I get angry too  

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This morning on the way into work I was listening to the Skepticality podcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I was thinking of making a post of recommendations soon.

I'm listening to Randy Olson talk about his film Flock of Dodos and the controversy of intelligent design and evolution. Then suddenly out of the blue he starts in about atheists.

Randy: I just, I don't see the evidence to prove that there is clear, 100% evidence that there is no God. And, until somebody comes up with that evidence I don't see any reason to get too high and mighty towards religious people and their beliefs. So, that's the way I look at it from a scientific perspective. But, I'm real tired of these angry debates that the atheists are having and I just don't think it's very constructive and productive. And, all I can say about the atheism issue is that South Park already nailed it the [laughter] episode and that's all that needs to be said on atheism.

Derek: The thing is you can't prove a negative, so.

Randy: Exactly.

Yeah, it made me angry, so I suppose I'm on of those angry atheists. The thing that makes it more galling is that just before this launch into atheism he was talking about what a good chat he'd had with creationists from Liberty University and how they're normal kids just like the rest of us.

And I just don't get the "angry atheist" bit. All an atheist has to do is state her thoughts about religion and suddenly she's angry and argumentative? Who are these angry atheists? Please, someone tell me.

And the null hypothesis argument is just so done. It's not possible to prove anything doesn't exist. So does that mean I should believe that pink unicorns are dancing on my bookshelf at home just because I can't see at this moment that they're not?

I'm tired of people that are as intelligent as Dr. Olson falling into this trap, so I decided to write him a letter.
Dear Dr. Olson,

I was listening to the October 31st podcast of Skepticality on my way into work today. I enjoyed your movie, Flock of Dodos, and I thought you interview was entertaining, until you broke in with a "beat down" on atheists. Being an atheist I took some issue with your characterization of me.

I'm not an angry person. In fact, most of the time I'm pleasantly happy. Most of the atheists I know aren't angry most of the time either. They're friendly, even polite.

I suppose if your definition of angry is outspoken, that could be true. But I don't think that most atheists are any more outspoken than most religious people. I've never turned on the television and seen an atheist trying to convert. Usually the "angry atheist" argument is used to tell atheists to be quiet and go away not because atheists are angry, but because they make people uncomfortable.

However, have you ever considered that on the rare occasion an atheist is angry, there might be a good reason behind it? Because I was angry after hearing your comments. Like most people I don't like being told to shut up when I try to speak my opinions. Although "shut up" is usually not the phrase used, but instead I'm just called "angry" and dismissed. Having an opinion does not make me angry, as much as you may claim.

And, I'm tired of the null hypothesis argument. It's not really a very good argument. As a scientist you should know that there never is 100% evidence for anything. It doesn't bother me if you think I'm wrong in being an atheist. I don't even mind a good debate. But, please, use a better argument.

And, if you want to understand a little more about angry atheists, then visit Greta Christina's Blog because she's written an excellent piece containing many valid reasons why atheists are angry. They'll probably make you angry too.

OG [well, my real name actually]

Updated: See Randy's response here.

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11 comments: to “ I get angry too

  • mamacita chilena
    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 11:13:00 AM CST  

    FANTASTIC letter you wrote to him.

    Are atheists not allowed to have an opinion because they can not 100% prove that God doesn't exist. Well, people can't 100% prove that God DOES exist either so I guess that makes the Christian opinion null and void...oh WAIT, society allows Christians to enforce their beliefs, no matter how ridiculous, upon whoever they would like.

  • The Exterminator
    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 4:45:00 PM CST  

    Great letter, OG.

    Let's see if you get a response of any kind. Please do let us know.

  • Ric
    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 5:11:00 PM CST  

    I've always thought one of the best arguments is that neither side can produce a shred of evidence to support their claim. No evidence likely means the thing claimed to exist doesn't exist, and the thing claimed to not exist likely doesn't exist.

    However it is well known that pink unicorns do exist. Who could argue with that?

  • the chaplain
    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 6:47:00 PM CST  

    Great letter. I'm looking forward to any response he may offer.

  • Maddy
    Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 7:30:00 PM CST  

    Yup I'd be interested to see the reply too.
    Cheers and happy thanksgiving

  • Skepticality
    Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 12:14:00 PM CST  

    Thanks for mentioning our episode with Randy. I figured I can shed light on my 'take' on my comment. To me, I have a love/hate relationship with the Atheist groups. I belong to our local Atlanta Freethought Society, so that in itself aligns me in that camp. But, I do have to say that I get a slight bit uncomfortable when some of the new Atheists get on a high horse about it. And, for just the reason I said to Randy... you can't prove a negative, and that is very true. No matter how much *I* don't believe in the biblical 'God' or any other semi-intelligent overpowering entity to the universe... I can't 'prove' it. So, I don't really like to get cocky about something that we just can't prove or retrieve suitable evidence for.

    Some of my best friends ARE very militant Atheists... and I love them, and think they are some of the most intelligent people I know, George Hrab, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, etc... So, when I say things like I did during that interview... it is because I can 'respect' people who are on the fence...

    I was once, hell I was about 3 semesters away from having enough credits in college to get a Theology degree... but all that learning, just made me realize that when you look at the world and all the different beliefs... either there is NO god or gods... or there IS/ARE higher powers and they are big jerks... and who wants to work for a big jerk?

  • ordinarygirl
    Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 9:29:00 PM CST  

    Scepticality: I don't understand the new atheist label. Who are you referring to in particular or is it just atheists in general? What makes a "new atheist" any different than an everyday "old atheist". Is it simply being outspoken? Would you consider me a new atheist?

    And also what do you mean by high and mighty? How exactly do atheists get high and mighty? Like I said, I know there are individuals that are assholes and I certainly understand being upset with a person, but what makes you so upset with atheists as a group?

    It is true that you can't prove a negative, but you also can't tell me that you believe in everything. Isn't there something, anything in your life that you're somewhat atheistic about? Are you saying that you leave room for 911 conspiracies and homeopathic remedies? Or do you ask for evidence there?

    Most Christians are atheistic about Hinduism. They don't believe reincarnation exists. So why do people go crazy over atheists not believing in God? Why is it so incomprehensible?

    Even atheists say there's no way to be 100% certain, or at least every atheist I've ever talked to. But if they're anything like me they think that there's no good reason to believe in what religions teach (as far as mythology anyway).

  • Skepticality
    Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 10:20:00 PM CST  


    I didn't come up with the whole 'new atheist' thing. It has been bantered about in the whole skeptical and critical thinking world for the past year or so, especially since the rise of the big books by Dawkins, Hitchens, etc, etc... At the big Atheist Alliance meeting which happened up in the D.C. area a few months back, it was used quite regularly. Guess it is more of a term to describe the fact that more and more non-believers have 'come out' as such.

    But, yes, I have asked people to give me 'proof' of their personal deity in the past, and it is always met with very negative reactions. Which, usually means... "No".

    I have seen the odd effect that the whole god thing has on VERY rational people, and it sucks to a high order... so... I just try to let it sit when I can... but often I can't. Take for example. Our state governor called for a public prayer for rain to end our drought. And asked everyone in this state to do the same! They did it at the State Capitol even. Our local Atheist and Free Thought group got together and went down to protest, we even got the permits and paperwork so we were LEGAL. The prayer, that was illegal. The State Constitution of Georgia EXPLICITLY states you can not have any state or government sponsored religious events or mandates. It was a big deal on CNN and MSNBC all day the day it happened. Then this past week, our group, along with the Freedom From Religion group sponsored and paid for a huge Billboard here in Atlanta that says... "Imagine There Was No Religion" with some very nice graphics and layout.

    But, yes, you are correct... for the most part society does let religious people get away with far too much crap. Although, in the past few years I feel it is starting to slip for them, and if we just keep on track, it will eventually become a reality. I just don't feel that the BEST way to make it happen is to get in peoples faces and be insulting, I didn't way you have done that... just I don't do it as a rule, so when someone accuses me of saying something that offends them, and uses THAT as an excuse, I know I haven't.

    Might not be everyones style, but it is one that has served me well, and, with all the stuff we talk about on Skepticality, even the people I work with and the folks in my company listen to my show and put notes and references to our show in our company memos. Which means, it goes to more people because they don't feel it would be offensive to most, therefore... we get more ears to slowly come over to the more rational side.

    Sorry if that method offends or isn't hard line enough. But, in my experience it has worked far better than all the others I have attempted. :)

  • ordinarygirl
    Friday, November 23, 2007 at 9:24:00 AM CST  

    I've heard of the term "new atheist", but I've never understood who or what it referred to. So, it refers to anyone who's come out of the closet as an atheist recently as well as anyone supporting that movement. Is that correct? I often feel people use it as a negative term and I'm trying to understand what's negative about it.

    Were you one of the protesters at the prayer meeting? I couldn't tell from the paragraph you wrote whether it was a group you know about or whether you were there. It sounds like it was a very positive thing. Did something go wrong?

    My complaint was about stereotyping atheists as angry because they're outspoken and about the null hypothesis argument.

    I think atheists are unfairly labeled as rude and insulting because they make people uncomfortable, not because they say anything that someone couldn't say if they were talking about anything other than religion. Religious people want criticism of religion to be off limits completely.

  • Skepticality
    Friday, November 23, 2007 at 11:38:00 AM CST  


    I *think* the whole 'new' atheist thing is a label for those who are no longer 'afraid' of stepping out and claiming that they don't believe in the mainstream religious dogmas that everyone else seems to feel that 'everyone' needs to be involved with. The whole, very good, thing that happened with all these new atheist theme books selling SO well in the past 2-3 years is so 'new' for some people. So, for many it is 'new', and the old convention opinion was that Atheists were 'evil' and somewhat 'dim'... lately the world has finally seen that throughout history, some of the smartest and most well known people were all non believers. So, the image of us has changed for the 'general' public, and they all think it is 'new'. At least, I *think* that is where that label is coming from.

    It was our local Atlanta Freethought Society group that put on the protest. The group HQ is right here about 1/2 a mile from where me and Swoopy do our show. We are members, and even donated to put up the nice big billboard that is now up and displayed. Nothing at all bad happened at the protest for OUR group, another group, which had nothing to do with us or non belief were doing an entirely different protest based on something else. They got somewhat violent, but it had now bearing on our event. In fact, we got TONS of press during that protest, CNN, MSNBC, even FOX had clips and put our Chairman on their newscasts with video and all and let him get our message out. It was a very positive thing, and the group as a whole came away with a good feeling about it.

    I think *some* of the 'angry' people are labeled as such due to some of the popular 'shock' names that get far more press, and don't get a fair shake when reported on. I have seen many somewhat negative articles and reviews of some of Penn Jillete and his brand of non belief which is more 'in your face' and somewhat insulting, but it is done on purpose to get a rise out of people and make them think a bit more. But I can see how, even some that agree with what his point is, get turned off. My father, a BIG Atheist, he can't stand that type of method of calling people stupid and insulting their religion for effect. Even though, my father is one of the most ANTI religious people I know. Funny enough that didn't actually make me one, as I said before, I actually was about 2 semesters from the credits to get a Theology decree in College... but just common sense and too much 'learning' just made me HAVE to Doubt the whole idea of some intelligent all knowing all loving grandpa in the sky. So, I think people label some Atheists as 'angry' just because, they aren't afraid anymore to tell people how they fell and what they believe is true, up until VERY recently, just mentioning that you are an Atheist is in the same camp as telling people you are some manic criminal. It is finally starting to turn around, and some just can't stand that I think... Sad for them really.

    And YES most very religious people want to be able to criticize EVERYONE else for anything, then get on TV and try to get in front of anyone they can and claim that we are not to be trusted because we don't believe in their 'God' and how CAN anyone trust us? *sigh* So, I completely agree there, but as I said... I just let people keep saying that and try to be calm and state my position and them fester. Something like that happened recently and Swoopy was shocked that I didn't get into some major verbal fight with someone. I guess it is all these new medicines I have to take to keep myself from not having another stroke! :)

  • Lifeguard
    Monday, November 26, 2007 at 7:29:00 PM CST  

    Great post-- the topic interests me a great deal.

    I agree with you 110% on proving a negative, particularly when you talk about "pink unicorns" and the like.

    Personally, I think the only burden is to prove that your worldview accounts for the existence of the universe. All you have to prove is that the world is perfectly explainable without god-- not that god (in the myriad formulations of him a theist will throw at you) definitively does not exist.

    For theists, it's a shell game. You, the atheist, most prove god doesn't exist, and, every time you do, they will find some new way to define god or some new piece of "unexplainable evidence" to hide him behind.

    That being said, while I agree with Skepticality's suggestion that getting up in people's faces doesn't do anyone any good, I also think many theists will get so hyper-defensive about their beliefs that they will consider just about anyone who makes a polite discussion out of the existence of god an "angry atheist" who "gets up in people's faces."

    In those situations, we might be better off changing the subject, but, overall, I do think that many people who complain about angry atheists base their opinions on their own fear driven responses to otherwise rational conversation than on ill will or anger on the side of an atheist.


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