Why Atheists Always Win at Twitter
by Noah Lugeons
I just reached the satisfying conclusion of a five day flame war on Twitter. My wife’s kind of new to the whole Twitter thing, so I’ve been explaining my technique a bit as I go. It’s been educational for both of us, as it’s forced me to think a lot more about it than I normally do. And over that period, I’ve developed a theory to help explain why I always kick so much ass in Twitter fights.
Now, it’s too broad a generalization to say that atheists always win on Twitter, unless you define winning as being the person who turns out to be correct in the end. I’ve seen a few atheists get their asses handed to them by clever apologists on Twitter, forums, Facebook threads, Reddit, blog comments… you name it. But it seems that the vast majority of the time, I see the atheist beating the religious clod into the ground until they’re pounding their keyboards randomly with shaking fists.
So before I lay out my theory, we have to define two things. One is what I consider “winning” in a flame war. The second is, strangely enough, the word “faith”. We’ll start with the easy one.
The old trope about somebody being wrong on the internet is used to justify a lot of losses in online arguments. I’m not saying there isn’t something to the notion that arguing online is often unproductive, but I think one goes to far when one says it’s “useless”. As I’ve said before on this blog, it helps you hone your skills in live debate, it helps you reinforce your understanding of your own position and it helps you build a community of online support. But there’s also another benefit; it can be really fun.
Debates online are okay. I usually let somebody else takeover when the philosophical arguments get too far in the weeds because that shit bores me eventually. I don’t have the patience to walk theist after theist through all the errors in “irreducible complexity” or “Pascal’s Wager”. But I never back down from a good old fashioned flame war. Hell, I’ve been doing that shit since CompuServe.
In all that time, the enemy hasn’t changed, the wars haven’t changed and thus my tactics haven’t had to change much. Once an argument moves beyond any exchange of rational ideas and turns into a name-calling, juvenile insult war, there’s only one way to win. You have to be the one who maintains your cool longest. Eventually, if you do it right, you’ll get a response like:
You’re a pathetic, tragic, stupid, evil waste of breath. FUCK YOU!!!!1!!!
And then you can break out the champagne because you’ve won. When you’ve reduced a person to something like that, they’ve admitted that they’re through being clever or even intelligent. You’ve cracked their facade of confidence and revealed them to be your intellectual inferior. What’s more, you can pile on all you want at this point because they’ve gotten emotional and you haven’t. You can make them drool if you try hard enough.
For my purposes, this is the only measure of victory in a flame war. Being the last person to lose their cool says that you’re the one presenting the rational argument and they’re the one presenting the emotional one. It doesn’t matter if that’s true or not because all participants have long abandoned the logical standing of their position anyway. It’s simply about who can piss who off first.
And it is in this way that I see atheists win over and over and over again.
Part of this is certainly the fact that we’ve just got the better arguments. There can be little doubt, especially in the mind of a non-believer, who is approaching this question logically and who is approaching it emotionally. It also helps that we are forced into positions where we have to justify our worldview far more often than theists (and, of course, I’m speaking only to the culture I’m familiar with. Can’t say how true that is for my readers outside the US).
And that ultimately brings us to the role “faith” plays in all of this. Religious people love to talk about “faith”, but when they use it, it has a special meaning. If I were to use faith, it would be to describe a near-certainty: I have faith that the porch will hold my weight; I have faith that Heath will show up to record on Tuesday; I have faith that I will win Twitter wars with theists. But that type of faith is entirely different than the “faith” that believers talk about. So much so that they should really have to use a different word. It’s almost the polar opposite of what I mean.
Me: Faith is the expectation that something will behave exactly like it always does.
Them: Faith is the expectation that everything will eventually behave in a way I’ve never observed it behaving.
Ask an atheist and virtually all of them will tell you that they’d be willing to change their minds on the “god” question if compelling new evidence appeared. Ask a theist and virtually all of them would tell you the opposite. Theists look at that and see doubt in the atheists, while we look at it and see doubt in them. After all, I’m confident that my porch will hold my weight, but it would only take one time of me falling through it to change my mind on the subject. It’s a belief I’m so confident about that I don’t have to worry about changing my mind on it.
But consider the religious type of faith in that analogy. They would have to keep walking out on that porch every day, even after it collapsed. They’d have to walk out the back door, fall into the pile of broken lumber below, pluck splinters from their limbs and tell themselves that the porch was still holding their weight. No amount of evidence would sway them from their “faith”. But our kind of faith breeds a certain kind of apathy. If you’re confident enough about a belief, you don’t care. You’re not emotionally invested in the belief that the porch will hold your weight. You don’t bother justifying the belief to yourself with logic puzzles and wagers from long dead mathematicians. I need invoke no syllogism to prove to myself that the porch will hold my weight.
Which brings us back to the flame wars. I won’t deny that I’m emotionally invested in the atheist movement. I’m as emotional about fighting against religious intrusion as I am about any subject. I passionately donate my time, money, creativity and effort to furthering this cause and that is all fueled by an emotional investment. But what I’m emotional about isn’t the fact that god doesn’t exist. I have faith in that the same way I have faith in my porch. I might need a fancy analogy or two to justify it to a believer, but I don’t need anything but the evidence (or overwhelming lack thereof) to settle that question to my own satisfaction.
So when I’m battling with a believer, they keep expecting to find that emotional trigger. They fire blindly because they think there’s something about my atheism that has spurred my activism. In reality, it’s actually something about their religion. Meanwhile, it’s kind of easy to find their trigger. They want to tear down your intelligence because it irks them to think that a smart person would look at the data and conclude that there is no god. So simply being intelligent with your responses is enough to eventually bring out the worst in them.
Sure, we can be disrespectful, scathing and vulgar (hell, that’s kind of my niche), but we never abandon reason. Even in the filthiest of flame wars, I’m always in the realm of logic. And eventually that leaves them in the realm of ad hominem Fuck-Yous.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make someone drool.