Monday, April 21, 2008

Filed Under F for Frivolous

I recently ran across a blog entry where an atheist mentions numerous physical altercations that have transpired between various religious groups reaching back hundreds of years. The author made sure to tell, "Paul Manata and Victor Reppert may want to take note; or better yet, J.P. Holding and James White; or J.P. Holding and Steve Hays." Obviously linking our debates with pen to debates with the sword. Not sure how valid an inference that is, but . . .

It seems clear that this is meant as some kind of atheologetic. It means to function as some kind of reason we should be shaky toward our beliefs. The structure of the argument is not all that clear, though.

At any rate, I've already made mention of the inherent problems in this tactic as used against Reppert, Holding, Hays, White, or myself. It seems to ignore that atheists, indeed, all systems of thought, debate amongst themselves too.

Another problem with the argument is the argument. It invokes some kind of Principle like this:

[P] If you disagree with someone else about some statement(s) S, then both sides should give up their systems of thought (including S).

One problem with [P] is that I disagree with it. Therefore, the one who pushes [P] needs to drop [P].

But maybe that is too high a price to pay. So we have this Principle:

[P*] If you disagree with someone else about some religious statement(s) S, then both sides should give up their systems of thought (including S).

Is [P*] a religious statement, though? How is it known? It doesn't seem necessarily true. Perhaps it's known by intuition? If [P*] is a religious statement, then since I disagree with it, it is, again, self-refuting.

But perhaps [P*] is not a religious statement. I suppose a finer specimen of special pleading will never be found in all of mankind’s history.

Besides the above, this blog piece tried to make use of a pop atheist Quip that goes something like this:

[Q] Every religious person denies the existence of other gods, I just go one step further and deny theirs.

But [Q] is problematic on several fronts:

i) It's not clear everyone is being honest here. We are frequently told that the definition of an atheist is someone who does not deny God's existence, rather they lack a belief in God's existence. If this is so, then [Q] equivocates since theists (like me) don't "lack a belief" in, say, Allah.

ii) Seems Pyrrho could make a similar claim:

[Q*] Every person denies the truth of some claims, I just go one step further and deny all truth claims.

iii) This quip comes in usually at the beginning of the argument (cf. various atheist/theist debates). But this is sophistic and unwarranted. I do not just "deny" the claims of other religions. I have reasons for my denials. I also have reasons for the truth of mine. Thus [Q] could only function as an argument from parity by first showing why my religion was false.

But if my religion was false, then the quip is trivial. Of course people deny what is false.

iv) Furthermore, it's not just "one step further." The atheist is painting a false picture. Almost all religions (at least the main competitors) believe in the existence of a deity.

Thus, our debate may be roughly likened to a debate about a dog in the room viz. what kind of dog is it?

I may deny all the other claims as to what kind of dog is in the room.

We don't deny the existence of a dog, we deny the kind of dog that it is.

But, it is not "just going one step further" for me to deny the existence of the dog altogether!

Or, if you will, my math class and I may debate about who gave the right answer to a math test. But, it is not "just going one step further" to deny that there is a right answer altogether (i.e., the existence of a number that fills in the blank). We are agreed on that.

v) Thus, this famous quip may just well win the prize for the most overrated piece of atheological rhetoric since the claim that belief in God is just like belief in a celestial teapot.


  1. I reject the dog analogy even when qualified as roughly. It's more as if you had a description of a dog that was not specific enough as to its features to identify according to the dog breed definitions. If your respective arguments can never eventually be empirically confirmed, it's pointless to argue, since it will never end. If you had an actual dog you wouldn't *need* the description (whether that description was written or handed down orally via supposedly infallible dog describers). You would even be able to decide if the dog were a new breed. Same with the math problem - there is an end point.

  2. thn,

    I don't much care if you reject the dog analogy. The *relevant* points work.

    We are all agreed that a God exists.

    When I deny their view I do not deny that God exists, I deny their conception of God is correct. But, they are correct when they state: There is such a being as God and he exists.

    I reject your empiricism. All that was was, as is your wont, and *assertion.*

    And, if you do not think that God can be empirically verified then you think it is pointless to argue with us, yet you do it anyway. So if you can do it, so can we.

    And, we do make empirical claims that were, and will be, verified.

    Also, we cannot empirically verify the trith of your empiricism, and so you can't argue for it.

    So, you've not dealt with the problem. But, thanks for identifying yourself as one of "those" that thinks the ridiculous "one step farther" argument is a good one.

  3. I also made further points that undermine the claim, so even if the dog point doesn't work, the argument got handled in other areas.

  4. Good work, Paul - on another note - can you send me your links compilation on The Philosophy of the Christian Religion? We had it on the ChristianSkepticism site, but the original source seems to have dropped it.

    jadelongmire at gmail dot com