When arguing with Christian apologists, you’ll get all kinds of wriggling, dodging and evasion. You’ll need to learn to recognize them and how to handle it. It’s important that you make them stay on topic and don’t let them follow their pre-scripted dialogs. (Ex: “Have you ever told a lie? What kind of person does that make you?”) The goal is to make them think, and running through a script that they’ve memorized is the farthest thing from that.
Also, instead of just making claims that they can simply deny, it is much more fruitful to simply ask questions about the things they believe and help them evaluate the answers they come up with.
Some of the tricks that you’ll encounter are:
- Bait and Switch (or Moving the Goal Post): They bring up an argument, and when you soundly defeat that argument they go directly to another argument without acknowledging that that argument was adequately answered, and because it was, they shouldn’t use it any more. Make them acknowledge your point before moving on to the next one.
- Presuppositionalism (begging the question) – i.e. presupposing the existence of a God during the process of trying to prove the existence of a god. One example is when they talk about the divine origin of the Bible. They will presuppose the existence of God in an effort to prove that it had to be God who wrote it. Ex: “Look how well written it is, with absolutely no contradictions”, etc. (Also known as an argument from ignorance, or argument from incredulity: “Look how beautiful the sunset is! There has to be a God to make that!”) First tell them to prove a god exists, then prove it’s THEIR god, THEN you can discuss what he’s capable of.
- Claiming that any “proof” of a divine creator (i.e. the creation of the Universe, or Human Origins, or sunsets) is proof of their specific god when that is an entirely different matter; and has to be proven separately.
- Shifting the burden of proof – You would think that since THEY are the ones making unbelievable supernatural claims, it’s their responsibility to prove those claims, but they have no compunction about telling us to dis-prove them. It’s not our job to disprove everything we don’t believe, any more than it’s theirs to disprove every OTHER god of every other religion. They can say they “simply don’t believe that they are real”, but they don’t afford us the same courtesy about their god; they say we have to prove he doesn’t exist. Not.
- False accusations: Ex: Accusing you of not being scientific (and claiming that their claims are).
- Circular reasoning: Claiming the Bible is evidence for their claims, when the Bible IS their claim.
- Using miracles as proof of god: Claiming that miracles are proof of god when all miracle claims boil down to anecdotal evidence. Indeed the entire Bible is simply anecdotal evidence.
More than 250 years ago David Hume said that in order to believe a miracle claim, you would have to think it more probable that the laws of nature and physics were broken, than that the person who made the claim was deceived or lying.
- Simply making stuff up: You’ll actually see it happen. Ex: Ask them what they know heaven, and they’ll start filling in the gaps with stuff that makes THEM happy, with absolutely no support from anywhere (the Bible included). Call them out on it when you see it.
- “I don’t want to argue with you on this, but“: With this trick the apologist wants to be able to put forward his line of thought without you being able to respond to it. Nice, if you can get away with it. Don’t let them.
- They FEEL it’s true: Feelings aren’t facts. Really? Their feelings are true, but nobody else’s? Ask them if Islam is true? THEY certainly feel in their hearts that it is. Some of them feel it so much that they’re willing to kill themselves, and you, for their God. Is Hinduism correct? Over a billion people certainly feel that it’s true.
- “You have to have Faith.” Usually they save this one for last. When they’ve run out of real arguments. So, in order to believe in your god, and the Bible, I must first believe in your god and the Bible, is that correct? What about all the other Religions in the world? They use Faith too, but they don’t believe as you do. How do I know which faith is real?
- Interrupting you: Yes, just that simple. They talk so you can’t. Call them on this EVERY time it happens. Enforce time restrictions, if necessary, for both sides to be able to present their arguments adequately.
- Bible Quotes: Using the Bible to prove what the Bible says is true. Circular logic. Ask them why the words of the Bible should carry any more weight than, say, the works of Shakespeare? Or Carl Sagan?
- Using “scientific” articles by believers against us: Generally speaking, the science they use is not valid; the sample size is ludicrously small, and there is no peer-review outside of other believers (see “The Case for Christ”). Ask for specifics, authors and credentials; but don’t be side-tracked by this tactic as it will waste an awful lot of your time trying to track them down, reading them, and writing answers. Proceed as you will, but I would just acknowledge it, and go back to your regular discussions without giving them credit for having proved anything with their references, because they haven’t. It’s an unknown quantity, treat it as such.
- Ad-Homonym Attacks: Mud-slinging, name calling and ridicule. I’ve even had one rude apologist laugh in my face when I was discussing a point; anything to appear to win. Ad-homonym attacks are not arguments. I realized the type of person I was up against, and left his company. There are other people to talk to.
- Equivocation, ambiguity and misrepresentation: They’ll say “You use FAITH too! You have faith in your wife don’t you?” This is anything but the religious Faith that they tout as necessary to believe. That Faith is employed without evidence, or in spite of evidence to the contrary. Your faith is the “everyday expectation based on years of supporting evidence.” and they would equate the two. Have them look up the word, and admit that there are different definitions for it. (Dictionary.com currently shows 7 definitions for “Faith”.) Watch for, and call them out on this type of dissimulation whenever you come across it. It’s just another form of lying.
- Threats: “You have to believe or you’ll burn forever.” First make them demonstrate that 1) souls are real, and 2) afterlives, and 3) Hell is real and 4) that God actually exists AND 5) that he is the one true god, 6) and Jesus was His son, and 7) SIN is real. THEN you might have some reason to to worry about it. It’s just a fear tactic; ignorable. You could go into why Pascal’s Wager is Invalid at this point.
- Evasion: Make sure they answer the question that you ask, and not one they wish you had asked. Hold them to it.
I hope this helps. I’m sure there are others, but I’m already at nearly 1,200 words and didn’t want it to run on forever. Good luck!
3 thoughts on “Tricks of the Christian Apologist:”
I’m a Christian, I feel called to apologetics’s and I’ll be the 1st to admit that the problem with Christianity is the Christians. It’s not God that has done something to to turn people off or turn people away it’s usually a negative experience with or experiences with Christians. As well intended as most Christians are we are all human and flawed. There’s nothing special about us, we’re not better than anyone else. Everything worth boasting about comes from the Lord not us. It sounds like you’ve had some bad experiences with probably good people trying to do a good thing. Apologetics is the defense of our faith not a license to force it on other people. I can defend my faith, answer questions and plant seeds, but I can’t make someone believe in God, that’s up to the individual. The point that I would make is that it’s your choice to believe or not believe just as it is mine. I would admit to you that I can’t prove to you that God is real but if He was real the secular evidence supports it rather than disproves it. The opposing arguments are theories which are unsupported. If you are passionate enough about speaking out against Christianity my best advice is to really really research it. Research the history, science, archeology, astronomy, etc. the Bible tells us to test everything. Test it. The difference between Christianity and other (God of the Bible) based religions is that Christianity is truth and cannot be disproven. Just seek truth until you find it. You can spend your whole life denying and searching for something else but you won’t find the truth until you find God, just more theories without real answers. If you are the 1st person in history to be able to disprove God please let me know as I too am a seeker of truth 😀 I won’t judge you, you don’t judge me and let’s seek truth together.
Hi Brian, Thanks for taking the time to comment on my article. First let me say that it isn’t Christians I have a problem with. They are just victims of religious thought. They are still under its control. It’s Religion, and “magical” thinking itself that’s the problem. (Please go to my article on “What’s so wrong with religion anyway.” to learn more about it. http://www.digitalfreethought.com/blog/2015/05/28/whats-so-wrong-with-religion-anyway/ )
One mistake you (and most religious people) make when thinking that atheists just need to know more about the Bible (or Quran, etc.) and God, is that most atheists are POST-religion. I myself, was born and raised in a Christian household, and was a believer for many years. We have Been There and Done That. We have spent years and years searching for evidence for god(s) and coming away empty.
You might want to look up the Clergy Project (http://clergyproject.org/) which is a support community for current and former religious professionals (i.e. preachers, priests, imams, etc.) who no longer have supernatural beliefs. These are people who know more about Religions than you or I ever will but who have come to understand that the claims of Christianity (and other religions) are just that: Claims, and nothing more. There are MANY Ph.D. Christians who, after attending seminary, no longer believe. We have one in our group here in Knoxville, Dr. Joe Barnhart, who regularly appears on our Atheist Call-in TV show.
IF, as you say, you are a seeker of truth, and are willing to go where the evidence leads, then I ask you to watch a series of YouTube videos by Evid3nc3, entitled “Why I am no longer a Christian”. Link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOmSYHzeoNA&list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A
I appreciate it when sound arguments are given to me. I read through yours and I respect them. However, I found that you might need more ammunition against theism. So I want to share with you some more arguments for theism that you might not have come across yet.
Atheists who are up for debate should be prepared for sound arguments from theists. A lot of theists are weak in their defense against their faith and they can easily be shut down. But the below site claims to have strong evidence for their faith. They don’t believe in having blind faith. I recommend taking some time to comb through it.