A Brief "State of the Debate," and The Top Ten Worst Arguments!

In this article, I'll first give a light presentation of my opinion on the "state of the debate," and then identify and briefly discuss the top five worst theistic and the top five worst atheistic arguments circling around today.

(EDITED NOTE: I realized just now how raw and unedited this post is, and I do not at this time have the luxury to correct it; please forgive the poor writing!)

For those who know me personally, I've started searching for intellectuals anywhere from Christians to Positive Atheists to discuss the arguments for all sides in the best and most challenging manner possible. I've made a few good friends, acquaintances, and at least friendly occasional pen-pals from this effort; the owner of this blog is one, as well as Dr. Quentin Smith, NW Missouri Skeptic Society president Landon Hendrick (who takes a rare attitude on his Christ Myth convictions many Mythers need to study and emulate) and CodewordConduit over at reflectionsofthedamned.blogspot.com.

And that's just the nonbelieving crowd - big named believers such as Bill Craig, Gary Habermas, Paul Copan, MaryJo and Roger Sharp, Veritas48 from Youtube, and even the controversially regarded Dr. James White and J.P. Holding, have all welcomed my attempt to approach the arguments as friends and scholars, despite my occasional slipups in my attitude. Today I was pleasantly surprised when Norman Geisler added me out of the blue as a friend on Facebook. Even the universally maligned Ray Comfort has taken time out to lend an ear to what I have to say.

One thing I've learned - when it gets down to the logic, even those who are very controversial on both sides of the coin will show their very best. I'm thankful to all these atheists and theists for helping me begin my seemingly insurmountable quest to analyze all the evidences while listening to me attempt to dismantle the arguments many of them have spent their lives formulating.

Unfortunately, though, there are cases when I run across people from either side who, when relieved of all the masks, have not reflected properly on the important question of the evidences for and against Christianity. Instead of clear thought and thorough research, several old, refuted, and often horrific canards come out of the woodwork of their mind, and those who are bright enough to know better accompany these overworked and dried up arguments with often unwarranted, bitter anger. Unfortunately, I have encountered more of this on the nonbelieving side, to which I say: wake up! Freethought isn't the four bestsellers from the "Four Horseman" - it's many other less popularized but more thoughtful works, as well. It's odd that many believers know more nontheistic works than the newest crop of nonbelievers!

The results are similar for the believing side, as well. Although generally kinder, hostility exists aplenty, some at a level too stunning to ponder for long. One need only visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzGbSL7om5E to see the depths that a believer (who otherwise has some decent presentations of arguments for God) can fall despite their moral conscience. To those not well-read on the believing side, there's more than what your pastor told you - Craig, Plantinga, classic Aquinas, and many others will expand your philosophy, but as with atheists, you ought to read works which challenge these thinkers, also. One ultimately believes or disbelieves honestly through his or her own reason, not that of a Michael Martin or a N.T. Wright.

As for the "top ten worst," I must first state that the following list represents my own opinion, and should NOT be regarded as a definitive statement of belief on the part of any other poster here on this blog. This is from my own experience and is a reflection of my own worldview. So take it with a pillar of salt, if not just a grain. :)



5. "Atheists killed so many people this past century. Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao, ..."

While true, this argument presupposes that atheism in and of itself was responsible for their atrocities. But while some of these deaths indeed were due to participation in beliefs, such executions serve more as an autobiography of these dictators' worldviews in general.

If one should, in the dictator's view, dedicate one's life to the State, then it would follow under their wicked conviction that those who dedicated their lives to God ought to die. But even in these cases where belief was the cause of their untimely death, the underlying worldview used atheism as a tool to further the overall dictatorial structure. Atheism, like any other claim on theism, should never be instigated as law. But it does not follow that there is something inherent in atheism qua atheism which logically necessitates the murder of believers.

4. Pascal's Wager.

I don't have much to say about this argument, other than its presupposition that the Christian God is the only one to consider within the sole context of this wager. Many critics like to come up with cute additions, such as gods who would eternally reward nonbelievers, but the real axe to the head of the wager is that it fails to include Allah, a widely believed Deity Who punishes nonbelievers eternally as well.

And that counterexample doesn't even concede internal Christian struggles, such as exclusive High Calvinism (the belief that only Calvinists will be Saved), Church of Christ exclusivity, denominations which lack belief in Hell, and so on.

Long ago I once heard an anecdote about a rather forward preacher saying that if he were God, he'd send "just in case" believers on the fastest bobsled to Hell. After all, escaping the possibility of Hell does not mean you follow what Christ gave as the Greatest Commandment - to love God with all one's being.

3. "You have to believe in God - you don't think nothing made everything, do you?"

With apologies to my friend Mr. Comfort, this one's just a flat-out clunker, for it implies there was a time which nothing existed, followed by time in which the Universe began to exist. But there is no "time before time," since time is correlated one-to-one with the existence of the Universe! This fact is universally accepted by philosophers and scientists alike who have reflected on the question carefully. Even the greatest arguer for the Kalam Cosmological Argument, Dr. William Lane Craig, recognizes this despite the rhetorical appeal of the statement (1).

2. The Watchmaker argument.

All right. This one's an argument I have to harp on my fellow skeptics about - it's bad, really bad, and nonetheless it seems, especially recently, like the ultimate argument to refute when discussing atheism.

And it still crops up, sometimes in its more applicable form (e.g. its cousin the Fine-Tuning Argument, seen most famously from Drs. Craig and Geisler, involving the universal constants and their narrow range for life; this is worlds better and more challenging, albeit faulty) but, for the novice apologist, it's still the old watch on the beach.

The problem, of course, is that a watch by definition is a man-made object, a fact which, if unrecognized, of course ties the budding skeptic opponent in knots; however, once one realizes the trick of using a man-made object in a presentation of a hypothetical natural object of great structure, the argument can be slain with little effort. Many highly organized and complex structures are observed directly in nature - my typical example as a stormchaser is a classic springtime supercell, which, in some cases, may form from completely disorganized hazy soup to a finely stacked, rotating, platelike structure with distinct parts and functioning. At times, these natural structures may even pop seemingly from nothing to form a large and devastating tornado within half an hour. With meteorological knowledge of shear, atmospheric energy, frontal boundaries and drylines, lifting mechanisms, and many other detailed physical contributors, these extraordinarily complex phenomena can be accounted solely by the forces of nature.

1. "Hitler was an atheist! Einstein believed in God!"

Guess what the top bad atheist argument will be? The description of these two assertions is right down there with their atheist brothers in horror.



5. "Stupid ignorant barbarians made it up a long time ago to explain stuff."

While valid rhetoric if stated properly, this version is what I've seen the most. Looking past the almost always inherent prejudice mixing up lack of cultural knowledge with lack of innate intelligence, the conclusion doesn't even follow from the statement. It's what's known as the genetic fallacy, or the logical error which associates a belief's truth value directly with the nature of those from whom the belief originated.

4. "There are no proofs for God. Therefore, God does not exist."

This would be like saying "there are no proofs for Fermat's Last Theorem. Therefore, it's false," which would've made a laughingstock out of any professional mathematician making such a claim before Wiles' proof. While I am not harmonious with its companion, now on buses in a city near you - "Therefore, God probably does not exist" (I personally gripe because of the inability to assess such probability meaningfully) - this statement at least does not commit the logical fallacy of the Argument from Ignorance.

A companion statement is that one is not called upon to prove a negative. However, if it may be given to the theist that the Theistic God is not internally incomprehensible, and that the Theist has attributed observable evidence to this Deity, then if the atheist wishes to state that this God definitely does not exist, he or she must attribute the Theists' given evidences to another cause. Otherwise, the skeptic in this case must claim the aforementioned position of agnostic-atheism. A more concrete example of what I mean is that it is possible to disprove logically that there exists a Jupiter-sized planet between here and Mars (assuming equivocation is not performed), for one may demonstrate that the "Jupiterists" evidences are not present, or in the case of, say, some gravity anomaly, that an entity other than a planet is the cause. This would logically prove the negative.

3. "You're all atheists to Zeus, Thor, and all that; I just believe in one God less than you do."

This is rhetoric that Dan Barker commonly uses in debates to get a chuckle from the crowd and loosen up the seriousness a bit. Incredibly, I've recently witnessed some atheists using this as a proof that God doesn't exist. I will not name names, but one of these atheists was participating in a formal debate. While a cute icebreaker in the proper context (I once heard a theist counter with, "you're a theist like me; I just believe in one more god than you"), it is disappointing to see this crop up as an actual supposed argument. Remember, folks, an atheist is one who holds, roughly stated, that no gods AT ALL as so far defined, exist, NOT that one god in particular doesn't exist. Barker probably is aware of this and, again, just uses it as rhetoric - that's as most as it should be worth when you're not joking or illustrating a point. In and of itself, it's a category error if you use it as an official argument!

2. "God can't exist. If He did, then could He make a boulder so heavy He couldn't lift it?"

This is a beast of a bad argument that just won't die, and it's usually stated with an air of triumph. This one's close to my own heart, because there's a post deep in the Secular Web archives a dozen years or so back, where I, as a new and haughty atheist and devout parrot of Ingersoll, confidently proclaimed this like one who is settling one of mankind's biggest questions and closing the books of the most important philosophers in history during a break between Abstract Algebra and Computer Science II.

The argument, of course, attempts to show that omnipotence is incoherent. I think I saw an attempt to sophisticate this argument long ago, but even if that could be done, the vast majority of theists this side of Cornelius Van Til don't hold God as being able to do the logically impossible.

1. "Hitler was a Catholic! Einstein was an atheist!"

Sharing first place with bad theistic arguments are the two gentlemen who, among novices, seem to be the two top theologians of all time. Inevitably, it's one's religious worldview that always generates their respective theological conclusions, with Hitler always taking the opponent's side and Einstein always taking the side of the arguer. On Youtube, news talk shows, soundbitten radio programs, and in churches and skeptic meetings alike all across the world, the greatest authority of belief in God and the greatest authority of disbelief in God will almost always make an appearance in an uninformed discussion (and, shamefully, in many informed ones). And in every case, they become the ultimate paragons of their assigned beliefs - which may, 24 hours later in the same coffee shop chair but with a different know-it-all pontificating in it, switch completely in their nature.

This is just a shameful embarrassment. Not only does the conclusion not follow either way, but the transparency of bringing up these names for effect is clear. These men were not theologians, and even if they spent all their lives reading up on Warranted Christian Belief or the Impossibility of God or whatever, the actions which defined their lives do not in any way take away or add to the validity of the beliefs that they are for the moment assigned.

Keep on trucking with as bad of arguments as you want, both sides of 'ya. But stop this one, okay? Einstein pleaded to not be brought up in this framework, and I'm gonna respect his wish from now on; Hitler, of course, deserves no mention for anything outside of the context of the study of man's inhumanity to man. Likewise, I'll duke it out if you think one of these bad arguments is better than I think --- as long as you're not gonna defend this one.

And if this blog ends up with hundreds of replies full of bitter debates on Hitler-believed-this or Einstein-believed-that, the tiny, far distant cry you'll all hear will be me when I recognize how inevitable Godwin's Law is. :)


Hope you all had fun with the list - remember, it's just my opinion, and not necessarily that of the other writers here (I know in particular the prove the negative comment and the critique of the atheists killed x people last century comment are a bit like topic grenades, but just remember, this half of this post is meant more for fun than serious argumentation and criticism).