Feeling As If You've
Won An Argument
Mike Arienti

This person sent us two letters so we responded to both of them at once. Though we do grow weary of the preponderance of letters from fundamentalist Christians who resort to the dishonest rhetorical techniques described in our FAQ, we occasionally like to play "gotcha" with these people.

Too lazy to think their way through an argument against their opponents, they paint these fantastically ridiculous Straw-Man portrayals of their position, and then knock down those Straw-Man portrayals instead of taking on our actual position -- or, better, bringing forth a compelling case of their own, since it is the theist who makes the claim, not the atheist.

Meanwhile, I worked very hard for my education, and it is not my role to provide private tutoring in Logic 101 or Basic Boy Scout Morality for the indolent, unthinking fundamentalists who sometimes write to our forum.

graphic rule

graphic rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Mike Arienti"
Subject: Re: challenge
Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2000 12:40 AM

If you wish to write to us again, please turn off the feature that asks if I've received your letter. I will ignore any further letters from you which open that little window and makes me click "No" to whether I want to send you a receipt.

Graphic Rule

FIRST LETTER  

How can you tell me if there even is a god?

If you claim that a god exists, you are the one who needs to prove your claim. If I am simply listening to your claim, I don't need to believe it unless you can prove it. This is how logic works -- like it or not. You can think any way you like within the privacy of your own mind, but when you choose to engage in a public discussion, your credibility suffers if you refuse to abide by the rules to which the rest of us submit ourselves.

The claims made about Jesus are sorely lacking. It is almost impossible to establish that Jesus even existed. The only remotely contemporary evidence comes from the New Testament books and pseudepigraphia, the earliest of which were published decades after he existed. This would be like a group of old hippies suddenly holding a press conference in their commune in Humboldt County and announcing to the world that two of them saw Jimi Hendrix levitate during a concert in 1968 -- and our being unable to locate any corroborating evidence or contemporary reports besides the stories told within this Humboldt County community.

With questions such as those you are asking, though, you open yourself up to being lied to. You insist upon a specific answer when there may not be any answers, so if someone comes up with a smooth-sounding line, you expose yourself to being taken in by clever fakes who want only your money and your loyalty, and don't care one whit about your feelings or about the truth.
 

I don't know: you'll have to track down someone who says that "God doesn't even exist" and ask them yourself. I am an atheist, which means that I lack theism -- I lack a god belief. There is a difference. Most atheists simply lack a god belief, though a few atheists do assert that no gods exist. They are in the minority, though. I used to know two or three of them when I belonged to an atheist organization, but I don't know any such people today.

I prefer to say "I don't know" when the truth is that I don't know. I'll go so far as to say that such and so scientific team at this or that university has discovered something or other, and think it may suggest thus and so, but I will not assert something when the truth is that I don't know. This is the way in which I differ from most fundamentalist Christians.

To examine the gist of the scenario I currently prefer, see my recent interview with particle physicist Victor J. Stenger.

I currently prefer that scenario over all the others I have examined, but I am not here calling it absolute truth. No scientist speaks this way. We are all acutely aware of human fallibility, and this is why we submit ourselves to liberal scientific method, which is designed to accommodate our fallibility by squarely facing that fallibility in every attempt we make at discovering truth.

Meanwhile, any theist can weave for us tales of creation and destruction, and each theist will tell a different story than any other theist will tell. Even Christians differ as to their creation stories -- some Christians say it was six literal 24-hour days, while other Christians say it was six eons, and still other Christians say the Genesis story is just metaphor and poetry. This is amazing, considering that all Christians get their marching orders from the same Bible.

Even the Bible tells contradictory versions of its own creation story! Grab your Bible and check these out:

Did God create the fowl from the ground (Gen. 2:19) or from the waters (Gen. 1:20)?

Did God make the beast first (Gen. 1:25) and then man (Gen 1:27, 1:31) or did he make man first (Gen. 2:7) and later the beast (Gen. 2:19)?

Did God make the fowl of the air first (Gen. 1:21) and then man (Gen. 1:27, 1:31) or did he create man first (Gen. 2:7) and later the winged fowl (2:19)?

Did God make the fruit tree first (Gen. 1:12-13) and later man (Gen 1:27, 1:31) or did he create man and woman first (Gen 2:7) and later the fruit trees (Gen. 2:9)?

Were the fowl and the beast created separately (Gen. 1:12, 1:23) or at the same time (Gen. 2:19)?

Did God give man every tree for meat (Gen. 1:19) or did he not give man every tree for meat (Gen 2:17)?

Did God create man in his own image (Gen. 1:27) or did man later "become as one of us" -- as one of the gods (Gen 3:5, 3:22)? And which one of the gods did man "become as one of"?

Did God create man in his own image, male and female (Gen. 1:27) or was woman more of an afterthought, created much later, after it was discovered that man could not find a companion (help meet) among the animals (Gen. 2:18-22, see esp. 20)?

Was the earth first covered with water with land appearing later (Gen. 1:2, 1:9-10) or was the earth dry land first with water later appearing (Gen. 2:4-6)?

Did God create the heavens and the earth and herbs on separate days (Gen. 1:1, 1:11) or were the herbs created "in the day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens" (Gen. 2:4-6)?

Did God tell man to "have dominion over ... every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Gen 1:28) or was he simply "to dress and keep" the garden of Eden out of which he was later (allegedly) expelled (Gen. 2:15)? In other words, was man's purpose to rule or to be a gardener?

Why is he always called "God" in the first creation account? Why is he always called "Lord God" in the second creation account? Could we be dealing with two separate myths, here? And who are the "us" they keep referring to?

Is there one god (Gen. 1:27) or more than one god (Gen 1:26)? If more than one, how many? If one, what's with this "us" business?

Did God divide the light from the darkness on the first day (Gen. 1:4-5) or on the fourth day (Gen. 1:14-16, 19)?

Did man die "in the day that thou eatest thereof" as God predicted (Gen. 2:17) or otherwise, as the serpent predicted (Gen 3:4, Gen. 5:5). If the meaning is a spiritual death (whatever "spiritual" means), then why is the same Hebrew wording used to predict a literal, physical death in II Sam 12:13-18?

Was the serpent telling the truth when he said, "God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:4-5)? God later said, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil" (Gen 3:22). If so, was Jesus telling the truth when he said, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44)?
 

(Derived from C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy. This derivation is updated slightly from the one included in the letter "Darwin Is Not Opposite Of Jesus So Why The Little Fish With Legs?")
 
 

I don't get it. What's this supposed to mean?
 

You can tell me whatever you want. I don't have to believe you unless you bring forth compelling arguments, because I submit to the game-rules of liberal scientific method. If you can bring forth a compelling reason to believe, I am forced to believe. It's as simple as that. If you cannot bring forth a compelling reason, I don't have to believe your claim.

Meanwhile, science does not say anything about gods. If gods existed and could be detected, we would expect science to say something about them. But since nobody has brought forth any compelling reasons for thinking that gods exist, science is silent on the subject -- just as science is silent on the subject of the Tooth Fairy.
 

I cannot and will not do this because this is not a claim that I have made. This is, in fact, a falsehood that you have used to misrepresent my position. I don't even think in terms of infallibility, and I don't personally know anybody who does think this way; the notion of infallibility is, in my opinion, a falsehood that was, in my opinion, thoroughly and permanently exposed as erroneous in the beginning decades of the twentieth century. But some people who do still think this way routinely write to our Forum trying to convince us of the truthfulness of the Christian religion.

To ask me to defend your misrepresentation of my position rather than my actual position is called the "Straw Man" ploy.

The Straw Man ruse is not only blatant dishonesty, it is a clear form of bearing false witness against one's neighbor.
 

Why would I want you to stop believing? You seem to be happy in your little world. Aside from here and there telling a few lies about atheists, you don't appear to be harming anybody.

Now, if you eventually snap out of it, and if you felt you needed someone to talk to in order to, perhaps, get your bearings a bit (or even garner some sympathy or empathy or maybe even a little encouragement), that's what we're here for. We are not here to talk people out of their faith. We serve only those who already reject theism.

Also, our main point for existing is to combat the bigotry that is everywhere leveled against atheists. A case in point would be your misrepresentation of our position on origins, claiming that we think that "life just 'happened'" when this is not the case at all. Hardly any atheists think this way: only lying theists who wish to discredit our position think that anybody would think this way.

I, personally, don't know anybody who is as stupid as you here portray us as being. I certainly don't think you are that stupid, just dishonest -- just trying to get the feeling like you've won the argument, even at the expense of truth -- that's all! The rest of us think much more highly of humanity than you show here.
 

I get plenty of space from web-1hosting.net at a very reasonable price. They are our server and THEY ROCK! After that, we have hundreds of megabytes available from a dozen or so supporters who have offered to let us host this or that section on their server, and the technicians at web-1hosting.net know how to work it so that you cannot tell you're on another server.

So, I will decline your offer. I'm doing fine, thank you.

As for time, I am very limited, due to frail health, as to how much time I can spend on a given project. I am almost two months behind with the print edition. Thus, I am very picky about how I spend my time. Thus, since I don't care what you think, I feel it would be a monumental waste of my precious time to even make a statement to you -- especially considering the patent dishonesty and sheer ignorance that your writing displays. I worked extremely hard for my education -- much harder than able-bodied people would have to work for the same education -- and if somebody else would like to enjoy the benefits of an education, I think it's only right that they work for their education just like I did. That's much of what an education is about: learning how to work for what you get. Nothing that has any meaning comes for free.
 

I am curious, though, what is the difference between theory and fact in your world? Which definition for the word theory do you use, the scientific one or the popular one? It sounds as if you are asking me to use the popular meaning in a scientific context. This is rather dishonest of you, don't you think? The name for this rhetorical trick is Equivocation. This means to switch the meanings of synonyms in mid-sentence or to swap contexts with words that have one meaning in one context but a completely different meaning in another context.

Meanwhile, I use the scientific meaning of the word theory if I even use the word at all. In other words, I will say, "the theory of relativity" or "the theory of evolution" (the scientific context) but I will never say, "That's an interesting theory, but what does it have to do with the facts?" (the popular context). And when I do use this word, I make sure my listeners know that I intend the scientific meaning of the word, and I also make sure all my listeners are aware of the scientific meaning as opposed to the popular meaning. (See Rothman and Sudershan's "A Preliminary Contemplation on the True Nature of 'Theory'" to get a glimpse of what I am thinking, here.)

Otherwise, I try to avoid using the word theory because the definition is so popularly confused and I don't like it to even look like I'm trying to introduce confusion into a philosophical discussion. And to suggest that there is a difference between theory and fact in a scientific discussion is to introduce confusion into the discussion, which is dishonest. At minimum, it shows that the person in question is merely trying to feel as if she or he has won an argument rather than to discover truth.
 

What is a "POV"? I avoid abbreviations unless I know that everyone reading or listening will understand me. And cannot find this one in any of my dictionaries.

And how can you "wager" your request to consider a proposition (whatever that proposition may be)? I don't understand your use of the word wager here. I prefer to go with a proposition because it seems likely, not because believing it will bring me comfort or some other personal gain.

Besides, you are the one making claims, not I. Since you are the one making claims (and since it would be impossible to prove any negative existential claim, such as "No leprechauns exist"), then why are you insisting that I do the impossible? It's not like I'm asking you to put that famous promise from the "Sermon on the Mount" to test:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:7-12)

Christians tell us how noble the so-called Golden Rule is, but its surrounding context contains one of the easiest disproofs of Christianity known to exist. But I am not asking you to prove your claims by insisting that you ask and then seeing if you receive what you asked for! I know only too well that this one does not work, that to ask you to do this would be to ask the impossible of you. But you sit there and insist that I disprove a negative existential claim -- a thing which cannot be done!

Not only that, but the negative existential claim that you insist that I disprove is not even a claim that I have made! This is like me asking you, a Christian, to prove that Mohammed flew to the Seventh Heaven on the back of a giant flying beast!

No. I don't think you are seeking truth. You give every indication of being one who simply wants to win an argument.

And I don't play with boys and girls who act that way.

Graphic Rule

SECOND LETTER

The Christian god-idea exists and is very real -- and it has proven itself to be extremely destructive. As much as I'd prefer to mind my own business, I cannot do this: the fundamentalist Christians won't let me.

You see, I don't see the point of insisting that something exists when one cannot make a strong case for that thing's existence.

But fundamentalist Christians don't stop there: they want to degrade us for not going along with their delusions. They discriminate against us when they can and would have us put to death if they could. They want to force our kids to be indoctrinated with the Christian god-idea in the public schools, and they repeatedly tell us that America is a "Christian Nation" when it is not. Now, Bush and Gore both want us to fund organized religion with our tax dollars so that the "Christian" "charities" (an oxymoron) can pat themselves on the backs for being so benevolent -- with our money! They'll tell the recipients of our money that it is the "loving" Christians who, out of Christ's love, gave them the money and food, but in reality, it already is mostly our money.

I was jailed in 1988 for refusing to undergo a religious drug rehabilitation program -- and I wasn't even facing drug or alcohol charges and was never convicted of any drug or alcohol related crimes. I got off lucky: millions of my forebears were tied to a stake and a fire was built slightly down-wind of the post so that it took several hours for them to die. This and similar atrocities were committed against my predecessors simply for disagreeing with Christians regarding the Christian god-idea.

It is the Christian god-idea which prompts these Christians to act this way. They must either lie to us or legislate their views upon us, because they cannot bring forth a convincing case for the Christian god-idea, an argument that can withstand the scrutiny of an honest public discussion.

The Christian god-idea is very, very real. I can feel the Christian god-idea's impact on my life almost every day. It's very ominous.

Thus, I will oppose the Christian god-idea for the menace that it is, and I will oppose the Christian god-idea with everything I've got.
 

Why do you lie about me?

I am not insulting Jesus or God.

Even if God existed, how could he be insulted? What could possibly insult an all-powerful god?

What on earth are you talking about, here?

You sound very, very desperate!
 

You see? You're not seeking truth, you're just trying to experience the feeling of having won the argument!

Surprise! The joke's on you! I am not arguing! I have nothing to say to a Christian! (Especially a Christian who knows as little about atheism as you do! you cannot even spell the word correctly!)

While I will oppose and counter the despicable behavior of those meddling fundamentalist Christians among us, I have no desire to see a fundamentalist Christian de-convert to atheism. I'd much rather they stay where they are so that we can more easily keep tabs on their destructive activities.
 

Why do so many fundamentalist Christians who write to us go to such lengths to lie about us? to misrepresent our position and then try to refute their own misrepresentations as if those misrepresentations were our actual opinions? What is it about fundamentalist Christianity that seems to accept the Straw Man ruse as an honest and acceptable form of discussion?

The only explanation I can think of is that these fundamentalist Christians wish only to think they have won the argument. They are certainly not seeking truth: this is made clear by the sheer dishonesty that such fundamentalist Christians display when writing to Positive Atheism Magazine. I am not here speaking of all Christians -- most Christians are honest and hard-working people -- I just don't understand why so many fundamentalist Christians come onto our forum and lie, lie, lie! We don't get it like this from any other religious group!

Have these people no sense of dignity? Have they no pride in their humanity? Are they not humbled by the honor of being able to spend a few moments as a human being? I don't get it. I just don't get it!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

We started to respond to this, pointing out his "straw-man" caricature of atheism, and then realized that this is a publicity SPAM sent to several Christian organizations, several atheistic websites, and one athletic organization.

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.