I used to be a practicing atheist. I figured I had strong arguments against God’s existence. I talked to some Christians, and found that they were both ill-prepared to defend their views and shockingly uninterested in the fact that they couldn’t. This made them look like the epistemological analogues of movie villains; trivial to scorn.
Alas, this made me less likely to wonder if I was mistaken about the whole topic. If a person responds to criticisms of their beliefs with fluster and fascination with all other subjects, my natural response is not to back down and think about why I am wrong.
Yet I should have been confused. If a person is apparently doing a host of things because of fact X, and the balance of evidence doesn’t seem to support X, and the person don’t appear to care about that, one should probably question one’s assumption that X is a central part of their worldview. I still think I wasn’t wrong about X, but I was probably wrong about all these people toiling under peculiar and willingly misinformed views on X.
Thinking about it now, it seems unlikely that the existence and exact definition of God is anywhere near as central to religion as it seems to a literal-minded systematization-obsessed teenager with little religious experience. Probably religious people mostly believe in God, but it’s not like they came to that conclusion and then reluctantly accepted the implications of it. It’s part of a big cluster of intersecting things that are appealing for various reasons. I won’t go into this, because I don’t know much about it, and this post isn’t about what religion is about. (If you want a post that is about that, at least a bit, Scott Alexander wrote two good ones recently that seem about right to me.)
This post is about winning arguments. If you repeatedly win an argument too easily, I claim that you should be less sure that you know what is going on at all, rather than smug. My boyfriend points out that being perturbed by the weakness of your opponents’ arguments is perhaps the smuggest way to be unsure of yourself, so maybe I just think you should be less sure of yourself as well as smug.