I have been an atheist since I was 15. I am now 26, and have read the full range of standard atheist arguments. The first one, which because it was first, probably had the most significant impact on me was George H. Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God" which I purchased on Amazon along with Judith Hayes's "The Happy Heretic." I remember reading both books while thinking every page or two, "I considered this very point as I was losing my faith!" Later I read books by Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and so forth.
Each book was pretty much the same damn thing, but I loved reading them because I loved to see people in "my side" making such lucid, clear, wonderful arguments. I used those arguments when defending my atheist viewpoint to my friends. I don't seek out argument by any means, but I certainly welcome a debate when it comes my way. I think most people that join sites like ThinkAtheist are probably like me in this respect. I love nothing more than the opportunity to talk about religion, and I'm anything but religious.
I have noticed, as I see my new atheist friend's blogs, facebook posts, and twitter conversations, that they all crave this debate. One recent blog post was merely a two sentence invite to IM her and debate atheism vs. theism.
What is it about us that makes us crave the debate so much? What makes us read these books that merely reinforce what we already know? I love nothing more than youtubing a Christopher Hitchens slapdown just because it gives me goosebumbs and makes me feel good that there are people out there articulating the atheist argument with such brash eloquence. Maybe I am weird, but I don't think I am wrong.
Maybe our inquisitive nature - which made us atheists in the first place - makes us more predisposed to reveling in debates, arguments, disagreements, and defenses of our view. But that's just a theory. ;-)
'Things" have to proven to an atheist, and science doesn't mind being proven wrong. It just keeps on trying and proving theories. Religious people of every persuasion live in fear, or just want to keep their power base.
I started questioning the morals and ethics of the church from age ten. Read the bible, and found it scary, vicious and logically impossible.
Learn more, about how jewish women are treated, how the catholic church doesn't believe in contraception, so women were having huge families, and dying young in the process. And now we are getting arrogant, spoiling for a fight muslims, with their women covered from head to toe, and they are really scary.
I love a good discussion - but the reason I am on this site, is that I also need like minded people, and religions were impinging on my space more and more. Chaplains going into secular schools, rampant pedophilia, misogyny on a grand scale.I love reading other peoples comments, and the discussions cover just about anything you can think of.
Have a look at The Math of the Great Flood by Martin Pribble on the Think Atheist site - I love to learn and get facts 'for discussion'. It's really good fun.
One nit in semantics mainly. 'Proven' means different things colloquially and scientifically.
So I would like to explore that.
Science doesn't technically "prove" things - it falsifies bad hypotheses and the evidence supports others. Well supported hypotheses eventually become accepted Theories. But every scientific theory of any significance has open issues that have not been resolved within the theory. And scientific theories are usually limited to the realm in which they have been tested and are supported by evidence (while extrapolations are considered predictions which need to be tested - and ultimately either support or disprove the hypothesis).
Newton's Theory of Gravitation was extremely accurate and withstood tests for centuries - it was and still remains extremely accurate within those realms of measurement (that of everyday experience). But in the more extreme realms we found discrepancies and needed a refined theory to fit the new data. But the important to thing to note is that Gravity did not go away - our understanding of it deepened with Special and General Relativity. And even within those theories there are realms of physics where we know where we have gaps in our understanding and predictions yet to be verified.
But the Facts of the observation do not disappear - our understanding of how they arise changes.
So when scientists make extremely detailed observations of allele frequencies changing over time in populations - and we observe all the genetic changes expected (insertion, deletion, substitution, chromosomal changes, etc) these are the Facts of Evolution and they will not go away. But we can still learn more about the mechanisms of Evolution and how cells work. But there are sufficient facts supporting Evolution at the genetic level that the proposition that some kinds of genetic changes are impossible such that they would limit speciation to "kinds" - this is a falsified hypothesis. The Evolutionary hypothesis is well supported by the data (hundreds of thousands of times) - and the special creation hypothesis failed (doubly so because it has never even been proposed as a proper hypothesis).
Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that we don't have absolute 'proofs' for much of anything, but that is the honest position. That doesn't mean we are absent all Facts or that we don't understand how many things work at some level.
I have stopped debating Science with Theists. Now I will only discuss the nature of Belief and Faith. I try to get across to them that what they call evidence is only argument or an appeal. As Heather Spoonheim (site member) posted a while back - No more free science lessons. (what a relief!!) It is a waste of time. So now I just show up their cogmitive dissonance by creating some Doubt in their minds which sometimes leads to some using their criticial reasoning brain again.
What makes us read these books that merely reinforce what we already know?
If you think about the reasons that we read, we can break them down into two basic categories: pleasure (affirmation of beliefs falls into this category) and knowledge.
For the first part, it seems to be a part of human nature to seek the comfort provided through affirmation of one’s point of view or beliefs. That’s why it gives us such pleasure to watch Dawkins do his thing and why Christians hang on every word of Kurt Cameron. It’s not that people seek these things out to challenge their intellect, but instead they do so to feel good.
For the second part, I’ve always asserted that if you’re not in a state of discomfort, you’re not learning or challenging yourself. This is a philosophy of learning that I take from playing music. As a musician, we tend to like to play things we know because it’s easy and instantly gratifying, but this gratification is just a sign that no learning is taking place. If you’re struggling and in a constant state of discomfort, then real learning is taking place, assuming you have the skills necessary to systematically address the material until it becomes comfortable. I find this directly translates to all types of learning.
So, to directly address your question, if we’re reading books that reinforce what we already know, then we’re doing it for the gratification that comes with someone affirming your beliefs.
To a certain extent, that’s why many of us (or dare I suggest all of us) are here… because we find comfort in a community where we all hold essentially the same ideals. Of course there are other reasons and benefits to being a member of a community, but if it didn’t feel good to join, why bother?
I could write an entire essay addressing everything you have brought up, but to spare everyone, I will only briefly address the question “Why do atheists crave debate?”
When you hold a strong opinion or belief, I think the natural inclination is to want to share it, but even more than that is a strong willingness to defend it when attacked. Considering atheists/ atheism is under constant attack from the religious community, a natural outgrowth of that seems to be an enthusiastic willingness or need for debate. Statistically speaking, atheists are considered more educated and intellectual than their religious counterparts, so again debate and exchange of ideas seem to go hand in hand with this group.
I absolutely agree with you. Have you ever looked at Christian sites and read the comments? There are Atheist trolls galore. I avoid trolling but you are right, I look for invitations to discuss religion. I think it stems from being surrounded by Theists all day everywhere I go. I live in TX so the Atheist community is far and few between. I do have one atheist friend and he is the person I talk about religion with the least. I always think I can make this one point to them that will cause the light to go off. The light went off for me once, it was a great moment for me. I want to share that with others. Wishful thinking sometimes I guess.
Also, if you like reading books on religion. My favorite author is Bart D. Ehrman. The things I have learned from his books are the arguments that absolutely have the greatest affect in talking Christianity with others. Even Christians don't care about the old testament which seems to be the way most Atheists attack the religious. That has a smaller affect on them than people think. They have already been conditioned to ignore the Old Testament.
>Later I read books by Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and >so forth. Each book was pretty much the same damn thing, but I loved reading them because >I loved to see people in "my side" making such lucid, clear, wonderful arguments.
I had to think about what you meant by pretty much the same damn thing. Even after taking in the context of your entire message, it still is not entirely clear to me.
The same thing pretty much being that of what?
What is it about us that makes us crave the debate so much?
If we are talking about those who seek out places such as this, I do not overall see the majority of atheists craving debate.
What makes us read these books that merely reinforce what we already know?
I do not find it to be merely reinforcement to read books from various authors on what we think we know. The best analogy that comes to mind at the moment is that of considering them like the different flavors of Linux.
I love nothing more than youtubing a Christopher Hitchens slapdown just because it gives me goosebumbs and makes me feel good that there are people out there articulating the atheist argument with such brash eloquence.
Ah, this does assist me with understanding more of where you are coming from. I do not align up with your sentiments with the example you provided.
Maybe I am weird, but I don't think I am wrong.
I do not think you are weird, nor do I think you are precisely wrong.
Maybe our inquisitive nature - which made us atheists in the first place - makes us more predisposed to reveling in debates, arguments, disagreements, and defenses of our view.
I do not find that inquisitive nature is the overlying reason for a person to declare themselves an atheist.
It is very simple.
Atheists are still in a minority to the religions of the globe.
They argue to be right and convince others of their superior trail of thought
Its human nature to want to be correct and since religion always retaliates hard with statements, the atheissts end up agrueing back. This loop just resets as it has been for hundreds of years.