Debate Magazine

‘Arrogant’ Atheists

By Carnun @Carnunmp

Disclaimer: I may not necessarily wholeheartedly stand by everything written below, but it’s not like I’m not allowed to poke fun once in a while…



It doesn’t take long on the internet, or in real life, to come across this old chestnut:

‘Atheists are so full of themselves, thinking they’re right all of the time… So much smug certainty, so much confident piss-taking, so much inconsiderate hate-speech I can’t help but pray for them! God save me.’

Ok, that may be a tad hyperbolic, but the point stands. Why are Atheists always so arrogant?

There are a few reasons for this *observation*, so let’s look at each…

‘You think you know everything!’

I don’t know about you, but to me, the person proclaiming absolute physical truths for which they have absolutely zero physical evidence is the one who really thinks they know more than they do. And, no, I don’t ‘think I know everything’. In fact the more I know, the less I know I know. It’s great. It drives my curiosity, for I am always in a state of mind adamant that the best solution to the paradox is to seek out more truth.

Oh, and ‘the more I know…’ isn’t mine. It’s Albert Einstein’s. Or Socrates’. Or William Blake’s (whoever he is). I don’t really know – but the point stands.

Plus, since when was “you’re more knowledgeable than me!” ever a sound argument? (Because that’s what they’re really saying.) I can see why confident opposition to some dearly cherished pseudo-certainties is intimidating, but storming off reaffirming to the confident opposition that they are in fact confident will get you nowhere.

And why are they confident? Because they have evidence to back up what they think. In fact, it’s highly likely that certain thoughts are only entertained because of evidence – evidence that may well seem counter-intuitive (*cough* quantum mechanics *cough*).

It’s worth noting that no matter how smugly presented, facts will always be facts too. So where is the arrogance line drawn?

Are facts ‘full of themselves’?

I admit, there’s a difference between saying

“You, like I, share an ancestor with that potato – get over it.”


“Life on Earth evolved through a relatively easily-understood process of gene-swapping and natural selection. Science is 99.999…% sure, and this fact underpins all of modern biology.”

But, I guarantee you, people will take offense at both. Whether a science teacher wishes nothing more than to humbly present their students with what they find most enthralling about existing, or an internet troll shouts at a group of theists in capital letters – offense will be had each way. Granted, it’s a lot harder to take offense to someone trying to teach you about the world with a smile than it is to those who actively make fun of you without consideration for fragile personal truths, but a line needs to be drawn between stating (and explaining) a fact and actively insulting a person.

Facts can be presented meanly and truths can hurt, but that does not make the facts themselves mean or the truths themselves sadistic. Offence can be taken even when the person presenting the facts does so with a tone of voice that says ‘as far as I know, I’m being reasonable’.

And, you know what?

It’s almost impossible to think oneself right without sounding arrogant

I can confidently say (how big-headed of me) that you’re unlikely to come across many Atheists who know, for absolute certain, that there is no ‘God’. In fact many Atheists would, if you asked them, probably admit to being Agnostics at heart – but this is a point for another post. What’s important to stress is that, with Atheism, it tends to be the gods proposed by various religions over the millennia that we lack belief in (the same way that the overwhelmingly vast majority of theists are ‘atheistic’ towards the gods of other religions), and that their specific existence is a factual claim easily dealt with by a basic level of science knowledge and (dare I say it) common sense – albeit ‘common sense’ without a ‘faith is separate from other ways of thinking’ bias present.

We think we’re being reasonable, intellectually honest, and clever – traits which we see as lacking in the opposition.

We’re reasonable because we value evidence; intellectually honest because we don’t need to employ intricate systems of ‘double-thinking’ to equate our take on reality with the evidence of reality itself; and clever because we are (arrogant).

I think I’m likely right on some things, but I know I’m wrong on a lot more. So why is it that the things which I can prove beyond reasonable doubt get dubbed ‘arrogant’ while the ultimate ‘it is because we say it is’ certainties of religion are given a free pass? Which one, when examined for what it is, is really the more arrogant?

I’ll give you the answer.

Theism is unbelievably arrogant

As hinted at before, I don’t think that there’s anything much more blatantly cocksure than ‘faith’. It doesn’t ‘need’ proving – it’s apparently beyond that. It’s true because it says it is, and that’s that.

As the beautifully eloquent Christopher Hitchens put it:

“I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator – that’s beyond my conceit.

Why seek to be labelled arrogant, though? There is a reason people like Hitchens feel the need to compose themselves strongly. Of those who leave faith behind, some, I suspect, do so with a vengeance.

Ex-believers sometimes feel cheated

Referring back to the picture at the top of this post, Dan Dennet has said that:

“There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.”

And when the childhood backgrounds of some of the most vocal ‘militant’ Atheists are religious themselves (the ‘folly’ Dennet was referring to, unless you missed it), it’s no wonder they take offense to what they see as having been unknowingly lied to by significant adults who were themselves products of ignorance and self-delusion.

Seth Andrews, of the ‘Thinking Atheist‘ online community and Podcast, put it this way in his FAQ:

Why do you call yourself The Thinking Atheist? Isn’t that a bit arrogant?

It’s certainly not meant to sound that way. I chose the moniker because, after three decades inside Christianity, it was only when I rejected the indoctrination of my youth and began thinking for myself that I saw superstitious nonsense for what it really is. Thinking was my ticket to freedom. And it is my hope that we all are thinking atheists. (Also, the name “David Hasselhoff” was already taken.)”

There is a point he’s making in both identifying as Atheist in general and as choosing the name ‘The Thinking Atheist’ for his internet presence – I have good reason to assume that he sincerely feels that it was thinking itself that drew him away from religion (i.e. the quote above). Every ex-believer has a different reason for leaving behind their faith, mind you, but it’s likely that at some point they all realize that their position is one of the only scientifically supported stances out there – the other obvious one being Agnosticism*.

So, in conclusion, Atheists can be arrogant – but it seems to me that they have far more reason to be than anyone else.

Carnun :P

*I would personally welcome a bit of ‘militant’ ‘New Agnosticism’… “I don’t know, and you don’t either!”, no?

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