I’ve been participating in online debates with theists for a couple of years now, and have written about it many times here. I thought it might be useful to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, in terms of their arguments.
All the theists I have debated with online can be classified as belonging to one of three broad groups:
- The asserters. These are the proselytizers. Whether they preach, threaten us with hellfire or quote from their religious texts, all they really do is make assertions. Hence I call them asserters.
- The science deniers. These are the ones who present no argument whatsoever for their belief and often don’t even give a clue as to what it might be. Instead they deny something else, usually abiogenesis via a straw man argument of evolution, and assume that by doing so, their preferred belief is the only alternative.
- The religious apologists. These are the only ones who do present an argument, generally one of the well known apologetics arguments, often learned from a religious organisation or website and presented by a person who has no idea of the well known counterarguments, and is often incapable of understanding them anyway, because when confronted with the problems in their argument, they either switch to another one, move the goalposts, or ignore the counterarguments and become an asserter.
You can probably see where I’m going with this… Most of these so-called debaters cannot debate at all. Most of them do not even understand that by engaging in discourse with atheists, they are implicitly making a claim, that a god exists, and that the burden of proof requires them to supply evidence to support their claim. But let’s examine the three groups anyway…
While there is indeed no known correlation between intelligence and religious belief, one has only to log in to a debate or discussion group once to make the observation that people who post nothing but assertions are not too bright, to put it mildly.
Here are a couple of examples from today:
The first is a typical assertion that Jesus is coming and that we should repent or face eternity in Hell. This is the kind of thing I heard in stories read to me in Sunday School when I was seven years old, and didn’t find terribly convincing at the time, yet these adults write it as if it is the most convincing argument ever! (Baffling, isn’t it?)
It’s just an assertion, one that is meaningless to anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, an eternal soul, or Hell. It also doesn’t consider that there are other religions, and people who believe just as sincerely in them, or that somebody who doesn’t believe in any religion isn’t going to find this assertion convincing. Why should I believe this and not an assertion that Allah is the only god? Why should I believe any assertion for that matter, when asserting is only making a claim? I can also make assertions. For example: There is a boogeyman under my son’s bed. I have never seen him, because when I look, he moves somewhere else. But I know he’s there.
The second is an example of a false dilemma. The asserter believes that anybody who doesn’t worship Jesus must be a worshipper of Satan, because they cannot conceive of anything other than those two options. Of course one can explain to the person what is wrong with their logic. I have done so many times. In every case, they either ignore my response or assert that I am wrong.
Other posts that I refer to as assertions are ones that simply quote scripture, because scripture is the source of the claim that a god exists. To quote scripture is to repeat the claim. The content that’s quoted as well as any meaning imposed on that content is irrelevant because such meaning can only be inferred if one accepts that the claim is true. The claim is not evidence of itself, and posting quotes of scripture to atheists is almost as annoying as it is useless. Again, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve explained why quoting scripture is useless. Such explanations are always ignored.
Maybe “not too bright” is too much of an understatement? The asserters are idiots. There isn’t even any room to debate with them. “I’m right and you’re wrong” is not a debate. It is pointless even engaging with these people, except to point out to them that they are making assertions, and asking for evidence. But getting roped into a series of contradictory statements is a waste of time.
The Science Deniers
I’ve written about this recently, in great detail. I won’t go into detail again here because you can read that recent post for my comprehensive counterarguments against them. But note that they don’t actually make an argument for any god. They simply assume that refuting something else leaves only their specific god as an alternative. Thus they not only implicitly assume creation (which implies a creator) but assume a specific creator, and that by refuting something else, this creator, this alternative hypothesis, must be accepted at face value and should be exempt from criticism. What makes this “logic” especially bad is that people who make such an argument are oblivious to the assumptions they make, and ignore anyone who points this out.
Their arguments against science can be simplistic or elaborate, but they are always irrelevant to a debate with atheists as they do not present anything, any reason to consider theism.
Their “reasoning” only makes sense to those who already assume that their conclusions are true. Thus such arguments are useful only to those who narrow-mindedly seek rationalizations to confirm what they think they know.
The Religious Apologists
The apologists, who turn out to be a tiny minority of the theists who debate with atheists, are the only ones who actually present arguments. I include in this group those who make other generic arguments, besides known apologetics, for a creator or intelligent designer.
The argument from morality is slightly different to the others in that it assumes the god of the apologist is the source of an objective morality. Yet morality is subjective – one has only to look at different variations of the same religions in different locations to confirm this. Furthermore, it is clear that moral values have changed historically. For example, Christian morals in the Middle Ages were quite different to modern morals. And morals predated the religions of those making such assumptions, so this argument simply credits gods as the source of morality, which requires the assumptions that those gods existed before their claims (the religious texts) were written. In other words, to credit your god for being the source of morality, you must assume your god exists, and did exist before anybody knew of that god (even though an atheist such as myself will tell you that the writing of the religious text in fact represents the creation of that god). In other words, the premise of this argument requires assuming the conclusion to be true. It’s just another example of begging the question.
Another popular argument is the argument from complexity or personal incredulity. (I don’t understand; therefore god.) I have dealt with it many times and it is nothing more than an elaborate argument from ignorance.
In fact, all such arguments are riddled with logical fallacies. They have to be. They are nothing more than rhetoric to justify faith – the belief despite zero evidence – so they must find ways to rationalize and qualify belief without presenting evidence to support it, because there isn’t any.
I started writing this post with the intention of making a single point, and have taken far longer than intended simply to establish the context. Hopefully I haven’t lost everybody’s interest along the way! Anyway, here goes, finally: What all those arguments have in common, and I mean besides the fact that they are riddled with logical fallacies, is that they are arguments for a generic creator or designer. They are all generic arguments.
Without exception, it does not logically follow to conclude that a specific god exists after making a generic argument. One can only do so if one already assumes one’s conclusion at the beginning. Thus the detail that I snuck into parenthesis in this post’s title cannot be answered by any such argument. Even if you could present a convincing argument (and you can’t because there isn’t one), why would you believe that this generic creator demands to be worshipped? To do so means assuming your indoctrination is correct, and there is nothing to indicate that any religion currently practiced is any different to what’s referred to as mythology. That is, to insist that your god is real and demands worship, you have to switch to asserting it. And if you’re an asserter, I must call you an idiot.