How to Waste an Atheist’s Time
I recently read The Case Against Atheism by Mike Dobbins, a man who proclaims himself to be an “agnostic spiritualist”. I did hope to find a well presented and careful critique of atheism. What one found instead was a series of spurious arguments, many of them tired old strawmen, sweeping generalisations, false accusations and downright lies from a man who, far from being agnostic, by his own words makes it plain he is an out and out theist, with absolutely no intention of even considering the possibility that the atheists may be right.
Had I found a reasonable argument, I would have been happy to engage Mike Dobbins in correspondence. Having been to his two Facebook pages and his website however, it is plain that ‘reasoned debate’ is pharase alien to Mr Dobbins’ vocabulary. Instead I thought it may be more profitable to examine his book in detail, chapter by chapter, and point out just how outlandish and mistaken his ideas are.
Chapter One: How To Not ‘Waste’ Your Life
“Yet, as many young atheists become more and more intolerant, and the tolerant atheist voices are silent or squeezed out, the new atheists place me and other tolerating individuals in a more indefensible position.”
Right away Dobbins makes an attack on the young. Of the atheists I mix with and view online and in books, a tiny minority are under 30. As for tolerant atheists being silenced or squeezed out, I would suggest that Mr Dobbins is looking in the wrong place, for this is certainly not the experience of myself or many other tolerant atheists who respect the faiths of others, yet remain vocally very critical of any attempt by theists to impose their faith upon others.
“But as more and more atheists become intolerant and embrace confrontational atheism, today’s atheism becomes difficult to tolerate. Just with any belief system, atheism too can radicalize and is doing so as I write. The more modern atheism asserts itself as ‘the truth’ and all others as ‘deluded’ the more it sounds like a fundamentalist religion that has lost its way.”
What is “confrontational atheism”? Do atheists preach to people? Do they appear on television telling people that atheism is the only way? Do they hand out pamphlets about atheism in the street, leave copies of The God Delusion in hotel rooms, knock on people’s doors telling them the good news about atheism? No, we leave confrontation to the theists – they are so much better at it than we are. True, atheism can indeed become fundamentalist and radicalized. I once wrote a blog based upon this, Fundamatheism, which decried the attitude of a tiny minority of people, who are actually more likely to be anti-theists (God haters) than atheists. I know that there are a tiny number of atheists (and anti-theists) who troll Christian posts online, which to my mind is so very much pissing in the wind; not only does it get you nowhere, you are more likely to be condemned by the atheist community than congratulated by them.
There are quite a number of atheists who post on the internet, be it through the vast atheist community on YouTube, their own websites, or elsewhere. If theists find these posts offensive, simply do not read them. For internet posts to be confrontational, they would need to actually be in the face of the theists. If the theists make the choice to view such material however, then they are openly making a choice and running the risk of being offended. Likewise there are huge Christian and Islamic communities on YouTube and elsewhere. Most atheists do not even bother viewing them, as we consider them of no interest to us. Therefore, we are rarely offended by that which we do not see.
Yet ask a theist to stay out of an atheist forum and that is almost an impossibility. I once started an atheist forum on a social networking site. Within a day of it starting up, there were posts by an American conservative Christian, lambasting our posts and our views, and making it obvious he was offended. Who was offending him? He chose to go there, and it seems to me if you can’t stand the heat, you should stay out of the kitchen. The said redneck then launched into a tirade of sneers and abuse, despite nobody insulting him. And this is an important point here. Dobbins accuses atheists of trolling and insulting theists, but that works both ways.
Even a cursory look on the internet will not only find theists, mostly but not always Christians trolling not only atheist forums and posts but scientific ones, trying to ram their faith down the throats of others, and when they are countered and beaten by reasoned debate, they will often resort to insulting and abusive behaviour. Some do not even debate but counter atheist and scientific posts with tirades of abuse. Both responses are particularly true of scientific posts concerning the origins of the universe or evolution, where even daring to state that which is proven scientific fact is a red rag to the creationist bull, despite the fact that Big Bang theory and evolution do not preclude the possibility of a deity of some kind.
“This is likely occurring because atheist leaders are the role models for how to act towards people of faith. Many new converts to atheism are the young who are impressionable and follow the lead of those who helped convert them. The more Dawkins, Harris, and other intolerant atheist leaders make incendiary comments and ask fellow atheists to ‘show contempt’ for faith, the harder they make it on themselves to be tolerated now and in the future . Tolerance does not mean tolerating those who are intolerant. I do not tolerate those who are intolerant and when you accuse me of intolerance for doing so, it is probably because it is your intolerance I am looking to change.”
Richard Dawkins did indeed tell a rally to “show contempt and ridicule for faith”, and that is something he must bear on his own conscience. However, neither Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, nor any other ‘celebrity atheist’ speaks for all atheists. I will be truthful here, I don’t like Richard Dawkins. I admire the man’s vast intellect and knowledge, which I could never aspire to, but I think his public persona needs a lot to be desired. I find his attitude to be arrogant and elitist. It is true that young minds can indeed be influenced by such people, particularly if they come across as intelligent and witty. Some would call it charisma – and one need only need look at religious leaders to see the truth of that. Yet as I have said before, the vast majority of atheists are not young and have their heads well enough to screwed on to know a snake oil salesman when they see one. And Dobbins claims that “the harder they make it on themselves to be tolerated now and in the future”. Are we take it from that statement that Dobbins will not allow misguided young atheists to change their minds as they become older? That smacks to me as the same intolerance of the Judeo/Christian God condemning all mankind for the Fall of Man. I would also say that of the young atheists I personally know, I could not honestly describe one of them as a “Dawkins Clone” (my own term) but rather they are intelligent free-thinkers who came to the conclusion there are no gods from their own observations.
“For those offended by the title of this chapter ‘How To Not “Waste” Your Life’ it was chosen to prove my point. I state it with sincere sarcasm and not in the least is it meant to convey how I actually feel about those who subscribe to the belief of atheism. I use it as a play on meanings in respect to the famous atheist philosopher and writer Daniel Dennett’s statement “There’s no polite way to say to somebody (religious followers) ‘Do you realize you’ve wasted your life?”  If you’re an atheist, and my play on meanings had you convinced I actually believed this, you had every right to be upset. No one likes it when someone, especially a complete stranger, accuses them of wasting their life. If you were an atheist and were angry or upset when you read the subtitle, now you know how it feels for a theist when they hear or read offensive statements by atheists.”
I am not in the least angry or offended, and I doubt most other atheists would be either. I chose to read Mike Dobbins’ book, so I knew what I was going into with eyes wide open. See my point above about not being offended if you want to be offended. If there is anything offensive, it is the way in which Mike Dobbins attempts to insult the intelligence of atheists with spurious arguments, but certainly not his disingenious attempts to taunt atheists with poorly contrived attempts at insults, and twisting the words of Daniel Dennett.
Indeed, it is not only poorly contrived, it is dishonest on two counts, as firstly, Dennett does not give the full quote, and secondly, it calls his own position as a self-proclaimed agnostic into question.
The full quote is thus;
“Well, and too, there’s no polite way to say to somebody…
…do you realize you’ve wasted your life? Do you realize that you’ve just devoted all your efforts and all your goods to the glorification of something which is just a myth? Or have you ever considered – even if you say have you even considered the possibility that maybe you’ve wasted your life on this? There’s no inoffensive way of saying that. But we do have to say it, because they should jolly well consider it. Same as we do about our own lives.”
Daniel Dennett was of course referring to theists who are firm in their faith-based beliefs, which they assert as the truth, not just for themselves but would wish to impose that faith upon others. The sort of blind faith which states “my holy book says it therefore it must be true” and will see no further than that. For many who do that, they are indeed wasting their lives. I have encountered theists who simply will not listen to scientific fact but assert that if it goes contrary to their doctrine, it must be a lie. This includes people who believe that the Earth is standing still in a geocentric universe, creationists, and more recently even seeing in a documentary a Christian who stated that if the Bible said 2 plus 2 equalled 5, he would believe that. Spending one’s life defending that sort of nonsense, which can conclusively be proven false, is indeed wasting it.
When Dobbins tries to counter Daniel Dennett’s statement and turn that around on atheists, he is in fact championing the theists, which is a strange position for any agnostic to take. He is the one who is in fact accepting faith-based argument and discounting all other explanations. I would suggest that anyone taking such a stance cannot seriously be considered to be agnostic.
“As stated, I personally don’t think you will have wasted your life as an atheist if you die and discover there is a God who also gave you a soul. You may feel regret, foolish, angry, guilty, confused , but having an incorrect belief does not equal a wasted life. I merely wanted to utilize my chapter title to highlight the thoughtless, insensitive statements many atheists make. Their misguided reasoning skills and intolerance come back to haunt them when an objective person examines what was said. Their callous statements, along with a lack of introspection, speak volumes about such atheists.”
And frankly, neither do I. Plus I would not fee regret, foolish, angry or guilty – although I may admit to being confused. If anything, I reckon myself and most other atheists would be not a little bit shocked, but also pleasantly surprised (unless it’s the God who would burn us for all eternity because an ancient ancestor ate a bit of fruit). I would like to know just who these “many atheists” are whom Dobbins maintains made “thoughtless”, “insensitive” and “callous” statements without introspection, because it is certainly nobody I am aware of. Dobbins here is generalising, which is always dangerous. I know of a number of Christians, and a handful of Muslims, who are deeply callous, insulting, insensitive and thoughtless. Do they represent their faiths? Not for one moment. As I live within a culture in which the Christian dominates as a religion, it should not come as any surprise that I have many Christian friends, who are just lovely people. Similarly I often mix with my local Islamic community, who are good and kindly. Therefore I could not take the statements of a minority of morons and say “many Christians” or “many Muslims”, yet Mike Dobbins, the great agnostic remember, seems willing enough to do that with atheists, when he simply does not know the majority of them.
“Dennett’s insensitivity aside, for some individuals, it is personally important for them to examine their beliefs. Many burn to know if what they believe is the ‘truth’ or is as close to the truth as one can get. They don’t hesitate to revise their beliefs based on the evidence and the arguments. Their inquisitive mind needs to learn and isn’t afraid of admitting when it’s wrong. Rather than stating they’re a free-thinker, they practice being a free-thinker. Rather than being attached to their beliefs, they do everything in their power to be non-attached.”
This is true, and it is also how science works. The scientific community never claim to have all the answers, but rather revise current ideas, hypotheses and even theories as and when new evidence comes to light. Similarly, every atheist is a free-thinker and we are constantly sharing ideas, teaching others and learning from them in turn. There is nothing carved in stone in science or atheism “This is the way it is, this is the way it has always been, this is the way it shall always be.” Compare that then to set religious dogma which states that it has to be one way and no other way. Certainly, many theists will revise their beliefs in the light of evidence which show some of their scriptures to be arrant nonsense. There are however a number, which disturbingly appears to be growing, who will maintain that if it is in their holy book, it is the word of God and thereby must be the truth.
I am reminded of taking a Christian to see Linlithgow Palace in Scotland. The said person is obsessed with James IV, King of Scots 1488-1513, and stated how she would love to be able to back in time to see the palace in it’s glory during his reign. Then promptly added “But only after I had a shot of penicillin first. A scratch from a rusty nail could kill in those days.” Yet the same person firmly believes the Bible narrative of Noah’s Ark to be fully factual. Non-attachment is indeed very hard for some individuals.
“There is something to be said for the individual who summons the courage to challenge their beliefs and remain open to changing their mind. Non-attachment is difficult, but it is as the heart of the journey for truth. The intellectually honest person recognizes their beliefs and potential biases but tries to consider new information as objectively as possible.”
Says the man who has apparently closed his mind to the possibility of atheism. The intellectually honest person does indeed try to consider new information and does attempt to be free-thinking and non-attached. Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) wrote “One measures a circle beginning anywhere.”, which to my mind is the most profound statement of objective detachment I have ever encountered. If something cannot be proven, the highest intellectual stance the individual can take is to treat each hypothesis concerning it with equal value possibility. To do otherwise, one would have to be supporting one hypothesis, discounting all others, which is not only unfair, it is unscientific and intellectually dishonest. Yet, can Mike Dobbins honestly say he takes such a stance? In his book, openly attacking atheists and atheism, can he honestly state that he has an open mind to the possibility that there are no gods? I would suggest that by his own words, he cannot. And if he cannot, can he honestly ask the reader or even himself to accept that he is agnostic?
“Their pop- atheist books catch more unsuspecting readers who mistake the authority with which they write for good arguments. The atheist authors act as if they’ve found the answer and everyone’s personal search for the right path is over. If I wasn’t a practical skeptic, I could see how one may finish a pop-atheist book and think atheism is the way, the truth, and the light. While atheist writers may write with certainty, there is nothing certain about their arguments or reasoning. Readers are misled into thinking what their reading is some kind of revealed truth, when all of it is an opinion about one idea. It is conjecture cloaked in certainty.”
But is that not true of many works, including the Bible and the Qur’an? People can be gullible and when such people are offered an explanation which seems to make sense to them, then they will be all too willing to accept them. Indeed, when it comes to religion, that plays upon the gullible more than atheism ever could. It offers the quick fix, the easy answer, which people who are prone to lazy thinking are all too willing to accept. Sadly however, they are displaying the same lack of intellect and reasoning as our early ancestors who saw an avalanche and said “The Mountain God is angry.”
I honestly do not believe that the majority of atheist writers write with “certainty” or as if they have “found the answer”. Most atheist writers are scientific academics, and as I have stated before, the scientific community does not for one moment pretend to have all the answers. Not even arguably the greatest genius of our time, Stephen Hawking. And I would venture that if Mike Dobbins suggested to him that he did claim to know it all and have all the answers, Hawking would be liable to run him down with his wheelchair. To even claim in fact that atheist writers write with certainty is quite an accusation to make. Dobbins is quite correct when he states that the content of atheist books is but opinion, So to even suggest that the writers concerned are being arrogant, he belies his own bigoted arrogance. That is not being a “practical skeptic”, which Mike Dobbins is not, it is just being plain ignorant and downright insulting.
“Nonetheless, there is a kind of spell the pop-writers cast over the unguarded reader. Some readers buy into the pop -atheist beliefs hook, line and sinker. They turn off their mind, get angry, and rage down the rapids advocating and defending their newfound ‘truth’ with ferocious thoughtlessness. They have a new identity as an atheist that must be defended at all costs. Religion and faith are thought to be ‘evil’ and must be eliminated from the earth. All regard for diversity and freedom of thought have been thrown out the broken window.”
Am I the only person to see this entire paragraph to be more true of religion than it could ever be of atheism? Again, I would ask Mike Dobbins to observe the vitriol poured out by some religious individuals against anything which they see as contrary or threatening to their faiths. With their God being so omnipotent that he cannot defend himself, there are some religious people who find it necessary to leap to his defence, and are not shy of using abusive language, insults, lies and even threats of violence (and sometimes actual violence) in doing so. I find it interesting that Dobbins uses the world ‘evil’, which is in fact a wholly religious concept, which few (if any) atheists would ever use. When it comes to diversity, it is the religious who have always sought to crush that, be it on grounds of race, colour, gender, sexuality, other faiths or beliefs, or even differing denominations within a given religion. And to even claim that religion encourages freedom of thought, is frankly absurd. I do not recall reading of Galileo Galilei being offered much freedom of thought. As much as the religious would like to deny it, historically, religion has constantly held mankind back by crushing freedom of thought, and a minority continue to try to do so. Just look at those who seek to push creationism in schools as a science, when it is nothing of the sort.
“It appears to me atheist writers garner most of their followers when they are at their most vulnerable. Many former atheists will admit to having a bad religious experience. They are upset with religion, God, and humanity. Few new converts to atheism understand that if they had a horrible experience, it does not mean all faiths are false or that religion is evil. Nor does it necessarily mean their previous faith was wrong. Nor can you draw a sweeping conclusion that there is no God. It means you had an awful experience. It means what we’ve known for millennia: mankind is corruptible.”
A great many atheists are indeed former theists. Given that most of us grow up in cultures where religion is the norm, it would be hard to find one who has not been a theist at some point in their lives. I was once a Baptist Christian, and rejected that as I disagreed with Baptist theology to go on a ‘spiritual quest’ of many belief systems, seeking God. In the words of John Lennon “I’ve seen religion from Jesus to Ba’al.” There was always ‘something’ missing, and it wasn’t until I turned 47 that I came to realise that that something was in fact God. The fact is that I have never seen evidence for the existence of god(s). Therefore, I have always been an atheist, I just didn’t realise it.
Every atheist has different experiences which lead them to the conclusion that there is no God. But for the vast majority of us it is the absence of evidence which is the clincher, not any bad experiences we may have had. I cannot say my religious experiences were unpleasant. Certainly, some individuals were unpleasant, but I never for one moment blamed “God” or the faith for that. Rather I recognised all too readily that some people are nasty, so I would do the worst thing I possibly could in return; I forgave them. That annoys the hell out of people.
There are of course a minority of people who have had bad experiences at the hands of people within religion and hit back at the faith because of that. Those people however are not atheists. Again, Mike Dobbins is confusing atheism with anti-theism, when they are two distinctly different things. To use an analogy, I don’t listen to people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, because I don’t believe in them. Am I then being anti-alien? Against the claimant? I am of course being neither but rather merely stating that the claimant can believe that if they want, but I personally don’t believe in UFOs or aliens. Anti-theists however will seek to attack their own faith, and sometimes others, often due to a bad experience they have had at some within that faith. There may of course be some who hit out at the dogma of a certain religion, such as repression of women and gay men, but one would feel they are fully justified in doing so in that matter. And amazing as it may seem, there are some who have been badly treated within a religion, yet it has not shaken their faith one iota. I happen to know a lady who was sexually abused by her pastor when she was a little girl, yet she remains a devout and committed Baptist Christian to this day, and while her pastor did indeed go to jail, whether right or wrong, she has forgiven him.
Mike Dobbins therefore is again generalising, for he cannot say with any certainty that atheism is caused by a bad experience, as again, he does not know all these atheists he speaks of, who are in fact anti-theists and it does not necessarily follow that all who have bad experiences within religion will turn their back upon their faiths.
“Still, doubt and anger creep in along with resentment for believing in something that may be false. Their mind is opening to other possibilities. They want a new ‘truth’ to cling to and way of understanding the world. They don’t enjoy wandering the land of the unknown, unknowable, and mysterious. They want something that explains it all, once and for all. This is when they start exploring atheism and subscribing to the dogma of scientific naturalism. Little do they realize what they’re getting themselves into is but another faith.”
Rather the human mind is enquiring and always seeking new knowledge. That is why we have explored almost the entire Earth, why mankind went to the Moon, why we have been almost to the deepest parts of the ocean (ironic that we can explore space but it’s physical attributes mean we cannot get to the bottom of the Mariana Trench), we have sent probes to other planets, have studied stars and other heavenly bodies much further than the human eye can see, we know how stars work, where our universe came from, how our Earth formed, and how all life evolved. That curiosity is also why we are no longer killed by a scratch on a rusty nail, why smallpox is eradicated, why people with once fatal diseases such as HIV can now hope to live long and fulfilling lives, and why most of us can now expect to live in relatively good health well past the Biblical threescore years and ten.
When Mike Dobbins asserts “They don’t enjoy wandering the land of the unknown, unknowable, and mysterious. They want something that explains it all, once and for all.” he is talking arrant nonsense. As a paranormal researcher of more than twenty years experience, I can assure him that mankind loves the unknown, unknowable and mysterious. And it’s not only the paranormal this applies to. Which one of us can honestly say we’ve come to path we’ve never explored before and thought “Where does this go?” How many of us have seen a hill, and had the compulsion to climb to the top of it? All of us, and if there are any who have not, then I feel sorry for them. Why did Hilary climb Everest? “Because it is there.” Did the USA send mankind to the Moon because it was easy? No, “because it is hard” (John F Kennedy). Mankind is by nature a curious creature, and we are all the better as a species for that.
Plus, again, it is religion which offers the “quick fix” of easily explaining things once and for all. It is derisory that Dobbins refers to scientific naturalism as a “dogma”, when as I have already stated, science admits to not having all the answers. While science and nature are indeed governed by certain laws, there is no dogma which say these are carved in stone. Sometimes science gets things wrong. When that happens, scientists re-examine the data, taking the new information into consideration. Unlike religion therefore, science and nature are not tied to dogma. But when evidence overwhelmingly supports a theory, it thereby becomes fact which can no more denied than the very Earth we sit upon. Faith relies upon trust and belief. When something is self-evident, then there is no need to have trust or belief, and science and nature can never accurately be defined as faith. Yet Dobbins continually and mistakenly uses this line of the ‘faith’ of atheism throughout his book.
I would also add here that why a great many atheists are indeed very interested in science, there are equally some who are completely indifferent to it. Therefore, yet again, Dobbins is making a generalisation about people he has never met.
“To the person who cares more about critical thinking and character than what someone believes, the new intolerant atheism is a sad evolution. Hearing that thousands of young people are surrendering their minds to atheism after reading a few books sounds like the epitome of not thinking for oneself. After all, how many books advocating a belief in God or critiques of atheism have the new atheist convert read?”
Another gross generalisation. Where are these “thousands of young people” Mike? Do you know them personally? What evidence can you offer for that wild asssertion? Reading a few books is not thinking for oneself? Whereas reading just one book continually and accepting that as truth is free-thinking I suppose. As I stated previously, a great many atheists were indeed once theists, and many of us do indeed read books advocating God or criticising atheism. I read your book, didn’t I, Mike? You tend to find that many atheists are much better educated in the Bible and it’s theology than the vast majority of Christians we encounter are. Indeed, it is precisely because we have actually studied the Bible that we are not Christians.
But even then, reading books advocating God, or criticising atheism does not prove anything. I have read Mein Kampf, I have read Das Kapital, yet I am neither a Nazi nor a Communist. Just as Mike Dobbins maintains that atheist books are merely the writers’ opinions, the same remains true for theist books. Yet, Dobbins condemns the former, while championing the latter. Again, these are hardly the actions of an agnostic.
“Much too often I find atheists are quick to draw first and criticize religious followers for not delving into atheist or scientific literature, while in the next breath admitting they haven’t read any books that may show evidence for a God, an afterlife, or something beyond materialism. It takes little effort to find authors, books, and evidence that support ones narrative of the world. It comforts us, reassures us, and instills confidence we’re right. Yet, that’s all it does. It doesn’t mean you’re right. It says nothing about your belief being correct.”
How often Mike? Where and who are all these atheists you speak of? Or is that just one more sweeping generalisation of people you have never met and know nothing about?
Dobbins is correct of course that it is all too easy to find books supporting one’s narrative of the world – and a visit to any quality bookstore will prove that there are a great many books on theology and religion than opposing it, just as religion has a great many more authors than atheism has. And what are all these authors doing? They are offering claims which comfort the believer, reassures them, and instills confidence that they are right (which makes one wonder, given there are so very many, just why the omnipotent God can’t do that his/her/itself?). And no, they offer absolutely no evidence to even suggest that the theist worldview, or their own particular faith, is correct.
“Reading only one side of the argument reveals a personal character that is more concerned with supporting ones present identity than with attaining knowledge. It is consciously undertaken to protect oneself from entertaining arguments and ideas that may create anxiety by producing questions and doubts regarding ones beliefs. Many simply defer to their leaders and others to examine the opposing arguments and evidence and tell them why it is incorrect. This way, there will be no sudden shocks to the system.”
Well, I reckon Mike Dobbins said more of his own character in that first sentence than me or any other atheists I know. As to the rest, I have already shown that in this first chapter of his book alone, Dobbins has proven himself to be anything but agnostic, but a theist on a mission to attack atheists and atheism. In doing so it is he who is protecting himself from the anxiety that we may just be right and there may be no gods. And it is not we atheists who bow to leaders to tell us what to do and allay our fears. We leave that to the theists, who are so much better at it then we are.