Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – a primer on what you might not want to say in an online discussion, Baker’s Dozen edition

Definitely bad advice, no matter from a god or human
Definitely bad advice, no matter from a god or human

Recently, I’ve been in a very long discussion with an individual in the comments of one of my blog posts.  This started with a TrueChristian using a tedious old gambit of insisting that atheism is a religion.  Indeed, I was getting very close to a full card Bingo on the image that accompanies this post from all of the classic TrueChristian nonsense that my opponent, KD, used.

If you wish, you are more than welcome to read all of his posts and my replies.  Then you can be sure to get exposed to every bad argument a theist can give an atheist and see the entire context in its glory. To find the excerpt on the original page, use Control +F to open the Find tool on your web browser and cut and paste a sample of the excerpt in to find it.  I have no idea what a Mac user would do to replicate this.  Last time I touched an Apple product was in 1983 in high school and it was an Apple IIe.  🙂

What I am going to do is use these comments to demonstrate some classically bad tactics to use in an internet discussion.  It may serve as an example for atheists on what to expect from theists.  It should also serve as an example to theists on how not to conduct themselves with atheists if they want to earn any respect at all.   In any type of debate on any subject, using these are going to get bemused looks at the screen and maybe a chorus of laughter if you insist on repeating them.

1. Redefining words, ignoring context to choose a definition that was not intended by the author and redefining words so your pet idea is not defined in a way you don’t like.

Dictionaries are pesky things.  They chronicle the definitions of words in a culture.  They can cite several definitions if the definition has expanded from an original.  To attempt to claim that atheism is a religion and claim that Christianity is not, ignores those definitions and their context.  Unilaterally deciding that an author “really” meant something that they did not doesn’t work if they are right there to tell you that you are wrong.

For example, many theists do not like the term “religion”. They will insist that they do not have a religion e.g. a system of attitudes, beliefs and practices dependent on the belief in a supernatural force.  They have found that the term religion has gained a negative connotation, thanks to the actions of the religious, and they want nothing to do with that legacy. They claim that they have “relationships” with their gods, ignoring that they do indeed have the attitudes, beliefs and practices based on their gods.   Since they do not like the term religion, claiming that atheists are religious is an unsurprising tactic.  It appears to be is no more than saying “you are no better than we are, so we can ignore your points”. (Incidentally, this Christian decided I must have been a Roman Catholic when I was a Christian.  An unsurprising assumption, similar to the above, from a evangelical protestant type Christian).

“Do atheists have a personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices?”

“I do not believe the Bible to teach religion but a way of life with a creator God who loves and desires humanity to choose him as opposed to doing it their own way.”

“Religion in the dictionary is not synonymous with god/s or the belief in god/s.”

My opponent also tried to redefine unconditional.

“I will teach them not to condemn anyone, not to judge, not to ardently believe they are always right and someone else is wrong.”

“God accepts everyone but not everyone accepts Him.”

“““If I spread a message of unconditional love and acceptance, how is this wrong or bad?””

““If I did not unconditionally accept or love you, my words would be negative towards your beliefs, practices, and attitudes.””

Like taking part of a quote: “God loves and accepts everyone…” and neglecting “…but not everyone accepts God.” Which is not unconditional love or acceptance.”

2. Claiming that you have no time to support your claims by a simple cut and paste, but then continue to write massive posts of thousands of words.

I don’t have time to go through and show you everytime you make a strawman, argument from silence, or argument from ignorance.”

And thousands of words later….

“The necessity for me to have to go through and explain this to you or “show you” where by cutting and pasting takes time away from my life. It takes time away from spending time with my wife and my kids.”

Sounds just like a politician who must spend more of his time with his family when caught doing something less than honest.

3. Attempt to shift the burden of proof and simply not understanding what the burden of proof is.

I find your post also might fit under circular reasoning. another fallacy to look into about burden of proof: onus probandi.”

This demand based off the belief that the “burden of proof” is on the person making the claim or “the positive claim” is a lie many atheist believe.”

So, can you prove that you did not in fact use these straw man arguments in any of your comments? I’m rather confident that the evidence is there and you have simply overlooked it.”

And again was unable, or unwilling to show this evidence.

4. Claim that your opponent is using logical fallacies and then refuse to show where these fallacies are.

“Atheists tend to make as many logical fallacies as theists during their arguments, they just irrationally believe that they aren’t.”

““So, can you prove that you did not in fact use these straw man arguments in any of your comments? I’m rather confident that the evidence is there and you have simply overlooked it.”

Still no evidence of these offered.

5. Ask questions that are intended to imply something negative about the opponent, keep fishing, and then retreat when called upon your intentions.

Do you allow for competing worldviews to be shared or do you ridicule and condemn worldviews that don’t match your own?”

“Can you deny your beliefs, attitudes, or practices and consider them “wrong” even for a moment?”

“What percentage of your closest friends would you say are theists and what percentage are atheists?”

And when the answer did not satisfy:

“You actively pursue and engage with all of them and their beliefs? And you Consider them your closest friends?” 

“If I spread a message of unconditional love and acceptance, how is this wrong or bad?”

A old “joke”is asking someone “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  It puts the person asked the question in an impossible situation since they either admit that they are still beating their wife, or that they have beaten their wife.  A tactic in a discussion is trying to put your opponent into a similar situation.  No matter the answer, the person asking can make a false assumption that satisfies their desire to create a strawman to argue against.

6. Claim that you could be wrong and then show that you do not think you are wrong at all.

I will teach my children decidedly better values than your parents apparently taught you.”

And in the same paragraph

“I will teach them not to condemn anyone, not to judge, not to ardently believe they are always right and someone else is wrong.”

7. Claim that something hasn’t been done so you can claim persecution and then go on to show how false that claim is by the simple existence of your arguments in a public forum.

“You do not allow for mutual respect or viewpoints to be shared.”

“you speak your views and do not allow others to speak theirs.”

8. Become all indignant that someone dares to ask you a pertinent question about your children, and then post a video of them, claiming that this will make the opponent more human because you want imply that your opponent is less than human.

“When debating, NEVER bring a persons family or children into it. NEVER. It is in extremely poor taste and a desperate attempt on your part.”

“Your question showed a lack of decency, so rather than being shocked, I was appalled. I hoped the video might appeal to you sense of humanity…perhaps I was wrong?”

9. Not know what logical fallacies are but randomly accuse your opponent of them since they have shown that you have used them. 

You are making many arguments from silence.”

My opponent was very fond of this one.  Unfortunately he seemed to be unaware of what an argument from silence is and that it is not always a logical fallacy.  Arguments from silence can be very effective if one establishes the parameters for them.

10. Telling a female opponent that she should spend more time with her husband and have children.

This one was hilarious.  I had been asking for evidence for my opponent’s claims and he said the following:

“In case you were still wondering, I’m ignoring all of you requests. And suggesting you spend more time with your husband. Maybe have a few kids.”

I called him on what appeared to be a very sexist comment.  He insisted it was not, that he would have told a guy to spend time with his spouse.  No mention of having those kids though.

11. Claim that no one can know anything for certain.

A common theist claim is that we can be certain of nothing, because that allows their god to maybe possibly exist somewhere somehow.

I am only certain of one thing, that I can be certain of nothing.”

When I pointed out that I am certain that someone will die if they dive into a ladle of molten steel they *will* die, he backtracked from the claim that he is certain of “nothing”.  This demonstrates the problem of claiming absolutes and not thinking of the implications.

12. Claim that someone isn’t seeing your point because aren’t looking in the right way, aren’t sincere enough, etc.

“You asked for evidence, I believe God has given you the evidence and is still trying…it’s just not in the way you’re looking for it.”

“I also took your advice and started looking at lists of logical fallacies and see a great many of them on both sides…Again, I don’t want to take the time to point them out and believe you intelligent enough to find them without me having to “show you.”

This is no more than putting the blame on the person looking for the evidence. People can even do this to themselves, insisting that it is their fault for not getting the right answer.  For example, take Linus and his pumpkin patch.  He was certain that the Great Pumpkin was going to show up if he just believed enough, and was devastated that the GP never showed.  It never occurred to him that the GP simply didn’t exist and the most sincere pumpkin patch ever would not change that.

13. Claim that you are not here to debate when it becomes obvious that your points are not as strong as you thought.

“I didn’t come here to “win and argument.” Or to prove through debate that you are wrong and need to repent. I came to engage and share my thoughts and views as they are different from yours.”

A discussion is a debate is an argument.  If you claim that your position is right and mine is wrong, then you are expected to defend it.  If you do defend it, offer apologetics and arguments for your position, then you *are* debating me.  If you do not defend it, and bow out saying “It’s my opinion.”  Then it ceases to be a debate.   If you expect me not to call you on your claims and demand evidence, you are only seeking a soapbox, and you will not get it.

There are more, but these are the most notable.  I hope this has been of some value to the reader.  This is not to argue that any one of these failures, or all of them would invalidate good points simply by their existence.  However, it is meant to show there are valid reasons to doubt the conclusions of one who uses them.

If anyone thinks I have taken the quotes out of context, please do review the original comments and be prepared to show support of your claims.

10 thoughts on “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – a primer on what you might not want to say in an online discussion, Baker’s Dozen edition

  1. it’s not the first time a theist clutching at straws have said you need to spend time with the man of the house, one wonders why they are not doing the same with their spouses?
    I have had a few theists comment on my blog that I have failed to respond to their arguments, I inquire as to what argument and all I get is a blank stare because there was never an argument in the first place.
    One appears as a sophisticate if they can say you are committing a fallacy without pointing out which it is. Pretty amusing


  2. The logical fallacy thing is funny, he sees them there, but doesn’t want to point them out. Riiiiiight.

    I have seen people who are 1: very smart bookwise but need a diagram to tie their shoes. I have seen people 2-a: dumb as a stump, and 2-b : that knew many things I did not. I have seen some 3: that are capable of stringing words together to form sentences and paragraphs, but do not really understand the things they are trying to convey. Some of the latter will put on lab coats and think they are scientists, which is a hoot. I think KD is a combination of 2-a, and 3.


    1. the shame is that this young man seems to really think he’s a great apologist and theologian. It’s no particular surprise that he decided his god told him to leave a position as a youth minister. I’m guessing those kids were getting the better of him, and his boss figured that our.

      He doesn’t seem dumb to me, but he does seem woefully ill educated and naïve.


  3. The reason logical fallacies are used so much is that they are actually great rhetoric techinques to work an audience that isn’t terribly bright, or is inclined to believe what your position in the first place. Since they see other apologists using them, and since it is a requirement for being an apologist, so when they employ them they are inclined to think they are being a great apologist.


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