The Trouble With Internet Debates

What’s so problematic about having debates on the internet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I love debate. Okay. I can’t deny that. A good argument can get me really excited. I love the back and forth exchange of ideas. (Well supposedly the back and forth exchange.) Yet there’s something also irksome about it. In some ways, it can be like receiving a new gift at Christmas. It’s fun and exciting for a few days, but after awhile, the excitement just wears off.

What’s the problem with internet debates? Well very rarely do people talk about ideas that they really study. Instead, they talk about ideas that they have opinions on. Now opinions are fine and we all have them, but some opinions are to be more authoritative than others. I can have an opinion on evolution and cosmology. Don’t take it seriously. Why? Because I have not done the necessary reading on the topic. I am not an authority.

A word of warning at this point to my apologist friends out there and to other Christians. Reading the apologists on a topic does not make you an authority. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to read the scholars on the topic. You want to know what your opponents are arguing even better than they know it.

Now before atheists start thinking they’re not guilty of the same thing, they are. If you want to make an argument against the existence of God, don’t read someone like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is just fine when talking about evolution, but he is not trained in the arguments for God’s existence.

Don’t go thinking that people like Jerry Coyne (Who Peter Boghossian refers to profusely) are authorities on Christianity. They’re not. When I go to his blog and see people arguing that Jesus never even existed, I know this is not something to take seriously. (And yes, no one who says Jesus never existed should be considered authoritative in the field. There are more PH.D.s in science who hold to YEC, a view I do not hold to at all, than there are PH.D.s in ancient history who say Jesus never existed.)

The new atheist movement has done this to atheism today. If you want to be a well-informed atheist, do not read the new atheists. Believe it or not, just because you are an atheist, it does not mean that you’re automatically a clear thinker. Christian and atheists both have fools and geniuses on their side.

Another problem both sides have is incredulity has become an argument. For an atheist, yeah. I get it. It seems incredible to you that a miracle occurred. Frankly, I don’t have any problem with you thinking it is incredible. It really is. I understand the skepticism. The problem is skepticism is not an argument. It is a position that one holds. Today, you will need to do more than quote David Hume. Have you read the critiques of Hume? Have you considered a work such as Miracles by Craig Keener?

It also won’t work to say “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Why should your position be the one that determines what claim is and isn’t extraordinary? The term is just way too subjective. How do you even recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it have some property like glowing in the dark?

extraordinaryevidence

And once again, to turn to the Christians, your incredulity does not count as an argument. Okay. Many of you are skeptical of evolution. I get that. Yeah. Now I have no firm opinion on the matter, but your incredulity does not count as an argument. It also will not work to say “The Bible says X.” Yeah. You accept the Bible as an authority, but your opponent doesn’t. Why should he care?

Now if you want to argue against evolution by all means be my guest. Just make sure you make the case scientific. If evolution is to fall, it will fall because it happens to be bad science. If it is bad science, then it can be refuted scientifically. Being incredulous will not count as an argument.

The problem with both of these positions is both sides can remain incredibly fundamentalist in nature. Many Christians will say automatically that they must be right because they agree with the Bible and the Word of God cannot be wrong. Now it could be true the Bible is the Word of God and cannot be wrong. (And I do hold to Inerrancy in fact) That is not to be assumed. If you’re debating a Christian who holds to that position, then fine. Use the Bible all you want to as an authority. It won’t work outside of that. It has no more effect on an opponent than my hearing what the Koran says from a Muslim has on me despite him insisting he’s telling me the words of the creator.

For the atheist, too often there is an engagement in what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” This is where you start off with the assumption of atheism, but you also start with the idea that because you are an atheist, you are reasonable and anyone who does not accept atheism is just irrational.

Now of course, if atheism is true, it is irrational to not accept it, but none of us are purely rational in all our thinking. We all make mistakes. You can be rational in many areas and irrational in others for any number of reasons. There could be a lack of study, reading the wrong resources, pride, or emotional or volitional barriers. Atheists often warn us about bias. They’re right. We should all be seeking to have our biases checked, but that includes atheists as well. The best way is to go out and read people who disagree with you and really interact with them.

But for too many atheists, the position is that they are rational and therefore any comment that they make is rational. Want to say Jesus never existed? That’s rational because you’re an atheist! Have an opinion on any topic you’ve never studied? It’s rational because you’re an atheist!

This also leads to too often a lack of serious engagement with religious ideas for atheists. For most, it is just a Google search and Google while a valuable tool for those who use it well, is an aid also to the laziness of our day and age. Why go out and read a scholar of a position? Just go find something in a Google search.

Want to claim Jesus is a copycat Messiah and there were several dying and rising deities? No problem! Just do a Google search! Sure! The source might not quote any scholars whatsoever and would not be taken seriously in the scholarly world, which it isn’t, but hey! It’s found on Google!

Now of course, a Christian should want to have an answer to that objection, but the question needs to be asked why it should be taken seriously as an objection in the first place? Is finding it on a Google search a good enough reason? I can find evidence on Google right now that the moon landing never took place! I can find evidence that the holocaust never happened! Now it’s faulty evidence to be sure (You can have evidence for false opinions), but it is evidence! Who would like to see something put up saying the moon landing never happened and expect to have to give an answer for that?

In fact, the reality is that 99.9% of us would say that it happened I predict. I have no doubt it happened. The reality is that most of us at the same time could not give an argument for it. Most of us do not know the physics and such of the matter to give an answer. That does not mean we’re irrational for holding it. We hold it on other grounds. Most of us could not give an argument for heliocentrism. Does that mean if someone put forward a web page claiming geocentrism that you would want me to take it seriously?

On the internet, anyone can put forward an opinion and it doesn’t have to be examined by critical minds. If you wanted to, you could start a blog right now for free and put out your opinion on whatever you want. That does not mean you’re an authority. It means you have an opinion.

Some of you might be thinking “What about your blog?” What about it? If you want to be skeptical, go ahead. I do not claim to be a scholar yet, but I do claim to rely on the works of leading scholars. If you think my opinion carries merit, feel free to share it. If not, then ignore it and just go and read the people who have actually reached the level of scholar.

Google is a tool for too many people who want instant information but are not wanting to do a real study. So many people don’t want today to do the real research required in learning a topic. Instead, they just want you to lay everything out front instead of doing the basic groundwork for what you wish to say. That’s another problem with internet discussions. If you’ve read the scholars, it’s very irritating to talk to people who haven’t and have them think they’re an authority.

And this gets us into another area as well. When people are contested, they can turn nasty. Now I am not one who says all satire and sarcasm is wrong. In fact, I think in many cases it’s necessary. Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Some arguers on the internet are just bullies who have not studied and want to present themselves as authority. They do not respond to sound argumentation.

Yet if all you have is just sarcasm and satire and you cannot back it with arguments, then you do not have an argument. Mocking Christians for being Christians is not an argument. Mocking atheists for being atheists is not an argument. If you’re one who does not have a problem with mockery, and to be fair, the Bible has no problem with it in many cases, then be sure that you also have the arguments to back it. Mockery, sarcasm, and satire are not to be your arguments. They are meant to be used, if you use them, as tools of argumentation but not the data itself.

Hopefully on both sides we can learn better argumentation. I have this strange dream that someday we’ll have debates where we only talk about topics that we’ve really seriously studied in debate. Unfortunately, as long as we think we are authorities because we have opinions, this will not happen. Yet I expect this most from the Christian community. I expect that we most of all will be fulfilling the life of the mind and engaging in areas where we have done our homework. It is no honor to our Lord to come to the debate not having done at least basic research. God is not obligated to give us knowledge because we have not done our part. That would in fact be encouraging laziness.

I also expect that too many people on both sides will hear this kind of advice on internet debates and ignore it entirely. This again is part of our modern problem as we consider ourselves exceptions to every rule out there.

If you want to honor Christ, be a student. Be a disciple. Be learning. Be reading both sides of the positions that you hold and love God with your mind. Sloppy thinking is no honor for the Christian to have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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31 Responses to “The Trouble With Internet Debates”

  1. boxingpythagoras Says:

    Well written, and completely agreeable.

    Despite the fact that I, myself, am an atheist, I find that I end up spending almost as much time correcting the misinformation being trafficked by other self-identifying atheists as I spend in discussion with Christians.

    The biggest problem, in my view, is that people on both sides of the argument frame their opposition as “the enemy.” They have this sort of innate us-versus-them attitude, as if treating an opposing viewpoint hospitably is an admission of defeat. This does nothing but foster prejudice and unwarranted derision of opposing viewpoints, making no one at all the better for it.

    Participants on both sides of the theism/atheism debate would do well to learn this.

    • apologianick Says:

      Agree entirely. I only hold Scripture as a Christian to be infallible. Every atheist is right about something. Every atheist is wrong about something. Every Christian is right about something. Every Christian is wrong about something.

  2. labreuer Says:

    I would suggest reading Edward Feser’s The road from atheism, or at least:

    Why not? Because to read something is not necessarily to understand it. Partly, of course, because when you’re young, you always understand less than you think you do. But mainly because, to understand someone, it’s not enough to sit there tapping your foot while he talks. You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth. And when you’re a young man who thinks he’s got the religious question all figured out, you’re in little mood to listen — especially if you’ve fallen in love with one side of the question, the side that’s new and sexy because it’s not what you grew up believing. Zeal of the deconverted, and all that.

    This is, of course, just the principle of charity. But these days, few understand it. For many, their idea of this kind of ‘charity’ is to generate a caricature (judging by appearances) of the other person, generally assuming the other person to be stupid (again, see Feser’s confession), such that one can ‘believably’ see why one’s [stupid] interlocutor would have said the [obviously] stupid thing.

    I would also suggest Stop trolling! Seven ways to be a better internet critic, to which I added the above as an eighth item.

    This problem that you describe is not restricted to internet debates. It is a problem with human communication. Specifically, it is a problem with refusing to truly understand the other person. Why do people refuse? First, it’s hard, and second, it might mean admitting that the other person is more right than you are on something. Furthermore, do you even believe that the other person might have anything right that you have wrong? One’s presuppositions can easily lead to a ‘no’ on this, which means one has no reason to try non-caricatured models of others. I’ve seen atheists and Christians with such presuppositions.

    • apologianick Says:

      Yes. It is a human problem. The internet just seems to bring it out more. Kudos on recommending Feser! Thoroughly enjoy his thinking!

      • labreuer Says:

        Does the internet create more, or just expose what was always there? I lean toward the latter, although there are echo chambers which can probably function as Darkness Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Stupidity (see the acronym L.A.S.E.R.). Yeah, I’m a giant nerd.

      • apologianick Says:

        Agreed with bringing it out more. Reminds me of a recent discussion I had with someone about a dictator type in a Facebook group who told me giving someone power corrupts them. I replied that it didn’t. It just shows what’s always been underneath the surface.

      • labreuer Says:

        Heh. I would modify what you said a bit: in some situations, people can do well with some amount of power, but start failing if given too much more, without being taught how to use it well. Overfill a compressed air cylinder and it will burst; is the cylinder at fault? Holy crap, this gives a whole new meaning to old vs. new wineskins…

  3. Doug Says:

    Well written and much agreement.

    But allow a (to be taken with much salt) nitpick? 🙂

    “Now of course, if atheism is true, it is irrational to not accept it” — not necessarily true, and certainly not a matter “of course”! Rationality is only concerned with the “journey” and not with the “destination”. And it is by no means necessary that there exists a “rational pathway” to any veridical destination. As Quentin Smith suggests, atheism (materialism) could be true, while those holding to it only do so “accidentally” (as opposed to “rationally”)

    • apologianick Says:

      Hi Doug.

      My statement is that if something is true and we reject it, insofar as we do, we are not being totally rational. It does not mean we’re being mind numbingly dumb of course, but if theism or atheism is true, then if we use our rational capacities to the best, we should get closer and closer.

      btw, are we by chance any relation?

      • labreuer Says:

        You aren’t guaranteed to have the right faculties to arrive at truth. :-p

      • apologianick Says:

        Indeed, and none of us are perfectly rational. I think Aquinas probably summed it up best in saying why Scripture is so important. If we did not have it, few of us could attain the knowledge of God and that would be only after extreme thinking and work and still with a multitude of errors. The person who got the closest was Aristotle and that was with a lot of mistakes still. That is very revealing.

      • labreuer Says:

        Did Aquinas account for Enoch in claiming this?

      • apologianick Says:

        I think Enoch quite likely had some degree of special revelation. After all, it is said that he walked with God, which could include as well revelation handed down through tradition from Adam.

      • labreuer Says:

        I am sneakily getting at whether the canon is closed, and if it is, whether that means there is no special revelation over and above the best manuscripts we have. Catholic theologian Josef Pieper, in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, suggested that all creativity is from God. This matches the idea of a muse. Yoram Hazony points out that Parmenides attributes his philosophy to a goddess. So has God really stopped speaking to us, except via reminding us of relevant scripture? Not clear!

      • apologianick Says:

        Well while I think God can speak today, I don’t think it means we start putting everything in Scripture. Many of these are personal words and not words of edification for the whole body. As far as canon, I am convinced it is closed. When we look at the criteria for what made a book acceptable, nothing else can be included.

      • labreuer Says:

        Oh, I don’t see a need to add to a closed canon; no reasons I’ve encountered so far seem compelling. It is only some interpretations of closed cannon/sufficiency of scripture which result in the claim that God only speaks to us via the Bible (or Jesus, but only Jesus as revealed by the written Word).

        It is useful to question whether canon really ought to be closed for pedagogical purposes. God isn’t afraid of us questioning him; the Psalms attest to this beautifully. Christians are precisely those who ought not be afraid of asking any question.

      • apologianick Says:

        Agreed definitely on the last part!

      • labreuer Says:

        There seem to be those who fear that if someone got new revelation from God, it would be dangerous, or the revelation wouldn’t be from God. But this is why we are to test the spirits and do the Hebrews 5:14 thing. The book of nature is a mix of God’s work and Satan’s ‘work’, requiring discernment!

      • Doug Says:

        Hi Nick,

        Rationality is less a matter of dealing with truth and falsehood than it is a matter of dealing with soundness and validity. If one has insufficient data, one can come to the wrong conclusion in an entirely rational manner. It is also possible to achieve a correct conclusion in an entirely irrational manner.

        If materialism were true, one’s rejection or acceptance of materialism might be quite uncorrelated with rationality — indeed, from an eliminativist perspective, rationality may be an illusion!

        It you are related to my recently-deceased Great Aunt Katy from Winnepeg, Canada (keeper of the “Peters family tree”), then we might indeed be related 🙂

      • apologianick Says:

        I don’t really have a problem with that. I guess what I’m saying is that overall, if we have the data we need and reach a conclusion that is not true, we have made an error along the way somewhere. We are definitely at least ignorant of something.

        I don’t know if I bear relation there or not. I would have to check with our family genealogist.

  4. john :-) Says:

    I have thought often about the claim that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” and have concluded that the principle, if you can call it that, is completely spurious. We accept many extraordinary claims from science all the time — the existence of entities like black holes, subatomic particles, cosmic inflation, etc. — all based on the most ordinary kind of evidence — normally, the authority of our teachers and scientists.

    There is a justifiable skepticism regarding extraordinary claims. If my neighbor claims he had chicken for dinner last night, I will be inclined to accept that claim on nothing more than his testimony, whereas if he claimed to raise the chicken from the dead, I would naturally be skeptical and disbelieve the claim unless he provided evidence for the claim. But the evidence itself need not be “extra-ordinary”, just substantial and compelling. It would need to be such that the facts at my disposal are more reasonably explained by his claim, then any other possible explanations. But none of the evidence need be any different that what we would use to evaluate any other kind of claim, extraordinary or not.

    The principle that says “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” is self refuting. It is an extraordinary claim concerning the evidential requirement for extraordinary claims that the principle itself cannot meet, and is in fact contrary to how evidence is actually used in support of various claims.

    The demand for extraordinary evidence seems to me to stem from an atheist demand that God perform special miracles just for them before they will believe, and pretending that somehow such a demand is reasonable. In Hume’s case, he uses his own formulation of this principle to reject any written second hand testimony to miracles (such as found in the gospels) out of hand as being contrary to common experience without the need for further investigation. But neither Hume nor the principle is reasonable.

    • labreuer Says:

      john, I think you’re onto something. I wonder if “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” is actually a veiled denial of the existence of an infinite being who can act in finite-appearing reality. In a sense, Hitchen’s razor says that any new experience must be sufficiently ‘continuous’ with previous experience. Our plausibility frameworks must be built up from basic, simple, small, finite axioms/observations, and you’re only allowed to build so much per unit time. Well, if you believe this, then you can never justifiably believe God exists and draws us to him.

      • apologianick Says:

        You could also never have modern science. Science does things outside of our ordinary experience. It was outside of ordinary experience to go to the moon.

      • labreuer Says:

        I disagree. There was still great continuity in going to the moon. First the Wright brothers, then unmanned satellites, than manned earth-orbiting, then manned moon-orbiting, then manned moon-landing. (Actually, there were even more steps in the process.)

        Now, I think you still have a point: if trying to strain too much forward into the future is disdained (because it is extraordinary), much is disallowed, including e.g. that autistic kids will open up (it turns out there are ways, contra certain arrogant doctors), that pedophiles can be cured without castration, that limbs can be regrown, etc. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” is a very interesting statement in this context.

        Now, one of the trends these days is to focus on the short-term, which explains (a) the focus on quarterly profits; (b) huge consumer debt; (c) ballooning national debt; (d) failure to sufficiently fund basic science, which Neil deGrasse Tyson laments publicly. Neil is pretty hilarious on this, because he simultaneously disdains philosophy he doesn’t see as contributing to science. Irony abounds. Anyway, the shortening of horizons does damage what you can hope for. What I don’t know is how things change when you aim for eternity instead of, say, 500 years in the future.

      • apologianick Says:

        Actually, what I was saying was the cause of Earman’s strong objection to Hume’s argument. Hume if followed properly would destroy science because his argument works against marvels as much as miracles. We will always experience some discontinuity with past experience and must accept things that don’t fall within it.

      • labreuer Says:

        Ehhh, plenty of people disregard enough Hume… unless you’re saying that they really are depending on bits that ought to be disregarded but aren’t, and among them is a necessary underpinning of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”?

      • john :-) Says:

        Thank you Labreuer. I don’t know if the principle can in and of itself can be construed as, “veiled denial of the existence of an infinite being who can act in finite-appearing reality” because it because a person can hold to it while believing in God. One can believe in God for reasons other than evidential reasons (perhaps they are a presuppositionalist?). Or they can hold that the New Testament evidence actually meets the standard for being extraordinary. I used to accept this principle as a useful tool to debunk new age quackery and the like. I have also heard this principle quoted by a well know answer man for the Bible who I respect very much so I won’t name him as a way of addressing some of the claims of prosperity teachers and other modern day “Christian” miracle workers.

        But, I have seen this principle (which comes from SCICOP and Carl Sagan from the 1980’s, but is supposed to be based on Hume), used in just the way you say. Years ago I had an online dialog in the usenet forum for Babylon5 with J. Michael Straczynski who wrote and produced the show and dialoged extensively with his fans on line and who was a self proclaimed atheist, although he had none of the animus of the modern new atheists.

        The topic came up as what would constitute convincing evidence for God? The problem with any empirical evidence that might be evidence for God is that you can always come up with an alternate explanation involving something more finite. For example, the atheist skeptic Greg Cavin says this, “Even the most outlandish “naturalistic” hypothesis e.g.,Deceptive Space Aliens is a better explanation of the (alleged) historical facts than the indeterminate unknown postulated by the “X Man” theory” (his characterization of the Biblical account of the resurrection). (see http://infidels.org/images/media/library/modern/greg_cavin/resurrection-debate.pdf on slide 251). it is as you say always possible to deny that any amount of finite evidence can prove the existence of an infinite God. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

        So, I ask him what he would accept as proof for the existence of God. His answer which I no longer remember in any greater detail was if God were to create a whole new earth where we could observe it up close in short time span out of nothing, that he might believe. Basically, he is demanding a very extraordinary miracle as sufficient evidence for him to believe in God.

  5. tildeb Says:

    The new atheist movement has done this to atheism today. If you want to be a well-informed atheist, do not read the new atheists.

    And if you’re a theist, apparently, don’t think yourself expert enough to comment about New Atheism!

    You conflate atheism – meaning non belief in gods or a god – with New Atheism, which is all about atheists confronting and publicly criticizing religious privilege in the public domain rather than staying silent. With this understanding in mind, what you suggest is what atheists of old were urged to do: just be quiet for the reason you think is justified, namely, a lack of theistic expertise.

    But that’s the root problem New Atheists point out: no theist has any expertise about gods or a god greater than the atheist… unless one is willing to commit the fallacy of the Courtier’s Reply.

    Because Jesus is often presented by Christians as a god, this topic is now fair game about the historicity of the Messiah claim.. deserving of a response by New Atheists.

    Many, many people were called Jesus at that time and many biblical scholars talk about an historical messianic Jesus that are quite different from each other! This not an issue of theistic expertise whatsoever; it’s a matter of historical expertise. Atheists – just like theists – have equivalent access to these sources. So, indeed, a Richard Dawkins can talk just as well informed about an historical Jesus as a Nick of Deeper Waters can, and a Jerry Coyne can speak with the same expertise about the Christian Messiah as a William Lane Craig. The difference between these people is a willingness to claim stuff about reality in excess of the evidence available to support them… an intellectual fault few New Atheists commit but fully deserving of equivalent criticism from all.

    • apologianick Says:

      And here we have exhibit A.

      Had I confounded atheism with the new atheism, I would have said to reject reading all atheist books. I didn’t. I said to avoid the ones by the new atheists.

      As for your claim about biblical scholarship, no one talks about a Jesus that was baptized by Mary Magdalene. No one talks about a Jesus that had 144 disciples. No one takes about a Jesus that died by beheading. No one talks about a Jesus that lived in Ancient Rome. Yes, there are differences, but those exist in any field. How do you sift out the data? You do so by reading the historians and if Dawkins and Coyne and others have not done that, then they are not qualified.

      As for the Courtier’s reply, that’s just Meyers being lazy and being an atheistic presuppositionalist.

      • tildeb Says:

        You seemed to have missed my irony: if you want to speak about New Atheism (and you do speak about new atheism and conflate it with atheism), then you kind of have to follow your own advice if you think it’s good advice, n’est pas?

        We are in full agreement that the historical Jesus is a matter for historians and their expertise. My point was about what many New Atheists have to say about Jesus as some god is equivalent to what nay theist has to say about the topic. Dawkins and Coyne are fully justified as anyone else to talk about this. And they do.

        The Courtier’s Reply exemplifies the typical problem erected by sophisticated faitheists when faced with effective criticism with a never ending request to read more of this and that and the other work before deigning to respond to fundamental criticisms that require none of this reading material to appreciate.

        Coyne in particular has taken an extensive reading list put together by an elderly ex priest and slowly worked his way through it year by year, which is exactly what you seem to be suggesting more atheists need to do. Yet you seem to me to be presuming that because he is a New Atheist he hasn’t done this sludge work (that’s my sophisticated conclusion after my own immersion in this essential body of work). He has done what you suggested (and continues to stay abreast of works declared by faitheists to be essential reading for atheists) and so – if I follow your line of reasoning correctly – his opinion should be worth reading!

        But I suspect you dismiss him not for his lack of reading the right material (the right works on the various but essential fashion details of the Emperor’s new clothes) but because you don’t like his conclusions (yup, the Emperor is still naked). I also suspect his contrary opinions are more solidly grounded by tally of read works – a tally that you presume better informs faith-based belief – than those held by the vast majority of believers whose opinions you do not equivalently and summarily dismiss by this tally method.

      • apologianick Says:

        Tilde: You seemed to have missed my irony: if you want to speak about New Atheism (and you do speak about new atheism and conflate it with atheism), then you kind of have to follow your own advice if you think it’s good advice, n’est pas?

        Reply: Except you’re incorrect again. I don’t conflate the two. That’s why I recommended reading the works of the old atheism. They’re far more informed than the works of the new atheism. Since a distinction was made, there is no conflation between the two. The new atheism does not equal atheism. Of course, that won’t faze you since it makes your straw man irrelevant.

        Tilde: We are in full agreement that the historical Jesus is a matter for historians and their expertise. My point was about what many New Atheists have to say about Jesus as some god is equivalent to what nay theist has to say about the topic. Dawkins and Coyne are fully justified as anyone else to talk about this. And they do.

        REply: No they’re not. To talk about theology one does need to study theology just like one needs to study science to talk about science, metaphysics to talk about metaphysics, ethics to talk about ethics, etc.

        Tilde: The Courtier’s Reply exemplifies the typical problem erected by sophisticated faitheists

        REply: Yeah. This is cute. Okay. What is your definition of faith and can you give some lexical evidence that this is the way the Biblical writers viewed faith?

        Tilde: when faced with effective criticism with a never ending request to read more of this and that and the other work before deigning to respond to fundamental criticisms that require none of this reading material to appreciate.

        REply: Actually, no. For one thing, we do recommend books often for fuller study, but we provide our own arguments as well and the books are there for further relevance, but the works are just as scholarly in their own field.

        Tilde: Coyne in particular has taken an extensive reading list put together by an elderly ex priest

        Reply: Right. Do I have any reason why I should take Eric MacDonald as a serious authority? Why an ex priest? Why not a current priest? Coyne can only get authorities from people he agrees with? When I’ve been debating with an atheist and they’ve recommended a book, I’ve gone straight to Amazon or the local library to see if I can get it now.

        Tilde: and slowly worked his way through it year by year, which is exactly what you seem to be suggesting more atheists need to do.

        REply: Okay. Let’s have some fun. Tell me the books that were on this reading list.

        Tilde: Yet you seem to me to be presuming that because he is a New Atheist he hasn’t done this sludge work (that’s my sophisticated conclusion after my own immersion in this essential body of work).

        Reply: No. I don’t assume. I base it on what I’ve read of what he’s written. Peter Boghossian referred to him repeatedly on his facebook page and his arguments were atrocious. The last blog I read of his, he was practically going ballistic because something was found that was a historical connection to the Gospels and he couldn’t handle it. The one thread we were in on Boghossian’s page where Jerry Coyne was there, he lasted one post and never came back.

        Tilde: He has done what you suggested (and continues to stay abreast of works declared by faitheists to be essential reading for atheists) and so – if I follow your line of reasoning correctly – his opinion should be worth reading!

        Reply: I’ll believe it when I see some evidence that he’s actually read and not only read, but understood. The medievals had a condition for an argument. You could not refute an argument until you repeated back to your opponent in his own words what his argument was to his satisfaction. Coyne has regularly been taken apart by people like Edward Feser and with good reason.

        Tilde: But I suspect you dismiss him not for his lack of reading the right material (the right works on the various but essential fashion details of the Emperor’s new clothes) but because you don’t like his conclusions (yup, the Emperor is still naked).

        Reply: No. I disacknowledge him because of his lack of serious argumentation. I disagree with his conclusion but I have a lot of respect for atheists who I do know have done their homework and really do interact. Coyne is not one of these. Go read people like Oppy or Flew before his coming to theism or J.L. Mackie. These people put forward serious arguments to be engaged and they engaged with theistic arguments on a serious level.

        Tilde: I also suspect his contrary opinions are more solidly grounded by tally of read works – a tally that you presume better informs faith-based belief – than those held by the vast majority of believers whose opinions you do not equivalently and summarily dismiss by this tally method.

        REply: Well you’d need to show evidence of this. For now, all you’re saying is theology isn’t a real area of study, but you’ve given no evidence of this other than your atheistic presuppositionalism.

        And besides that, your psychoanalysis here just doesn’t work. I have in fact several times said I have more respect for an informed atheist than an uninformed Christian. Unfortunately, there are too few of the former that I meet and too many of the latter that I meet.

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