Well, that was educational. I’ve spent a good part of the last month engaging in conversations with a number of atheist bloggers on a number of atheist bloggy sites and, frankly, I can see why the “faithful” and the “faithless” aren’t seeing eye to eye. We simply see the world through completely different lenses. Or screens. Or filters. Or something.
At times the difference in assumptions and worldview made me feel as though I was trying to explain a poem to a pocket calculator.
“You see, the poet has painted a metaphor for the beauty of relationships.”
“No, no… not ‘equals seven’. It represents the transcendent experience we all long for beneath the mundanity of everyday life.”
“Well, yes, technically that’s true. But it isn’t really what I’m trying to explain to you…”
“You don’t have to get angry…”
“Maybe we should stop talking now.”
My biggest frustration, perhaps, is that arguing with “theists” seems to have become a sport for many online atheists – something you go out for like football or chess club. Something you could make a career out of – publish books, become a “star,” garner a following. And even more concerning, some “theists” appear to be responding in kind, suiting up and jumping into the fray with guns blazing. It’s shocking how quickly such interactions devolve into insults and name calling – like trash talk on a schoolyard.
“Your mama’s so stupid she committed a ‘straw man fallacy’!”
“Oh yeah?? You’re mama’s so stupid she ‘begged the question’ and started a debate with an unjustified a priori assumption!!”
Whoa. Them’s fightin’ words.
The other day I was told I had committed the “Texas Sharpshooter fallacy.” I was told to look it up if I didn’t know what it was. It’s one thing to be told your argument is weak. It’s another thing to be told your argument is so predictably weak that there’s a name for it.
It’s kind of amazing to discover a whole world of people – atheists and theists alike – who live for the thrill of pointing out each other’s fancifully named fallacies. Sort of like the first time you watch Toddlers in Tiaras. (“Wait – these are real people?? This is how they spend their free time?!?”)
Not that I’m saying logic and debate don’t serve valuable functions. I’m quite certain they do. It’s just weird, though, to find an entire subculture devoted to the use of logic and debate not necessarily to gain insight, but more to “win battles” and “defeat opponents” as sport. (And again, it isn’t just atheists playing the game. As in most sports, it takes two to tango.)
My friend Skye warned me when I said I was engaging with some online atheists. “Are you SURE you want to go there?!?” I believe is what he said. Not that he felt I would lose my faith or anything. But, having spent a few college years debating with atheists, he already knew that those who engage in this peculiar sport are typically more interested in victory than truth. Which, means, above all else, yield no ground. Show no weakness. No possible signs of uncertainty regarding one’s premises. No openness to altering one’s position.
And as unappealing as this attitude might be in an atheist, it is infinitely MORE unappealing in a follower of Christ.
I’ll probably write more about my adventure in Atheist-Land in the coming weeks. I don’t think I changed anyone’s mind about anything, but I think I may have made a couple of friends. And at the end of the day, the offer of friendship may be the most valuable contribution to the debate any of us can make.
Great article. Love it. It is our culture today.
Politics, business, church, life in general. Yield no ground. Show no weakness. Always be right, even if you’re not sure. Truth is unimportant compared to winning. Winning what? Doesn’t matter. Just win.
Phil, in case you’ve never seen this, someone put a significant amount of work into IDing some of the most common fallacies:
If you have this sheet at your disposal, you’ll be able to join the fancifully-named fallacy firing-squad. 🙂
“…those who engage in this peculiar sport are typically more interested in victory than truth.”
That is the exact reason why I’m done reading and engaging with most atheists and some Christians these days. I went through my “apologetics phase” several years ago and I loved to get into debates with atheists just so I could stir the pot. I realized two things rather quickly:
1.) I’m horrible at debating.
2.) Our “discussions” weren’t about God at all; they were about “who had read more books and had a bigger vocabulary.”
My behavior was arguably immature and I like to think I’m a “wiser” Christian these days. However, I don’t feel the need to debate anyone in order to test my confidence. 🙂
I’ve enjoyed your Exploration Into Atheism both on your podcast and your blog. Thanks for handling the issues/questions/responses with poise and grace. I think you’ve done more to support the Kingdom of God with your personality and humility than you have with your arguments, and that’s saying a lot because I think you’re a pretty smart guy. 🙂
I appreciate you stepping out, Phil. I think fallacies are important for us to avoid–fallacies do cause us to fall into faulty thinking. But the greatest argument ever, just as the greatest act of love ever, won’t, in itself, win people to the kingdom. It’s God’s election of the saints, the Holy Spirit, which changes the condition of our hearts. That does not exempt Christians from loving others or offering sound arguments. Both Jesus and Paul debated and challenged the pharisees and sophists of their day with sound argument as we are called to do the same. In fact, offering sound arguments IS loving because it is speaking with others reasonably and truthfully (Prov 6:16-19). Christians are to speak the truth in love with the understanding that even the greatest truth and most reasonable arguments we present will fall upon many deaf ears–no matter how persuasive or loving our presentations, behaviors and relationships (Acts 17:16-21). It’s God’s choice who to elect as we obey his precepts (John 15:16).
Yeah, I hear you. And I totally agree.
But a friend of mine just switched sides. It’s really hard to see him suddenly become… one of them. Really sad and weird. Makes me want to… argue. To defend his former position that he now vigorously denies.
And yet, I can’t. I’m a creative. I don’t have time to get swallowed up in it the way he has.
I guess I’ll just be there for him. Kinda. As much as I can be.
Sorry to vent a little. I hope you understand.
“But, having spent a few college years debating with atheists, he already knew that those who engage in this peculiar sport are typically more interested in victory than truth. Which, means, above all else, yield no ground. Show no weakness. No possible signs of uncertainty regarding one’s premises. No openness to altering one’s position.”
This sounds like a Straw Man fallacy to me. I’m an Atheist and I would say that I care more about truth than victory in discussions/debates between Atheists & Theists. Theists probably would make the same claim to care more about truth than victory. Of course, you can’t know for sure what an Atheist or Theist is actually thinking. However, you can objectively evaluate their actions and words and see if they are speaking in a fair & balanced way, avoiding fallacious arguments, and conduct themselves in an intellectually honest and scientifically accurate way.
If a person, whether an Atheist or Theist, says and acts open to altering their position based on actual evidence, reason, and logic, then I would say that person cares more about truth than victory. As an Atheist, I’m open to hearing new compelling evidence. Ken Ham is not open to hearing new compelling evidence that could change his position, and he told this to Bill Nye during the debate recently.
I am so, so sorry that you are no longer Mormon. We will see each other at the judgement bar of God, brother.
@everyone It is impossible to have a debate/argument without using at least one of the fallacies mentioned at yourlogicalfallacyis.com. 😉 😉
On the other hand, several of those fallacies were exactly how I was taught in public school to make an argument appealing.
“Well, that was educational. I’ve spent a good part of the last month engaging in conversations with a number of atheist bloggers on a number of atheist bloggy sites and, frankly, I can see why the “faithful” and the “faithless” aren’t seeing eye to eye. We simply see the world through completely different lenses. Or screens. Or filters. Or something.”
One could almost say different epistemologies…
More like one person is discussing epistemology, another is discussing ontology, and they don’t acknowledge that they’re addressing entirely different sets of questions.
Is your god really like a sharpshooter who normally kills people, so that if somebody is not killed, we have to ask why?
It’s not nice to compare atheists to pocket calculators.
If you go around arguing that there is a god or that he wrote a book, you will be using bad arguments. Of course people will try work with you and help you. They are being nice to you because bad arguments are harmful.
You do not need mythology to appreciate poetry.
It is so strange when people pick one myth and take it seriously….
Just a metaphor. Symbolizing the ultra-rational approach to life taken by many. (As opposed to a more poetic approach.)
I think there is a limit to the usefulness of debate, especially online where the normal rules if human interaction go out the window. It’s funny but I always find you get a different and usually better conversation when people talk face to face (eg on my show 🙂
Should logical fallacies NOT be called out?
What kind of dialogue do we want to have? On any discussion? One that doesn’t leave square one because it’s nonsensical in important areas that depend upon reason? We wouldn’t tolerate logical fallacies in cultural studies, history, or education theory, so why NOT harp on about it in the field of religious truth claims? Logical fallacies ARE being made here all the time. The same ones, over and over, usually.
I don’t mean to sound patronizing, and I get the calculator analogy and see the point behind it, but there are TRUTH claims being made in these discussions, it’s not all about poetry and art interpretation, and it’s noticeably not the atheists in these discussions complaining about how their opponents keep pointing out the logical fallacies they’re repeatedly committing.
Phil, my family are new fans of your podcast, thanks for putting out these types of resources!
While I’m sure this was an interesting experience experiment, it’s one of things that I think everyone has to learn through experience that when you engage in debate with people who hold opposing worldviews, you quickly come to see that very few people are actually seeking truth and mutual understanding. What ends up happening is that you not only engage the person but also all of their biases and experiences and misconceptions. It’s really hard to engage in specific high level issues with an atheist for example, since we approach the issues from such a fundamentally different foundation. We use different dictionaries and have a completely different starting point when addressing these questions.
I love a good debate and am thrilled to see you engaging at an intellectual level with atheists. I have to be honest that I had no idea that a children’s animator could be such a good intellectual until I gave your podcast a listen. My wife and I love watching your podcast (video is awesome), and I’m catching up on your musings online too.
Phil Vischer! I loved your “Me, Myself, and Bob” book and remember that lunchroom conversation about divorce. All the very best to you.
I am reading The Way of the Master by Ray Comfort and realizing that even Christians fall into this “feel good and be happy” message instead of teaching what really counts which is that there are very specific transgressions against God– the Ten Commandments and that Hell is a very real place. So when churches have conversions to the faith but only preach a Gospel Saves message, the understanding of their own sin and their true change if heart isn’t there. They will not really be believing followers of Christ and when they leave the church, they become more bitter & vehemently opposed to Christianity. It happened to John Lennon and countless others. Statistics show that only about 6% of people who respond to an altar call after hearing only the Gospel message presented without first teaching about what sin is and how they have sinned against God , will not join a church or continue in their faith walk! That is alarming! So at every turn you will encounter someone who refuses to believe in God. But Noah and many others in History had the same experience. God has outlasted them all. He still has Mysteries that as humans we cannot and will not understand. Science hasn’t begun to understand the complexity of life yet from just a biological standpoint. There is no way that an atheist could understand the sacramental union of marriage with God at the center or the concept of a soul. Do not throw pearls before swine! Your responsibility is to protect and pass on the gift of your Faith to your children and grandchildren. There are not enough hours in the day sometimes to do just that! People generally do not have a conversion of heart by words alone anyways– God reveals Himself through your actions and devotion to Him. You can’t strong arm someone into believing — just ask any parent! It’s through love, grace, action and education in God’s Wisdom!
Oops I made a mistake — 6% WILL join a church! Over 90% will not follow through in their declaration of Faith and most disappear when sought out by follow-ups!
Her is a blog post from an Agnostic that May give you hope for a civil and thoughtful discourse. http://ihnatko.com/2014/08/05/one-god-no-theres-me-and-i-know-there-are-others/
Atheism, in my experience, is a religion. It is a worship of science and scientists and a faith in humanity’s ability to uncover and report the important things. The difference between atheism and Christianity lies in the amount of tangible proof demanded in order to continue on the same path in seeking out the truth. They are similar in that they place an fair amount of trust in each group’s revered men and their personal accounts and observations.
We are human beings and, thus, it could be true that a creator made us knowing that the tangible would be expected. Faith is a difficult prospect because it requires the person to believe in something unseen and uncertain. Deceit is rampant in faithful communities of all sorts, religions and walks all over the globe. A healthy fear of taking things on faith alone is not something that should be looked down upon.
Atheism has an issue in that there is a tendency to believe in the men who have come before, with their truly limited knowledge, as knowing more than they do. Atheists are, however, people. They are human, no different than you or I, who want to understand what is and is not so. However, they have an advantage in that they hold the ability to ponder, accept or reject ideas without guilt. They have a bit more free will, but are still limited by their faith in our limited scientific knowledge and by their self-imposed constraints of a physical only world mentality.
Perhaps we do have a exceedingly wise creator who does give tangible proof? One who has placed before us “signs” that are irrefutable and understandable by anyone. Perhaps understanding of truth is meant for fisherman and not just Pharisees. No twisting or supernatural events or deciphering of something figurative required… no college degree expected. If the way is narrow, in truth, most will miss the signs. How many are taking any time to look anyway?
Who seriously takes the time to seek? Not just the passive, listening to the speech of another about the search, but an actual seeking. The digging… getting your own nails and hands dirty while looking for treasure in the most unpleasant and painstaking of processes? Who starts at the beginning of the whole book and throws off all he or she has been told and learns something outside of themselves? Christians knock on the door of an atheist or Buddhist or whomever and ask them to throw off the old and consider the new from square one? Do they themselves? Would it be that risky?
Thanks Phil for visiting the other side,
I appreciated your lecture in our Atheism class at Portland State University today. It was (for me at least) so thought provoking, and your insights and knowledge were inspiring for atheist and theist alike. You demonstrated to me that there can be an honest debate about how we come to our own personal set of beliefs, and for me the search for personal truth is of utmost importance. Thank you for reminding me not to follow blindly, and that it’s okay to not know about something, as long as you are willing to THINK and learn about it.
I have listened to Ravi Zacharias a lot He always has interesting comments
He always has a thought provoking logic
One of his is to accept the premise “there is no God”
Based on this everything is meaningless.
We have come from nowhere, we are going nowhere
So “eat drink and be merry” because it doesn’t mean anything anywise
So the next logical question for an atheist is
Why do you care?
Why do you waste your time trying to prove to me that there is no God?
If there is no God you should eat drink and be merry
I feel atheist’s are motivated by a subconscious deep desire to know God
I feel they should ask themselves, Why am I doing this? its illogical What is motivating me?
“Those who seek after the truth, seek God, even without their realizing it.” Edith Stein
God Bless You
I loved Me Myself and Bob and your talk at Moody’s Founders Week a few years ago
How is it possible that two groups of educated, modern people can look at the evidence for the Resurrection claim of Jesus of Nazareth and come to such very different conclusions? How can educated Christians see the evidence for the Resurrection as so overwhelming that it is not worth their time to seriously question it, while educated Jews, Muslims, atheists, and others, find the evidence for this supernatural claim so pathetically poor and down right ridiculous?
It really is baffling to me.
Christians have frequently accused me of not believing because I don’t want to believe; that there is some ulterior motive for my deconversion from the Christian religion; that I have rejected the supernatural without sufficient evidence to do so. However, what then is the reason for the non-belief of Jews and Muslims in this supernatural claim? These groups certainly believe in supernatural acts of God. Why do these groups see the evidence for the Resurrection claim as so unconvincing? It can’t be because they don’t believe in the supernatural. Do Christians seriously believe that Jews and Muslims actually do see how strong the evidence is for the Resurrection claim, but, they have conspired to deny it, as they too have an ulterior motive for rejecting it??
This is my challenge for Christians: Demand the same level of evidence for the Resurrection claim as you would apply to the supernatural claims of any other religion.
For instance, would you believe a new religion’s claim that their recently deceased prophet flew through the air like a jet airplane just because:
1. Their holy book points to passages in the Hebrew Bible that appear to “prophesy” about the coming of this flying prophet.
2. The people who are converting to this new religion are people who do not believe in flying prophets, so for them to believe it, something really spectacular must have occurred to convince them that this prophet did fly.
3. The founders of this new religion are willing to endure persecution and even death in defense of their claim of a flying prophet.
4. The new religion spreads rapidly even under intense persecution.
5. The new religion has the written statement of one deceased man who says he saw the flying prophet himself on a deserted desert highway, and, that someone told him that 500 people, at the same time, in the same place, also saw the flying prophet.
6. And there is much more similar “evidence” for this religion’s claim of a flying prophet.
Would all of this “evidence” convince you that this new religion really did have a flying prophet? Seriously dear Christian, what evidence would you require to believe that a modern day man can fly through the air, without any mechanical assistance, at the speed and altitude of a jet airplane?
THAT is how we non-believers view your claim that a dead and decomposing first century man in Palestine was reanimated by an ancient middle-eastern god to walk out of his grave, hang out with his friends for forty days, and then levitate into outer space.
I’m very sorry that you crossed paths with the vindictive atheist crew. As with many subjects in the blogosphere- those who put words to paper (or dots to screens) are typically more militant than the rank and file.
As an atheist, I am embarrassed by their conduct as much as you are frustrated by it. Faith is the most personal topic I can imagine, and debating it is perhaps missing the point. By definition, faith is a journey defined by much more than what can be construed as “fact.” Each must ultimately walk their appointed path according to the beliefs that come from within, not without.
If atheists and theists wish to discuss their opinions, perhaps a better way is to propose situations and our reactions to them. By comparing experiences and results instead of direct (even if polite) confrontation, we can pass along our ideas without closing minds. (which is usually what occurs if a person feels attacked)
If nothing else, maintaining a civil tone holds open the door for future conversation. Please don’t think all atheists are so disposed to rancor!
“I’ll possibly write more about my adventures in atheist land”
And you’ll lose. Because atheists have all the cards and you have none. Even your statement about atheists and their modus-operandi is itself a fallacy. You repeatedly state various unbacked opinions of yours as if they were facts (such as “atheists are more interested in winning than the truth”). The truth is ALL atheists are interested in. And that is why they disagree with you.
Why are you “as an atheist, embarrassed”? Atheism isn’t a club, and you are not a member.
I actually had a brief discussion with my mom about my atheism. She said to me, “what are you trying to prove by being atheist”? I told her that atheism is merely the informed & logical conclusion. Of course, she could not even fathom this statement. And so it is with all theists, until their logic wins in the end (although sometimes it never does). Some people dodge the issue by claiming to be “agnostic”. I did the same thing when I first started to distance myself from religion. An “agnostic” is basically a person undergoing the metamorphosis from theism to atheism. Agnosticism is the pupa from which logical minds emerge.