Breaking Down Street Epistemology?

Mark McGee is another apologist on the smear campaign against street epistemology. Although I don't fully agree with the principles of SE(street epistemology), I can't help but defend it simply because there is a very central truth to it that is hard to deny. That truth is that respectful, kind and sincere engagement can change the way we have the global conversation about religion. The book encourages atheists to be kind and thoughtful, and people like +Anthony Magnabosco and +Socrates Jones  are practicing those principles actively. The methods of SE has changed my own life for the better, because I've learned to ask questions instead of going for an all out assault with a battery of logic and philosophy.

Mark does not understand this. Mark is focused squarely on what he perceives as the insidious nature of questioning the faith of others. I'm going to examine some of the things Mark says and I think you will also come to agree with me that Mark's reaction is a knee-jerk reaction and not a reasonable evaluation of SE as it is practised.
"The atheist is looking for possibly unreliable methods to determine belief in God, which means he or she is claiming to know the reliable method to determine belief in God. But, wait a minute! Do atheists believe there is a reliable method to determine belief in God? Of course they don’t. If atheists believed there is a reliable method to believe in God, they would believe in God because they know the method upon which they can rely."
This is a simple misunderstanding. Unfortunately Mark, like other apologists, are not committed to understanding anything that is counter to their strongly held beliefs. It is absolutely true that atheists do not posses a method to reliably know if god exists. That is why we ask believers. If there is a reliable method to know god we want to know what that is. To quote from the SE book:
"Certainty is an enemy of truth: examination and reexamination are allies of truth." - A Manual For Creating Atheists (pg 43)
"It’s obvious that the statement about helping people discover that they’re using an unreliable method to arrive at belief in God is a ruse, a clever trick."
Not at all. I know that when I believed I had poor reasons to believe. So I don't believe anymore. If anyone can show me that there are good reasons to believe I will change my mind. Mark would be lying if he had to assert that most christians have good reasons to believe in god. If he believed that he would not be engaged in apologetics, which aims to soothe the cognitive dissonance believers experience when they encounter disagreement. If these believers had good reasons, Mark would have nothing to fear. The "trick" would not work.
" Christians ask questions to understand what people are thinking and to guide them to supply ‘evidence’ that will help answer people’s questions about God and the Christian worldview."
Not in my experience. Christian street evangelists (who are the opposite of SE practitioners) trigger cognitive dissonance in other christians so they can get those christians to buy into apologetics.
" So, we ask, are street epistemologists (atheists) asking questions to understand what people are thinking so they can supply them with ‘evidence’ to help answer people’s question about the atheist worldview?"
Atheism is not a worldview. I almost feel physical pain at this point having to mention this over and over again.
"Is it reasonable to ask someone to select a percentage of their belief about God?"
"Does that mean anything?"
"Where is the logic in a belief percentage?"
It's very simple. If you have absolute certainty then you assign 100%. Maybe you have some doubts, but you are still sure, so you might say 75%. If you don't believe it will be less than 50%. It is a very simple concept. It is not systematic; it is just meant to be a subjective evaluation from the perspective of the believer.
"From an apologetics perspective, what is the atheist’s argument? What is their evidence? "
Mark wants this to be about apologetics. Somehow we are not allowed to ask people why they believe. We always need to present an argument. It is about the believer's internal reasons for believing what they do. I often use the methods of SE on racists. I will ask them why they think one race is superior to another. As the discussion moves forward, and they become aware that they have poor evidence, they are open to changing their minds. That's the point. If Mark's argument is that we can't just ask people for justification of their beliefs, then he implies that we should leave racists, sexists, and all manner of mistaken people to their own devices. The fact that I use SE on fellow atheists should confuse him, and it should probably confuse him more that I use this exact method to get atheists to abandon bad arguments against religion.
"Asking unreasonable questions in what appears to be a reasonable manner is an off-balancing technique."
I suppose this is fair, but thus far Mark has not demonstrated that any of the questions street epistemologists are asking is unreasonable.
" ‘What if that hadn’t happened to you? Would you still believe in God?’ ‘What if your grandmother didn’t get better after you prayed, would you still believe in God?’ ‘What if the feelings you have after a church service are bad instead of good, does that mean you would feel differently about God?’ And so on. ‘What if’ questions are not based in evidence. They are not reasonable, rational arguments. They are not logical. They are just ‘what if’ questions used as a tactic to confuse and mislead."

This is not the first time I have seen an apologist express a hostile attitude toward thought experiments. What if questions are valuable tools in thinking. What these questions often expose is that the reason the theist has given for their belief in god is not the actual reason they have for belief in god. When they are pressed on this they say that if that event hadn't occurred they would still believe, when they have given a specific event as their reason for belief. This indicates that the believer is just using these justifications as cover for some other underlying reason for belief. The purpose of Socratic method and SE is to get to those reasons.

As a sign of good faith, I will answer Mark's questions:

‘What if Christians you knew growing up in your church had been nicer to you? Might you have grown up believing in God?’

Unlikely. Noah's ark set me on the path of doubt, not how christians behaved. If christian behaviour had any effect, I would have been an atheist much sooner.

‘What if your grandmother had lived instead of died after you prayed for her? Is it possible that you would have believed in God if she was healed?’

Sure it is. Something had to trigger my doubt, and grammy's passing definitely made me think more about my beliefs than I did before.
"That is not a reasonable discussion, it’s a tactic."
Okay, but I just answered the questions without hesitation. It was an interesting thought experiment.
"However, and this is the danger to believers who have not learned why they believe what they believe, unreasonable questions asked in a reasonable fashion often have the appearance of being reasonable and thereby can mislead without being obviously misleading." (my emphasis)
This is exactly the problem with apologetics. If someone does not know why they believe what they believe, they have no justification and should not believe it. That's the entire point of things like SE, to get people in a place where they believe things based on good reasons. But people need to go on this journey for themselves. By telling them why they should continue believing something we rob them of true knowledge. Mark himself was an atheist and claims to have found god through evidence, but he wants to rob others of the journey he himself went through. If you don't have good reasons to believe something, don't believe it. Look at the evidence and decide as objectively as possible whether you find it convincing or not.
"Christians of all ages, but especially the young, must be equipped to ‘recognize’ atheist arguments for what they are, including when there is no argument."
Of course the best way to prevent people from engaging with people they disagree with is to indoctrinate them. If christians have good reasons for their beliefs they don't need to fear SE. In fact SE should have the effect of converting people to their beliefs, because it encourages openness to the ideas of others.
"The word ‘faith’ means “trust, confidence,’ so a crisis of faith means a believer is struggling with trust and confidence issues."
Trust and confidence in what or who? This definition is nonsensical.
"All believers, if they’re honest with themselves, have times in their walk with God when they struggle with trust and confidence, but that doesn’t mean they are going to ‘lose’ their faith."
Doubt is important. Doubt is how we find the truth. And we shouldn't run to our own camps when we feel doubts about any of our beliefs. We should go and see what the other side has to say. If your goal is to find the truth this is what you will do.
"ask them to ask one question at a time and allow you to answer the question before commenting or asking another question."
This assumes that we don't let people answer our questions? Really? In no kind of interaction is that desired. In fact the Gish Gallop was a Christian invention. I haven't seen it used by SE practitioners. What this seems like is an outright lie.
" A true conversation is two-sided. What atheists are looking for is a one-sided event where they ask questions for the purpose of pushing their agenda on an unsuspecting victim."
There is nothing that prevents believers from responding with questions. This is where I diverge from SE. I think an exchange is positive and should be promoted. However I don't think that SE practitioners refuse equal exchanges. At least I've never seen it.
"Atheists are not trying to help anyone discover a reliable method for believing in God. They have one primary motive – to lead believers to ‘disabuse themselves of their faith.’ That’s a term atheists use as the goal of talking people out of their ‘faith tradition, irrationality, and superstition,’ and ‘into reason.’ Atheists believe that once they can lead people ‘into reason,’ the former believers will ‘disabuse themselves of their faith.’"
The level of projection here is severe. Christian apologists are focused on converting people, so it is hypocritical to find that behaviour wrong in others. Yes, I want to talk people out of their poorly held beliefs. That is true about every kind of belief be it about science, politics or religion. I want to live in a world where people have good reasons for believing things. As far as I can tell, Christians have poor reasons for their beliefs, so they must abandon them if we are to have a better world. If people can use reason to come to belief in god, then more power to them, but I am not okay with a majority of the world having beliefs for stupid reasons like being taught to believe those things by their parents. We need to move beyond that as a species because it represents the friction that hampers our continued progress.
"Because I’ve been on both sides (atheist and theist) I have some background in what each side is doing and why they’re doing it."
Not really. It is evident that Mark was not a intellectually fulfilled atheist. Anyone who refers to the "atheist worldview" is ignorant about stronger forms of atheism.
"They need to know that the atheist world is coming for them and will use any trick they can find to deceive them to the point of questioning what they believe. Teach your children what to believe ‘and’ why they can be confident that what they believe is the Truth based on truth and reason."
I'll use this final comment to move into my conclusions. There was a time before SE, when all we did was try and show religious people the flaws of their beliefs. This method is not convincing to people. People need to follow their own path to knowledge. Each and every one of them. By talking at them instead of to them nothing changed. Street Epistemology changed all of that. It is the beginning of a discussion that I think we need to have to improve the way we conduct ourselves in these exchanges. We never asked questions. Questions give people a chance to reason through their beliefs. There isn't a better question than one that makes you think. It is a gift, and if it results in you changing your mind it can be extremely rewarding. Apologists like Mark are in damage control mode. They know that most christians don't have good reasons to be christian. If most of those christians realise that the rational step for them would be to abandon their faith and investigate the question objectively as committed agnostics there would be a level playing field. Mark does not want that, because he knows that once people lose their belief in god it is unlikely to return. He is an exception, not the rule. 

The idea that we are trying to trick people is the worst part of what Mark has to say. He assumes that we think we need to trick people to get them to abandon their faith. That we are inherently dishonest and evil. It makes me angry that apologists keep smearing us like this. We have a difference of opinion. We are trying as honestly as possible to get people to question. That's really all we want: people who question, doubt and consider things carefully and abandon certainty.  

The truth is that Mark is afraid, and he should be. Mark is afraid that SE will work, and that there will be more atheists. He is afraid of people asking questions. He knows that people who embrace their doubts are likely to lose their faith. He doesn't want to see that, because he assumes that he has "Truth" with a capital letter T. Maybe Mark should listen to what SE is about, instead of trying to smear us evil tricksters.

Ego & Humility: What's An Ego For Anyway?

One of the primary struggles I have in my life has been my ego. I can feel it encroaching wherever I go. Your ego is a self identity that you craft out of the bits and pieces that you know about yourself as a coherent whole. An ego is a peculiar thing, given that you, me or anyone else is not really a coherent whole to begin with. You might think you are a object, but we are all really just fluctuations in a contiguous soup of particles. The hydrogen atoms occupying my brain at this very moment that I am writing this are not a part of me, they are sojourners bound for other places in the universe. But is it meaningful to say "in the universe" in the first place? Aren't we all just arbitrary subsections of the universe?

Why would I get all philosophical about our place in the universe? How is it relevant to the ego? Well, once you disconnect the concept of the ego from reality you can start to view it as an independent concept crafted by your mind. It's a view that works better at self evaluation because "me" is a someone, but that someone is just a concept. Your mind will craft all kinds of ideas about you. There will be a coherent narrative of who you are and what kind of person you are, and your mind will vigorously defend the concept of self, trying to avoid changing it too much, especially in the face of negative information. It makes sense to have a positive self image, because a negative self image can result in self loathing and indifference to your own needs of survival. In an evolutionary sense, an ego makes total sense.

However when we are trying to form accurate pictures of reality our egos become dead weights. Some things that we see in a particular way make up part of our ego narrative, so we defend those ideas to the death. Upon close self reflection, it doesn't make sense. To get away from being abstract, let me give an example. If you belong to The Order Of People Of Whom We Shall Not Speak, and believe this makes you a good person, then any negative views of the order will instantly trigger your ego defenses. You then resign from being an objective observer of that order.  Once our ego defences are triggered it becomes hard, if not impossible, to remain objective.

When you insult someone, you basically attack their sense of self. Their ego narrative becomes a target. That's why people who don't engage in self reflection or deep thought are so easy to hurt, because they attach their egos to superficial characteristics such as their weight or their financial status. E.O. Wilson, who should know better, called Richard Dawkins a journalist, which in the context of Dawkins' apparent ego narrative is very disparaging. But why is this supposed to work? Why is it that we target a particular person and not their ideas? One thing that people betray when they do this is that they admit that this is something that will work to undermine themselves, so they use it on other people to have that same effect. The reason E.O. Wilson attacked Dawkins by calling him a journalist reflects his apprehension that Dawkins's ego narrative contains the label "scientist", which Dawkins values when considering himself.  

I want this post to highlight the idea that the self is a separate thing and that there is no real self, only views constructed by our own minds to describe ourselves. If we can view ourselves this way, we can begin to objectively evaluate our self concept in order to find potential errors, and to consider ideas with the cognizance of how our self concept informs our interactions with others. Egos are not bad in themselves. They are just something that we need to be aware of in all our judgements, so that we don't get into a position where we emphasize our existing egos over other more important things like finding the truth.

Ego & Humility: Introduction

I want to continue my blog posts about discourse, this time with a focus on general attitudes instead of strategies for productive dialogue. In retrospect I should have started with this, because I think that people who already agree with me on the points I am about to make are more likely open to the idea of focusing on making discussions more productive and meaningful, and those people who disagree will probably look at me as some sort of moralist or sensitive person who wants to take all the fun out of the internet by making it "politically correct" or being the internet behaviour police.

For clarity, the discussions I enjoy the least are the discussions I have with people about their behaviour. I can feel the animosity seeping out of the pixels of the letters in their comments. I understand that people don't like their behaviour criticized and honestly I don't like doing it. I only do it because I feel it is necessary.

Hopefully the arguments I will make in the following posts will make my position more clear and my intentions understandable. I hope it will highlight the path I am advocating for, not as an oppressive regime of stoic behaviour and perpetual cheek turning, but as a positive direction in order to reach meaningful goals. The name of the post series indicates something that I hold to be true. No person can ever claim to be humble, because by claiming that you are humble, you immediately prove that you are not. Therefore humility is an unattainable quality, but the one I consider most valuable in seeking.

What do I mean by humility? I mean approaching the world and all its people from the assumption your conclusions and your self is no more valuable or significant than any other. By ego I mean our evaluation of ourselves. It's impossible to achieve absolute humility, and if you find this post in the midst of me being an arrogant jerk that's because I am failing myself. If you came here for ammunition, I give you a confession of my own failure.

If it seems odd to  you to discuss personal attributes in the context of having discussions with others, it will become more clear. It's important to remember that you are a primary participant in your interaction with others, so your own personality plays a vital role in any interaction. To not be mindful of your own personality is to neglect 50% of the equation.

You Represent Atheism

If you are an atheist, you represent atheism. Recently I've been in quite a few discussions on how atheists behave on the internet, and among those discussions there are different opinions as to how we can improve our interactions with believers. There is a disturbing view held by some atheists that a single person doesn't represent the movement, so if that single person behaves poorly it's totally okay and we should just move on and let it go.

Please see exhibit A

If you haven't seen it, please watch it through to the end. Now consider this. This guy represents you as an atheist. You may think "he doesn't represent atheism" and formally that is correct. It's also correct that people shouldn't look at this guy and make a generalization about atheists. But we live in reality where people make fallacious conclusions, so when someone who knows little about atheists sees this, they use this guy as a template for what atheists are like. Even though the guy is clearly behaving like a huge asshole we will never be able to live this one down because whether we like it or not, people generalize from seeing this.

Do you need evidence? Just read some of the comments:

Hah. 'Militant' Atheists. They complain about irrational people and bigots, but are bigots and irrational themselves. Any smart person would just ignore the preacher of any religion and move on with their day.
Typical atheist youtube commenter in real life
That's how i imagine most of the atheists on the internet. Crazy
here you see an atheist in the wild
that foul soul is the embodiment of atheism.. excluding the greasy brown hair, neckbeard, fedora and cheetoes fat
Now to be fair lots of people were pointing out the fact that this guy is not representative, and lots of people expressed understanding. But that is not the point. The people we should be trying to reach, the people who are victims of simplistic thinking, are the ones that get a bad impression from this guy. Is that really an image we want to cultivate?

Lots of atheists expressed their distaste at this guy's behaviour. But this guy is an extreme case. There are many atheists around the web that do exactly what this guy is doing in text form and atheist YouTubers behaving badly in video form. These channels have thousands of subscribers. I don't want to drag any specific channel into this though, because it distracts from the point. What do you want atheism to look like to outsiders? If you support these channels you are sending a message that it's okay for atheism to look like that. And we can say these people don't represent us, but here is a particularly bad one speaking to that point himself: say I don't represent atheism, I seem to have several thousand people behind me. How many do you have? That is pretty clear indication that my thoughts and beliefs are hitting home and well grounded. Supported in full by thousands of total strangers.
They know they have support. They know that calling believers childish names gets subscribers, and they love the attention. We constantly go on about how Westboro Baptist Church is wrong, but we support the equivalent in our atheist communities. The person who made the comment above made a comment on a believer's YouTube page calling him a c***. People who think that is witty and incisive need their heads checked. The fans of this channel defended this guy. Fellow atheists, thinking it's totally okay to behave this way. This is an example of how those people respond:
I don't see myself as being a part of some cult where we have guidelines or doctrines that tell us how we should act and what we should say and how we should say it. In fact I think the worst impression of atheism you can give is the one I'd get from someone like you who comes off as some type of religious authority figure.
Other responses included calling me boring, accusing me of whining and thinking I am a killjoy and think that we should treat believers with kid gloves. I believe that mockery and firm statements have their place, but that common decency should be a given.  Telling someone not to go around calling people childish names is telling them to be decent members of society. 

Aggression is the worst way to resolve intellectual disputes, and attempting to shame and insult others never changes their mind. So when people do this they work against their own goals of a better society. But some of these people who do this don't have our best interests at heart. They are just in it for themselves. For example:
Hmmm, my exponential subscriber growth doesn't impress you......vs your 0 count. Wow. I'm hurt. The money I make off my videos just won't feel the same now that you aren't impressed.
This is the caliber of atheist that represents you, me and every other atheist in the minds of the people that see how they behave. Thankfully, the person who posted this loses subscribers quite often, but amidst new growth, it's hard to see an end to the problem. 

So when you talk to believers, when you reshare a post or make a video, keep in mind that you are representing a position we all share. If you do it poorly you act against the goal of changing peoples' minds. By just subscribing or liking something, you have a minor effect on the course of history. Everyone sees what you do on the internet. Every comment is the past equivalent of a published letter. 

If you see someone else behaving badly, don't just walk on by, tell them the effect of what they're doing. Let them know that they are self sabotaging, and by extension sabotaging all of us and society in general. We need to find ways to increase meaningful engagement on the internet and to make it clear that people who hold our position value decency and respect, and are willing to tackle differences on the basis of the facts and arguments, and not by screaming louder or calling people names. If we look like a bunch of juvenile internet trolls we won't achieve a damn thing, but if we behave like thoughtful, humble human beings we will get the audience of the people who most need this change, the victims of organized religion.

Theodicies Don't Work!

I wanted to put an example of suffering, but they are so horrible, I chose this instead.

For those who don't know what a theodicy is, it is a

Definition of THEODICY. : defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.[1]

Why would I make such a bold statement as the one I have in the title of this post. Quite simply theodicies don't do what many apologists think they do, and that especially counts for amateur internet apologists. As an example I will look at the free will theodicy. It is said roughly that without yahweh permitting some amount of evil, free will could not exist. This theodicy itself is very much up for debate. What is meant by free will for example can be annoying and lengthy as a discussion itself.

What this theodicy and most others attempt to do is to respond to the logical problem of evil, which is a position that it is logically impossible that evil could exist with a perfectly good god. Logical possibility is a strong term of exclusion. In philosophical terms logical impossibility means that the idea is not even worth considering, usually because it implies contradictions. Such is the logical problem of evil, and all that seems necessary to refute it is to show that there is some logical possibility under which both evil and the perfectly good deity can co-exist. 

Once again, very debatable, but the idea is that if you can make a theodicy coherent you have defeated the basic problem of evil. I understand that. 

However what a theodicy does not come close to doing is establishing that it is true. There is no evidence, physical or otherwise, that any theodicy is the actual explanation for the existence of evil. So even a working theodicy that establishes logical possibility still fails to be the actual explanation of why the apparent contradiction between a perfectly good god and evil exists. Even some apologists understand this problem, and they consequently adopt a position called sceptical theism. 

Sceptical theism entails the rejection of theodicies and the acceptance of the idea that even though we don't have the actual explanation for the apparent contradiction, that's totally okay. We can just say we don't know. It's the "god works in mysterious ways" approach[2]. Sceptical theists are great at demolishing theodicies. Don't find it surprising if you see a sceptical theist putting forward the same ideas I am here. I may have even borrowed the idea from them. 

So even though a theodicy can present a logical possibility in its best form, it remains problematic because it doesn't address the actual reason why the apparent contradiction should not be resolved by rejecting theism. It operates in the same way as someone making excuses for someone else who has apparently done something atrocious but is not present to answer to their own atrocities. "Jack would never do that, he is a good man". The apparent contradiction of the perceived character of the absent individual, in this case god, is resolved by making up excuses that may be plausible, but are not demonstrated as being actual. 

So where to now? You can still discuss theodicies with christian apologists, but I personally feel weary of doing that. What's the use in a hypothetical excuse that reconciles an apparent contradiction in the character of a being who does not consider humankind worthy of the real answers. Yahweh doesn't come down to explain and dissolve the problem, so why should we lend ourselves to speculation about it? The easier way to resolve the apparent contradiction is agnosticism. Either agnosticism on the goodness of god, which would create a whole new set of contradictions or agnosticism toward christian theism in the first place, which is harmonious and without the same problem. 

[2] Sceptical theists aren't good sceptics. Good sceptics don't pick a side, so don't confuse the title. A good sceptic will admit that because of the apparent contradiction one cannot make the conclusion that a good god exists while evil exists, but that it may be possible. A good sceptic will likely end up becoming an agnostic. 

Atheism & First Principles

In a previous post, I made the remark that most atheists "[...] don't sit down and reason from god not existing as some sort of first principle.". It was in response to an apologist's blog post. It was a passing remark but the underlying issue runs much deeper than that.

Religions are package deals. A religion helps to place you on various issues such as politics, ethics, science and philosophy. Religions have statements of faith or dogmatic first principles to which believers must adhere to be part of that particular sect or religious movement. A simpler way to express it would be to look at those old What Would Jesus Do armbands. Everything is supposed to be reasoned from it. Biff punched me, so what would Jesus do? Religion provides first principles from which to reason about the world.

The mistake I have seen religious people often make is to conflate religion with atheism. They think that somehow the non-existence of a god is a first principle by which atheists such as myself reason. Of course the conclusion "god does not exist" would then be entirely circular. They are often guilty of this kind of circular reasoning themselves, but never mind that. Many atheists in fact become atheists through what is called an internal critique. That means that assuming the first principles of religion, does everything make sense in that framework? Given what it means to be perfect and jealous, can any being be both perfect and jealous? Given that a being is good, does commanding genocide reflect what we know as what good is?

Neither of those internal critiques require an assumption of non-existence as some believers think. It just requires an independent idea of what good means, or what perfect or jealous means. Some believers have circular definitions of those terms such as "something may be called good if god wills it", but to anyone who sees more in the concept of good such internal critiques are perfectly valid. In other words non-belief in god is the end result of certain beliefs, but certainly not the outcome of a first principle that a god does not exist.

So in the core of an atheist's typical beliefs there is no belief that god does not exist. That belief usually lies on the peripheries as a result of other beliefs. So there are many nonbelievers that come from different perspectives and reach the same conclusion. There are certain beliefs that tend to result in atheism, such as the idea that we need external evidence in order to rationally believe in something. These ideas are formed on the basis of their own arguments, but if accepted it is often hard for theism to survive. If any belief was a bacterium, then you could say that empiricism is a generally hostile environment for the theism bacterium. This is why so many people who are dedicated to the concepts of reason and physical evidence also tend to become atheists at one point.

So atheism does not have any dogmas. You are not automatically a nihilist, moral relativist, an existentialist, a postmodernist or a sceptic if you are an atheist. The reverse may be more likely, that being those things may drive atheism into being a more coherent position in your belief structure. The accusation that atheism is a first principle is not without reason. The accusation is levelled because of a unique problem that faces christians. The problem is that being both a modernist, which most western people are,  contradicts theism. Thus, holding to both beliefs creates contradictions when people think through it. One way to resolve the contradictions is to reject modernism and adopt christianity as a first principle, because if you assume as a first principle for example that the Bible is infallible, then the paleontological record won't bother you. So the accusation is levelled as a form of projection.

 Since apologists rely on first principles to shield their theism, they reason that atheists must do the same to shield their atheism. But this creates the scenario in which there can be no new apostates, because there are no internal critiques that could make theists change their minds. Your first principle, be it atheism or theism, is simply an arbitrary choice, or a position based on faith, convincing some apologists to make absurd statements like "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist", because they believe that because atheism is a first principle with a set of dogmas one must accept evolution, big bang theory and other accounts of things religion claims to explain. Atheism they believe, must be like religion in giving explanations for everything religion does, and offering prescriptive rules for behaviour and thought like religion does. The reason we accept those accounts is because we are atheists, and therefore those things are aspects of the religion of atheism. This is how misunderstood atheists are to religious apologists, who in turn fuel the misunderstandings of congregations who listen to them.

This is a subtle problem, which will likely be lost on apologists who need it explained to them, because in their mind everyone is like they are and all positions on religions are religions themselves because you must have first principles and because you must have answers to the questions of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. They will say that atheism has a lot of questions to answer, because it takes faith to believe "from the goo to you in the zoo to you" or "everything coming from nothing popping". The idea that one has to accept the propositions of science in order to become an atheist is absurd, because it simply takes a rational investigation of christian beliefs in order to cause their swift death in your mind, but it is immensely profitable for apologists to keep this severe misunderstanding, because they are awarded in monetary value for perpetuating it. Their audience is not a flock of severely eye-brow raising sceptics, but people who are eager to believe the central propositions of their faith on any grounds, no matter how absurd.

It's difficult to say that all apologists have this problem, but it permeates apologetics in an extreme way such as to make any apologists that realise the problem and avoid it inconsequential in the final assessment.  The atheism as a first principle, world view or religion is a standard apologetics talking point, and by excising it from their work they would be forced to engage with serious counter-apologetics. But this strategy is not a long term success. It has shown over the years not to reverse the tide of apostasy. That is because as soon as everyday believers realise that atheism is none of those things and requires no first principle of non-belief, apologists lose their credibility and sway. Some atheists have expressed that the more they read apologetics, the less convinced they were, and I think that fundamental, repeated errors like this one contribute to that.

Privilege & Blame

In modern discussion about social issues a recurring theme is privilege. RationalWiki has a fair definition of the term as used in the context of social issues:

Privilege is the benefits and advantages held by a group in power, or in a majority, that arise because of the oppression and suppression of minority groups. Often these benefits and advantages are not codified as legal rights and arise as secondary qualities to suppression (see the examples below). This causes them to become difficult to spot, and remain unseen or unrecognised. This aspect in particular is known as privilege blindness.[1]

I think that privilege as conceived here is a flawed concept and it shifts focus from what the real issues are supposed to be to an insidious form of blame and stereotyping that causes people who would usually be sympathetic to social issues to stand their ground and choose sides. If I am right then much of the work in addressing social issues is self defeating because making use of blame antagonizes the very people the original message is intended for. 

The idea of privilege itself is not wrong. It is not incorrect to state that some groups in society are born with silver spoons in their mouths while others fight an uphill battle, nor is it incorrect that these same social groups are often oblivious to the advantageous position they occupy. My purpose here is not to deny the existence of privilege. The idea I disagree with is that those who hold certain positions in society are blameworthy for the circumstances of others in society, and although this is not explicit in the statement of what privilege is, it is certainly implicit and it is how the concept is expressed and interpreted. People who say things like "I won't apologize for being male" are getting this end of the privilege mechanism. They are feeling guilt and blame placed on their shoulders for circumstances they themselves did not craft. Those who use privilege in commentary are often unaware that they are projecting blame. 

The end result is pushback. Those who want to see a fair society are appalled at the backfire effect that calling out privilege has. The guilt and blame they have inadvertently laid upon the doorstep of the privileged in society now comes flying back at them at a million miles an hour. Some recoil in despair while others believe that the privileged classes are not only aware of their privilege, but seek to maintain it. The stereotype of the privileged, that they are unrepentant hateful human beings who don't want to see fairness prevail in society, gets reinforced. The privileged are excluded from the discussions on the way forward because they are not privy to the deprivation felt outside their bubbles of privilege.

So what ever happened to empathy? Why is the focus on placing blame and not on extending empathy? Privilege focuses people internally on negative feelings of guilt and shame while simultaneously giving victims blame as a weapon. I feel as though some of the people who think that this is a positive cause or direction for society are just frustrated and trying to express their aggression and not truly trying to affect a real change in the world out there. Empathy works by showing and not by telling. It is about understanding circumstances no matter what they are. The proponents of the fight against privilege are ironically part of a privileged class that possesses the education necessary  to understand privilege, and step on those who don't by trying to force them to take a bitter pill of shame. They themselves do not exercise the empathy that they expect their target audience to acquire through the acceptance of blame.

Promoting empathy is about creating an environment of understanding, where people understand the circumstances of others and how different they are, along with the deprivation that those others suffer. Understanding the deprivation of another human being is more important than understanding your own privilege. To some people it might sound like I am just rewording privilege, but I am not. I am advocating for the shifting of focus to the actual problems in society instead of simply pointing out how much better one group has it than everyone else. Privilege wrongly shifts the focus from the actual victims of injustice in society to who we are going to blame for it.