Home > Apologetics, General > The 7 common tactics that atheists (and Christians) use (part 1)

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

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…]

  1. March 31, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Great points. Though not a Christian (I’m a theist), when I’ve discussed God with other people, these ridiculous tactics on both sides often arise. I find that the more vehement the reaction, the more they find the arguments or questions I’m posing as a threat and thus, resort to such childish maneuvers you’ve noted. My best conversations are with people that are open to a respectful discussion; in this situation everyone’s voice is heard with an open mind rather than just mulling over what comment to spout back. It’s funny, sometimes, those that uphold science as the answer to many of life’s questions don’t take the principles to heart- one of them being objectivity. 😉

  2. March 31, 2011 at 10:16 am

    My thoughts exactly! 🙂 Thank you for commenting.

  3. June 4, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I’ve been on a few forums and I’ve seen believers use these tactics, but you are not representing atheists in a recognizable manner.

    I will go with you that some atheists are often aggressive and rude, but rarely do they commit fallacies of logic or engage in wishful or magical thinking.

    When an atheist tells a believer that they are stupid, they are being literal, not humorous.

    but it’s not a tactic to say that the burden of proof is on the person making the claim – that’s reality.

    it is not required of anyone to disprove Big Foot or unicorns – the onus is on the person who claims that they are real.

    So with gods – and, that most people beleive in one or another, is not proof of the reality of there being a god, only proof that people believe.

    • April 9, 2012 at 6:24 am

      So when a believer calls an atheist “stupid” you would automatically think it must be humerous because an atheist couldn’t possibly be stupid,ehhh??
      Yes,i’m sure you will say something to the effect that if someone is an atheist they can’t be stupid cause they are enlightened to some irreversable point that one cannot go beyond simply because they don’t believe in God/god(s).

  4. July 26, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    “I’ve been on a few forums and I’ve seen believers use these tactics, but you are not representing atheists in a recognizable manner.”

    I apologize if I’m over-generalizing, but I assure you, I didn’t intentionally exaggerate. This has been my experience, and it’s admittedly a subjective one.

    “I will go with you that some atheists are often aggressive and rude, but rarely do they commit fallacies of logic or engage in wishful or magical thinking.”

    I see fallacies of logic all the time. Granted, it happens on both sides, but rarely on such a wide scale as on atheism. For instance, attacking Christians and their hypocrisy does nothing to logically refute God. Perhaps they are false believers and they don’t live by the Word. But it doesn’t prove that God himself is less likely to exist or is less moral. It shows how messed up people are, not the creator. It shows that very few people actually live by Jesus’ teachings.

    Consider Dawkins’ entire line of reasoning in his book, “God Delusion.” None of those arguments—even if true (which they are not)—logically refutes God. The whole “who designed the Designer?” question is just bad philosophy, and it’s easy to see why.

    “When an atheist tells a believer that they are stupid, they are being literal, not humorous.”

    I’ve seen a lot of “stupid” believers, I’ll give you that. But I’ve also seen a lot of stupid atheists. What’s disturbing about this is that pride is the very issue that keeps people from seeing the truth. I’ve seen many cases where a less educated, “common” man will demonstrate far greater wisdom than the most accomplished scholars. If there is a God who has given us his word in the Bible, our human intelligence and IQ aren’t going to be the determining factors. Compared to God—again, if He exists—we’re all ignorant morons anyway. Pretending a few IQ points will determine the truth is extremely short-sighted.

    In my opinion, some people are smarter in the human sense, and maybe they’re called to be teachers to the others. But when theists and atheists have such a broad spectrum of intelligence levels, it becomes a moot point. If a dumb person and a smart person can both believe in God, then what good is it to bring this into any discussion?

    “but it’s not a tactic to say that the burden of proof is on the person making the claim – that’s reality.
    it is not required of anyone to disprove Big Foot or unicorns – the onus is on the person who claims that they are real.
    So with gods – and, that most people beleive in one or another, is not proof of the reality of there being a god, only proof that people believe.”

    To some, there is already extraordinary evidence that has convinced them. It’s not always the kind people normally assume when they hear that word “evidence.” To those who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, atheists are going to have to do the impossible to convince them that their worldly knowledge—which changes constantly from culture to culture, decade to decade—is better. Christians have a humanly impossible job trying to convince those who are resistant and skeptical at heart. All we can do is give someone the intellectual permission to believe if their heart is in the right place. We might be able to convince those sitting on the fence, but we can’t win over the “cheerleaders.”

    The Bible tells us to keep throwing out the seed, and some will catch on good, fertile soil. If the seed falls on hard road, nothing will make it grow (minus divine intervention, literally). I’m not going to lose sleep over that. I’m just doing my best.

  5. April 9, 2012 at 4:53 am

    Reblogged this on Tnmusicman's Blog and commented:
    A very accurate set of violations used by both sides. I felt it worth rebloging.

  6. April 18, 2014 at 2:35 am

    Albert Einstein had the idea that God existed, though he may not have subscribed to our particular belief system, he did not deny God.

    Albert Einstein quotes:
    “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”

    “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

    “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

    “Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”

    “God is subtle but he is not malicious.”

    and one of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein:

    “The human mind is not capable of grasping the Universe. We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books—-a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects.”

    I’m convinced the man died with faith in God, although he did not profess that the Lord Jesus Christ is his lord and savior to my knowledge, he did at least acknowledge the Father and a requirement for him for us to even have existed in the first place. This is why you will find that most atheists quote dawkins or hawking, before they quote Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds to have ever lived. Through science, he discovered God.

  1. May 23, 2012 at 12:08 pm

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