A List of Unconvincing Arguments Made by Atheists

I’ve previously posted August Berkshire‘s list of the 34 Unconvincing Arguments for God.

But Ted Stoltz has something slightly different: A list of bad atheist responses to Christianity:

Over the years of debating, I’ve noticed there are a number of arguments which atheists routinely present, but are ineffectual at convincing Christians that Christianity might have problems. The problem for atheists is that these arguments make perfect non-theistic sense, and so why anyone else shouldn’t see the logic is baffling to them. I don’t claim these arguments are fallacious, only that they will be unconvincing. I’ll try to explain why they’re unconvincing and suggest a more effective course of action. The thing to keep in mind is that these arguments are not worth pursuing, and if you bring them up, you’re just not going to gain any ground. It would be better for the atheists to avoid these and concentrate their efforts elsewhere.

The explanations are easy to follow and the suggested courses of action are extremely helpful.

For example:

1. There are a lot of gods Christians don’t believe in.

… This does not work, because the Christian does not disbelieve in these gods per se. The explanation you’re likely to hear is that these gods were fallen angels, exercising their dominion over the Earth… Appealing to their disbelief of other gods is unlikely to work because within the framework of Christianity, there’s an explanation of their origins.

Try this instead: use an example that’s less super-naturally based. Santa Claus might work, although that seems a bit condescending to me. You could go for Russell’s Teapot. Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Whatever you choose, don’t lose site of the real reason for bringing up this argument in the first place. You’re trying to get them to admit they don’t believe in something because there’s no evidence to support its existence. Why don’t you believe in tiny pink unicorns on Mars? Because there’s no evidence for it.

Of course, if logic doesn’t work, it’s hard to think of anything that will… But it is a helpful list if you’re trying to talk to someone who isn’t bound by rules of reason.

Is there any other argument that atheists should not use that should be added to the list?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Related observation:
    I’ve read many atheistic critiques of God belief and most include some notion concerning the lack of the evidence for a supernatural, omni being. I of course agree with this assertion: that absolutely no empirical evidence exists to suggest that God exists. However, that isn’t the primary reason for my atheism. The primary reason isn’t a lack of evidence, but rather the attributes associated with God. I simply think the idea of a being existing outside of nature (where the hell is he I never understood) that has intimate knowledge of human events to be quite absurd. My atheism is more a philosophical position rather than a stance born of scientific inquiry (although I’d arrive at the same conclusion following this alternate path).

  • Miko

    Interestingly enough, this doesn’t seem to be so much a list of “bad arguments made by atheists” as a list of “bad arguments made by atheists in response to bad arguments made by theists.”

    The first one may be a generally bad argument (although I’ve seen it work), but the others are things that I’d never bring up in a debate unless the Christian side had already brought up the topic by asserting the negation (e.g., I wouldn’t bother demonstrating that the Bible is inconsistent unless it had been asserted that it was consistent) and so aren’t really arguments against theistic belief per se so much as arguments against arguments in favor of theistic belief. But since we’re the negative side, that may just come with the territory.

    Is there any other argument that atheists should not use that should be added to the list?

    Perhaps both sides can just agree that all of the arguments on both sides are bad arguments. ;-)

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    Is there any other argument that atheists should not use that should be added to the list?

    I don’t like it when we try to use natural disasters as proof that god doesn’t exist or that god isn’t good. My experience has been that most religious people do not believe that their god intentionally uses natural disasters to punish people/society. Most believe that such things are merely the product of natural geological processes and that god has nothing to do with it.

    Now, I think some of them believe that god can actively save someone from a natural disaster, but that is an easy argument to win because you only need to ask why their god didn’t save every other deserving person as well? I just think that the natural disaster argument is too superficial when there are plenty of other fine arguments to be made.

  • Richard Wade

    Is there any other argument that atheists should not use that should be added to the list?

    Yeah, don’t start any argument with your equivalent of Dan Aykroyd’s salutation to Jane Curtain on the old Saturday Night Live: “Jane, you ignorant slut!”

  • AJ

    Not A Blog,

    This does not work, because the Christian does not disbelieve in these gods per se.

    So they’re going to deliberately use a different definition? If that’s why the argument won’t work then there’s no point talking to them anyway. No argument is ever going to work if you say Zeus as king of the gods, and they think demon. They know what you mean, they decide to respond about something else on purpose. It might be pointless trying to logically debate believers, they’re always dishonest in my experience. Lets hope there are more undecided than polls suggest.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    As far as bad arguments in and of themselves, some (hopefully only a small minority) of atheists will bring up evolution when discussing the origin of life. Although, evolution needs life to already be in existence for it to work. There is a different field of study (abiogenesis) which deals with the origin of life. In my view, abiogenesis is the more interesting field. We have simulations demonstrating the mechanics of evolution along with the fossil record. Abiogenesis, being a relatively new field, will be one to watch for the next generation or two. Although, evolution is a good counter claim for the simple-minded young-earth creationist who believes that every creature ever in existence was created at one time in the not so distant past.

  • http://nogodsallowed.wordpress.com Chad

    Is there any other argument that atheists should not use that should be added to the list?

    I would add the whole argument of evidence is one that will rarely win over many Christians. To the science-minded, evidence is key. To many theists, watching the sunrise or looking at the stars, or witnessing the power in a hurricane all somehow prove their particular god is real.

    When it comes to debating a theist with that kind of outlook, I’m sometimes at a loss because I try to piece everything together logically, and I see a big gaping hole of logic in their statements. My brain short-circuits.

  • http://www.notablogtm.com/ Ted

    @Miko: That’s more or less what I had in mind. They’re not bad arguments made by atheists, they’re bad atheist responses to Christianity’s arguments.

    @AJ: Christians are not deliberately using a different definition. They still believe in the capital-G God, after all. The problem arises when you try to explain that they don’t believe in “dead” (classical myth) gods. To use a double-negative, the Christian doesn’t not believe in them. Most do believe they existed, but that they were demons deceiving regular folks into worshiping them as gods. The point is, you would be more successful using an argument that doesn’t rely on the disbelief of something that is already explained by Christian doctrine.

    @Jeff: You’re right. What I wrote is sloppy. (I do know the difference, really!) I should have been more specific. In the example I provided, the debate usually ends up being intelligent design versus evolution (the Dover, PA court case, for example), even though it should probably be ID vs. abiogenesis. Regardless, the larger point holds true: although vestigial structures are explained by evolution, Christianity has an explanation for them, too, so appealing to this is unlikely to change minds.

  • http://mytensmakt.blogspot.com/ BryanJ

    I sometimes get annoyed when the Problem of Evil is presented for atheism. The problem of an omnipotent and omniscience being already presents problems in itself; I don’t really “reach” the Problem of Evil. The omnipotent/omniscience problem seems a lot less emotionally charged and pushes the factor of “your god doesn’t make sense” instead of “your god is an asshole” to the believer.

    Here’s that omni problem summarized better than I could:
    “Since God knows all, past present future, God must know his own future, past, and completely know his own self. Therefore, he knows exactly what his will is AS WELL AS precisely what actually will happen. Therefore, God does not have free will because, being outside time, he does not have the ability to make a decision that he has not already predicted infinitely accurately, so God does not have free will and is thus not all-powerful.—-
    Therefore, logically, God (nor anything else) cannot be omniscient without becoming a slave to knowledge, and cannot be omnipotent without sacrificing knowledge of the future.” -donnyton on Iron Chariots forum

  • AJ

    Ted,

    To use a double-negative, the Christian doesn’t not believe in them. Most do believe they existed, but that they were demons deceiving regular folks into worshiping them as gods.

    I don’t accept that they don’t consider other religions as different and competing accounts. They know exactly what the concept of Zeus is, it’s a part of western culture. Zeus, king of the gods, son of Cronus, from Gaia. They know that these myths are of a creation and deities that they don’t believe in. They’re deliberately equivocating two very different concepts. They do not believe that Zeus existed. They believe a demon existed.

  • http://brownjs.wordpress.com/ J.S.Brown

    It seems to me that all arguments are bad when the theistic side of the discussion relies on faith as the basis for belief, knowledge and understanding. There is nothing that faith can’t trump.

  • MAC

    BryanJ,

    I couldn’t even get as far as that internal contradiction, not if I’m critiquing the very foundations. As soon as someone speaks of something being outside of time, their argument turns to crap.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    They do believe that Zeus existed (or exists), but they believe Zeus is a demon.

    I’m not sure Zeus is the best example, but many Christians believe in all kinds of hokey superstitious stuff. They just think it’s evil or satanic. That’s why they are afriad of Harry Potter and Ouija Boards.

    I’m not sure I agree that the arguments listed above are always useless in talking with Christians, but I do agree with the premise of the piece which is that you have to understand the mindset of the Christians you are talking to in order to find arguments or stories that will move them and make them think. Arguments that are logical and make sense to atheists may not be the best arguments to use in a discussion or debate with a Christian. There definitely are ways to reach these people, but it’s not by having the most logically coherant argument. You have to use stories that touch the emotions and you have to make them think outside of their usually boundaries.

  • Susan B.

    I’ve pretty much given up on debating Christians about the existence of god. Most of the Christians I know are very nice about it and don’t try to convince me, anyway, and their ideas about god are very flexible and so open to interpretation (including their own) that I can’t get them to pin down exactly what god is. I’m okay with that, though, because it doesn’t really matter to me what they believe in their spare time. What I DO try to debate is the fact that Christians need to keep their god to themselves, and that faith is NOT a valid basis for making decisions that affect other people.

  • AJ

    writerdd,

    They do believe that Zeus existed (or exists), but they believe Zeus is a demon.

    Zeus is not a demon, when people say Zeus they’re talking about a specific concept of a deity, something incompatible with being a demon. Zeus can’t be both a demon and an Olympian god. The statement “they believe in Zeus” is false when Zeus is defined as an Olympian god. Christians in the west know exactly what people mean when they say Zeus, and they don’t mean a demon.

    They’re deliberately using a different definition to argue their point, the fallacy of equivocation. If it suites their God belief in another argument they’ll soon switch to the common definition of Zeus because these people aren’t interested in honest debate, they’re interested in defending irrational beliefs.

  • Mriana

    When it comes down to it, the idea of a deity is just a human concept. It can’t be proven or disproven and not all believers have the same concept. I have found some believers don’t have an anthropomorphic concept of God and I can’t argue with someone who sees God as love/love is God, even if it is purely an emotion. To argue, “Oh that’s just an emotion.” actually puts the burden of proof on the one who is claiming it’s an emotion and you’d better have a damn good grip on neuro-psychology to make the claim. So, it can be a catch-22, depending on who you’re debating.

    Of course, maybe I’m wrong and you can make the claim it’s just an emotion without have a good grip on science. It’s also just one example of arguments I have heard too. There are many others that could be debated also.

  • http://www.notablogtm.com/ Ted

    AJ,

    I don’t accept that they don’t consider other religions as different and competing accounts.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not you accept this. It is what Christians believe. They, do not, in fact, consider other religions as different and competing accounts. They consider them satanic.

    They know that these myths are of a creation and deities that they don’t believe in.

    Not so. They believe these other accounts are a deception of Satan, not a fiction invented by man or a “myth” in the literary sense. This distinction is extremely important.

    You can make the argument that whether invented by Satan or man, the Christian still does not believe in them, but you’d be missing the point. The point is that all creation stories/religions have an explanation that is internally consistent with Christian doctrine. The fact that there is an explanation is the key, not whether not the Christian accepts a given version as truth or fiction. (Or even whether the explanation makes sense, for that matter.)

    Christians do believe that Zeus existed and they believe he was a demon. They are not mutually exclusive positions.

  • http://nogodsallowed.wordpress.com Chad

    Not all Christians necessarily say other religions are demonic. In my youth as a fundy, we were taught that all other religions were used by God to somehow point to our version of Christianity as the correct religion. Kinda like prophecy in a weird sort of way.

    Of course, all the followers of the B-side religions would still all go to hell anyways, but at least we could see how ignorant they were and how loved we were for God to give use the right religion. No rationality needed!

  • Richard Wade

    Ted,
    Your thoughts are well crafted and articulate, and I’m pleased by the overall positive tone you portray in having interaction with Christians. But I’m confused (or maybe you are) about your stated purpose for even having these conversations with Christians in the first place.

    The two most common basic goals I have seen for atheists in such discussions are:
    A. To talk about themselves, explaining the basis for their own view and possibly to dispute misconceptions and negative stereotypes that Christians have about atheists.

    Or

    B. To talk about the Christian, to convince them to abandon their beliefs in God or at least their beliefs in various parts of their creed such as young earth creationism, for example.

    At the beginning of your post you say that these arguments are for purpose A, explaining to a Christian why an atheist does not believe in his God, etc. But the arguments seem to be designed for purpose B, to attack the Christian’s beliefs rather than to clearly explain your own viewpoint. Throughout the descriptions of the ineffective arguments and your suggested alternatives, you have statements about “convincing” them, “winning” the argument and “controlling” the discussion. The main thrust of your article seems to be about finding better ways to change their beliefs, either their core or peripheral ones, rather than helping them to understand how you see things.

    I hope I have described the confusion clearly.

    Personally, I am loath to partake in any discussion with Christians for the purpose of attacking their beliefs. I hate it when they try to evangelize me, so I’m not going to practice what I disapprove of on anyone else. I have little tolerance for the futility of that anyway. The only beliefs I would want to change in them are their false beliefs about atheists, or their justifications for intruding into five rooms that I want them to stay out of: someone else’s bedroom, the public schoolroom, the doctor’s office, the research laboratory and the halls of government. If they aren’t persecuting non-believers or trying to control others through manipulation of public policy then they’re welcome to believe whatever the hell they want. That’s none of my business.

    I have had some success in creating better understanding about atheists but I tend to agree with Jonathan Swift when he said,

    “You cannot reason a man out of a position that he did not reason himself into.”

  • AJ

    Ted,

    It doesn’t’t matter whether or not you accept this. It is what Christians believe. They, do not, in fact, consider other religions as different and competing accounts. They consider them satanic.

    That only means that they consider the source of the different and competing accounts to be from a supernatural entity. This clearly implies that they don’t believe in the account.

    Not so. They believe these other accounts are a deception of Satan, not a fiction invented by man or a “myth” in the literary sense. This distinction is extremely important.

    No, it is not important at all. If it is a deception, you are clearly admitting that a) it is a different account of creation, b) they don’t believe in it.

    You can make the argument that whether invented by Satan or man, the Christian still does not believe in them, but you’d be missing the point.

    Then don’t make statements that clearly suggest they do believe in them. You can’t say things, then admit they’re untrue, but then say it doesn’t matter because it wasn’t important anyway. Just admit that you’re wrong, they actually don’t believe in Zeus at all, any statement saying otherwise is untrue.

    The point is that all creation stories/religions have an explanation that is internally consistent with Christian doctrine. The fact that there is an explanation is the key, not whether not the Christian accepts a given version as truth or fiction. (Or even whether the explanation makes sense, for that matter.)

    That doesn’t address the argument at all. It’s a nonsense. The point of bringing up other gods is that there’s no more justification for them as there is for Christianity. “But they’re lies from demons” isn’t an argument, ask them why they think that’s the case, the same argument can be used against Christianity. “Jesus was a demon sent to deceive Jews from the truth of Judaism”.

    Christians do believe that Zeus existed and they believe he was a demon. They are not mutually exclusive positions.

    Zeus can’t be not a demon and a demon at the same time. Clearly the concept of Zeus that is in common usage, and what the arguer means, is a Zeus that is not a demon. It’s obvious equivocation, using two different meanings of Zeus.

  • http://del.icio.us/jcchurch James

    So actually, many Christians do kind of believe in Thor and Zeus. They believe all these “gods”—false gods, really—were the work of Lucifer and his minions, not necessarily that they didn’t exist at all. Appealing to their disbelief of other gods is unlikely to work because within the framework of Christianity, there’s an explanation of their origins.

    What? In order to be a Christian I now have to believe that Thor was a minion of Lucifer. I’m off to bang my head on a hard surface.

  • Sarah H.

    One of the other bloggers I follow addresses the problems atheists have when attempting to use logic and reason in discussions with theists. This list brings up some new issues, and I especially like the use of the word “retreating” to describe the time-honored Christian strategy of using “God works in mysterious ways” or “His thoughts are not our thoughts” etc. as a way to back out of a corner.

  • http://www.notablogtm.com/ Ted

    @AJ:

    The distinction between a deception of Satan and man-made is important because it defines whether or not the question of existence is supernatural or natural.

    The confusion arises because atheists approach with the default assumption of no supernatural existence at all, while Christians believe supernatural existence is, ultimately, all that matters. Atheists automatically assume Zeus was a man-made myth (natural explanation); the Christian does not.

    Whether Christians believe in Zeus as described by the Greeks (they don’t, and I never claimed they did) or whether they believe he is a deception of Satan is not as important, because both explanations are supernatural in origin.

    The Christian view provides a super-natural explanation for Zeus, and Christians do believe there is some entity claiming to be Zeus, supernatural in origin. (I paint with a broad brush for simplicity in discussion. Of course we can find ones who do not. Most do, I think.) I don’t believe in Zeus any more than I believe in God, because I don’t believe in the supernatural at all. Christians, however, do, and so to try and use one supposedly supernatural entity as an argument against another is ineffectual, regardless of which “Zeus” they ultimately believe in.

  • AJ

    Ted,

    The distinction between a deception of Satan and man-made is important because it defines whether or not the question of existence is supernatural or natural.

    The confusion arises because atheists approach with the default assumption of no supernatural existence at all, while Christians believe supernatural existence is, ultimately, all that matters. Atheists automatically assume Zeus was a man-made myth (natural explanation); the Christian does not.

    That’s not a premise of the argument. The Atheist isn’t claiming Zeus is man-made, demonic, or real. It could be each, and it doesn’t effect the argument at all.

    Whether Christians believe in Zeus as described by the Greeks (they don’t, and I never claimed they did) or whether they believe he is a deception of Satan is not as important, because both explanations are supernatural in origin.

    How would Christians believe in Zeus? Without radically changing the account of either, it’s irrational to believe both.

    The Christian view provides a super-natural explanation for Zeus, and Christians do believe there is some entity claiming to be Zeus, supernatural in origin. (I paint with a broad brush for simplicity in discussion.

    It’s an explanation for the existence of the myth, with the premise that Christianity is true. It’s not an explanation for Zeus, and it’s certainly not an explanation for choosing Christianity over other religions. The explanation of demonic intervention applies as much to the Christian myth as it does to the Greek myth. It doesn’t meet the argument at all, it basically comes in the form of:

    Christianity is true.
    Greek mythology and Christianity can’t be true.
    Therefore Christianity is true and Zeus was a demon.

  • http://www.notablogtm.com/ Ted

    @James:

    As I wrote in my original post, I will misrepresent some Christians. I make sweeping generalizations for two reasons: simplicity in writing and because I’ve found them to work most of the time. These things are clearly not true for all Christians, and readers shouldn’t assume they are.

    @Richard Wade:

    I think I understand the confusion, here. If it helps to know where I’m coming from, I’m an ex-Christian atheist writing for other atheists.

    I don’t generally make a distinction between case A and case B, as you’ve described them. I think any given discussion will include both some give and take.

    I have never engaged in an unsolicited debate. I’m not at all the type of person who will run up to a known Christian and start badgering them justify their thoughts to me. I agree completely: I dislike proselytizing, I don’t do it myself, and I frankly couldn’t care less what people believe until it’s knocking on my door.

    That being said, if the discussion comes to me, I’ll gladly take advantage of the opportunity. These are more rare because I don’t go seeking them, but it’s happened a few times. Most debates I have are between myself and friends who are Christians (most of whom I knew before I deconverted). Since we’ve known each other for a longer time, there is a degree of friendly antagonism which you would not necessarily find when debating a stranger, and the approach is different.

    My purpose in all situations, however, is not just to explain my beliefs, nor to try and change theirs. My goal I is to make them think. If my partner seems to be genuinely open about hearing my reasons for being an atheist, I’ll take them through my thoughts—hopefully in a way that makes them think about their own position. If they automatically assume all atheists are evil and attack me with fire and brimstone, I will not shy from trying to raise their level of cognitive dissonance. I don’t care if anyone believes in God, but I do care whether they’ve bothered to put any thought into their belief, or if it’s just the childhood default.

    I don’t want to try and force anyone to deconvert. It’s a tough thing to go through. But if deconversion is the result of making someone think, I don’t apologize for it.

  • Richard Wade

    Ted,

    My goal I is to make them think.

    Thank you for the clarification. That is a noble goal. I hope you succeed once in a while. Meanwhile, for many of them their goal is to get you to think less.

    In the Zeus/demon thing between you and AJ I can see the points both of you are making but looking for the better argument misses the other point running through your original post, that it is almost always utterly futile to try to use logic even if it is perfectly crafted and perfectly applied. For most it will bounce off like a BB off a battleship. They won’t concede one inch. You’re selling something they have been told is poison: unfettered thought. They’ll hear that you deconverted from Christianity so they won’t risk trying that kind of thought. Still, I admire your quixotic optimism and even envy it. There are a few other people from La Mancha around here and I’m hoping some more of that will rub off on me. This stuff can get so discouraging at times.

  • Miko

    Zeus is not a demon, when people say Zeus they’re talking about a specific concept of a deity, something incompatible with being a demon. Zeus can’t be both a demon and an Olympian god. The statement “they believe in Zeus” is false when Zeus is defined as an Olympian god. Christians in the west know exactly what people mean when they say Zeus, and they don’t mean a demon.

    Historically, the concept of a demon is of an intermediary between the actual god or gods and mortals (which at its inception did not imply that demons were evil). As such, demons were regarded as powerful beings capable of performing acts that could make them appear godlike. Thus, I don’t think the idea that the Greeks believed in Zeus because they didn’t realize that he was only a demon pretending to be a god while a Christian can disbelieve because (s)he realizes that Zeus is just a demon is necessarily illogical unless you can also prove that the idea of demons is illogical.

    However, the argument can be patched by going a level higher up the rationalization chain: if the Greeks could mistake a demon for a god, how do we know that the Christians aren’t doing the same thing with their god-idea?

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    AJ I disagree. Zues can be a demon because he’s a false god, a demon masquerading as a god. I’m not saying that’s really a valid interpretation, but I have known a lot of Christians who view other gods in precisely this manner. So you might not like it, but people do think that.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Other bad arguments?

    How about the argument that omnipotence is self-contradictory? There are many perfectly valid answers to the question, “Can God make a burrito so hot, even he cannot eat it?” If I were a theist, I would answer, “No, he’s simply not omnipotent in that sense.” (I also think the omnipotence/omniscience contradiction fits in this category).

  • AJ

    writerdd,

    AJ I disagree. Zues can be a demon because he’s a false god, a demon masquerading as a god. I’m not saying that’s really a valid interpretation, but I have known a lot of Christians who view other gods in precisely this manner. So you might not like it, but people do think that.

    I’m not denying that Christians think other gods are actually satanic. I’ve heard of this many times before. It has nothing to do with the argument that it’s supposed to be addressing. I don’t know what you’re disagreeing with.

    The argument:

    There are a lot of gods Christians don’t believe in.

    Can’t be answered by something that requires Christian beliefs, it’s a circular argument. That’s if we were to grant them the definition of Zeus as a demon, but I wouldn’t be willing to. The proposition is Zeus as a god, and the greek creation myth as true. Against the proposition of greek creation they value christian creation, and they are being asked to give a reason why.

    Christians have been known to answer this from time to time, “it just correlates with my experiences perfectly”, “it’s just so powerful, I didn’t feel the same way reading other religious texts”, etc… etc… While “Zeus was a demon” is absolute nonsense, it’s like after being asked what’s 2 + 2 and them saying “bananas”, it’s not a justification for Christian belief, it’s a Christian belief.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Richard Wade said:
    I tend to agree with Jonathan Swift when he said,

    “You cannot reason a man out of a position that he did not reason himself into.”

    Good one. I agree entirely, Although, presenting rational arguments may have some subtle behind-the-scenes affect on their subconscious which may contribute to an emotional change of heart (or at least a change in behavior) about religion. The most direct benefit for rational arguments, though, is to give people who have had a recent emotion-driven deconversion something to “hang their hat on”.

    Never before in English-speaking lands have so many atheists been able to voice opinions and engage in debate without fear of persecution. This is all good stuff! Thank God for the internet! ;) Of course most of us do it anonymously just in case…

    I’ll have to ask my “thumper” friends about Zeus. Not being raised Christian, I really don’t have any first-hand indoctrination about whether or not he should be considered a demon.

  • Nick

    I’ve never head anybody mention all the other gods when essentially asking “Why are you Christen?” (although it’s probably happened…) I’ve only heard it the other way around in response to the question “Why aren’t you Christen” or “What if your wrong?” or “If your right then 95% of the world is wrong”

    All of these are a false dichotomy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma) and that is exactly what pointing too all the other gods is meant to show.

    Although it’s debating dogma and no matter how logical you are dogma always wins by default. Because by it’s own assertion dogma is always right.

    This weekend after hearing a miracle story about a man in a coma “talking to god” I tried to tell the story of The miracle of the Sun. I explained how there are far more reasonable explanations then the sun or the earth actually jumping around in space but we seriously could not get past the fact that the Earth is round and she already knows this. This has nothing to do with my point but it was all she could think about. I could not relate this story back to the original because we were now talking about Christopher Columbus somehow proving this could not happen.

    So I say it usualy doesn’t really matter how logical you are, unless you’re debating somebody who is already logical (and then it will probably not be about god).

  • Kyle

    As others have already pointed out, the one you quoted is a very bad counter for a theist. The fact is – and he point blank says it – to make the statement viable (to them) you must make it NON-supernatural. That’s not playing by the rules. Neither is the semantics between not believing in other gods and believing them to be “devils”/”fallen angels” etc.

    It’s semantics and it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – work.

    Moreover, the last response is rubbish as well. His article is “Bad Atheist responses to Christianity”. The problem is the contradiction between his title and his premise. If the premise of these responses is talking to a believer, the claim has already been made: the believer believes in said god.

    So, when the non-believer says you cannot prove it or says you need to prove it, they are merely stating the obvious because the claim has been made by the believer in the first place.

  • http://www.thepagelessbook.com John Pageless

    I think the biggest mistake that atheists make in discussing religion with theists is to assume they understand exactly what that theist believes. When you are talking about beliefs or faith, you aren’t talking about the intellect, but instead you are talking about feelings. Like it or not, you have to appeal to the emotional side of that person, get to understand how they feel and why they feel that way. Often, you might find that the person doesn’t know him or herself the “hows” and “whys” of their belief in God. As infuriating as you might think it is, this is perfectly natural.

    No one converts or de-converts without that emotional element being touched upon, and only a friend can get close enough to touch upon that emotional element. In becoming a friend, you run the risk of getting to like the person exactly how he or she is…

    My point is, trying to change someone’s mind about something that is so deeply emotionally embedded is fruitless. If you really want to change folks views on atheism, there has to be some give and some take; everyone involved needs to stop thinking in terms of “us” and “them” and get on with it.

  • Claire

    I am hopelessly bad at the arts. No one expects me to be able to draw, or write music, or dance, because my friends know that I’m not gifted in those ways. People pretty much understand that this is how the world works, and that artistic talent is not something everyone has.

    So, is it really reasonable to expect that everyone is (or can be) by nature rational and logical? I really think it’s as much an native talent as anything in the arts, and not everybody is born with it. Maybe it’s time we stopped thinking of this as a basic skill that everyone just naturally has or can easily learn, because some people just plain don’t have the gift or the interest. It certainly makes it less frustrating for me to think of those people as untalented (or uninterested) in this area rather than stupid or stubborn.

    Just to be clear, let me add the following caveats to forestall any misunderstandings about the above:

    No, logic and reason are not the only way to understand the universe, but they are the only way to understand it logically or rationally. If you want to order something different off the menu, that’s fine, but there are no substitutions.

    People who don’t take naturally to logic and reason could benefit from learning at least a little about it. I can appreciate art and music, even if I can’t participate, and those things enrich my life immensely.

    Still, there’s no point in beating some people over the head with logic anymore than it would do any good to have someone lecture me for hours about music theory. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time.

  • Nick

    I am hopelessly bad at the arts. No one expects me to be able to draw, or write music, or dance, because my friends know that I’m not gifted in those ways. People pretty much understand that this is how the world works, and that artistic talent is not something everyone has.
    Is it really any more reasonable to expect that everyone should be, or at least can be, rational and logical?

    Perhaps not, but are people who don’t understand music and art claiming that the only way to run a government, school, or private life is with their bad drawing or noise? Or really anywhere close to as zealous about it in any way? In this respect it’s hardly comparable.

    So many people have said this so many times before, but I don’t really care if somebody has illogical beliefs as long as they don’t preach them. And I don’t really care if somebody has an ugly painting on their wall as long as they aren’t trying to force it into the public and other peoples home with threats of eternal punishment. If somebody tries to logically defend their irrational beliefs then they are going to have a very tough time, and if somebody claims that the sound of their piss on a tile floor is wonderful music they will be laughed at.

    If these things were not the case when it comes to religion then I doubt this website would exist. Perhaps Hemant would have a blog with under a different name, but I know I wouldn’t be here.

    I really detest the idea that atheist are starting arguments out of nothing. I’m sure we can all find at least one example of this but, there are whole websites (my coworker just happens to run one of them) dedicated to irrational, hateful, and bigoted quotes from fundamentalist attacking the rest of the world and demanding it changes.

    I’m sorry if that came out sounding over-the-top or if I misunderstood what you were saying. I know not every theist is like this. If they aren’t then I’m only going to be talking about the logic with them if there interested.

  • Claire

    Nick, I think you did misunderstand. I’m just saying it’s pointless to waste energy reasoning with people who are never going to get it. If they are doing no harm, leave them be. If they are doing harm, find a way to stop them that will actually work, instead of continuing to try reason on someone who has shown that he is reason-proof.

  • macht

    Can somebody please give me an example of a Christian who thinks Zeus or Thor or any other gods were “fallen angels?” I think it would be difficult to come up with even one Christian who believes this, let alone enough to make it a “likely” explanation amongst Christians. Nobody should be listening to a guy’s opinions about Christians when he thinks that most Christians “do believe [Zeus and Thor and Ra and other gods] existed.”

  • http://www.notablogtm.com/ Ted

    @Macht:

    Can somebody please give me an example of a Christian who thinks Zeus or Thor or any other gods were “fallen angels?”

    Almost every Christian I know believes this. This hardly makes it universal, but I’ve heard the explanation many times, most notably from my mother. She specifically told me that all the Hindu gods (and in later discussions all “false Gods” in general) were various demons.

    I myself believed it for a number of years while growing up—well into my teens—until I threw out the entire system.

  • Kyle

    @Ted -

    I think you’d be in the minority on the demon aspect, but that’s neither here nor there. I wondered if you had a response to this:

    Title: “Bad Atheist responses to Christianity”. The problem is the contradiction between his title and his premise. If the premise of these responses is talking to a believer, the claim has already been made: the believer believes in said god.

    So, when the non-believer says you cannot prove it or says you need to prove it, they are merely stating the obvious because the claim has been made by the believer in the first place.

  • http://www.notablogtm.com/ Ted

    Kyle,

    I think you’d be in the minority on the demon aspect…

    Very possible. Likely even, considering the number of Christians I’ve personally spoken to comprise a tiny minority of all Christians.

    Re: the contradiction between title and premise. I can’t address your point directly because I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. The title is “Bad Atheist Responses to Christianity” (sensationalist, as headlines are wont to be, and not to be taken as part of the argument) and the (unstated) premise is “these 5 responses atheists give to Christian arguments are ineffective.”

    They’re not “bad” because they’re logically inconsistent or irrational or anything like that. They’re bad because they don’t work. (By “not working” I mean, they don’t advance the discussion in any meaningful way.)

    Regardless, I think our discussion here has gotten a little bogged down in semantics and pedantic analysis of argument structure.

    Don’t miss the overall point of the article: here are a series of arguments often used by atheists against Christians’ arguments, but are largely ineffective.

    You can disagree about how effective you think them to be, or even whether or not any justification I’ve cited make sense, etc. I’d be willing to bet at least someone has even had success with one of these. It really depends on how much the Christian has thought about their own beliefs.

    But my experience has been that these arguments don’t get people to think about their beliefs in a deeper, more rigorous way, which is ultimately why I debate anyone. I don’t care what anyone believes (to the extent it doesn’t interfere with my life), but I care whether they’ve given it serious thought.

    These arguments do not cause this to happen, because Christians already have justifications in place to explain them away. If I’m wrong about this, as I may be, then disregard the article and continue using the arguments. You may very well be able to present them in a way which is convincing. I have not found them to be so.

    Edit: I’m doing a follow up post on the Not A Blog this evening, to address a few of the concerns raised. You might be interested in stopping by. Hopefully I can clarify some details (although I’ll necessarily be repeating some of the things I’ve said here).

  • macht

    “Almost every Christian I know believes this.”

    I am going to suggest that you know a very odd (and minority) group of Christians.

  • http://www.notablogtm.com/ Ted

    For what it’s worth, I’m from Lancaster, PA, which is predominantly Anabaptist: Amish, Mennonite, etc. I was brought up “interdenominational” which takes a bit from each of these. In a sense, it’s a slightly more liberal version of fundamentalism—though not by much. Atheists are actively discriminated against (I am not openly atheist); people who are gay are broken (actual quote); evolution is worse than wrong, it’s evil; all science is suspect; and thinking and non-biblical knowledge is dangerous.

    In Lancaster, this type of Christian is very much the majority (about 70%), though not so much elsewhere, I realize. Odd is rather an understatement.

  • Karen

    I agree that bringing up Zeus isn’t going to work, but not necessarily for the reason you listed, Ted. As a fundamentalist, I would have just dismissed the Greek and Roman gods as a misguided, primitive attempt at understanding the world – just as most atheists would. I would never have thought of that system as remotely equal to the Christian religion.

    The difference is that we Christians thought we were in receipt of a message from The True God in the form of the bible. We did think that the gods of other contemporary religions (like Allah or Krishna) were deceptions of Satan, but I wouldn’t have gone so far as to say they were actual demons or fallen angels. I never heard that, though I did often hear the verse about how Lucifer “masquerades as an angel of light” in order to deceive as many people as possible from the true faith.

    In terms of presenting arguments in order to introduce cognitive dissonance and nudge some believers to take a closer look at their faith, it absolutely does work! It worked to get me out of fundamentalism and eventually out of religion all together and it worked for many, many deconverts that I have met online. Yes, there is a highly emotional component to deconversion, but that may already be present in questioning believers (as it was for me) or it may come about during the questioning and loss of faith.

    Claire, I think you’re right: One almost has to be somewhat rational and logical to start with in order to get the questioning going. People who are primarily motivated in life by emotion, and who have a strong emotional attachment to religion, are probably not going to be persuaded to change. However, there are plenty of rational people who believe in religion because they’ve grown up with it and never questioned it. Once they start to examine it, it often falls apart.

  • Mriana

    Ted said,

    January 23, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    For what it’s worth, I’m from Lancaster, PA, which is predominantly Anabaptist: Amish, Mennonite, etc. I was brought up “interdenominational” which takes a bit from each of these. In a sense, it’s a slightly more liberal version of fundamentalism—though not by much. Atheists are actively discriminated against (I am not openly atheist); people who are gay are broken (actual quote); evolution is worse than wrong, it’s evil; all science is suspect; and thinking and non-biblical knowledge is dangerous.

    In Lancaster, this type of Christian is very much the majority (about 70%), though not so much elsewhere, I realize. Odd is rather an understatement.

    Jesus Christ! How do you live? I’d have to move, before they try me as a witch or something. :(

  • JonPaul

    How should I start this……

    I am a Christian, but I see the flaws that faith has.
    I see a lot of people, blindly following without a thought of their own,
    I do believe in a God, but I hardly use him, or her, as an argument.

    The way I’ve always seen it, is whatever is most important in a person’s life, tends to be their “God”. I think just about everyone here is a rational, educated person. I hope to be seen the same. Yes, I believe in an eternal creature that created the cosmos…..

    Is it any more crazy than following any other theory? Scientific or not, what a person accepts doesn’t make them stupid, it’s what they do with it.

    Honestly though, there is no proof I can give you. Sure, I can see what I think (Key word, think) to be God’s brushstrokes, but I can’t prove it any more than someone could prove every theory of science. Until you see it with your own eyes, it might as well not exist….. it’s a good way to lead a life… but religion does hand down some morals that others MIGHT not get living in an Atheist world.

    Though, I will say that people “following God” have caused greater problems in this world than those who are “God free”.

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone here, just wanted to actually compliment you all for your intelligence and opinions.

    JonPaul.