When Christians fail at debate

I’m finding it increasingly common to have my posts at Christian blogs removed.  It seems proprietors are simply unable to respond.  This is not to say my arguments are particularly good (though they may be); rather, I think many Christians lack critical thinking skills, preferring diatribe over debate.  They’ve been told what to think, and now they’re going to tell you what to think.  Like their faithfully held beliefs, they entertain no possibility they could be wrong, and must work assiduously to maintain that appearance.

The latest example comes from the Possessing the Treasure blog.  It’s proprietor, Mike Ratliff, recently fulminated against the growing acceptance of homosexuality in Christianity and society, a practice, he reminds us, is a “sin,” “abomination,” and “sexual perversion”.

Now, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see Christians working themselves up over issues like this, primarily because they’re quite literally shooting themselves in the foot and contributing to their faith’s demise among the next generation.  Many wonder, as I do, what is the Christian’s prurient fascination with homosexuality, when Biblical morality covers so much more.  This is the question I put to Mike.  In his response, Mike dodged the question, but not before alluding to my lack of god-logic for failing to understand.  So here’s what I wrote back, which Mike refused to publish:

Mike: I do not expect you to understand what I am going to tell you since you are an atheist. You are not regenerate. You do not have the Holy Spirit.

Me: Yes, I lack the required special gnosis which supersedes normal reason and logic, apparently.

Mike: To answer your “thought” about why we are focusing on homosexuality like this is that it is clearly an issue of morality. It is sin and not the same thing as race or whatever. It is a sexual perversion whose advocates insist it is not. It demands protection and acceptance in our society. It is immoral as I said and, therefore, should not be given that sort of recognition.

Unfortunately, your “reply” doesn’t answer my objection. How is homosexuality any worse than, say, adultery?  Or blasphemy?  Or working on the sabbath?  Aren’t these “issues of morality” just as serious?  Christians aren’t clamoring to place restrictions on them, or reverse their acceptance.  Why?

It matters little to me, as a non-Christian (and heterosexual, by the way), what Christians accept or don’t accept within their own religion.  What bothers me is your attempt to force Biblical morality on the rest of society.  As you may not be aware, the Bible is not a part of the U.S. legal code.  When it is, then by all means outlaw homosexuality (and adultery, and worshipping other gods, and working on the Sabbath), but for now, you would do well to keep your morality to yourselves.

Mike: As far as your poor logic concerning God’s Law, the moral parts of the Law are still very much in affect and are contained in our faith. On the other hand, those dietary and ceremonial parts of the Law were fulfilled and done away with at Christ’s crucifixion.

Me: Good news to slave-owning Christians who wish to increase their holdings from pagan nations! (Lev. 25:44)

Further down in the comments, a person named Jackie wrote, “[G]ays are actually helping to fulfill this same worldwide “sign” (and making the Bible even more believable!) and thus hurrying up the return of the Judge! They are accomplishing what many preachers haven’t accomplished!… Thanks, gays, for figuring out how to bring back our resurrected Saviour even quicker!”

Jackie’s reasoning is sound (and something I’ve previously blogged about), but of course it wholly undermines Mike the Christian’s rationale to keep “sexual perversion” at an absolute minimum.  Unsurprisingly, a reply pointing this out did not make an appearance either.

Amateur Christian theologians like Mike aren’t the only ones running away.  Over at the Debunking Christianity blog, John W. Loftus (whose book, Why I Became an Atheist, I’m currently enjoying) has issued a debate challenge to his former mentor, William Lane Craig.  The latter has so far demurred, saying he refuses to debate former students.  That’s odd.  In his book, Reasonable Faith (p. 21), Craig wrote, “Again and again I find that while most of [anti-Christian college professors] are pretty good at beating up intellectually on an eighteen-year-old in one of their classes, they can’t even hold their own when it comes to going toe-to-toe with one of their peers.”  Is it Craig who’s afraid he can’t hold his own against one of his peers?

25 thoughts on “When Christians fail at debate

  1. This all boils down to the fact that a large segment of the populace still regards gays as second-class citizens – or worse. The repercussions of this attitude form the essence of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance. If interested, you can learn more about the book at http://www.eloquentbooks.com/BrokenSaint.html.

    Mark Zamen, author

  2. Loftus is a brilliant man, unquestionably, but I really have a hard time considering him one of Craig’s peers, mostly because he hasn’t established himself as a legitimate scholar.

    How many books has Loftus written? 1? A few new titles are supposed to arrive soon, but Craig has written over 30 books, both at the scholarly, peer-reviewed level, and the popular level. Scholars, atheist and theist alike, respect Craig as a philosopher of Time and Cosmology. Craig has written and contributed to more scholarly literature than I want to count. What has Loftus contributed to the scholarly discussion? Not much.

    I am not suggesting that Loftus doesn’t have the intellect or ability to accomplish what Craig has, but the fact remains that Loftus would rather spend his time teaching adjunct classes in philosophy and blogging about his book than subject himself to the terrifying world of academic peer review.

    Then again, maybe I’m just an academic snob.

  3. Mark, I’m sure it’s a fascinating – and heartbreaking – tale. Perhaps Tom can take some small comfort in knowing that progress in acceptance of homosexuality is taking place at a rapid pace. Thank you for stopping by and sharing.

  4. Jeremy, my favorite Christian, good to see you again!

    I think your argument would have some merit except for the fact that Craig appears to have no problem debating someone like Christopher Hitchens. This is not to knock Hitchens, who has done much to advance atheism, but simply to note that Hitchens is not Craig’s scholarly peer either.

    Whatever your opinion of Loftus, it’s clear his book is creating a stir within Christian academia. Craig’s refusal to engage him on the grounds that he doesn’t debate former students smacks of rationalization.

    But how about this? I’ll lend you my copy of Loftus’s book and you can judge for yourself whether his arguments warrant a response from Craig. The book is somewhat directed toward the apologist anyway.

  5. I would like to read John’s book, and I’ve been too cheap to buy it as of yet (poor doctoral student!), so when you’ve finished, toss it my way.

    A Loftus/Craig debate would be interesting, but I’d hardly call it a debate between “peers”- but the Hitchens/Craig debate was hardly a debate between peers either.

  6. Hi Robert, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been discussing the Communism/Atheism argument at amazon.com with David Marshall again and getting fed up with his condescending attitude and his failure to answer my arguments, I mentioned that you had asked to debate him (I had asked once before but he didn’t respond one way or another). So I just wanted to give you a heads up in case he does contact you. Though, I have a feeling he won’t. Be forewarned, he can be an a-hole.

    Here is the thread with the discussion:

    http://www.amazon.com/Disinformation-or-Deliberate-Lie/forum/Fx238ZENNZM4HA2/TxEE8FEK6WXPSB/1/ref=cm_cd_dp_tft_tp?_encoding=UTF8&s=books&asin=0618918248&store=books

  7. Hi Robert, I’ve been following your discussion with Marshall. I’m sorry you’ve had to put up with his tone. But I wanted to let you know that, despite Aikman saying Hitler was an atheist in the title to chapter 5 of his book, he actually admits that he wasn’t an atheist on page 95 when he says of Dawkins’ The God Delusion:

    “With commendable honesty, he acknowledges that in Hitler’s case, the evidence is open to interpretation [regarding his personal beliefs].”

    Of course, I find it odd that Aikman would say such a thing, directly in his chapter’s title, and then contradict it in that very chapter. I just wanted to let you know.

  8. I think what Aikman is saying here is that Dawkins has an open mind as to whether Hitler was an atheist or not; Dawkins doesn’t come down on one side or the other since he presents evidence that suggests Hitler remained a Catholic (or at least a theist), while later acknowledging that Hitler’s personal memos revealed his Catholicism as purely formal (p. 96).

    On the same page, Aikman appears to suggest that Hitler was.

    When it comes to Mao Tse-tung, Hitler, and Stalin and the charge that they are heinous examples of militant atheism in power, Harris tries to perform a magician’s trick in their defense by arguing that “while it is true that such men are sometimes enemies of organized religion, they are never especially rational.” In other words, since they were somehow delusional, they weren’t, well, regular atheists.

    The above strongly implies that Aikman viewed Hitler as an atheist.

    Recall also that for Aikman, irreligion is atheism. “[T]he greatest totalitarian evils, communism and Nazism, both grew out of a sustained philosophical rebellion against religious faith-in essence, atheism.” (pg. 101)

    Finally, when Aikman responded to me and said “Hitler wasn’t an atheist,” he didn’t deny that this is what he said or meant in his book.

    It does seem Aikman equivoates on the question, however.

  9. I see your point. Of course, I thought I recalled reading later on in the book that he explicitly says Hitler wasn’t an atheist, but unfortunately I don’t have time to read through the whole book right now. I’ll try to find it later and sort all this out.

    Now that I think about it, if memory serves, he said something to the effect of, ‘even though Hitler wasn’t actually an atheist, he acted as if there were no god.’ I wish I could remember the page. I’ll try to give you the direct quote when I can. But either way, Aikman has been caught in a contradiction.

  10. Hi Robert,

    I found a little time to quickly reread chapter 5 of Aikman’s book and you were right. It does seem that he equates atheism with a hatred of religion. He said about Hitler on pages 132-133:

    “The revelations of Hitler’s most closely held views do not contradict the fact that he never renounced his Catholicism and never declared himself to be either an atheist or an agnostic. He didn’t need to…Hitler was in practice a man who acted as though there were no external moral constraints on any of his actions; he acted out his policies as though atheism were true.”

  11. You’re welcome, Robert.

    I see that Marshall still hasn’t even attempted to show that your premise is wrong. I thought maybe he’d actually argue that point with you. Every time I brought up the point about ideology he’d just ignore it. Seems he’s done the same with you.

    What I find hilarious is that, even someone such as myself who doesn’t know that much about this subject, sees your point better than someone who claims to know so much more. And I’ve only read a hand full of books on the subject. What’s more, Marshall never even gave his credentials. I find that suspicious.

    I got the feeling you bowed out of the convo. from that last post. I don’t blame you. You’ll just end up going around in circles with him.

  12. I was browsing the amazon forums and came across this post by Marshall stating his credentials. Only a Bachelor’s.

    “I have a very negative view of Karl Marx. My BA was largely in Marxism, and reading the man (as much as I did) gave me a headache. I see him as a very hateful, arrogant man, accurately described by someone who met him…”

    The post can be found here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Atheism-and-the-Marxist-tradition/forum/Fx238ZENNZM4HA2/Tx28DLFAKIHA78G/2/ref=cm_cd_et_md_pl?_encoding=UTF8&cdMsgNo=27&asin=0618918248&cdSort=oldest&cdMsgID=Mx1EMIQY9HFRAN6#Mx1EMIQY9HFRAN6

    Just thought you might be interested…

    By the way, you have to unhide his post to read it. Too many found it “unhelpful.”

  13. AA wrote:

    I got the feeling you bowed out of the convo. from that last post. I don’t blame you. You’ll just end up going around in circles with him.

    Yeah, it had become farcical. David simply could not deal with my arguments.

    David starts by saying you have to be ignorant not to know that atheism was the major force behind Marxism and that he can produce “very quickly” 5 or 6 scholars who say that.

    I respond, ok, who are they?

    David lists 9 people, but in a sleight of hand, only says these 9 describe the role of atheism and anti-religious bigotry in the communist tradition. I check their names and find most of them are not even scholars, and the few who are, are religious cheerleaders. I ask David to produce where they actually, you know, state that atheism was behind it all.

    David responds by saying he’s met my challenge, that they say it, but he can’t be bothered to find the actual references.

    /facepalm

    I had a real laugh at his treatment of Rummel, who says that atheism was not the basis for the atrocities. David responds that Rummel wasn’t actually referring to communist mass murder, despite his including communist dictators in his statement.

    /facepalm

    The revelation that Aikman believed Marx might be a Satanist was interesting. Now I’m curious to find how out Aikman squares that with his contention atheism underlies Marx’s ideology. So was Marx a Satanist (and thus not an atheist)? Or was he an atheist (and thus not a Satanist)?

  14. I agree completely. Marshall (and his sidekick J.R. who has weighed in now on the subject) have a habit of ignoring evidence in favor of their biases. It’s so frustrating. I don’t know why I stayed at those forums for as long as I have. As far as Aikman believing Marx was a Satanist maybe you could find a copy of Aikman’s dissertation and see for yourself. I once emailed Marshall anonymously to see if he could tell me where I could get a copy of Aikman’s dissertation and he mentioned Aikman’s university. I did find this, though. Don’t know how much it might cost though:

    http://archon.wheaton.edu/index.php?p=collections/findingaid&id=32&q=&rootcontentid=56529

  15. I think you have all complicated the matter entirely to much. People can believe what they want to believe. Atheist believe there is no God, or original creator. Homosexuality is not a belief but more so a lifestyle that one chooses to enter in most cases. The same way a Christian will not agree with an atheist can be correlated to the same reason a straight man, such as myself, doesn’t condone homosexuality. If you truly believe in individuality, then you have to respect your fellow man who may have the understanding to know that there is a creator. I don’t claim a religion, in fact I’ve had my bouts with religion. I could never go back to Christianity in fact. My time with that school of thought has run out but I do believe in God. I’m a buddy of Seth’s so I’ll be checking out your blog more. Peace out.

  16. Of course Loftus refuses to debate Dr Glenn Peoples… We could read all sorts of scaredy-cat stuff into that too.

    I’m sorry to hear your comments have been deleted off some Christian blogs or that you have encountered some Christians who shy away from debate or cannot engage critically, however, I am sure you are aware that this cuts the other way too. I’ve had my comments deleted off atheist blogs, I have encountered many atheists who prefer assertions and ad hominems over reasoned responses, who refuse to open their minds one iota to the possibility their truth might not be. The problem exists on both sides and we can argue about which side it applies to more but I doubt we’d resolve it.

    The problem mostly arises when you are dealing with lay people. The top scholars of philosophy of religion, atheist and theist alike I doubt would carry on like that often. So instead of judging the philosophy by the response or lack thereof of the lay people on your preferred opposing side, why not instead focus on finding those who are capable of debating at the higher levels and have some real engagement of ideas and assess those debates?

    You are most welcome at MandM anytime and you will not have your comments deleted and we will engage with your ideas.

  17. Hmmn. A conversation about me.

    I’m “quite vile,” apparently. I have a “condescending attitude” towards one Arizona Atheist (aka “Gifted Writer” aka “Prime Truth” aka “Ken”), and simply refuse to answer his arguments about communism.

    Actually I did, years ago. His main argument was that of course atheism can’t do any harm, because it’s a lack of belief in God. How can a nothing cause a something? Something like that.

    By which “reasoning” of course Christians could not possibly be guilty of persecuting pagans, since we don’t believe in their gods. Sorry for being “patronizing,” but honestly, it was hard to find anything in that “argument” to shoot at.

    The fact is, I know a lot about communism and religion, and Ken appears to know nothing. I’ve lived in both Russian and Chinese societies, studied the languages, read key texts in both revolutionary traditions, interviewed many religious victims of communist persecution, and in short, know what I’m talking about. Ken’s delusional belief that he offered anything worth calling an argument in response to what I said on the subject in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, or Dr. David Aikman said in his book (Aikman is one of the world’s top authorities on the subject of communism and atheism), was pathetic. How can a scholar NOT condescend to such amateurish and ignorant babbling?

    Which of course hasn’t stopped him from posting nonsense all over the Web. America’s a great country: one is free to be as big of a fool as one likes.

    As for “vile,” I don’t do it. Perhaps Robert finds being contradicted vile — a “vile-ation” of his right to be wrong.

  18. By the way, Robert is not telling the truth about the scholars I listed. As I recall, he challenged me to list ANY scholars who blame atheism for communist crimes. I offered to name 5 or 6, and named 9 instead, including scholars like Donald Treadgold, David Aikman, Nicholas Riasanovsky, I think Paul Johnson and Zhao Tian En — all scholars with exemplary credentials. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was on the list, not an academic historian, but nevertheless a very important and knowledgable historian of communist history.

    The attempt to throw the list out because some were religious is, of course, both post hoc (there had been no contrary stipulation) and the generic fallacy. I easily backed up my original claim, and it only took a few minutes search in my office library to do so. Were the debate more serious, I’m sure I could have rounded up dozens. But you can see how serious the debate was by the spin Robert tries to put on it here.

  19. David, welcome to my blog.

    Yes, I challenged you to provide the scholars who supported your claim. You came back with some names. When I checked some of them, however, I found they didn’t actually blame atheism for communist crimes, or they weren’t really knowledgeable about communism. That’s why I called you out, to give me the actual references–which you steadfastly refused to do. After all, if I claimed scholars say Christianity is to blame for communist crimes, wouldn’t you like to know not only the name of the scholar, but where they said it?

  20. By which “reasoning” of course Christians could not possibly be guilty of persecuting pagans, since we don’t believe in their gods.

    David, I’m not sure how, as someone more familiar with Christian theology than the average bear, you think this is any kind of rebuttal.

    Christians don’t just lack a belief in the pagan gods, but make several positive assertions , such as:

    1) After death, there’s a heaven where Christians go to live in eternal bliss, and a hell where non-believers go to live in eternal damnation.

    2) There’s only one path to heaven, and that’s through Christ Jesus. All other paths lead to hell.

    3) Worshipping false gods and otherwise engaging in “wickedness” may incur the wrath of God on everyone.

    Given these beliefs, it’s not hard to see how Christians would conclude that the freedom to worship pagan gods must be severely restricted or abolished. It would be like putting a carrier of a deadly disease into quarantine, or destroying them altogher for the good of all. In fact, it was reasoning along a very similar vein that led Augustine to advocate the death penalty for heretics.

    Now, there was probably another, more pragmatic reason why Christians oppressed pagan-worshippers. Not too long before, such worshippers oppressed Christians. In other words, pagan worshippers proved themselves dangerous, just as Christians would in the centuries that followed. Christians, with typical historical myopia, ignore how violent and bloody a lot of their religion’s history is. To me, it would make a lot of sense for non-Christian politicians to view Christians within their countries as a dangerous threat, particularly if they had just fought on behalf of your enemies in a civil war, as occurred in Russia.

  21. “Actually I did, years ago. His main argument was that of course atheism can’t do any harm, because it’s a lack of belief in God. How can a nothing cause a something? Something like that.”

    I guess I’ll have to refresh his memory. This, by the way, wasn’t the only argument I gave during our several discussions about this, unlike what he claims. It seems Marshall still doesn’t understand the concept of a negative. A lack of belief is unable to influence someone due to it’s lack of ideology. One must get a ideology elsewhere and the source for the Communists’ ideology were the beliefs of Communism about property, classes, etc. Aikman’s argument that atheism is synonymous with a hatred of religion is ridiculous. I don’t care how credentialed he is; that doesn’t matter. What matters is the evidence he presents for his case and it’s more than obvious that he’s allowed his religious belief to tarnish his objectivity.

    Besides, the very fact that neither Aikman or Marshall have been able to present a single shred of solid evidence proving their claims, that should give anyone pause right there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *