25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 8)

25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 8) April 12, 2019

These are arguments that every Christian should avoid but are too often paraded around as if they’re effective. This is a continuation of a list that begins here.

Stupid Argument #26: Deconstruct the atheist worldview.

If you atheists were consistent, you’d say: “Follow any morality that pleases you. Those pangs of conscience in your brain are just chemicals.” And what are wonder, love, courage, and other positive traits if they’re also nothing but chemicals?

Sure, we can explain much of how the brain works, but how does that dismiss morality, wonder, and so on? This is the genetic fallacy—discounting something because of where it came from.

It’s like seeing an answer of 849 on a calculator and thinking, “Oh, just ignore that value. Those digits are simply an illusion of numbers caused by electrons turning bits of liquid crystal dark or light.” It’s true that at a low level it’s all physics and semiconductors, but that’s just one way to explain it. At a higher level, it’s a math problem.

Another example: when you meet someone new and they say, “Tell me about yourself,” you don’t list your body parts.

Similarly, at a low level, the brain is just chemicals, synapses, and neurons, but at the high level, it’s morality or wonder or consciousness or emotions or whatever. Neither level denies the truth of the other, and we can explore the issue at whatever level makes sense.

Consider the wonder we get from Christianity. Its cramped and flawed view of reality is nothing compared to what science gives us. Science tells us of atoms and quarks, living cells and DNA, and black holes and the Big Bang, and it backs up its claims with evidence!

About the universe, the Bible tells us, “[God] also made the stars” (Genesis 1:16). In the original Hebrew, it’s a single word.

Richard Dawkins said this about the world that we see through science:

The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living.

Stupid Argument #27: Flawed claim to Argument from Authority fallacy.

Wait—did you just base your claim that evolution is correct on the scientific consensus? Gotcha—Argument from Authority fallacy! Just because smart people say it’s true doesn’t make it so.

Let’s first understand how to apply the Argument from Authority fallacy. Statements such as the following may fail because of this fallacy: “Dr. Jones says I’m right” or “PZ Myers, a biology professor, says I’m right” or even “many biologists say I’m right.” The Argument from Authority fallacy rejects an argument based on the statement of someone who is either not an expert in the relevant field or who should be ignored in favor of the consensus view of that discipline.

To avoid the fallacy, replace “PZ Myers says that evolution is correct, so therefore it is” with “The consensus within biology is that evolution is correct, so that’s the best explanation we have at the moment.” (More on the irresistibility of the scientific consensus here.)

Stupid Argument #28: Don’t be a hypocrite! You take stuff on faith, too!

Here is the view stated by a Christian commenter (slightly tweaked): “Until you can tell me that you were there from the beginning until now, you don’t really have facts of your own, do you? Neither do I; I just don’t proclaim it like you do.

“Faith boys, we all have faith; faith in what is up to you. I think I will stick with the gospel on this one.”

The Christian goal here is to insist that the positions of the atheist and Christian are symmetric—say what you will about faith; we’re all in the same boat. This fails for several reasons.

  • The Christian antagonist denigrates faith with this argument. A crude paraphrase might be, “You say I’m stupid for having faith? Well, you have faith too, so who’s stupid now??” Faith is no longer an honorable and valid route to truth but a crutch that atheists as well as Christians lean on. Ask yourself why the Christian response is never, “Good for you—now you’re getting it! You’re taking things on faith, just like you should.”
  • The definition of “faith” is curiously slippery, but in this context it’s used to mean belief based on insufficient or poor evidence. The Christian here charges the atheist with faith in science, but I have no use for that kind of faith. Instead, I trust science. That is, my belief is well supported by evidence and (here is the bit too often overlooked) if the evidence changes, my belief will change accordingly.
  • To go beyond a layman’s trust in science, science can explain the reasons why any particular claim is made. And explain the reasons behind those reasons, and so on. At some point, we get down to facts (results of experiments, say) or axioms (1 + 1 = 2, say). Even with axioms, there is no faith. Axioms are tested continually.

To be continued.

Don’t have anything to do
with foolish and stupid arguments,
because you know they produce quarrels.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome
but must be kind to everyone,
able to teach, not resentful.
— 2 Timothy 2:23–4

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/23/15.)

Image from Wikimedia, CC license

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  • Jeremy

    Regarding #28, I’ve always really liked this quote:

    “Why do they say ‘Science is based on faith too!’ in that angry-triumphal tone, rather than as a compliment? And a rather dangerous compliment to give, one would think, from their perspective. If science is based on ‘faith,’ then science is of the same kind as religion — directly comparable. If science is a religion, it is the religion that heals the sick and reveals the secrets of the stars. It would make sense to say, ‘The priests of science can blatantly, publicly, verifiably walk on the Moon as a faith-based miracle, and your priests’ faith can’t do the same.’ Are you sure you want to go there?” ~ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    • RichardSRussell

      How I yearn for the “good old days” spoken of in 1 Kings 18, where Yahweh wasn’t afraid or ashamed to put his powers to the test but actually engaged in a sacrifice-roasting competition with Baal. Boy, if only he’d engage in an epidemic-preventing competition with modern science!

      • WCB

        In the OT, God put in some personal appearances. Twerking for Moses. Leading the Israelites as a pillar o smoke by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Appearing to 72 elders of Israel standing on a pavement of sapphire. And so on. So, why has god decided no longer to show us he does exist in such unmistakable and personal terms? of course if all that was just more lying myths from lying priests, that explains that.

        I am sure those oh so sophisticate theologians will have an answer for us. Not a good answer, but doing the best they can with what they have.

        • Damian Byrne

          So, why has god decided no longer to show us he does exist in such unmistakable and personal terms?

          Ask them this. Ask them if I said I had a super powerful wizard friend able to do all sorts of magic spells, only I came up with excuse after excuse for why he’s never around to demonstrate these powers…why it is they would easily smell my bullshit in that case, but when they say the same regarding their god, they can’t quite seem to grasp that to me, it looks like bullshit.

  • Lex Lata

    “Until you can tell me that you were there from the beginning until now, you don’t really have facts of your own, do you? Neither do I; I just don’t proclaim it like you do.

    “Faith boys, we all have faith; faith in what is up to you. I think I will stick with the gospel on this one.”

    Of course no believer has been around from the beginning either, so that’s hardly a fair measure of reliability.

    Here’s the thing. I don’t know how life actually emerged from non-life billions of years ago, or whether it’s happened elsewhere in the universe. Nor do I know what caused or came before the Big Bang, or even whether words like “cause” or “before” make sense as applied to whatever there was on the other side of that event.

    But I have no reason to think that the creative and credulous priest-scribes of one minor tribe of antiquity had any more of a clue than I do. Nor is there any scientific evidence that their specific account of creation is truer than the innumerable analogous narratives of the ancient Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians, Harappans, Greeks, etc.

    No, I wasn’t there in the beginning, and neither was any believer. No, I don’t actually know with certainty how things started, and neither does any believer. But I’m okay with that, and don’t feel compelled to assert the truth of tales transcribed by unknown Iron Age authors who didn’t know about the existence of viruses or UV light or Australia.

    • And even in that case, science is more trusty than merely projecting the writings of said authors into it, without caring for the consquences.

    • Lark62

      Yes. Although I may be uncertain about the origin of the universe, how life began or the presence of life elsewhere in the universe, I am certain that the iron age story about a petty, genocidal maniac of a deity putting fully formed humans in a garden with talking snakes is pure hogwash.

      • A deity that behaves in a quite human way and not in the one a deity that created this Universe would do

      • I Came To Bring The Paine

        Right. Just like I don’t have to know the origins of the universe to know that Zeus isn’t real. I don’t have to know the origins of the universe to know their god isn’t real.

    • NS Alito

      The Creationist claim is effectively there is no plausible natural mechanism to produce life from non-life. The scientific counter to that would be there is at least one plausible natural mechanism to produce life from non-life. That is, the onus on science is not to discover the specific order and path that biochemistry took to bootstrap life, but that there exists at least one non-supernatural mechanism that could work.

      I compare that to arguing that your client is innocent because there is no way he could have gone from Point A to Point B in time to commit the crime. All that is needed to poke holes in that claim is to show at least one way he could get there in time (bus, Uber, skateboard), not the actual means or path he took to get there.

  • wtfwjtd

    “Faith” in science is based on evidence, and the simple reason is that when it comes to healing the sick or lighting the night or explaining the weather or whatever, science delivers. Christian “faith” in the gospel is based on trying to make yourself believe that whatever was spoken or written in a holy book 2,000 (or more) years ago by a religious figure is absolutely true and unerring, based on no evidence whatsoever (in fact it’s still accepted on faith as being true even when clearly shown to be false!)

    Or, as priest Sydney Chambers on Granchester so often reminds us–“If God gave us evidence, then faith wouldn’t be required.”

    Speaking as one who’s been there, done that–the Christian extolling “faith” as a sole basis for belief is one of the most self-defeating maxims imaginable.

    • Michael Neville

      Christians and other theists know they don’t have evidence for their various gods so they’re stuck with faith. They’ve been using faith for so long that they’ve convinced themselves that it’s a virtue.

  • That is, my belief is well supported by evidence and (here is the bit too often overlooked) if the evidence changes, my belief will change accordingly.

    Something like this happens with everyone, even the most religiously dogmatic. Belief is a curious thing, not something we have any direct control over. We can’t choose what we believe (sorry, M. Pascal). Our beliefs fall unconsciously from our epistemological process. But that is something that we can choose. We can choose to follow dogma, or we can choose to weigh evidence. Dogma doesn’t change much, which is why those whose epistemology hangs on faith have static beliefs. Those of us whose epistemology is rational and evidence based have beliefs that change if the evidence changes. We aren’t choosing what to believe, but we’re choosing how we acquire knowledge.

    • NS Alito

      I mostly agree, with one critical distinction: Our ability to objectively weigh evidence depends on the subject at hand. People may be willing to accept, say, that they were adopted while at the same time never accept that their beloved spouse is cheating. It’s a whole lot easier to change one’s conclusion if the topic isn’t critical to one’s whole worldview.

      • Yes, but objective decision making is a learned skill (because we choose to learn it). Some people are much better than others at recognizing their own biases and reducing their influence in how they analyze things.

  • Benny S.

    I can’t resist giggling when I read these arguments because in my head I hear them being spoken in a tone a la Pee Wee Herman’s “I know you are but what am I” and then punctuated with a “neener neener”.

  • WCB

    Faith. There is justified faith and there is unjustified faith. Science proves things and the things science proves is useful. The idea that electrons exist and can be used to do useful things if science understand the properties of electrons stands proven. I am justified in having faith in science on this issue. The various claims made for an omni-everything creator God creates problems, free will vs omniscience, the problem of evil and many other problems. There is no evidence at all for the existence of a supernatural realm and other concepts theists base their theories about God on. Theism is unjustified faith. The faith in God and religion is not on the same level as science. Theologians argue incessantly about all of this, trying to prove God exists, and how to resolve the many incoherent problems and and lack of evidence for God.

    • Michael Neville

      Science does not prove things.

      • WCB

        In the colloquial sense of prove = demonstrate, science does.

        • Michael Neville

          In the scientific sense, science does not. Proof is only found in mathematics, philosophy and alcohol.

        • WCB

          Prove it.

        • Michael Neville

          I can’t because science is neither mathematics, philosophy or alcohol.

        • Chuck Johnson

          You seem to enjoy misusing the English language for your own entertainment.

        • Susan

          You seem to enjoy misusing the English language for your own entertainment.

          No, Chuck.

          You are trolling again.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Neville is making a joke and you are not smart enough to see it.
          You are a halfwit.

        • NS Alito

          I would say the colloquial sense of to prove is to test, as in the tested percentage of alcohol, the test for a mathematical conclusion (“proof”), or the testing of a new model car (“proving ground”). The relative confidence in a scientific conjecture increases as it passes more tests, like the roundness of the Earth, the elemental relationships on The Periodic Table, Arrhenius’s prediction about CO2 and global warming, etc.

        • epeeist

          In the colloquial sense of prove = demonstrate, science does.

          Nope, what science does is fail to disprove hypotheses.

        • WCB

          No, experiments may confirm a hypothesis or disprove a hypothesis. That is what experiments do. Sometimes experiments are meant to explore possibilities. Do electrons also demonstrate quantum weirdness in double slit experiments? Let’s find out. J.J. Thompson, investigating why Crookes tube exhibited the phenomena it did accidentally discovered the electron. Sometimes experiments demonstrate things unexpected. Quite a bit of that happened in modern physics. Discovery of electron spin is another example.

        • Chuck Johnson

          “No, experiments may confirm a hypothesis or disprove a hypothesis.”

          Yes, that’s how the experiments often turn out, confirming or disproving.

          That’s also what the intentions of the scientists must be.
          Trying to prove an idea to be true is valid science.
          Trying to prove an idea to be false is valid science.

          Doing research with little advance expectation as to whether the outcome will be “proved” or “disproved” is also valid science.

          Good science is powered by curiosity.

        • democommiescrazierbrother

          “Good science is powered by curiosity.”

          And badscience* is powered by pocket change from the Kochsuckerbroz and the Templeton Foundation.

          * badscience is to science what the Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is to an olive tree (Olea europae). Sounds vaguely similar but is not even in the same genus or, even, family.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Or Popeye’s girl friend.
          Words are best understood within a context.
          Using them out of context is a trick for deceivers or comedians.

        • democommiescrazierbrother

          I’m both a deceiver and a comedian–although my comedy is often deceptively unintentional.

        • epeeist

          No, experiments may confirm a hypothesis or disprove a hypothesis.

          Confirm, yes; prove no.

          J.J. Thompson (sic) , investigating why Crookes tube exhibited the phenomena it did accidentally discovered the electron.

          And concluded it was a corpuscle, a particle. For this he received a Nobel prize.

          His son, George Paget Thomson, also received a Nobel prize, this time for showing that the electron is a wave.

          A nice example that shows that theories are never proven, they always remain tentative and provisional. As Thomas Huxley noted (and Popper echoed), all theories are vulnerable to falsification, “The great tragedy of Science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact”

        • Chuck Johnson

          Your misuse of “confirm” and “disprove” is an embarrassment to you.

        • epeeist

          Obvious troll is obvious.

        • Chuck Johnson

          I have seen your comments.
          If you knew science then it would show in what you say.
          What it shows is that you do not know science, you are a pretender.
          Using a sciency-sounding word like “confirm” does not impress.
          Knowing science would impress.

        • Susan

          I have seen your comments.

          If you knew science then it would show in what you say.

          What would that look like?

          What it shows is that you do not know science, you are a pretender.

          Because Chuck Johnson says so. A guy who calls everyone a troll who doesn’t just agree with him.

          Your bluffing has lost any luster it might have had.

          Knowing science would impress.

          Not if “knowing science” is defined by nodding one’s head in deference to Chuck Johnson, some guy on the internet.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Susan, your comments are political in nature and not scientific.
          You show yourself to be scientifically ignorant.
          Your comments contain personal insults designed to try to cover up your scientific ignorance.

          But there is one exception:

          If you knew science then it would show in what you say.
          What would that look like?

          “What would that look like” is a scientific question.
          It shows curiosity.

          What it would look like is that any conversation about science would refer to science that is relevant and helps to explain the questions at hand. I have seen (but not often) commenters say things that include relevant science references that help to explain the points that they are making.

          I include science references, and so do a few others.
          Comments that contain just the politics of arguing including personal insult do not convince even, though this is your style of commentary when you decide to troll.

          Stop trolling.
          If you do not understand the science, then say so.
          Pretending that you know things that you really don’t know is not scientific. It’s just dishonest politics. When I see you doing this, I tell you that you are trolling. – – – Don’t act so surprised.

          And when you say that the commentary of Chuck Johnson is not scientifically valid you are just embarrassing yourself once again.
          You wouldn’t know the difference.

          When you don’t understand a particular area of science, say so.
          You can easily disprove any scientific assertion that Chuck Johnson puts forth.

          All you have to do is lie.

        • Why refer to Chuck Johnson in the third person? Aren’t you him?

        • Chuck Johnson

          Susan said Chuck Johnson instead of “you”.
          I noticed this and said Chuck Johnson instead of “me”.
          Just being consistent with her comment.

        • epeeist

          “It’s no good you making a noise, gentlemen. The Dean ain’t a-coming down tonight.”

  • Grimlock

    Another example: when you meet someone new and they say, “Tell me about yourself,” you don’t list your body parts.

    I’ve actually done something like that once. It got awkward real fast.

  • Greg G.

    I was catching up on my SMBC. This one is too good to miss:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/apple