The Raving Theist

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Austin Cline is a Big Fat Stupid Doody-Head

December 17, 2003 | 23 Comments

As an ardent advocate of civility in public discourse, I was disappointed (and deeply wounded) to read Austin Cline’s accusation that my last post on atheism-as-metaphysics violated “basic standards of intellectual and ethical honesty.” The gravity of my offense was such that I get compared to the lowest form of religious Neanderthal: “[TRA’s] selective and out-of-context quoting is seen most often among creationists.” Worse yet, I am morally inferior to Mr. Cline — he declares that “the difference between myself and Raving is, at it’s [sic] heart, ethical.” Unlike me, Cline walks among [or at least behind] the giants; he “follow[s] in the footsteps of people like Carl Sagan and [atheist philosopher] George Smith.”

I refuse to reciprocate such calumny. Indeed, I could not, for I consider Cline’s site generally to be the finest, most well-reasoned and comprehensive atheist blog on the web. I will thus confine myself to addressing the flaws in his latest arguments on the narrow issue at hand, i.e., whether atheism is more properly defined as a philosophy with identifiable metaphysical implications (my position) or simply the absence of a belief in God (Cline’s position).

Cline again completely avoids my arguments that 1) atheism necessarily makes the same sort of metaphysical and philosophical truth claims with regard to ontology, cosmology or epistemology as materialism, empiricism or Christianity and 2) the mere absence of belief in God cannot be atheism because atheism requires actual thoughts about the God concept. Ostensibly, he glosses over these issues because he’s “got more important things to do than write that kind of tit-for-tat article, especially when I doubt anyone wants to read it in the first place.” Instead, he reiterates (and accuses me of deliberately avoiding) his point that atheism only has importance when combined with a “habit of reasonableness” through the use of skepticism and critical thinking.

I did touch on this issue in the last paragraph of my post, but I’ll elaborate a bit further here. First, if atheism is a mere absence of belief about God (and Cline asserts it’s “nothing more, nothing less”), trying to apply critical thinking and skepticism will be akin to multiplying by zero. A person (or brick) who’s an atheist because he’s never encountered the God concept has nothing to apply those methodologies to.

Second, introducing critical thinking and skepticism add nothing to the importance of atheism, at least as Cline defines “importance”: the tendency to generate specific and useful metaphysical, moral or political conclusions and convictions. Atheism by itself is impotent toward that end, he says; so let’s take the quote he uses to illustrate that point and add the alleged importance-making ingredients:

Some [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists are objectivists — so are all [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists objectivists? No. Some [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists are opposed to abortion — so are all [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists opposed to abortion? No. Some [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists believe in reincarnation and ghosts — so do all [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists believe in reincarnation or ghosts? No. Some [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists are materialists — does that mean that all [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheists are materialists? No. If you are a [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheist, you can’t assume that any other self-professed [skeptical, critically-thinking] atheist shares anything with you intellectually aside from the fact that they don’t believe in any gods.

Does the addition of skepticism and critical thinking to this analysis change anything? No.

As I noted, the value of atheism is in its specific philosophical content. It’s really nonsense to assert that atheism is anything but the fairly well-defined, metaphysical and philosophical body of arguments against the existence of God. Whether atheism leads to specific conclusions on every aspect of every moral issue is not the point; what’s important is that it eliminates a good number of very poor arguments which form the foundation of some very poor philosophical and ethical religious systems.

Presumably Cline will still find these arguments intellectually and morally bankrupt. But I can’t imagine anything that could more quickly bring atheism into [further] disrepute than the way Cline talks about it. Even creationists would laugh at his response to one Ken Michel, who noted that “[w]hen a recipe for chocolate cake calls for only flour, sugar, water and chocolate, [we do not] call this an “atheist” recipe, simply because it does not say ‘Now add a pinch of God'”:

Now, strictly speaking I would say that Ken is wrong and that the recipe is, technically, “atheistic” because it is lacking any mention of gods (in the same way that a story could be called “theistic” if gods play a role or are characters). But there is a big difference between lacking any mention of gods and promoting disbelief in gods. A recipe can be atheistic without promoting atheism.

“Technically,” indeed. Technically, it’s also “stupid” to call a recipe (or a brick) atheistic. But Cline’s right about one thing: there is “a big difference between lacking any mention of gods and promoting disbelief in gods.” It’s the difference between my definition and his.

Cline has also argued that “a bit of humility” is necessary to give atheism significance. I’d argue that insufferable arrogance is more useful. But I won’t belabor the point, other than to point out that if Cline can humbly argue that he’s combination of Carl Sagan and George Smith, then I can humbly suggest that I’m Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Mahatma Gandhi rolled into one.

A Challenge

Since Cline has “more important things to do” than consider my dishonest and evil arguments, I doubt he’s read this far. But if you have, Austin, and you wanna piece of me, why not apply your formidable super-powers of skepticism and critical thinking to my response to your attacks (here and here) on the Jews for Jesus? Unlike all this wheel-spinning on metaphysics, someone might actually be interested in reading about it. So let’s have an explanation of (1) why what reform, conservative and orthodox Jews teach little babies is the “real” Judaism, as opposed to the fake and deceptive Judaism that the Jews for Jesus teach adults, (2) how Judaism and Christianity are true and/or consistent in a way that Jews for Jesusism is not, (3) how the Jews who convert to JFJ are “harmed” in a way that those who covert to (or remain in) any other religion are not, and (4) why “[i]t’s good to see Jews stand up for their heritage and religion” as opposed to applying skepticism and critical thinking to their own beliefs. A coherent response will earn you a groveling apology and a 500-word essay from me on “The Value of Religious Tolerance.”

Comments

23 Responses to “Austin Cline is a Big Fat Stupid Doody-Head”

  1. corsair
    December 17th, 2003 @ 8:13 am

    Man, I didn’t think being an atheist was supposed to be this hard. There isn’t going to be a test on all this later, is there?

  2. The Raving Atheist
    December 17th, 2003 @ 8:26 am

    CORSAIR: A saliva test, maybe.

  3. JJB
    December 17th, 2003 @ 9:09 am

    In RA’s stipulation “(3) how the Jews who convert to JFJ are

  4. Brent
    December 17th, 2003 @ 9:11 am

    An atheistic saliva test? One that doesn’t invoke any super magical deities?

    I can handle that.

  5. June
    December 17th, 2003 @ 12:37 pm

    Oh the absurdities that the human brain can generate! It starts by inventing complete nonsense such as a god with a human body and the head of an elephant who rides on a mouse.
    Then it embellishes this concept with elaborate legends, rituals, traditions, religions, axioms, arguments, proof, ethics, and philosophies. Then we gather believers, build temples, and form an American Hindus Against Defamation. And now we have even managed to pass laws in the U.S. that prohibit making fun of Ganesh! Never mind the Constitution and free speech!

    Anyway, I learned about Ganish last year, on this very blog in fact, and would have automatically called myself a complete aGanishist if asked, until the recent posts by the aGodSquad run by Raving and Cline. Now I am wondering: what was I all my life, and what am I am now? Since I have no solid proof about Ganish one way or the other, no normative metaethics, no consistent body of axioms and arguments, and no elaborate methodology for dis/proving Ganish — am I qualified to claim I am an aGanishist or not, or am I just another skeptical brick, a decapitated rationalist, an intellectual fraud, or perhaps a closet Ganishist?

    Someone has to pull TRA and Cline apart and tell them firmly to stop shadow boxing with brain farts. Cline promotes atheism and secular humanism on the Internet; TRA examines the trivialization of our lives by religion. Both are on the same train, both make enormous sense, both do a lot of good for rationality; yet they flog each other like two Democrats intent on losing the next election. Get your act together, guys, so that peasants like me know what to believe. Otherwise, you could lose your audience and end up with the aGodIdiot award of the week.

  6. PZ Myers
    December 17th, 2003 @ 2:16 pm

    Would a positive result for an atheist saliva test be a completely dry mouth?

  7. Ash
    December 17th, 2003 @ 10:04 pm

    Agree with June … AUstin and RAs debate reminds me of a scene from the Life of Brian

    The setting: Roman-controlled Judea, circa 30 A.D. The Roman Colosseum, Jerusalem. Children’s Matinee.
    The players: The People’s Front of Judea (PFJ) are sitting in the arena stands, discussing the importance of diversity in their fight against the oppressors. Brian is working selling snacks to the crowd.

    Brian approaches the PFJ…

    Brian: Are you the Judean People’s Front?
    Reg: F— off.
    Brian: What?
    Reg: Judean People’s Front. (scoffs) We’re the People’s Front of Judea. Judean People’s front, caw.
    Francis: Wankers.

  8. Ash
    December 17th, 2003 @ 10:06 pm

    Or the complete scene …

    Brian Are you the Judean People’s Front?
    Reg F— off.
    Brian What?
    Reg Judean People’s Front. (scoffs) We’re the People’s Front of Judea. Judean People’s front, caw.
    Francis Wankers.
    Brian Can I join your group?
    Reg No. Piss off.
    Brian I didn’t want to sell this stuff. It’s only a job. I hate the Romans as much as anybody.
    PFJ [nervously] Sssh! Ssssh, sssh, sssh, ssssh.
    Judith Are you sure?
    Brian Oh. Dead sure… I hate the Romans already.
    Reg Listen. If you really wanted to join the PFJ, you’d have to really hate the Romans.
    Brian I do.
    Reg Oh yeah? How much?
    Brian A lot!
    Reg Right. You’re in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f—ing Judean People’s Front
    PFJ [together, nodding in agreement] Yeah
    Judith [disgusted] Splitters
    Francis And the Judean Popular Peoples Front.
    PFJ Oh yeah. Splitters.
    Loretta And the peoples Front of Judea.
    PFJ Splitters.
    Reg What?
    Loretta The Peoples front of Judea. Splitters.
    Reg We’re the Peoples front of Judea.
    Loretta Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
    Reg Peoples Front! [scoffs]
    Francis Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
    Reg He’s over there.
    [A single old man sits on a lower seat.]
    PFJ [To the old man.] SPLITTER!

  9. leon
    December 18th, 2003 @ 11:08 am
  10. Canadian Atheist
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

    Austin Cline has to be the biggest pseudo intellectual fraud on about.com if not the internet.

    Its enough to give PZ Myers wet dreams.

  11. bob
    March 27th, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    GOD IS BEAST

  12. Gabriel
    May 19th, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    Austin Cline is an idiot. I read a few of his articles and they simply quote The Bible out of context. Austin Cline simply applies his interpretations to certain verses and then declares his interpretation as facts like the Churches do.

    In one article Mr.Cline says that Jesus is a hypocrite because he tells people to honor their mother and father but doesn’t honor his own earthly mother and father. Where did he get this information from? The Bible doesn’t say anything about how Jesus treated Mary and Joseph so how can Mr.Cline come to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t honor them? Mr.Cline is an idiot. Jesus honored his father – God – and performed everything that God commanded. Meanwhile Jesus clearly did respect his mother:

    John 19:26-27

    “So Jesus, seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, said to his
    mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”
    And from that hour the disciple took her into his family.”

    Jesus here is telling John – the only disciple to stay with Jesus during his crucifixion – to look after his mother and treat her like he was his mother. Meanwhile he’s telling Mary to treat John like her son. Note the last passage which says John took Mary into his own family and we can assume that he continued to care for her.

    Joseph on the other hand isn’t even mentioned much in any of the gospels so how can Mr.Cline come to the conclusion that Jesus disrespected him?

    Mr.Cline is an idiot.

  13. Gabriel
    May 19th, 2012 @ 7:30 am

    Austin Cline is an idiot. I read a few of his articles and they simply quote The Bible out of context. Austin Cline simply applies his interpretations to certain verses and then declares his interpretation as facts like the Churches do.

    In one article Mr.Cline says that Jesus is a hypocrite because he tells people to honor their mother and father but doesn’t honor his own earthly mother and father. Where did he get this information from? The Bible doesn’t say anything about how Jesus treated Mary and Joseph so how can Mr.Cline come to the conclusion that Jesus didn’t honor them? Mr.Cline is an idiot. Jesus honored his father – God – and performed everything that God commanded. Meanwhile Jesus clearly did respect his mother:

    John 19:26-27
    “So Jesus, seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, said to his
    mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”
    And from that hour the disciple took her into his family.”

    Jesus here is telling John – the only disciple to stay with Jesus during his crucifixion – to look after his mother and treat her like she was his mother. Meanwhile he’s telling Mary to treat John like her son. Note the last passage which says John took Mary into his own family and we can assume that he continued to care for her.

    Joseph on the other hand isn’t even mentioned much in any of the gospels so how can Mr.Cline come to the conclusion that Jesus disrespected him?

    Mr.Cline is an idiot.

  14. Tostrader
    May 20th, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

    Sir,
    You make some extremely cogent arguments. For example:

    “Cline again completely avoids my arguments that 1) atheism necessarily makes the same sort of metaphysical and philosophical truth claims with regard to ontology, cosmology or epistemology as materialism, empiricism or Christianity and 2) the mere absence of belief in God cannot be atheism because atheism requires actual thoughts about the God concept.”

    Very true. There is no view about God which doesn’t presuppose the axioms of some worldview. And these axioms frame our discourse about God. Moreover, how we think about God is informed by how we talk about him, not (exclusively) the other way around. The atheist or skeptic has some “theory” about what’s ultimately real, and that doesn’t include the concept of a creator. This, of course, is no less intellectually respectable than an ontology that does include God. But what any such theory must do is explain what it means to be, and in particular, what it means to be human (the Heideggerian questions). My own view is that, given the inherent futility and meaninglessness of the human reality (which is taught in Ecclesiastes, by the way), the only way we can restore meaning to human existence is by appeal to God. Atheism leaves us right where it finds us; what most atheists don’t bother asking is whether they (or anyone else) is prepared to live with that. The atheist, focused on epistemology, ignores the more fundamental discipline of ontology (at least some do).
    Secondly,you’re right to point out that one can’t move from the mere “absence of belief” to a well-developed atheist position. Atheism requires thought and reflection on the “hard questions” which I just alluded to. I personally maintain an “absence of belief” in astrology, but I don’t lose much sleep thinking about it. It really doesn’t matter enough for me to make an issue of it. In contrast, God makes a claim on human being that can’t be ignored. We can accept it or reject it, but we can’t be indifferent to it. Nor is any atheist I’ve ever met indifferent to it. If they were, they wouldn’t spend so much time talking about it.
    Given the validity of your points, your title of this article hardly does justice to you. You might have chosen a better one.

  15. Rachel K
    June 2nd, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

    I find it quite humorous that Austin would question your “ethical honesty” when his current article on “Sissy Bradford” is chock full of libelous statements.

    His excuse for not fleshing out the sources, or reviewing to ensure his article wasn’t chock full of lies that would hurt peoples reputations, was that he was “quoting” another article; “It wasn’t his fault, someone else did it first”.

    One of the people he quoted, took issue with his lies, and he still refused to take responsibility.

  16. giphfx2012
    June 8th, 2012 @ 12:57 am

    Please explain to me why the majority of atheists apparently attack only Christianity, or at least set it apart as a special target to attack. Why not Taoism? Islam? Shintoism?
    Please, no ad hominem attacks, just a simple honest answer to a genuine, honest question.

  17. John M
    June 18th, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

    First of all, atheists don’t “only” attack only Christianity. I’m willing to bet you don’t have any evidence and are left with a gut feeling and/or confirmation bias.

    But assuming you’re correct and Christianity is singled out, it only makes sense in a society where Christianity is the dominant religious force. Giving equal time to Shintoism isn’t practical in the sense that it affects western society minimally. Likewise, many atheists are undoubtedly unfamiliar with it and are not in a position to deconstruct its problems.

    Finally, I’m sure the majority of atheists in the Middle East spend most of their attacks on Islam.

  18. James
    August 30th, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

    Can anyone disprove christianity? It must be an amazing life to go around believing in nothing and to spend your time or even life,

  19. James
    August 30th, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

    Can anyone disprove christianity? It must be an amazing life to go around believing in nothing and to just spend your time or even life, telling (not proving) people “that’s not true”. Fact is (yes fact) there is much more proving these Christians “beliefs” than things proving nothing is there.

  20. me
    August 30th, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

    Can anyone disprove christianity? It must be an amazing life to go around believing in nothing and to just spend your time or even life, telling (not proving) people “that’s not true”. Fact is (yes fact) there is much more proving these Christians “beliefs” than things proving nothing is there.

  21. Yaicha Maus
    December 25th, 2012 @ 3:19 pm

    Thank You for you Christian service.

  22. Max Cohen
    March 28th, 2013 @ 8:58 am

    To the honorable theists and atheists gathered here:

    (Please note that this salutation leaves no space for Austin Cline, whom I consider to be a throwback to a reptilian ancestor.)

    We are gathered here to weigh the substance of ancient and modern ideology amidst the growing presence of nuclear weaponry. Humanity has speculated about the exisence and the nature of God since before the invention of writing by the Sumerians about six thousand years ago. There is undeniable evidence that humanity gambled that total commitment to worship of this hypothetical God would protect them from conquest by invading hordes or armies equipped with sophisticated weapons and tactics. All such worship failed, whether of Yahweh, Jesus or Allah. Are we now prepared to wager civilization itself on still another round of really, really totally loving, you know, the really good God who will spare us from that other God. I hesitate to mention this, but Yahweh could not handle armies with bronze weapons and Jesus was overwhelmed by hordes armed with ony slings and arrows against Rome.

    It is beyond the scope of this blog to carry this much further. There are just two points that need to be mentioned here. One is that a Rabbi named Wise has coined a new word to designate a belief other than atheism, agnosticism and theism. It is igtheism, which holds that not enough is presently known to stipulate either the existence or the nature of God.
    The second point is that humanity suffers from a prediliction to dilusion, which distorts the light of reason. A new eBook called, ANTIDELUSION, dares conventional religion to justify its supposed history.

  23. Pope Lite
    June 11th, 2013 @ 3:16 am

    I asked an atheist one time why he took so much facebook time to make fun of “God” and “Jesus” but was scared to death to make fun of “Allah.” I by the way am not making fun of God, I was pointing out to the atheist that he was a coward for only being outspoken about Jesus Christ, but was fearful of speaking out against Allah in order to prove that “god doesn’t exist.” The atheist said to me, “that’s because they are not shoving their religion down my neck like Christians.” Okay…okay…point taken. I also asked him, to which he had no reply – why he was not spending time arguing with those adults who still believe in an Easter Bunny??

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