Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – claims, evidence and research when debating a literalist Christian

Here on WordPress, you can search for blog posts on a certain subject by using keywords. As a blogger, you can set keywords yourself (you can see them at the bottom of this post) and I also think that the system also finds them to be able to bring back search results. I have a search set up to bring up posts that reference atheists and atheism. Most of these are from atheists, but about a third of them are by theists, usually Christians. Of these, in my experience about 90% of them do their best to try to convert atheists and to disparage them, often repeating false claims, making baseless claims without evidence and making some very poor arguments. The internet is certainly full of such nonsense, from conspiracy theorists, holocaust deniers, xenophobic twits, etc.

Since I do not like to allow such things to remain unaddressed, and don’t have an infinite amount of time, I occasionally pick one and ask questions about their post. In some cases, there are no comments allowed, so I ask questions through mail form. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don’t.  One of the other respondents is here, where again Pascal’s Wager is being touted.

Those readers who have been with me awhile may want to find other things to read since some of this may be repetitive for them. The bit below isn’t as biting as my writings usually are since I was behaving.

I recently found a post on a Christian pastor’s website that can be distilled down to: Richard Dawkins should believe in my god because there he says that there is a probability that this god exists and any possibility should be taken. Most will recognize this as a variant as Pascal’s Wager. I asked him this question about his assertion: “If your argument is valid (that Dawkins should worship a god since he says that there is a small probability of one), why do you not believe in other gods and live your life as if they aren’t there?”

We started off having a pleasant discussion, with him complimenting the question but it quickly turned south when he declared that nothing would change his mind and that he was not going to participate anymore, that how dare I explain what a circular argument is to someone who has taken years to get a philosophy degree, accusations that I was attempting to humiliate him, that I didn’t respect his religion, and told me that he wished me good luck because, as an atheist, I’d need it. Unfortunately, this is how more than a few of these interactions go; rather than answers, I get threats.

I informed him that I was going to use my correspondence to him as a basis for a blog post and asked if he would allow me to post his side of the correspondence to make sure everyone could see his side. I wasn’t too surprised that he refused, despite no reason given. So, I will use what I wrote in reply to address the general arguments that have been offered by various Christians in the past here and on the . No need to let research and writing go to waste.

Argument 1: I believe in only one god and the others don’t exist. I know that this is true because their claims are contradictory. The claims of other religions are untrue because there is no evidence to support them. I know this as a certainty; there is no probability of another god. It’s illogical not to believe in my god because there is a low possibility of it existing.    

The problem with this claim is that it needs evidence to support the claim that the theist’s god exists and no others do. The bible is offered as evidence, but what most theists don’t acknowledge is that the bible is the claim, not the evidence. The bible makes the claim that the god exists and the events therein are true; it cannot be used as evidence for the very claims it makes.   Dawkins, in the discussion of his seven point scale, admits that there may be some low probability of a god when he scores himself at 6.9, but there is the same probability for the existence of fairies. We can’t be absolutely sure that *some* god doesn’t exist. In that the theist’s argument depends on this probability, their claim that they know a certainty about other gods doesn’t work.

Argument 2: I know my god exists because the universe exists and it is his handiwork. I’ve done the research and that is what it tells me.

The problem with this claim is that most, if not all, theistic religions make the same claim. The question here is how can we tell if a world is made by a certain deity or any deity at all. Considering the claim above by the theist, it is only an assumption their part, based on the claims of the bible. For a literalist, one who claims everything in the bible is to be taken literally, this becomes a problem since the creation story is full of claims that are blatantly not true. If the details, like stars supposedly being things stuck on a dome and able to fall on the earth, are demonstrably not true, why believe any of the even more unlikely claims in the same book claimed by the literalist to be inspired/written by their god? If research was done, then stars being objects that can fall to earth is not what you’d finMr.

Argument 3: Not all religions can be right, there can only be one right one and all the others are wrong. Mine is the only right one.

Nothing requires even one religion to be right. They can be all wrong, and that is something that one learns pretty early in logic courses. It requires an unsupported assumption that a god is required at all for the universe to exist. The theist assumes that there must be a first cause and their god must be it, whichever one it is. They must posit an eternal force that must start things. The problem here is that the laws of physics can also fulfill that position. Here the theist engages in special pleading, trying to claim that only its entity gets to have the attributes the theist thinks are needed for a universe.

Argument 4: There is consistency in the message I get from the holy book, and that makes it true.

If this were the case, then all Christians would agree. They do not. We can see that from the thousands of sects in the world, many of which are sure that those “other” sects are wrong/demonic/evil/satanic. People have been murdered in many vicious ways over these inconsistencies.

Argument 5: You should believe in my god just in case, because if you don’t, and it exists, it will damn you to hell and you don’t want to chance that.

Here we see Pascal’s wager, the admonition that one should believe because something bad could happen to you if you don’t. The major failure of the wager is that in any case, belief is not without cost; if you bet wrong, you waste time/resources and/or a pissed off god if you didn’t guess the right one to believe in. It also posits a very gullible god that can be hoodwinked so easily with a faith of nothing more than convenience.

Argument 6: My religion doesn’t require “x” and says “y” so you should follow mine because it is more moral.

In this instance, the theist will claim that their religion isn’t like those primitive ones that require murder for it. However, this indicates that they either have not read their bible or are selective about what they will admit it says. This is why I do recommend that people read the various holy books, to make sure you know the source to evaluate if you are being told the truth or not. It is not uncommon for a theist to hope that a non-Christian will be ignorant of their holy books so they may offer an expurgated version. For instance, I have been told that Christianity doesn’t require murder to demonstrate loyalty. That is demonstrably untrue: reference the story of Isaac and Jacob, the requirement to murder members of one’s family if they do not worship the same god in the laws given to Moses, etc.

Many Christians also believe that their religion was the first to come up with guides to behavior, like the golden rule “do unto others….” However, they are either unaware of, or intentionally refuse to admit, that these rules have been around for far longer than their particular religion and are not “theirs”.

Argument 7: Science can’t explain how life was created so my god exists.   Humans don’t come from gorillas so evolutionary theory is wrong, so my god exists.

Many theists are ignorant, willfully or not, about the sciences. This leads to claims like the above. We may indeed never know quite how life started and we may indeed never be able to replicate it. That is no evidence that a god does exist, must exist or which one exists. Evolutionary theory is a common idea that some theists attack and often attack something that is not evolutionary theory at all. Evolutionary theory never says that humans came from gorillas. If one doesn’t attack the actual theory, then all literalist/creationists are attacking is a strawman. There is also the problem with literalist/creationists have largely come to accept at least parts of evolutionary theory, showing that for all of their claims of having the truth, they follow science; they never leaMr. I am very curious to see what will happen with these folks if we find life on another moon or planet. What new “interpretation” of holy books will be invented?

Argument 8: My holy book says that hundreds of people witnessed this god/son of god and the claim in the book is just as good as when historians say that Lincoln said the Gettysburg address.

Theists also make the same attempts at comparison with Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, etc. They want to compare claimed magical events with common ones, a claim of apples to oranges. The comparison initially fails since this is the actions of a mortal man making a speech, nothing supernatural or untoward about it, not a incarnated god doing miracles that ignore the laws of physics.

But let’s look at what is known about the Gettysburg Address (I live about 30 miles from Gettysburg). To make the claim above indicates a deep lack of knowledge about the event. There is plenty of evidence for the event. There are photos of the event, a simple internet search shows this. This is one We have other photos of the attendees, and we have lists of the attendees, so there are two data points to confirm this event just in the picture. We also have copies of the speech, contemporary reports about the speech, both friendly and negative (my local newspaper printed a retraction of their 1869 report that the address was “silly” ).

No one needs to be an expert on everything, but if one is going to make a claim, research should be done to back it up. There is none of the evidence for this biblical claim as exists for Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

There is also this problem for the literalist: the author of the gospel of John makes this claim “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Now, if this is true, then it would be very hard for anyone to have missed these actions that the author claims happened, but the fact is that there are no reports of Jesus Christ doing anything outside of the bible. If the bible should be taken literally, then it must be all of it. If it is not all of it, one must determine how one tells what should be believed as literal and what parts should be construed as metaphor or simply not true.

Argument 9: You have faith in science which is just like me in having faith in god, so you must agree with me that god exists.

Theists often try to conflate the terms trust and faith.   Trust has the connotation that one has evidence to base that trust on, an event consistently happening, e.g. the earth rotating and the sun “rising”.   Faith, as famously claimed in the bible, is based on “things unseen”.

Argument 10: You weren’t there, so the events happened, and my god exists.

“You weren’t there” can be a valid argument, but it can work against the claimant since there are no eyewitnesses to the events claimed in the bible, including the gospels. This can be demonstrated in that there are scenes where no one was around to witness an event, but we somehow have someone supposedly recording it. We have direct contradictions on what happened e.g. what did the thieves do?, what happened at the tomb? No one was around to see the supposed events of creation. Entire civilizations missed the supposed flood, the tower of babel, etc. How do we know those happened? All that is offered is “trust the bible” and/or “trust apologists/Christian historians” and as shown above, there are many reasons not to do so.

Argument 11: You really haven’t looked at the arguments for Christianity. You can’t understand sophisticated theology.

The theist might hope so, but in most cases where an atheist questions a theist, that is not the case at all. Being a former Christian, and not wanting to lose my faith, I did quite a lot of research, reading apologists like C.S. Lewis, Craig, Strobel, Armstrong, etc.

That’s eleven arguments often offered  and the reasons that they don’t work quite as well as a literalist conservative pastor might hope.

Usually, the comments section will light up after a post like this.  To see the fun, be sure to check it out.


29 responses to “Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – claims, evidence and research when debating a literalist Christian

  1. On so many occasion it is as if these people have a pre-corded apologetic tape inserted, and all one has to do is locate the little plastic ring attached to the nylon cord hanging from the small of their back, and pull it!
    It is especially funny when you come across a ”newbie” convert, be they student or seminary graduate who is brimming with all this newly acquired theology and is just dying to tell you all about it. … especially to those who have deconverted !
    Often it is all I can do to stop myself falling about in laughter.

    I recently engaged a very devout Catholic woman in her sixties who claimed evolution is nonsense, that Darwin has been debunked and the Pope has no mandate to speak on such matters other than in his personal capacity and the Mainstream Media her capitals) are simply lying!

    Oh, and she said all other Christians (non-Catholics) are damned as they are obviously not Christian.

    Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

    You might also enjoy this chap. He’s one of JohnZ’s ”favorite” Pastors!

  2. Yes, these are typical arguments. But what gets me is that even when such arguments are addressed specifically and yet again, the apologist pretends to engage but in effect just ignores the points raised, diverts from addressing the actual counter-arguments, or misrepresents these to really be about some malicious intention. And so the recycled apologetic shit – for that in sum is all it is – just goes on and on no matter what.

    To me, this demonstrates an inherent dishonesty in apologetics, a dishonesty to not respect good reasons but to avoid them at any cost, to re-frame and recast reasoned criticisms of dishonest apologetics to be themselves reflections of a dishonest criticizer. Evidence be damned. Science be damned. Reality be damned. History be damned. Scholarship and expertise be damned. Knowledge be damned. What is true be damned. Anything anyone has to say contrary to or in conflict with the apologetics be damned.

    Apologists like the one referenced above cares not at all about respecting others, having an honest dialogue, seriously considering conflicting reasons and evidence in opposition to the apologetics. It’s all about selling a fabrication – for that is what apologetics is: a rationalized fabrication intentionally sold under false advertising of respecting people, questing after what’s true, and revealing a ‘deeper’ reality than reality itself. The link, for example, misrepresents naturalism in spite of being repeatedly corrected on just this point dozens and dozens of times because what’s true doesn’t serve either the dishonesty being sold or the deceit by which it is peddled.

    The deceit that must be used by the apologist is a fundamental aspect of apologetics I have found. By repeated demonstration we see apologists doing the same dishonest thing repeatedly, pretending their recycled and long debunked stupid arguments – and they are patently stupid – are actually true because their faith-based belief in them is true first… no matter how much real world evidence and reasoning stands contrary to this assumption, that the dishonest sales job being deceitfully sold should be respected because it is pious.

    Umm… no. It’s bullshit.

    Apologetics is a vicious circular argument of a fictional bubble world that will brook no adjudication except acceptance and praise. Those who engage in it are liars and deceivers. That’s what a religious apologist is because that’s what an apologist must do to remain a steadfast religious apologist.

      • It’s tempting but I’ve found it common to all religious apologists… not an honest one in the bunch, not a single one willing to allow reality to arbitrate their beliefs about it. Not one.

      • Get your Free Biologos or Templeton , Foundation coffee mug with the Message: Yahweh, The Best Dad in the World for the paltry donation of $150, some of which will go to funding intercessory prayer research for sufferers of erectile dysfunction.

    • I agree. Apologetics, used by theists or conspiracy theorists, depends on deceit. It cannot exist without it. This takes shape as intentional lies about others, or deceiving one’s self by willful ignorance.

      If these people actually had some truth, they would not need to whine and hide behind the skirts of respect.

    • It is all about maintaining the lie! If there is a crack in the lie it must be patched up with guess what? Another lie! No argument, no matter how damning, can even be recognized as legitimate. “We must live the lie!”

      They aren’t just liars and deceivers, they are desperate. Desperate to hide the fact that they are living the lie. And most likley at some level know damn well it is a lie.

  3. Being a former Christian also, I see things so differently now. I too used the same arguments that pastor used to refute your assertions back when I believed, but now I feel silly for having done so. I haven’t gone so far as to declare myself an atheist. I currently consider myself a deist simply because I interpret the world differently. I see design where others may not. However, the Bible and other “holy” texts are full of contradictions and offer claims but no evidence. I was losing my faith like you were and did as much research as I could to try to prove it was true so that I wouldn’t lose it. The problem is that searching for truth usually means you’ll find it. Ignorance is the only way to keep the faith. I started my blog about 3 years ago. It’s amazing how my views have changed so quickly within those 3 years after a lifetime of Christianity. It was definitely an “evolution.”

    WordPress won’t link to my page after I changed the address so if anyone is interested, it is:

  4. I used to argue for Christianity too, now it’s so ridiculous to see it from this side I just have to laugh. I like to laugh so thanks. I think this deserves a follow. Good work!

  5. Hi Club,
    I unsubscribed from most of the blogs I ‘frequent’ a couple of months ago (went away and didn’t want to deal with all kinds of mail on my laptop when I came home) and am now finding that I must comment on those same blogs, to get me re-subscribed. Hope you had a great holiday!

      • Hubby and I splurged on the occasion of our 40th Anniversary. ..went to Hawaii (met two of our daughters there) and then went on to Australia, where daughter #3 lives. Of course, one can’t go that far for two weeks so I was away two months. . . Good thing I had a taste of summer while there; we’ve been having a big chill here in NS since before Christmas.

      • seems you may have left Australia in time. I see that the asphalt is melting down there. I’m terribly jealous of the trip 🙂 Been pretty chilly here in PA, thanks to the noreaster. I’ve been feeding the birds peanuts.

      • Well, we have almost as many grandchildren on the other side of the world as we do here (5 as opposed to 6) so it’s hard to resist the ‘pull’. 🙂
        Birds? What birds? They’ve all flown the coop long ago here. . .we don’t even see any seagulls . . . we’ve had minus double digits C for weeks; it’s been a cold and windy season so far.

      • Not to mention weather bombs and loss of power and king tides.Lucky you!

        Here in central Canada it’s just been really cold (-38C last night with wind chill… a balmy day by Winnipeg standards) but with lots of snow squalls to make shoveling the new twice daily exercise regime (once to get out of the driveway, then again to get back in – the polar opposite to hot yoga). And it’s supposed to rain in a couple of days. But Erie got 5 feet – over 150 cm – in 40 hours! Now that’s a snow storm!

        Damn those clever Bolshevik schemers to take over the world this way.

      • You Upper Canadians can KEEP that kind of cold! Brrrr. . .. keeps us busy tending fires, I’ll tell ya! I don’t want to leave the house; afraid my plants’ll freeze. 🙂

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