9 Signs That You Might Be An Intellectually Dishonest Atheist

“Reality is a cocktail of fantasy” Micah Purnell.

We lie to ourselves all the time. I lie to myself about how good-looking I am. I like to imagine that ‘I’ve still got it’. And then I walk past a reflection of myself that I wasn’t expecting to see, and before my brain has chance to readjust to my idealised view, I catch a glimpse of what I actually look like – how other people see me. And it hurts; so I blot it out as quickly as possible.

We all construct our own truth. It’s our way of getting through life. And when a lie gets told and retold, eventually the real truth gets suppressed and our constructed truth becomes our reality.

A great example of this is the film Shutter Island (Spoilers ahead). In this film, Leonardo di Caprio is a man driven insane by the death of his children and murdering of his own wife. Unable to cope with the truth, he constructs his own reality where he is a renowned detective. The doctors at the mental asylum where he is housed decide to use this constructed reality in their favour, and set up a false trail of clues for “Det. Teddy Daniels” to follow – which ultimately lead to the uncomfortable truth that he is not in fact a detective, but is the asylum’s most dangerous patient. At the climax of the film, he rejects the real story in favour of his created universe – and is lobotomised!

So what about you? What if the worldview you’ve constructed is false? And what if you’re missing a greater truth – and, unlike in Shutter Island, a better truth? Here are some signs that you might be intellectually dishonest when it comes to the question of God.

1. You only read/watch what you already agree with.  The books/blogs you read – or videos you watch – fit in with your existing worldview and serve simply to confirm your own prejudices. You deliberately stay away from anything that might challenge you. You start to unfollow people who post things on Twitter and Facebook that you disagree with. This is telling. When we truly feel comfortable with what we believe, we can happily imbibe contrasting or conflicting views. If you’re so sure you’re right, then why do you shy away? There’s a chance that you’re strengthening the foundations of a belief that you’ve built upon the sand.

2. “People who disagree with me are stupid!” That’s why you don’t read or watch anything Christian – they’re so obviously deluded. But it’s not that, is it? Psychologically, when we don’t want to be challenged by something, we need to convince ourselves that it is ridiculous. We need to alienate it and dispose of it. So we start using extreme words like stupid or irrational, which help us distance ourselves from the challenge. This is where terms like Magic Sky Clown and Jewish Zombie come from. By reducing Christianity ‘ad absurdum’, we don’t need to worry about its potential truth. We wrap ourselves in protective labels.

3. You get angry with those who disagree. You swear at or shout down people in conversation, or walk away from a discussion. You convince yourself that your anger is righteous at how immoral their viewpoint is, but is that really true? Anger is what happens when we don’t feel in control and try to re-exert our own power in a situation. Think of any scenario where you’ve lost your temper and you’ll see it follows that process. It’s an emotional response, not an intellectual one. It’s a sign that you’re out of your depth, that you don’t know everything. People sure of what they believe and confident of its truthfulness tend to remain calm in conversation. “I get angry ‘cos they’re stupid!” you might say. See bullet point 2.

If you’re getting angry when talking to Christians, maybe you’re not quite as clued up as you thought you were. That’s OK – just follow the path where it leads.

4. You use words like ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ and ‘free-thinking’ to describe yourself. These words are like verbal placebos. They create a pleasant feeling of security in us without actually proving us to be any of those things. However, calling yourself logical and rational doesn’t somehow magically transform all your ideas into logical, rational ideas.

5. You deliver statements as though they are questions. But you’re not really looking for the answers. A question like ‘How could God allow so much suffering?’ is a good question, but it doesn’t automatically follow that he wouldn’t. The answers to these questions are hard, of course, but they’re out there, if only you’re prepared to look.

Have you considered that maybe you’re using the question to shield yourself from the answer?

6. You use ad-hominem attacks. When you fear that someone ‘on the opposing side’ is more knowledgeable in their viewpoint, or you run out of your own arguments, you try to undermine them by criticising their moral character or appearance. Looking to devalue what someone has said because of something you don’t like about them is a common trick, but totally dishonest. It also commits the genetic fallacy, but I’m probably an idiot for saying that.

7. You quote famous atheists, without being able to back up their arguments. Dawkins, Hitchens, Bertrand Russell. In place of delivering your own ideas and thoughts, you simply quote something that one of your heroes has said. The problem is that you find it much more difficult to build on those sound bites when pushed. An example of this would be ‘You’re an atheist when it comes to Zeus. Atheists just go one God further’. How would you respond when informed that this is a joke, not an argument? What’s your follow-up argument?

See what I mean? A quote from an atheist is not in itself an argument for atheism. We all need to be careful that emotive, persuasive language doesn’t replace actual argumentation.

8. You use generic catch-all phrases which show your poor hand. Everybody knows Jesus never existed’, or ‘It’s a scientific fact that science has disproven God’ work here. Statements like this are usually a dead giveaway that you haven’t really looked into what you’re talking about. Usually, whatever it is that ‘everybody knows’, everybody doesn’t know it – you wouldn’t have to say that if it were the case. And usually, ‘everybody knows’ really means ‘I don’t know’. Top academic debaters don’t go around saying ‘everybody knows’, in the same way that serious scientists don’t talk about science disproving God. For people who do know what they’re talking about, this sort of conversational device just calls your own bluff.

9. You never really critique your own beliefs. Attacking, ignoring or sneering at other viewpoints is often a way of deflecting attention away from yourself. Sadly, despite what we’d like to believe about ourselves, most people in our society aren’t won over by reasoned, rational arguments, but by advertising. Are your reasons for believing what you believe genuinely rational and considered, or are they simply a verbal manifestation of how you feel? And are your reasons for rejecting other worldviews equally rational, or does the idea of a God who has more power than you simply create a negative emotional reaction, which you then reject? Does it cut up your desire for autonomy, or conflict with your trust that you are in control?

My belief is that, if you do any of these 9 things, you may be confusing your intellect with your emotions. Crucially, the reasons most people give for rejecting Jesus are almost never as rational and well-thought-out as they think, but instead a sort of advertising slogan for their desires.

How we feel is not always a good gauge of truth. The truth doesn’t always underwrite our feelings, but often wounds them.

How will you deal with that? What do you want? Your truth? Or The Truth?

Because The Truth might be better than you think.

  • Hi Johnnie. Good thoughts. We have four articles covering some of the evidence for the Resurrection on this blog: Part 1 – The Facts of The Resurrection (Part I) Part 2 – The Facts of The Resurrection (Part II) Part 3 – The Facts of The Resurrection (Part III) Part 4 – The Facts of The Resurrection (Part IV)

    I would want to agree with you that Christians ought to apply the same level of scrutiny to their own claims as to competing claims from other religions.

    I think that there has been some good work done on the historical reliability for the evidence of the Resurrection. If you’re interested, perhaps we can discuss this on those blogs.

  • Randall Nelson

    If you call yourself a Christian

  • Randall Nelson

    Thanks for invalidating all theists everywhere with that demonstration.

  • TheThirdHelix

    Yes… I’m sure all theists everywhere would happily endorse me as their spokesman.

    And you’re clearly not out to invalidate theism on any pretext whatsoever, no matter how flimsy.

  • Jack7

    Invalidating theism requires no pretext.

  • Randall Nelson

    No one needs to invalidate theism. It falls apart under the weight of its own bull. It’s losing ground in every first world country and only gains momentum in impoverished countries. Where it does considerable amounts of harm by not supporting things like condoms.

    But I’d be happy to invalidate any particular mechanism people use to spread this mind virus.

  • Thomas

    My apologies for being late to this “party”. This entire article is a joke. If one simply fails to “believe” in a god then, by definition, one is an atheist. This we know. However, the believer can’t wrap their minds around this. They view the lack of belief as a poor justified arguing away of the fact that God exists. The truth of the matter, however, is that failing to believe in an unprovable magical entity requires absolutely zero careful consideration (what this author calls “intellectual honest”) from the atheist. This article is written from the presupposed position that God is either real or that proper consideration for his existence is clearly justified, and therefore shifts all burden of argument to the atheist. It then further defines to the atheist what sort of intellectual argument is fair or dishonest. What an amazing joke and common circular point of view shared by believers.

    Edit to add that, yes, some atheist I have spoken with are real tools and complete dorks that do a disservice to atheism. But requiring the non-believer to provide proper support for their lack of believe, and then defining the manner in which they must demonstrate their support is typical Christian hogwash.

  • BobC

    “You only read/watch what you already agree with.”
    When I want to learn something about science I read a book published by a scientist. And I don’t necessarily agree with the scientist. First I study the evidence and then decide do I accept this, think it’s nonsense, or am not sure about it yet. If the evidence is strong I accept the idea. If I’m not impressed with evidence I throw the idea out or do some more research.
    Are you suggesting I find out what science deniers say about the subject? That would be like asking a dog to explain the orbits of planets.

  • BobC

    “You get angry with those who disagree.”

    You make a lot of assumptions. If someone disagrees with me I look at his or her evidence and if necessary I say I stand corrected. If people are trying to sell a ridiculous impossible fantasy, I’m not angry, I just have contempt for their cowardly belief in nonsense that makes them feel good.

    Everything you wrote is not evidence for your ridiculous belief in a magical being. Provide strong scientific evidence that justifies your magical supernatural fantasies. If you can’t do that (of course you can’t do that) then you really need to STFU.

    You superstitious people disgrace the human race. Scientific progress has repeatedly showed your god fairy’s magic wand was never necessary for anything but still you people believe in it. The problem is you’re cowards. You can’t exist without your childish magical heaven fantasy.

    You cowards could grow up and face facts but reality makes you cry.

  • BobC

    ‘Everybody knows Jesus never existed’

    It doesn’t matter if your dead preacher was real or not. If he was real he did not have magical powers. He did not perform magical miracles. He was not the magical son of the Magic Man. We know the miracles are fantasies because of a basic fact of reality – magic is not real.

    Your dead preacher, like 21st century preachers, was an uneducated moron, and too lazy to get a real j0b.

    Every unbrainwashed child understands this basic fact: Magic is not real. The god-soaked don’t want to admit their childish cowardly fantasies are magical, but everyone knows that’s exactly what they believe. Everything is magic with you insane people. Don’t understand something? Then the Magic Man did it. It’s a disease you have, and for you it’s incurable. You will waste your entire pathetic life believing in magical nonsense that make you feel good.

  • Daniel Lin

    There is much to be said/disagreed about those 9 points. But I would especially like to focus on this one:

    9. You never really critique your own beliefs.

    What belief?

    Atheism is a lack of belief in a god. It is NOT a belief there is no god. I am an atheist because the so-called reason and evidence for god cannot stand up to
    my scrutiny. I am an atheist, NOT because I have a belief that there is no god.

    In other words, I don’t have a religious belief to critique about, because I lack a
    religion belief. You cannot critique the wine in the bottle, if there
    is no wine in the bottle to begin with.

    But let’s suppose there is someone who actually BELIEVE there is no god. Sure, you ask them to critique their belief, but even if their belief is
    inconsistent and problematic, how would that make your belief
    (Christianity) more true? The burden of proof, still lies with you
    (the Christians).

  • Hi Daniel. Thanks for your comments. I’m not the author, but one of the blog moderators here, and wanted to chime in with a thought of my own.

    You raise some good points. What I would want to ask you is, you mention that you are an atheist because the ‘reason and evidence’ for Christianity cannot, for you, stand up to your scrutiny. To that I would ask, what makes you believe (if it’s OK to frame the question this way) that your scrutiny is reasonable? Why do you trust your mental abilities to know what is true?

    I’m asking this philosophically of course – as of anyone else – not meaning to impugn your personal reasoning!

  • Daniel Lin

    “To that I would ask, what makes you believe that your scrutiny is reasonable? ”

    I don’t know of a better way to discern truth from falsity other than testing it with reason and evidence. We may not be able to know the right, but we can know the wrong.

    I take it that you are a religious person, but you don’t believe ALL religions, do you? If this is the case, then you MUST have applied skepticism to the religions that you do NOT have a belief in. So my question to you is, have you honestly tested your own religion with the same skepticism that you applied to the religions that you do not believe in?

  • Hi Daniel. Sorry for late, late reply … this one got lost in the inbox!

    Good thoughts. Can I come back to my question first, then answer yours? (I realise you have no say in this (!) so humour me here …)

    Firstly. I agree that testing with ‘reason and evidence’ is important. I hope I have done that with my thinking (I’ll answer that in a bit). But going back a level, I wonder why it is that you think that reason and evidence can be trusted? How do we know that human reason is trustworthy, or an adequate basis for discovering truth?

    As a Christian I would want to argue that the world is rational and understandable because there is a rational God who has created humanity with the capacity to reason. So reason can be trusted because it is grounded in a greater reality.

    Secondly. I do try to afford my own faith

  • Daniel Lin

    1) Why do I trust reason is trustworthy? I am almost tempted to say, “it’s turtle all the way down”. That’s an assumption that reason is the basis for knowing the truth. We cannot justify reason with reason, this is an infinite regression. So take it or leave it.

    But you proposed, we can trust reason because your god created us with the capacity to reason. I think not only does your proposal run into the same problem of infinite regression, but it is even less stable than the assumption that reason is the basis for knowing the truth.

    Here is why.

    Your proposal relies on the assumption that there is a greater reality.

    Your proposal relies on the assumption that in this greater reality, your god is the one who created human beings.

    You proposal relies on the assumption, that your god is the one who endowed human beings with the capability to reason.

    Your proposal relies on the assumption, that your god is not deceiving you by endowing you with faulty reasons.

    Your proposal, reason is contingent from your god, the author of reason. So how do you know your god won’t change it? This means, you need to make another assumption that your god won’t’ change reason and rationality.

    I guess you can say, your god won’t change reason and rationality because your god is rational. But does this mean your god always has to abide to rationality? I guess you can then say, your god’s nature is being rational. But this invites the question, how do you know your god is rational? I think you will just have to assume that your god is rational. At this point, I think you can see you are running into the same problem of infinite regression.

    Not only that, but it seems your proposal depends on at least 6 assumptions. While I am just making 1 assumption – reason is the basis for knowing the truth. I believe this is when we should employ our dear friend Occam and his sharp razor. I find it difficult to see, how your proposal requiring 6 assumptions is superior than my proposal which requires only 1.

    2) You didn’t really answer my question – what will make you stop believing your religion?

    I am asking this question because I want to explore your epistemology. I want to know, is your religion testable.

    I would appreciate if you can answer this question.

    3) The 3 point guideline, have you tried to apply those to the supernatural claims in Christianity?

    For example, the first point says:

    1. Is the idea/belief logical? Does it contradict the laws of logic?

    So let’s pick a belief in the supernatural claims in the Bible…. say, demonic possession. Do you think demonic possession doesn’t contradict the law of logic? If so, how is demonic possession fall into the law of logic? Perhaps, in order for us to know if demonic possession is logical, we need to first examine its mechanism. So can you please explain the mechanism of demonic possession?

  • Daniel Lin

    1) Why do I trust reason is trustworthy? I am almost tempted to say, “it’s turtle all the way down”. That’s an assumption that reason is the basis for knowing the truth. We cannot justify reason with reason, this is an infinite regression. So take it or leave it.

    But you proposed, we can trust reason because your god created us with the capacity to reason. I think not only does your proposal run into the same problem of infinite regression, but it is even less stable than the assumption that reason is the basis for knowing the truth.

    Here is why.

    Your proposal relies on the assumption that there is a greater reality.

    Your proposal relies on the assumption that in this greater reality, your god is the one who created human beings.

    You proposal relies on the assumption, that your god is the one who endowed human beings with the capability to reason.

    Your proposal relies on the assumption, that your god is not deceiving you by endowing you with faulty reasons.

    Your proposal, reason is contingent from your god, the author of reason. So how do you know your god won’t change it? This means, you need to make another assumption that your god won’t’ change reason and rationality.

    I guess you can say, your god won’t change reason and rationality because your god is rational. But does this mean your god always has to abide to rationality? I guess you can then say, your god’s nature is being rational. But this invites the question, how do you know your god is rational? I think you will just have to assume that your god is rational. At this point, I think you can see you are running into the same problem of infinite regression.

    Not only that, but it seems your proposal depends on at least 6 assumptions. While I am just making 1 assumption – reason is the basis for knowing the truth. I believe this is when we should employ our dear friend Occam and his sharp razor. I find it difficult to see, how your proposal requiring 6 assumptions is superior than my proposal which requires only 1.

    2) You didn’t really answer my question – what will make you stop believing your religion?

    I am asking this question because I want to explore your epistemology. I want to know, is your religion testable.

    I would appreciate if you can answer this question.
    3) The 3 point guideline, have you tried to apply those to the supernatural claims in Christianity?

    For example, the first point says:

    1. Is the idea/belief logical? Does it contradict the laws of logic?

    So let’s pick a belief in the supernatural claims in the Bible…. say, demonic possession. Do you think demonic possession doesn’t contradict the law of logic? If so, how is demonic possession fall into the law of logic? Perhaps, in order for us to know if demonic possession is logical, we need to first examine its mechanism. So can you please explain the mechanism of demonic possession?

  • De Ha

    The bit about “you call yourself a freethinker” says way, way more about you than us.

    You seem to be so unfamiliar with thinking that you can’t even imagin anyone actually using logic. Hell, you even claimed that “makes you fee good” has anything to do with Skepticism.

  • De Ha

    1. You only read/watch what you already agree with.

    That’s called “Faith” or “Putting on your Bible glasses”. Only people who fear God punishing them for thinking do that.

    2. “People who disagree with me are stupid!”

    No, people who are stupid are stupid.

    3. You get angry with those who disagree.

    You are the ones who call yourselves “Righteous”. Hell, you’re the ones who think “righteous” is a good thing. To us, “righteous” conjures images of corrupt superheroes or religious fanatics punishing people severely for minor crimes.

    4. You use words like ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ and ‘free-thinking’ to describe yourself.

    Ok, so… aparantly, you are so stupid and so brainwashed that you can’t even imagine why anyone would think, so you just arbitrarily assume anyone who actuay thinks is just pretending because thinking makes your brain hurt.

    You don’t even entertain the idea that people who say they use ogic actualy use logic! The idea doesn’t cross your mind! Thinking? That’s impossible!

    5. You deliver statements as though they are questions.

    That’s you guys.

    6. You use ad-hominem attacks.

    You’re accusing us of being as dumb as you. I don’t even know a word as insulting as that.

    Also, grow the fuck up you whiney little pussy, grow some balls and man the fuck up you over-sensitive little crybaby.

    7. You quote famous atheists, without being able to back up their arguments.

    No, that’s you guys. There’s only like 4 or 5 creationists on the planet capable of independant thought, and you all copy-and-paste from them.

    It is like pulling teeth to get Theists to say exactly what they mean by “kind”. Why? Because they’re not thinking about what they’re saying, they just parrot Kent Hovind.

    8. You use generic catch-all phrases which show your poor hand.

    “‘Everybody knows Jesus never existed’, or ‘It’s a scientific fact that science has disproven God’”

    I have never said those in my life and I’ve never seen another Atheist say them. The first one is both an obvious lie and engaging in a falacy we never ever use.

    A) reality is not a democracy. Why would anyone in the minority like us try using that fallacy?

    B) you guys exist and you think jesus was real.

    C) I don’t know that at all. I think the New Testiment was based on a real person, a psycho cult leader named Joshuah.

    D) who uses the word “Science” twice in one sentence like that? That sounds like someone making fun of someone else.

    In conclusion, i think you made those up.

    9. You never really critique your own beliefs.

    How do you think we deconverted in the first place?

  • De Ha

    “4. You use words like ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ and ‘free-thinking’ to describe yourself. These words are like verbal placebos. They create a pleasant feeling of security in us without actually proving us to be any of those things. However, calling yourself logical and rational doesn’t somehow magically transform all your ideas into logical, rational ideas.”

    This says infinitely more about you than us. You don’t even entertain the idea that it can actually be the truth. It doesn’t even cross your mind that people claim to think because they, you know, think. You IMMEDIATELY assume thinking is about “feeling good” rather than thinking. If you can’t even imagine that people possess the ability to think, that means thinking is an alien concept to you, because you don’t.