Archived blog post

How to win an argument

Posted by Ben on Tuesday, December 05, 2006 | Permalink

If your annoyance levees are feeling solid and secure, then take a stroll over here and witness Sam Harris endure the email equivalent of closing his eyes and running at a wall. If you've debated religious bods of any stripe for any amount of time, you'll recognise plenty of the usual arguments from Prager, stuff that many of the fundie clots that roll up here have deployed in the past.

Is it really reason and common sense that lead atheists to their certitude that everything, all existence, came about by sheer chance?
Atheist certainty and religious certainty are both faith claims that transcend reason and common sense.
When I look at the unjust world God created, I have questions, sometimes even doubts. But not atheists like you, Sam. No, they look at love and consciousness, at the grandeur of the universe, at the birth of a child, and they hear Bach's music and conclude that all of this and everything else just came about by itself.
The atheist says he knows, despite the fact that what he "knows" is unprovable. The believer believes because he knows that what he believes is ultimately unprovable.
If I and all other believers in God are to be lumped with Muslims who believe that slaughtering innocents gets you sex in heaven, then you must be lumped with Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung and all the other atheists who butchered more innocents than all the religious crackpots in history.
Do you not know about people such as Francis Collins?...Is Francis Collins irrational, lacking in common sense, unaware of evidence, and intellectually dishonest? Would you like to debate Francis Collins about God based on the scientific evidence and common sense? I doubt it.

That's only in the first email! Man alive, I felt myself want to reach across the internets and slap him silly just copying that stuff over. He carries on with the Francis Collins stuff later after Harris says he'd be happy to debate him (had, indeed, invited Collins to do that very thing) and Prager's response is 100% not-nearly-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he-is snark:

I may have erred in assuming that you, like myself and nearly all other mortals, could not match Dr. Francis Collins 'the head of the human genome project' in his knowledge of human genetics. So if, as a graduate student in neuroscience, you have already approached Collins' level of expertise, I salute you and exclude you from the vast majority of atheists or theists who could not debate him about the science that leads him to belief in God.

And this is supposed to be a serious debate. Me, I reckon it's a deliberate tactic - it's not even remotely approaching a genuine attempt to grapple with the arguments, just a series of cheap shots and logical fallacies that appeal to his audience and not much else. And that's how they win arguments - via the playground tactic of getting the other guy to give up in disgust.

Comments [ hide comments ]
I felt just about as you did while I was reading Prager's specious "arguments". He shouldn't've been in the same room with Mr. Harris. Thanks for expressing your take on his usual apologetic duplicity. I think apologetics are not intended to win any debates, but are merely tools with which to allow the flock to believe they've got rational reasons to keep believing.
Unbeliever, 09.12.2006, 11:56pm #
Excuse me. Although I don't agree with the views on religion from this website, I remember visiting this thing some time ago. If I remember correctly, there was this guy, the webmaster -Jeff I think was the name-, who once declared (redifining the role of the website): "Religion might be bullshit, but the love of Jesus is for real" or something like that. I thought it was some sort of joke (it rised a ruckus), but he seemed very convinced and kept insisting. Well, was it for real? Does somebody know about that Jeff ("Will the real Jeff please stand up?")? This is not the same website I see.
Schiz Cum Snake, 13.12.2006, 5:37am #
That was Jeff over at, he used to own
Ben, 13.12.2006, 1:24pm #
I read the email series and I have to say, I'm not even sure if the two men were even having the same conversation.

Prager's arguments tended to sound like angry childish ranting, rather than coherent statements of fact. And I'm not sure which version of the bible he's reading but judeo-christianity had absolutely nothing to do with the development of women's rights, it actually states in many places that women are inferior to men.
theAntiBush, 16.12.2006, 10:00pm #
Here you go again making false statements that you don't attempt to back up. Indulge me by listing just one of the "many places" in the bible that states that women are inferior to men.
John, 02.01.2007, 2:51pm #
That would depend if you are asking about OT or NT, as well as scriptual or cultural interpretations.

For example:
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." (Ephesians 5:22)

Some cultural interpretations could use that to say women are to be submissive to the husbands. Yet others could point out that the previous verse puts this passage into a very different context. It's a nasty habit Christians have of making the Bible say what they want it to say.

Besides Muslims, there are many Christian denominations who would swear by the in-equality of the sexes, especially historically, such as Calvanists-Puritans, Mormans, the ten or so Quakers that are left, Shakers, Amish and other Menonites, even some Baptists, Catholics and the like also adhere to the "submissive woman" doctrine.

It is not like he is throwing something new out there. Historically Christians have shown their chauvanistic, racial, superstitious side again and again and have gone so far as to murder any woman who showed the least bit of independent thought. It doesn't matter if the Bible says "women are inferior" in those exact words or not. What matters is the practices of it's followers in how they interperet the various "submissive" passages in the Bible.
JGJ, 14.01.2007, 7:46am #

Please don't give me what many Christian denominations "would swear by" without backing it up with a doctrinal statement. And the statement you made that historically Christians are chauvanistic is a statement made against certain people not against what the bible teaches. Anyone who acts in a chauvanistic or racial matter is not following in Christ's steps as they do so.

That verse that states women should be submissive is speaking of spirit guided relationships. Being submissive on spiritual issues does not even come close to inferiority and in no way implies it.
John, 16.01.2007, 2:03pm #
"Atheist certainty and religious certainty are both faith claims that transcend reason and common sense."

Ok atheist - really, overcome this argument. I have supported arguments like this one in the past from an agnostic standpoint. And I've found that in response atheists are unable to seperate "faith" "religion" "bible" and "church" in their response. In fact I find that most atheists attack "church" and "bible" no matter what you ask them.

Prove me wrong.
Stephen Harrington - Agnostic, 17.01.2007, 6:17pm #
You know it is easy to just shirk off anything you believe in that contradicts what other Christians have believed as "non-Christian." If you can blow off a single belief of a fellow Christian and say they are not Christian, then you can blow them all off.
The word "Christian" then has no meaning whatsoever. If Christian has no meaning, than Christ has no meaning, then neither does God. Atheists believe in the individual Atheist and not as Atheists as a whole. We do not have a dogma or set of beliefs that we all adhere to, and for that matter, neither do Christians. "A house divided cannot stand" and the Christian churches are all divided on various aspects of their belief. The evolution of Christian beliefs is one of my favorite topics to read about, from Arianism to modern day issues.

The thing I have noticed the most about Christians is how they judge other Christians as harshly as they do atheists, saying that they are not true Christians. But there is no defining Christian, except by saying that they follow Jesus in a round-about manner. All other dogma and rituals are as varied as the individual. It is no wonder, to me at least, that the number of Christians in America are dwindling, slowly but surely, since they cannot agree on simple truths. The day of the Sabbath, the ordination of priests and women as priests, women should only wear skirts and no pants, women should be submissive to their husbands or have equal status, glossalia, handling snakes, the Trinity, the name of God, the aspects and powers of God, sin, hell, purgatory, and now the rights of gays are just a few of the many differences that divide denomination from denomination. When you speak to a group of Christians from various denominations it is like speaking to someone with multiple personality disorder. If a people are that divided over what they would normally consider a single religion then it should not be considered a single religion-whatsoever. From denomination to denomination, Christianity is about as varied as Islam is from Judaism.

Here is a few quotes for you, some historical, some modern.

As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power...." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica,Q92, art. 1, Reply Obj. 1

"And a man will choose...any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman...Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" Ecclesiasticus, 25:18, 19 & 33.

"And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her." Ecclesiastes 7:26, from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)

"What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman......I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children." St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274 CE):

"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence."

Martin Luther (1483 to 1546):

"If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that's why they are there."

Reformation Fellowship of the East Valley, Mesa, AZ (circa 1995)

"In the beginning God made man male and female. He made Adam first, and then made Eve from Adam's rib. This order of creation subordinates wives to their husbands in marriage, and women to men in the church. As an act of submission to their Creator women are commanded to submit to their husbands and to male leadership in the church. Women are not allowed to teach or have authority over men in any formal capacity in the church."

The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (1997)

"...God, by creating Adam first (Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:8) and also by creating woman for man (Gen. 2:18,20,22; 1 Cor. 11:9), has set the gender-based role and responsibility of males in the most basic unit of society (the family) to be that of leader, provider and self-sacrificial protector (also cf. Eph. 5:25; 1 Peter 3:7), and likewise has set the gender-based role and responsibility of females to be that of help and nurture (Gen. 2:18) and life-giving (Gen. 3:20) under male leadership and protection (cf. 1 Peter 3:7)..."

Randall Terry, head of Operation Rescue

"...make dads the godly leaders [of the family] with the women in submission, raising kids for the glory of God."
JGJ, 17.01.2007, 8:59pm #

I in no way said that people that make these comments aren't Christians. I said they are not walking in Christ's steps. Which is what Christians are called to do. Obviously this is a process where there are many failures in EVERY Christian. That is why Salvation is necessary.

I'd also like to point out that Ecclesiasticus is not canonized scripture.
John, 18.01.2007, 3:04pm #
I love how Christ followers can duck behind the "not my denomination" shield.

I suggest that if your going to argue beliefs on behalf of Christ follwers you should state your religious beliefs, denomination, or whatnot. Otherwise I could be arguing against Baptist beliefs with a Jehova Witness.
JGJ, 20.01.2007, 10:30pm #
I've heard those exact same comments coming from a Nintendo Fanboy on the official Nsider Forums. A debate erupted when someone said they wanted a Jesus videogame, and some people's arguments were no worse than the ones you've shown me... Kind of funny actually..
Comment, 27.01.2007, 6:34am #

I am not saying "not my denomination", I'm not even saying not me. What am I saying is not Jesus. Your arguments are weak because you using quotes from individual human believers that are prone to sin and human nature. Its silly when I read a post about a Christian who falls into sin and people like you and the author of this site point it out like it has anything to do with what Christianity is about. As far as my beliefs, I won't list them all out but they are close to those of the conservative baptist church. Outside of their beliefs against alcohol and their beliefs on an eternal hell.
John, 30.01.2007, 2:21pm #
Belief is fine, imposition is regressive and conforming to heirarchy personallity is existance defiance.

There is no what if "creation" exists, before creation can exist, nothing has to exist.

Everything you percieve is a positive of an analog infinite nothing: you percieve positive, and the effects of negative.

Every proven theory of math and the sciences proves that super objective is equilibrium, the more live intervenes the further away equilbrium is.

It is just fact.

Study any fortified math or science.

The meaning of "free-will" life is to find a meaning of life, to justify all that is perceived. Equilibrium.

Relgion is the imaginary friend syndrome, an imaginary friend origianally born of trying to legitimise creation, Why does it rain? It must be God. Why does it grow? It must be God.

The reality is, when you neuroelectrics shutdown, you are dead. You only exist reflectivly by what you did for others. If that isn't enough, then you have a counter progressive philosophy for life.

We have the most positive potential as a specie on this planet to enjoy the accidents and achievements of nature.

It is reality, but if you persist to need a something to hold on to, nature is God, the universe in its entirity is God, ever expanding, ever changing, ever trying to equilise.

You are the only eyes with free will that nature has.

Get a grip, it's reality, it's progress. It's fact.
ourben, 02.02.2007, 1:42pm #
But you are separating yourself from other Christians, protesting/protestant if you will.

Christianity is the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man trying to pull others into their own 'idea' of what Christianity is. That alone makes it suspect and the shear number of differing beliefs makes it difficult to take seriously.

Back to the original topic. 1 Corinthians 14:34 is enough to give women a less than equal role.
JGJ, 04.02.2007, 2:40am #
Catholicism is the only Christian Faith . They are lead in worship By the Pope who was given the Keys to Heaven From Jesus . Through Apostolic sscecusion From Peter the First Pope they worship Jesus, And thru The Holy Tradition Of the Saints formed the Biblical doctrines, Such as the Trinity, Sunday service, Easter, And Christmas teach Grace alone for salvation, Did not remove books From the Bible but preserved the writings of the Jewish Old testament which the protestants threw out , Catholics want to worship Jesus with all 5 of their senses .Music for the ears,Incense for the nose,Statues and art for the eyes,Please pray a sincere prayer with all of your heart admitting to Jesus you are a sinner. Have full faith that His blood pays off all of your sins and accept His gift of everlasting life. And give your confession to a Priest Jesus never said to confess your sins to either him Or to the Father pray that God blesses you with peace. AmenThe truth is that Jesus is God, and Jesus loves you so very much! Say this PrayerLord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;where there is hatred, let me sow love;where there is injury, pardon;where there is doubt, faith;where there is despair, hope;where there is darkness, light;and where there is sadness, joy.O Divine Master,grant that I may not so much seek to be consoledas to console;to be understood, as to understand;to be loved, as to love;for it is in giving that we receive,it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Daniel, 14.05.2012, 12:34pm #

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