Friday, August 8, 2008

Making Assumptions

I often make the assumption that all atheists are rational.

I know this is a silly assumption, especially since atheists are usually compared to a "herd of cats". We have nothing necessarily in common with each other except our disbelief in gods.

But never the less, I usually make this assumption subconsciously.

Perhaps it is because I know that rational thinking has led me to my disbelief in gods, and that now that I am a disbeliever, I try my best to be rational and think things through for myself, instead of just accepting what people say. I am probably assuming that other atheists try to employ rationality as well.

So it is always so shocking to me when I engage in discussion with some atheists, how similar it feels to debating something like evolution with fundamentalists.

I am often disappointed when I discover that a fellow atheist is just as irrational and emotional as I imagine fundamentalists to be. This is ridiculous, since I should know that we are all just humans, and on every side there will inevitably be mean or ignorant people along with the kind and thoughtful ones.

For example, I remember once engaging in a discussion about male circumcision with other atheists. I was surprised to hear that many of them had no problem with male circumcision, and so I asked them why.

Some of the responses I got went like this:

"If it's good enough for me, it's good enough for my boy."

"Foreskins look gross."

"Foreskins are unclean."

"It protects from diseases."

The last one may have some merit, but I have yet to see any conclusive findings on the topic. Besides, isn't that a precaution that a sexually active adult can make if he so chooses, and not a decision to be made for him by the parents?

These are all pretty ridiculous rationalizations for mutilating a child's body.

I was really disappointed to hear so many arguments that I viewed as irrational from the very people that I expected to be most rational.

I also cannot believe the reaction I get from other atheists sometimes when I disagree with them. I would expect them to be rational and to be accepting of disagreement or constructive criticism, but instead I sometimes find them to be mean, petty, and intolerant of any dissent from their views. It is eerily reminiscent of my past in the church, and their discouragement of any contradictory view points and intolerance for disagreement or questions.

I think the feeling is probably the same one a believer might have. As a Christian I remember wanting so desperately to trust everything my pastor and youth pastor said. I remember hearing about the money scandals within the Southern Baptist church and being a little disappointed. I trusted these people because they believed in my God. To me that meant that they must also have the same values that I have. They would know it was wrong to steal or to lie. So how could they be so dishonest?

There is probably this desire to think that someone who has a certain belief is the kind of person you expect them to be.

For example, There is probably a great desire by many believers for someone like Todd Bentley to be genuine.

This person supposedly shares the belief in God and the Bible that many Christians all over the world have. But just because he believes in your God, you should not make the mistake of lending him instant credibility.

Often Richard Dawkins is called the "leader" of atheism. This is nonsense, because not all atheists agree with everything he says, and if he said something questionable or told us to all go out and do something tomorrow without good explanation, most of us would refuse.

I like a lot of what Richard Dawkins has to say, but that does not make him my leader, and that does not mean that I would believe everything he says. I wish that more believers would employ this kind of skepticism instead of accepting everything their religious leaders tell them.

I suppose the point of this is that we are all just humans. We should not always jump to conclusions about the character of a person based on whether they believe in your god, another god, or no god. Question what you are told even by those that you trust.

Sometimes it's in a good way, and sometimes it's not, but oftentimes, people will surprise you.

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vjack said...

I have been thinking the same thing lately. It seems like atheists should be more rational, but this is not necessarily the case. I catch myself making the same assumption, only to be disappointed when it proves untrue. I'm glad you raised this topic.

DB said...

I also see the angle that some people who do believe in god (non-fundamentalists at least) are themselves rational as well. I understand how being rational often leads to atheism, but I also find that many people who believe are very rational despite their beliefs. These are generally the ones who don't wear their faith on their sleeve of course!

anton said...

Hi, For more than 60 years I have been not been invited to an Atheist gathering. Also, I have attempted to hold them. "Herding Cats" is an apt description of the problem. We have been raised in a Judeo-Christian society which has afforded us both a social platform for raising our children, and a target for our criticism and complaints. As a "model" for an Atheist organization I founded the Milesian Society and outlined its operation on its own website and a newsletter Neeless to say, the response has been "underwhelming". I at least expect some disagreement with some of its principles or planned activities. I am afraid that I will be like my grandfather (he died at 97) and die a very lonely Atheist. (I do get invited by a lot of my religious friends to their gatherings, enjoy dances, socials, picnics and barbeques during which religion is seldom, if ever a topic of discussion) Perhaps the Christians know something we Atheists refuse to accpet. "Man is a social animal!"

Pietro said...

I am circumcised and perfectly pleased with it. I do not feel that I was mutilated. In the few times that it has come up in conversation no other circumcised man I spoke with had any regrets.

You may view it as irrational, but perhaps you could take a little unscientific poll amongst the men you know. If they are circumcised, how do they feel about it?

If they all answer as I and those I know answered, what does this say about the rationality and ethics of circumcision?

The Amiable Atheist said...

The point of the entry was that people did not have rational reasons for circumcising their babies.

Just because you don't know what it's like to have a foreskin so you don't know what you're missing, does not mean we should continue cutting off pieces of our childrens' penises.

If you ask many males with foreskins how they feel about it, I am sure not very many of them regret not being circumcised. If so, then it is a procedure that can be done. However, it is much harder to change your mind after when you have already been circumcised.

Thank you for lending credence to my argument.

Lee Young, 李阳 said...

Atheists are rational in terms of theological view. On that point, theists are being irrational.

As for other subjects, atheists might share the same view as theists, have the same temper as theists, share a common understanding as theists, or, being illogical as theists.

The only difference between atheists and theists is theological view.

Seth said...

Just because you don't know what it's like to have a foreskin so you don't know what you're missing, does not mean we should continue cutting off pieces of our childrens' penises.


1. Studies show that there is no difference in response, sensitivity, or time to climax for circumcised and intact males. We aren't missing anything that you'd notice.

The risks of a complication from having a foreskin are almost identical the risks of circumcision in an infant.

Circumcision has been definitely shown to reduce transmission of STD's. Adult circumcision is more complication prone, difficult, and painful than infant circumcision.

The Amiable Atheist said...

Seth, what studies? We need references. I bet I can easily find some that say the opposite, too.

The point is, that there are no real conclusive findings except that most doctors agree that the benefits aren't enough to warrant undergoing such a procedure.

In that case, why err on the side of mutilating a child's body?

ozatheist said...

a recent seminar Michael Shermer discussed a similar point.
basically he was saying we all make decisions based on our in-built prejudices (which we get from all sorts of place - parents, peers, schooling, church, life, etc). For instance: some people always vote democrat, but they would struggle to give you a rational reason why.

So no matter what rational reasons atheists have used to reject theism, they may still make decisions and assumptions, to some extent, based on their lifetime of prejudices.

Something we should all be aware of and try and compensate for when discussing matters.

RBV said...

I feel you on the circumcision thing. I ranted about how illogical it is a long time ago (

This isn't a shameless attempt at generating traffic. Read it or don't.

Disclaimer: My blog is a rant, so it is emotional. However, whenever I encounter people in person, I always try to maintain diplomacy.

marty said...

My Dad refused to have his sons circumcised which was very unusual at the time (and I remember growing up and going to the urinal and being 'different' to the other boys...). I remember the woman in the house next door coming home with her new baby, and some time after she was talking with my mother. The baby was howling, and the new mother said "oh, he's so noisy". My Dad said "no wonder, you just lopped the end of his dick off". She never spoke to him again :D

Circumcision definitely shown to reduce STDs? Well, I'm thinking Condoms would probably be a better choice.

Lee Young, 李阳 said...

The problem that matters isn't whether circumcising will reduce STDs or not, but most ppl circumsize their child without knowing its benefits. That's the problem.

johnpdaigle said...

The point is, that there are no real conclusive findings except that most doctors agree that the benefits aren't enough to warrant undergoing such a procedure.


The actual position is "Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision." In fact, the benefits MAY warrant such a procedure, but not enough to recommend it.

No reduction in penile sensitivity here:
and here:

Hey, you want to debate studies, great. Whatever. We're not going to solve that problem here. But the real point I'm trying to make is that the assumption on the part of many atheists that there are *no* rational arguments for circumcision is in fact an irrational assumption!