Posted on December 1, 2011
When I wrote Atheism’s Little Idea I said atheists were small. But (and this is embarrassing to confess) I had no idea how clever.
There’s a species of ant in Papua New Guinea that is so small you need a magnifying glass to see that they’re insects and not swirling grains of sand. But drop a crumb of cheese on the ground and an army of ten zillion will appear out of nowhere, through the floor cracks where they live invisibly, and devour the cheese before you can retrieve and pop it subtly into your mouth. They are truly amazing little creatures. I think they are called siboyeki. I’m not sure there is a singular, and there doesn’t need to be, because they are never alone. They don’t believe in God either. I assume they have short memories because they don’t seem to mind eating the same sort of cheese crumbs day after day.
When the atheists had grown tired of my “endless harangues against atheism” last year they swarmed at me, Jacques Berlinerblau, and Michael Ruse all at once. We said, in different tones, that they were playing too rough, were turning people off (including fellow unbelievers) with their flatfooted tactics, and needed to behave like adults with real arguments and day jobs.
The atheist swarm may actually have eaten the other two because I haven’t heard from them in a long time.
But it was then I learned their strange language and breeding habits: Like all small things, their safety is in numbers. One atheist alone is hardly a match for his (or her) natural enemies, the Christian Nation, the low-wattage Dims and flabby franks like me who send mixed signals about what they really believe. But one thousand atheists on a single mission can take down a faitheist, an accommodationist and a Associate Reformed Presbyterian pre-Millennialist going through a divorce in about a minute. I’ll tell you this: if Osama bin Laden had ranted about atheists and not “the West” (where is that exactly?) he would have been cheese crumbs in October 2001.
Of course the real advantage atheists have over ants is language. Siboyeki can’t talk, but atheists can and some of the older ones can read, as one of them amply demonstrated to me recently by quoting a poem. This greatly unsettled me, because until this event I’d thought that Rachel Rubinowitz, my girlfriend in college, and I were the only people in the world who had ever read Philip Larkin. She said it inspired her to become a librarian.
I have come to be a huge admirer of how the atheists organize for their own protection and what they are able to accomplish on a low budget. I have wondered how this is possible ever since I was almost eaten last spring. But now I know.
Almost miraculously, about a month ago, I happened on a used copy of the Sure-Fire Atheist Rapid Response and Defense Manual and Cookbook at You’re Mama’s [sic] Bookstore in Sausalito, complete with marginal notes and exclamation points. It was selling for only a dollar and the owner said it had been brought in by a distraught undergraduate only days before. The student had said he didn’t have time for the meetings anymore and had decided to become a biblical scholar.
The manual is pretty short–less than a hundred pages of double sided photocopy paper–and has only one illustration, which is a little murky. It seems to show an atheist eating a baby between hamburger buns while a little old lady with white hair tied in a not-unseductive knot says to her husband, “I told you so.”
There are too many treasures in the Manual to describe them all, so here were my favorites:
(1) The Atheist Pledge. ”We believe there is No God. That’s it. Full stop. End of Discussion. Move on.”
(2) The enemy does not believe this. He will say things like, “But…” or “Have you considered…” or “I don’t know.” This kind of talk must be discouraged because it overthinks our position. Overthinking is dangerous. Good men and/or women have been lost because of overthinking.
After a few good recipes in Part Two(I intend to try the Skeptical Chicken tonight) The Manual moves to specifics. naturally, I was curious about what it might say about people–I mean overthinkers–like me. I was delighted to find that complete training is provided in how to manage just the sort of situation I’d confronted them with in Atheism’s Little Idea.
(1) Never mind what the enemy has written: it has no merit.
(2) Never say it has no merit; say it has no point. Better yet, say it has no argument. Argument is a word that implies logical development. Say it has no logical development. Other words to use: baseless, yawn, load of crap.
(3) If the enemy uses quotations or historical reference points, ask him where he got them from. Be careful, because he might have got them from somewhere. If he responds, say “Like you know everything, right?” Or, “Who agrees with you?” Remember: the point is to fluster, disorient and win.
(4) Multipurpose Global Utility (Straw-Man) Argument: If you think he and or she does have an argument but you can’t quite understand it, go to page 33: “How to Use a Straw Man.” The Straw Man defense is a sure fire destroy-all toxin that will paralyze the enemy. Basically, it is the same as a six year old saying “You made it all up,” but sounds much better. Plus, you don’t have to explain anything about where he uses it.
(5) If you don’t understand the Straw Man Defense, resort immediately to one of the following:
(a) Call the enemy arrogant. Our enemies are all arrogant or they wouldn’t be blogging against us so this is bound to work. Words like “pompous,” “misguided,” ”pathetically out of touch,” “incredibly uninformed” and similar expressions will work just as well. Try to avoid “full of shit” and if you use the word “erroneous”: remember there are two r’s. (see also spelling tips under accommodation/accomodation/akomodation).
(b) Call the enemy ignorant. This is basic because anyone who disagrees with atheism is ignorant. You can also use some of the same words: incredibly ignorant, unbelievably ignorant; I don’t know how you’re able to tie your shoes-ignorant.
(c) Call the enemy unimpressive Make any really important points look like insignificant points. There are various ways to do this: ”lol, r u serious”; “omg, I can’t believe how ridiculous when you said…,” ”When’s your next appointment with your psychiatrist” or “U BLEEV IN CEILIN CAT DOAN U?”
(d) Call the enemy boring. ”I tried to read this but I fell asleep at the first comma.” Better yet, “I would have fallen asleep at the first comma but I had to stop for a pee at the verb.”
(e) Say that the enemy hates science and reason. See p 98: “What are Science and Reason?”
(f) Say that the enemy is confused. ”I don’t know where to begin discussing this cartload of doodie and unless I knew in advance there was gold buried in it I don’t think I even want to try.” This one always works, and you can use other words besides doodie.
(6) If you find that a website is “moderated” say that it violates the fundamental right of Free Speech guaranteed to atheism in the Constitution. It is what our atheist forefathers like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and probably also Abraham Lincoln
and Shakespeare fought and died for, or would have died for if they’d had to. Not publishing our comments is a form of defamation (p. 67) and discrimation, which is forbidden by all relevant anti-discrimination laws: see p. 80, “All Relevant Anti-Discrimination Laws).
(7) The art of the quibble: Throw the enemy off balance. Coordination is everything. Nothing is too small for a quibble (rhymes with nibble). And almost anything counts as a quibble: For example asking for page numbers, correcting grammar, and wondering if the enemy is jealous of Richard Dawkins’s unparalleled success as an atheist writer are good starts. But if he gets scrappy, move on to statistics, as in “You say that atheism is in decline; I’d like to know how you know this?” ”You say that religion is responsible for the preservation of learning traditions and the rise of universities; can you give me an example?” Be ready to say “I didn’t think so,” or “Gotcha” while he’s thinking.
(8) Limited Purpose Fake Fallacy Multipurpose Argument: The Courtier’s Reply: Remember that since God does not exist, anybody can be an expert on God, which is like being an expert on nothing. Scientists can be more expert on God because a majority of scientists don’t believe in God. The more you know about God the less you know since God does not exist: don’t be afraid to say this. If someone believes in god, or knows someone who does, that gives them no right to say you don’t know what you’re talking about just because you don’t. In fact, just the opposite. The enemy will pretend to know history and all kinds of other irrelevant stuff. Remember: history is for losers, but winners write history.
The flipside is that context is nothing. We are factualists and factuals are factuals. The enemy might say, “Atheism really didn’t crop up in a big way before the eighteenth century.” This is not true, as our Big List of Famous Atheists proves. String together some quotes from our Big List of Atheist quotations (mostly made up or paraphrased, but who cares) to embarrass him. As Socrates once said, “Winning is not about research.”
Also remember, this is a cause: Since atheists are a minority it follows that we are persecuted because all minorities are persecuted. The enemy might say something arrogant such as, “Unlike religious dissent and heresy, atheism has largely been beyond the purview (pûrvym n: scope) and concern of religion, and atheists as atheists have seldom been persecuted by the religious establishment.”
Start with “This is a straw man.” Then say, “How do you know this?”, and then, “I can’t find page 76 in the book you quoted,” or “This is incredibly ignorant.” If the enemy becomes argumentative, say he is using his knowledge to discredit you and accuse him of using the Courtier’s Reply and zing him with the information that the Bible isn’t true or say something in lolcat. It never fails because we have the factuals on our side.
See also: p. 67: “Tricks the Enemy Might use to Confuse Us” and p 43: A Short Guide to History for Atheists].
P. 43 A Short Reference Guide to History for Atheists
1. 0 God doesn’t create the world, hello?
2. Big Bang, maybe 13.7 billion years ago. Awesome.
3. Later: We climb out of the slime
4. Early on: Greece and Rome. Socrates killed for being a atheist.
4. Later: Christianity invents Jesus. Bible finished.
5. Not much later: The Dark Ages. Nothing of any importance happens.
6. After that: The Renaissance: a bunch of painters paint god and Mary and Jesus. Things r rly gettin borin.
7. Not so long ago: The Enlightenment. Gud mornin.
8. Then: Darwin, beginning of the messianic age. Evrythin iz kewl nao.
9. Finally: Everything from Darwin to Us.
They forgot my personal favorite: “Colossally Ignorant”. I used it once on a hard-head atheist, haven’t seen nor hear from her since.
For most of the non-dogmatists, it pretty much comes down to epistemic limits, or as someone from the realist camp said not too long ago “we can’t do or know everything”
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Hilarious, well done.
I just woke up my cat reading this! Déjà vu – but where is the elitist pompous pontificating professor and the ivory tower? I love those. I’ve read everything everything! I’ve read everthing and more – even Shakespeare who was SO an atheist – they all were. All the good ones. Somebody said so, somebody who knows. “What a load of jaw-droppingly stupid bollocks”. I bet you don’t post this LOL!! 🙂
The deal with you is you’re, what? in your late 50’s, or 60’s now, have pissed your whole life away studying religion, and it just eats the crap out of you that anyone can have an opinion without having squandered his life as you have. Deal with it, Hoffman. Go to your fucking conferences, cash your fucking checks and deal with it. Stop passive aggressively attacking people with fake, mealy mouthed unctuousness. And fucking fake civility!, you piece of shit. It doesn’t play in the USA. At least have the guts to attack people openly and truthfully. The Courtier’s Reply is descriptive and it is valid. If you weren’t such a pompous, stuffed shirt Brit, you’d be able to admit it.
Hey Mr Hunt, who are you talking about? Your comment doesn’t resemble the author. You seem to have taken full advantage of the Rapid Response and Defense Manual and Cookbook, though. You must have a copy – do you? The author is not a ‘Brit’ although he does have an outstanding Oxford doctorate. Stuffed shirt? Filled sufficiently and quite slim, I think – he leads an active life you see. Pompous? What happened to the ivory tower? I like the idea of including an ivory tower. Who cares about PZ’s ‘courtier’s’ analogy except you and his legion of minions? The author goes to conferences? Really? Cashes cheques? Really? Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. You clearly don’t know do you! Mealy? He has quite a nice mouth, generally smiling and not eating too many meals. Are you hungry? Is this parody not direct enough for you? Does he leave out too many names in his critiques? Passive aggressive? This is a parody. Would you prefer something more physical? Kick boxing? But then again, perhaps those billboards could fairly be described as passive aggressive. Fake civility? How can he be fake when he’s not trying to being civil? A parody isn’t civil. Religion? Yes he has expertise in religions but he’s so broadly learned he is also a first class historian, an expert philologist, he writes and publishes, and has a wonderful life all over the world. But far too sophisticated for you. You sound very wounded, knickers knotted. What do they say where you are? Get a life – that’s it. Get a life.
Ha! (lolz.) Great post!
When I replied to pseudonym on a previous thread, I was going to explain gently that the Strawman Fallacy is an *informal* logical fallacy, so it is not a good way to challenge an argument (but it is a good, all-purpose way to raise a protest when you don’t like one!) I like your explanation more. Do you mind if I include it in my repertory?
I was impressed when I saw the American Atheist recruitment drive at campus that they have their own little icon that can now be squeezed on to a CO-EXIST bumper sticker. Personally the use of the atomic structure reminds me of the movie, “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” where all the mutants are worshiping the atom bomb. Speaking of mutants, I was talking with the MSU’s AA chapter’s only female member the other day about how uncomfortable it is to be the only woman at AA meetings.
I just read Eric MacDonald’s response. What a humorless windbag! It’s like he never left the episcopacy! The closest he comes to arguing with you is when six paragraphs in he introduces the circular argument, “God is not a big idea, therefore God is not a big idea.” What a clown shoes.
At any rate, I found a gem from George Santayana’s *The Life of Reason* that I think aptly describes the hostile response to “Atheism’s Little Idea”: “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you forget your aim.”
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Another interesting article. The problem being, once again, that this really has nothing to do with atheism, which is simply a lack of belief in deities. This, regardless of how some would wish to label their socio-political agendas.
Robertb: You made the same claim, that atheism is merely a lack of belief in deities, on the essay ‘Atheism’s Little Idea’. As was pointed out there, your comment was interesting but suggested that you hadn’t actually read the essay. Your comment is less interesting, the second time, and I wonder if you’ve read that essay beyond its title. Atheism has become a very little idea, which ceased to be a big idea when atheists made God a little idea. The rejection of God was a big idea, once upon a time, as has been described.
As to your claim that this essay has nothing to do with atheism, you miss the point entirely. It’s absolutely irrelevant whether these responses are specific to atheism or not. They are simplistic responses atheists choose to use. Why would they need to be ‘unique to atheism’? None of these responses are fit for use if a discussion is intended in any context, atheist or otherwise. That’s precisely the point. The atheist responses are rhetorical.
where does that book come from….can’t find it anywhere…did you make it up like your ancestors “god”?
It was published in 1611 by the press at The Universitie of Oxforde. I imagine Shakespeare, the “atheist”, probably grabbed a copy of that, and the King James, at the same time down at the corner shop before he died. 😉
I have seen a copy, which I could not afford, with the imprimatur of the Bodley Head — printed, no doubt, by the head Bodley himself. I wish I had picked it up — it must surely have doubled in value now that it is back in vogue…
Have you read MacDonald’s teary eyed second response to “Atheism’s Little Idea”? — My gawd, get that sniffling wimp a crying towel. — Eric whines that you are too pretentious and showy, then prattles on like a pompous windbag, and then blubbers on about how *traumatic* his religious experiences are. Boo-hoo. Boo-hoo-hoo.
What a joke.
Yes, interesting. It, and other blog post responses in that ‘circle’ (or ‘diminished triad’) are predictable despite the irony that these people profess not to care. Predictable too is the content of the blog post responses, including extraordinary and inaccurate presumptions like, for example, presumptions about intentions with the weblog title. Predictable are the number and contents of their minions’ rollicking comments, including illusions about comments mysteriously disappearing?! and also including the usual personal attacks and insinuations. Nothing is new under the sun. They all seem obedient to the recommendations and prescriptions outlined in the Manual. ‘Everyone’ despises us, but ‘everyone’ is all of them. That leaves us in the right company, people who aren’t gnu atheists, fully despised. Seems fair to me. “It’s important to make the right enemies” someone once said.
Deconversion tales can indeed be dramatic affairs, particularly when most of the ‘victims’ are from very conservative forms of belief. Often they assume their own former religious experience is an accurate reflection of belief systems generally. Experiences can be sometimes quite crippling emotionally according to victim accounts, leaving bitter memories with regrettable consequences.
I have no doubt that deconversion can be a dramatic affair. However, Eric’s account of his religious victimization is so maudlin — “I can still feel the shroud of fear…” etc. — and melodramatic — “There are victims and victims — that it reeks of insincerity.
It’s all trash. I don’t know why I bother to read it.
I’m almost in tears over your reponse to Hunt.
Thank you for the comic relief! (:
I read some of the predictable responses to the article over at Pharyngula.
It’s like watching a flock of chickens when a fox sneaks into the hen house.
There is a third blog in that triad. That third blog has written a second post about ‘Atheism’s Little Idea’. The Sure-Fire Atheist Rapid Response Manual’s recommendation applied in that post, isn’t included in the favourites list of this post above. The manual suggests that you pretend your enemy’s idea is so silly, that they probably didn’t mean it. So the blogger suggests that the idea that god is a big idea is so silly that Joe didn’t really mean it. The trouble is, avoiding the idea that god was a big idea, you have to lack imagination, genuine inquiry, knowledge of the history and evolution of ideas and cultures, artistic appreciation, human compassion and empathy, history of scientific ideas and more. But I would dream of suggesting the blogger who wrote that post didn’t really mean what they wrote in it.
All of this is a Poe, right? Right?
Your argument depends on these responses being particularly ‘atheist’ in origin, in coming from that particular mindset.
Please could you show which of them is unique to atheism, and not just a general strategy that any opponent might employ in a discussion?
But this misses the point entirely. It’s absolutely irrelevant whether they’re specific to atheism or not. They are simplistic responses atheists choose to use. Why would they need to be ‘unique to atheism’? None of these responses are fit for use if a discussion is intended in any context, atheist or otherwise. That’s precisely the point. The atheist responses are rhetorical.
If the enemy cannot be dissuaded from attacking us by pointing out how pointless he is, refer him (p. 43). Remember, this is a cause, not a classroom. It’s not about ideas, it’s about winning. Usually referral means sending out the name and address of the offender to ARAW (All Relevant Atheist Websites). Strength in numbers means that when one of our number has been attacked, we have all been attacked, and as freethinkers we must act in absolute conformity to the cause. The simple rules are these:
1. If E (enemy) attacks A, begin by following basic principles.
2. If enemy persists, refer to B (another atheist blog)
3. if enemy will not relent, refer to C.
4. B and C will reproduce in substance A’s attack on E, reproducing large chunks of A’s criticism verbatim and adding juicy words of their own..
5. A, B, and C together proclaim consensus and victory.
A new page for the Atheist Manual: If your opponent criticizes you, say his criticism is pointless and that in addition to all the other pointless things he says you especially cannot understand the point he is trying to make in relation to you. Why? because it is so pointless. Remember: there is no defense like ignorance, especially when you are claiming that the ignorance is induced by the pointlessness of your opponent. It will be practically impossible for your opponent to say he is making a point when you have say he has not. If he does, say you haven’t understand that one either.
Is there a hymnal that goes with this? Because, you know, it really makes me want to sing.
“With Factuals On Our Side”
Oh my game it is silly
My learning a mess
The country I come from
Is called the big guess
I’s taught to love reason
And God not abide
Cause the clan that I run with
Has factuals on its side.
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Thank you very much for this! I came of age with the New Atheist movement at around 18/19 years old, and this post was truly a trip down memory lane. 🙂
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