Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
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16-05-2012, 05:42 AM (This post was last modified: 16-05-2012 11:48 AM by Zephony.)
Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
Recently, I was re-watching QualiaSoup's The burden of proof video when at one point several common arguments for god appeared on the screen and I realized I didn't know a single one off the top of my head. In order to better educate myself and others who may not know them as well, I'll try to explain some of the common debate arguments and how each is countered. Please add any arguments you feel us under-informed people should know about.

Ontological Argument
Ontology - The branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such.

One of, if not, the first ontological arguments came from Anselm of Canterbury. He defined God as the greatest possible being we can conceive and argued that this being could exist in the mind. He suggested that, if the greatest possible being exists in the mind, it must also exist in reality. If it only exists in the mind, a greater being is possible - one which exists in the mind and in reality. In more layman terms, God is a perfect being. A perfect being must have all perfections. Existence is a perfection. Therefore, God must have existence. God must exist. To deny this is self-contradictory.

This was first refuted by Gaunilo of Marmoutiers using The Perfect Island argument. If we were to name this perfect island Serenity, and simply inject Serenity in place of God and replace being with island, we'd come to the conclusion that Serenity must exist, which it doesn't. It's a false conclusion and therefore Anselm's reasoning is flawed.

Argument from Beauty
Coming from the writings of St Augustine, beauty is something that transcends its physical manifestations. Since it transcends the physical and natural world, it must come from the supernatural, God's realm. Thus, beauty comes from the supernatural, God is supernatural, God must exist.

There's the saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." If beauty was created by God, wouldn't it be universal? Not everyone finds the same things to be beautiful, and beauty is constantly redefined by each generation (models for example). If every beautiful thing is not considered beautiful by everyone, it couldn't have come from God.

Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG)
Transcendental arguments start from some accepted aspect of experience, and then deduces what must be true for that experience to be possible.

In the case of TAG, we start with logic, reason, and knowledge. It's argued that our logic is inherently circular (we use logic to create a hypothesis and then (dis)prove that hypothesis with logic). Therefore, we must conclude God is the source of our logic in order to avoid an infinite regress.

An infinite regress in a series of propositions arises if the truth of proposition P1 requires the support of proposition P2, the truth of proposition P2 requires the support of proposition P3, ... , and the truth of proposition Pn-1 requires the support of proposition Pn and n approaches infinity.

The main response to TAG revolves around the premise: "without a god, knowledge cannot exist." If the premise is indeed accepted, it can lead to the conclusion a god does exist, but the argument provides no demonstrated necessity to accept this premise. A transcendental argument for the non-existence of God has been put forward that uses the same unsubstantiated premise that "the existence of knowledge presupposes the non-existence of God."

Argument from Complexity
This is also known as irreducible complexity (IC), which was first coined by Michael Behe. It is used by supporters of intelligent design. If something is IC it must have a creator, and that creator being God. IC posits that certain biological systems are too complex to have evolved from natural selection. Behe defines an IC system as one "composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning."

Evolutionary biologists have shown that such systems can evolve, and that Behe's examples constitute an argument from ignorance. In the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial, Behe gave testimony on the subject of irreducible complexity. The court found that "Professor Behe's claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large."

For a specific example, Behe mentioned the flagella of bacteria, which functions as a type of motor, requiring the interaction of about 40 protein parts. He asserts that if any of these 40 parts were taken away, the flagella would be unable to function. It has been shown that the base of the flagella is similar to the Type III secretion system of pathogenic germs. This TTSS is used by germs to inject toxins into cells. the TTSS shows that the flagella is not IC.

Mind-Body Problem Argument
The mind-body problem concerns how, if at all, the mind and body interact. There are two main schools of thought on the problem.

Monists believe only one type of substance makes up existence (matter: electrons, neutrons, protons, quirks... etc) They believe there is no problem because the mind is part of the body and interacts as any other body part would.

Dualists believe that the mind and body are two completely separate things made of separate substances. The body is made of matter while the mind is made of something else. Theists believe that the mind may be in fact your soul. If one's personal soul exists, then the Bible is correct in that your soul either ascends to Heaven or descends into Hell when one dies. This then proves the existence of God.

One way to argue against this and the dualists is by stating that the soul has not been scientifically proven to exist and it may be impossible even it if did exist because the soul is said to be metaphysical. Also, if a soul does exist, it does not automatically lead to the conclusion that a God exists and created it.

Cosmological Argument
The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause to the universe. This First Cause is claimed by theists to be their God. The argument is usually stated as such:
  1. Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
  2. A causal loop cannot exist.
  3. A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
  4. Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.
A causal loop or chain is a type of causality or causation. Causality is the relationship between an event and a second event where the second is a consequence of the first.

One variation of this argument is William Lane Craig's (WLC) Kalam Cosmological Argument. It states that:
  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.
Of course WLC concludes that since the universe has a cause, it must have been God.

During the Scholastic era (1100-1500) St Thomas Aquinas created a predecessor to the cosmological argument; the Argument from Contingency. This argument builds on Aristotle's idea that "There must be something to explain why the Universe exists. Since the Universe could, under different circumstances, conceivably not exist (contingency), its existence must have a cause – not merely another contingent thing, but something that exists by necessity." In other words, even if the Universe has always existed, it still owes its existence to an Uncaused Cause,

This is by far one of the more difficult arguments to counter. I guess the best response would be that we currently don't have the answer, but that doesn't mean science won't figure it out, and just because it's currently unknown doesn't mean God did it. There was a time when we didn't understand what caused lightening, so we attributed it to Thor, Jupiter, and many other gods.

Lawrence Krauss has been publicizing the idea of "A Universe From Nothing." Basically, quantum fluctuations which pop in and out of existence account for most of the mass and energy, and yes, scientifically, something can come from nothing. A good video to help explain this idea can be seen here .

Argument from Degree
First proposed by St Thomas Aquinas, the Argument from Degree states: Objects have properties to greater or lesser extents. If an object has a property to a lesser extent, then there exists some other object that has the property to the maximum possible degree. Hence, there is an entity that has all properties to the maximum possible degree, and this entity is God.

Just because we can conceive of an object with some property in a greater degree does not mean that such an object exists. This reminds me of the Ontological Argument. We could also apply The Perfect Island to this argument. Islands have properties, therefore, a perfect island with all properties to the maximum degree must exist... but it doesn't. This again is a false conclusion based on flawed logic.

Argument from Reason
The most recent and one of the more famous proponents of this argument is Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis. In Lewis' book Miracles the third chapter deals with the self-contradiction of the Naturalist.

Naturalism is defined as the world view that takes account only of natural elements and forces, excluding the supernatural or spiritual. This is the belief that all phenomena are covered by laws of science and that all the teleological explanation are therefore without value.

In its simplest form, this argument boils down to that without God, there could be no reason. We make inferences from observed facts, and we reason that our inferences are correct and sound. If reason is not absolute then reason is not reasonably logical, and all of our facts are no longer dependable nor true. So, reason must be absolute, and it must have come from God.

The best way I found to counter this is with a simple counter-example. This argument is implying that all false beliefs are formed causally, based on reason. This however is what some call a Possibility Fallacy, that is assuming that having no explanation is equivalent to not being able to have one. Simply because it just so happens that all false beliefs are formed causally, it does not follow that all causally formed beliefs are false. it's like saying "lunch meat is often baloney, therefore all lunch meat is baloney."

Anthropic Argument
The basis of this argument is the Anthropic Principle. This is the philosophical consideration that observations of the physical Universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it. In other words, the Universe is Fine-Tuned for the existence of life.

Two types of this principle are the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP) and the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP). SAP argues that the Universe is "compelled" or driven to eventually create life, that possibly a higher being or God is compelling or driving the Universe. WAP brings in the Multiverse theory, that there are multiple universes. Only the universes capable of supporting life will life eventually form to observe their universe, while non-life supporting universes will never be observed.

Both SAP and WAP have been dismissed as truisms or trivial tautologies, that is, statements true solely by virtue of their logical form and not because a substantive claim is made and supported by observations of reality. Such an example would be the statement "if things were different, they would be different." If WAP is right and there are multiple universes, each being different from one another, it doesn't being to describe how they would be different. I believe there have been advances in research into the makeup of different universes via super computers, but that's for another thread.

A critical term was brought up in the first paragraph, Fine Tuning. Many theists cite how the universe is so finely tuned such that if one of any innumerable constants were changed, life would not be possible. I've seen/heard them talk about the gravitational constant, the mass of a proton, and several others, but I know of two big problems with this form of argument. First off, as mentioned above, this is a truism. Yes, if the mass of a proton were different, things would be different, but we have no easy way of showing how they would be different. It's possible in one universe where the mass was different there'd be no life, but also possible in another universe with the same different mass life would still exist, albeit in a different form than we know it. Second, the Universe itself isn't very fine tuned for life. The visible matter we see only makes up a small portion of the universe. Deadly gamma radiation all throughout the cosmos. The large, vast distances between planets, stars, galaxies. The size of the Universe itself. God needed to create something so large just so we could be born and occupy one planet out of the countless others?

Moral Argument
While there are many variations of this argument, they all follow the basic outline:
  1. Either moral objectivity exists or there must be a moral order in the universe
  2. God is the best explanation for this
  3. Therefore, God exists.
The problem with this is that not everyone finds the same actions or in-actions to be moral or immoral. Some cultures still find it morally just to chop the hands off a thief while others find this to be immoral. Some find homosexuality to be immoral based on their religious beliefs while others with similar or completely different beliefs find nothing wrong with it.

One scenario I find fascinating is The Trolley Problem. This states: You see a trolley flying down the track and is about to run over five people. There's a switch that can be thrown to divert the trolley, but instead of killing the five people, it'll kill one person. Would you throw the switch to kill the one person and save the five? An overwhelming majority of people say that yes they would. A variation of this is The Fat Man: You're standing on a bridge and see a trolley flying down the track and is about to run over five people. A large enough mass would stop the train and save the five people. A very fat person happens to be standing near by. Would you push this fat person onto the tracks and kill him to stop the trolley in order to save the five? Nearly all who answered yes to the original problem answered no to this variation. But what's the difference? Isn't the outcome still the same? Sacrifice one to save five? It's still a "net gain" of four lives.

Well... for those of you who read that entire wall of text, congratulations and thank you. It took me many hours in many days to look up, research, and read all of this information. I know this might have been better as a blog post or something of the sort, but I don't have a blog, and I honestly wasn't excepting it to be this long. As I said in the beginning, please add any of your own common arguments that you hear in your debates.. Also, please correct me on any part of any argument you believe I explained wrong, or could have done better on.

"The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace." -- Carlos Santana
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16-05-2012, 06:24 AM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
Gotta love how they take it on faith. Nice work, Zeph. Thumbsup

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16-05-2012, 07:55 AM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
Thanks so much for putting this up.

I think it's fair to say that this list is as good as it gets as far as "evidence" the apologists offer to justify their beliefs. There are some arguments that are specific to Christianity, such as the trilemma or the suffering martyrs (a.k.a. "would they die for a lie?"), but what they all universally have in common is that they're all attempts at logical arguments. There's never any hard evidence or demonstrations, the likes of which one reads about in the Bible whenever a character in it expresses doubts.

What's so interesting to me about a list like this is what it does not and can not include, much to the chagrin of the apologists:
  • Apologists have no storehouse of magical artifacts, like Paul's handkerchief that could heal the sick (see Acts ).
  • They are unable to work any Holy Spirit powers to cast out demons or speak in foreign languages (see Mark 16 ). Unfortunately, some Christians in my state have tried to put Mark 16:18 into practice and have died from it (handling snakes is now illegal in my state because it was such a problem).
  • Angels or Yahweh don't seem to come down to earth and speak to people like they apparently used to according to the Bible (too many examples to mention, but here's a famous one ). Atheists and other skeptics can safely express doubts about things like whether or not Moses was a prophet without being smote (see this example ).
All of the above bullet points contain compelling evidence or demonstrations that would meet the burden of proof. All of them have Biblical justification of what we should expect to see if the Bible represented how the universe actually operates. All of them are examples of what we would experience if we were characters in the Bible expressing the same doubts that we do in real life. Apologists can't supply any such proofs.

To underscore why this is such a problem for them, try to imagine re-working a scene from a different work of fiction: Star Wars. Everyone on this forum probably remembers the scene when the skeptical admiral scoffs at Darth Vader's religious beliefs. Darth Vader then accepted the burden of proof and provided a compelling, if violent, demonstration. What he did couldn't be mistaken for natural occurrence or coincidence. If such a thing happened in real life, no atheist would remain unconvinced.

Now try to imagine that instead Darth Vader responded with "Well, you know the ontological thing-and-a-thing with the teleological blah blah blah transcendental yatta yatta with the (latin phrases thrown in for good measure here) and..." I'm sure someone could polish up that hypothetical script re-write but it wouldn't be any more convincing to a skeptical imperial admiral, certainly not in comparison to the original version.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying logical arguments (or attempts at logical arguments in the case of the list above) can't be used as proof of something but if the Bible was true and reflected the nature of the universe, we should expect to see much more tangible demonstrations and evidence.

"An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral and the advance of (humanity's) knowledge over time is a greater miracle than all the sticks turning to snakes and the parting of the waters."
-Henry Drummond, "Inherit the Wind"
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16-05-2012, 08:19 AM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
I read every word and loved it!

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a
free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their
political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their
own purpose. ~ Thomas Jefferson
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16-05-2012, 10:58 AM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
Thumbsup Nice job putting these all in once place, Zeph. A great reference tool for us all. Thumbsup

It was just a fucking apple man, we're sorry okay? Please stop the madness Laugh out load
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08-06-2012, 07:37 PM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
Excellent supply of information. I wasn't aware of the "official" nomenclature for many of these arguments and this is also more in depth than the average Christian understands, so this is good to have in your back pocket. Thanks.

And yet another interesting topic I am not interested in.
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11-06-2012, 01:29 AM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
Several days of research? I just tell Theists they are idiots and drop the subject.

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12-06-2012, 03:16 PM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
I think you would very much enjoy
He talks about his deconversion, and addresses many arguments, some mentioned, some not.

By the way, I read every word, thank you for your research!

There are a couple of hypotheses that counter the cosmological argument. There is some versions of the big bang that include the creation of time, and then I've even heard one that includes that once matter gets too far from itself it's properties reverse, and the same thing occurs when it becomes too compact. These are of course only hypothesis at this stage, but there isn't just no answer, the beauty of science is that it doesn't just give an answer and call it good, it gives an answer and says "maybe" and then tests it out.
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19-06-2012, 01:04 AM
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
Wow! Thanks for putting that together! I'm certainly going to use this!

She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing. So I didn't think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together. - Huck Finn.
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20-06-2012, 07:18 PM (This post was last modified: 21-06-2012 07:08 PM by fstratzero.)
RE: Commonly Used Debate Arguments for Dummies
The Kalam Cosmological Argument argument is just an argument from ignorance coupled with hasty generalization.

(basically I don't know how the universe came to being, but I know everything has a cause, it's therefore god)

I'm sure WLC knows this, but he is a smart man and knows the apologist business is lucrative. I suspect he loves money, attention, and the reassurance from his fans that his reasoning is sound.

Also WLC uses something called the BVG paper aka "The Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin's Past-Finite Universe theorem", as a proof. They will often post this as scientific evidence. To try and get an atheist to see that there is truth to their claim.

So lets shed some light on it.

I also checked with Caltech cosmologist
Sean Carroll, whose recent book From Eternity to Here provides an
excellent discussion of many of the problems associated with early
universe cosmology. Here was his response:

'I think my answer
would be fairly concise: no result derived on the basis of classical
spacetime can be used to derive anything truly fundamental, since
classical general relativity isn't right. You need to quantize gravity.
The BGV [Borde, Guth, Vilenkin] singularity theorem is certainly
interesting and important, because it helps us understand where
classical GR breaks down, but it doesn't help us decide what to do when
it breaks down. Surely there's no need to throw up our hands and declare
that this puzzle can't be resolved within a materialist framework.
Invoking God to fill this particular gap is just as premature and
unwarranted as all the other gaps.'

(Stenger, Victor J. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is not Designed for Us. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2011. pp. 127-30)

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The atheist is a man who destroys the imaginary things which afflict the human race, and so leads men back to nature, to experience and to reason.
-Baron d'Holbach-
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