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The 7 common tactics that atheists (and Christians) use (part 1)

March 31, 2011 8 comments

After many hours of perusing religious/anti-religious forums, engaging in debate, and reading comments made by atheists, I can honestly say that things start to blur together after a while. Arguments start sounding the same and the common tactics used against Christianity can almost be coalesced into neat categories—though with any human behavior, things are not always so cut and dry.

Truthfully, many of the same generalizations can be made against Christians. Not every atheist is antagonistic, and not every Christian fights fair. Pretty much everyone is guilty in some way, and I’ll try to point out how by giving examples from both sides. But my subjective view is that atheists use the following tactics to a greater degree. If both sides would focus more on the issues at hand rather than simply trying to “win,” we might have more productive discussions.

Tactic #1: Insulting the intelligence of others.

Tactic #2: Citing some “higher authority” on the issue and restricting further discussion or evidence.

Tactic #3: Attacking strawmen or going off-topic (includes attacking people as evidence against the faith).

Tactic #4: Using exaggerated and ridiculous comparisons to mock the other side’s beliefs.

Tactic #5: Stating things as fact or “just because” with nothing to back it up, even inaccurate claims based on memory or assumption.

Tactic #6: Ignoring their own holes and shifting the burden of proving an endless supply of further challenges to you.

Tactic #7: Requiring an overly high standard of proof, while calling all Christian sources “biased.”

Let’s take a closer look at each one and some examples, including real quotes I’ve seen.

Tactic #1: Insulting the intelligence of others.

“Christians are stupid, mindless sheep who ignore all the obvious evidence out there. There’s no point in arguing with these idiots.”

There are many problems with this one. Where to begin?

First of all, it seems to imply that atheists are smarter, and when it comes to arguments of reason, the smarter person wins by default, right? Who decided that atheists are smarter anyway, the atheists themselves? And is the smarter person always right?

Now, I admit, this is where my pride is tempted to say something mean and boastful to these people. Statistically speaking, very few people making these kinds of comments would objectively be smarter than me, at least in terms of IQ or something. But a better way to go about this is to point out that brilliant scientists, philosophers, and other great minds have been Christian. For every smart atheist, there is usually a smarter Christian, and vice versa. How does this kind of statement account for the intelligence of many believers? Is that atheist smarter and more knowledgeable about science than, say, geneticist Dr. Francis S. Collins—the leader of the Human Genome Project who is a devout Christian?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that atheists are in fact, on average, smarter than Christians. After all, intelligent people do tend to question things and seek knowledge for themselves, as many atheists do, rather than believing anything blindly. Does this really prove that they’re right about everything regarding the reality of God?

By this reasoning, one could conclude that a higher IQ spouse—whether the husband or the wife—should always get to be right. No arguments allowed, just submitting to the greater mind. Does this make sense at all? No, of course not. People are smart in different ways, and sometimes, the most obvious things to a common man can be an enigma to a learned man. Heck, Einstein could fathom things about this world that no one else could, but he couldn’t even reliably memorize his own home address.

A funny (and fictitious) example would be Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. It’s pretty clearly established that he is the smartest one out of his friends. He is a genius physicist. But there was a running joke for a while where he would ask his friends during a conversation, “Was that sarcasm?” To everybody else, it’d be obvious and in plain sight. To him, despite his attempts to research sarcasm and break it down into logical components, his accuracy rate of detecting it was very low. Why is this? Because high IQ and thorough training in science and other subjects can’t grant you the ability to form a complete knowledge of this world. Even things that are obvious to lesser minds can elude the great ones.

Tactic #2: Citing some “higher authority” on the issue and restricting further discussion or evidence.

This is another cop-out technique, and we Christians are guilty of it, too. Atheists might cite the works and ideas of a great scientist or philosopher, and then challenge you by saying, “Do you think you’ve studied these things as deeply as him? If not, how can you challenge his conclusions?”

Christians might resort to the credibility-killing argument of, “Well, God and the Bible tell me it’s true, and therefore I believe!” [Sometimes, at the most basic level, this is indeed the reason we believe something. But we first need to establish why God and the Bible are trustworthy to begin with. Naked circular reasoning helps no one.]

Problem is, these discussions shouldn’t come down to a contest of who’s swinging the bigger sword of authority. The point should be to argue both sides and consider the merit of the points discussed.

The atheists’ assertion that a point can’t be debated—based on your lack of credentials or your weaker sources—is faulty to begin with. Why? Well, as I mentioned, the smarter person is not always right, and neither is the one with better credentials. Furthermore, there is the simple fact that it is exponentially easier to point out errors in something than it is to create/develop it in the first place.

For instance, I’ve seen a number of typos and grammatical mistakes made by superior writers in various forms of media. Even if I can’t write as well as these people, it doesn’t preclude me from being able to correct them. It doesn’t matter very much that my own writing wouldn’t hold a candle to theirs, as long as I’m competent overall.

This happens all the time in sports, as well. Every time we yell at our TVs, wondering how a coach or coordinator could make such an obvious blunder, are we saying we could do a better job ourselves? Not really (we might think it, but we’d be woefully wrong). These professionals have spent much of their lives and countless hours learning the ins and outs of their respective sports. But that doesn’t keep a competent layman with far less knowledge from being able to see the professional’s mistakes clearly sometimes.

Having too much knowledge and being deeply engrossed in something can dampen common sense and narrow one’s field of vision. Like Dr. Sheldon Cooper or Albert Einstein, brilliant people simply might not see what lesser minds do. You can’t discard the refutations of a Christian because his credentials seem less impressive than the atheist originator of the work. You have to judge the conclusions made based on their own merit. Besides, many of us have access to the same information. At some point, it’s how you interpret that information that can cause such divergent views, and interpretation is hardly set in stone.

Tactic #3: Attacking strawmen or going off-topic (includes attacking people as evidence against the faith).

I guess I should start by clarifying what “attacking strawmen [arguments]” means. I can’t really say it better than Wikipedia, so I’ll just quote it here: “To ‘attack a straw man’ is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the ‘straw man’), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”

For instance, consider the following hypothetical exchange:

Christian: “All you have to do is allow Christ to come into your life and accept Him as your Lord and savior. Then you will be saved for all eternity. I think that’s the greatest and most generous gift imaginable.”

Atheist: “So I have to allow an invisible dude to take over my life and become his slave? That doesn’t sound like a good deal at all to me, I prefer to be free.”

This is a straw man because the atheist is equating Jesus with just some “invisible dude” and leaving out his God nature. Allowing Jesus into your life is a good thing, whereas the atheist is taking the leap and comparing it to slavery, which everyone can agree is a bad thing.

Another example:

Christian: “God sent his own son to earth to die for us.”

Atheist: “What a contradiction. Doesn’t the Bible say ‘thou shalt not kill’?”

Pretty off-the-mark, I know, but not that far from what I’ve heard from some people. God sending his son to die (and Jesus willingly dying on the cross) is heroism and true sacrifice. If you twist it to mean sending someone to his death and equate it to murder, you ignore all of the good behind it. It becomes an act of malice instead of love.

Straw man arguments happen almost instinctively when we argue because naturally, we want to be proved right. Christians are guilty of this, too.

Atheist: “It’s clear that humans and apes were descended from a common ancestor.”

Christian: “If humans came from apes, then why are both humans and apes still here?

This Christian is making a straw man argument (kind of) and also a logical/factual error. He is first using the assumption that humans are further along in the evolutionary process than apes. Then he is trying to state that being descended from a common ancestor is the same as being on a lineal progression. Since apes clearly exist today, this twist of logic makes it apparent that since apes are not extinct or superseded by humans, the atheist’s assertion is wrong. Of course, what the atheist is really saying is that evolutionists believe that in the past, there was a common ancestor that branched off into modern day apes and humans—so both can exist without being mutually exclusive.

I lump together straw man arguments with attacking the actions of Christians as evidence against the faith because both tactics attempt to sidetrack the main point by turning to imaginary or exaggerated side issues. A Christian misbehaving is no more damning for Christianity than one person of a certain ethnicity committing a bad crime. It is not representative of the whole group.

 

[To be concluded in Part 2…]

Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 1)

March 30, 2011 2 comments

It baffles me when atheists watch a video on YouTube, swallow it wholesale, and believe it to confirm their disbelief. Ironically, the same people that accuse Christians of basing their beliefs blindly on unreliable information (the Bible, history, logic, etc.) will easily watch a video and parrot those views without even attempting to confirm or ponder its accuracy. Poking holes in these videos’ arguments is sometimes laughably easy. I guess the standards of proof go way down when something tells you what you want to hear.

Anyone can make a video about anything, and YouTube doesn’t care if it’s true or false. Pretty much all they check for is to make sure it’s not inappropriate for children (i.e., sexual content) and that it doesn’t violate copyright laws. As long as you seem confident and insert a little bit of condescending, sarcastic wit, you will appeal to most of the YouTube commenting audience, which is composed of unusually negative and critical people.

Let’s take this video, for example…”Richard Dawkins — The God Delusion” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM). Now, this is a little different than the types of videos I’ll probably address in the future, being that it’s just an interview about a book (not necessary someone telling you their beliefs directly). But it’s broad enough and discusses a bestselling book that has undoubtedly left a mark on the religious world, so I think it’s worth going over. [Quotes from the video are italicized, my responses follow.]

Q: “So right off the bat, what’s wrong with, in your opinion, believing in a God, regardless of who the God is?”

Dawkins: “I think it’s false. I think it’s a matter of belief without evidence, and as a scientist and an educator, I like the idea that we believe things because there is evidence.”

Well, at least in this interview, Dawkins is admitting it’s his opinion with “I think.” In a lot of other interviews and settings, you’ll hear him treat it as fact.

He is partially mistaken, however, that all religions are beliefs without evidence. Many religions are, but not all. They are generally stories and “truths” written or passed down, and their truth can only be supported internally within their own boundaries. The Qur’an is truth, Muslims say, because it says so and they “know” it to be. People learn these stories and believe in them because they were raised in a household that did, and/or the stories resonate with them and make sense. Not exactly reliable proof, so Dawkins has a good point here.

But Christianity is not like this. It is not just a collection of stories written far removed from the events that supposedly transpired, and they are not just ideas spoken into a person’s mind (where no one can go and confirm their honesty). Much of the Bible, and in particular, the New Testament, puts itself to the test by citing historical events, locations, people, specific times/dates, and other details. The more archeology finds, the more we confirm that these books were, in fact, written within the lifetimes of the authors as well as the general public that were witnesses to these events.

We learn that this man named “Jesus” almost certainly did exist and claimed the things mentioned in the New Testament. Even secular historians acknowledge this. As a matter of fact, there was no serious discussion about the existence of Christ (the man) at all until maybe 1800 years after he died. It took that long for the statement “maybe Jesus Christ didn’t exist at all” to be taken seriously enough to not be laughed out of the court of public opinion and academia.

The people in these Bible accounts are mentioned and verified outside of the confines of the Bible itself. Researchers–Christian and non-Christian alike–confirm that the gospels were (almost certainly) written in the purported authors’ lifetimes. These texts were widely circulated at a time when the public could have easily stomped them out as ludicrous falsehoods, but instead, we see that the gospels proliferated and spread rapidly. The New Testament, in fact, comprises the most confirmed pieces of literature in antiquity ever–by a long shot. If we question the authorship and time for these books, then we might as well question every other work of antiquity (which are far less compelling, but almost never doubted, oddly).

OK, so let’s say a man named Jesus did exist and that many of the significant events described did actually happen. The evidence is there for that much. What makes this person more than a mere man, but God himself? There, we have to take a small leap of faith. I say “small” because we have enough evidence to draw reasonable conclusions. There is corroborated eyewitness testimony (again, close enough to the events to be reliable); the changed lives of the disciples, who believed so strongly that they saw the resurrected Christ that they went from hiding in fear to dying willingly for their faith; and no other satisfactory explanation for Jesus’ missing body other than a true resurrection. This is in a very compact nutshell, of course.

As for the existence of God at all, even science and logic now tell us that the universe had a definite beginning (the big bang theory is the most supported/prevalent explanation), which at first went against the prevailing scientific thought that the universe was infinite. The law of causality will tell you that anything that came to be or had a beginning must have had a cause. That cause must exist outside of time, space, and matter because those things did not exist before the universe came to be. So what we have here is an original, infinite cause outside the bounds of time-space…outside natural laws, even. Even Julie Andrews knew this as she sang in The Sound of Music, “nothing comes from nothing.”

Anyway, I could literally go on for pages and pages (mouse wheel scrolls?), but my point is that Christian faith is not baseless or completely blind. It is corroborated by external sources, even science. It may depend on your perspectives, but the reason for belief is there nonetheless.

Dawkins: “It’s a tragedy to base your life upon something for which there is no evidence, and never was any evidence, when the real truth is so wonderful.”

I agree that this is a tragedy, especially considering my conviction that other religions (and even atheism) are the ones lacking sufficient evidence. I mean, how does science or Dawkins claim to disprove God anyway by observing the physical and material world, and God would exist outside of the natural world to begin with?

But again, I disagree with the “no evidence” claim when it comes to Christianity. This is usually because atheists’ standards of evidence are enormously and arbitrarily high. When it comes to their own beliefs about science or anything else in life, these people will look at apparent facts, draw reasonable conclusions, and feel satisfied and sure. Doesn’t sound too bad, actually. But when it comes to Christianity, they demand something they can touch and see. Why will they so easily believe Alexander the Great existed, but when it comes to Jesus (for whom there is equal or much more evidence compared to many historical figures), they practically require a miracle? Where does this double-standard come from?

And I’m not sure what he means about “real truth is so wonderful.” If this “real truth” is believing that in the beginning, there was nothing, then something out of nothing (the universe) for no particular reason, then a bunch of inorganic, inanimate matter somehow came together to somehow form life by some means not known to man even today, then somehow formed an extremely complex single-celled organism (much more complex than Darwin could have imagined during his time), which somehow had within itself the capability to reproduce itself, then adapt countless times over to form a new kind of lifeform, working toward no purpose but somehow directional and growing more advanced toward order…eventually leading to us…where joy, love, triumphs, music, humor, art, and sense of purpose are all a construction of chemicals and natural processes…

…then I don’t see anything wonderful (or logical) in that at all.

[Continued in part 2 here.]

What’s the benefit of good apologetics?

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Christian apologetics is the discipline of defending our beliefs through the systematic use of reason. In the Bible, 1 Peter 3:15 states: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

The problem is, many Christians either do not know the reasons for what they believe, or they do more harm than good by spreading half-truths and weak arguments—most often unknowingly or with good intentions.

Now, I am certainly not claiming or implying to know it all when I write here. Even after many more years of diligent study, I’d imagine there’s no way to cover every possible topic with sufficient depth. But the important thing is for me to know my own limitations and admit when something is beyond my current base of knowledge.

Why bother, anyway? I believe there are number of direct benefits that can come from good, solid apologetics:

– Skeptics can sometimes be “won over” to the Christian faith.

This is probably a somewhat rare occurrence, at least as a direct result of apologetics. People generally do not convert based on reasoning alone. This is because, whether or not we realize it, we come to our beliefs based on a mixture of factors such as upbringing, personal experiences, emotions, social pressures, and other influences. Christians also happen to believe that people come to faith based on the beckoning of the Holy Spirit.

However, sometimes everything else falls into place in a person’s life and the last thing that remains is some mental barrier. When apologists provide reasonable answers to skeptics’ most piercing questions, that almost-believer may find that making the final, small leap of faith isn’t so hard after all.

– Christianity and its claims can gain credibility and respectability.

Sadly, the prevalent opinion of the secular world seems to be that Christians are some kind of naive, mindless sheep. “If only they’d THINK for themselves,” some point out, “these Christians might see how ridiculous their beliefs are.”

Consider this one comment I’ve seen from a skeptic: “Who would you believe? The Christians with an IQ of 95-100, or Richard Dawkins with his 160-165 IQ?” Other than the sweeping generalizations and the likely inaccuracies in his statement, this skeptic points out the unmet need for healthy Christian minds to represent the faith in a respectable fashion.

If we are publicly informed and make arguments for our faith that are at least plausible—if not convincing—then there might not be so much of a bias that is pre-formed in unbelievers’ minds. They might be more willing to open their minds and explore the possibilities of a Christian savior, rather than rule it out completely by default.

– Current believers’ faith can be solidified and strengthened.

Blind faith is faith that is standing on shaky ground. It’s true that sometimes, believers can make it through an entire lifetime without facing any serious, earth-shaking doubts and challenges to their faith. But this is kind of like a lovey-dovey relationship that has not experienced any painful fights and arguments. There is a depth that can only come from going through hardships, coming through to the other side, and being stronger than ever before. No pain, no gain.

Besides, the fact is that most believers will encounter serious obstacles at some point in their lives, whether from difficult experiences, science, the world’s views, or some combination of everything. It is prudent to become well-equipped to handle these spiritual ordeals beforehand.

***

Personally, I’ve found that being an intellectually satisfied Christian means being a happier one who is eager to explore further. Being more informed has revitalized my own faith and helped address some of the doubts that I didn’t even realize were in my subconscious mind.

The bottom line is that apologetics matters. Obviously, there are other good reasons to defend our faith to the world, but this is probably a good starting point.