How do you know what you know? Can you trust your senses? Christian apologists have been throwing atheists off guard with these questions of epistemology. If you’re not familiar with these philosophical arguments you will likely not be in a position to respond effectively. Argumentation is a skill that can be used to promote truth or deceit. Having truth on your side will serve no value if you are unable to articulate your position in simple terms.
How do we know what we know? Where do we begin? Descartes took that question to the very limits. How do we know that we even exist? His famous answer was “I think therefore I am.” That’s a good place to start. Going from there, what we know is dependent on the question. There are various methods we use to determine truth. When dealing with math we use mathematics. When dealing with questions such as the true meaning of justice, we use the Socratic Method. When dealing with workings of the natural world, we use the scientific method. The Five W’s is a technique for finding truth in criminal investigations. We use common sense and experience. We use education and research. On the question of how we know what we know, what are the specifics?
It’s important to understand that theologians try to use ambiguity as their weapon. When something is vague it’s harder to disprove. This is why horoscopes are written so they could mean any number of possibilities. For example, a stranger will be kind to you today. While in your car another driver lets you in their lane. That must be what the horoscope meant! If someone looks hard enough for a connection they will likely find one. The way to beat a religious apologist is to get specific. Remove the smoke and get to the heart of their argument. Don’t chase after the distractions, take out the foundation.
How do you get specific? Through the art of cross examination. Wisdom begins with a proper definition of terms. What is the definition of god and what is the definition of proof? How did the universe begin? If you don’t know, how can you say for certain that it wasn’t god? If god is some kind of greater intelligence currently beyond our senses and philosophies, we can’t prove this entity didn’t create the universe just as we can’t prove a spontaneous quantum fluctuation wasn’t the cause. But how far are we willing to take the definition of proof when certain claims are far more detailed and abnormal?
Are we to imply that anything humanly imaginable is to be awarded some kind of probability number? If nothing is disprovable and anything goes, then perhaps it was Russell’s teapot which has since evolved into the Flying Spaghetti Monster that served as first cause. But if we are to be more pragmatic regarding the definition of proof then anything doesn’t go and we can reasonably rule out unsupported and outlandish claims.
When a Christian apologist is arguing for god, it is not simply some kind of greater intelligence; it is specifically the god of Abraham which is directly tied to Biblical text. This is the heart of the argument where the bullseye belongs. Once a god is tied to disprovable religious scripture, that god becomes mortal. How do we know god doesn’t exist? Which god? The god that creates lightning when he’s pissed off? We know that god doesn’t exist because lightning has natural causes. We can prove that a ruler of the sky throwing down lightning bolts does not exist. How can we say that gods cannot be disproved when there are graveyards chucked full of them?
The heart of the Christian apologist argument is the Bible which is so completely flawed philosophically, morally and scientifically that choosing which weapon to demolish it with can be challenging. Do you believe that Jesus cast out demons into pigs? Do you believe that god had bears kill 42 children for calling a man baldhead? Do you believe a rapist should be allowed to marry his victim against her will if he simply pays the father 50 shekels of silver? Do you believe that god made the first man out of clay? If you believe in evolution, in what part of hominid development did the soul come to be? When did god begin to care? Did Neanderthals have miracles?
Asking specific questions about the most absurd or insane passages from the Bible puts the theologian on the defense with no intelligent way to answer. It’s really not the atheists’ responsibility to disprove god as they are not the ones making an extraordinary claim without extraordinary evidence, but silence on the issue is perceived as a sign of weakness. For the argument of god’s existence, it’s one thing to claim that some kind of greater intelligence created the universe. It’s quite another to say that it was a greater intelligence with 2 arms, 2 legs and a penis who doesn’t want us to eat shrimp. Forcing specifics reveals the madness. A theologian’s worst nightmare is an atheist who knows the Bible.
James Kirk Wall
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