When I was a kid, I believed all the popular stories of the bible. I believed that Noah and his family really did build a big boat. I believed Adam and Eve were the first people on Earth. I believed that Eve spoke to a snake and that Jonah was eaten by a whale (although it turned out to be a big fish). The sad part is I believed most of these things at least a little all the way into my college years.
Lacking a single epiphany, I gradually started to question the literality of these biblical events. I was a science major in college. I knew that Noah could not have gotten a pair of all the world’s animals into a single boat. I knew Jonah could not have survived inside a giant fish for three days. But I was still open to the possibility of Adam and Eve, although I was dubious about the talking snake.
I also knew that the six days of Creation were not really six literal days. They were just the bible’s way of meaning periods of time. I certainly believed things evolved, because it’s hard to ignore scientific evidence if you’re not a fundamentalist. But I thought it was probably guided by God.
But when I was in my mid-40s, I did have a moment of epiphany. While talking to my pastor about a years-long crisis of faith, after spending 10 years going to church every week, reading the bible, praying, getting baptized, and trying to debate skeptics about the existence of God, it dawned on me that I was an agnostic. My pastor asked me what I believed, deep down. I replied I didn’t really know at that point. I told him I think God exists, but I know nothing at all about Him and I’m not sure how anyone else does either.
He told me I had stumbled on the right answer. I had been asked, and I had answered the $64,000 question. I was an agnostic who leaned toward believing. But if there actually is a god, nobody knows any more about what he is like or what he wants than I do. My pastor was, and is, a very smart man. Unlike many Christian leaders, he is open-minded and non-dogmatic.
Since then, my disbelief has grown as my belief has diminished. But I still do not call myself an atheist; that would mean I know too much about the God situation. It would mean, to me at least, that I know enough to know he does not exist. I don’t know that much yet. What I do know for sure is that I still know nothing at all about God or his existence. And I know enough to say for certain that nobody else knows either. I can say that because I do not have enough evidence to prove or disprove anything about God. And nobody has any more evidence than I do. Therefore, they can’t know either. Some only believe they know and they’re not shy about telling the world what they think they know.
So, over the past few years, and especially over the last few weeks, I have found myself in confrontational mode regarding religion. I was raised Christian and spent most of my adult life calling myself a Christian. Many of my family members are Christians. My mom is a Christian. Sometimes when we get together at family birthdays or holidays, a debate breaks out about religion. Sometimes it isn’t pretty.
I have found myself drawn into debates on Facebook, in the forums, about the existence of God, or whether the phrase “under God” should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, or whether “In God we trust” should be removed from our currency. I hear things like “This nation was founded on Christianity” all the time. I also seem to be the object of a lot of prayers from well-meaning but utterly self-righteous Christians.
Although I hold my own in these debates, I don’t really expect to win any converts. I am hopeful, however, that the lukewarm Christians or the fence-sitters will see the light of reason and not fall into the illogical abyss of Christianity.
Why do I care? I’ve been asked that a lot. I don’t really care what people I don’t even know believe. I respect their right to believe whatever kind of fairy tale they want, but don’t expect me to respect the belief itself. I care more what my family believes because I am close to them and I would like for them to be enlightened.
I’m a teacher. I can’t help but feel somehow threatened by ignorance. I can’t help but to try to correct people when they say something that is obviously incorrect, such as when they say this country was founded on Christianity. That is factually wrong. I teach science, so it bothers me that so many people prefer to believe the allegory in Genesis about God’s Creation instead of the evidence-based theory of evolution. It’s in my nature to try to set people straight, whether they want to be set straight or not.
So in an effort to make future debates easier, I have done some research. I’ve collected some counter arguments to some of the most popular claims of the evangelical Christians. I’ve produced some in-context quotes of our Founding Fathers proving that the U.S. is not really a Christian nation. And I’ve learned how to recognize straw-man arguments brought forth by Creationists and how to counter them with the truth.
It won’t make a bit of difference to the person I am debating. But, as I said, it might do those who have an open mind some good to read rational thoughts among the bible babble.
One thing I have noticed is that Christians love to quote the bible. They use it as their source of information and their one and only manual of attack. But what might not be so obvious to an innocent bystander is that almost all of their bible-based arguments are logically flawed.
For one thing, it is hard to take the bible seriously when it is so self-contradictory that you can use it to prove or disprove almost any contention. Here are just a few examples of how it is self-contradictory:
Take the first and second chapters of Genesis. They tell two completely different and mutually-exclusive stories of Creation. Fundamentalists often say that Chapter 1 gives a full account of Creation and Chapter 2 merely sums it up using different words, but that isn’t true. In Genesis 1:20 and 21 it says, “every living creature” is brought forth from the waters, including every winged fowl. But in Genesis 2:19 God brings forth “every beast of the field and every fowl of the air” from dry ground.
The order of Creation is completely different between the two biblical accounts, too. In Chapter 1, beasts were created before man; in Chapter 2, man was created before beasts. This may not seem too important a point, but it makes it difficult to reconcile obviously contradictory passages with the idea that the bible is literal and infallible. You can’t have it both ways.
The Genesis 1 and 2 contradictions are useful when debating a Creationist. But they are hardly the only biblical contradictions. There are contradictions within the Old Testament, contradictions within the New Testament, contradictions between the New and Old Testaments, even contradictions within the same book.
In Genesis, it tells us that God needed to rest on the seventh day of Creation. But Isaiah says that God “fainteth not, neither is (He) weary.” Matthew (19:26), “with God all things are possible.” But the Book of Judges (1:19), says that God could not drive out the inhabitants in the valley “because they had chariots of iron.” Apparently, God has trouble moving things made of iron.
When confronted with the fact that there is lots of evil in the world and God could do something about it if he wanted to, Christians are quick to point out that man has free will and that the devil makes evil. But God said (Isaiah 45:7) “I make peace and create evil.” So evil is God’s fault.
How about this one? “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt.7:l). And yet others must be judged? (1Cor. 6:2-4). And, “God is love.” He is “the God of Peace” (Romans 15:33), but in Exodus 15:3, “the Lord is a man of war.” The sheer number of contradictions could fill a book.
Evangelicals love using what they believe is logic to argue their point. Creationists are fond of saying that scientists think that complex life “just happened” or “came together at random.” This is a straw-man argument, one which attempts to refute a sound contention by refuting an extreme version of the contention.
Take the very banal argument against evolution that if you put a monkey in front of a word processor and have him type randomly forever, he still won’t type out A Tale of Two Cities by accident. A novel implies a writer. But evolution does not happen by pure random chance. There are selective pressures at work.
If you put a monkey in front of a keyboard and have him type at random until he accidentally types out the word “it” and then save it in a file, then have him continue typing until he types out “was” and save it in the same file, and so on, the monkey would eventually type out the first sentence of the novel, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” It would take awhile, but the monkey would, indeed, eventually type out the entire novel.
Arguing by begging the question or using circular reasoning is another favorite weapon in the Christian arsenal. But it isn’t an effective one. “The bible is the absolute truth.” How do you know? “Because it is God’s word and God doesn’t lie.” How do you know it is God’s word? “Because it says so in the bible.” It’s amazing how many otherwise rational people don’t pick up on this.
Many Christians argue using false cause reasoning. For example, “Statistics show juvenile delinquency is rising. Therefore, we need to post the Ten Commandments in public schools.” It’s a conclusion based on insufficient evidence. There is no proof that having the Ten Commandments posted in school will result in less juvenile delinquency.
Then there are the slippery slope arguments. A conclusion is assumed based on the happening of a single event. “If we take ‘under God’ out of the Pledge, it will eventually lead us to be a Godless nation.” Christians also use this type of argument to conclude that atheists and agnostics have no sense of morality because they have nothing to base it on. They don’t seem to realize that morality pre-dated the invention of God. Our morality is an evolutionary adaptation that keeps us from killing off our own species.
In the poll forums on Facebook, there are often large majorities that support a pro-Christian question. So a lot of debaters use the argument of popular sentiment as proof that their side is right. But just because an opinion is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it is correct. A lot of people can be deluded. Slavery used to be popular. The only proof of an argument that is worth considering is empirical evidence.
And don’t forget that anecdotal evidence does not count. Evidence has to be repeatable and verifiable.
It is easy to stump a Christian with logic. But you probably will never change his or her mind. They are very good at cop-outs, such as “God works in mysterious ways,” or “God does things in his own time.” These are not proofs. When Christians start using these aphorisms, it means they have surrendered to logic; they just can’t admit it and still maintain their faith. But you will know that you have won the debate at that point.
There are many more types of fallacies that Christians often use to prove their point. All of them are flawed. An exhaustive list of fallacies can be found here. And a good source for bible contradictions is here. And you can find my assemblage of Founding Fathers quotes against religion here.
And, of course, if you are debating with a Creationist, some of your best sources of information are here.