Sunday, January 22, 2006

Bad Arguments

There are arguments and statements theists should not bother to use on atheists. A waste of time. I know that these have been displayed thousands of times before, yet I keep seeing them over and over and over. As recently as yesterday. Either someone is not listening, or someone doesn’t believe it.

Look, use arguments that would work on YOU. If you wouldn’t buy it, why should the other side? In my profession we make the statement, “Don’t sell what you can’t buy.” In a divorce situation it looks like this:

Woman: I would like the piano.
Man: The piano she wants is worth $12,000 at least. Therefore I get $12,000 worth of other stuff to compensate for it.
Woman: O.K. Tell you what. You take the piano and I will take $12,000 worth of other stuff, if you think it is worth so much.
Man: But I don’t want the piano.
Woman: May be true, but if you think it is worth $12,000; you can sell it and pocket the cash.
Man: Oh. Er. Naw. You can have the piano.

The man couldn’t “buy” what he was trying to “sell”—the value of the piano. See it all the time. If you wouldn’t buy these arguments, why should I?

Don’t knock it ‘till you try it. The old, “If you would just try Christianity, somehow, like a tornado, it will suck you in.” We understand that you believe in a God. We understand that, to you, a God is as real as the person that just left the room—even though you cannot see him or her, you know that they exist. We understand that, for you, you “experience” God in numerous different ways, from a still, small voice to a warm feeling of fuzzies on the beach.

You are convinced that if only we would do the most minimal effort, God would suck us in like a vacuum cleaner. But would this same claim work on you? There are other religions that differ from yours. I don’t care which. If you are Protestant, pick Catholic. Or Mormon. Or Muslim. If Jewish, pick Christian Science, or Scientology. If a Moonie, pick Native American Spirit. Whatever your religion, there are persons of another, competing religion that are just as convinced of the viability of their belief as you are of yours. They, too, have God experiences. They too, are firmly convinced of the existence of their God. Just as you are staunchly certain that by being right, they must be wrong, they are staunchly certain that by their being right, you must be wrong.

And this person of a competing religion comes to you and states, “If you would just try _____ (Muslim, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Mormonism, etc.) you would understand.” Are you even remotely moved to “attempt” a different religion? No, a thousand times, no! If I told you, “Why not just try atheism?” are you thinking for even an instant, “Hmmm. Maybe I will give it a whirl.” No! Why not? Because you have done your research, even if it is life experience, and come to the conclusion that where you are at is, at the least, the correct path.

Now, if YOU wouldn’t attempt a different religion, why should I buy this argument either? Yeah, yeah, I know. Because yours is “right.” See that person next to you? They believe differently. They’re “right” too. And the one next to them….and the one next to them….

Taken on its face, this argument is quite rude. It fails to give consideration to the other person’s thoughts and life experiences, and renders them as inconsequential. Do I believe the Abrahamic concept of God is incorrect? Absolutely. Will I argue against it? For certain. Do I assume the other person has no basis for their belief, and it could be easily undercut simply by “trying something new.” No way.

To my knowledge (not to say it never happened) I have never seen an atheist argue against theism with the ploy, “If you would only try atheism or agnosticism, you would see it is true.” Why not? Because we recognize that it is a matter of involuntary belief. You cannot “try” to believe something without facts.

If a person stuck a gun to your head, and said, “Believe in Santa Clause or I will kill you” you would die. You can force your brain to attempt to believe. You would say you believe. You groan and moan and sweat, doing everything you could to believe it. But you couldn’t force yourself to do so. Could you “make” your mind believe it so much, that come next Christmas, when no present magically appears, you are genuinely disappointed? Nope.

The facts get in the way. Inside your head it goes like this:

Person: Believe in Santa Clause, Believe in Santa Clause.
Brain: They have never found his castle at the North Pole.
Person: C’mon Brain, our life is on the line! Believe in Santa Clause!
Brain: There has never been a single picture, footprint, or sighting of the fellow.
Person: STOP IT! Believe in Santa Clause, Believe in Santa Clause!

And so on. It is the same with telling an atheist to just “try” it. In order to do so, we would have to believe in a god. And our brain would start to throw too many facts to allow that belief to take seed and grow.

If you want to argue the validity of those facts, go right ahead. That is a genuine, interesting debate. But to indicate we can force our mind to believe in spite of those facts is just as silly as thinking your mind could willingly believe another form of theism, before reviewing the facts.

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