Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Are Atheists less biased than Christians?

"There is an asymmetry: atheists in general welcome the most intensive and objective examination of their views, practices and reasons. (In fact, their incessant demand for self-examination can become quite tedious.) The religious, in contrast, often bristle at the impertinence, the lack of respect, the sacrilege, implied by anyone who wants to investigate their views."  Daniel Dennett, Breaking The Spell

Many times I have been admonished by my family and friends about “Going down the wrong path” or "becoming an apostate". Often, the conversation begins in the form of a question, “Why do you reject Jesus?” and “Why are you choosing the path that is going to lead you to hell?” The tone of the questioning is typically condescending. It is coming from an individual who assumes they have most of the correct answers about reality, and that I, a fallen ingrate, needs their assistance in understanding things correctly. After all, they only want to eschew me out of my faulty thinking and my path towards everlasting torment.

I sometimes wish to say back, “It seems so easy for you to just assume that you are right about all this. Have you noticed how I refrain from employing this same tactic? I do not accept any assumption I make with pure ease. I hold assumptions loosely…tentatively, and I do not proceed to go further and create dogma out of them.  I patiently listen to all the Christian CD’s that you have made me. I read every Christian book that you get me for Christmas and I read your unending bible passage texts and the constant stream of email devotionals that you send me. Yet, you can barely tolerate 30 seconds of a debate between Dan Barker and Dinesh D'Souza. If this were a game of fair-mindedness with regards to the other person’s ideological position, there seems to be great deal of imbalance going on.”

Many Christians that I know are unwilling to expand their thinking to include thoughts that are secular in nature (i.e. thinking about events as if there was no god). So, while they want you to read through all of their homemade tracts and listen to their sermons, they will not bring their mind to your side of the fence. The reason, I suppose? They are afraid of doing so. Many Christians think that this act alone—this simple shift in perspective— is moving into satanic territory. This is one reason why Christian leaders often warn their devotees to abstain from reading books by atheists. They truly believe that demonic powers have invested such atheist minds so that they can beguile and corrupt other minds, ultimately bringing their readers to the lordship of Satan.

Unlike the Christian, the atheist/skeptic has no reason to refrain from considering the other person’s perspective (in this case, the Christian perspective). There is no atheist creed with warnings of “Loosing one’s beliefs may result in atheist hell” or “You can be blinded by Christians”. There are no pejorative labels equivalent to “backslider”, “apostate” or “infidel” to slap on former atheists who have changed their minds and have become religious.

While atheists might have logical problems with religious view-points, they won’t be tempted to disown their friends and family members simply for having a “change of mind” (To an atheist, a change of mind carries no spiritual/moral implications but it does for a Christian). To the atheist, actions carry far more weight in the grand scheme of things. For Christians though, a change of mind…a change of thinking or “heart”— is ultimately what determines your place in the afterlife.  This is why the traditional Christian view allows absurd things to happen…like Ted Bundy getting to go to heaven, and Einstein, to hell. (i.e. one of these people changed their mind about Jesus and made a decision to believe in him while they were alive.)

The skeptical position says, “Go ahead; check out all the other world-views! There is nothing inherently diabolical about doing this. In fact, doing so expands your mental horizon so that you can be better informed about different view-points and why certain groups hold them. Furthermore, learning about other views is a good way to avoid the temptation of misrepresenting them.”

My point is that the atheist view is less biased. That is, the atheist is on a less biased thinking platform. If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself, are atheists ever advised not to read Christian literature? Are atheists warned to NOT read the Bible, NOT learn about creationist ideas and to NOT read apologetic books written by Christians? It seems to me, that some of the most informed people about creationism are atheists. These individuals don’t shy away from their “opponent's” position, but instead, seek to learn all about it and then make an assessment about whether it is more or less reasonable than the current position they hold.

Unlike the religious view where the mind has a very deep emotional attachment to a predetermined set of infallible, immutable beliefs,  the skeptical view attempts to make commitments only to reason, reality, logic, truth and evidence. If a piece of evidence appears to disrupt a former idea, that idea can be changed. All ideas are subject to change based on new information.


  1. You make an interesting point about the Christian being unable to appreciate another person's viewpoint. I've often thought that they - Christians generally? Perhaps just a particular type? - are lacking in empathy. From their remarks, it sometimes seems to me that they are more concerned about their relationship with their god - and as long as they've got that squared away, with a nice big payoff in the afterlife, they don't really care how much they hurt, offend or are just generally unhelpful to other people.

    But as an atheist, I don't have that excuse - people are the most important thing in my world and my moral "success" depends upon how well I treat them, not an imaginary god.

    1. You just reminded me that I kept meaning to use the term "generally" throughout this post. My intention was to refer to atheists from a general perspective and Christians from a general perspective in this write-up. There will always be exceptions--people who don't quite fit the category, but for writing and practical purposes, I just packed everyone together in "the general christian group" or "the general atheist group".

      Very good points you made as a follow-up. I also notice that many of the Christians I interact with consider their relationship with Jesus the most important thing to them. And, as you said, their allegiance to this invisible entity seems to be far more important than the physical beings around them. (just my observation)

    2. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that - I was worried I was being unduly cynical. ;)

      Your main thesis is spot on, btw - and it also reminded me that the Christian variant of the Golden Rule - "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - is really not very good. One should never assume that others would like to be treated the same way we would like to be treated - they have their own standards, needs and desires. The world would be a much better place if people took a little time to think about how others might prefer to be treated - that alone is a useful exercise in empathy - and then set about treating them that way.

  2. The only thing I can think of that can make a skeptic biased would be if they inadvertantly walk into any logical fallicy. An example would be as skeptic who debates a religous person by using say Richard Dawkins as an mean to win with an argument of authority. Dawkins reason should be used to counter a point, not that he said them. Okay an overly simpistic example but I hope I bring a point. It is easy for newer skeptics to fall into this. What being a skeptic should do is, as you say, look into all ways of thinking. Which is a lot more work then many religous people do in just taking their ministers word for it and beleive without thinking about what they beleive. However such work is how they came to doubt dogmatic thinking to begin with.

  3. I think it's a matter of the individual. You seem willing to tolerate Christians proselytizing to you; I don't. I admit that I'm biased, but they've been trying to brainwash me with this stuff since I was about three. If they haven't converted me by now, then they never will and listening to them is just a waste of my time. Not only that, right now I take the bus. If I see tracts at a bus stop, I rip them up and throw them out. If I had the funds, I'd create my own tracts explaining scientific definitions versus standard definitions, a quick guide to evolution and the big bang, and possibly a starter on computer science, too.

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  5. The moral lives of many Christians are as B&W as the ink and paper of scriptures. One cannot believe in BENEVOLENT omnipotent/-scient/-present agency without believing in its MALEVOLENT counterpart. It's clear to me that it was not Jesus but the Church, beginning in the 13th C that brought about this diabolical 'Old Testament Christian' belief system but it's only undermined the radical individual freedom and responsibilities of the New.

  6. A bit of Church history I came across that we're all aware of, but NOT for its legacy of instilling a belief in malevolent agency:

    U of Alberta proud owner of rare book on fighting witchcraft
    The weathered tome, written around 1465, describes a litany of imaginary crimes committed by witches: nocturnal orgies, flying on brooms and casting dark spells for the devil. (see below for link)

    While it's true Christians no longer believe in witches flying on broomsticks (and why not?!), EVEN NON-BELIEVERS subscribe to the notion of malevolence--evil for the sake of evil rather than the malady it truly is as proven by virtually every psychological case study.

    Personally, I see this as THE GREATEST THREAT to social stability and one that Hollywood actively (but not maliciously) promotes. Think about it--the bad guys on the screen are merely malicious--they're 2-D, and now shown in 3-D.

    Here's how this manifests itself in 'secular' life. I post comments on a 'free energy' forum. The often rude and angry responses to my requests for substantive evidence to the numerous extraordinary claims made is no different than what atheists encounter.

    patriarchy: a male-ady (couldn't resist the pun)

    Thanks for engaging my thinking once again, Suva!