The first episode in the series is called “Tip #1” so let me start with that one:
“Avoid the Atheistic Fundamentalist.”
Is he talked about me? I’m as outspoken about my atheism as almost anyone but I don’t think my atheism is fundamental to my life. I speak out about the problems with theism and superstition because they have become a threat to human happiness, human progress, and human survival on this planet. But if that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t bother arguing about religion at all. It isn’t like everything in my life has to be filtered through my lack of belief in deities. This tip smacks of projection to me.
Sullivan wants believers to determine if “this person” (i.e. the atheist), deserves an answer or not. This is an interesting view considering that many Christians believe that everyone deserves to be tortured for all eternity and that by sharing the Gospel, Christians can save people from this eternal torment. If you could save someone from eternal torment, would you? Sullivan thinks that Christians need to determent whether or not someone deserves to be saved or not.
He goes on to say that, “Every Christian should be ready and able to give a good answer to honest, open-minded, inquirers.” Well, I’m honest; I’m open-minded. If presented with valid evidence for the existence of a particular deity, I would of course believe in the existence of that deity. I am absolutely open to the evidence and most atheists I know (and I know a lot of atheists) are the same way. I’m not even asking for rock solid “proof;” I’m just asking for some reasonably valid evidence beyond, crappy arguments that have been refuted hundreds of years ago.
Interestingly enough though, most fundamentalist religious believers (i.e. believers who make their belief fundamental to their lives) have flat out told me that “nothing I say could convince them that God doesn’t exist.” They are not open to any evidence that would show that they are incorrect about the existence of God. This is the very definition of “close-minded.”
According to Sullivan, many atheists online are, “close-minded, mean-spirited, and uneducated.” I spend a great deal of time in the online atheist community and like I said before, I have met few atheists who were unwilling to change their view about God if presented with valid evidence. In fact, many atheists both online and off have already changed their view about the existence of God. Many atheists… even most atheists were once religious believers and changed their view and became atheists. In fact, a fair number were even fundamentalist religious believers and a few were even clergy. The number of vocal atheists who convert to religion after seriously exploring the arguments… I know of just one. It’s so rare, that she instantly got invited on CNN just for converting to Catholicism.
As for being “mean-spirited,” we aren’t the ones threatening everyone with eternal torture for not believing things on insufficient evidence. Most atheists I know online go out of their way to be polite. Of course there are a few atheist bloggers like PZ Myers who might be considered “mean-spirited,” but that is really a minority of atheists within the online community. With that in mind however, far too many Christians consider any criticism of their religious beliefs as a personal attack on them. So by “mean-spirited,” Sullivan might just be referring to any atheist who points out the many incredibly large holes within the Christian belief system and throughout the Bible… and I’m not even going to get into how mean-spirited many Christians can be.
Uneducated??? Really? Does this accusation even deserve a response? Probably not, but in light of my previous criticism of him, I’ll present one anyway. On average, atheists tend to be more educated than religious believers. There is a high correlation between education and atheism. In fact, some sects of Christianity even forbid education past a certain point (I’m looking at you Jehovah’s Witness). Women in particular are often discouraged from higher education by many religious groups. The Religious Right are constantly demonizing higher education. When President Obama said that he wanted every young person to have the ability to go to college, the Religious Right, Rick Santorum famously called him a “snob.”
Then there is homeschooling. Many religious believers (including Sullivan) homeschool their kids and it isn’t usually because they believe they can provide a better education than professional teachers. It is usually because they want to restrict the education of their children so that they don’t learn about scientific theories and facts that contradict their deeply held dogmatic beliefs.
Let me give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt on this one and say that maybe he meant that atheists are uneducated about religion. That might make more sense, but it would still be false. As I said before, many atheists were once religious believers and some were in fact quite devout. Pew Research Center actually did a religious knowledge survey and guess who knew the most about religion? Atheists, of course. So even when it comes to religious knowledge, atheists are usually not uneducated. Sullivan is just wrong.
More projection follows as Sullivan talks about “blind-faith” atheists. I guess by “blind-faith” he means that we “blindly” follow the evidence where ever it might lead. But is that really “blind?” While it could be argued that we have “faith” in the scientific process, I would argue that we just have a reasonable expectation that the scientific process works based on the fact that it has and it does. No one walks off a tall building because of their blind faith in gravity. We don’t walk off a tall building because we have a reasonable expectation that gravity will cause our mass to plummet to the ground making a loud slat.
Finally, Sullivan claims that atheists aren’t open to rational discussion. This is particularly humorous to me in light of the fact that the comments on his YouTube video are disabled. In other words, he won’t allow any discussion (rational or irrational) on his YouTube channel. The comments section on my blog and YouTube channel on the other hand are open and most comments post without moderation. Some are moderated, but I almost always approve them even if I disagree with them. For the record, Sullivan isn’t the only Christian apologist who restricts comments either. Most Christian blogs and YouTube channels either close comments completely or heavily moderate them to restrict dissenting opinions.
Unlike Scott M. Sullivan, I don’t consider it a waste of time to talk to anyone about their beliefs. If someone starts the conversation with me, I will gladly discuss the subject. Even the most fundamentalist religious believer who claims that nothing could ever change their mind is worth talking to. The way I see it, those are the people who harbor the most inner doubts in the first place. After a while, they will start to sit awake at night trying to think of ways to refute atheist arguments and their doubts will get stronger and stronger over time until one day they are sitting in church and their pastor says something that makes them realize that their pastor has no clue what he or she is talking about. They will start to feel different from their religious friends and then eventually their doubts will turn into a lack of belief.