Agnosis Skeptikos

The introspective wanderings of a one-time Christian turned agnostic

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The Problem with Debunking

Posted by agnosis on September 13, 2007

I find myself annoyed with all the atheists, agnostics, and anti-religious folks who devote endless hours and countless words in their efforts to debunk religion (with Christianity being a primary focus, at least this side of the pond). The reason I’m annoyed isn’t so much the fact that they are debunking religion, so much as the fact of how much time and effort is being placed into this activitiy.

Being agnostic, I’ve no place for religion on my life anymore, and I do get annoyed with so much of the irrational, circular reasoning that religious folk use to sustain their illusionary belief systems. On rare occasion, when I think the circumstances warrant it, I’ll address a particular issue on a discussion board or blog, but I’ll speak my piece, state my opinion, and move on. I’m under no delusion that I’ll actually influence anyone’s stance – on the contrary, I’m confident that such discussions only serve to actually further regiment people in their own beliefs.

It is, for this reason, why I get annoyed with fervent attempts to debunk religion. I see entire blogs and discussion boards devoted to debunking religious beliefs, to shred the teachings of these systems, and to point out their fallacies and inconsistencies. Many of these websites also sport a fair bit of sarcasm and condescension, which really only serve to inflame religious readers’ ire and to reinforce anti-religious sentiment.

I have never seen a religious person read one of these sites and leave comment to the effect of, “Oh, you are so right. I’ve been so blind all this time. Thank you for shining the light of truth into my eyes. You’ve just changed my life for the better.” This never happens, I think, because of the way these debunking attempts are laid out with the aforementioned sarcasm and condescension. Sure, there are a few sites that discuss religious fallacies that treat their religious readers with respect, but they seem to be rather few and far between.

It just seems to me that these blogs and discussion boards that are so wholly dedicated to eradicating religion are wasting their time. Religion will always exist because there will always be people out there who seek to find meaning and truth outside of themselves, who are more willing to rely on myth and legend than they are on fact and rational thought. I’m annoyed by these sites because of the time and effort they waste on stirring up controversy and animosity that really only serves to further polarize religious and non-religious groups. I think that if atheists and agnostics would stop treating religious folk like complete idiots, it would go a lot further toward creating a harmonious environment for discussion that might actually cause more religionists to see just how flimsy their belief systems really are. Not everyone will convert away from religion, of course; as I said a moment ago, there will always be those who are unable to give up their beliefs in some divine entity. It just seems to me that creating hostility toward religionists is very counterproductive.

Does anyone think I’m wrong?


3 Responses to “The Problem with Debunking”

  1. Yes and no.

    I don’t see all of the anti-religion blogs as a waste of time. Not at all.

    First, as I admit from the outset on my blog, I write for me, not for someone else. I really don’t care if someone agrees or disagrees, although I do welcome, and frankly enjoy, comments. Being human, I revel in the interaction with other minds. Ultimately, even if someone disagrees with me, it forces me to activate my brain, and think. That is not a bad thing. And by continuing to write about a subject that engages me, I hone my communication skills, and sharpen my thinking. This is all a plus as far as I’m concerned.

    Second, one has no idea what the effect of a decent blog has on all the people who don’t comment. The lurkers. The readers. The quiet ones. The seekers. Maybe you don’t convince the vocal ones, because they, by virtue of the fact that they are vocal, have their minds made up. But perhaps you’ll say just that one right thing, that pearl of wisdom, that will stick in someone’s mind, and percolate, and eventually catch hold down the road somewhere, and voila’, you have a convert. Not because of your writing, but because that person finally figured it out on his own, and put all the pieces together, and one of those pieces came from you. Think about it. How did you change your mind? I’ll bet you read something, somewhere, that eventually came to the forefront and convinced you. I realized I was an atheist after reading a few books, but prior to that it was something someone said that made me go look for answers in those books. That could be you. So maybe you’ll write something that will do the same thing, and you’ll never know it.

    I agree that sarcasm and condescension are not the best means to convince someone, but by the time I sink to that level (and I know I have) it’s usually because I’m dealing with someone who is hopelessly ignorant, and intentionally wallows in it, with no intention of doing otherwise. For the onlookers, a sarcastic and/or condescending comment is often the only thing left, and then you move on.

    I hold no illusions that my blog will convert anyone. But if it did, or was even remotely instrumental in doing so, it’s worth it.

  2. agnosis said

    You make a fair point. I use this blog as something of a sounding board for my own (non-)religious explorations, so it makes sense that most of these other blogs function as the same thing for others.

    And you’re right – somewhere, at some time, someone wrote something just clicked with me and served as the straw that broke the camel’s back. I mentioned early on in this blog that it was Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy that played a significant role in debunking my religious beliefs. There are others, of course, but none that stand out to me. Instead, they all fall into a general category of skeptics who pointed out to me all the inconsistencies of Christian doctrine. Plus, I have eyes; I can see the ‘Christians’ around me. It’s not hard to see that most of them don’t even really seem to believe their own doctrines. If they did, they would certainly behave differently.

    Thanks for the comment and discussion, Inquisitor. I truly appreciate it.

  3. There’s a good discussion going on over at The Friendly Atheist on a topic that is similar to what you posted. Check it out here.

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