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.
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
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/23/15.)
Image from Wikimedia, CC license