I often see people pointing out something that an atheist said wrong. It is good that they are being corrected. However there are some similar situations in which the atheist was doing the right thing, and I wanted to explore that. [I’ll only be talking about criticisms of religion that are valid to someone’s actual beliefs, and some that just need to be worded better. I won’t talk about totally inane ramblings.]
First, please read the concept of Fractally Wrong.
I do think that when I deal with religion, I am dealing with fractal wrongness. Encountering people which have some fractal wrongness (or a population in which different levels of wrongness are encountered) makes it rather difficult to know what to do. What to address? Where to start?
Some may start clumsily at one zoomed in point, and say “god hates gay people, so religion is bad.” This statement should of course be corrected. There are many ways to do this, such as saying “If your god hates gays, then you have an awful god.” This shows where we are in the fractal, a particular god, a particular set of beleivers etc.
However, that clumsy atheist just stumbled a little. They saw a real problem and tried to point it out. There were still some believers to whom this was relevant, and it needed to be said. Also, this error does not make atheism equal to religion, we will see that once this error is corrected, progress moves in only one direction (towards one reality without the fractal).
Criticism of institutions, same thing. For some believers, the institutions are important. There are real problems which need to be pointed out. Someone will always say “the church isn’t jesus!” or whatever. Good, now we are moving up the fractal, zooming out away from someone’s wrongly placed value in the institution. Progress, the atheists job is working.
Various interpretations, same thing. The interpretation is believed, so those beliefs can be critised, and should be. Another route is for the atheist to direct the believer UP the fractal, to zoom out by seeing error in interpretation. Are these courses of action wrong for the atheist? No, but the fractal situation may be difficult to navigate.
Near the highest level, zoomed all the way out, is verification of the supernatural. But this is a big problem. Should the atheist start on this level of zoom all the time? Well, maybe telling people (who believe god hates gays or whatever) that they have no reason to think god exists might work. But often this may seem more intimidating, or unrelated to the issue at hand. And what if the person deconverts yet still hates gay people?
The solution is probably to navigate each level of zoom correctly, as with the institution and interpretation examples.
My first point is that a particular statement by an atheist may not address EVERY level of zoom, or all believers. But it doesn’t have to. That would be impossible anyways. But they are doing a job that needs to be done, it is just hard to see the long arc of the job when only one task/quote is being looked at. The moment that one criticism of religion becomes obsolete is the moment when one task is done, and it is time to move on to (hopefully) the next level. Atheism advances, the fractal collapses.
Second, the biggest criticism of atheists amounts to one simple thing: they neglected to indicate how specific thier criticism was (and perhaps were not aware of this error yet). Once atheists master this? Nothing for any of you all to complain about (except citations).
I am greatly in support of correcting atheists trying to deal with this situation, of course. Mishandling it does not accomplish much. There is the risk (which can usually be avoided) of making one area of the fractal into a stereotype for other areas, which is rather bad. But all the way zoomed out? Not much to stereotype there.