Friday, July 15, 2011

Lighthouses, and the debate about debate

Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Dinesh D'Sousa. Phil Plait. Rebecca Watson. Matt Dillahunty. William Lane Craig. Ray Comfort. Kirk Cameron.

Some of you (or, zero of you, judging by the number of people reading this blog who are not writing this blog) may be familiar with a few of these names. Some of them may seem unfamiliar, but every single name up above has, at the very least, a Wikipedia entry. So, the question is: Why? Why do we know these names? Sure, some of them are famous and well respected biologists with a lifetime of primary source publications and research (Dawkins.) And, some are bat-shit crazy apologists who believe that bananas offer proof of the existence of God (Comfort.) Some are ex-famous ex-television stars who found God in a man who believes that bananas offer proof of the existence of God. (I'll give you one guess.)

But seriously, why do you know the name 'Richard Dawkins?' Is it because of his 30+ years of research into the zoological manifestation of the allelic expression of genes? I'm going to take a shot in the dark and say that it's not. I'm going to say it's because Richard Dawkins is a vocal and out of the closet atheist. I'm going to say it's because he wrote a book called 'The God Delusion.'

And what about Christopher Hitchens? What has Hitchens ever done besides writing a book on Mother Theresa, getting drunk, and calling  people idiots? Does Hitchens help to foster the ideals of atheism and secular humansim?


In trying to foster the development of an atheist community, there is one issue that comes up again and again. Do we 'play nice' with those who may have beliefs different than our own, or do we ask them to stand on something of more temperate firmament than 'faith?' Do we befriend the Christian, or do we destroy their position with the logic of scientific rationality? The truth of the matter is, we need to do both.

The most painful aspect of being an atheist is the stigma of "those damn dirty atheists are bad people, godless heathens intent on killing babies and social darwinism and fascists and eugenics and muslims and communists and bad." Most of the people I have met in the atheist community are working very hard to change this perception of our ilk, and I applaud them.

Sure, working on a community project in conjunction with religious organizations will make huge strides towards establishing that atheists are not the stem-cell-sucking-out-of-bone-marrow godless bastards that most of the public believes we are. But, it's not for me.

I'm one of those 'uppity' atheists.

The greatest weapon any of ushave is our minds, and only when we use it ourselves, and compell others to do the same, can we cross off of the map 'Beyond here be dragons.' Education and contemplation will rout out the dark corners our our collective minds where we have hid monsters for all of these years. Discussion is important.

The argument against debate goes something like this: If you think your guy is going to win, you are going to prove yourself right. No one's mind is ever changed by public debates, it is just re-enforced. Hokum, I say.

In politics, there is the idea of 'playing to your base.' This is usually framed in a negative light. It basically means telling those who already follow you the exact things that they want to hear. I propose that this is exactly what debates are. If Hitchens ever debated Ray Comfort, I am absolutely certain that the Hitchens' followers would say he won, and the Comfort followers would say the same about Ray. So, what's the point? No one's mind is changed, right?

Well, the world is more complicated than that. That Ray Comfort supporter will go and take an argument that was used in order to show how Comfort kicked Hitchen's ass. He will process the argument, try to understand it, and present it to his or her friends, family members, colleagues,and co-workers. This group will evaluate the argument, and determine what they think the validity is. And, just like that, debate and discussion was prompted. It is my opinion that with enough discussion, we win. With enough debate, we can slay all of the dragons that live in the dark corners of our fear of the unknown.

At the top of this post, I listed several names. You know these names because these men and women took a position, and presented an argument. Like it or not, you have used their arguments. You have used them internally to question your own beliefs, you have used them to bolster your base of like minded colleagues, and you have used them to refute those who beliefs are different than yours.

The names of those above are in your living rooms. They are on your television, and pouring through the intro-nets and being presented on the boxy-box you are staring at right now. They serve as a beacon. They serve as a lighthouse to those who may be too afraid to reveal what their position is, who may not have realized that there are others out there with similar ideas. The very fact that they have come out and stated their beliefs unequivocally has brought untold numbers into whatever fold they are espousing. I am one of them.

My name is Paul Wittmeyer, and I am an Offensive Atheist.


  1. Jennifer FlammgerJuly 15, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    It would be cool if you could offer advice on how to handle the expectations of being raised Catholic but now being an atheist. It is really hard to congratulate a kid on there first communion knowing they have no idea what they are signed up for, but if you don't play nice you look like a dick.
    I miss working with intelligent people.

  2. kindly site the exact reference in which bananas were used as a defense for a creator.

  3. Banana proof:

  4. And then there are coconuts.