Discussion: what’s the best way to deal with apologetics-spouting evangelists?

I got a question in a previous thread, typed out a quick response, and then realized this would be a good question to dedicate a thread to. First, the question:

I was wondering if anyone has distilled any glib rejoinders in response to people quoting the bullet points of any of WLC (or any well known apologists) commonly cited stuff.

You know, the kind of thing people will come up to you and be like wham, bam, boom followed by “do you believe in god yet”

Ways to shut down, say, the KCA in 3 sentences or less when you aren’t on the internet and dealing with entrenched research situations.

My off-the-cuff response:

The best response is probably to make them slow down, and calmly ask them to explain why they believe the things they’re saying.

Don’t fall into the trap of letting them make assertions and having it fall on you to disprove them.

You talk to them awhile and it becomes evident that their reason for believing these things is “William Lane Craig, who is a great philosopher, said so,” Craig’s track record of dishonesty becomes fair game at that point.

You may also want to ask them, “Is this your real reason for believing in God? Is it your only reason? If it isn’t your only reason, what other reasons do you have? If I show you what’s wrong with these arguments, will you admit you have no good reason to believe in God?”

Because honestly, a lot of the folks who expect quick conversions from Craig’s arguments–they don’t actually have any idea whether the arguments are any good, they’re just parroting what they’ve been told is a great evangelism technique.

To clarify, when I say, “why they believe what they believe,” I mean their reasons for the premises of their arguments.

I should have also noted you need to be on the lookout for apologists who will do an in-person version of JAQing off, mixed with a bit if privileging the hypothesis. They’ll bombard you with a bunch of questions, and vaguely act like this is some kind of defeat for you if you don’t have answers for them (while insisting they’re Just Asking a Question). Presuppositionalists are especially bad about that. Don’t let them get away with it; demand they give you an actual reason for their claims.

The advice I gave in the last couple paragraphs of my comment was inspired by my vague remembrance s of something JT once said about ground rules for debates. After posting my comment I hunted it down, and JT said it better than I:

Conversations are a two way street in which both participants need to be willing to alter their position if it makes sense to do so.  Conversations are what I want to be involved in.  In order to avoid wasting my time in a one-sided non-conversation (as I have done many times before learning my lesson), I have developed the following questions and requirements.

First, I’ll need you to tell me what could change your mind.  If you cannot envision anything that could change your mind, then you’re inviting me to a situation where you expect me to be open to evidence, but are unwilling to play by the same standards  yourself.  Why should I bother?Second, if I show that one of your arguments is a bad argument, how will that affect your position?  Will you alter your position accordingly or will you maintain the exact same position and just move on to the next argument, and the next, and the next, and so forth?  If I show one of your arguments to be faulty, will you stop using it in the future?  For instance, if you ask me for a transitional fossil and I rattle off a lengthy list of them, will you try that ploy again with your next target hoping that they don’t have the list at hand, or will you accept that transitional fossils exist and change your mind to incorporate this fact (and correct your Christian colleagues when they make the same bad argument in your presence)?  If not, why should I bother with you?

But it’s honestly been awhile since I’ve tried much to argue with someone in person. I may be rusty. So let me open it up: what do you find works when dealing with believers, particularly ones who have read a bit of apologetics and are eager to parrot it, in person?

  • piegasm

    Specifically with regard to KCA, ask them if anything other than god exists eternally. If no, then the first premise reduces to “everything but god begins to exist” and the argument begs the question.

    • piegasm

      Additionally, you can point out that even if you let the question begging slide, the second premise forces them into special pleading. If you think of the universe as the set of all things, then saying the universe has a beginning is equivalent to saying everything has a beginning. But your alleged god doesn’t have a beginning; why?

      That, of course, leaves aside the question of whether the universe actually even has a beginning, because that’s far from certain. The Big Bang (which is what WLC cites as proof that the universe has a beginning) is just where we end up when we extrapolate the universe’s expansion backwards in time; we don’t actually know that there was nothing before that.

      There’s really no end to the ways you can attack KCA.

      • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

        Both of those are really good.

        And I’d suggest adding a WLC-esque debater’s trick – namely poisoning the well before you push them into it:

        “Well, nobody with any intellectual integrity would seriously offer an argument that they knew was so easily refuted; a couple minutes of research on the web shows that there are lots of simple refutations of the KCA, such as…”

        People give WLC way too much credit when all he’s doing is using cheap debaters’ tricks. Most importantly, he knows he’s using cheap debaters’ tricks. In other words, he knows that what he’s saying isn’t true. Taking WLC seriously amounts to choosing to be lied to. What kind of intellectually supine position is that to take?

      • http://avatars.imvu.com/jamesskaar jamesskaar

        i was chatting with a friend about how electrons pop in and out of existence at orbit distance from an atom nucleus, and that atoms are made of higher energy particles that last a long time because of the energy state. then there’s the problem of creating a vacuum, new particles pop into existence within it, meaning it could never be a complete spot of nothing. this state of nothingness that has particles popping in and out of existence, occasionally clumping, could be the natural state of the universe. black holes, being such high energy, are probably the only things that can create nothingness for any respectable length of time. http://freethoughtblogs.com/hallq/2012/08/16/victor-stenger-on-william-lane-craig/ could be seen as a way of saying that’s the case.

  • mnb0

    I always go for the fundamental assumptions, presuppositions or axioms, whatever you name them. It’s something I have learned from math. A conclusion, if all the logical steps are correct, is as strong as the axioms. Euclides is a crystal clear example. Change one assumption and Pythagoras’ theorem is not true anymore.
    So eg in the case of the cosmological argument: why causality? What about Quantum Mechanics? Why finity?
    Nobody can answer that.

    Of course I point out logical errors if I see them, but generally speaking they can be fixed.
    It’s very important – and I knew that already as a teenager – to avoid the position that yóú are the one who has to prove anything. You will fail. Just admit you can’t prove there is no god, but that you don’t see any reason to accept it.

  • astro

    When I have explained something clearly, and the other person hedges or misrepresents what I HAVE JUST SAID, I’ll ask (rhetorically, although I would be happy with an answer) “what is it about what I just said that you don’t understand?”. This can go on a bit circularly but it backs them into a corner. If they try to move on, they can’t because you can keep going back to your question. “what is it that you don’t understand? I need to know that so we can get on the same page”. There is the more insulting version which is ” That you don’t understand this is a failure on YOUR part”

    There is a larger argument I make especially with AGW deniers that can be used with all deniers of science or estabished history, and this that we are morally obligated to accept the scientific consensus. Neither of us is a scientist in general or a climatologist specifically so regardless of our opposing OPINIONS on the state of AGW we are both equally required to accept the concensus which is free from the claims of any authority, even an expert. To do otherwise is to pretend to know something you don’t AKA lying. They usually point to the 2 or 3 ‘experts’ who are paid dissenters, but any real experts know that even then one is required to accept the consensus unless dissent is well researched. But like evolution theory, there are far too many lines of evidence pointing to the conclusion for it to be wrong.

    Sorry, got a bit off post

  • http://Skepticali.blogspot.com Skepticali

    The only thing that comes to mind is the generality “you can’t disprove that God exists”.  A rejoinder takes the form “neither can you disprove the existence of any number of mythical beings”. If I can’t get them to acknowledge that their framework allows for unlimited nonsense, then I gently terminate the conversation.

  • wholething

    I have pointed out that things that are caused to exist are simply rearrangements of things that already exist. Things that actually begin to exist are things like virtual particles and they don’t have a cause.

    Hamza Tzortzis is a Muslim apologist who steals WLC’s arguments. He was arguing that the Universe could not come from a series of events into the infinite past because there could never be an infinite regression. Dan Barker asked, “What was God’s first thought?”

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Another good way of poking the KCA is to point out that it’s irrelevant to whoever’s making it’s belief because, even if we accepted that there was a god, you can’t tell if it’s the christian god or the hindu gods or the the old norse gods or.. whatever. I usually like too characterize people who take the KCA as a winning argument as “big bang worshippers” because, for all intents and purposes, that’s what they are.

    Getting from “big bang, therefore book written by bronze age jews is true!” is a real stretch.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    If you watch politicians, you’ll notice that they rarely answer questions precisely as asked. Instead, they look beyond the explicit question at what’s happening in the situation.

    Suppose you get crazy YEC assertion #319. You don’t know the particular corner of science well enough to respond to the question as asked, but you can respond to the situation.

    “Could you point me to the original source of this criticism?” (And don’t take an apologetics article as an answer.)

    “I’m happy to look up one claim and get back to you on it. Is this the one you want me to check on?” (Provokes a non-threatening self-evaluation.)

    “Why do you think mainstream scientists have a different view from what you’re saying?”

    “Do your religious beliefs allow you to change your mind on this particular point? I don’t want to argue about science if that’s not going to be important to you.”

    “Do you mind if I point you to a Christian writer with a different view on evolution / the age of the Earth / etc.? Can we talk later about why you disagree with him / her?”

    “I used to believe this kind of thing too. Would you like to hear what changed my mind?”

    These kind of responses are helpful even if you do know a direct answer because, often, that’s not the point of the exchange.


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