The annoyingness of New Atheists: declaring God Dead makes you a Complete Monster?

by Raw_Power1 min read17th Jan 201187 comments


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I have noticed during my dialectic adventures on the Grid that religious people, no matter how "reasonable" (i.e. moderate, unaggressive, unassuming, gentle, etc.), would get very annoyed by an assertive, dry Atheist perspective, which they tend to nickname Hollywood Atheist (interestingly, religious people tend to use this term to atheists that openly make fun of religion and are very assertive and even preachy about their disbelief, while atheists tend to use it to mean people who are atheists for shallow, weak reasons and who do a poor job of defending their stance in an argument). There is also the tendency to compare the certainty of an Atheist with that of a Fundamentalists, when they are fundamentally different in nature (pun unintended), something they do not seem to be able or willing to grasp. Not that atheism hasn't had its fair share of fundamentalists, but that's supposedly the difference between an atheist who is so out of rationalism and one that is so because they hate the Church or because Stalin (glorified be his name) told them to.

On of the things that irritate them the most is the phrase "God is Dead". A phrase that is obviously meaningless in a literal sense (although, of course, God was never a living being in the first place, by the current definition). Figuratively, it means something akin to "Our Father is dead": we are now orphans, adults, we don't need a God to tell us what to do, or what to want, or how to see the world: we decide for ourselves, we see for ourselves, we are now free... but it does feel a bit lonely, and, for those who relied on their God or Parent Figure as a crutch, it can be hard to adapt to a world without a reference, without an authority figure. A world where you are the reference, you are responsible for your own moral choices.

There are other things, specific arguments, methods of approach, that anger them and are counterproductive to the submitting of the message. Of course, the atheist message is a Brown Note of sorts to the religious mind, since it challenges their entire worldview (though in the end it all adds up to normality... except much more seamlessly). However, it would be nice to develop an approach towards theists that avoids the frontal part of their mental shields and gets into the seams, using the minimal force in the points of maximum efficiency, bypassing their knee-jerk defences...

So, here is my question to you all: how do you get your points across to a theist without pushing any of their Berserk Buttons, without coming off as a condescending and dismissive jerk, and without having to shorten all of the freaking Inferential Distance?

Developing a general algorithm would help us spread our ideals further, which, as far as I know, we think will be to the benefit of all humanity and might in fact help us avoid extinction. So, suggestions...


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I get my points across to a theist the same way I get my points across to anyone else:

  • I get clear in my own head what point I want to get across, and why I want to get it across.

  • I get clear in my own head why I believe that.

  • I consider my model of the other person and how they differ from me and whether those differences are relevant to how compelling my reasons are. If the differences aren't relevant, I share my reasons for believing what I believe.

  • If the differences are relevant, I either explicitly note that ("You'll probably disagree with me about this, because you generally believe X where I believe Y, but I think Z.") if my goal is to let the person know what I think, or I set my own reasons aside if my goal is to convince the person that what I think is true.

  • If the latter, I try to imagine whether I would believe Z if I believed X, and if so, why I would believe that, and I share those reasons instead. Otherwise, I give up on the point I started out with, which is too many inferential steps away, and either go do something else or I pick some instrumental goal along the way (e.g., decide to convince them of Y).

Worth noting is that at every step along th... (read more)

So, here is my question to you all: how do you get your points across to a theist without pushing any of their Berserk Buttons, without coming off as a condescending and dismissive jerk, and without having to shorten all of the freaking Inferential Distance?

As others have pointed out, in this article you are already behaving like a condescending and dismissive jerk. You adduce no facts, just making a rant against an imaginary caricature. This is mind-killer territory. No productive conversation is possible on that basis. Any attempt will lose.

The only way to not come across as a condescending and dismissive jerk is to not be one.

2Raw_Power10yI don't understand what you mean. Obviously I could link to all the threads I've been into about this (those that weren't erased, at least), but I thought it would come off as annoying, so I tried to sum it up, briefly: the caricature is not imaginary. I have been literally accused of being foreign to all love and kindess because I rejected God, who was Caritas. "You reject God, therefore you are evil" is one of the knee-jerk reactions I talked about. And you can still come across as one even while you are doing your best to be kind and soothing, simply because you are being too blunt or approaching from a wrong angle.
8RichardKennaway10yOk, I'll take your word that there are such people. I live in a country where that sort of behaviour is lunatic fringe, and I've never encountered it myself. Do you have to deal with them? If not, that's one possible approach: withdraw. This [] applies to real life as well as the Internet. I know that several of my colleagues are Christians, and they may know that I'm an atheist, but it basically doesn't come up in conversation. I have no mission to convert any of them, and I'd only discuss it at all if someone else started the discussion. You might try asking these mad people, "How many cats have I tortured? How many babies have I eaten?" by way of a reality check, and ask if they would be doing these things themselves if not for the fear of God. I'm echoing here this post [] from the Sequences. More generally, eliciting their reasons for their beliefs might be more effective than setting out your own as an opposing line of artillery. Just an idea, which may or may not get anywhere. As I say, I've never had to deal with such people. But I am sure that coming at them with fear, anger, and resentment will never work. It never does. BTW, these people call you evil, but do they act like they believe that (i.e. putting you in fear that they'll burn your house around you), or only as if they believe they believe that (i.e. they do nothing more than utter the words and keep their distance)? ETA: I just remembered some context that I'd forgotten when I wrote the above. You were a Moslem, yes? Are the people you're talking about Moslems or Christians? Fundamentalist hicks or the sort of more enlightened Moslem that you were yourself, and have moved away from?
6Nornagest10yI've met a frightening number of people for whom the professed answer is "yes". Now, you know and I know that that's far more likely to be an applause light or a hasty assumption than an accurate gauge of future behavior, but that's hard to prove: naively it might seem that the lack of obvious atheist babyeating/cat-torturing counts as evidence for it, but in practice more theists take that to imply that those atheists aren't thinking clearly, that their behavioral corruption manifests itself in subtler ways, or that they unconsciously fear God without acknowledging him (a version of the "atheists in foxholes" argument). More generally, the problem with using reality checks based on your own behavior is that people will readily create individual exceptions to a pernicious stereotype without actually updating the stereotype; about the most you can accomplish individually, therefore, is to cast yourself into the role of the Token Good Atheist. Updates might happen if your theistic friend comes to accept several similar roles, but the problem wouldn't have developed in the first place if that friend regularly came into friendly contact with atheists. Citing statistics for your purpose is a way around this, but the data isn't unambiguously in favor of atheism: there are a lot of confounding factors (income and education are the big ones), and some important metrics like self-identified happiness actually come out in favor of theism. That debate usually degenerates into a brawl over Puddleglum's Wager.
1Desrtopa10yMy understanding is that the statistics on this rate practicing religious adherents against people who are not practicing religious adherents. Although it could be that theism simply makes people happier on average, my primary hypothesis is that the social activity of church participation accounts for a lot of this. I've known priests who were amazing public speakers and community organizers, and I consider it a shame that strictly secular societies rarely provide proper venues for such people to put their skills to good effect.
0wedrifid10yGreat advice. Even better advice.
3JoshuaZ10yThere's different degrees of belief and sets of belief. Some beliefs are so far removed from reality that you aren't going to have much success arguing with them. If someone really believes that all atheists are evil, you probably aren't going to get very far with that person. However, as a general rule for internet conversations, you will almost never convince the person you are arguing with that their position is wrong. However, if you are firm and polite and have better arguments on your side, you do a good chance of helping convince more moderate people who aren't part of the argument but are reading it.

On of the things that irritate them the most is the phrase "God is Dead". A phrase that is obviously meaningless in a literal sense...

What Nietzsche was saying when he said "Gott ist tod!" was not what most people think.

He first made the obvious point that modern science and in particular evolution made God redundant and belief in supernatural beings was not longer credible.

At the time (mid C19) many people had lost their belief in God but continued to act as though nothing had changed. That is, they continued to act as Christians but had no basis for doing so.

Nietzsche's real point was that the non-existence of God is a big deal and that we need to take the implications of this seriously. He was not merely saying what everyone knew (there is no God) but that we need to forge a new morality that is not based on discredited and useless religious ideas.

This idea can be relevant in discussions with theists. Just telling the story of what Nietzsche was saying is very powerful, because it takes as a given that religious belief does not make sense now that Darwin has done away with the argument from design. The discussion can turn to the real question: given no God, what do we do with our lives?

I'll share some thoughts since I've been through a recent deconversion...

  • First, let go of any notions you have of changing someone's mind. Especially in one or more sittings filled with discussion.
  • Second, drill into your mind that typical gauges of the accuracy of a theory/explanation such as tangible evidence, repeatability, and predictability will fall apart in theological discussions. There will always be an apologist to provide a counter-attack for any charge you bring, and this counter-attack will not have it's roots in tangibility, but in a possibility which the theist knows you cannot demonstrate to be conclusively false.
  • Lastly, I have begun to postulate that any discussion of reasons a theist might think support their belief will be fruitless, as I'm not convinced many theists realize what actually provides their belief. I say this as 80% or so of believers will have been raised in that belief system. No reasons necessary -- only trust in parents. Only later were reasons a-z provided as a "defense" of the belief. When a theist volunteers some set of a-z as supporting their belief... they may believe those reasons to be crucial without recognizing that the set
... (read more)

As a former theist myself, I have found that the most effective strategy is to argue with them from within their worldview and by their own rules. The reason for this is that they (in my experience) flatly reject any evidence external to their religion.

So, rather than discussing the existence of God, assume God exists and then point out that if God were a human, we'd call his motivations needy and depraved. Rather than bringing up outside savior myths which influenced the gospel writers, assume that the gospel is divinely inspired and then point out that it was divinely inspired in four different (contradictory) ways in the story about Mary visiting Jesus' tomb. There are plenty of these.

In my experience, this method is far more effective than outside evidence, but tends to lead to dismissals of logic itself, which is where I get frustrated. I try to explain that logic is embedded in language and thought, that to dismiss logic uses logic (albeit poorly), but I can't seem to make that point stick.

9TheOtherDave10yThis comment puzzles me. You have found that the most effective strategy, if you actually want to convince people of the truth of your position, is to argue from within their worldview and according to their rules. So far, so good... this is also my experience, of both theists and nontheists alike. You have found that some people dismiss "logic itself," which you find (understandably) frustrating. Given those two findings, the natural conclusion seems to be that the most effective strategy for convincing those people is to give up arguing from "logic," discover what it is they are using instead, and argue from whatever that is. Instead, you seem to ignore your own first paragraph and try to convince them using the selfsame "logic" that they dismiss. Why do you expect that to work?

That's a rather good point. I suppose I assumed that everyone (on some gut level) endorses logic, that it was just my failure to communicate my point clearly, not that they were viewing logic as external in the same way they did the other evidence.

Yet, I don't see where to go from here. Without getting some sort of commitment to logic, anything I say using any methodology can be rejected for no reason.

Perhaps I ought to use scriptures to show that God endorses logic? Hmm. What a twisted path that is.

4TheOtherDave10yIf they really are rejecting logic in its entirety, as you suggest, then they have insulated themselves from being forced into accepting conclusions they don't want to accept simply because they follow from premises they've previously accepted, so any attempt to convince them that depends on that sort of force will simply fail. It seems to follow that, if you want them to accept your beliefs, you will have to induce them to want to accept those beliefs. All of that said, I'm somewhat skeptical that this is actually what they've done, although of course I don't know the people you're talking about.
5synkarius10yNo, you're right about that. They're not rejecting logic. They use it (selectively). They're just saying "I reject logic" as a tactic to stopsign any arguments in which they get cornered. I like the idea of getting them to want to accept my beliefs. That's a rather large task though, isn't it? I'm not quite sure how I managed it myself. Sure, now I look back and say, "what a dreadful and frustrating perspective that was in comparison", and now the beauty of what we might achieve without a god, and the natural world, are overwhelming, but how to get that across?
1TheOtherDave10yMy general answer to that question is here [] . In this specific context, I would recommend thinking carefully about what made you want to change your beliefs, assuming you did want to. If you can figure that out and articulate it, you may find that other people in the same position you were in will react to it the same way.
0synkarius10yI actually didn't want to. It was more of an overwhelming evidence deconversion. But I was willing to look at that evidence because I had a strong desire to be a defender of light, to boldly face the philosophical abyss of unbelief--- for God. Yet there was a key difference somewhere between what I did and what I see a lot of believers do. I read enemy texts, not just friendly texts on enemy ideas. Why did I, in that frame of mind, do that? That might be the thing to figure out and then articulate, as you put it.
1Desrtopa10yHave you known this method to ultimately result in theists changing their religious views, and not just their views on logic?
1ata10yThat is true in my experience. I find it somewhat frustrating that I have to argue by picking apart the Bible and defending evolutionary biology instead of by talking about reductionism and Kolmogorov complexity, but the former is what seems to work. (Quoting myself from elsewhere: "I find that deconversions begin more often from a person noticing some internal absurdity in their beliefs than from having the problems in their epistemology explained to them. It’s only once they find they can’t run away from some counterexample to their beliefs that they are willing to consider why such a counterexample is allowed to exist.")

On of the things that irritate them the most is the phrase "God is Dead".

What the? You say that to religious people? How rude. I would be offended if was in mixed company and you said that to a religious believer without some rather significant provocation.

bypassing their knee-jerk defences...

Try not hitting people just below the knee with a hammer with the intention of provoking a response.

Developing a general algorithm would help us spread our ideals further

One option is to make a concerted effort to signal dissafilliation with those atheists who act like obnoxious fundamentalists.

1Raw_Power10yYes, but what does "acting like an obnoxious fundamentalist" mean for an atheist? Edit: Also, how is that rude? If you believe in God, he can't die, and if you don't, he can't either. The phrase is, in itself, meaningless, a metaphor, which I still think is very apt to describe the state of orphanage after losing God as a perpetual father figure watching over you.
9prase10yTo dismiss someone's opinion with a short resolute statement like that is always perceived as rude. When the opinion is of great importance for the person and the statement mentions death, even worse.

TV Tropes will ruin your vocabulary.

6JoshuaZ10yI'm less annoyed by the use of TV Tropes vocab, and more irritated by their incorrect use. For example, he says that "they tend to nickname Hollywood Atheist" when no one uses that term except TV Tropes (and maybe some agnostics and atheists). The term explicitly means a certain caricature of atheism, recognizing that it is a caricature. No theist is going to use the term.
8Raw_Power10yIn fact I have been called a Hollywood Atheist by theists, and it was an "incorrect" usage of the term: theists and atheists alike use it to mean "Atheist I don't like". Kinda like "Mary Sue" being "character I don't like" or "slut" being "woman that sleeps with men other than me"/"woman that sleeps with more men than me".
3timtyler10yNot even Kirk Cameron []? ;-)
2JoshuaZ10yHe's using the term slightly differently. In that context he means "Hollywood atheist" to mean literally a Hollywood actor who is an atheist with the implication that Hollywood is full of them. Throw in some connotations about decadence and drugs too. In the context of TV Tropes, a Hollywood Atheist [] has a different meaning.
0Raw_Power10yMaybe I should pothole all the wiki words I've been using? I was under the impression they were self-explanatory, but that might be myopia on my part.
7Tiiba10yNo, I know all those words, but you're using them way too much. A lot of them are very apt labels, but they just don't look right outside of TV Tropes. Just like outdated slang.
6Emile10yI agree - "Brown Note" and "Berzerk Button" were unneeded. I'd rather we didn't assume any cultural baggage in readers of LessWrong. Using those words is like a sign saying "If you don't know what this means, you're not hip!". Which is especially bad because it's not true - understanging TVTropes slang is not considered a prerequisite for reading LessWrong.
0Raw_Power10y... So I am being... so to speak... Totally Radical... -_-;
1Normal_Anomaly10yPersonally, I am a Troper and find the use of tropes words on here useful. In some ways, it's like a whole other Sequences worth of concepts explained where people can pack them into short phrases. I wouldn't want tvtropes to be required reading for LW, but I think the sort of person who would enjoy one and find it useful would find the other to be the same.
[-][anonymous]10y 12

Whereas I, as someone who isn't 'a Troper' find the use of one set of insular jargon on this site frustrating enough without introducing a second set from a totally unrelated website. If the goal is comprehensibility, the use of unfamiliar or niche terms should be kept to a minimum, not encouraged.

2Normal_Anomaly10yI agree with you. I'll watch my own comments and try to avoid tvtropes jargon. In addition, I might decide to find the few most commonly used pieces of it on here and put pages for them on the wiki which people can then link to. Does that strike people as a good idea, or a bad idea, or a waste of time?
4Nornagest10yThere are definitely some TV Tropes concepts that deserve exposure and/or formalization over here, but there's a style mismatch: TV Tropes jargon is meant to be funny, accessible, and clear (in roughly that order in practice, although policy reverses it) to an audience of mostly young media nerds. Consequently it comes off as lulzy and incomprehensible to people who are not young media nerds. I don't think that lines up very well with what this site is trying to do. I'd recommend writing up the relevant concepts in Less Wrong style, with original names (or the standard names if applicable), but citing TV Tropes as appropriate.
0Normal_Anomaly10yWhich ones were you thinking of as being relevant? I'd be happy to write them up with better or the same names.
1Nornagest10yMost of the Logic Tropes [] index could find a home rewritten as articles or on the wiki, as would about half the Intelligence Tropes []. "TV Genius" [] strikes me as a particularly good candidate, if we don't already cover the idea in some form (which is more than possible). There's also a large set of tropes that would make good resources for an article, but which would require a very different treatment to flourish here; "And Man Grew Proud" [] comes to mind.
1Normal_Anomaly10yI turned Sound Valid True [] from TVtropes into Sound logic [] and Valid logic [] on the wiki here. More may come later.
1[anonymous]10yStrikes me like an idea that would encourage people to use that jargon by 'officially' incorporating it over here. Not a good idea...
1Normal_Anomaly10yThat's the main thing I was worried about. If it occurred to you too, there's probably good reason to worry. I won't do it. EDIT: I have made a couple wiki articles inspired by TVtropes, but not the ones that are overused on here.

I guess, if you had a theist friend whose quality of life you think would be improved by greater rationality, the way to do it would be to talk about general rationality (The Simple Truth, Bayes, Occam, etc), then move on to reductionism, and once they'd accepted and understood all that, and seemed to think of rationality as a good thing, to point out cautiously the implications for the existence of God.

Essentially, shorten the inferential distance, preferably before they know you're an atheist. Then when they think of you as a sane person, and think of th... (read more)

0Raw_Power10yThat seems like a very good way to go about it, as long as the topic of conversation isn't religion. A certain but slow way. How do I hold their attention all that time, though? The advantage of offending or provoking is that people listen
7TheOtherDave10yYou don't hold their attention all that time. Rather, you say what there is to say as moments arise when there's value in saying it. And yes, it takes time. The perceived advantage of offending or provoking derives from the fact that it makes us feel important and powerful. But unless feeling powerful is our goal, that's just a distraction.
6Desrtopa10yI've known a fair number of theists to renounce their religion due to persuasive arguments, and in every case I'm aware of, it took a long time and many conversations. If there's a faster way that's effective, I've never seen it at work.
[-][anonymous]10y 3

How do I get my points across to a theist? Well, I don't. You'll never change anyone's mind by "convincing" them unless they're already a very good rationalist, and even then, it's not really guaranteed to work.

"Convincing" is more often about signaling, whether to yourself or people besides the one you're trying to convince. If your goal is to change someone's mind, try to make them think they already agree with you. I'm not aware of an effective way to do this for theists or "spiritual" people or new-agers or anyone else in that category.

0Raw_Power10ySignalling what exactly? "Wisdom"?
4[anonymous]10yBasically, yeah. Intelligence, maturity, realism, various things you'd associate with wisdom.
0Raw_Power10ySo what you're saying is, I should signal that my arguments are worth listening to because it is me who is saying them and I am "awesome", rather than because they themselves are compelling? Y'know what, it makes no sense whatsoever in a logical sense, but psychologically it does make a lot of sense. One person said that people don't convert to Religions, that compel them with Truth, they convert to Prophets, who compel them with charisma.
1[anonymous]10yNot quite. I'm saying that the purpose of disagreeing and trying to convince people of things, from an evolutionary sense, is usually to signal to others (or yourself) that you are wise. It's dressing like a winner []: smart people actually do sometimes disagree with others because they have some wise, compelling reason to believe otherwise, so openly and aggressively disagreeing is an easy way to signal "I'm smart!". Smart people themselves often get caught up in this (If you've read HP:MoR, Dumbledore represents what I'm saying pretty well). My point wasn't to say that, if you argue from your own authority instead of facts, you'll be more successful (even if a dogmatically religious person may be more receptive to that). My point was that the actual purpose of aggressively trying to convince someone they're wrong isn't to convince them they're wrong, but instead to try to convince everyone else involved that you're wise, even if you aren't aware of your underlying motives. Think of it this way: how often does trying to convince a typical person that they're wrong, using facts and reasoning and observations, actually work? Basically never, in my experience, unless you're working with a reasonably rational person who's mutually perceived as a part of your group.

This is the first time I've ever written an article that got shot down so violently. I'll admit it is poorly planned and kind of chaotic, but I feel I was misunderstood. While freeing people from religion is a cause I endorse, especially for those that suffer guilt, anguish and pain because of it, rather than those who derive happiness from it, this is not what I am looking for here. What I want to do is to express my points to religious people without coming off as a condescending jerkass Straw Vulcan. And, revently, I have found myself unable to. Despite... (read more)

Three reasons I downvoted:

  • Your spelling is abysmal. It annoys the hell out of me that you would be so inconsiderate of your readers as to not even spell-check.
  • You say you want to not come off as "a condescending and dismissive jerk". But practically every paragraph of your posting exhibits disrespect for theists, and a complete dismissal of the possibility that they might have something to teach you, or at least a tricky argument that might require some care to dissolve. So, why would you wish to pretend not to condescend when in fact you seem proud to condescend.
  • You say you want to convince people "without having to shorten all of the freaking Inferential Distance". Yet you seem not to realize that to do so would be to practice a Dark Art.

Hope that helps.

5Dreaded_Anomaly10yYes, exactly. Telling someone that the experiences which have convinced them of their religious beliefs aren't actually strong evidence for those beliefs requires explaining at minimum* Occam's Razor and Bayesian statistics. I've tried shortcuts, such as saying "it's just like how a patient is usually less qualified to diagnose their symptoms than a doctor," but that has never succeeded in conveying the message. If someone doesn't actually understand why entities shouldn't be multiplied beyond necessity and how to use evidence to evaluate claims, they're not going to accept what you say about their claims. We can keep trying to explain these concepts, and I do, but they have to decide they want to learn them. *It's usually much more than just that, because religious people tend to come from a very anthropocentric worldview, where morality is objective, life has inherent meaning, human beings have souls, etc. We might speak the same language, but we're using very different systems of thought. Edit to add: Eliezer has a very good post on this subject [] which makes the point better than I did: it's not enough just to cite Occam's Razor, Bayes' Theorem, etc.; there has to be understanding. Importantly, developing that understanding requires taking doubt seriously. ...
3JoshuaZ10yEmpirically many people deconvert for reasons that have nothing to do with Bayesianism. Indeed most former theists I know don't even know what Bayesianism is. If this is what it would take then almost no one would ever deconvert. People can deconvert for many different reasons. Occam's Razor or Bayesianism can be reasons, but there are a lot of other reasons that people deconvert, such as realizing that their holy texts are full of contradictions, or deciding the only reasonable interpretations of the texts are literalist ones which contradict the physical evidence.
1Dreaded_Anomaly10yThat's all true. My statement was intended to apply only to those people who have had "religious experiences" and are convinced because of those. In general, people become convinced of religious beliefs for a variety of reasons, and similarly can become unconvinced for a variety of reasons.
0Raw_Power10yOccam's Razor has never even been a factor in my turning: I was never looking for "the simplest theory", only "the most consistent theory". It is religion's inconsistencies and predictive uselessness that did the trick for me. Perhaps Occam is implicit in that?
1Dreaded_Anomaly10yConsistency and predictive ability are also important for beliefs, and recognizing that religion lacks them may help turn away someone who is already feeling unsteadiness. The people about whom I'm talking are those who are absolutely convinced of their beliefs by subjective experiences (because, in my experience, these are the most difficult people against whom to argue). We can't deny the fact of the experience, but we can deny the explanation it is claimed to support.
0Raw_Power10yYou are absolutely right. While I felt deeply pressured to put this out of the way, I should have saved a draft and waited until I had clarified and organized the concept before presenting it here. Not so much because I fear hurting the readers' sensibilities, but because a badly written post hurts the integrity of this site I love so much.I have discussed with religious people left, down and right, and have been confronted with a very large variety of arguments. There was a part of my way to atheism where I was literally begging theists I trusted to help me find arguments to protect my faith. They kept disappointing me. Only when I felt as certain as I thought I would ever be that no new arguments could come up, I decided to make the great leap over Hell, and officially abandon religion. If I thought there was a non-negligible chance of new arguments swaying me, I wouldn't have abandoned theism, purely out of fear of Hell. *Not necessarily: as other posters have pointed out in this discussion, some arguments need more reduction of inferential distance than other, which are much more immediate. Pointing out incosistencies and counterexamples, for example, is far more efficient in making people doubt than explaining the epistemiological merits of Occham's Razor and reductionism.
4wedrifid10yThe way you ask here sounds a lot better. In the original post sincere curiosity didn't come across so much as bitterness and contempt. There is a lesson to take from this that actually goes a long way towards giving you the answer you are looking for. A practical exercise that I (sometimes) do in such cases is to look through my words and consider why I got the response I got. I don't worry whether it was fair, legitimate or sane. Just how my presentation interacted with the audience. In this case that means identifying what could be perceived as arrogant, condescending or sarcastic.
4David_Gerard10yMove to Discussion? Might work better there. The comments so far have been productive.
0wedrifid10yPeople are very seldom persuaded by argument at the best of times and when they do not feel respected they will not even consider the reasoning much less be swayed by it. (Occasional exception - shame when public opinion is swayed will prompt an identity shift.) One of the best ways to become more persuasive is to release contempt and frustration with people. Then you can go ahead and 'act as if' the people you are talking to are smart, reasonable people who react well to new ideas. They may just take that as a cue.
0Kobayashi10yRaw_Power: " While freeing people from religion is a cause I endorse..." I don't care enough to downvote either your post or your comment, but I will point out that the only people who are ever truly free from religion are the ones who care enough and/or are strong enough to free themselves. Anyone else has merely transferred their allegiance to a different authority. Quit worrying about saving the world; it smacks of a poor understanding of basic human psychology - both with respect to your own motivations and those of others.
1Raw_Power10yI don't get your meaning. Freeing yourself, how do you do that? Why reinvent the wheel? While I was on the straight path to rejecting religion, I could have kept inventing excuses and making stuff up forever, I might even have become a religious expert. I seriously considered becoming a theologian at some point and work to bring out the True Original Islam As Intended By The Prophet (TM) which both the reactionary bigots and the westernized "moderns" were not following. If it hadn't been for people like Yudkowsky who were able to speak to me in a language I shared and point out the massive failings of my system, I would have continued to invent one patch after another, the same way smart, strong people have been doing for centuries. And I don't see what's wrong with wanting to Save The World, that was the frame that has directed all of my actions ever since I had a concept of what that meant. Of course, Akrasia is a bitch, and Behaving In A Way Such As If All Behaved Like You You Would Like This World Better can be freaking hard, but I've never given up. How is that bad self-psychology?
2Kobayashi10y"Freeing yourself" happens when you understand why people have religion, when you ask the questions that bring to light the inconsistencies between belief and behavior, etc. It's not about finding The Truth. Similarly, "saving the world" operates from the arrogant presumption that what you have is inherently better than what they have. It implies an active belief that they should change, not you. Of course, since you are on the right side, they should look up to you, take wisdom from you, etc. It puts you in a position of power relative to them. Having power over one's fellow man and believing that one has a better knowledge about what is right and what is true is the heart of all that is wrong with religion. Freeing oneself from religion is twofold - rejecting the idea that others hold power over you via their relationship to The Truth, and rejecting the idea that you are superior to others by virtue of your relationship to The Truth. Very difficult indeed...
4Desrtopa10yBut reversed stupidity is not intelligence. Some people do have beliefs or methods of thought that are better than others, that give them a more accurate understanding of the world and if used properly, can make them more successful and powerful. The mistake of religion is not deciding that some people's knowledge or beliefs are better than others, and that other people should learn from them. Entirely rejecting that premise can lead to some very unfortunate results. Whether having superior beliefs makes one superior oneself... I think that's a question that needs to be dissolved. What kind of superiority are you talking about, and what does it entail? I consider the me of today to be superior to the me of the past because of the things I've learned and the ways I've changed my mind. If I met the me of the past, it would be only appropriate for him to regard me as a teacher, and hopefully the me of the future would be able to perform the same role for the me of today. But of course, I shouldn't be condescending to my past self simply for having been more wrong than I am.
0Raw_Power10yIndeed you do make it sound quite hard...

So, suggestions...

(Seriously) Become more attractive. You can't do much about height and not too much about facial symmetry either but if you gain a lot of social status and dress well you will find yourself much more persuasive. If you want to take it to the next level try seducing believers of the preferred gender.

I don't try to convert theists to atheism, and I don't have trouble with "reasonable" theists. If we get into a discussion of religion, then I explain what I do (and don't) believe and why, and they come away with a better understanding of atheism (or at least of me).

It also helps that I'm familiar with a variety of religions (not just Christianity, but different types of Christianity, as well as non-Christian religions of course), so I can get a good idea of where they're coming from. But it's important not to presume, or even to let them think that you're presuming, too much.

1Raw_Power10yIt's certainly a good idea to frame it subjectively: that's one way of bypassing knee-jerk defenses. Not "Your religion is useless because of X, W, Z" but "I have stopped believing in my religion because of X, Y, Z". It's certainly more sympathetic, and actually carries the exact same arguments, more sympathetically and without the added "and you must think like me on this, there is no other way to think of the world consistently", which, while I believe is objectively true, is seen as subjective by the other party, and a subjective statement that claims to be objective is arrogant and annoying.
[-][anonymous]10y 0

Don't you see that by trying to convert people you are in fact acting precisely like the 'new atheist' types that they dislike? Why, precisely, do you want to convert them anyway? Have you considered going door-to-door saying "Have you heard the bad news?"? Theists compare Dawkins et al to fundamentalists because both groups are more interested in winning converts than having a conversation. When discussing religion with a theist - just like when discussing politics with someone of opposite views - far better to go in asking them, with honest cur... (read more)

8JoshuaZ10yIf someone is wrong about something, then I'd like to convince them otherwise, whether or not it has anything to do with religion. If I'm wrong about something I'd like to be convinced otherwise. And if someone thinks I'm wrong then they should try to convince me. The people who are nice and moderate, and believe in religion but aren't trying to convince anyone? Either they really haven't internalized the dragons in the garage, or they are being awful.
3TheOtherDave10yWhereas I would say that if I disagree with someone, then I'd like to understand their reasons for believing as they do, and I'd like them to understand mine. If the result of both of us updating our confidence levels about various assertions based on the new evidence provided by the interaction isn't readily apparent, as for example if I go from believing something is ~10% likely to believing it's ~11% likely but continue to classify it as "unlikely," that's perfectly fine. Of course, if one or both of us update over a threshold -- that is, if one or both of us is convinced of something -- that's perfectly fine as well. But it's far from being the only possible valuable end result of an interaction.
1[anonymous]10yOr they have a third reason, like that they think their religious views happen to be true but that whether they're true or not doesn't actually affect most people's day-to-day lives, and they don't think it matters if you believe the same as them. And why do you want to convince people when (you think) they're wrong?
3JoshuaZ10yOh to be sure, such religions exists. For example, most classical forms of Judaism believe that non-Jews aren't obligated in the 613 commandment. But, that still means that not convincing people is letting people remain fundamentally ignorant about extremely basic aspects to the nature of reality. That's not cool. But note that even then, there are clearly people who aren't doing that. Consider for example, how many evangelical Christians there are who believe that people who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior will burn in hell for eternity. How many of those slack off and aren't spending most their time trying to save us? They claim to think that the consequences of not believing is eternal torture. How can that not matter? A variety of reasons. First, I intrinsically value truth. Second, in general, humans will do better having a more accurate understanding of reality (there are likely some exceptions to this but the general pattern seems clear). Third, (connected to 1 and to 2) I'd like to live in a world where people do try to correct each other when wrong (this also has a selfish element. If I live in such a world, then I get to be corrected when wrong.) and by trying to convince people when I think they are wrong, I am contributing to making the world more that sort of world.
4Costanza10yTo their credit, I suppose, the Lubavitcher Chabad people are promoting a Noahide [] movement for us gentiles, of which I'm sure you've been made aware. This movement has some interesting implications. For instance, I have a book in front of me which suggests that (if I believed) it would be kosher for me as a gentile right now, in 2011, to set up a private altar and make an animal sacrifice to God. Also, I'm supposed to set up courts of law that can administer the death penalty for violation of the seven laws of Noah. Women and slaves can't be witnesses.
0[anonymous]10y"Oh to be sure, such religions exists. For example, most classical forms of Judaism believe that non-Jews aren't obligated in the 613 commandment. But, that still means that not convincing people is letting people remain fundamentally ignorant about extremely basic aspects to the nature of reality. That's not cool." That depends if you think the other people care. In my experience, most people don't. In which case it would be 'not cool' to bother them about it. I do agree, however, with your example. If you believe in a literal Hell for nonbelievers then it is your absolute, overriding priority to prevent people from going there. However, not all religious people hold those beliefs, and it's unfair to the ones who are capable of amicable disagreement to tar them with that brush.
0Raw_Power10yYou have summed up my problem with "moderate" religious people.
5Desrtopa10yYou don't have to precommit to not updating on another person's arguments to anticipate not updating on their arguments.Would you precommit to not updating on the arguments of a Young Earth Creationist? It would be a pretty silly thing to do, but so would expecting to come away with a significantly higher confidence that the world is less than ten thousand years old. Besides, many if not most "new atheists" have greater familiarity with the arguments for religion than most theists. Whether or not they're open to being persuaded by them, treating each dialogue as a new and unique opportunity to discover the reasons behind someone's beliefs is not a very practical way to learn things; I've been there myself. Aumann's Agreement Theorem describes the behavior of ideal Bayesian rationalists, and acting on principles designed with the assumption that all the parties involved are ideal rationalists when neither you nor the parties you're dealing with actually are simply isn't sensible.
0[anonymous]10yWhich 'new atheists' would those be? Certainly the ones generally talked about - Dawkins and Hitchens - are frighteningly ignorant when it comes to actual religious arguments.
0Desrtopa10yMost of the atheists in communities I frequented back when I felt that being an atheist was Important. Hitchens I wouldn't particularly disagree with. Dawkins is certainly not the most well acquainted person with religious arguments that you could find, but I find that he often tends to be be portrayed as ignorant in cases where he's actually being reasonably dismissive.
0[anonymous]10yHave a look throgh the essays I linked above (unfortunately the way Blogger works it starts with the end - find the first essay and work forwards). Rilstone pretty comprehensively destroys Dawkins' book, and I say that as someone who should be on Dawkins' side...
0Desrtopa10yI read it; I wouldn't remotely say that he "comprehensively destroys the book." There are points on which he rightly points out ways in which Dawkins is misinformed, and points where I think his arguments are a complete tangent to Dawkins' actual points. I'm a bit tempted to do a comprehensive run-down of the whole thing, but I doubt that it would be of much worth to many of the members here, so I don't think that would be a very good use of my time.
1Raw_Power10yIt's not so much that I have decided not to update, but rather than I don't expect to. I argue from a position of secutiry and self-righteousness, but that doesn't mean I won't give others a chance to sway me. However, I won't go out of my way to beg for anti-atheist arguments the way I did when I was losing my religion and horribly afraid of what was happening to me.

So, here is my question to you all: how do you get your points across to a theist without pushing any of their Berserk Buttons, without coming off as a condescending and dismissive jerk, and without having to shorten all of the freaking Inferential Distance?

If I was trying to get my points across to a theist and they didn't show any sign of being offended, I would conclude that I was failing to get my points across, because the main point is that their beliefs and the way they arrived at them are completely insane.

That's OK though, people can still be c... (read more)

1Raw_Power10yI was afraid it might come to this...
0Desrtopa10yPeople who're so dedicated to the truth that being offended does not make them at all less receptive to arguments are profoundly rare. If you actually want to change people's minds, I don't think it's appropriate to make excuses for a method that's less effective than it could be.

I don't mean to nitpick, but "ahteism" looks very weird when spelled that way.

1Raw_Power10yI sincerely apologize: I wasn't writing from home, and the computer I was using had a sub-par keyboard and no spellchecker. I have corrected this as soon as I came home. In The Craft And The Community [] we reflect on how to unite as a functional lobby, but I think that, while this question is indeed more than worthwile, we need to reflect on what makes our viewpoints unappealing to other groups, especially theists. You can't argue against rationalism, against the efficient use of physical and intellectual resources, against sanity and intelligence... except when the logical extension of that mental hygiene demands that you do away with religion. This is when all the guns are pulled. This is when people have to say no: from a subjectively objective point of view, they have no other choice but to object. This undermines the entire rationalist project. Therefore we need to find a way to defuse that bomb that doesn't consist in making it blow up in our faces. And of course, we absolutely must not use the Dark Arts while dealing with religious people, because that would be tantamount to betraying everything that we stand for.