The Atheist Research Paper

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The Atheist Research Paper

Postby John McClane » Tue Feb 13, 2007 3:30 am

Hello folks, I'm 17 and atheist. Woot! :D

Anyways, I'm in my senior year of high school and this year we have to write an informative research paper. Of course it made perfect sense to me to pick a topic that I knew well and enjoyed. Of course, I picked atheism.

Anyhow, I just thought I'd make this thread so I could keep you all up-to-date on my workings for this paper. I'm looking to make this the best paper I've ever written. I think an important part of doing that will be feedback. So I will leave you with my thesis and let you tell me what you think and give me your thoughts as to which parts of atheism seem to get the least amount of understanding. I just want to get some general ideas of what fellow atheists think so I can research those particular parts and include them in my paper. Thanks in advance.

Thesis: "Atheism has been, and continues to be, a vibrant and objective way to view the world, its surroundings, and mortal inhabitants."
Last edited by John McClane on Tue Feb 13, 2007 3:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby DallasHeathen » Tue Feb 13, 2007 3:37 am

John,

Good luck with the project. I think people here will be glad to let you bounce ideas off them, but most will probably stop short of doing your homework for you. I'm not meaning to cut you short, but it probably helps to talk about the scope of the discussion right up front.
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Postby John McClane » Tue Feb 13, 2007 3:43 am

DallasHeathen wrote:John,

Good luck with the project. I think people here will be glad to let you bounce ideas off them, but most will probably stop short of doing your homework for you. I'm not meaning to cut you short, but it probably helps to talk about the scope of the discussion right up front.
Yes, I don't expect anyone to do my homework for me but, I think it's going to be best if I ask fellow atheists for insight. Rather then my parents, peers or teacher. If they had an understanding of the issue, sure. My goal of this paper is that when I'm done, I will be able to hand it to anyone I encounter and provide them with information. Of course, I also wanna get an A! :D
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Postby Kathy_4 » Tue Feb 13, 2007 4:03 am

Thesis: "Atheism has been, and continues to be, a vibrant and objective way to view the world, its surroundings, and mortal inhabitants."
I hope your teacher is a liberal. lol.
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Postby John McClane » Tue Feb 13, 2007 4:54 pm

Kathy_4 wrote:
Thesis: "Atheism has been, and continues to be, a vibrant and objective way to view the world, its surroundings, and mortal inhabitants."
I hope your teacher is a liberal. lol.
I've already written about atheism in the class before this. I didn't fail that paper so I think I'm safe to say I'm in the clear. ;)
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Postby John McClane » Fri Feb 16, 2007 4:42 pm

My teacher just asked me to change my topic. She said that she thinks I won't be able to find enough information of atheism's view of the world. I was like uh, I don't think so. Also, she said I should get out of my pigeon hole and broaden my horizon. I was like, I'm not changing the topic. Finally, she told me it wasn't supposed to be persuasive and that she thinks I'd have a hard time in writing an unbiased, non-opinionated paper. In fact, most of my peers agreed with her. They assume that since I have strong feelings about the topic, I can't give a non-persuasive view. Well, I can't wait to prove them wrong. :)
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Postby DallasHeathen » Fri Feb 16, 2007 7:57 pm

I agree with your teacher. Even the name you picked for your topic sounds more like a debate resolution than the title of an informative research paper. I think you'd have more success if you pick a topic that you're less invested in emotionally.
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Postby jhawksgirl » Fri Feb 16, 2007 8:48 pm

An informative research paper... but, it's supposed to be non-persuasive.

I would say pick a person, rather than a position, and write your paper. This would allow you to fulfill the research aspect, without it appearing that you're trying to write a persuasive paper. It's hard to judge the situation, from afar and with limited information, but your teacher has obviously not heard that intense research papers often adopt a position and become persuasive, simply by virtue of the fact that if you're researching an issue, you often- as a writer- end up redefining your own position based on the new information. *shrug* Maybe Dawkins or Darwin?? :)
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Postby Kazim » Fri Feb 16, 2007 8:56 pm

DallasHeathen wrote:I agree with your teacher. Even the name you picked for your topic sounds more like a debate resolution than the title of an informative research paper. I think you'd have more success if you pick a topic that you're less invested in emotionally.


DallasHeathen is right. There is a big difference between a persuasive argument and a neutral research paper. If you have been asked to do the latter, then you should do that.

You might think that doing a paper that doesn't advance an argument isn't worth your time. If so, I'd like to ask you to reconsider. What we are talking about is the difference between "opinion" and "journalism". Journalism, like science, is basically the act of investigating an issue, and fairly and accurately presenting the facts as you discover them to be.

Opinion is what cable networks, especially Fox News, do. They gather a whole bunch of loudmouths with opinions, who have done no original research. The loudmouths all spout their beliefs, and then you are left with the implication that "the truth" may be found by triangulating between their beliefs. This is wrong. If you have two people saying different things, they might BOTH be extremely wrong. Imagine, for instance, a young-earth creationist debating an old-earth creationist. The truth does not lie between their opinions; they are both extremely wrong for the same reasons.

Opinion and argument has its place, but you cannot have an informed opinion without the skill of research. Ultimately you want your opinions to be based on facts, and research is the art of understanding the unvarnished facts before you form beliefs around them.
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Postby John McClane » Fri Feb 16, 2007 10:57 pm

Yes, I have been asked to do a neutral research paper. However, all I am doing is stating the view of theistic claims held by atheists. I think it's certainly possible for me to do so and I also think that the true test of a writer is being able to write an objective paper on something you feel strongly about. As such, I'm more definitely going to be continuing with my topic unless I am unable to find enough information to fill 5-7 pages.
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Postby dromedaryhump1 » Sat Feb 17, 2007 12:18 am

John,
sounds likeyou're committed to doing this paper, against the advise of your teacher and respondents in this group.

If so, then at least change your theisis:
"Atheism has been, and continues to be, a vibrant and objective way to view the world, its surroundings, and mortal inhabitants

Your referencing "mortal" inhabitants presupposes there are other types of inhabitants of the world. I am unaware of any life form that is not "mortal"... and for you to infer there is discounts you as an atheist at face.

Good luck on your paper.
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Postby John McClane » Sat Feb 17, 2007 12:31 am

dromedaryhump1 wrote:Your referencing "mortal" inhabitants presupposes there are other types of inhabitants of the world. I am unaware of any life form that is not "mortal"... and for you to infer there is discounts you as an atheist at face.
Ah, I never thought of it from that perspective. Thanks.

The only reason I'm carrying on with it is because I'm fully confident in my writing skills. I also think I can put clear, yet unbiased, information across.
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Postby Kazim » Sat Feb 17, 2007 12:52 pm

John McClane wrote:Yes, I have been asked to do a neutral research paper. However, all I am doing is stating the view of theistic claims held by atheists. I think it's certainly possible for me to do so and I also think that the true test of a writer is being able to write an objective paper on something you feel strongly about. As such, I'm more definitely going to be continuing with my topic unless I am unable to find enough information to fill 5-7 pages.


I think the concern we all have is not with your writing skills -- about which, after all, we don't know enough to comment on. Rather, the problem is the judgment call of picking a topic that your teacher has already said she does not want you to pick. Bear in mind that the teacher is not only your adviser, but also the person responsible for giving you your grade. I think it's safe to say that if your teacher asks you not to pick a topic, she is indicating that you will not get a good grade if you do pick that topic.

It's sort of like if your teacher asked you to do a report on Thomas Jefferson, and you responded by doing a report on the history of Venezuela. Even if it was a really excellent report on the history of Venezuela, one of the best reports she ever saw in the history of teaching high school, it still wouldn't have anything to do with the assignment. If she gave you an F, you would have absolutely no grounds for complaint because you deliberately chose to report on something that wasn't what she asked.

The other problem I see with the topic is that it is inherently subjective. This has nothing to do with your writing skills. First of all, your use of the word "vibrant". Tell me, can you measure vibrancy? How vibrant would atheism have to be to meet your claim? How much vibrancy would another subject lack in order to provide a contrast with atheism? You see what I mean? "Vibrant" isn't an objective word. It's like saying that atheism is "good". You might convince someone that you were right, but it's still an opinion. Second, your topic seeks to validate atheism as a "way to view at the world." Almost by definition, a way to view the world is not objective. I'm not even sure I would expect your teacher to accept a paper claiming that "science is an objective way to view the world." Facts are objective. Ways of viewing the world are not objective; they are interpretations. Even science.

Those are my concerns. You're free to take it or leave it, but please don't come back and bad-mouth your teacher if you go through with your intentions and then do badly on the assignment.

There are plenty of ways you could tackle this subject that do match your teacher's standards. Reporting on a person is one reasonable suggestion. Here's another one. Pick one subject that is deep and factual, but controversial because of theistic beliefs. Two topics that spring readily to mind are evolution, and separation of church and state as laid out in the constitution.

Report accurately on your topic, then discuss the misleading efforts by religious people to suggest that there is a "controversy" around these subjects. That way, you can both get your rant on about theists, while still providing an objective exposition about a serious topic that will be more likely to satisfy the assignment.
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Postby John McClane » Sat Feb 17, 2007 8:55 pm

Well, she didn't say I had to change it. She thought I wouldn't be able to find enough information. Hmm Kazim, you made some very good points. You talked some sense into me. Thanks. :)

Now a matter of trying to find a new topic. I'm thinking about writing on the history of the USSR. That's always interested me.
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Postby ShaunPhilly » Thu Feb 22, 2007 3:20 pm

Another possibility would be to write a paper about some aspect of the freethought/atheist movement. This would be a subject that you could fill 5-7 pages (hell, I could fill 25 pages), and it would be an objective report about something that you may care about and still deals with atheism. Not only that, it would expose you to the roots of non-belief in some community, which would be useful to you personally.

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