Debating Points For Atheists:
These are a summary of debating points I have used with good effect through the years to debate Christians in various issues. Feel free to use or incorporate into your own arguments.
1- The question of Origin:
A favorite starting point for many Christians is that of the origin of the universe. It is therefore argued by them - without so much as an iota of hard evidence - that there must be an 'Uncaused Cause' . This 'Uncaused Cause' is somehow responsible for everything we apprehend in the cosmos. The problems with this argument are as follows:
a) The very notion assumes that 'cause-effect' is fundamental to nature of 'the way things work'. In fact, quantum mechanics shows that 'cause-effect' relations are nowhere near so simple. For example, one can have a disjunctive plurality of effects issuing from the same cause. Or, one could have a plurality of causes which give rise to only one 'effect'. One could also have no causal relation at all obtaining between two events separated in time.
b) This (ancient) argument leaves out the very real possibility of a spontaneous physical inception for the cosmos - often called quantum 'fluctuation'. This process has now been studied under many different conditions and there is abundant reason to think it is a plausible way for the cosmos to have originated. The basic point is that if a quantum fluctuation occurs in a very minute time interval - dt, a very large amount of energy will become available as shown through the energy-time Uncertainty Relations:
d E * d t = h/2p
where the factor on the left is the uncertainty in energy, the factor on the right is the uncertainty in time. The quantity on the right side of the equation is the Planck constant (h) divided by 2 pi, which yields: 6.62 x 10-34 Js. Hence, a time fluctuation uncertainty of 10-68 s would yield an energy:
dE = 6.62 x 10-34 J.s / 10-68 s = 6.62 x 1034 J
or, more than sufficient to start the cosmos.
c) The presence of enough non-baryonic dark matter would obviate the issue of origin altogether. With sufficient 'dark' matter, say 95-98% of the total - there would be enough to close the universe again and again - resulting in a never ending succession of 'oscillations':
Big Bang -> Big Crunch -> Big Bang -> Big Crunch ->................ad infinitum
In effect, there would be no beginning or end of the universe. (Note that Stephen Hawking's 'Boundary-Free Quantum Model' achieves the exact same effect: See A Brief History of Time, 1987). Recent investigations disclose that the critical threshold for the necessary dark matter to close the universe, could already be established - in brown dwarf stars, as well as assorted collapsars (neutron stars/pulsars, black holes).
2- The Atheist Mindset Itself:
Christians are fond of arguing that atheism is 'chosen' and is not natural for humans. In fact, this is total nonsense. Atheism is the natural state into which all of us are born - we only become theists (of one form or another) after much programming, propagandizing and brainwashing.
A child has a natural curiosity about nature and does not introduce imaginary fictions except as he or she is encouraged to do so. The child will naturally ask questions - and soak up the answers given, just like a sponge. Hence, the child's weltanschauung will be contingent on what he or she has been told. As the old computer axio goes: 'garbage in - garbage out'.
Consider: a child cannot analyze or question things for itself - it cannot weight and decide between two competing propositions because it has not yet attained that phase of brain function which psychologist Jean Piaget calls 'abstraction'. However, any concept of deity - is firmly within the abstract realm - hence - must be inaccessible to a child, unless that child is 'pump-primed' by being told what to think and believe. The upshot is that Atheism is the natural state/condition of all human minds, it is Theism which represents an involuntary imposition on the child's mind - usually with accompanying threats (hell, demons, etc.) to 'force'' the child's cooperation in accepting the typical theist gibberish.
All in all, it is a tragedy that most young minds - at their most impressionable phase, are exploited in this unconscionable way.
3- The Problem of Evil - and Good:
The Problem of Evil IS a serious one for the theist, no matter how much he tries to sweep it under the rug. One tactic sometime used is to try to put the atheist on the defensive by having the atheist define 'evil' - however, this is misbegotten and egregious, since to the atheist - as he is, evil does not exist. He only articulates a concept of 'evil' based on the frame of reference used by the theist or theistic moral philosophers of the past.
The issue of discussion of 'evil' in objective terms hinges on preliminary agreement between theist and atheist at the outset. The form of this will - or at least should - take that already accepted by the rank and file of moral/ethical philosophers: that is, that 'evil' falls into two categories: natural 'evil' (part and parcel of the world/universe we inhabit) and 'moral evil' - due to man.
The problem for the theist - simply put - is that there is too MUCH evil. Within his epistemology, for example, 'sin' and related concepts fall under the unbrella of human moral evil - humans as active agents of evil through their own 'free will' (although more and more we are seeing that this free will is diluted by genetic factors, as in the case of homosexuality - wherein a genetic 'marker' has been found.) So, the theist can always argue that human moral evil abounds because 'man is not doing god's will'. However, the theist can summon no analogous counter-arguments for the abundance of natural evil in the world - which includes:
- the recent outbreak of Ebola virus in Zaire, brutally felling many people - including nuns and very young children
- the recent earthquake devastation in Russia and Japan, again killing thousands of innocent folk
- the tornado which struck the Church in Alabama in the fall of 1993, killing over a dozen young children IN THE CHURCH even as they PRAYED.
In all the above cases, the theist is hard put to account for the natural evil - unless he resorts to the tried and true rationalization that 'we cannot fathom the mind of god'. Indeed not!!!
Kaj Neilson (Ethics Without God) has also alluded to another significant problem for the theist, in terms of 'good' or 'evil' (human moral good or evil). He asks the question of the theist:
"Is something 'good' because god commands it, or does god command it because it is good?"
If the theist nods assent to the former, then essentially we have moral chaos and 'anything goes'. Indeed, did not god once command Abraham to kill his son? (Whether or not it was carried out is immaterial - the point is it was commanded).Can god command something 'evil' - morally evil? If so, then ANYTHING god commands (killing one's son or daughter, killing a neighbor) would have to be 'good'. Unfortunately, this blows all uniform concepts of good - at least of conceived of by humans into a cocked hat.
On the other hand, if god commands something because it is 'good', then it is 'good' innately - in and of itself , e.g. giving food to a starving man - then no god is required for its approbation as a deed. Hence, it is totally unnecessary to postulate the existence of a god to secure 'benediction' for the deed.
The argument that one cannot 'fathom the mind of god' is in actuality a cop out, and which the theist seeks to flee from any accountability for his creation/invention. Indeed, the most ordinary argument based on 'a good' would be what a good human parent would do. This is a useful first approximation to a model. Now, if a house catches fire - would a good human parent allow his children to burn to death - even on hearing his children's screams and cries for help - and assuming there is enough time to save them? Only a mornon or half-idiot would assent.
How much more then would a real God care about his own children - especially in his OWN house (a church) screaming and praying for help as a howling tornado descends. Hence, by any known standard of the commonest sense and logic - IF god DID exist - and IF he had at least the minimal attributes of a good and decent human parent, he would not have allowed his children to perish from the natural evil of a tornado smashing his own house of worship apart. The case in Alabama clearly shows then either: a) NO god exists (no action to save his children) OR b) he exists - but prefer to let them die (hence he must be evil by all common human standards of good and logic.)
Another gambit of theists in respect to issues of 'good and evil' is their claim that it is unreasonable of the atheist to expect 'instant resolutions' of the situation. After all, they opine, maybe god is eliminating evil - but is doing it over a long time. This doesn't hold up for a number of reasons.
First, a good and decent parent - on recognizing an imminent threat to his children's welfare (e.g. in a house fire) is bound to imminent action to save them - IF he is himself good and decent. It is no use telling the police or fire marshall after the fact - "Well, ah - good sirs, I really believed that I had more time to effect the rescue than I did. Ah... I guess I was just testing them to see how much lung power they had!" This tells us the parent was either a) mad, or b) neither good nor decent - and certainly not deserving of our respect, but rather our contempt. How much MORE responsiblity then - for an ostensibly Infinite and omnisicent deity?!!!
Second, the earth has been in existence for over four billion years - the geological record shows that - far from any dimunition in 'natural evil' (storms, tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanoes) it is as prevalent as ever. Hence, there is no evidence that any natural evil has undergone any diminishment. Humans have been around in one form or another for nearly four million years, and it is also true to say that there is no sign of human evil diminishing (though, we shall let the theist's god off the hook here on the basis of their pet 'free will' arguments).
Three, if god were really working over time - he could have eliminated natural evil - or at least its worst effects (famine, disease) and there would still be more than enough human moral evil to go around and cause enough death and general misery for all. Hence, either god does not exist or is impotent to do anything about ANY form of evil. Again, the existence of TOO MUCH evil, must show either: a) the total powerlessness, or b) (better) the nonexistence of a god.
4- The question of design:
It is often argued by theists that there is some "design" in nature and the universe at large which unequivocally discloses a "designer" who - of course, must be intelligent. There are a number of errors present in this type of argument which it is just as well to subject to scrutiny.
In the first place, the concept and notion of "design" is uniquely applicable to the theater of artificial devices and constructs, e.g. look at the design of this new car, the design of this building, the design of this jetliner, the design of this nuclear reactor, the design of this quartz watch, the design of this Space Station, etc. etc. In effect, the use of the term "design" is attached to devices already known to be manufactured from some blueprint. Indeed, the blueprint can be obtained - if one knows where to go and is determined enough.
However, the attachment of the term "design" to the cosmos or nature is premature, firstly because it is assumed that the cosmos is in some way artificial. What we need to see from the theist - before we can allow this extension of the term - is an example of a designed entity which is NOT artificial. I submit that up until now, no effort has been made to offer anything remotely meeting this requirement. Can the theist produce for us - a blueprint of a designed natural entity?? If not, his claim is pure conjecture and merits being treated with disdain and disbelief.
Second, it is a non-sequitur to link an apparent organization (or hierarchies of organization) within natural system, as a 'design'. It is a non-sequitur because no thought is given to any alternative means by which the hierarchies of organization can occur. For example, computer modelling using the force of gravitation and various dust particles - disclose clearly that order can be acheived - with the particles entering hierarchies in various orbits. No outside 'agent' is needed to explain this order. The use of the term 'design' is superfluous in the context.
In a similar vein, complicated biological systems (e.g the human inner ear) are often argued to be 'too complex' not be products of 'intelligent design'. This shows the inability to appreciate and understand the power of natural selection over time - in bringing about the inner ear - in all its delicate intricacy - through a prlonged algorithmic process. These points are made by Robert Ornstein in his book The Evolution of Consciousness (Prentice-Hall, 1991).
As is well known to anyone who uses algorithmic processes (in computer software) - they frequently yield 'dead ends' , e.g. parts that are redundant to the whole. This is a direct result of the action being in some ways 'blind' to the final outcome. In am similar manner, one sees the result of 'blind outcomes' in humans and other animals - in terms of their morphological design. For example, humans have a tail (coccyx bone) which they have obviously no use for - if one were to subscribe to the 'design thesis' - nor have we any need of the vermiform appendix. Both of these are perfectly logical outcomes of a blind process of natural selection (e.g. the tail left over from an ancestor with a prehensile tail), but are incongruous with an 'intelligent designer' model (didn't he have the wits to figure out humans wouldn't have need of a tail?)
Of course, desperate theists (and I've known many!) with their backs against the wall, will often come out with something like: 'Yes, well ... okay, but natural selection is the means used by god to effect a less than perfect design. In a few million more years, that 'tail bone' will be finally gone - as will the appendix'.
This, of course, merely begs the question - while unnecessarily introducing a complication to the hypothesis of natural selection - which is perfectly equipped to explain these features without the need to include 'god'. (And, as we are reminded by William of Ockham: "Theoretical existences are not to be increased without necessity"). The upshot, therefore, is that - once one concedes natural selection ALONE can explain certain redundant morphological features - it makes no sense to complicate the hypothesis further - e.g. by 'adding' god. By the application of the Ockham's Razor Principle (always choose the simpler of two competing hypotheses) one is bound to pick the hypothesis of natural selection over the unnecessarily complicated one of 'natural selection + god' - which adds not a microbyte of explanatory power.
Finally, the rush to accord an 'intelligent design' to nature is a direct result of ignorance - ignorance of Markov processes and how these can yield systems with order, starting from chaos. (See the book, Order Out of Chaos, by Isabelle Stenger and Ilya Prigogine - Bantam Books, 1984). The new science of 'chaotic dynamics' can now show - using computer sim,ulation programs - how very orderly patterns can arise in nature through purely random processes. Hence, no need to postulate any 'intelligent designers'.
5- Atheists lack their own Original Epistemology:
This sort of tack is a favorite of theists who find they can't win any other argument. The general thrust is that atheists do not have an original brain among them. They only criticize and negate -mainly what eminent theologians like Tommy Aquinas and others put forward - without coming out with any sterling, original theories, propositions or philosophies of their own.
At face value, this argument - actually position, sounds very powerful and compelling. Unfortunately, it is predicated on an entirely erroneous view of atheism! The false assumption implicit in this position is that if one withholds belief in theism - or criticizes its tracts or purveyors, then it is obligated to come up with an entire and consistent 'counter view'. This is irredeemably and absolutely wrong. It is based on the logical misconception that absence of belief in something (which a-theism is) is equivalent to belief in the nonexistence of something.
Now, if the atheist position were the belief in the nonexistence of a deity - then, indeed, it would be incumbent upon atheists to provide a compelling counter-philosophy to support this belief (the counter-belief to theism). But, the genuine atheist does not stick his head so far out - he merely withholds belief in the theist's own claim to knowledge embodied in the assertion: "There is a god". The passive withholding of belief is not the same as a 'denial of god' or a dogmatic statement such as 'There is no god' - which would have to be based on knowledge at least as much or more than what the theist would need to possess in asserting 'There is a god'.
The passive position of negative atheism - the withholding of belief in the theist's affirmation, alleviates the atheist of any obligation to provide a coherent, counter-framework or 'counterpoint-philosophy' to the theist(though, to be sure, some atheists have done this ). In this guise, the atheist is much like the position of the movie critic - who spots flaws, logical errors and is quite free to comment and criticize them without also being expected to 'make his own movie'.
To cite another example, someone may come up to me and tell me in no uncertain terms that "muscular ghosts" are responsible for keeping the planets going round in their respective orbits. However, I am free to disbelieve it - without having to provide a counter-explanation of what keeps the planets moving in their orbits. I may not have 'clue one' about such things, or any physics/astronomy background at all - but I am quite certain the planets' motions are not due to pushing by immense muscular ghosts!!!
6- The Jesus Tactic:
"I am the Way, the Truth and the Light, no one comes to the Father except through me".
Well, this an other quotes have been used from time immemorial on atheists - the general strategy being to threaten them with the 'revelations' of the 'good book'. However, when one has studied two years of biblical exegesis - as I did, at the best Catholic Universities, run by Jesuits, it is hard to be intimidated. Indeed, in the case of hurling quotations - we also find rampant ignorance on the part of theists - who have simply not done preliminary homework.
First, as everyone with more than a grade school education knows - the bible is not one 'book' but 66, written over a thousand year time span. This time span saw numerous interventions in the form of wholesale mutilations of text, deliberate distortions and mistranslations, as well as completely re-written sections. The end result is a work that is probably five times more legend than fact, and with a dubious signal-to-noise ratio.
What about the existence of Jesus? As far as we can gather from the research done by the Jesus Seminar group ( a group of 45 inter-denominational biblical scholars) there was no literal, historical Jesus. This point has also been brought out in a number of texts written by various Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls scholars (e.g. J.D. Crossan, J.M. Allegro). It seems that the 'historical Jesus' - as understood from these researchers - was purely an agitator against the Romans, not anything more.
So how did he acquire the mantle of godhood? Piecing together the whole fabric, it appears that after his death (crucifixion was standard for agitators against the Empire), the legend was solidified after scribes got hold of earlier pagan 'god-man' tales and plagiarized them. One likely source was the Egyptian legend of "Horus" who, coincidentally, was 'born of a virgin', performed various and sundry 'miracles' (including walking on water), died on a cross, and was 'resurrected'. Since the Horus legend was written hundreds of years before the New Testament, it is logical to suppose that it was actually used to fashion the details of the accounts in the quadriform gospels.
The numerous quotations attributed to Jesus themselves are another matter, but one gains a definite insight into the issue by reading the monograph: A Concise History of the Catholic Church, by the Rev. Thos. Bokenkotter (p. 17):
"The New Testament is not an historical or biographical document. It was written to convert unbelievers to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior."
This is a stunning admission indeed, and from a spokesman of Christendom's oldest Church. In one brief quotation it quickly places all the sundry quotes thrown at atheists inot a single context and explains them. Clearly - these quotes were interjected by over-zealous scribes through the centuries to put ever more pressure on us 'unbelievers'.
It is hoped that these debating points, written for atheists - will provide some much needed 'ammo' for use against Christians - especially in the various message folders.
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