lines of, “Shut up, you’re stupid,” then you should probably just keep that to yourself.

Every point your opponent makes that you can’t understand is a strike against you, not them. How can you argue against something you don’t understand? You can argue your version of their point of view instead of theirs, but you won’t make much progress. You’ll just have a lot of people shaking their heads and saying, “Oh, you don’t even get it.”

This is where my morning reading has led me. Theists and atheists are having the most ridiculous arguments with each other. One theist actually took time to write a post about how stupid one must be to reject god. That was it. No other evidence or points to make his case. If you don’t feel god you have something wrong with you. I doubt he is saving any souls today.

Meanwhile it takes a minimal effort to locate an atheist accusing a theist of being a delusional child who believes in a magic sky genie. I’m still waiting for the day when a Christian hears those words and sincerely says, “You know, I never thought about it that way before.”

You already know how I feel about burden of proof arguments. I wrote a post a while ago that pretty much covers it. The trouble is, all that is too much to express during a simple exchange. Recently a theist told me that god explains our world so perfectly, and is accepted by so many, that clearly an atheist would need a great deal of evidence to challenge the claim of god. I disagree. But in less than two thousand words….why?

Atheists start from a point of assuming nothing. There are no default answers. To get to any god conclusion we must first eliminate all other possibilities, some of which we do not yet understand enough to eliminate. If not for theists we would have absolutely no reason to even consider one particular god over any other supernatural unknown (or consider supernatural conclusions at all). For us, believing in god is like pulling a random idea out of thin air and just calling it true in spite of all other possibilities.

Theists start from a point of assuming that their specific god is the reason for everything. There is one default answer from the beginning and all examination of evidence is molded by man to fit into that conclusion. Theists have skipped over the whole process of discovery and have simply applied god everywhere.

I don’t know how to simplify it any more than that. Atheists do not have beliefs that are set in stone. We are not afraid to learn more about our theories, or to even change our minds and move on to better explanations in the future. We are always searching. Is that better than settling on an answer we like and then forcing all the pieces into place for eternity? I think so.

Burden of proof may seem obvious, but hold on a second. I also think we are asking the wrong question. When it comes to life’s biggest mysteries, how can we ask one another to debate who is right and who is wrong? Is proof even something we can talk about? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The real question is: Who has a better method for discovering the truth?

And for that, I do believe I have made my case.

Of course, I say all this and inevitably a Christian will just add me to their prayer list. Another will search out a clever “praise god” meme to share on their Facebook wall in passive aggressive protest. Maybe I’ll simply be called a fool. All helpful contributions to the conversation, right? But I feel the same way about the original response I was presented with here: god explains our world so perfectly, and is accepted by so many, that clearly an atheist would need a great deal of evidence to challenge the claim of god.

I understand where that theist is coming from. I used to agree with them, even. I know the feeling of certainty; that god is present and I can feel him all around me. I saw him work in my life and all the pieces fit together so perfectly….and yet here I am now. And I do know what it took to erase those thoughts and feelings, so I will not jump ahead and ask a theist to believe what I believe so easily. It doesn’t work that way for them.

And if the theist had truly understood my position they would not have bothered me with a challenge to prove that god does not exist. Because it doesn’t work that way for me. We don’t have to agree with someone in order to appreciate the logic in their thinking, but we should understand the logic before we respond. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I’m not promising minds will be changed between two opponents. At best, one side may be slightly moved on a particular point. It may be the spark that leads to a new direction that, down the road, will yield results. But who else is listening? Where are they on their path to figuring out what’s true and what isn’t?

I once called these arguments nonsense. Most of them are. But these conversations do matter. Talk to people from a place they can understand. If you are as right as you think you are, this may be your only chance at getting your voice heard. Just don’t screw it up by saying something stupid.


4 thoughts on “Worthwhile Interactions (Or….Burden of Proof Part III)

  1. Well thought out and presented. Too bad you’re going to hell. Just kidding.

    I used to be a Christian as well. My journey from faith took a long time and was extremely difficult. Now I can’t imagine why I didn’t question it sooner. In all other areas I was fairly intellectually honest and logical. In that one area I was not.

    I will say, however, that people kindly, but insistently, questioning the “why” behind my beliefs did help me make the journey. I spent a good deal of time corresponding with atheists online who were gentle but firm. It helped tremendously.

    I do miss, at times, the certainty my faith provided. I miss the idea that an all-powerful being was in my corner, watching out for me, inspiring and empowering me.

    Turns out, all that time, it was just me.

    1. I know! Think of how great it would be if we could continue to discuss whether or not god exists for all eternity in heaven?

      I think people like us have the most to offer in these discussions. We’ve been there. Most Christians have a wall built up that says we are deceived and should not be listened to; but we know that some are just now climbing that wall and wondering “what if.” They are finally able to hear what we’re saying and relating to it- sometimes through listening to our discussions with others.

      I wish when I had first started questioning my faith I would have had more access to the experiences of those who had been through it. I imagine the process would have been much quicker, and I would have spent less time thinking I was the only one having these thoughts.

  2. Wow, great thoughts! I especially liked this: “The real question is: Who has a better method for discovering the truth?”

    I am currently in a discussion on facebook with a friend and one of his friends posted this: “Indeed, I find the opposite to be true. I find the evidence for God’s existence extremely compelling. Moreover, it seems that evidence for the non-existence of God is mostly objections to the theist’s proofs. But these refutations do not make a case of their own, if successful, they simply destroy the theist’s case. And then we are left merely with Agnosticism.”

    His response has been really bugging me all day, probably because I just don’t understand what evidence he is referring to or really where he is coming from.

    Anyway, I hate conversations like the one I am having, but I know they are a good idea in general, but your post definitely helped me feel a little better, so thanks!

    1. See, this is why I hate burden of proof arguments 🙂 Should we assume nothing and continue searching until the pieces fit, or should we assume god is the answer and force the pieces into place? An atheist or agnostic only has to prove the pieces do not fit perfectly in order to move past god. Theists only have to believe the pieces could fit in order to be convinced of him. So they are already convinced without any further evidence. If we can’t agree on the method of finding truth, how can we ever discuss the results?

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