The Exaggeration Effect

Online media is not quite the same as traditional media, especially when it comes to news. Before social networks and global content forums peoples' opinions on the news were pretty limited to letters to the editor. An editor could of course choose which letters to publish, and I think that with the advent of commenting systems on internet news sites it would be relatively safe to say that editors had trash cans full of letters to the editor that were never published.

Now things are different. If you can't comment on a particular post, you can share with your social networks. Instead of just relating the news, you can add your opinion. As some of the more sensational news sources have recognized, people surely must notice that posts from neutral sources with neutral considered opinion are glossed over by followers.

A need for worth

This is where our humanness kicks in and we realise that in order to get attention, we have to be provocative. This encourages us to share sensational stories, but even more worryingly, it encourages us to soup up our opinions on them. The attention feels good, and to some extent we feel good because we feel like we have done a service to our fellow humans. If we get attention and appreciation we feel like we have worth to others. There is nothing wrong with these feelings, but they can drive us mad with artificial outrage.

A need for consensus

Even though people don't always want to admit it, it feels good when people tell us that we are right or that they agree with us (which is just another way of telling us we are right). Consensus creates harmony in our minds that makes us feel content that we are on the right path. Moral consensus makes us feel especially good, because it  feels like others cherish the same values that we do. Our causes are the right, heroic causes that everyone should take up. Condemnation forms a part of this method for eliciting moral consensus. If you take the need for worth, which causes us to exaggerate to get attention, and add it to the effect of our need for moral consensus, then we see what we generally see on the internet: unbridled and seemingly blind moral outrage. I am not suggesting that the feelings of moral outrage are not genuine, they are. What I am suggesting is that  they are exaggerated by the effect that others are watching what we're doing, and we want their attention, appreciation and consensus.

A need for putting our needs first

There are countless problems in the world. The sum of people on planet earth pick which things they think are important to deal with and then steer everyone in that direction slowly. Convincing others that an issue is important, generally known as raising awareness, is a noble cause. In order for our ideas to be chosen by people bombarded with awareness of the troubles in the world, it makes total sense to exaggerate our position to make it seem like our need should be attended to first. We want our needs dealt with first, because we feel most strongly about them. If you listen to the plight of marine biologists on preservation of the oceans, you may sympathize, but if you own a certain breed of dog that is used for dog fighting, you may feel that the need to stop illegal dog fights or criminalize them where they are still allowed is a more pressing issue. Thus the need for ideas to compete subtly encourages exaggeration.

All the needs above create knock-on biases. If someone has a subconscious tendency to exaggerate their positions, they will likely have a subconscious bias against information that disconfirms the more sensational aspects of their position and a bias for information that supports a more sensational, but not necessarily accurate stance.

The tragedy is exacerbated by people who try to step in and disprove the sensationalism or point it out. The person who originally posted the position now has egg on their face, and embarrassment is not alleviated by admitting that you made a mistake, it just makes it worse. So the exaggerator will then tend to jog all over the internet to find confirming information, an exercise that is dangerously futile because it results in furiously quick scanning of articles and scientific papers, or visiting sources that typically reflect the same biases of the exaggerator. The more public the embarrassment is, or the closer the embarrassment is to the exaggerator's inner circles, the more severe the reaction to being disagreed with will be. The exercise then loses the original intent to raise an issue, and becomes a desperate defense of the exaggerator's ego.

Consequently, human beings on the internet look like raging apes. Scornful , dismissive and filled with hatred and bias. An almost innocuous event can have catastrophic effects, because when someone sees a minor infraction on their sense of what is right, it turns into an overnight internet sensation, and companies are forced to fire employees because of things they tweeted in order to keep their public image intact. While I agree that people should refrain from saying stupid bigoted things, I can't help but think that they truly feel that way, and the right course of action would be to correct them gently and let them off with a warning. Instead the internet can ruin peoples' lives simply because they are wrong about things.

This also results in a dangerous radical left bias in the online world that makes anything seemingly negative a massive taboo. Someone who posts a joke about a group that suffers discrimination may find themselves in the midst of a firestorm of outrage that could scar their lives permanently.1 The radical left makes speech an act that can be severely punished, driven by the multiplied effect of exaggerators who feel that they are doing doing something of worth, getting consensus and getting an important issue dealt with. The reason why the bias leans to the radical left is because they generally bully the bullies, or whatever society perceives to be the current bullies, be it large corporations, scientists experimenting on animals, banks, or the government. The law allows for the radical left to speak out, but the radical right, with their bigoted ways are generally shunned and suffer for their statements considerably more so than the left does.

Instead of seeing current issues as we should see them, namely as things that need to be dealt with, presented objectively in a balanced manner, we see a super exaggerated version of everything that is going wrong in the world. I don't pretend that some of these issues don't deserve outrage, but no issue deserves to be exaggerated. Maybe if we are more careful and we present balance we will get much less attention in our streams, feeds, and forums, but we will have done the right thing.

Note and disclaimer: The reason I write all of this is that the exaggeration effect is something I noticed in myself, and though I still fall short of not falling into it, I am trying to address it. I noticed the same symptoms that I exhibit also present in the posts and comments of others. I kind of extrapolated my own journey to those of the entire internet society. All I can hope for is that if I am incorrect, that I don't viciously defend this essay just to save face. :) 



1. I wanted to give an example, but I didn't want someone from the radical left trying to defend why such an example needs to be fought, and not be dealt with gently. I agree that negative things should be discouraged sometimes, but this is a topic that can be discussed elsewhere.

Lies And Misrepresentation: Another Pastor Preaches Against Atheism

So I came across this little gem:

http://www.comingkingministries.org/Content/ViewMedia?contentMediaId=113

By a pastor named Les Crickmay of the Coming King Ministries (www.comingkingministries.org), a  creationist church in Ballito, South Africa. It worries me that atheism is misrepresented in churches around the world, breeding hatred and resentment toward us for no reason whatsoever. Church members sheepishly gobble up every word, and likely never hear the other side of the story. This is unfair to say the least, and bigoted at worst.

I will explore some of what Crickmay says in this post, in the hopes that members of the congregation may find this post and realise that Crickmay is lying about atheism and atheists. In this article: http://northcoastcourier.co.za/10587/new-pastor-town/ he claims to have become a believer in 1990, whatever he was before that, it seems a hard stretch of the imagination that he was a dedicated sceptical atheist.

I am going to skip points 1, and 2, which deal with a recap of previous sermons and the concept of biological evolution respectively. If you doubt evolution there are good resources on the subject. The best source is Darwin's On The Origin Of Species, because it lays out the initial justification for the theory, if that is too dry or boring Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True is also a good read (many have vouched for it, I have not read this book).

Atheistic Evolution
Conflating atheism and evolution is a huge mistake. Atheism does not rely on the theory of evolution, even though some people, seeing the wonders of nature, are no longer convinced that it was the amazing work of a deity, but rather of an amazing process. Understanding evolution does not make you an atheist at all, much of the catholic church is fine with the theory of evolution, as are other churches. 

3.1 What is the atheist’s view of the God of the Bible? A supernatural divine God simply
doesn’t exist. He is a figment of man’s imagination. There is not a shred of scientifically
acceptable evidence for Him.
All credible scientific evidence points to the fact that there is no
Creator God. Man must evolve beyond the need for the god idea. Note: The atheist cannot
actually prove what he believes he “knows for sure”. 

This is simply not true. Most atheists I know do not claim absolute knowledge that there is no god. We simply do not accept faith as a reason to believe something. Atheism is the lack of belief in god, not necesarily the belief that no god exists. Until good evidence is presented that a god or gods exist, there is no point in believing there is/are (a) god/s. The are I highlighted in bold is accurate. There is no evidence for god. Zip. Nada. Bumkiss.

3.2 What is the anti-theist’s view of the God of the Bible: A Creator God is a false concept to
be completely removed from the earth. The God of the Bible is evil and hateful and responsible
for most of man’s problems. The Bible is full of hate speech and should be banned in its
current form. Bible fundamentalists are mentally sick and a danger to society. They should be
locked up. Their children should be removed from them. 

No anti-theists I know want religion to be forcefully removed. Since atheists over most of human history were tortured, murdered, exiled and ostracized the last thing we want is the same fate for the faithful. We don't think that people are bad at all, just that faith is a bad thing to base decisions on. Faith can cause the worst kinds of behaviour in some people, such as refusing medical treatment for children or refusing to have a blood transfusion. Not all of the faithful do these things, but if people did not rely on faith to figure out how the world works, none of this would have happened in the first place. 

Religion must shoulder a lot of the blame for bad things in the past, but since we cannot measure the difference between religious and non religious societies in much of history, it is hard to say that religion was squarely to blame. People being silly and making the wrong decisions are the ultimate problem. We can talk people out of using bad methods to make decisions, like faith, without having to persecute them. That is the goal of most atheists. Besides, much of our family members and friends are believers and we would never want them to be harmed.

3.3 OK. Then what is the God of the Bible’s view of the atheists? 
[...]

What alarms me about this section is that the Bible is used as a weapon to demonize atheists. We are people, many of us humble everyday normal people who want peace, love and happiness just like everyone else. The god of the bible seems like a pretty mean guy, and it seems quite horrible that he would try to blackmail people into believing by threatening them. We, like most self respecting humans, do not appreciate or respond to threats. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and
instruction.
fear of the Lord The essence of true knowledge is to reverence the one true God of the
Bible. To learn His will and to love performing it. To glorify God and enjoy Him. By
denying God the atheist is unable to begin to acquire spiritual knowledge and wisdom. 


Doesn't this seem a little alarming? Fear as the beginning of knowledge? When you start learning about mathematics are you afraid of it? Are kids afraid of asking questions more likely to learn anything? I'll leave it up to you to decide. I am very sceptical of anything that promotes fear. Fear is bad. 

fool despises wisdom; are spiritually deluded; are foolish in thought and action; mock
when guilty; lack moral restraint; diregard sexual restraints; disregard rules of
correctness (can we detect any liberalism here!). The atheist is a fool in God’s eyes. 

I can say that atheists are no more foolish in thought and action than anyone else. We don't get more traffic tickets, steal more, or do anything bad more often than others. If you look at countries with large numbers of atheists you will see that they are more peaceful than the rest of the world. That is because we believe strongly in personal responsibility and self actualisation in general. It is important to like yourself, and to like yourself means being a good person. There is no need for a book to tell me that sleeping around will hurt the person I love most, or that stealing will make someone else poorer, or that doing good is not important.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have
committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.
o A fool believes there is no God and therefore must inevitably lead a corrupt life. Any
consistent atheist is completely separated from the wisdom of God’s word (we shall see
this later). His every thought and action are rebellious towards His Creator and are vile
and abominable in God’s eyes. 

Except that most atheists do not ever say "There is no god". We merely lack belief in gods. Saying that we are corrupt seems like bigotry of the worst sort. We want what anyone else wants: respect, love and meaningful lives. If we act for what is right and what is good we get those things. We are responsible to ourselves and our fellow man, we don't need a supernatural baby sitter to tell us to be good. 

Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe
that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
o An atheist cannot possibly please the God of the Bible. And he cannot be rewarded
spiritually by God until he “seeks God” in faith. 
 
I wonder if christians ever think that maybe a god who simply wants us to please him might not be such a great guy. People who love their children do so unconditionally, but it seems as though the chrisitan god has some strict and strange requirements. He wants us to have faith and believe without evidence, and give love to a being that seemingly never gives love back. If you search for prayer studies you will see that prayer DOES NOT WORK, meaning that the relationship is pretty one sided. Christians do not have more prosperous lives than atheists, something that seems to show that all the love and attention christians give is completely one sided. I mean love is not about expecting anything in return, but a spouse that never pays a compliment and ignores you completely deserves to be divorced. Of course since we can't find this entity at all, there is no loss when deconverting at all. 


Not all atheists and anti-theists think alike of course. But what we are proposing is representative of most

No it isn't. Most of us are nice people, far removed from the depiction here.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for
light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those
who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!

If god commands genocide in the bible, is that not evil? Is genocide somehow good when god commands it? Atheists think this is not the case, so we don't call evil good. All things seem to indicate that believers do this.[1]

Let's continue with the graph that is presented in the sermon:
1. There is definitely no God. 

Most atheists I know don't say there is definitely no god. We simply hold that it makes no sense to believe something without good evidence purely on faith. Since there is no good evidence for god we don't believe that there is a god. Much different from saying "There is no god"

2. Life came spontaneously from non-life.
I didn't know that atheists said this. Some scientists hold this position, but this is not strictly something atheists say. The truth is that we don't know how life started. It is okay to not know something, we just don't pretend to know by saying that a god did it.

3. Laws of universe are without any reason. 
Sure, but the definition of reason here is important. They may have a cause, in other words they happened for a reason. We just don't think there is any reason to think that there is a higher purpose to them. This does not make life any less meaningful. It doesn't make a sunset less beautiful or the embrace of a loved one less significant.

4. Life goes from disorder to order
In nature, the concept of disorder is pretty meaningless. Nature just is. There was no preceding concept of disorder, since the laws of physics have always provided some sort of order as far as we can know by today's knowledge.

5. Man is an evolved cousin to the ape. 
According to the theory of evolution, man IS an ape, not a cousin to an ape. We are related to other apes, but more importantly, we are related to every single living thing. We are all distant family. Some genes contained in insects can be found in humans. Pretty neat huh!?

6. Man is no more dignified than a banana 
Since dignity is something we assign to ourselves, and banana's can't assign any qualities to themselves, I can just giggle at this one. 

7. Man is material only. 
Yup. There is no evidence of anything else. 

8. Man’s main aim is DNA reproduction
My aim is not DNA production, my aim is to have a fulfilling life. I haven't decided whether I want to have kids yet. It's a tough decision, and there is nothing about evolution or atheism that will make this decision for me. The concept of looking to biology to make personal life decisions is ridiculous. Ironically, I have spoken to a person who subscribed to eastern religion that disagreed, he was intent on spreading his genetics. It was very strange indeed.

9. Life is a purposeless and meaningless farce.
It's true that we believe that life has no ultimate purpose or meaning, because there is no afterlife. What this also means is that our current lives have more meaning and purpose. We cannot erase any of our actions and our lives in this world are the only chance we have. Using your one and only life meaningfully is important, and many atheists have extremely fulfilling lives both personally and in their communities and families. Laughing, loving, sharing and learning are wonderful things to be enjoyed in this life. 

10. Every man for himself
Man by himself is lonely. It's strange to think that atheists do not crave community or don't care for others. This is completely false. There are atheist charities and atheists who dedicate themselves to making the lives of others better. 

11. There is no absolute good or bad 
It is bad to hurt others. I don't think anyone needs religion to tell as much.I have been called a Good Christian Atheist by others before, because I value honesty and good actions. I feel good about being good, which should be reason enough for anyone to be a good person.

12. Be the fittest. Survive and Procreate. 
Oh crap I think I missed the memo on this one. I guess I need to get cracking! :P

13. Man can be his own god. 
This is a weird statement. Sure you can declare yourself to be your own god, but you will be shocked when you realise that you have none of the attributes of gods such as superhuman strength, omniscience, omnipresence or the ability to do miracles. This is a weird one. If you don't believe in a god there is no reason to declare yourself to be one. That would be extremely ironic. Most of the people who have claimed to be gods were believers who though they were Jesus or other prophets. 

14. There is “absolutely” no such thing. 
There probably are no absolute truths, because we are yet to find any beyond our own axiomatic systems of thought. Better?

15. [There are God-given moral absolutes] No such thing. Make your own. 
The bible god breaks his own rules quite often, engaging in lies and deceit and genocide. I would say that the bible contains no moral absolutes. There are secular moral rules that work well, which all obviate the need for any rule books. We constantly find better ways of behaving morally, like abolishing slavery and letting women vote and drive cars if they want. The bible never advocates for such changes, people did.

16. [There is absolute justice.] There is only cultural expediency 
 Not all atheists are moral relativists, and many atheists think the concept is repulsive. Oddly enough this means that religious moral systems are rejected because under absolute morality the bible god does not get a free pass on drowning most of humanity or killing cities with fire and brimstone.The bible advocates moral relativism to a dangerous and alarming degree. If you don't know whether you are a moral relativist ask yourself whether you would kill someone if commanded by god. If your answer is yes then you are a moral relativist and the claim above applies to you, not atheists. 

17. [There is a reason for death and suffering] Death and suffering are meaningless. 
I wonder what the so called reason is for death and suffering. The primary goal of any good person should be to reduce these, and any thinking person should ask themselves seriously why god does not do anything about these things. If there was no god, or if god did not care about humanity, no excuses would need to made on behalf of a god who purports to be benevolent.

18. [Man has a destiny. Either good or bad.] Man ceases to exist after death. 
A bad destiny here implies hell. You will go to hell not for being a bad person, but because you didn't believe in a god that hid himself from your view. Child molesters and torturers who believed will be in heaven, while good heathens will burn eternally. This is not the sign of a just god at all. Ceasing to exist is not so bad. Many of us live our lives as if it is the only one we have anyway. It would be silly to count on a wonderful afterlife, all the while missing the wonder of this one.

19. [Man lives on after death.] Life reverts to non-life. 
Why would you want to live after this life? Is your life really that meaningless? Do music, nature, friends, family, movies, novels, laughter, pets and relaxation not give you enough for this life? Why do you greedily have to grab at an afterlife for which there is no evidence. 

It is clear from the above that there is no true harmony between the wisdom of the God of the 
Bible and atheistic evolutionism. If the Bible is true then atheistic evolutionism is 
fundamentally wrong, and vice versa. 

This called a false dichotomy. You can accept evolution and be a fulfilled christian. However it is true that atheism stands in direct opposition to faith. Ask yourself whether you want to listen to this guy, who makes atheism look nasty and evil, or whether you want to do the research yourself. There are plenty of websites and YouTube videos that explore the topic in more detail. The most important thing to remember is that most atheists simply don't believe in god. We don't say that there certainly is no god. If I told you that there are ponies in the center of pluto you wouldn't believe me, because there is no evidence, but if everyone around you believes something and there are ancient books saying something is true you do believe it. 

I think it is important to question, to embrace doubt and to find truth on your own. Always remember that if you want to ask questions, there are thousands of atheists who will gladly engage in kind conversation with you on the internet. 

But the atheist’s supposed freedom comes with an eternal cost. According to the God of the
Bible, the atheist is in bondage to sin. And if the atheist does not repent of his wicked ways,
and turn to Jesus Christ in faith for his eternal salvation from the penalty of his sins, he will
one day meet the God he has chosen to deny and mock.. He will be judged for his life on earth
and he will be sent to the eternal lake of fire, because his name is not in the book of life
(Rev. 20:15). Amen.

Don't you think that a loving god would be better than to send good people to hell? I asked this same question when I was a christian. Now I am an atheist.

[1] http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/1sam/15.html