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How not to react to arguments that run counter to treasured beliefs? A Case Study with 7 Strategies.

Stuart McEwing

KT, there is plenty of evidence of God’s existence. 

KT

Sure hasn’t been for me.

Stuart McEwing

KT,

These arguments seek to show, without any reliance on scripture, how a being with the description of God exists.

  • The Kalam Cosmological Argument from the beginning of the universe
  • The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument from the principle of sufficient reason
  • The Design Argument from the fine-tuning of the universe
  • The Moral Argument from the existence of objective moral values and duties
  • The Historical Argument from the miracle of Jesus’s Resurrection
  • The Ontological Argument from the idea of necessary being

If any of these argument are successful (not to mention if special revelation was authentic), they would disprove any view that claims there is no God and overturn the presumption of atheism.

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Option A: assert they are bad arguments. 

Making assertions is easy. Dogs meow as well as bark. See. Going through the effort of providing a proof is quite another thing. It’s difficult to back up your assertions with reasonable arguments and evidence, especially when your assertions are wrong. Option A is a lazy man’s strategy. There’s no follow up.  Closely related to Option A is Option B.

Option B: assert the arguments, such as they are, are not proofs. 

Even if the argument is good in that they provide some evidence or reason to accept the conclusion, then it is still not good enough. The skeptic requires a “proof.” 

Here’s one example of such a skeptic, first using option A, then using option B.

Cam
Stuart McEwing
 “If any of these arguments are successful”. The trouble is that they aren’t, unless you have faith as well.
Could there be a creator?.Yes of course there could. Can the existence of a creator be proven? No.
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Counterstrategy: Clarify your position in as plain a language as possible.

Stuart McEwing
Cam
, they are successful. [You see! Assertions are easy.] I’d challenge you to show any of the premises of any of these arguments false. [Do the intellectual work, engage your mind to the problem of evidence indicating something contrary to your belief.] Are they proofs such as you have in mathematics, which provide certainty? No. But they are evidence, such as they render the conclusion more probable than it would be without the argument.

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So your interlocutor doesn’t just roll over to your point of view when you assert something. What do you do? You can double down on Option A and B, and bolster your assertions with Option C. 

Option C: Many people agree with me. 

This is a way to make you feel like your opponent is alone or in the minority – they are the ones’ being irrational. Of course, this fallacy is known as argument ad populum, an appeal to popularity. Being informally invalid, it’s a bad argument. Here’s an example.

Cam
Stuart McEwing, Sorry, but I don’t accept that “render the conclusion more probable than without” argument. Only physical proofs (like mathematics as you mentioned) work for me. And I think you’ll find that I’m not alone. Have a nice day.

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The following is an argument against Option B. To show “proofs” are not necessary for knowledge, a range of examples of things you know without proofs is provided. You’ll see metaphysical knowledge, aesthetic knowledge, moral knowledge, and knowledge based upon reasonable inferences from past experience.

Stuart McEwing
Cameron, you have no proofs that give you the same certainty as that of mathematics for a large variety of things you know – even if you don’t know how you know them, including; the physical world exists, the physical world was not invented 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age – even the memories in your head, there are other minds, the sunset was beautiful, the open grave was macabre, abusing children for fun is wrong, it is good to give generously to charity when you’re able, I will make it to work today if I travel by car, the chair I am about to sit in will hold my weight. Etc. 

The truth is we make decisions everyday based on probabilistic arguments and experience. So why would anyone discount the idea of God for lack of a proof that gives 100% certainty?

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Here is another fellow, punting to Option A: assertions are easy. He provides another Option however, 

Option D: strawman your opponents argument.

A strawman is another name for a scarecrow, used to fool birds and scare them away from eating what is in the field. The idea is to characterise your opponents position falsely or cast it in the worst light possible. It is another informal fallacy. Here is an example.

Dan
Stuart McEwing, god has only ever existed as a thought or text. So while you’re technically right, he never existed in a physical sense. Which is all that matters.

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Counterstrategy: Clarify your position or where they went wrong.

Stuart McEwing
Dan
, Never argued that God exists physically, and I would be interested in any argument or line of reasons that shows God has only ever existed as a thought in the mind and not objective reality.

[Always press for them to back up their assertions. Gently though.]

Dan
Stuart McEwing, no proof has been found to even point in that direction. So yeah.

——————

I think he meant to double-down on his first assertion about God’s existence, but it’s nice to agree where you can agree. It’s certainly true that no proof has been found for God not existing.

Option E: project onto your interlocutor ignorance and/or bad methodology.

Here’s an example of doing both.

Phil
Cam, Stuart doesn’t understand that for an argument to be sound the premises must be valid – this is usually where theists/apologists/god-botherers come unstuck – the problem is they start with “God is true” and fail from the start

Stuart McEwing
Phil, Actually, I do In understand that an for an argument to be sound it needs to have true premises. I challenge you to give a good reason why any of the premises in any of the arguments I mentioned above are false or at least more probable false than true. This is where atheists usually come unstuck. 😉

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A little too snarky there at the end.

Related to Option B is the following. 

Option F: Erect a false standard for your interlocutor to attain. 

Here is an example:

Phil
Cam, he’ll never be able to prove how his God interacts with reality in a detectable way – no one ever has and as Hitchens used to say “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”

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He refers to the late Christopher Hitchen’s old canard about extraordinary evidence. 

Related to Option E: projecting onto your interlocutor ignorance or bad methodology, is Option F. This is the flip side of the same coin. 

Option F: project to your opponent confidence. 

A confidence you have no right to, since you can’t show your perspective is reasonable. Even if it’s a confidence you don’t feel. You might consider using a joke. Capital letters. An emoji. Double-down on previous strategies. For example:

Phil
Stuart McEwing, how about you prove how your god interacts with reality in a detectable way and then collect your Nobel Prize because no one has been able to do this – EVER 

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Snark begets a snark return. 

Counterstrategy: ask clarifying questions.

Counterstrategy: deploy overwhelming reasonable arguments. 3, 2, 1, GO!

Stuart McEwing
Phil
, what do you mean by “prove”? As I have mentioned above, there is no argument that gives the certainty you may expect to find in disciplines such as mathematics or symbolic logic. However, there is good evidence that shows the conclusion “God exists” is more probable – even the best explanation. As I have mentioned here also, we don’t require proofs in ordinary everyday life in order to make good decisions about what we should and should not believe, so why would you require it for this question about God? Because you don’t want to believe, and so will erect this unreasonable standard?

Yes! It is unreasonable. Note the examples I gave above of things we accept as true, even though we don’t have a proof that gives 100% certainty. Note also that if you insist on the principle “I should only accept those things for which I have proof (that gives 100% certainty) for,” then you also should insist on providing a proof for this principle (that gives 100% certainty). The epistemology used to eliminate the question on God defeats not only common knowledge – but defeats itself as well.

Also, where is the proof that God does NOT exist? Before accepting that belief in God is unreasonable, I am within my rational rights to insist on some form of argument. No one has produced a Nobel Prize for this either. 

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What can one do in the face of that barrage of reason? This calls for the big guns. Option G. 

Option G: call your opponent names. 

This can be subtle too. You can imply he is the one being unreasonable, because [Option F: overconfidence] you know your conclusion is right and he is wrong. Or you can be unsubtle, like sending a laughing emoji as a shorthand to saying “your position is laughable.”

An example: 

Phil
Stuart McEwing, indoctrinated much? Naw not going to argue with you anymore because I can see where this will end up going 

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Counterstrategy: Resist the urge to have the last word. Then fail.

Stuart McEwing
Phil
, I guess that’s one way to escape the conclusion – call its proponents indoctrinated, ignore the arguments and evidence, laugh.

Sad.

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