Double Standards and Expertise

Like a lot of other atheists I have been questioned on my knowledge of various religious faiths. I am happy to admit my knowledge of every religion beside Christianity is rather scant. My knowledge of Christianity is somewhat better having been raised a Christian then getting fairly heavily involved in the faith.

Also like many other atheists, particularly the more outspoken and well known ones (Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris et al), the religious often criticise them for not really understanding their religion. I have always thought this a bad argument, partly the “True Christian” argument (what is a true Christian and who decides you are one?) and partly the “you haven’t read the whole Bible” argument (who has, certainly not many Christians that I know of). Then there is the “you haven’t read X’s theological dissertation” argument, so who but a few dedicated theologians has, and why should it matter?.

Religious apologetics think these excuses are legitimate excuses for accusing atheists of not knowing what they are talking about.  The problem I see with this (as many others do) is that these arguments are not used against the religious themselves. Most religious people write off all other religions as false, but on what basis? Have they studied the Quran, have they studied ancient Greek texts to dismiss all the Greek Gods. I highly doubt many have.

Most religious people, Christians in particular, haven’t even read the whole of their religious book (the Bible). But the double standard is there that seems to allow people, who are somewhat ignorant of their own faith, criticise  what some atheists have written just because they didn’t cover every aspect of their particular version of religion or theological idea. As Greta Christina says:

When I write about X, it’s pointed out that I didn’t write about Y; when I write about Y, I’m scolded for not writing about Z. (Or about X, for that matter.)

The bottom line is that atheists don’t need to know every detail about every religion to be able to critique and reject it and to realise that god(s) are unnecessary, unproven and unbelievable. You don’t need to know everything about a particular religion to be able to see it’s (often negative) impact on society in general. Just like religious people don’t need to know every word (and most don’t) in their religious texts to believe in their particular god(s).

So if I have got something wrong in one of my posts, then feel free to clarify the matter. But don’t tell me I can’t say what I’ve said just because I haven’t read every piece of theological literature. Have you read every piece of atheist literature?

I may not have explained this particularly well, so to gain a better understanding of what I’m trying to say please read Daylight Atheism’s On Expertise, and Greta Christina’s In Defense of Atheist Blogging. They both explain very well these problems and what religious people should understand and consider before opening their mouths to criticise atheists for what they have written.

Additionally the comments on Daylight Atheism’s Invincible Evidence post point out the double standard and the “True Christian” problem, when a John comments and is roundly shown the many errors in his comments.

This page is closed to comments, I just wanted to have a permanent link to DA’s and Greta’s post so I can find them easily again and point religious apologetics to them.

added September 2009:

The God Believer Debating Rules

The following was taken from the AFA forum, (thanks to the clever people there for coming up with this, hope they don’t mind me plagiarising it), I have posted it here for mine and everyone else’s reference. Religious believers should take note of these rules before spouting their beliefs or entering a discussion.

Often when religious believers start ‘debating’ it is difficult to know where they are coming from in regard to their specific beliefs, this makes it difficult to debate against, especially if they keep changing “the goal posts”. It is also difficult for a lot of believers to stay on-topic when debating, so if you are a believer perhaps you should take note of these rules, understand them and be prepared to give us your answers to them. Following these rules just might get you greater respect when entering a religious debate with atheists, and may even get your questions answered.

Rules of Debate:

  • The burden of proof is with the person making the claims. Don’t ask us to prove god doesn’t exist.
  • No religious passages of the bible are to be used. If you can’t describe and defend your religious convictions in your own words, you don’t deserve to enter into a debate on the subject.
  • No circular reasoning please. “God exists because the bible says so and the bible is the word of God, thus it must be true” is an example.
  • Please stay on-topic before moving on to other issues. Only when we are satisfied with your answers will we entertain discussion of additional topics.
  • Avoid cutting and pasting from websites, if you do refer to outside sources then please be sure to link your sources. Please keep any pasted text to a minimum and make sure it’s directly relevant to the point being made.
    [NOTE: any information from Answers in Genesis will be quickly debunked via links from Talk Origins No Answers in Genesis or one of many other sites containing proper unbiased scientific facts, so please don’t bother.]
  • Avoid using Logical Fallacies in your arguments.

Background Information About YOU:

  • What religious denomination do you belong to?
  • Have you always been religious?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being least, where would you consider your level of religious fundamentalism lays?
  • Which common Christian doctrine (if any) do you reject? (ie Creation, Virgin Birth, Original Sin).

The Mandatory Questions:

  • Without referring to the bible or resorting to any circular reasoning, can you prove to us that God exists?
  • If you were born in Saudi Arabia, into a Muslim family, do you believe you would still become a Christian? If yes, please justify your answer logically. If no, can you argue that your “faith” isn’t the result of childhood indoctrination?
  • How can you prove that your religion is the one true faith? On what grounds do you dismiss the validity of all other religions?
  • What is your understanding of Atheism or how would you describe an Atheist?

So religious people, if you can follow the rules, provide the background information about you, and answer the mandatory questions then maybe, just maybe, you will be taken more seriously on an atheist blog or forum. 😉

This page is closed to comments.