Dishonest Apologetics

I’ve gotten a little frustrated with the amount of bad arguments that both Christians and atheists make when debating the existence of God. So here’s a question for both groups: do you stop using bad arguments once you find out that they’re flawed? Or do you keep using the argument anyway, hoping that the person you’re using it on won’t be smart enough to spot the flaw? Do the ends justify the means as long as you lead them to the right place, or is it more important to make honest arguments?

By bad arguments, I mean those that are either logically invalid, or rest on very questionable assumptions. I’ll give you a few examples to let you know where I’m coming from. One argument I hear a lot of atheists use is that because the overwhelming majority of the universe is lifeless, it could not have been designed. The problem with this is that if an omnipotent God existed, he could have created everything with no effort whatsoever and could have created the entire rest of the universe just to give us something pretty to look at and explore. Another atheist argument that I think is logically flawed is the statement that because evolution can explain why people have religious beliefs, those religious beliefs must be false. If God exists, he could simply have made us this way in order to make it easier to realize that he exists. So it shows why people might believe in God even if he doesn’t exist, but it does not show that God is merely imaginary. Another common argument is that religious people have done very bad things in the past. This does not show that their religion is false, just that members of any religion are humans, and have flaws. Both atheists and Christians have been brutal murderers and both atheists and Christians have been generous humanitarians.

As an atheist, I obviously think that many Christian arguments are flawed, and I’ll mention a couple of them. Sometimes Christians say that their beliefs must be reasonable since so many people share their beliefs and atheists must be wrong since there are fewer of us. The problem is that popularity is not a good way of establishing what the truth is. Christianity is no more or less true today than it was when it consisted of a few hundred people. Islam does not become true if it far surpasses Christianity in adherents. Another argument that just doesn’t work is Pascal’s Wager, which says that an atheist loses nothing if he accepts Catholicism and has everything to gain if it turns out to be true. Because of this, an atheist should supposedly try to believe. One problem is that religion isn’t completely costless (going to mass, giving money to the church). So in order for the wager to work, there must be some evidence that Catholicism is true, otherwise we should give all our money to anyone who walks up to us on the street and says that he will somehow give us infinite happiness in exchange. Since there are many contradictory religions, someone would have to consider every possible religion, and pick the one with the most evidence. It would take more than one lifetime to thoroughly consider the evidence for the many thousands of religions (and only considering the most popular is not good enough). So this does not really work as a way of deciding what to believe, and it really all comes down to whether the evidence for Catholicism is enough to conclude that it is probably true. Pascal’s Wager is an attempt to get people to accept weaker evidence, but it only works if people already have good enough evidence to convince them that Catholicism is probably true, in which case the wager is not needed. Another argument I sometimes hear is that someone you know was sick and recovered after you prayed for them. The reason why this doesn’t work as evidence of God is that some people will inevitably recover whether you pray for them or not. What would provide evidence of God is a study showing that people receiving prayers recovered faster than those who did not. However, so far no properly conducted study has discovered a significant effect.

I’m not saying that I’m immune from this, but when I find out that I made a bad argument, I figure out how to fix it or stop using it. So feel free to let me know if you think any of the arguments I just made are bad. Finally, I’m not trying to demean anyone; I’m just trying to figure out why people use bad arguments, and hopefully raise the level of debate so we can figure out which side has more support.

One I picked up on was believing is not costless. Catholics do not require that you give to Church. It is encouraged but not required.

As far as the many religions - many have some truth to them. You could spend a lifetime sorting it all out. Others have done this sorting for you.

Well from what I understand they do require going to mass. I think if people thought that God definitely did not exist, they would rather do something else with the time. You don’t see many atheists going to church just because they enjoy the experience of mass.

Also, I don’t think it’s a good idea to rely on other people to sort through the religions for you. Certainly you shouldn’t just accept their arguments because they’re smart (There are smart atheists as well as Christians.) But even if you study their arguments carefully to make sure you agree with them, is this really fair to the other religions. Would you say someone had adequately considered Catholicism if the only book they read about it was by a Protestant?

I do agree one must actively seek the truth. The best arguments are the ones that survive. The heresies fall by the wayside. The Protestant heresies will fall too. They survived because of “isolation” as you pointed out. Catholic education teaches world religions.

No one is born in a vacuum. Everything you know has been through others. At the end of the day you pick and choose. What happens if your biggest influence is an atheist? What happens if your biggest influence is a believer?

I wholeheartedly agree. Personally, I try to analyze an argument BEFORE I start using it. I only want to use logic that is airtight. And I agree there are bad apologists on both sides. I think the fact that you strive to only present arguments that are not built on justifying the ends is quite refreshing. :slight_smile:

Well I don’t think I said that Protestant beliefs survived because of isolation, I was just saying that you shouldn’t trust a book about a religion written by an outsider to give you a full picture of that religion. But I agree that none of us have the full picture, yet we still have to make a choice of what we think is most likely. My point was that I don’t think that Pascal’s Wager works because it says that it shouldn’t matter whether there is evidence. I agree that there are high stakes to choosing correctly, but not that one should disregard the evidence. Do you really think that Pascal’s Wager is a good argument? If so, I’d be interested in hearing why.

Assume you go to the store to buy your first can of baked beans. What evidence do you have that the can of baked beans you just bought has baked beans in it?

Yes indeed, my argument :blush:(because its not really mine) has never been successfully refuted; consider this:
-Have you posted this questioning post on web forums of each and all world religions? If your answer is no, please list which religous forums you have posted this exact question to.
-Have you found you have only posted this exact question on a Catholic forum?
-Are you aware that Catholicism teaches that God alone leads a person to Himself.
-Are you here because you find some attraction in some part of Catholicism; or an attraction in debating Catholicism - which you might not find with debating atheists, or pagans or sun worshippers or hindus etc.
-You are aware that you must be strictly honest with yourself; that does not mean you need to answer anybodys questions, just your own.
-No doubt you know that a central tenet of Christs teaching, and Catholicisms, is that old familliar ‘seek and you shall find’.
-Catholicism is therefore the simplist of ‘religions’ to prove to oneself. Its founder, ‘God’, states categorically that anyone who seeks Him will find Him. In other words, the Almighty Creator of the Universe has given you a cast iron guarantee that you will find Him if you look.

To recap; A man is called to God by God. Gods ‘call’ to man is often a sense of attraction to what is His. If one finds oneself on Catholic websites reading and debating, one may wish to consider if there is something there. Then, with a strictly honest answer to oneself, if in the affirmative, it is a simple matter of clasping ones courage in both hands and casting out into the deep; seeking, with the guarantee of finding.

Well, I’d say that previously when I’ve bought things from the store, the packages contained what the labels said. So based on experience, labels are almost always correct. Though I think there was one time where I opened a can and it was something different. I’m curious about where you’re going with this.

Because if I believe and act accordingly and live a joyous life I win here on earth. If there is a God I win again, so it is a win-win situation.

I said you *first *can of baked beans.

God is Truth. We cannot use falsehood in His service. By using bad arguments, we risk losing the listener because the argument is bad; by using false ones, we risk losing the listener because the arguer is bad.

Everyone feels the temptation to “win” the argument by scoring points, but that’s not the purpose of apologetics. Apologetics exists to defend and explain the Faith; we can’t do that if we undermine ourselves.

I agree with you that Pascal’s Wager is an invalid argument, but not for the reasons you give. The theory of Pascal’s Wager is that there are only four possible outcomes: (1) believe in God, but He doesn’t exist; (2) believe in God, and He does exist; (3) disbelieve in God, and He doesn’t exist; (4) believe in God, but He doesn’t exist. Of those four possible outcomes, two don’t matter because they result in non-existence after death; of the other two (both of which presuppose the existence of God), I’d rather believe in God than not because of the terrible consequences of being wrong; accordingly, I choose to believe in God.

The problem with Pascal’s Wager is that it is dishonest: one is “choosing” to believe that which one does not, in fact, believe. It therefore presupposes that God will be tricked into thinking you did the right thing when in fact you’re only pretending because of the gamble. In truth, God is not like that. He knows that you’re just faking it, so it doesn’t work anyway.

So it’s a bad argument, and not one we should use in attempting to explain the Faith to non-believers.

And back to your main point, dishonesty doesn’t work in apologetics. Apologetics is never a “right now” undertaking anyway; we shouldn’t be trying to “win” the argument of the moment. All we can do is explain the Faith when the opportunity presents itself, correct any misapprehensions of which we become aware, and move on. The listener will either learn or not; eventually, if the listener learns enough about the Faith, he or she will accept it. If the listener refuses to learn – or, tragically both for the listener and the apologist, if he or she is caused not to learn because the apologist was dishonest – then that will be too bad for the listener, and we will mourn him or her.

And the apologist will answer for it at the end of time.

Disregard my last post. I see that you said “bought things.”

I was just pointing out that you use less evidence when purchasing a can of baked beans then theists use in their faith in God and that atheists have faith in many every day circumstances. If the label is wrong, you haven’t lost much. If the “label” is wrong in Catholicism, you haven’t lost much either. In fact, it would be impossible to ever realize you’ve lost anything because your dead and that’s it. However, if the “label” is right in Catholicism (Christianity), an atheist just lost everything upon his/her death (assuming Hell is the destination.) The only true tragedy in life would be realized; the failure to become a saint. The only way an atheist can “open” the “Christian can” is if Christianity is true.

I have not posted this post anywhere else. I’d love to have enough time to post on lots of different message boards, but there just aren’t enough hours on the day. I guess I focus on Christianity because it’s the predominant religion here in the U.S. I also know it better, and I think it’s important to have a decent understanding of a religion before you try to argue against it. I chose to post on a Catholic site because in some ways I think that Catholics are more logical than Fundamentalists, and so I thought you guys might be more interesting to argue with.

I guess I agree. I’m not sure exactly what you mean, but it seems roughly correct.

Well, I think it would be less interesting to debate Hindus because I don’t know their beliefs very well. But I actually find it pretty fun to debate atheists. If you look at previous posts I’ve made on this site, a lot of them are actually criticisms of atheist arguments.

I don’t know what you mean by my own questions. After having looked into the arguments on both sides, I feel pretty comfortable with my beliefs. I understand that since your God is supposedly benevolent, you want to believe that anyone who seeks him will find him, but that is not my experience. I have tried sincerely praying for a sign that he exists, and got nothing. I then read up on the arguments, and the more I read, the more certain I became that there is no good reason to believe in God. So I certainly can’t prove to you that I will never convert, all I can say is that me and a lot of other people I know have sincerely tried to find God, if he exists, and found nothing.

Well I don’t quite agree with you that I use less evidence with buying beans than theists do with belief in God. I have quite a lot of person experience to confirm that labels are typically accurate. However, I have no experience at all that religious claims in general, or a certain types of religious claims, are typically accurate.

I agree with you that the penaties for being wrong are worse if Catholicism is true, but I wouldn’t trivialize the penalties of believing in Catholicism if it is false by comparing them to being wrong about a can of beans. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to spend an hour a week digging holes in the ground and filling them back in for the rest of your life. If Catholicism is definitely false, than going to mass is similarly ineffectual. It might have the side benefit of making you stronger, just like going to mass might give you a sense of community, but I think the benefits would not be worth the costs for most people.

If one goes on a quest to see what goes on the deepest part of the ocean he must commit to actually going there. I am not sure atheists actually go where God is. It’s like " I want to see what is at the bottom of the ocean but I want to stay on the surface."

I was just pointing out that both are acts of faith.

If Christianity is false, Mass being ineffectual will never be realized.

So far… you mean.
My post was a whole thought, you have to try and keep all of it in mind as one thought; the beginning for many is when God calls a person, a ‘call’ quite often is just an attraction to Him. But if one finds no attraction towards Him, has no reason to want Him, and sees no reason to believe in Him, and is preparing themselves to abandon the effort then I do not see how one will find anything, regardless of how sincerely one thinks a test is made.
Its very interesting that we search for ‘a person’ who knows our thoughts, even before we know them; its difficult for us to continue to the end in the search, or to be prepared to continue, but that is what is asked. When the faith of the jews who were disciples of Christ was tested by Christ, saying to them that they must eat His flesh, He saw their thoughts, saw their confusion and reluctance. He did not give in and let the person dictate what the outcome was to be, He, rather, pushed home more forcefully to them the challenge that they must indeed eat His flesh. Their problem was that they were not prepared for His challenge, they gave up. The Christian God, if thats who you seek, may just challenge you also not to give up, because He knows you, the only way you can hope to prove Him wrong, that He won’t keep His promise to be found by you, is, if *you *do not give up. He knows your thoughts, He set the rules of ‘seek’ and the ball is in our court now. Do we take up the challenge, respond to it knowing we cannot fail, or do we give up like those disciples before we even start.

Thanks for your post. I’m glad you also oppose making bad arguments. I’ve heard some people say that they know a certain argument for God doesn’t quite work, but they still use it anyway in an attempt to kind of “trick” someone into belief. I strongly oppose stuff like this, just like I strongly oppose things like Zeitgeist that use lies to get people to abandon belief.

I don’t agree with your criticism of my criticism of Pascal’s Wager, so I’ll go ahead and criticize it. :slight_smile: You say that the situations where God does not exist “don’t matter because they result in non-existence after death.” If this life is all that I will ever have, then every second is precious. I cherish every day that I get to spend with friends and family and all the wonderful things that I have the chance to learn about the world. If there is no God, I would rather spend my free time with those I love than praying to a non-existent being. An hour or two a week adds up to quite a lot over the course of a lifetime.

But as you point out, there are certainly other problems with Pascal’s Wager. I completely agree that one can’t always choose what to believe, and that God probably wouldn’t be convinced by someone’s attempt to fake it.

It makes me think of a hypothetical. Let’s say someone had a machine that could determine exactly what I believed and offered to give me one billion dollars if I could make myself believe that invisible pink unicorns exist by the end of the year. I just don’t think there is any way I could make myself believe that.

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