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Atheists vs. Pundits

Let me start off by saying that I am extremely critical of the performances of atheists when they go up against pundits. While Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris usually get B’s, I have only graded one atheist an A+. Most atheists get failing grades. Last night Dave Silverman of American Atheists joined that crowd.

There are three main goals that an atheist should be trying to achieve when they face off against a pundit:
1. Promote their group or project. This is by far the most important reason for going up against a pundit.
2. Don’t look stupid. That sounds easy, but there are many stereotypes about atheists that religious people have and it is important to not play into those stereotypes.
3. Encourage critical thinking and plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of religious believers. While this is an important goal, it is not a necessary goal. The first two are absolutely necessary.
Most atheists who go up against pundits concentrate on a forth goal, winning the debate. This is really unimportant and often comes at the cost of the three real goals.

So let’s look at Silverman’s performance on O’Reilly. Did he accomplish the main goal? Yes, he did mention that you can go to atheists.org but he didn’t give anyone a reason to go there. He also gave his plug once and only at the end of the discussion.

Did he look stupid? Yes, when asked why atheists go to Church he didn’t have an answer. If you don’t know why atheists go to Church, how can you lure them out of the Church? O’Reilly even soft balled him by asking about insulting Christian billboards and Silverman couldn’t give him any specifics aside from mentioning that there was one on the Jersey turnpike near exit 8a (which for the record, I don’t think there is). Don’t get me wrong, I love that Silverman brought up that there are insulting Christian billboards. That is the reason why I have the Billboard Wars page, but he was unprepared to actually give specifics. He should have been able to rattle off a few specific examples on the spot complete with the names of the organizations who bought them. He couldn’t do that. He didn’t have the information. To Christians wathcing, he looked stupid.

Did he encourage critical thinking and plant the seeds of doubt? No, not really. He didn’t leave the audience with anything new to think about. Instead, he just kept stating that calling religion a scam was not insulting.

Now, I agree with the message on the billboard, but don’t think it was the right tactic for a billboard campaign. It is not an easily defensible message. But if I was Dave Silverman and I was going to go on O’Reilly and had to defend that billboard campaign, I would own it.

Is it insulting? Sure, but so what it is also true. Sometimes the truth hurts and people get offended. American Atheists which you can check out at Atheists.org is trying to let people know that religion is a scam and that they should think more critically about giving money blindly into the collection plate. What is that money being used for? Is it being used to defend pedophile priests? Is it being used to fight against equal rights for gay people? At atheists.org, you can learn more about why religion is a scam. No Bill, people aren’t gullible, but we all have our weak moments and religion exploits those moments very well. Even the best of us can be taken in by a really good scam sometimes and religion is the best scam around with thousands of years of experience. Bill, you have never been scammed before? Never ever? You must be the smartest man in the world Bill. Remember, atheists.org.

For a comparison, here is the one atheist who got an A+ (incidentally it was also against Bill O’Reilly):


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  • http://www.skepacabra.wordpress.com Skepacabra

    Yeah, I think this whole campaign was a big failure for many of the reasons you highlighted above.

  • http://socialinjustices.net david

    I thought they both did very good. I preferred the 2nd approach perhaps a bit more, but it was simply because he didn’t fall for the provocative questioning quite as much. It was Bill O’Reilly that looked ridiculous to me, but then that is always the case. The only God O’Reilly believes in is the one that signs his check. The rest of the act is simply for his gullible followers.

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