Proposal: Atheism/Agnosticism

This has been tried before at http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/2732/atheism.

As that page says,

The Atheism site didn't have enough activity during the beta, and has been closed.

The Atheism site declined to 2.2 questions/day, and 178 visits/day - both red flags against the operability of the site, which ought to have stats ten times higher than these values.

That site's tagline read

Q&A site for the skeptics of a higher power.

This site says the same in more words:

Proposed Q&A site for those who in their search for the truth about a deity or deities have found insufficient evidence to establish belief, or have found sufficient evidence to establish disbelief in a deity or deities.

Why will this site succeed where the former (which made it all the way to beta) failed?

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The previous site also had a lot of bickering and fighting, which probably contributed to people staying away from the site. (It's certainly why I stopped posting there.) How will this be avoided on this attempt? –  neilfein Dec 29 '11 at 11:44
    
@neilfein Don't know if you are still around, or still interested in the new atheism proposal, but just in case you are: Your experience with the failed atheism beta will be invaluable in helping fight such behaviours on the new site (if it ever launches) asap. –  Yannis Oct 12 '12 at 9:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 52 down vote accepted

There are quite a few proposals and a handful of sites that did not make it. When a proposal fails, it doesn't mean that the site could never be created. As the network grows, oftentimes all we need is a more-targeted audience with a renewed energy to build a viable community.

But in the case of Atheism, the problem wasn't with the size or qualifications of the audience. They simply ran out of questions.

Atheism was a well-run site, considering the narrow scope of the subject, and we attracted some high-quality users from the experience. Yet sometimes a subject just isn't dynamic enough to facilitate a boundless supply of questions. Even if we find a few niches that weren't explored the first time, I don't see a whole new realm of questions opening up that can support an Atheism site for the long term.

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We could start discussing some religions and holy books from the atheistic point of view. Then we will never run out of questions. –  Jader Dias May 29 '12 at 17:18
    
So, should be it be a subsite of philosophy or skeptics? –  Stepan Vihor Jun 1 '12 at 13:58
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@Vam'çá Two problems there 1) There isn't an "atheistic point of view," atheism is not a comprehensive philosophy, it's a single point of belief (e.g., an atheist could believe in reincarnation). It's like saying "what's a non-golfers point of view on mulligans in golfing?" except that you may get non-golfers who play variations 2) Already put in the form of a discussion, not a Q&A. –  Hrafn Jun 12 '12 at 14:03
    
@Hrafn: The difference is that somebody who doesn't enjoy golf, can simply ignore the fact that golf is around. If you go through the trouble of learning golf, you are (at least for that time) a golfer. That doesn't apply here; you can study religion to any degree without believing it to be a valid description of reality (i.e. remaining an atheist). There actually is an atheistic point of view regarding scripture: It's fictional. You are free to disagree with that point, but then I would dispute your status as atheist. –  bitmask Sep 27 '12 at 13:03
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@bitmask Ignoring that "scripture" is a rather broad case, but there isn't even an "atheist position" with respect to "scripture." There's an atheist position with respect to the origin of scripture (i.e., it is not divinely inspired), but truth/falsity (of events or even non-divine supernaturalism), non-divine authors, interpretation, etc? No real "atheist" position. I also note that I don't self-identify as an atheist, so questioning my "atheist cred" is somewhat futile. What's more: If the only A to any given Q is "it's false" then it is going to make for a rather boring Q&A site. –  Hrafn Sep 30 '12 at 2:20
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@Hrafn: Exactly. I didn't say it's false, I said it's fictional. Fiction can still contain truth (in the sense of its non-literal message), so there's the angle where people can have different opinions. –  bitmask Sep 30 '12 at 4:08
    
I'd be happy to see Atheism SE reincarnated snicker but I agree; too many questions were simply openings for discussion. Essentially we didn't have enough theists coming in to ask questions about atheism, which is really what would be necessary to keep the site afloat. There isn't some gold standard of Atheism to measure oneself against and ask answerable questions about. It's a lot of "How do I navigate X since I don't swallow the pre-baked religious answers?" –  Lauren Ipsum Sep 12 at 13:43

It is my feeling that while Atheism-focused sites have been wildly successful on the internet as a whole, a trend is that those seem to be discussion-oriented as opposed to being well-suited to a question-and-answer format.

I don't think bringing in more well-known people who can answer questions will fix this fundamental concern: there just seems to be a finite pool for the sorts of questions people might ask, and many of the sorts of questions people might ask are going to be more heavily debatable-opinion-oriented than citation oriented. This makes me think that the trouble is in the definition stage rather than in the commitment stage, where bringing in more subject-matter exports or higher enthusiasm might be viable.

For example, looking at the old proposal, of the questions rated > 10:

2 are duplicates (1 and 4), but you can see in the comments how it immediately changes into a back-and-forth discussion on both of them. (3) is a pure opinion question that is on the Atheist FAQ. (5) is exceedingly general, but also the sort of thing that comes from a relatively limited answers pool. (6) is really a variation on (5). (7) is a pure-opinion/discussion question (evinced by the use of the word "you").

Of the questions, at least half of those top ten feel like the sorts of questions that get asked of atheists, not the sorts of questions atheists would seem to ask one another, or even really the types of questions someone asks who is looking to become an atheist. So you may get the odd "drive by question" from an outsider, but that doesn't really support a community of back-and-forth questions and answers.

We see this starting in the proposal for the new site as well, since "What type of evidence would be sufficient for you to start believing in one or more deities?" is a question that each individual could answer personally for yourself: It is an open ended question that relies on the opinion of the poster.

Meanwhile, I think Skeptics.SE has great potential for a stack exchange site, and has been in beta for 308 days as of this writing. There are of course challenges with definition, etc but the core concept could have a great deal of traction for a Q&A format.

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"those seem to be discussion-oriented as opposed to being well-suited to a question-and-answer format": the same could be said about every religion-related proposals. –  Alexis Dufrenoy Jan 2 '12 at 11:26
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@Traroth: Perhaps, but there are a lot of factual questions surrounding religious texts, interpretations of religious texts at various time periods, denominational differences and beliefs, etc. Atheism simply doesn't have that. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 3 '12 at 10:06

Those are all valid questions, and ones to which I do not have immediate or concrete answers. I will be honest when I say that I did not know about the previous attempt, but I think there are several things that could be done to help this site become a reality. The first would be to attempt to bring in several of the more well-known Atheist bloggers and spokespeople, who could possibly in turn bring a large number of users. In particular, PZ Meyers tends to have enough readers to bring large amounts of traffic to any website (as any site that has ever been Pharyngulated will tell you). Also, with a proper user base comes a large pool from which to draw reasonable moderators, which could prevent the type of bickering which has been described from the previous attempt. There is the very real possibility that this site could fail, but if there is any chance of its success I feel it would be worth trying.

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You missed the thrust of Robert's answer. The previous identical site didn't need more users or better moderators, it needed a different/broader subject. I strongly suggest that you investigate the history of the former failure, and address its shortcomings, before proceeding further with this site. –  Kevin Vermeer Dec 29 '11 at 17:59

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