Christian Theology

October 9, 2008

Pitfalls for Atheists to Avoid

 

Through countless discussions surrounding atheism, it has become apparent that someone must be feeding bad advice to atheists.  Since the following errors are made repeatedly, this partial list has been populated to warn atheists of this underground movement in order for them to avoid these pitfalls.  If you are an atheist and hear any of the following advice, realize that if used, it will be harmful to your cause.

1. Assume that because you compare theism to believing in pink unicorns or fairy tales that you have made a good argument.

2. Become hostile and use degrading vulgarities while maintaining that Christianity is an immoral religion.

3. When you are having trouble answering an argument posed by a Christian theist, simply say, “well even if this were true, it doesn’t prove the existence of the ‘Christian’ God.”

4. Assume that simply because you explain a phenomena from a naturalistic perspective that it constitutes an argument which must be true.

5. When arguing against the Christian God, simply say that you only believe in “one less god” than most people, as if that does not require you to defend an atheistic understanding of cosmology, anthropology, ethics, philosophy of history, philosophy of politics, philosophy of science, and epistemology.

6. Make metaphysical statements that suggest that metaphysics are a useless waste of time.

7. Argue that we should only believe things proven by empirical evidence without proving it with empirical evidence.

8. Use logic like it is a universal, transcendent, unchanging reality when atheistic naturalism cannot account for universal, transcendent, unchanging realities.

9. Argue that there is no evidence to believe in the existence of God because all the evidence that is produced fails to pass the standards of evidence which have been constructed from the belief that God does not exist.

10. Argue that human beings are robots, puppets, and machines programmed by natural selection in a closed system of cause and effect, and then argue for free thought and moral agency.

11. Place your ultimate trust in human reason while believing that man’s mind evolved from lower animals such as monkeys and will continue to evolve until we become the monkeys from which the minds of the future will have evolved.

Doug Eaton

*Updated 2/24/09

Apologetics.com has done a radio show elaborating these points.  Click the link below to listen

10 Arguments Thoughtful Atheists Won’t Use

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40 Comments »

  1. 12. Claim that you could never worship an egotistical, jealous God when ultimately you are the final authority and defend it zealously.

    Comment by RevK — October 9, 2008 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

  2. 13. Claim that the Bible can’t be trusted but appeal to other ancient writings without questioning their origin or authenticity.

    Comment by RevK — October 9, 2008 @ 11:05 pm | Reply

  3. 14. Claim that you are a “skeptic” but never defend it as a worldview by which you live your life daily.

    Comment by RevK — October 9, 2008 @ 11:08 pm | Reply

  4. 15. Define faith as “believing in something you can never prove,” when science asserts that nothing is ever “proved.”

    Comment by RevK — October 9, 2008 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  5. 16. Argue that there is little to no good evidence that Jesus ever lived without explaining that the Bible as an ancient text is the best existing written evidence that we have of any ancient events whatsoever.

    Comment by Neiswonger — October 10, 2008 @ 12:23 am | Reply

  6. 17. Argue that the Bible is scant evidence because it is only one ancient book out of all the sources available without explaining that the Bible is actually 66 ancient books of differing authors, eras, and genre.

    Comment by Neiswonger — October 10, 2008 @ 12:25 am | Reply

  7. If only Christians had a sense of humor, this might actually be funny.

    Comment by morsec0de — October 10, 2008 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  8. 18. Point out that epistemological solipsism lies at the root of virtually every religious adherent’s belief, though it results in manifestly incompatible claims, because everyone else’s beliefs are demonically inspired, while [insert my faith tradition here] is clearly The Truth™.

    Comment by Robert — October 10, 2008 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  9. Dude… did you just trademark Truth?

    Comment by Neiswonger — October 10, 2008 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  10. Yes, yes I did. It was part and parcel to my sarcastic addition :)

    Comment by Robert — October 10, 2008 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

  11. Wish we could all be as hilarious as Bill Maher

    Comment by Clay — October 10, 2008 @ 10:26 pm | Reply

  12. # 8. Robert, thanks for continuing the chronological progression of numbers which indicates your belief in something.

    Comment by RevK — October 12, 2008 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  13. 19. Claim that laws of science and nature are eternal when the universe (including space and time)isn’t.

    Comment by RevK — October 16, 2008 @ 6:30 am | Reply

  14. 20. Put your faith in other atheists.

    Comment by RevK — October 22, 2008 @ 7:22 am | Reply

  15. [...] Eaton to discuss the issue of Atheism and some of the misguided arguments they use. We will use this list as a general outline. It will be broadcast throughout Southern California on KKLA 99.5FM at [...]

    Pingback by Two Upcoming Radio Appearances… I Think. - Reformata — December 5, 2008 @ 10:23 am | Reply

  16. I will try to catch this one as all these shows are a great listen!

    Comment by RevK — December 6, 2008 @ 5:20 am | Reply

  17. While I agree that changing the first three approaches would help build socially improved relationships, the rest fail to meet the standards of logic. Atheists do not necessarily say that there is no god, only that there is insufficient evidence to convince them that any god exists. Most are quite willing to give the evidence that they would require to convince them that some god likely exists. Very few believers I have encountered, however, have even considered what evidence they would need to convince them that the existence of god is unlikely.

    Comment by NH Baritone — December 14, 2008 @ 9:15 am | Reply

  18. In case you care, your list was discussed at length on the Dec. 13 episode of the Non-Prophets. You might find the discussion interesting.

    Comment by arensb — December 14, 2008 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  19. I invite anyone who has read this list to please, before assuming that all of these “pitfalls” ought to actually be avoided in a discussion, listen to the recent NonProphets Podcast episode ( http://www.nonprophetsradio.com/audio/The%20Non-Prophets%207.24.mp3 , it is about halfway through when the discussion of this list begins), because they’ve pretty much said anything I would say against this unfortunately failed attempt at helping atheists, and said it much better. Just give it a chance, because much of this list is, sorry to say, logical fallacy or misunderstanding of an atheist position.

    Comment by Walker — December 16, 2008 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

  20. To be honest, I would very much like to see a bit of an elaboration on these points, because most of the are insufficient to provide any advice at all.

    Comment by Walker — December 16, 2008 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  21. I second the request for elaboration.

    Comment by Rilian Sharp — December 17, 2008 @ 8:59 pm | Reply

  22. First off you have made the huge error of assuming that your advice is “great” or even useful.

    1. Explain why its a bad argument to compare belief in god to belief in the FSM or Fairy tales. You have put together this partial list of “bad” arguments without any justification for why they are bad. I make the comparison because its a belief in something in a book with no evidence for its existence. Can you make any real distinction between the two?

    2. You have a made an assumption that degrading vulgarity is in itself immoral, is it? Isn’t slavery worse than vulgarity? the bible endorses slavery. That’s like saying because I say a church is evil for protecting pedophiles that I am a hypocrite, that just doesn’t hold. Even in the bible vulgarity is not said to be immoral.You haven’t defended the claim that christianity is immoral, you just seem to be trying to tar atheists with the same brush.

    3. It is only intellectually honest to concede there could be a god, but explain how it actually harms our cause and how does it further the christian cause? a christian perceives it as bad for our cause because they assume that if you cant immediately dispense with a point they have won, they are shifting the burden of proof.

    4. I don’t, I can construct a naturalistic explanation, but I would not claim absolute truth, it is taken as true with conditions and it must be subject to verification. The lack of any explanation does not mean there is a supernatural explanation, I can turn this argument back on theists in their terms, just because you can construct a supernatural explanation, it does not mean it is true. Things are true relative to our current understanding.

    5. There is no “Atheistic view” there is a secular view, you are assuming we must have an complete and exhaustive understanding of the universe and all of these philosophies, I don’t have to be able to explain everything to be able to say your point is wrong and invalid.

    6. I can make a metaphysical argument to say metaphysics that are completely detached from reality are a waste of time, but metaphysics that take into account what we know and can see are not, this is a valid point.

    7. This is a counter example of point 6, you are relying on the dependence on empirical evidence as an absolute statement, but I rely on it as a general rule of thumb because it is the most reliable way to get at the truth.

    8. This is again a secular methodological naturalism, it does not have to account for universal transcendent unchanging realities, it just has to work.

    9. Wrong!and I could say an outright lie! They were not constructed from the basis that god does not exist, einstein a believer used the same methodology to try and prove the existence of god and failed, it does not exclude god, if god existed there is no reason this method could not be used to explain or prove a god.

    10. This does not hurt my cause be case my view of free will is different from your christian view of it, we are arguing from different world views, you are trying to argue against us without knowledge of our views.

    11. How is this a bad argument? we could be the pinnacle of the evolution of the brain, just because there could be a better one with better morals and views does not make our view invalid, an definitely does not mean we should make one up or look outside of reality. This point although I see what your getting at, is flawed and not exclusively an atheist viewpoint.

    Comment by Steven — December 18, 2008 @ 11:01 am | Reply

  23. Please excuse some of my spelling errors, I didn’t spellcheck.

    Comment by Steven — December 18, 2008 @ 11:21 am | Reply

  24. A few pitfalls for Christians to avoid.

    1. Stop assuming that centuries of potentially erroneous belief and a canon of text chosen largely under the threat of gnostic expansionism and a shifting politic in Europe, one that has undergone a number of key revisions, is no longer read it its original language by more than a relative handful of people, and burdened by an Evangelical wing that is younger than Islam that concentrates on novel escatologies like “the Rapture” at the expense of more pragmatic and socially valuable sections and expect people to take you more seriously, united, consistent or spiritually sound than those who worship reindeer or believe in the healing power of crystals.

    2. At your next denominational convention, synod or clerical convocations, attempt to construct a thorough and transparent theodicy. Do this soon, explaining how any thinking person could be persuaded by the inconsistent argument that an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal and all merciful Being would allow a single act of suffering to exist, much less an entire history of it, afterall you’ve been working on it unsuccessfully for over two thousand years with little progress and it might be a real boon for conversion fodder to have at least one truly cogent argument.

    3. Stop resorting to adolescent tautologies like “God exist because the Bible tell us so” and the Bible has authority because it is the word of God in the absence of any sound argument.

    4. Stop condemning the suggestions of empirical evidence provided by secular scientists because they use a methodology of discovery, while you rest on the laurels of a methodology based on a revelation and the witness of people you have never met.

    5. Explain how you can attest to the literal and inerrant word of God when few of you can point out the humans stop writing and God picked up the manuscript, one in which he saw fit to have commissioned in Hebrew and Koine Greek (no to mention post-Jerome versions in Latin Vulgaris) when the number of preachers who have mastered all three of those languages could dance on the head of a pin.

    6. Stop arguing about the consistency of the Bible’s text and message when you can barely understand your 14 year old daughter through her night gear when she was born in your lifetime and most of the Bible was completed about 2,000 years before you birth.

    7. Stop making alarmist claims about the rampant nihilism that would erupt if wholesale belief in the moral legislation of Scripture were to erode, when a belief that this is the only life we have would be less cherished than one that preaches that belief and repentance will be your ticket to everlasting life is clearly counter-intuitive.

    8. Stop being selective about when the Bible is literal and when it is…ahem…being methaphorical like that most Abrahamic of Kama Sutras: Solomon’s gushy Song of Songs mash note. Equally, be forthright about the fact that the Bible begins with a lie told by God, corrected by a serpent (Adam and Even *did* evolve a sense of good and evil, but they certainly didn’t live short lives according on the “begat computations.” Disuss why my niece who is much younger than I amExplain why scribes working on the aegis of an infallible God would write two genesis , Genesis contains two separate narratives about man’s creation, God repented he his choice of Saul–it seemed like a good idea at the time!–and that the inclusion of four gospels which are merely written to take on the road merely tell the exact same story, however possessed they are by idiosyncratic and often impenetrable egos. Four different takes on a life so precious his every world should have been described as articulator was he?

    Comment by Duncan Scrymgeour — January 2, 2009 @ 8:55 am | Reply

  25. Oh, just one or two more suggestions. As theists the onus is upon YOU to prove that a spiritual being of immense power exists. You are the one making the argument, a rather sharply defined element when bearing witness to the unchurched. It is not a requirement that people who don’t believe in your supposition must prove it. You must prove it to us to varying degrees.

    And penultimately, by no means snicker at the notion that atheists must believe that humans are de facto robots that exercise free will when robots obviously can’t because when you create straw men arguments, you build them on the backs of false metaphors. Humans are not robots, nor do we act like them, so the comparison falls flat. (This is a freebie for you guys.) You will be much more successfully in your argument initially if your present this half-cocked yet cocksure notion using a simply simile. “You mean that you think that you were just programmed by your environment and your genes, just *like* robots are made. So why would you have free will and a robot not? But now that I’ve given you this more decisive jab, don’t use it. Why? Because if God exists outside of time, is the prime mover of the various economies of causality that you mentioned in your litany of the dumb atheists and is so specific in his observations that not even a sparrow can fall without his notice, explain how a creature who knows how everything started and how everything will end because he’s in charge of the whole shebang is NOT the one who has created an environment whereby humans only think they that act out of free will, by a god who intervenes in history, and knows the fate of all his creation. That’s called determinism folks, John Knox got it, the rest of the Calvinists practiced it ardently it centers on the absence of free will that is the logical extension of the god model you are proposing.

    Lastly, will the smug and grunting Evangelicals among you, please either decide that God is a creature of immense divine power that will create the world that he wants through that power OR believe that your God is a puny God that must resort on his Kool-Aid drinking minions in order to do things like outlaw gay marriage. You can’t play the God Awe game while your busy breaking your back in an attempt to be an activist and pervert the social gospel.

    Sorry, one tina last one. Why would Satan, whom you fear with such terror, agree to punish the only people that really must love him if not be in league with him by snatching their desserts.

    The second is like unto it…..

    Why would you let Lucifer fall into hatred and shadow and then expect him to mistreat the only people who love him (heavy sinners) for the only being he hates: God.

    Comment by Duncan Scrymgeour — January 2, 2009 @ 9:19 am | Reply

  26. You forgot one…

    Atheists should avoid taking pitfall advice from christian apologetics. When you have to take a stretch without the proper facts you’ll usually end up with speculation while battling a severely biased opinion based on nonsense. High suspicion is suggested.

    Thanks for trying, but I can’t use your advice.

    Comment by Basic Atheist — January 10, 2009 @ 4:22 am | Reply

  27. 21. Become upset with the notion of a “personal” God when atheistic literature personifies everything (eg. nature ‘decides,’ evolution ‘chooses,’ the universe ‘creates,’ etc.)

    Comment by RevK — February 24, 2009 @ 11:04 pm | Reply

  28. [...] Pitfalls for atheists to avoid. [...]

    Pingback by Pitfalls for Atheists to Avoid « The Pugnacious Irishman — February 25, 2009 @ 6:29 am | Reply

  29. Atheists: Don’t fuss about talking animals in the Bible, while at the same time, believing in evolutionary assumptions, you’re an animal, and you’re talking!

    Comment by That's A Great Question — July 23, 2009 @ 2:00 pm | Reply

  30. I think the Athiests here are misreading the title of the post. We’re trying to give you things that won’t work – we’re not assuming that you believe them because you don’t believe in God and came across the post.

    Comment by Casey B — August 29, 2009 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  31. In response to #30, this is the kind of comment that makes people think your position is just silly. The magnitude of your logical error is impressive indeed. You said that atheists shouldn’t be suprised about an animal’s ability to talk since we, as animals, can also talk. Personally, I’ve also never seen an animal program a computer or build and explosive device, but you seem to think I should expect that since we can do these things, animals can. The thought process that you have shown is why we cannot discuss the topic logically with people such as yourself. Fortuniatly for the faithful, illogic and irrationality will always triumpth over logic and rationalism.

    Comment by That's just silly — August 29, 2009 @ 2:58 pm | Reply

  32. 1. But it is a good argument, because pink unicorns and fairytales have about as much basis in reality as any God, including yours, and any holy book, including your Bible. Can you distinguish between them? This point would be a lot better as advice if you provided justification for why what you claim that atheists say is a bad argument, instead of just implying that it is.

    2. Ridiculous things are deserving of ridicule, by definition. Hostility is not always immoral, nor are those naughty words you seem to have a problem with. Things that are advocated by Christianity on the other hand? Always immoral. Some counteradvice to you, regarding the whole degrading vulgarities thing is to not treat the rest of what someone says as completely invalid if they happen to swear while they’re making a point. Sometimes it’s needed.

    3. Why not? I would assume that when I’m in a conversation with you about God, we’d be speaking to the Christian god. I’m extending you charity when I grant you certain things for the sake of argument, and I do it because, most of the time, it’s pretty inconsequential to proving the existence of your particular god.

    4. I haven’t come across an atheist who does. The most we can say is that it’s true at this point in time, according to the evidence we have at moment. That doesn’t mean it can’t change. Science has changed many times in the past and it will change many more times in the future. But it does mean that right at the moment, it is as true as we’re going to get.

    5. There’s no such thing as an ‘atheistic understanding’ of any of those things. What you’re reaching for here is a scientific understanding – they’re not the same.

    6. I haven’t come across an atheist who does this. The most I’ve come across is to say that metaphysics on insufficient evidence is a waste of time. And rightly so.

    7. Believing claims on empirical evidence is currently the most reliable method for believing claims, because empirical evidence is something that is independantly and objectively verifiable. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be a better method someday down the line, but it does mean that it’s always going to be better than positing ‘evidence’ that cannot be independently and objectively verified.

    8. There’s no such thing as ‘atheistic naturalism’. But if there was, logic is still universal and unchanging, because it is predicated on something that is never not going to be true.

    9. The standards of evidence were not constructed on the belief that God does not exist. Plenty of scientists, including some of those who came up with the standards of evidence, were religious.

    10. I don’t.

    11. So we have no right to think because our ancestors had smaller less sophisticated brains than us, and because those who are going to come after us are more than likely going to have larger more sophisticated brains? That’s just silly, sorry. You may as well say we shouldn’t bother looking at stuff because our ancestors had less complex eyes than us, and because there will probably be something with more complex eyes than us in the future.

    12. Non-sequitur

    13. No critical thinker I know, whether atheist or otherwise, does that.

    14. I do defend it. When I have to.

    15. I don’t define faith as what you say. I define faith as an unaltering, unwavering belief in something on insufficient evidence.

    16. There is little to no extra-biblical evidence that Jesus, as written in the New Testament, existed. And the evidence in the bible is sketchy at best.

    17. The bible is scant evidence for just about anything said the bible because of its various inconsistencies, contradictions, omissions, conflicts with what has been discovered about the world, and just plain impossibilities.

    18. Doesn’t apply to atheists.

    19. The laws of science and nature are as eternal as the things they’re describing.

    20. Most atheists wouldn’t. They’d make their minds up for themselves.

    Comment by Rhett Samios — October 12, 2009 @ 9:12 pm | Reply

  33. “You have a made an assumption that degrading vulgarity is in itself immoral, is it? Isn’t slavery worse than vulgarity? the bible endorses slavery. That’s like saying because I say a church is evil for protecting pedophiles that I am a hypocrite, that just doesn’t hold. Even in the bible vulgarity is not said to be immoral.You haven’t defended the claim that christianity is immoral, you just seem to be trying to tar atheists with the same brush.”

    Do you have any proof the Bible endorses the type of slavery you are talking about? The Bible condems the type of slavery you are thinking of, where as indentured servitude isn’t. Unless you think that Stephen King endorses murdering people because instances of murder are in his book.

    Also, in a completely material world, to say slavery is wrong is purely your opinion, as morals can be nothing more than opinions or personal preferences. So saying “The Bible is immoral because it endorses slavery” holds no more weight than a vegan saying “The Bible is evil because Jesus feeds people with fish.”

    Also, many people believing in the same moral values as you do does not make them better or more correct; it simply means more humans agree. In some places, honor killings are seen as moral and good. Here in the U.S., most people think they are wrong. So how do we decide who is right? Or how about vegans. They feel killing an animal for food is just as wrong as killing some random hobo for food. So you can say you think the Bible is immoral, but that does not prove that it is. It is only your subjective opinion. If I say pizza is a better food than chicken, that doesn’t make it true.

    Comment by cheetos — February 1, 2010 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

    • “in a completely material world, to say slavery is wrong is purely your opinion, as morals can be nothing more than opinions or personal preferences.”

      Not true, there is always something bigger than ourselves (the earth, eco-systems and society for example). Morals come from empathy and socialisation, there is no gain to saying that they come from God as we do not understand God enough to know what He wants (Hence the huge number of religious denominations that do not agree on the same set of morals). You are always choosing your morals because even if God exists you do not know what He thinks (Or even which version of God to listen to).

      We now have a lot of outside evidence and ideas on how people (and animals) manifest good or moral behaviour. It normally comes down to ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you’ or some such idea, empathy (via mirroring the feelings of the other) allows us to see what we may be doing to the other being and why this is wrong. It is true that some people (and animals) don’t feel empathy, but these people are extremely rare and are unlikely to be contained by religion anyway.

      You will always find people that disagree with actions such as honour killings even in a society that condones them. That in essence is how we move past such barbaric practices. The bible is full of such practices and we are right to reject them.

      Comment by Alan G Nixon — May 2, 2011 @ 9:07 pm | Reply

    • “Do you have any proof the Bible endorses the type of slavery you are talking about? The Bible condems the type of slavery you are thinking of”

      In Leviticus 25:44, Yahweh, the Christian god, said:

      “As for your male and female slaves WHOM YOU MAY HAVE: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit AS A POSSESSION forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

      Clearly, your god in Leviticus 25 is permitting chattel slavery, that is, the ownership of a person as a possession.

      Comment by Anonymous — February 5, 2012 @ 1:55 am | Reply

  34. [...] the archived programs features Apologists.com's interview of Doug Eaton, who claims there are ten arguments that thoughtful Atheists don't use.  According to Eaton and the host:Atheists should not compare believing in God with in pink [...]

    Pingback by Christian Apologetics Has Become Fun Again | God Discussion — April 29, 2011 @ 1:01 pm | Reply

  35. I dub this article an instance of Poe’s Law.

    Comment by Rich — April 30, 2011 @ 4:54 am | Reply

  36. You utter fool.

    Comment by Philip Gilbert — May 1, 2011 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  37. Doug, what you are really trying to do is validate your theism by trying to refute atheist claims (as interpreted) by you. Your argument is fallacious from the inception.
    The onus is on the theist to prove the existence of whatever god they believe in. You have not done this, you cannot do this, and you never will do this because you know that your god does not exist, never did exist and never will exist.

    Comment by MysticalKhat — February 11, 2012 @ 2:05 am | Reply


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