I came to the understanding that I was an atheist about 5 years ago, when I was 30 years old.  I'd had a lot of time to develop my irrational thinking over that 30 year period.

It was then that I came across a Bright's chat group - wow, what a shock - I was notified clearly and succinctly that my comments were ridiculous, out of this world and plain nonsense - that I had probably been mistaken in arriving in the chat room to start with - followed by ridicule, dismissals and general boredom.

I went off the idea of being an atheist for a few months - then due to thirst for human interaction on the rational level - I persevered and found the Naturalists - 

http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/naturalism

Here I received a very different response.  One of compassion, understanding, kindness and education.  Many thanks to Tom Clark, Ken Batts, Stephen and others for their above listed qualities.

It was in a Naturalism Yahoo Group that I was educated about rational thinking - but mainly about causality, the causal web and determinism.  Not everyone agrees regarding this view of reality - but I find this approach to be way more beneficial to well being and the promotion of education regarding rational thought than the afore mentioned experience afforded me in the Bights forum.

A recent blog post (http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blogs/are-atheists-smarter-tha... ) and subsequent comments led me to the following question:

What is our responsibility as atheists, in promoting rational thinking?

None of us are able to maintain rational thought all of the time - we all transgress into irrational thinking at times.  It takes practice and mindfulness to maintain rational thought.

I think we can be more kind to ourselves, our fellow atheists and the outside community when it comes to promoting rational thought.  Indeed I believe it our responsibility.

I hope that Matt doesn't mind my posting his comment from the blog discussion below in order to demonstrate another frustration that would also benefit from us having more integrity as a community in how we maintain and promote our rational thinking - in a way that is effect in terms of education - which I would argue would include understanding, compassion and kindness.

Comment by Matt VDB on Wednesday

What I mean is that it's easy to say that you're a rationalist and that they have reason on their side - everyone thinks of themselves as rational and with reason on their side. Even creationists think of themselves as rational and intellectually honest. What ultimately determines if you're rational isn't whether or not you say that you are. It's in your day-to-day attitude of checking sources, having respect for the opinions of experts, etcetera...

What is your response to none rational thinking?

What are your thoughts about what we need to do as a community to effectively promote rational thought?

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Replies to This Discussion

well - I noticed that after I started taking Floradix, my depression lifted.  It worked for me - not sure why - but it was more than placebo - although there could well have been other factors at play that I missed.

Floradix Formula - Liquid Herbal Iron Extract

Floradix Formula Liquid Herbal Iron Extract is an easily abdorbed form of iron balanced with a range of B vitamins (B1, B2, B6 & B12) & vitamin C as well as other herbal extracts to fortify the body. Take twice daily, Floradix can assist in the health of the whole family. Floradix is well tolerated and helps maintain vitality, energy, stamina, fitness and general good health.

Thanks, Alice, for the information. Sounds good. 

If you do take this floradix only take it for 3 months then have a break.  Also you can get your iron levels tested at the dr.

I didn't and ended up lacking magnesium, because the blood favours iron over magnesium.  I had a few symptoms, sensitive hearing, itchy skin.  All better now.

I took the floradix on and off for about 2 years.  Now I take a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral with fish oil.  I really think it's worth having them along side a balanced healthy diet.  Just to top up in case I'm missing something.  I've found they help keep an even keel.

It's the people, not the label they use.  'Brights' are only unified by one thing - a naturalistic worldview - just as atheists are only unified by one thing - the rejection of belief in god(s).  Not all are going to be very rational thinkers, though in my experience, most try to be.  Similarly, not all are humanists, though in my experience, most tend toward humanistic ideals and ethics rather than the nihilism that theists assume of us.  Even if they consider themselves humanists and understand what that means... well, they're human.  Everyone has bad days. 

There is a place for ridicule, but that place is mostly for deflating arrogant posturing.  Even then, we would do well to study a bit of terror-management theory, and realize that an overt attack on someone's worldview can provoke some of the same psychological triggers that a credible threat of death does, and end up entrenching the believer even deeper.  Unless they're a smug apologist, it's probably best to value compassion over the entertainment value of ridicule. 

Many of us have come out of a theistic family or general culture, whether we were indoctrinated or not.  When you see other atheists, rationalists, naturalists, brights, etc. slipping into the outgroup-bullying mindset, remind them that there may be honest seeking behind whatever the theist is saying. 

Besides keeping that compassionate reflection in mind, there are a couple good ways to get past their worldview/mortality defences.  First, find common ground by saying something that assumes good intentions.  "I know you value truth/intellectual honesty/integrity/ethical behaviour/etc., as I do."  That's going to affirm their feeling of self-worth, which is most of what their worldview construct is there to support anyway.  If they feel affirmed rather than attacked, they won't be as prone to cling to the worldview. 

Secondly, you probably won't de-convert anyone directly, but you can plant a lot of seeds of doubt.  Later on when they're alone with their thoughts, they'll start questioning themselves, and those seeds can grow.  A great way to prompt that questioning is to adopt a Socratic stance and ask questions.  Instead of telling them a belief is irrational, ask them if it really seems rational to them.  Think of it like a mental akido; instead of trying to throw up a wall to block their path, step aside and let them trip, using their own momentum against them while conserving your own effort. 

There's plenty of time to vent and religion-bash when you're with other non-believers.  Living in a culture that assumes irrational faith is a good thing can certainly be frustrating, but any individual believer is just a pebble in that construct.  Chip away a little of the mortar supporting it and let natural erosion and gravity do the rest.  As more of those pebbles fall away, the edifice itself will begin to crumble. 

Kevin - thanks for that post - it was very thoughtful and full of good ideas....  I've learnt something about the more technical aspects of ridicule - and agree with your position - I think also it's useful to set out some guidelines for ethical behaviour - that are memorable, so that we can remain mindful of reminding ourselves and each other of suitable ways of conducting debates - especially for new comers.

Ruth had an incident on her group recently where she banned someone for what she thought abusive behaviour - also, I've found recently treatment of new comer as less than compassionate - rather making fun of comments instead of taking an educational role.

What is your response to none rational thinking?

I get annoyed and I feel some repugnance.  

When as an example someone believes in homeopathy, I make an attempt to explain, give evidence etc. to see, if the irrationality is just superficial, a misunderstanding or ignorance. 

But when the person insists to cling to the irrational belief, then I just turn away and I am not bothered anymore.   I have no mission to support people's learning against their resistance.   

Maruli - sure - we're not going to persuade people who don't want persuading - I'm more talking about how we conduct ourselves with new atheists - or in debates with theists and those who differ in world view to ourselves.

I think Kevin has some good ideas above - I would like to take on and learn more about the ideas he has shared.

I admire Randi and Shermer too.   But I draw a line between people, who want to be supported in learning and those, who resist.   As soon as people react with hostility to any attempts to free them from irrational beliefs, I have no reason to expose myself to such hostility.   It would mean making a sacrifice of my own wellbeing, and there is no afterlife to expect a compensation for my sacirifices.  

Jim - do we have any analysis on Hitchen's method - because it needs to be distilled and distributed widely .... :)

Hi Alice,

Hitchens was rather remarkable, not to say perhaps one of kind, but at least among a chosen few. Simply brilliant and able to drawn upon the resources of a learning process most of us will never dream of. Intellectual integrity and strong character. Only someone of his own stature could do an analysis, though rationality even with Hitchens carries the day.  

it's just that he seemed to be a bit of an oxymoron - he 'hated' religion but had religious friends...  he was obnoxious, name called, drank and smoked and yet was an intellectual genius with a brilliant mind capable of complex rational thinking and verbal articulation...

In what way was he an oxymoron, and could you give me an example or two of his name calling, in which he did not prove his point. I hate religion and I have religious friends, does that make me an oxymoron. I may disrespect an opinion or and idea without disrespecting the person, although sometimes disrespect comes naturally when ignorance is loud and proud of it.

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