Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What The Ultimate Fighter Can Teach Atheists

There's been two posts recently on other blogs about a common problem amongst atheists. This morning I read Al Staphenelli's piece, When An Atheist Should Remain Closeted and yesterday I read the Friendly Atheist's post, Atheists Need to Do a better Job at Communication. The first post, as evident from the title, offers advice when a closeted atheist should not go public with his or her disbelief. The latter post demonstrates one of the common traps that atheists can fall into: appearing distant and not connecting emotionally with an audience in a public forum. Being a fan of mixed martial arts (MMA) I think that sport can offer some insight into the primary issue brought up in both  posts.

Namely, you need to have a plan.

And it better be a good plan, too.

I'll admit it, I watch the reality show Ultimate Fighter. For those of you not acquainted with it, a season follows 16 mixed martial arts fighters living under one roof, training and fighting until there is one winner of a six figure contract for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Before the fighters enter the show many of them have day jobs: fire fighters, day laborers, what have you, and come from tough backgrounds. The winner gets to fight full-time; it's a chance for a fighter to go pro.

Anyone who watches the show, or watches any other sport for that matter, understands that an athlete can do all the training in the world and still fail miserably. Sometimes it isn't because the loser has necessarily spent less time in the gym or hasn't mastered the skills needed for victory. When you watch an episode of the Ultimate Fighter you get a real appreciation of the dedication and heart that goes into simply qualifying to get on the show. These athletes risk significant injury during practice. Over the many seasons many guys have to leave prematurely because of a blown out knee or broken finger, for example. All of the fighters push themselves hard.

No. The reason for failure can be because the fighter lacks a good plan. A few weeks ago a world class jiu-jitsu fighter (a style of fighting best done on the ground ala wrestling except the fighter places the opponent into a choke or a variety of painful body locks like an arm bar) was battling someone who had excellent boxing skills. The two fighting styles dictated different strategies for winning. The boxer normally wants to stay on his feet; the jiu-jitsu fighter normally wants to get close and grapple.  Prior to the actual fight the different strategies of the two fighters was reviewed. The coach of the jiu-jitsu fighter told his guy to box. The coach of the boxer told his guy to box.

Guess what?

The boxer (i.e. the fighter with a better plan) knocked the snot out of his opponent and won the fight.

Dana White, the President of the UFC, said about the jiu-jitsu fighter, "That guy had a bad plan."

The internet is littered with personalities who advocate brash, in-your-face tactics. That the godless should mostly be in one gear and one gear only: overdrive. That it's always appropriate to be a dick. That having the best logic automatically means that a skeptic will win a public debate against the faithful. I would counter that having one plan and using that plan all the time is going lose battles. That by not having a plan for different situations is folly. I agree with Mr Staphenelli and Mr Mehta when they say atheists need to have a smart plan dependent on the situation they find themselves in.

Don't try to fight the same fight over and over again.

You're going to lose a few that you could have won.

This is Purgatory.


  1. I agree Andy. There is a time and place for "dickishness" and a time for respectful criticism and debate. Both tacts will probably be necessary at times. I wrote a piece on that myself the other day. Thanks for your comment on it by the way!

  2. I agree with you completely. The old guard is leaving why make their end of life experiences harder. We are winning. It is just a matter of time. sample contracts

  3. In The Hunger Games, they fight to the death with their opponents, but in such a way that they still appeal emotionally to spectators, because they also need spectator support. That is how I try to debate online, attack my opponent when needed, but in a fair enough manner that people reading the public posting will still take my side.

    I realize that my analogy using a YA book next to your MMA analogy makes me a little girl.

  4. I always start out trying to be reasonable and polite. Unfortunately, my opponents invariably resort to making outright lies to protect their beliefs. I won't tolerate any kind of falsehoods no matter how fervently they are believed.

    I just finished reaming out a guy who claimed to be a biologist studying microbiology. He had masses of data to support his belief in ID, most of which was beyond my area of expertise. I asked him to explain some anomalies we see in animals from the point of view of design. He had never heard of them and claimed he had never studied evolution since it wasn't part of microbiology.

    He continued to ignore my requests for explanations, made up more lies, claimed I was stupid, and did a Gish Gallop on the data to avoid looking like the liar and fool that he was. This has been the pattern in every case I have seen. They have nothing to support their claims and fall apart under even the slightest level of scrutiny. I would love to have a rational, polite debate with one of them but I'm not sure it's possible unless I choose to ignore their lies and insults.

  5. Sounds like a game of "Stupid or Liar?"


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