Various decorative depictions of the “L10a174” link of mathematical knot theory (i.e. a closed 5-link chain), including interlinked circles and pentagons, and interlaced “yin-yang” type shapes [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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In my post, Exchanges w Atheist on Hell & Skepticism, I made the following comment, after being asked by my atheist friend, “what is your best evidence for God’s existence?”
Here are some of the best arguments I could find:
The usual atheist response after I present these, that I worked for several weeks compiling is (this has literally happened several times) [my sarcastic embellishment of real events]: “I can’t read all that! Can’t you summarize some of the best ones in slogans and soundbites, so my feeble mind with its short attention span can comprehend it?”
Sorry, I don’t do that. We’re not in kindergarten here. If an atheist asks for the best rational arguments we can give, I think I have collected a great deal of them, and they will have to spend serious time reading, if they are serious about an objective examination of the philosophical strength of the theist or Christian worldview.
My goal is to present the best evidence I can find. I don’t need to always personally argue some argument. Some scholar is gonna be able to do it way better than I am.
Atheist inquirers who weren’t serious in the first place will ignore and mock my links collections. Their goal is usually just to make Christians look stupid and supposedly make themselves look so intellectually superior.
More open-minded, serious ones, on the other hand, who have asked for some solid arguments, will look them over (and should thank me for saving them the trouble, collecting all these articles).
RhiForest, another atheist, started critiquing this in the combox (his words in blue, with my replies, and some added material now, regarding “gish gallop” and a few other minor additions or changes):
First is in regards to this you claim about the responses you get when you link those compilations of various resources and arguments. I have tried for the life of me to think of a phrase the can succinctly describe what it looks like from the outside. Forgive me but there is only one phrase that comes to mind at the moment, and I know it is not completely accurate and that you put a lot of effort into those links. I will be blunt though, it looks like a Gish Gallop. Firstly, in response to a single question you present numerous answers. Now while the question is somewhat open ended, this response does not move the conversation forward because, quite simply, there is too much to go over. No one person can debunk all of that to get back to the focus on the conversation and have anything that resembles a life. Second, and this is why that phrase comes to mind, is that even just looking at the titles of each link, many of them contain argument that many atheists have encountered on their way out of the faith or in passing to inspect it. For example, you mention the teleological argument, the cosmological argument, and the ontological argument as the links. I can say that during my time looking through apologetic arguments, I saw these three arguments destroyed more completely than the Death Star ( :P ). By including these arguments (it may differ depending on the person), you have already made me predisposed to think of the others as being in a similar state. All in all, unless the person is specifically asking for a link of different resources, keeping the conversation focused on a single train of thought is the most productive. So basically, when asked for your “best” pick the one that, to you, best supports your claim, and move forward.
I looked up this “gish gallop” thing. I had never heard of that before. For the sake of those as unfamiliar with it as I was, here is how the Urban Dictionary defines it (with a certain word paraphrased in brackets):
Named for the debate tactic created by creationist shill Duane Gish, a Gish Gallop involves spewing so much [BS] in such a short span on that your opponent can’t address let alone counter all of it. To make matters worse a Gish Gallop will often have one or more ‘talking points’ that has a tiny core of truth to it, making the person rebutting it spend even more time debunking it in order to explain that, yes, it’s not totally false but the Galloper is distorting/misusing/misstating the actual situation. A true Gish Gallop generally has two traits.
1) The factual and logical content of the Gish Gallop is pure [BS] and anybody knowledgeable and informed on the subject would recognize it as such almost instantly. That is, the Gish Gallop is designed to appeal to and deceive precisely those sorts of people who are most in need of honest factual education.
2) The points are all ones that the Galloper either knows, or damn well should know, are totally [BS]. With the slimier users of the Gish Gallop, like Gish himself, its a near certainty that the points are chosen not just because the Galloper knows that they’re [BS], but because the Galloper is deliberately trying to shovel as much [BS] into as small a space as possible in order to overwhelm his opponent with sheer volume and bamboozle any audience members with a facade of scholarly acumen and factual knowledge.
Of course this nonsense has nothing whatever to do with the reasons for my lists. I simply compiled a bunch of good arguments from scholars, that I could refer people to if they want to read further. It’s “further reading” lists. Period.
I never said everyone has to read every paper. Pick out a few to read. If you don’t wanna read any, great. It’s a free country. That doesn’t wipe out the legitimate reason and motive I had for compiling them.
I know before the atheist reads anything from me (even stuff I link to) that it is 99% certain that he or she won’t be convinced of a damned thing. Ho hum. But the links still have some great arguments for Christianity and theism if they are truly interested in reading both sides.
Alvin Plantinga, for example (just one of many scholars in my collections), is widely considered the world’s greatest living Christian philosopher. This is no dummy. He singlehandedly dismantled the “hard” problem of evil, and even many atheist philosophers have conceded that. It’s quite an accomplishment for any philosopher to achieve something that notable. He’s worthwhile for anyone to read.
You guys constantly ask for this stuff (evidence, arguments), so I massively provide it in my lists of links, and then I get mocked as supposedly providing a “gish gallop” [someone else used the same phrase, too]. Can’t win for losing. But it’s the same routine as always. Nothing new under the sun.
Most atheists are gonna consider me an irrational idiot who hates science and is a young earth creationist, and all the rest of the usual boilerplate. None of that is true. It’s a big joke. But this is what most atheists online do: put people in boxes even if they obviously don’t and can’t fit into them.
Occasionally I run across one who can get beyond all that and engage in mutually respectful dialogue, which I consider great fun, and challenging. I’ve probably engaged in over a thousand lengthy dialogues over the last 18 years online. My favorite of all was with an atheist. I’ve met several like that in the last four months. But online, they’re few and far between.
I have explained why I did what I did with the links. I don’t have the time to climb Mt. Everest and deal in excruciating detail with every jot and tittle of every argument that an atheist brings up. Only so many hours in a day, and we apologists deal with hundreds of topics.
But if I think a discussion with an atheist is worthwhile and has some informative substance for my readers, I roll with it, and have compiled many dialogues with atheists (such as the present one above this combox, which offered me opportunities to clarify many things). These constitute my own arguments for my position and against atheism.
First, even if you are not saying to read every paper, it is still a method to shut down the conversation.
“Further reading” is not shutting down any conversation. It’s simply “further reading” (for those seriously interested in reasonable arguments for Christianity). Links are wonderful things. I make full use of the technology.
It’s true that many times I have neither time, energy, nor desire to get into a huge discussion, and so I mention the links when pressed for “evidence.” But that is not shutting down anything, either. It’s the limitations of time and my desire to refer folks to good material in lieu of my lack of time, and in light of the fact that I am not a scholar, and almost all of my links are written by scholars.
In the discussion you showed above, you were asked for your best. Your responded with a host of different apologetics. By doing this you shut down the conversation, you had the option to choose the particular apologetic you found best and present it. Or maybe even one you just enjoyed. Then the conversation would have continued. But that avenue instead shut the conversation down.
Second, tying in with the first part and your second comment, is that these discussions are almost never for the person you are discussing. They are for those who are silently watching. Even if you “know” the person you are conversing with will never change, it is still worth it to continue the conversation. I can speak from personal experience as one who never went very deep into the faith, when I went looking for one these kind of conversations were the most valuable resource.
That’s absolutely true, and most of the reason I do dialogues. Partly I simply enjoy it when it is a good one, but it’s a teaching tool for readers. As an apologist I’m a teacher.
Third, while “we” do ask for the stuff, the reasons behind it vary from person to person. For example, if I were to ask it, I would be looking for something that I have not seen before. You once provided a fairly decent discussion in regards to the problems of evil (or maybe more than once, you do put forth a lot of posts). My thoughts at the time were that maybe Christians did have a good solution on some level, but the problem was ultimately just pushed off onto free will, witch comes with an entire host of new problems.
Lastly, you have made you last comment very clear. I suppose that that mindset is important if you are in a field basically under constant siege. However, this ties into my second point. It is for the silent readers. Abandoning the conversation if fine, but choosing when to do so is critical. Forgive me for this harsh criticism here, as in a weird way you have my respect, but you do not seem to have this timing down at all. You are extremely prone to abandoning the conversation early, in a manner that shows you you are not seeking a conversation but rather a forum to present your view. And the words you choose to leave on are often poorly chosen, usually pointing out how it is not worth your time or how the argument is pointless. While it is tiring and thankless, it is important to always be the better than those who appear against you.
You may have a few valid points here and there in your final paragraph. I’m not perfect. I get frustrated with futile discussions and false charges, straw men, obfuscation, non sequiturs, illogical arguments, bigotry against Christians and Christianity, arguing with five atheists at once: all expecting instant answers, and other stuff. So that may be reflected at times in what I write. But these are some of the many reasons, apart from time factors and being bored, that I leave conversations. Usually it is simply time factors and other more pressing priorities.
But if I have time and desire, I will put up an in-depth reply to atheists. Many of those sorts of discussions are online right now. You can see the effort I put into them.
In any event, I’d much rather discuss issues (again, time permitting), than discussing this sort of stuff about method and style, and misplaced criticisms of why I have collected good links for atheists to read as they please.
Fair enough. I do understand what you are saying. Its more you are moving the conversation with the links than outright ending it, though the result, in my eyes, at that moment remains the same. I also do understand the frustration in the discussion, as there are those on both sides who love their straw men, illogical arguments, etc. Thank you for taking the time to have this conversation with me. Now in accordance with what I was saying earlier, I shall gracefully bow out and haunt Patheos for the foreseeable future.
Fair enough here, too. You seem like a very thoughtful, bright guy, and I’d like to dialogue with you on various topics, as they arise. You’ve been critical, but with class, content, and articulation, and minus the usual crass insults that we Christians so often receive.
But hell has been beaten to death, so right now I’m sort of burned out of that discussion [no pun intended!]. That’s why I gave relatively short answers in the post above this combox (which I fully explained in the intro), and also to you. I’m just sick of talking about it (it happens: surely you or anyone can understand that, and have felt the same way at times). I have a very long paper about it, that was posted on this blog just eight days ago, if you want to read that [as well as several others posted]. That’s from me: not a link!
So please hang around over the long run, and in due course we can have some good discussions on mutually agreeable topics? Deal?
Sounds good. Though I do tend to be more of a haunter than a participator, I will not be afraid to hop into a conversation if I feel I could contribute to it in a productive manner. And I do recall reading that particular post when you posted it. An enjoyable read :). Now it is time for me to head off it bed. I have a vacation day tomorrow so I get to sleep in!
Good! Enjoy your time off.