Common Christian Apologists:
How To Debate Them
Tom Jones

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "tom jones"
Subject: Re: Apologetics Question
Date: Monday, August 07, 2000 2:39 PM

It depends on which ones. We have covered most of them in our Letters section, because the young apologists come on here and use the latest techniques on us (albeit not always all that skillfully).

This is not unlike asking why we don't believe in God -- which one? or, rather, what do you mean when you say "God"? In a similar sense, we need to know which apologetic you are discussing, because, since about 80 percent of the world's population is theistic, that means that there are about 4.8 thousand-million different apologetics -- 4.8 thousand million different reasons for believing in 4.8 thousand million different god-concepts.

Here are a few popular angles that we encounter in the United States:

The Anthropic Principle is currently the most sophisticated creationist tactic since before the days of Darwin. It is covered handily by particle physicist Victor Stenger, currently living in Colorado. In particular, you'll want to check out his pieces "The Anthropic Coincidences: A Natural Explanation" and the shorter article "Anthropic Design: Does the Cosmos Show Evidence of Purpose?" Stenger digested the main points of the Anthropic Principle and of the Thermodynamics issues in his interview with us last year. We also covered it from a lay-philosophical perspective in a letter from a 12-year-old lad from England but this was before I met Stenger. Stenger's book The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology contains some chapters on the Anthropic Principle, and his book Not by Design: The Origin of the Universe shows that the Big Bang required zero energy to get going -- a quantum fluctuation escaping into a vacuum. The Secular Web is now getting some articles covering the Anthropic Principle. Just type "anthropic" into their search engine. See the addendum to this discussion by Dutch physics student Victor Gijsbers, appended below. [Coment added 16 August 2000.]

Evolution is defended quite nicely by Richard Dawkins in any of his books, particularly The Blind Watchmaker. We have several of Dawkins's articles and interviews in our Articles Index and we list many evolutionist websites in our Web Guide under Science. Dawkins in particular focuses his material toward countering the notion that supernatural intervention is required. A great new resource covering the latest versions of creationism (the Christians aren't the only ones) is the book Tower Of Babel: The Evidence Against The New Creationism by Robert T. Pennock. Pennock's and Dawkins's books are all page-turners: I couldn't put them down. You'll also want to check out the creationist debates on The Secular Web.

The Bible is covered very nicely by C. Dennis McKinsey in his book The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy. Thomas Paine's The Age Of Reason is a classic exposé of biblical errancy from this Founding Father of the United States.

Jesus's very existence as a historical figure is challenged quite neatly and thoroughly by biblical scholar G. A. Wells in any of his various Jesus books. The Jesus Seminar also does a fine job at squelching the notion that there is something to the traditional Jesus myth. The best approach to the whole Jesus problem is the "Jesus Agnosticism" of Robert M. Price in his wonderful new book Deconstructing Jesus. In it, he shows that the Jesus myth, when it was consolidated in the fourth century, had several different origins; thus, we could never find a historical Jesus figure even if we tried. We have gained permission to excerpt from this book and will do that soon -- and may even post it, too.

Apologist Josh McDowell is considered a quack even by many serious Christian apologists. Nevertheless, he is quite popular and has honed his salesmanship to take many a thinking person into his "fold." There are dozens of articles covering McDowell's schlock scholarship on the Secular Web: simply type the word "mcdowell" into the Secular Web's search engine. Or, better yet, visit their (slightly outdated) list of apologetics articles.

Remember, McDowell is popular and he is easy to refute; thus, you will find lots of articles on him. Some of the others give a tougher presentation.

Finally, you do well to hone up on your debating skills -- not so you'll do good at debating them publicly, but so you'll be able to recognize their wiles. For this reason, we have put together a large section in our FAQ called "Discussing Atheism with Others." Of particular interest is the large section on logical fallacies (dishonest debating tactics). This section probably has enough ammunition to defend yourself from any angle. In other words, with a solid base in logical fallacies, you really don't need to know all that much about the finer details of the specific arguments -- which are myriad. You'll be able to spot any use of logical fallacies, and that alone will invalidate your opponent's position. We also have a collection of articles about thinking in our Clues Index, called "Thoughts on Thinking and the Group-Think Process." [Coment added 16 August 2000.]

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

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