Thursday, July 06, 2006

Why debunk the debunkers?


Marianne said:

Hi Steve,

Do you really think you're going to prove anything to these apostates? They are willful self-deceivers and do not want to learn. What do you hope to gain by devoting your time to them instead of to the Lord? I will pray for you, and for the lost before it is too late for them. But by expending so much of your precious energy on infidels, you are doing exactly what they want you to do.

In Christ,
Marianne Apfelburg


Thanks Marianne.

This is my rationale:

To begin with, I don’t expect to win over a hardened apostate. That’s not my target audience. The apostate is simply my foil.

My real audience is twofold:

1.Not every Christian has a ready-made answer to attacks on his faith. Not every Christian has access to a decent library.

When objections are allowed to pile up, it can have a cumulative and corrosive effect on one’s faith.

In spiritual warfare, it isn’t necessary to kill a Christian’s faith to take him out of action. It is only necessary to cripple his faith.

He doesn’t lose his faith, but he loses his confidence.

2.In addition, not every unbeliever is a reprobate. Some are backsliders. Some just don’t know any better. Some are sitting on the fence, waiting to see who wins the argument.

The Secular Web is the world’s leading website in the cause of militant atheism.

As such, it has quite a constituency.

A while back, it started a weblog (The Secular Outpost), which is a spin-off of The Secular Web.

This was an attempt to extend its reach. Extend its sphere of influence.

I assume The Secular Outpost draws from the preexisting constituency of The Secular Web.

The Secular Outpost also has a number of links to other secular sites.

DC is one of these. I assume that it gets a lot of crossover traffic from The Secular Outpost.

Why do I pick on the DC rather than the Secular Web or the Secular Outpost or some other site?

For a few practical reasons:

1.The Secular Web has been around for years. It has bottomless archives. It presents too big a target. It’s unmanageably large and diffuse in terms of the sheer amount of material one would have to sift through.

2.Contributors to The Secular Web don’t post all that often. Moreover, guys like Edis and Lowder don’t present much of a target. They are grown-ups. They pick their battles. They are too shrewd to stick their neck out the way the Debunkers do.

3.Of the various links, DC is the only site that regularly assails the Christian faith.

4.I assume that DC attracts a certain audience because its contributors are ex-Christian and ex-ministers. They have the inside dish, right?

5.Loftus bills himself as a student of Craig. This has PR appeal.

Well, if someone who trained under a Christian apologist to be a Christian apologist defects from the faith, then what does that tell you about the Christian faith. The more you know, the less you believe, right?

6.The Debunkers have nothing original to say. It’s a garage sale, hawking kitschy criticisms of the Christian faith.

But that makes it a useful foil. At this stage of the game, all of the objections to Christianity are going to be stock objections.

So DC presents a nice, compact target.

If a militant atheist chooses to walk around with a bull’s-eye on his back, I’m happy to accommodate him.

Sure, DC may be no more distinguished than a roadside salesman peddling velvet paintings, but when you get right down to it, the case against Christianity doesn’t get much better than this.

7.Am I doing exactly what they want me to do? I seriously doubt that when Loftus inaugurated DC, he expected my colleagues and I to dog him every step of the way. To see his every grand disproof of the faith shot down a few hours (at most) after it was posted.


  1. I am one of those "on the edge" Christians, and I think you could do a lot better.

    What I see you doing is undermining their posts - reference baiting, changing the subject, offering explanations that have been heavily debated elsewhere. Basically turning your blog and theirs into a muddy mess of arguments. It isn't helping me. I'm tempted to take you both off my roll.

    What WOULD be helpful is to do some honest analysis. I read through your set of links for a "Philosophy Book" and had to discount almost all of them for improperly representing the issues.

    I subscribed to the blog because I saw some initial posts that seemed intelligent and thought-provoking, even if I didn't agree with all of them. Right now I'm just sick of seeing the name calling and offhand dismissals.

  2. "I read through your set of links for a "Philosophy Book" and had to discount almost all of them for improperly representing the issues."

    Examples would be???

  3. Steve,

    I just wanted to thank you and your team for doing what you do. Your detailed rebuttals have been extremely helpful in adding to the 'answers' I already have for my faith.

    Although I don't always agree with the manner in which you do it, the more I witness your interaction with DC and others the more I think I understand your methods; basically playing them at their own game. To Anonymous' point, yes that does get messy. I wish that was not the case, but I know from experience that can't always be helped.

  4. The other Anonymous said: "Right now I'm just sick of seeing the name calling and offhand dismissals."

    I agree. Steve should stop quoting John Loftus, Daniel Morgan, exbeliever, et. al. It would raise the IQ of the debate instantly to not even present their argument in their own words since they don't actually know what they believe anyway.

    (Remaining Anonymous so Daniel Morgan doesn't sue me.)

  5. Anonymouse (the latter one),

    It's always a good idea to insult others behind anonymity, a real win-win, and a mark of someone with a very high IQ. May Jeebus bless you!

  6. "Examples would be???"

    Paul, I have no intention of adding to the mud by cluttering this blog with a lot of objections its audience is not interested in hearing. But just to address your question, I'll pull the first link and take a look. Well, it's a PDF and my browser has fits with them, so I'll pull the second link, first argument - Argument from Intentionality.

    I've heard "Aboutness" proposed more solidly, but I'll respond to the author's words. So, the thrust of the argument is that we can prove there are divine thoughts (and thus, the divine) because there are too many truths out there for humans to think? How could you jump to this conclusion? Maybe essential propositions exist. After all, if you say propositions can exist without human thinkers, why not divine thinkers as well? Anyway, on what grounds can you insist that propositions exist outside of thought when thought is our only tool to examine them? That's like peering through a camera lens and insisting that an invisible pink unicorn definitely appears off-camera.

    What I see in this list is a lot of argumentation with no effort to address objections that have been around as long as the arguments. Basically rhetoric for believers, as another commenter noted - "Your detailed rebuttals have been extremely helpful in adding to the 'answers' I already have for my faith."

    An honest apologist would take a look at these arguments and admit that there are worthy objections to these postulates, and in many cases the arguments have been debated to a definite standstill and there's just no need to bring the dead horses out to beat in public. Speaking as one who has been searching for the answers, there's nothing more frustrating than one more "definitive argument" thrown in the fray that just has no grounds.

    If you want to be helpful, present the argument for God that the skeptic has no reasonable response to. And by that I mean reason that both sides can recognize, not one that requires a pre-existing faith.

  7. Anon,

    1. So you'll "pull one down?" That seems to imply that you didn't read them but said "almost all of them" misrepresented the issues.

    2. Did you read "almost all of them?" Doubtful.

    3. Funny you think Plantinga didn't define intentionality that well.

    4. It's a bit laughable, if you don't mind, when I read you saying that Alvin Plantinga misrepresents the issues. Even non-Christian philosophers would not say that about Plantinga. Your statement shows your ignorance.

    5. If there are too many truths/propositions for humans to think, and propositions are properties of minds, then what mind are those propositions in? That's how he got to his conclusion

    6. The argument was geared toward those who accepted that propositions were properties of minds.

    7. If there are necessary propositions, and propositions exist in minds, or not appart from the activity of minds, then since those propositions always existed (because they're *necessary*), and since humans have not always existed, then whose mind did they exist in?

    8. Propositions can exist without human thinkers, e.g., necessary ones. Why not without a divine mind? Well, put forth your theory. Alien minds? Have alien minds always existed? Doubtful. So, in whose mind has always existent necessary propositions existed? Indeed, on evolutionary assumptions, what survival value is there in having modalities a property of your mind? None.

    9. Nowhere did you show where Plantinga "misrepresented" anything. That was the claim I asked you to back up.

    10. Conversly, do you think atheists should prove their case from presises that everyone accepts?

    11. Your desire is a myth. Worldviews determine what one counts as "acceptable." There is no such thing as neutrality. It's a will-o-the-wisps.

    12. I don't know what "pre-existing" faith means. Seems to imply you hold to a tabula rasa theory of mind.

    13. Furthermore, you can't force someone to say uncle. A skeptic can always "have a response," even one he think is "reasonable."

    14. But, what worldview allows for "reason?" Seems starange on evolutionary and materialist assumptions. What, it's some neurons firing in the custard-like grey matter in your head?

    15. Greg Welty's paper on Theistic Conceptualism argues further for the claim that propositions exist in God's mind (cf. CT and abstracta). It appears you didn't read what I posted but still "critiqued it." Seems like someone had an axe to grind.

  8. Anon,

    I don't think we have met so I am assuming that you have no idea as to my background or where I have come from. And yet you 'muddy the waters' by using my comments to back up your arguments by forcing them into your context. Notice I put 'answers' in quotation marks precisely because my faith is a whole lot more than simply rhetoric and answers.

  9. Geez. This is exactly what I mean about everything turning into argument or disparagement.

    Paul, I'm not going to debate you point by point. But as a general response - I have read the majority of those essays posted, prior to my comments (I skipped the first PDF link, and a couple in the science category that didn't pique my interest). I didn't imply Plantina didn't define intentionality properly, I meant to imply I'd seen it described in simpler, more easily digested terms. I believe it's a misrepresentation because it assumes a proposition requires a mind, and that's not a given, nor verifiable. If the argument is geared toward those that accept that qualifier, fine - but I don't think it's really useful as an apologetic for the common man because likely the common man doesn't even fully understand that supposition.

    I also call it misrepresenting the issues because the posts ignore well defined and thoroughly argued opposing viewpoints. If you wish to present the idea that God exists, ignoring the objections is misrepresenting the issues, because you only promote a single side. Presenting pros without cons ignores half the issue. That's my opinion.

    What this list, and those like it amount to is a one sided offering. Maybe that's what's intended. But it doesn't help those of us who are on the fence who have to make the effort of reading the posts and then researching the opposing arguments. That's fine if that's what you're offering, but I don't think it does a service to anyone who's honestly seeking.

    I don't think either side of the God argument can expect to offer unobjectionable proof. But I do believe there is a reasonable middle ground that those not committed to either side can be led to examine. Again, my opinion.

    A pre-existing faith, defined by me, is a choir that can be preached to. It is easy to have faith in miracles if you're already committed to God. It is easy to have faith in the resurrection if you already accept the Bible as truth. Not so easy if you don't have the prerequisites.

    Warrenl; I didn't muddy the waters, I merely quoted you. I believe what you expressed was a gratitude for further documentation for a belief you already held, was it not?

    Forgive me for commenting and leaving, but I don't have any desire to pursue yet another internet debate, particularly with people who question my intent and accuse me of hidden agendas. Feel free to tear my statements up, but don't be offended when I don't respond.

  10. Anon,

    I find it interesting that you start the argument and then leave claiming the reason being that this has turned into an argument.

    But seeing as though you posed the question I have two responses:

    1. Unfortunately no-one simply quotes somebody else from a point of neutrality. One always provides quotes to support their argument or to set up their counter argument. I believe your exact statement before my quote was, "Basically rhetoric for believers." If by using "rhetoric" you meant "Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous" then that is why I responded. If you meant, "The art of using language effectively and persuasively" then I apologize for my over reaction.

    2. My comment to Steve was in reference to Triablogue as a whole, not simply the links provided by Paul.

    It seems to me that you have answered your own question though; "I don't think either side of the God argument can expect to offer unobjectionable proof". From what I can tell Triablogue is a Christian apologetics site so it makes sense that their arguments would be...well one-sided.:) Interestingly DC is also one-sided. I don't see them presenting the middle-ground or even hinting at the 'cons' of what they believe. To find the middle ground you would have to read diverse blogs and draw your own conclusions.

    If you are waiting for one camp to win the argument outright then I hope your spot on the fence is comfortable. It could be a very long wait. At least until death and then we all should know what the answer is/was. Well that would be true only if there is a God. If there is none then who cares anyway, blissful oblivion.

  11. Anon,
    In the final analysis, one should not expect to find Conservative arguments on the Labour Party's website, except when being answered. Proof is not enough. Remember, Herod Agrippa had all the proof he could possibly have wanted. Yet in the end the world held him back, as it had held back Herod Antipas when he had John the Baptist.

    Felix heard Paul and trembled, but he put off a further interview to a more convenient time.

    Ifyou want 'sufficient evidence', you will either have it at some point, or you will never have enough. In the end, the question is what eyes you see through. Is it the eyes of faith or of doubt? We will never banish all doubt, my dear, but we can minimise it. Take the resurrection.

    The atheist refuses it because he will not accept that a man could rise from the dead. All the evidence that, the accounts being reliable, there was no other way, is ignored, and ahistorical ideas pushed forward. The Christian notes that these ideas are ahistorical, and, accepting the supernatural, has no problem with the resurrection or the cross, 'Which is foolishness to the Greeks and a rock of stumbling to the Jews.'

    Remember, there is no such thing as a neutral commentator. We are all biased.

  12. Oh, and Daniel Morgan, it's also a good idea not to use silly sign-offs when attacking a person for being infantile.

    Otherwise, I agree it is bad form.