Apologetics that Annoy Me

If you debate theists very often, there will soon come a point where you’ll start hearing the same arguments over and over again. And although I do my best to bear in mind Greta Christina’s wise words on patience and remember that most proselytizers have never been exposed to an effective atheist critique, some of these claims annoy me more than others. Usually, this is because the logic behind them is so patently flawed, or the fallacies so obvious, that even an evangelist with no formal education in critical thinking ought to be able to spot them.

In this post, I’ll list a few of the apologetics used by Christian proselytizers that I find the most irritating, in the doubtless vain hope that it will help put them to bed sooner.

Jesus defied chance by fulfilling the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.

Christian apologists love to tout the many prophecies of the Jewish scriptures and the allegedly staggering odds against anyone fulfilling them by chance. Here’s a typically overblown example:

“Someone did the math and figured out that the probability of just eight prophecies being fulfilled [by chance] is one chance in one hundred million billion. That number is millions of times greater than the total number of people who’ve ever walked the planet!” (Louis Lapides, in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, p.246)

Discounting these ludicrous numbers and the fanciful assumptions that doubtless went into them, what these apologists always ignore is that this was not a blind comparison; the Old Testament was not a set of sealed scrolls that was cracked open only after the New Testament was written. No, as even the most hardened apologists acknowledge, the New Testament authors were well-versed in the Old Testament and could well have had the scrolls in front of them while writing.

If they noticed that their story did not fit the guidelines of prophecy, there would have been nothing at all to prevent them from revising, embellishing, or outright inventing, as necessary, to make it conform to the predetermined Old Testament prophecies which any plausible messiah candidate would have to have fulfilled. (This need not imply a deliberate effort to deceive. It may be that they believed Jesus was the messiah so strongly, they assumed that he must have fulfilled the prophecies, even if they didn’t have direct knowledge of him doing so.) And once we admit this possibility, those supposedly astronomical odds evaporate.

The gospels must be true stories because they contain references to real people and places.

Apologists such as Lee Strobel make hay out of the fact that some people and places mentioned in the gospels, such as Quirinius or the Jewish bath at Bethesda, did exist in history. They’re not reluctant to imply that the gospels’ accuracy about these historical facts should convince us to trust them about matters that aren’t as easy to verify.

But this doesn’t prove that the storyline of the gospels actually happened. At best, it means that the gospels were written by authors who knew of those people and places, but what does that prove? As in the last point, there’s nothing to prevent an author from writing a work of fiction that’s set against the backdrop of real historical events. If the apologist logic was correct, we’d have to conclude that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is an accurate historical documentary, since it, too, depicts real personages (i.e., Adolf Hitler) and places from history.

The New Testament is trustworthy because Jesus’ resurrection was vouched for by four hundred witnesses.

This one is particularly irritating because of its willful disregard for the laws of evidence. We do not have four hundred separate, notarized eyewitness accounts of anything in the New Testament. What we have is one verse in the New Testament, by one writer, who says that four hundred people saw the resurrected Jesus.

Clearly, this is a completely different situation. We don’t have four hundred separate testimonies that can be checked against each other for consistency, to see if their authors all had the same experience. We don’t know who these alleged four hundred witnesses were – neither their names, nor anything else about them by which we could verify their trustworthiness. We don’t even know if there actually were four hundred of them, or if Paul might have been fudging the numbers, exaggerating, or honestly miscounting.

If I said, “A thousand people saw me levitate off the ground”, that by itself would not establish that I had a thousand witnesses to vouch for my supernatural powers. This kind of evidence is called hearsay, and it’s banned from criminal courts for a reason. A witness who can’t or won’t speak for themself is no witness at all.

Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic and therefore must be who he said he was.

This argument, the so-called “Lord/Liar/Lunatic” trilemma usually credited to C.S. Lewis, may be the most absurd of the bunch. It implicitly assumes that the New Testament is historically reliable and that everything in it can be treated as true. Well, if you accept those presuppositions, it hardly matters what Jesus said – the stories of him calming storms, walking on water, healing the sick and raising the dead would be more than sufficient evidence of his divinity.

But if you don’t accept that absurdly broad premise, then the trilemma grows another option: lord, liar, lunatic or legend. It’s possible that he was a real person, maybe even a would-be religious reformer, but that his words and his deeds became exaggerated over time, or that episodes which would cast doubt on his character have been censored from the historical record. It’s also possible that he began as a purely legendary figure who was gradually historicized into a real human being. In any of these cases, the simplistic choices of the trilemma fall apart.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Bob Carlson

    If the apologist logic was correct, we’d have to conclude that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is an accurate historical documentary, since it, too, depicts real personages (i.e., Adolf Hitler) and places from history.

    Amen.

  • David D.G.

    Another “argument” that annoys me greatly is the claim that, of the original 12 Apostles, all suffered great persecution, and all but one died violent, torturous deaths for their beliefs; therefore, what they believed must be true, since no one would face such a fate for anything less than absolute proof of Jesus’ divinity.

    To this “argument,” I have a few words to offer in response:

    * Heaven’s Gate.
    * Branch Davidians.
    * Jonestown.

    In other words, even if the claim of what happened to the Apostles is true, it makes no difference at all with respect to the truth of their beliefs. Whatever the Apostles may have been, one thing that is never claimed for them (nor should it be) is that they were infallible. If they existed at all, they were people — and people can, and often do, make phenomenally bad mistakes and misjudgments about even the most important things (both individually and in groups).

    So regardless of whether Jesus was a liar, lord, lunatic, or legend, the argument that the Apostles’ apparently sincere belief is any kind of evidence for one over the others is completely bogus.

    ~David D.G.

  • mikespeir

    The New Testament is trustworthy because Jesus’ resurrection was vouched for by four hundred witnesses.

    If you’re referring to 1Corinthians 15:6, the figure given is, “above five hundred.” A quibble; doesn’t affect the soundness of the rebuttal.

  • Tacroy

    I’d just like to point out that Jesus actually fails to satisfy one of the prophecies that Matthew claims he satisfies. It’s funny to note as well that Matthew purposefully misquotes the OT at that point, in order to force the “prophecy” to apply to Jesus.

    But that’s just another apologetic, isn’t it? After all, only God can change His prophecies!

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    Indiana Jones is the messiah!

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Tacroy makes a good point; a lot of the prophecies that Jesus “fulfills” actually aren’t fulfilled by him, either because the prophecy is misremembered by the gospel writer, or in context the prophecy has nothing to do with a messiah at all.

  • Demonhype

    I always kind of felt that “Lord/Liar/Lunatic” was intended as a kind of false-dichotomy-style mind-fuck guilt trip (like many/most apologetic arguments), capitalizing on the reverence people often have for Jesus–even in some non-religious circles or non-Christian circles that revere him as a holy man or unusually good and repectable man, if not a god–and the social taboo that it’s “not nice” to call someone a liar or crazy, especially someone as wonderful as Jesus.

    “Jesus was such a good man, you at least agree with that, right? Well, you wouldn’t want to call him a liar or a lunatic, would you? That would make you a bad person, and you’re not a bad person, are you? Well, then, the only other option you have is to accept every word he says and become a Christian!”

    The clincher being, of course, the excluded options that extend beyond the three offered.

    Also, bait-and-switch. I even see that kind of crap in some fantasy novels–like that douchebad Salvatore, who obviously believes in real, traditional gods but shoehorns in cute little journal-entry arguments and narrative arguments to unbelievers trying to get them to equate “gods” with “the love of a mother to her child”, in some kind of joke of a semantic game…then, of course, if they can get you to accept applying religious/sectarian terminology to universal realities like human affection, they try to use that wedge to get you to admit to more and more, eventually switching out every original definition for the definition they wanted you to accept to begin with….

    It makes me want to scream when I hear or read anything like that, whether as an apologetic or a fantasy novel. Do they think we’re stupid and we don’t see what they’re trying to pull? You believe in a very real, traditional, literal god, so trying to get me to admit to believing in “god” by assigning the word some unreligious, seemingly-harmless personal definition is not anything you would ever accept as a “god” and is clearly not your goal in speaking with me. Don’t insult me by pretending to be reasonable, because no matter how much you try to mask it I can still smell the shit.

    Okay, rant off. Bait-and-switch is one tactic that particularly irritates me because of the two uses it seems to have: first, it attempts to lay a reasonable appearance onto the patently unreasonable and second, it attempts by that to make you seem like the irrational one when you continue to resist. I’ve had people give me the B&S tactic and put on an act like I’m the crazy one when I refuse to bite the first hook. It’s perfect for them because even if they can’t get their wedge into you, it makes you look unreasonable and uncooperative to an audience–and let’s face it, most people aren’t going to make even the miniscule effort of critical thought to see why you won’t take the bait and they’ll ask you why you’re so angry and bigoted and unwilling to compromise with the very nice religious person there. Very very frustrating.

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    You left out Pascal’s Wager? That one is hands down the worst. But the ones you’ve listed are pretty close.

  • Eurekus

    There’s one prophecy that I’d love to see pulled apart on this website, being Revelation C13 on the number of the beast. The Seventh Day Adventisits use it to identify the Roman Catholic Church as being the antichrist. Sadly I know of many SDA’s whom sincerely believe in this prophecy and are waiting for the subsequent 2nd coming of Christ. It’s heartbreaking when I talk to them, they’re pathetically irrational, I quite often think ‘are these people on LSD or something?’.

    Is there any chance we could have a post on this ridiculous belief? I’d be sure to send these people the link directly to it. I hope it would open their minds in a way that rational talk doesn’t achieve.

  • http://lenoxus.pbwiki.com Lenoxus

    Re #9

    From Voltaire’s Candide, Chapter 3 (a scene in which the hero is begging in the streets):

    “My friend,” said the orator to him, “do you believe the Pope to be Anti-Christ?”

    “I have not heard it,” answered Candide; “but whether he be, or whether he be not, I want bread.”

    “Thou dost not deserve to eat,” said the other. “Begone, rogue; begone, wretch; do not come near me again.”

    The orator’s wife, putting her head out of the window, and spying a man that doubted whether the Pope was Anti-Christ, poured over him a full… Oh, heavens! to what excess does religious zeal carry the ladies.

    The scene takes place in 1700s Holland, from which we can deduce that the “correct” answer (from the couple’s point of view) would have been yes. But I love how regardless of that context, the entire question is ridiculous either way.

  • Archimedez

    “If you debate theists very often, there will soon come a point where you’ll start hearing the same arguments over and over again.” –Ebonmuse.

    Yes; this is why we need a kind of online handbook for nonbelievers that provides concise and solid rebuttals to each of the popular and influential (and annoying) apologetic lines. Having such a resource all prepared would, in the long run, save countless hours of time, effort, and research. With such a handbook ready, it would not be necessary for atheists and other nonbelievers all over the internet, and all over the world, to reduplicate their efforts individually. It would not be necessary to work, on the occasion of each argument, from scratch.

    Such a handbook could include rebuttals to religious apologetic lines, and to common polemical lines against atheism (e.g., “Stalin and Mao were atheists who killed millions in the name of atheism,” “Hitler was an atheist, not at all Christian,” “atheists are nihilists,” “atheists have no source of morality,” etc.).

    To start with, two such handbooks–one rebutting Christian apologetics/polemics, and another rebutting Islamic apologetics/polemics–would be a big help in our campaign to refute the major mainstream religions while educating the public about atheism and atheists.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Archimedez, I would be careful about such a book. One of the things that annoys me the most about apologists is that they so often recite exactly what they have been told, and use “cut-and-paste” to craft their arguments. Frequently, as I read their comments, it’s apparent they they have never thought through any of the ideas they are so readily spouting. I would hate for that to happen to our community. When I read carefully thought through responses to their unoriginal ideas I see that the god-bots are parroting at us, and we are thinking back at them. I often see that they are really unprepared for actual reasoning. They seem taken aback that we don’t just blindly accept their canned assertions.

    I’d rather read several lenghthy well-thought-out discussions about possible responses, and then develop my own. To me, that’s the point of atheism – working out your own answers instead of repeating someone else’s.

  • Alex Weaver

    Debate tactics that annoy me, including from apologists:

    One of the big ones that comes to mind is people who try to use the “oh Jesus Mythical Christ, not THIS shit again!” response to their pulling out threadbare fallacious rhetorical gambits to support a strawman argument that accuses their opponents of a priori refusing to even consider the possibility that the conclusion the strawmaneer is arguing for might be possible or worth thinking about. This is pretty common in religious apologetics (to say nothing of conspiracy theorists) but I cannot recall EVER seeing a (more than semi-literate) proponent of the alleged biologically-based intellectual inferiority of non-whites and/or women fail to employ this gambit.

  • Charles

    With regard to prophecies of the Old Testament being fulfilled, can a believer explain why prophets are even needed? If God is all powerful, would She not simply be able to communicate effortlessly and clearly with everyone on the planet simultaneously? Having to communicate via a prophet seems rather superfluous for a deity.

    One prophecy that seems to come up often is Isaiah 7:10-14 prophesying the birth of Jesus. In “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”, Asimov puts the verses in context: it was to be a sign for Ahaz. Thus, it would have to happen within a short period of time to convince Ahaz, not hundreds of years later.

  • XPK

    @Archimedez – I like your idea but Ubi Dubium brings up an excellent point as well. I dread the day someone publishes “The Atheist Bible”, and besides we atheists would probably disagree on what should be in the handbook, how it is worded, how “offensive” to be, etc.

    @Ubi Dubium – Ironically, many religious people like to claim that the point of religion is “working out your own answers” (of course those answers need to agree with what the church is saying, but if they don’t you can always find a church that suits your answer, and so on and so on). What really shook my personal answer boat, and what I believe to be the point of atheism, was that atheists are working out really good questions. As I tried to find answers for those questions the concepts of “religion” and “god” epically failed multiple times.

    But now that I’ve been writing this…does atheism have a “point”? (See?! Another question!)

  • Thupmalumpacus

    I’d rather read several lengthy well-thought-out discussions about possible responses, and then develop my own. To me, that’s the point of atheism – working out your own answers instead of repeating someone else’s.

    Exactly. While Archi’s idea is efficient, the unspoken assumption in it is that the only ones using that database would already be versed in the arguments. There is no shortcut; you must arrive at your own destination, however helpful the signposts may be.

  • http://www.croonersunlimited.com Jim Speiser

    Archimedez: A good online reference that comes close to accomplishing what you ask is “Rejection of Pascal’s Wager” by Paul N. Tobin. It’s well organized and thoroughly cross-linked (although it could stand a good deal of proofreading). As a matter of fact, Tacroy’s message put me in mind of “The Tale of Two Donkeys,” wherein Matthew botches his reading of an OT passage that says the Messiah will arrive on a donkey. It’s almost THE smoking gun that the gospels were fictitious inventions! Anyway, I just went to look it up on “Rejection of Pascal’s Wager” and found it by going to “Jesus”, then “Triumphal Entry to Betrayal,” then “Triumphal Entry,” then “Two Donkeys.” So it works pretty well.

    Rejection of Pascal’s Wager:
    http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net

    Tale of Two Donkeys:
    http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.net/triumphal.html#donkey

  • Alex Weaver

    For the refutational handbook:

    How about a Wiki project?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    …the logic behind them is so patently flawed, or the fallacies so obvious, that even an evangelist with no formal education in critical thinking ought to be able to spot them.
    – Ebonmuse, OP

    Oi, welcome to Say-It-Ain’t-So Psychology, where we discover the most depressing foibles of the human mind. See, not only are people bad on-the-fly statistical thinkers (seriously, we can’t evaluate risk without writing shit down or at least thinking really hard for a really long time), we’re also bad at garden variety logic. Entire civilizations rose and fell before we managed to figure that one out, and it was such a monumental thing that we still know the guy who came up with it by name. Think about that for a couple minutes.

    Now, consider the following piece of reasoning:

    1. All fish swim in the ocean.
    2. Sharks swim in the ocean.
    Conclusion: Therefore, sharks are fish.

    Invalid syllogism with a true conclusion; easy as pie, right? Problem is, lots of people have trouble with the idea that a true conclusion can be arrived at by faulty reasoning. Or, rather, when people who are not trained in formal reasoning see a conclusion they agree with, they tend not to care how you get there. Any piece of reasoning that purports to uphold their dearly-held beliefs will be seized upon as a “good & persuasive” argument, when in actuality it’s more akin to a post-hoc rationalization. When I am feeling misanthropic, I attribute this to a lesser degree of self-awareness, and a correspondingly lower moral worth.

    Don’t believe me? Try asking people on the street. Not on a college campus, I just mean out in some shopping area or something, see if people can spot the error in that shark logic. Also, try to teach random people the technical difference between validity and soundness – even in logic classes, many people have a tough time mastering this distinction. And we wonder how Let’s Make a Deal managed to capture that excitement every single time…

    Also, I gotta say that I love your “legend” addition to the idiotic “lord/liar/lunatic” trilemma. It’s wonderfully clarifying!

  • 2-D Man

    The gospels must be true stories because they contain references to real people and places.

    Heh, I came up with the same counter-argument you did, except I used a hypothetical 1963 phone book of Manhattan to conclude that some nerdy guy really did get bitten by a radioactive spider and subsequently acquired super powers.

    Alex Weaver, that’s already in the works.

  • Evil Paul

    My personal answer to the lord/liar/lunatic trilemma?

    Who was Muhammed?

    If popularity is the measure for truth in a religion, then how is it that Islam has basically spread as far and as fast as Christianity? Right now Christianity accounts for something like 1/3 to 1/2 of the human population after 2,000 years whereas Islam is over 1/4 after about 1,400. It doesn’t actually stand as an argument against religion per se, but it does have the benefit of dragging a lot of bigotry to the forefront and forcing a kind of “I will argue with whomever has the correct faith” question.

  • Eurekus

    Actually, my earlier request on revelation c 13, forget about it. I don’t want DA to even consider it, it wasn’t the best of requests. But when I think of the amount of people whom actually fall for this nonsense, I realise why there are so many maniacs in the world. These people are so far into their delusions I now realise they’re unreachable.

    Damn this is sad.

  • Jormungund

    At my university, if you are sitting around outdoors trying to read, members from the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ come and bother you. I get one trying to witness to me about once every other week. They actually read from a pamphlet while witnessing. I’ve complained to more than one of their members that reciting someone else’s apologetic arguments doesn’t count as having a real conversation with me. Even in real life, some theists use a copy+paste mentality when it comes to arguing with non-believers. Maybe I’de be less irritated with them if the things written in that pamphlet they all carry were any better than the obviously false arguments that Ebon mentioned. I suppose that I’m sick of apologetics in general since it all seems so derivative. I would like to, at least once in my life, see a profound and meaningful argument for the existence of God. Instead, all I see are the same old false arguments that didn’t impress me when I first saw them, much less the dozenth time.
    Oh well, perhaps I set too high of expectations for theists.

  • Archimedez

    Thanks to those who commented on my post about the debating handbook.

    Ubi Dubium,

    Good points. Yes, relying on a strictly “canned” type of response can be too inflexible in many situations. In addition, the person using the handbook should have done some research on the issue before getting into the debate. However, the response, in situation, need not be limited to what is already compiled in the handbook. Rather, the prepared response can include things like important quotes, citation of empirical evidence, citation of doctrine, and so forth, that are likely to be useful. Having all of this information organized and ready to go is a major time-saver. Given that some apologists lines arise again and again, in responding one would not want to scramble around each time redoing research and rewriting the main arguments. I’ve had some experience with this and I know that it eats up huge amounts of time. Due to this recurring problem, about four years ago I began assembling rebuttals, complete with references, and have kept these on file and have found them useful. (My overall “handbook” is far from complete though). It isn’t necessary to use all of a prepared rebuttal in each circumstance; one can choose just the parts one needs and add whatever new or unique comments appropriate to the circumstance. In a way, this is what we (non-believers who debate with believers) do anyway, without a formalized handbook. That is, we draw upon our knowledge in adapting a response to the apologetic argument presented to us. The advantage of the handbook is that we don’t have to rely on memory and don’t have to rewrite and re-research our arguments (at least, not as much), and we can then focus more thought and attention to addressing any new or unusual aspects of the apologetic presented. If there is nothing new about the apologetic–and this does happen frequently–it can be addressed with the prepared response without wasting time and effort.

    You write:
    “I’d rather read several lenghthy well-thought-out discussions about possible responses, and then develop my own. To me, that’s the point of atheism – working out your own answers instead of repeating someone else’s.”

    In preparing a rebuttal I would engage at that in-depth level at the brainstorming, planning, and research stages, but once I have the best arguments and evidence on hand, I’d want them on file for future use and would not want to reinvent the wheel in each circumstance. Moreover, the same best arguments are likely to be discovered by others too, so as long as I’m citing sources properly, I don’t have a problem with not being very original in each circumstance. To me, that’s not the point. Some originality may go into it, but the goal is to have the best, most well-supported, most correct, most convincing, most relevant argument. Once I have that, I’d want to hone it down to make it as concise as possible. If the apologists come up with something new that needs to be addressed, that’s all part of learning, and the relevant section of the handbook could be revised accordingly.

    —-

    XPK,

    Regarding differences of opinion on the wording of the handbook in terms of offensiveness, etc., the rebuttals could be worded in a neutral style, and individuals could simply adapt the wording to suit their own preferences. Clearly, compiling quotes, empirical evidence, references, basic propositions, etc., are elements of the rebuttal that would not require much in the way of personalizing.
    —-

    Jim Speiser,

    Thanks for the Paul Tobin links. It’s a great site, very detailed and Biblical text-oriented. I see he has some new material since I last visited his site in 2005-2006ish.

    —-

    Alex,

    A Wiki project might be just the right format. As 2-D Man notes, the Iron Chariot site appears to be just such a project. There is also a WikiIslam site that seeks to counter various Islamic apologetics/polemics. These are starting in the direction of an online comprehensive handbook (or pair of handbooks). I think one would need a way to block out keyboard crusaders and jihadists who attempt to sabotage the project.

  • TEP

    “Someone did the math and figured out that the probability of just eight prophecies being fulfilled [by chance] is one chance in one hundred million billion. That number is millions of times greater than the total number of people who’ve ever walked the planet!” (Louis Lapides, in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, p.246)

    Not so. The more prophecies you make, the greater the chance that at least one of them will come true, even if the majority of them turn out to be false. It’s a simple matter of counting the hits and forgetting the misses – make enough prophecies, and you’re all but guaranteed for at least eight of them to come true.

    In fact, I will right now make a bunch of prophecies for which I can guarantee that 8 will come true:

    Barack Obama will win the 2012 Presidential Election.
    Barack Obama will lose the 2012 Presidential Election.
    Iran will invade and annex Iraq.
    Iran will not invade and annex Iraq.
    The Pakistani government will be overthrown by the Taliban.
    The Pakistani government will manage to avoid being overthrown by the Taliban.
    Kevin Rudd will win the 2010 Australian Federal Election.
    Kevin Rudd will lose the 2010 Australian Federal Election.
    The Pope will resign over the Catholic sex-scandal.
    The Pope will refuse to resign over the Catholic sex-scandal.
    Taiwan shall remain as an independent nation.
    China will re-annex Taiwan.
    Insufficient action on global warming will result in many tiny Pacific Island nations being completely flooded.
    Governments will take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus preventing the flooding of many tiny Pacific Island nations.
    Within the next fifty years, a war will take place in which both sides use nuclear weapons.
    States with nuclear weapons will be able to avoid nuclear wars for the next fifty years.

    Now, it is all but guaranteed that 8 of those sixteen prophecies will come true. As we all know, the odds that by chance these 8 would come true is “one chance in one hundred million billion”. Furthermore, they are much more reliable than the Christian prophecies, because the ratio of unfulfilled to fulfilled prophecies is only 1:1 – the Bible has a far greater number of unfulfilled prophecies for every fulfilled one. So you should all accept that I received these prophecies by divine revelation, and that consequently, the gods Gurageggeth, Zmarjl and Hylalath are real.

  • jemand

    @TEP, but you DID receive those by revelation! We must now all bow and worship LOGICS!! ;)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Jesus defied chance by fulfilling the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.

    This was refuted quite thoroughly a couple centuries ago:

    The Age of Reason: Part three, Examination of the Prophecies
    by Thomas Paine

  • Reginald Selkirk

    No, as even the most hardened apologists acknowledge, the New Testament authors were well-versed in the Old Testament and could well have had the scrolls in front of them while writing.

    Matthew, for instance, writes several times: ‘Jesus did X in order that the prophecy be fulfilled’

    Examples:
    Matt 1:22
    Matt 2:15
    Matt 2:17
    Matt 2:23
    Matt 4:14
    Matt 8:17
    Matt 12:17
    Matt 13:14

  • Mark C.

    An apologetic I really hate, assuming you can call it one, is the assertion that everyone knows the Christian god exists, but those who don’t have specific theology x and specific interpretation of the Bible y are in denial, deceiving either themselves or others (a biblical passage is used as justification for this assertion). I have an acquaintance who makes this assertion. I lent him my epistemology book so he could see what all the problems are in defining what it means to know something. It has yet to be seen if this impacts his view at all.

    Seriously, how does one deal with something like that? I’ve thought of the following ways, though they’re definitely not guaranteed to sway the believer:

    1. Make the believer aware of the philosophical problems of knowledge (as I did). May show him/her that this supposedly innate theological knowledge doesn’t match any of the better definitions of knowledge.

    2. Step down to the level of belief, since knowledge is usually considered to entail belief. Show that no non-believers’ (and other theists who don’t hold the exact same views) actions and attitudes are consistent with the proposition that they are in denial or are being deceptive.

    3. Mirror the position by saying something like “I know that you believe in the existence of the Invisible Pink Unicorn because document z says you do.”

    This guy also believes that souls are immutable (if I recall correctly) and that his soul was changed by God and is therefore special.

    Would this apologetic be something you’d like to deal with, Ebon? It would be nice to see it dealt with in an eloquent and thorough way.

  • Jim Baerg

    Archimedez:
    There is something of the sort for the creationist subset of religious insanity.

    See An index to creationist claims

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    If God is all powerful, would She not simply be able to communicate effortlessly and clearly with everyone on the planet simultaneously? Having to communicate via a prophet seems rather superfluous for a deity.

    Charles, I have pointed that one out too. Today, human beings have the ability to communicate with each other around the globe. I send an e-mail to someone in China, and he receives it in an instant and then can reply to me likewise. A god powerful enough to create a universe with billions of galaxies, on the other hand, apparently needs to communicate its message to a select few for transmitting it to the rest of us, with little or no evidence of course that the person received such a message from a divine source.

  • Rieux

    On Apologetic #2 here, I’d submit that Forrest Gump is a better counterexample than Indiana Jones movies. Gump contains a huge number of cameos by real historical people (some portrayed by actors, others in archival footage), in addition to a bunch of places, events (the Vietnam War, etc.) and phenomena that really did happen/exist during the Twentieth Century. In some cases, the filmmakers went to significant lengths to fake conversations between (for example) the protagonist and Lyndon Johnson. Nonetheless, it’s fiction–just as most, if not all, of the material in the Gospels is.

    Or perhaps Inglourious Basterds (the 2009 Tarantino flick) would work; that one doesn’t just feature Hitler but also a bunch of other real-life Nazi figures, as well as Winston Churchill. And it would be particularly useful for the anti-apologetic here because (SPOILER ALERT!) the ending of the movie radically rewrites history.

    I’d also point out that there are several serious problems with the Trilemma in addition than the ones you listed (not that you claimed otherwise, of course): among them is that, even in the Gospels, it’s made clear that Jesus did lie on at least a few occasions–plus, he acts like a “lunactic” a lot, and there are even a few instances in which other characters in the story hypothesize that he’s crazy. They appear to have been entirely possibly correct.

    All in all, this is a very nice post as usual, of course.

  • Alex Weaver

    Another thought on the handbook: one particularly effective approach might be creating a numbered catalogue of apologetics arguments, maybe with some notes on different approaches people have used for refuting it, but not with canned responses. Just responding to a canned argument with, say, “ah, the old Apologetics Argument #147-A” might carry a lot of rhetorical weight (more so than if we’re using colloquial names, maybe).

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ TEP (#25): I will propose lose conditions for your prophecies with semantics! Hooray for the use and meaning of words!

    1. The United States will be destroyed in a nuclear attack, and the 2012 Presidential Election will not be held. Alternatively, perhaps more realistically, he will be assassinated by extremist elements and therefore unable to run.
    2 & 3. Well, OK, the Iran/Iraq one is tamper-proof, because “invading or annexing” (but not both) fails to satisfy the conjunction, since invading but not annexing is not invading and annexing. Same thing for the Pakistani one, unless you allow me to attribute an evasion of otherwise certain overthrowing to causes which have absolutely nothing to do with the Pakistani government (Martian intervention, perhaps?).
    4. Yeah, see 1 and change the USA parts to Australia parts.
    5. The pope could be assassinated, get arrested, die of a heart attack, or go nuts. Wait, scratch that last one, we’re already there. Point is, he neither resigns, nor refuses to resign, but is taken out of the picture entirely.
    6. What if India annexes Taiwan?
    7. Captain Planet will prevent the flooding of many tiny Pacific Island nations, regardless of worldwide governmental failure to take adequate preventative measures.
    8. I don’t suppose it counts as a nuclear war if it’s one-sided? Or what if the USA gets into a nuclear conflict with a non-state entity, but the other side is prepared to use nuclear weapons but prevented from doing so? The set of nuclear-armed states didn’t avoid nuclear conflict, but both sides didn’t use their weapons!

    Of course, if Australia and the USA get into a mutually-destructive nuclear war while successfully annexing Taiwan, that’s one prophecy fulfilled and six prevented from becoming true. But I suppose the pope could refuse to resign, and then resign anyway a couple of weeks later.

    @ Tommykey (#31): E-mail, nuthin’! Cell phone companies can send out text messages to all their users simultaneously. I mean, e-mail’s still cool and all, but there are feats well beyond it. A couple nights ago, my roommate played a real-time strategy game over the internet with people in Australia, Mexico, and Ireland (we’re in the midwest USA) with no noticeable lag. The time it takes a computer in LA to ping another computer in NY (about 90ms) is about the time it takes for a mousetrap snapping shut on your tongue to register on your face. (It’s true, I saw it on Time Warp!) God is such an underachiever.

    @ Alex Weaver (#33): You can still do that if you’re quick on your intellectual feet. If you can extrapolate the particular argument to a general example in the time it takes to say, “Oh, that’s just [made-up argumentative designation],” then you’ll probably be able to fool 90% of believers 90% of the time when you follow up with your made-up details. My friend Jack, who has degrees in both English and Philosophy, would make up convincing-sounding fallacies on the spot at parties.

  • Archimedez

    Jim Baerg, Thanks for that resource.

  • Eurekus

    This may seem obvious to others, but my atheism is more new found than most correspondents of this website. The more I look at biblical prophecies the more I realise this religion has the same effect and same tactics as what National Socialism had in parts of Europe. For example, eliminate knowledge that is contrary to their doctrine (burning books or by scaring hell out of a person by threatening them with divine punishment), using force (either physical or psychological) to mold their thinking, indoctrinating the young aswell as many other methods.

    I remember what a brainwashed friend of mine, from whom I have to suffer such ridiculous accusations said to me a few weeks ago, ‘study the bible and the bible alone.’ What better parallel can be used to compare her religion with a totalitarian regime? Probably none.

    Comment no 25- TEP

    I’ll have to send your comment to my friend, I find it remarkably concise.

  • Wednesday

    The last two apologetics you list are pretty bald cases of the Begging the Question and False Dichotomy fallacies, respectively. I’ve had people try to use them on me and I found it absolutely insulting that they thought I would be swayed by either, until I realized they didn’t understand what was wrong with their logic. I wish I had tenure so I could include them as examples when I teach logic in my Math for Poets class, so as to ensure that at least my students would theoretically know better than to use them.

    The first apologetic annoys me for different reasons. Poor Emmanuel, his birth was prophesied to be a sign of the end of a war, and then assorted NT writers armed with mistranslations wrote him out of biblical history so that Jesus could copy Mithra’s trick of being virgin-born.

  • Rieux

    The last two apologetics you list are pretty bald cases of the Begging the Question and False Dichotomy fallacies, respectively.

    Aw, c’mon. The Trilemma is clearly a false trichotomy, not a dichotomy.

  • anti_supernaturalist

    Faith, the trusting suspension of disbelief, fails the sniff test

    canonic xian texts appear 400 years after their alleged events

    The “Good News” did not drop out of the sky into eager hands of true believers. There was no Newsweek for Occupied Roman Palestine in the first century CE. No xian text in Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken, has ever been found.

    Xian texts which appear together under a (question begging) name, ‘New Testament’ were written in koine Greek over a span of about a century 50CE-150CE. The gospels were authored, later altered and added to by persons who are unknown.

    The 27 canonical books of NT were selected from a large number of xian texts and variants in circulation in the fifth century CE. The leftovers were confiscated and burned. By good fortune single copies were discovered in a cave at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945 — a treasure urn filled with gnostic texts deliberately saved from the flames.

    The gospels are historical fiction

    Only taboo prevents grasping that the life of Jesus is identical to the life of Sherlock Holmes. They had no lives. They are fictional characters.

    Holmes and Jesus/Christ have also taken on a “life of their own” outside of canonic primary writings “about” them. Witness first-rate Holmesian fan fiction novel, ‘The 7% Solution’ — the title refers to Holmes’ addiction to injectable cocaine. Theology starting with Paul (fl. 50-65 CE) is fifth-rate fan fiction about a typical hellenistic world savior.

    Even if a stage set is historically appropriate, Holmes’s London and Jesus’ Jerusalem are also fictionalized. There never has been a 221B Baker Street. Dr Watson did not write The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Pilate was never governor of Judea — that office did not exist until after Jesus’ death. None of the four gospels was written by the people whose name each bears.

    And Jesus certainly did not talk to Pilate, especially not using the grandiloquent rhetoric attributed to him by John. Pilate was noted for cruelty and disdain for the people. Jesus was an apostate from Judaism; such local affairs were of no interest to Rome. The penalty for his religious crime was being stoned to death by religious authorities.

    Now Rome had no problem putting upstart rebels to death on a cross — but there was no crucifixion, no stoning because Jesus could no more die on a cross than Holmes could die from a cocaine overdose.

    Only after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE) did xians commit to writing the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jewish religious authorities and “the people” had accused Jesus of claiming to be “King of the Jews.” Siding with Rome in appearance — as Paul also advises — was a survival strategy. Xians, emerging as they had from jewish roots, had to distance themselves from those traitors in Palestine and possible sympathizers in large cities of Rome’s empire: Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome itself.

    Even Pilate got a coat of whitewash — the famous Ecce Homo scene where he is willing to return Jesus to his fellow Jews or release another criminal. “Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’” Luke23:4 NIV. Even if he had been aware of it, Pilate certainly would not have observed a Jewish custom of mercy during Passover. In the middle ages a sanitized Pilate became a minor saint.

    Xians are fond of claiming that better evidence is available for Jesus’ life than for that of Julius Caesar. They lie. I propose a counterargument: our evidence for Sherlock Holmes is more solid than that for Jesus. And, that’s the gospel truth.

    the anti_supernaturalist


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