Recently, as a Facebook status, I posted, "Christians who mock Harold Camping fail to realize that they also have silly unsubstantiated beliefs." I've received some recent criticism because of this, but it's quite odd because those who are criticizing me have 'been though' discussions like this and should realize that I don't paint all theists with the same brush and on many occasions I have noted that many theists of different stripes have all sorts of different beliefs. It's difficult to add several 'asterisks' to my status updates and even more difficult to do so when I'm using my mobile phone to post updates.
The main point of this status update was to address many theists who are now mocking Camping's end of the world position, but yet make various other assertions that would be considered silly if they were presented such as Camping's group presenting them. Many theists belief in transubstantiation (a priest utters a prayer and the literal flesh of Jesus is present in the Eucharist), reconciliation (theists can talk with a priest as an intermediary and this can absolve persons of their sins after doing a penance of prayer and perhaps fasting), 'thoughtcrime sin' (the idea that thoughts should be punished and people should feel guilty of them), and a general rapture prediction. Various theists who mock Camping for his beliefs don't object to his methodology or general belief in the rapture, but rather state that he can't put a set date on Jesus coming down from the clouds and bringing people to Heaven.
When I was a theist, I used to mock Scientologists for their beliefs, but failed to realize that I held many silly beliefs such as a literal Adam and Eve story. A friend asked me if I thought scientology was nuts and I said yes. He then asked me how I could think Scientology is nuts if I believed in a literal Adam and Eve story. I felt quite distraught and experienced tremendous cognitive dissonance. The difference between me and others who view my page, though, is that the people who view my page, I hope, have been exposed to my arguments and 'defenses of atheism.' When I was a theist, my beliefs were hardly challenged...and when they were I decided that it was the time to seek justified true belief regardless of the consequences.
I cannot speak for all atheists, of course, but I don't think that theists are stupid just because they hold unsubstantiated beliefs. Beliefs about one or a few matters aren't an entire character evaluation of a person. I think that I'm quite 'meek and mild' in my criticisms, really, but some are still offended no matter how charitable and mild I can be. Recently, I presented various arguments of mine in a scholarly form of various essays. One of these essays, 'A Defense of Reason' is a harsh critique of faith and a proposed methodology that can distinguish sense from nonsense. If people take time to read what I write and not jump to conclusions based on one status update, they can understand where exactly I'm coming from and why I think what I think. I'm not hiding. I have over 250 blog posts, an open Facebook profile for everyone to see, interviews that are open to the public, and various media appearances. It's even more troubling when people who have met me face-to-face on multiple occasions to believe that I'm being unfair to theists.
It's easy for persons who hold supernatural beliefs to see how others' supernatural beliefs are silly, but they don't often examine their own with the same scrutiny that they examine others' beliefs with. As noted in my 'Defense of Reason' paper, philosophers Roberts and Wood think that a person is lacking in intellectual virtue when they will accept defenses of some beliefs that wouldn't be applicable in other contexts. This seems to be exactly what is going on here. The scientologist's beliefs about Xenu are silly because there is no good evidence for this and the scientologist can only offer utility non-sequiters, faith claims, and personal experience, but when the Christian makes the same 'moves,' it's suddenly a different games. Because *I* believe it and because *I've* experienced these things, *my* beliefs are suddenly credible, but this doesn't work for others, some of these people think. I constantly ask Christians why they don't accept Muslims' beliefs when Muslims offer the same reasons as the Christians do...and they are perplexed. Of course, again, this isn't the case for all theists, but this is a common occurance I have experienced.
A recent Facebook response to my "Christians who mock Camping and fail to realize they have silly beliefs" status read, "I didn't know that believing that life was not an accident is bull shit. Sorry to bother you, Justin." This commenter is totally missing the point. Atheists, at least people I know and myself, don't believe that life was an 'accident.' Those who believe that life was not an accident aren't justified in taking the leap to 'belief in a supernatural entity is substantiated.' This is a common argument from ignorance - just because we don't have an answer does not mean that we can justly posit a supernatural entity. While I may think that this is a huge reasoning error (and it is), this does not mean that I believe the person is stupid across the board. Persons like this, though, who seemingly ignore the 'opposing arguments' are being intellectually dishonest whether or not they are aware of it. There is a wealth of information on this page and on my Facebook page about this common logical fallacy! Persons who view my page on a daily basis should have no excuse whatsoever in this area.
The commenter continues,
I meant specifically that I do not think that all forms of life, and the entire universe, was spontaneous. But, that way of thinking suggests that I'm a mindless sheep, with no reasoning skills, who forces beliefs on others, hates LGBT people, etc (insert stereotype). So, I will take my leave.
This comment is first strawmanning atheists and posits a false dichotomy. Many atheists don't believe that life was spontaneous, of course. Belief that life was not spontaneous does not make one "a mindless sheep, with no reasoning skills..." I never said that belief that life was not spontaneous entailed that one was a mindless sheep with no reasoning skills. I would never claim such a thing.
Atheists who point out why theists' arguments are bad ones or who say that other's beliefs are silly are not asserting that these people are mindless, have no reasoning skills, or stupid. I may disagree with others and point out flaws in their reasoning, but this doesn't mean that I think they are stupid individuals. The assertion that 'theists are stupid' is not an indirect one and it's certainly not a direct one. Scientist Francis Collins, for example, believes all sorts of silly things like seeing three waterfalls is good reason to believe in God, but this doesn't mean that I think he is a stupid person across the board. He's certainly being stupid in this area, but he's a very smart individual. Stephen Hawking recently dismissed philosophy's contribution to science in his newest book, but this doesn't mean that he's a stupid person for doing so. If he's serious about this and not speaking in metaphors, he's certainly having a lapse in judgment or experiencing a blind spot, but this doesn't mean that I think he is a stupid person.
I'm sick and tired of hearing the myth that atheists are offensive when they critique others' beliefs because they are asserting that they think theists are stupid people with no reasoning skills. This simply isn't the case by any means. While some atheists may do this, it certainly is not a majority position...and it's not something I do. Once in a while I may get quite angry and mock people or joke around, but this isn't how I go about doing things. My criticism is often lengthy, well-supported, and can been seen in my various posts. One single status update should not lead one to jump to conclusions and think that I'm being uncharitable.