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 their’s 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!