Advice for atheists who want to appear to value reason

Tom Gilson writes about how an atheist professor committed the straw man fallacy, and what it means.


We need to turn to his PSU talk, wherein he speaks (after about 29:00) of “three core reasons for why one believes one’s faith tradition is true…. Reason number one: Miracles. We’re going to examine a few miracles.”

Let me pause and ask you to consider which faith-truth-convincing miracles he might want to examine and debunk. The resurrection? Healings? Visions? No, none of these. Ladies and gentlemen, for the safety of your clothing, lower your drinks. The miracles he chooses to debunk, and thereby to destroy the faith-enhancing credibility of miracles, are:

    1. Transubstantiation: the substantial change of the Eucharist elements into the body and blood of Jesus, according to Catholic doctrine…. and
    2. Tongues, or glossolalia.

So this atheist philosophy professor thinks that Christians argue for God’s existence using transubstantiation and tongues.

Have you ever seen any Christian scholar talk about that in a debate? I haven’t even seen it in blog posts, much less books or papers.

Now if I were going to give arguments for God’s existence, I would offer arguments like these:

  • origin of the universe
  • cosmic fine-tuning
  • origin of life’s building blocks
  • origin of biological information
  • convergence
  • epigenetics
  • molecular machines, like the ribosome
  • limits on mutation-driven change
  • Cambrian explosion
  • galactic habitability
  • stellar habitability
  • the effectiveness/applicability of mathematics to nature
  • consciousness
  • free will
  • rationality
  • objective moral values and duties
  • the minimal facts case for the resurrection

Dear atheists: those are the kinds of arguments that you see in actual debates and read in actual apologetics books. And those are the arguments that need a response. But before responding to those arguments, they have to be understood properly by reading the primary sources where those arguments are laid out in a rigorous way, e.g. – The Design Inference. And when you respond to them, you should cite the original texts, with page numbers, to show that you understand them.

What I really find disturbing about this Boghossian fellow is how the audience reacts:

His performance in both these lectures amounts to a parade of fallacies.

Yet if you watch these two lectures through to the end, you’ll find that the audiences eat it up; or many of the people do, at any rate. They’re being taught by a distinguished looking university professor. They like what they’re hearing. It agrees with their prejudices. And — in the role of an educator, mind you — he’s leading them on with obviously fallacious thinking. There’s something seriously wrong about that tactic.

I’m really not sure why anyone would applaud someone like Boghossian who is clearly more interested in ridicule than debate. What does this say about atheism? I mean – these people are applauding something that could be corrected by reading a short, introductory book like Lee Strobel’s “Case for a Creator”. Yet they don’t appear to be educated enough to even do that. Worse, the atheist professor is actually encouraging them to persist in their ignorance. Either the professor hasn’t read introductory books on apologetics or he just finds pleasure in hearing the sneers and jeers of the mob, as he feeds them lies and propaganda.

Here’s my suspicion about atheism. I don’t think that most rank and file atheists really are interested in truth at all. They are more interested puffing themselves up and in putting other people down. This Boghossian episode is not an isolated case. You can see this in action with the 1-star reviews of books like Darwin’s Doubt. The negative reviewers don’t reference page numbers or cite passages, because the reviewers haven’t actually read the book. And they don’t feel that they need to read it in order to insult it. In their view, proper atheism is about mocking – not about informed reasoning. For them, the less that is known about what the opposition really believes, the better. Should we take this forced ignorance to be a central tenet of the atheist worldview, then? What is a good name for this predilection they have for preferring stand-up comedy to rational thought?

9 thoughts on “Advice for atheists who want to appear to value reason”

  1. “Yet if you watch these two lectures through to the end, you’ll find that the audiences eat it up; or many of the people do, at any rate. They’re being taught by a distinguished looking university professor. They like what they’re hearing. It agrees with their prejudices. ”

    This is so true. I am totally flummoxed by the embarrassing level of ignorance and prejudice from the typical audience, especially the college audience. It’s very sad when there is explosive applause when the atheist attacks his opponent with an ad hominim or uses some ridiculous steretypic cliche about religion. Lawrence Krause does a lot of this playing to the audience. It’s completely dishonest and does nothing to further the search for truth.


  2. Woops … I meant stereotypic, not stereoscopic :)
    My implication is that it is very easy, but also very cheap, to rehash common mythologies that we know are false, just to score points. The very sad thing is that the audience just eats it up. And these are supposed to be, by definition, people in college who are there for an education, seeking truth.
    This would not happen at a serious school, but there are very few of those left.


  3. I’m used to this kind of thing. The atheist academics I work with periodically flog some caricature without ever considering that it’s not an actual representation of faith.

    It’s sad, and brings to mind what Jesus said, “How terrible for you who laugh now; for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6).


    1. Cory, you hit the nail on the head. When I was an atheist, I was really merely an anti-Christian. (Never an anti-Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu mind you.) I was arguing against a caricature, albeit a more sophisticated caricature than transubstantiation and tongues, for Heaven’s sake. I wasn’t looking for evidence – I was looking for a reason to laugh at those “judgmental” Christians. (Ignoring the self-refuting fact that I was severely judging THEM, of course. That thought NEVER comes to the mind of the anti-Christian.)

      I had such a strong desire to think of myself as intellectually superior to those “stupid” Christians. However, over time, deep down, I really envied the joy and deeper relationships with other human beings that Christians have over my juvenile atheist friends. But, the atheists DID cuss better – to demonstrate their superior vocabulary of course. :-)

      It’s not all that different from the post-modern liberal’s approach to mocking conservative values, if you think about it. The two are related, since about twice as many atheists identify with liberalism as with conservatism, I think, although estimates in this area are a bit sketchy.


      1. Thanks for sharing that, WGC :)

        It is kinda sad, and it breaks my heart to see the rage in their eyes. I do agree with you: you get the sense that they hate the message of Christ because deep down they know it’s true.

        Blessings to you!


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