UPDATE: I’ve taken a second look at the language I used at the end of this post and revised it. The revision and the reason are now present at the end of the post.
There’s an update on John Loftus’s book of debates with a Christian scholar (I mentioned it before when he was soliciting possible topics on Debunking Christianity). He’s picked out the first six questions they’ll be addressing, and I’m really disappointed with the one’s he presumably picked as particularly winning points for atheists. Here’s the list:
My first three questions have to do with the biblical god:
- The biblical god ruled over a pantheon of gods and had a wife, Asherah.
- The biblical god required human sacrifices for his pleasure.
- The biblical god commanded the genocide of whole people groups.
Hmm, pretty provocative. Oh, wait. I already know the answer to all of these questions: Christians are free to interpret almost anything in the Old Testament allegorically.
Essentially this is the same question three times, which could be more succinctly phrases as: Is there anything that God did in the Old Testament that you feel cannot be reconciled with the teachings and works of Jesus? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the answer is no.
Most people do not focus on the troublesome aspects of their religion (whether textual or ethical) on a day-to-day basis, and, if Loftus wanted to poke at these weak spots, he could have picked better targets. Perhaps he should have asked:
- Are the moral principles of your religion accessible to everyone?
- Do the demands of your religion conflict with your moral intuitions?
- When should you override feelings of moral revulsion to follow the commands of your God?
- When should you override feelings of moral revulsion to follow the commands of your God’s servants?
For point of comparison, here are the first three questions posed by his Christian opponent.
His first three questions:
- If there is no God then life has no meaning.
- If there is no God then everything is permitted.
- Science is no substitute for religion.
These are better, but they’re clearing an awfully low bar. The last question is particularly lousy. Science is obviously a decent substitute for religion when it comes to generating hypothesis about physical phenomena but, contra Sam Harris, doesn’t have much to tell us about morality or meaning.
However, it is not sufficient for religion to assert that it is a tool for answering metaphysical questions. Religion must also offer reasons that it is a reliable and accurate tool for resolving these questions. Forcing a false dilemma and then disproving one option is bad argumentation and bad apologetics. At their core, all the questions posed by the Christian fall into this shoddy reasoning.
What do you wish your side had asked? Are other atheists as frustrated* as I am?
UPDATE: When this post originally ran, I used the word “embarrassed” where the word “frustrated” now appears. I’ve changed it, since I think embarrassed was more pejorative than I meant it to be and my word choice was distracting from the debate. I am frustrated when atheists don’t present their strongest arguments in debates or seek out weak opponents. I think this doesn’t present our position in the best light, and hurts our side, hence my original use of embarrassment. However, I didn’t go into enough detail to back up my language. Hence, two new posts, further explaining my position.