Hello dear readers. Today we’ll be exploring a few of the common arguments I and many other skeptical debaters commonly encounter while we debate with Christians. These are hardly the ONLY arguments we see, but in my experience they tend to be ones that reappear more frequently than other arguments and perhaps it is due to individual communication skills by those who argue these positions, they tend to be better communicated than many other arguments I’ve heard.
Experience As Evidence:
This is an easily rebutted argument and many of the debaters on the skeptical side point out that if “experience is evidence” what about people who had hallucinations, or had severe mental breakdowns prior to experiencing whatever they want to be seen as evidence? While that’s a way to go about it, I favor pointing out that it is tough for Christians to be consistent in this idea of “experience as evidence”. My favorite question to ask Christians who try to argue that experience can seriously be considered as evidence is why are they Christians and not polytheists. In order to be consistent with this idea that experience is ACTUALLY evidence, one has to acknowledge any and all deities that people have claimed to have experience seeing could likely exist. The Christian debaters I’ve met when it comes to this are not consistent typically saying things like “believers in other deities have been fooled by Satan” or “Those experiences were psychological in nature and not spiritual”.
This is special pleading. Or an extension of it. Special pleading is the fallacy that occurs someone sets up a rule and then asks for or asserts that there are exceptions to be applied to said rule when it inconveniences them. The reason why I say that this is a type of special pleading is because Christians who argue in favor of this position set up a rule: that experience can be seen as valid evidence, and then attempts to get experiences from non-Christian believers to be exempted from this rule. In usual cases of special pleading the exemption from the rule applies to the people who set up the rule not others who’d inadvertently gain a more solid position (and inconvenience Christians in doing so) by using this rule.
If you want experiences to be seen as valid types of “evidence” you’re going to have to accept reality and realize that this means that there could be many different deities out there not just the one (or ones depending on the religion of people who use this rule) you believe in. If you attempt to argue that experiences can be seen as evidence and then try to discredit the experiences of other believers who disagree with you you are not being consistent and should change your approach. This is a tricky position to try and consistently argue for. It’s not convenient for anyone involved in arguing it, because many times people who argue against experiences being seen as evidence look like jerks who are trying to discredit what people claim they’ve experienced.
Your experiences are AT BEST reasons for you to believe. They are not (or at least they shouldn’t be) compelling evidence for other people that you want to convince you are right. If you are arguing that your experiences are compelling evidence, I want to know what separates your experiences from the experiences of others that somehow their experiences are not as convincing as yours, or are somehow inferior to yours in such a way that you know your experiences are true while knowing or believing that theirs are not (in cases when you share your experiences with people who disagree with you).
Absence Of Evidence:
Another common argument that I see in Facebook religious debates groups is funny. It’s the idea that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In case you don’t really understand this what this expression means it is just stating that even without evidence there is no reason to consider something impossible. This is basically the argument from ignorance but that won’t be the approach to this I discuss in this particular blog post.
I’ve no doubt that if I asked many of the people who argue this position if they believed in Hunahpu (one of the deities and one half of the hero twins of the K’iche civilization (a specific group of Mayan people) who were located in the highlands in Guatemala) they’d say no. Some of them would probably say it’s because they believe in the one true God. Others would say it’s because they know of no evidence to support the existence of such a deity (or demon if they think along the lines of “Satan deceived non-Christian theists!”). If you hear someone make an extraordinary claim and they fail to provide evidence for it you’re probably not going to believe them. It’s completely reasonable to lack a belief in something as extraordinary as a deity if you know of no evidence to support such a claim being reflective of reality.
I think part of the problem with this argument is that it seems to rely on a misunderstanding of atheism. When I’ve heard this argument it has always been from believers who understand atheism to be a belief that God does not exist (which is a definition of atheism but doesn’t accurately describe many atheists such as myself). At best that specifically applies to what many people call “gnostic atheists”. I am not a gnostic atheist. My position is that I lack a belief in any deity (including but definitely not limited to God, Hunahpu, Tiamat, Zeus, Shiva, and Odin) but I acknowledge the possibility of one existing, which makes me an agnostic-atheist. I see an absence of evidence when it comes to claims related to God and other deities and that is enough to cause me to lack belief in God and other deities.
It is unreasonable to lack extraordinary evidence and still have an extraordinary belief. This argument is probably an attempt by those who use it to justify lacking evidence and still having an extraordinary belief but it fails to do that. If this argument is used to justify having wild beliefs (even if those beliefs are popular) it fails to do so. This type of reasoning is best used to remind people that we don’t yet have ALL of the “information” that exists in the universe, but you can’t use this to justify having a belief right here and now. This argument could work when it comes to showing people that it is tough to entirely dismiss most claims but most people probably don’t entirely dismiss claims they don’t agree with. I acknowledge the possibility that I could be wrong but I won’t believe in something without evidence just because I could be wrong. Once again if that’s the sort of reasoning people when it comes to religion have they should be polytheists and not Christians.
These arguments while interesting to consider are better suited for discussions between atheists and polytheists than atheists and Christians. Both of these arguments are not well-suited towards what people consider to be Christianity right now nor do they demonstrate in any specific way that theism (not to mention Christianity specifically) is somehow more rational than skepticism. These are interesting to ponder, but even if I took them seriously and didn’t scrutinize them I wouldn’t want to be a Christian, I’d want to play it safe and be a polytheist who reveres multiple deities from a variety of different and separate religions. I fail to see how these arguments intend to move me closer to Christianity, unless someone views theism as closer to Christianity than atheism is (which probably sounds intrinsically sound but the Christians I’ve spoken with, which is not meant to be representative of all Christians, often argue that non-Christian theism is closer to the truth than atheism is even if both atheism and non-Christian theism are BOTH incorrect).
These are some of the better arguments I’ve read by Christian debaters but even they fail to move me towards Christianity, and they hardly even give me any reason to consider becoming a theist once they’ve been properly examined. Have you read either of these arguments before? Have you encountered stronger ones than these before? I’d love to know what your experiences have been in terms of debating, including if you’re a believer reading this post.
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