In an article on Huffington Post (naturally) entitled How to Debate a Christian Apologist, atheist Victor Stenger explains why non-Christians usually do so badly in debates with Christians and then offers a cheat sheet of brief answers to Christian apologetic arguments. The reason why the Christians do so well, according to Stenger, is that they have had years to polish their arguments in their religion classes and churches. The atheists, apparently, don’t have comparable opportunities. This will come as a surprise to Christian students throughout the Western world who have sat under atheists and other skeptical professors routinely spouting off against Christianity even if it entails ignoring the subject matter of the course.
Stenger asserts that Christian debaters use the same tired old arguments even though they have already been soundly refuted (by all those atheists who get tongue-tied in debates, apparently). Rarely do Christian apologists have a new argument, presumably in contrast to atheists who are churning out a new argument against Christianity every week but don’t know what to say when actually talking to a Christian.
Another reason why atheists don’t do well in debates, according to Stenger, is that debates are really about making impressions and not about the substance of what the debaters actually say. In particular, the Christian apologists always seem to have something clever-sounding to say in response to the atheists, whereas the atheists just aren’t very good at that rhetorical game. That’s apparently because they’re too busy in the lab.
To help out the hapless skeptics who venture into debates with wily Christian apologists, Stenger offers some snappy responses to 30 Christian apologetic arguments. He suggests they memorize these comebacks or have them available as notes when they debate. This might work except for something Stenger apparently did not consider: those rascally Christian apologists will read his article and come up with unscientific yet plausible-sounding soundbites to answer the skeptical soundbites. And since the skeptics don’t have the luxury of actually working through the subject matter sufficiently to be able to offer responses on their feet, the Christian apologists will win again.
There is probably little need to refute all of the arguments on Stenger’s cheat sheet here. In most cases, if a Christian apologist uses the argument Stenger tries to rebut, the apologist already knows quite a bit about the subject matter underlying the argument and can easily show that Stenger’s soundbite does not overturn the apologetic argument. Besides, we apologists don’t need to make it easy for Stenger’s debate disciples to know how we would answer all of his arguments. Let them read books like we do. But a few examples will illustrate the point that Stenger’s stingers have no sting.
“Only 7 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, the elite of American science, believe in a personal God.”
Assuming that’s true, how does one get into the NAS? Here’s what the National Academy of Sciences website says: “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.” In other words, it’s an exclusive club that decides who may even be considered for membership. According to a 2010 article in Scientific American, about 18,000 American citizens earn PhDs in the sciences or engineering every year. There are only about 2,200 members in the NAS, and no more than 84 new members are inducted each year. Even the geniuses in the NAS can figure out that its membership does not represent an adequately representative sampling of well-trained scientists.
“Of course Galileo and Newton were Christians. Their only other choice was to be burned at the stake. Atheism did not appear openly until the French Enlightenment a century later.”
The implication that Galileo and Newton would have abandoned Christianity in a heartbeat if they had not been afraid of being burned at the stake is as ridiculous as it is insulting. Galileo was a devout Catholic who argued that both science and theology had their rightful places. Newton actually wrote much more about religious subjects than he did science. If Newton had any reservations about Christianity, he could have simply left it alone. Instead, he wrote voluminously and passionately about the Bible and theology. Furthermore, Newton’s papers show that he was unorthodox in some of his theological views, yet he was still sincerely devoted to the Christian religion as he understood it.
“Amino acids were produced spontaneously out of simple ingredients the lab in 1953 by graduate student Stanley Miller after running his experiment for only a week.”
Which proves that intelligence is not needed to make life. Right.
“In fact, an all-powerful, all-knowing, absolutely good God is logically inconsistent with all the pain and suffering in the world. This is the best reason of all for nonbelief.”
Golly, we never heard that one before.
Even the renowned atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie, who had defended the above deductive objection to God’s existence, later admitted that Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga had refuted the objection. “Since this defence is formally possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another” (J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982], 145). Mackie attempted to refine the argument, and theists have responded, but as Stenger states it the argument has been all but abandoned by philosophers.
“Socrates proposed what is called the Euthyphro dilemma: Either (a) God wills us to do what is good because certain acts are good, or (b) an act is good only because God wills it.”
This would be one of those new arguments that atheists keep formulating while Christian apologists are stuck with those tired old claims from ancient authors…oh wait.
“There is absolutely no evidence that the Jesus of the gospels even existed. He is only mentioned in the New Testament, which was written long after his death by people who did not know him.”
Someone once warned, “If you are a non-expert on any subject, you should not say anything about it beyond your competence. Your opponent may call you out on it. I have seen that happen.”
That was Victor Stenger—earlier in the very same article.
By the way, if you don’t know how to answer the above claims about Jesus, you are not yet an Apolo-Jedi. Complete your training you must, before you face Victor.