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Atheist Community of Austin
A constructive, but critical comment on the show

I love "The Atheist Experience" but am sometimes disappointed by the tone the hosts take with callers.

Here is an example: http://blip.tv/the-atheist-experience-tv-show/atheist-experience-754-the-failure-of-social-engineering-6049330 In this episode, we have a perfectly polite (though terribly mis-informed) believer that actually concedes some points and is willing to have an open-minded, two-way discussion. Then around 44 min. into it, Don Baker laughs derisively at him a couple times. The tone of the disussion immediately changes as the caller gets offended and defensive. I think we do ourselves a disservice by alienating people in this manner. While I am talking about it, I think Matt handled this caller wonderfully, and was having a good discussion with him.

I do not mean to single Don out, or pick on anyone. I have noticed most of the hosts doing the same sort of thing at one point or another. this is just one example.

In the past I have seen the hosts laugh at, talk over, and curse at callers. I know they are irritating sometimes, but it seems to me that when you produce a show inviting people with an opposing viewpoint to call in and discuss it, the hosts should have a professional demeanor and take the highest road possible in every situation. It probably wouldn't hurt to have a bit thicker than normal skin, either.

The show's producers have a stated mission that includes "to promote secular viewpoints, to encourage positive atheist culture." I have to say that it in my opinion, the hosts do not always succeed at that part of the mission.

Please consider this to be a friendly observation. It is the only criticism I have for an otherwise wonderful and much needed show. I am more than willing to discuss this and more fully explain my thoughts if anyone wishes.

Regards, Canis

Thanks for your feedback. I was unable to hold my laughter at the ridiculous claims the caller was making, such as the creation of the state of Israel "in one day" as being a fulfillment of prophecy. The irony is pretty thick, considering how Christians had systematically persecuted and killed Jews for 1400 years.

We had a debate after the show among the crew as to whether the caller was a crank or not. The verdict is still out, but he certainly used some not-so-great arguments for claiming the truth of the Bible.

Thank you for the nice reply, Don. I am sorry if it seemed like I was singling you out personally. I can certainly understand the impulse to laugh. Some of the stuff that gets thrown at you guys is pretty far out. I generally feel that you hosts do a terrific job, for not being professionals.

To continue on in a more general way, I am wondering how the hosting staff feels in general about the treatment of callers. Do they ever feel it could it use improvement?

I am not speaking of the rude callers here. I am talking about the ones that attempt to have a serious, earnest conversation. I sometimes feel they get less courtesy than they deserve. I have seen profanity, hang-ups and general derision aimed at people who were not really being rude or hateful, but more just dense or mis-informed.

I know that some hosts have said they prefer calls from believers over fellow atheists. Given that and the stated desire to present Atheism in a positive light, does it not seem prudent to be more polite rather than less. Perhaps even more than a given caller merits?

I would much appreciate hearing your thoughts, and those of any other hosts that care to chime in.

Regards, Canis

We get all sorts of comments and feedback from all sides. Quite a number of people tell us we're too nice or too patient. Others sympathize with slammed callers. You just can't please everyone.

I think my mistake on the call was not articulating to the caller why I was laughing. That would have given him a chance to respond and been more fair to him.

We did a show recently on "Positive Atheism" and it refers to the assertion that there is no deity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_atheism). While this claim cannot be made in the general case, we do go after claims that are provably false, such as prayer working, the claimed superiority of theistic morality, or claims of life after death.

You should check out this website:

http://www.evilbible.com/Definition_of_Atheism

The author raises some valid points. There is a big difference between someone who is a de facto non-believer and someone who embraces "atheist" as a label for himself. Yes babies are not believers, and it drives home the point, I think that belief has to be taught.

On the stronger version of the word, there would need to be a coherent definition of "god" before someone could categorically say that such a thing does not exist. Mankind has invented thousands of gods. It's not the job of atheists to disprove all of them. The only valid position is skepticism -- non belief -- until there is sufficient evidence to believe. The strong definition of atheism (belief of the negative) is OFTEN used by theists to spread misinformation about a valid skeptical position and create straw men for them to knock down. They simply cannot argue against disbelief and the burden of proof remains where is should be: with the person making the claim that their god exists.

The ACA has used the definition on our main web page (lack of belief) since the beginning. We feel we've clearly defined our stance and we embrace the word "atheist". You'll find lots of other non-believers who take different positions on the definition.

The only problem that I have is that this does not seem to be the case in a more narrower philosophical setting. I think the whole thing is convoluted nowadays. People say belief and knowledge are mutually exclusive while others do not. The crazy thing is atheists claim both. I wish we could have a bit of rigor involved here and not a battle over whose definition is right. I think most atheists have this prescriptive etymological argument, that is (a + theism = with out god or godless or "a" indicates = lack of belief) while others of a more philosophical bent tend not to commit the etymological fallacy and maintain that theism means there is a god (proposition knowledge) and atheism means there is no god/s (proposition of knowledge). Agnosticism is having no knowledge or making no claim. So, I don't know, like I said we need some rigor or something here. It just seems like epistemic relativism where my definition is as good as yours so let's end it there. Do you know what i mean? Or to put it another way. Would you or anyone have issues if we defined anything in science or maths with less rigor? We are not Christians with a million freaking definitions or branches. so let us not be as fickle or uncritical as them. Thank you, please comment again!

"People say belief and knowledge are mutually exclusive while others do not."

I haven't personally encountered someone who makes this claim, but if I did I'd tell them they're wrong. Knowledge is a subset of belief. You can't have knowledge without belief.

As for definitions, any "battle" over what atheism means is largely the result of confusion or intentional strawmanning on the the part of theists. Atheism is a response to a single claim - that some god exists. I don't believe this claim is true, therefore I'm an atheist. This is the definition used by every major atheist organization in the world.

Agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive. I'm an agnostic atheist, at least until I get a coherent definition of the god in question.

Those definitions seem rigorous enough for me, but ultimately I can't force someone to label themselves a certain way if they refuse. All I can do is continue to try to educate people on what these terms mean.

Well, it is certainly true that you cannot please everyone. :-)

I was asking these questions about tone and treatment of callers based on the ACA's stated aims. I would assume that the ACA would favor acting in a way consistent with those aims over merely acting to please a segment of fan feedback. I really do not expect you guys to act a certain way simply because I write a few paragraphs asking for it. Rather, I am seeking to understand if my impression of your actual aims is wrong.

Am I misunderatanding the mission statement of the ACA?

It says: "The Atheist Community of Austin is organized as a nonprofit educational corporation to develop and support the atheist community, to provide opportunities for socializing and friendship, to promote secular viewpoints, to encourage positive atheist culture, to defend the first amendment principle of state-church separation, to oppose discrimination against atheists and to work with other organizations in pursuit of common goals."

I viewed that in concert wth the ACA's stated definition of Atheism: "We define atheism as the lack of belief in gods. This definition also encompasses what most people call agnosticism."

Taking the ACA's definition of atheism into acount, I took the word "positive" in the mission statement to mean "good" or "benificial" and not in the context of "positive atheism."

Did I misconstue that?

To be completely fair, I also think I have seen some marked improvement on the civility front in the last year or so. I would like to commend everyone on that and encourage them to keep moving in that direction. (If indeed it is the desired direction of the ACA.)

Regards, Canis

Ridiculous beliefs deserve challenge and even ridicule. I don't think "tolerance" of things like Matthew 27:25 serves humanity, regardless of the ACA web site. The caller was spinning the result centuries of persecution by Christians as justification of Biblical prophecy. Perhaps I just have more compassion for the victims than those with the uncritical mindset that contributed to their deaths. Is it more "positive" to give theism's harms a pass, or to pat the caller on the head? Again, I admit that I should have explained my position on the air.

There are different styles among the different people on the show and in the ACA. You're right that there are some potential ambiguities in those positions on the web site.

Don, I appreciate your willingness to take responsability for the example I used of you laughing at the caller. I also realize that none of us is perfect and that sometimes laughter is involountary. I am enjoying the conversation and wish to continue, but please do not think I am berating you personally in doing so. I think you have said more than enough on your personal conduct, and that we would be better served to speak in generallities from here on out. :)

I want to be clear that I am not talking about giving ridiculous or harmful beliefs a pass, or glossing over the harm they do. I never advocate that. We should be discussing these things in a serious manner, and that is where the show is an enormous asset.

I am completely in favor of discussing and exposing such beliefs for what they are. I am also of the mindset that these things can be discussed and disposed of without resorting to rude or abrasive behavior.

Surely there is a middle ground of mature and rational discussion between patting a caller on the head and cursing or laughing at them?

It is true that callers (or believers in general) sometimes do not see the dark underbelly of their beliefs, like the persecution of the jews. I think it is necessary to point that dark underbelly out to them.

I think that with a show such as TAE, where believers are invited to call in and voice their beliefs, it should be considered good etiqutte to allow them their say(within reason) and then to refute those beliefs in a factual, non-confrontational way. It's not like they are forcing those beliefs on the hosts, or preaching them on the street. They are invited to call in. It seems rude to then berate them for doing what they were invited to do. I think a little extra curtesy is in order. of course, if they are rude, there is nothing wrong with returning the favor. :-)

I want to thank you personally Don, for being so courteous to me and participating in this discussion. I appreciate your tone throughout, and I think it is a great example of someone keeping their cool "under fire." :-)

Regards, Canis

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