Are My Arguments Really Emotional and Superficial?

Some Christians have basically charged that I left the fold for emotional reasons and that my book is superficial. In talking to Norman Geisler, a former student claims Geisler doesn't recommend it because of my arguments but because it shows I left the faith for emotional resaons.

Let it be said that former believers like me left the fold because of emotional reasons. That's just another delusion they have. The fact is that the emotional upheavals in people's lives merely shock them into doing what sane reasonable adults should have done all along, questioning what they believe in the first place.

And so I don't deny Geisler thinks this. He said as much in a series of personal email exchanges. But I think many of the arguments used by some of the top Christian apologists and philosophers are superficial too. Bill Craig even called J.L. Mackie's argument against miracles "shockingly superficial"! Really? That is shocking to even read that. Mackie's arguments are not superficial at all. I find them persuasive.

Where does that get us?

My case rests upon the fact that we simply "see" things differently, and I argue in the first half of my book for why I see things differently. We see through a particular cultural set of controls beliefs. I have an anti-supernatural bias. Christians have a supernatural bias. The real debate is on settling that particular question. No other atheist author that I know of seems to appreciate that point but me, at least not to where s/he will spend over half of a book defending an anti-supernatual bias before looking at the Biblical evidence in the later half of it.

19 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Of course, that same student had to wonder that if Geisler thinks my arguments are weak why Dr. Richard Howe would include me among the small number of influential New Atheists at an Apologietics Conference held at his Seminary four months later? You can see Dr. Howe's powerpoint presentation here. And an important Christian radio program billed me as "one of atheism's top apologists".

Superficial? Right. Why would they bother with something if it was merely superficial?

Deist Dan said...

Christians act as if the emotional reasons are completely meaningless. The very fact that so many Christians also have emotional problems with the bible shows that something is not right.

Christianity does a good job of focusing the Christian's attention on the desired areas of scripture, and away from the uglier portions which require much convoluted explanation, explanations the pastors themselves are not comfortable with.

Many Christians (except your hardcore fundamentalists) are put off by the massacres and brutal merciless slaughters of the OT, as well as it's asinine, idiotic, and racist laws.

The emotional problems of the bible are an indication of the truth to the old saying, "where there is smoke, there is fire".

These emotional reactions are the seed (to use christianese) planted in the minds of reasonable people that something about this god-breathed, divine revelation doesn't add up. That seed grows in reasonable people who follow the biblical command to ask, seek and knock. The problem for the bible and Christians is that when you do that, you begin to realize how utterly uninspired the bible really is.

The emotional reactions are useful to trigger the rational mind into action and investigation. One can then discover the rationale reasons to reject Christianity for the primitive, superstition that it is.

___________________________ said...

Your case is obviously superficial. You aren't arguing for Christianity. I mean, how would a good God allow for honest, truth-seeking people not to find him? Obviously not, ergo, your arguments *must* be terrible.

As for the emotional reasons, well of course! I mean, people enter the church for perfectly high-minded intellectual reasons, and anyone who leaves must be a fool. Haven't you noticed that all Christians are brilliant philosophers and truth-seekers, with not a sheep amongst them!?

You have good arguments. People just refuse to see what disagrees with them. In any case, as FormerFundy pointed out, Geisler thought he refuted evolution with this: "Red, white, and blue confetti dropped from an airplane will never produce the America Flag on your lawn." If Geisler can get away with this, nobody has any right to call you superficial for just about *anything*.

Eric said...

"Christians act as if the emotional reasons are completely meaningless. The very fact that so many Christians also have emotional problems with the bible shows that something is not right."

The argument from emotion cuts both (many) ways, though.

In another context, take this remark (which I'm paraphrasing) from Chesterton:

The great riddle of the world is this: How can evil seem so overwhelming that good must be an illusion, while good seems so powerful that evil must have an explanation?

Peter Van Inwagen makes the same point (I'm again paraphrasing):

Some people see all the evil in the world and ask how anyone could believe that a good god exists; I see all the evil in the world and ask how anyone could believe that a good god who will put it all right doesn't exist.

I've taken two quotes about the POE because, it seems to me, this objection to theism is grounded almost entirely on an emotional response, not an intellectual one (I'm referring to the contemporary evidential POE; the logical POE was more intellectually grounded, but, as most philosophers today acknowledge, is a failure).

As John said in another post, we're all approaching these questions with our own biases. This doesn't mean that we can't find some common ground from which to launch a fruitful discussion, of course; however, part of that common ground must be, it seems to me, an acceptance of the fact that appeals to emotion cut both ways.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

"...it shows the way people turn into atheists. It's not for rational reasons. It's for emotional reasons."

This totally broke my irony meter, and I think he should buy me a new one.

If Christians become atheists for emotional reasons I'll bet you $100 they became Christians for the same reasons. I can't remember hearing a non-emotional Christian testimony.

sunnyskeptic said...

I've had religious persons say that my position is 'emotional'. Oh, too funny, considering where they get all of their ideas from. I especially also like the idea that my humanism/atheism is 'just making rules up!'... How dare I just make rules up? That is only for religious people, apparently.

Endiana.com said...
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Geoff said...

My case rests upon the fact that we simply "see" things differently, and I argue in the first half of my book for why I see things differently. We see through a particular cultural set of controls beliefs. I have an anti-supernatural bias. Christians have a supernatural bias.

John, John, John: take a good look at what you wrote here. You're saying that it's a question of your "bias" versus their "bias", which is perilously close to the Christian apologist's argument that "atheism is just another form of faith, just another belief... equally valid."

Speaking for myself, I don't have a vague "bias" about the supernatural: I have a world-view based on a robust naturalistic epistemology. And most religious believers hold a similarly robust epistemological position about everyday things like crossing the road, or taking aspirin, or judging balls and strikes in baseball, or acting as a juror in a court case. In such situations, even the most devout believer will firmly reject any appeals to the supernatural. Indeed (despite a few worried ministers) even the core idea of an immaterial soul seems to be fading away like the Cheshire Cat's grin.

The real debate is on settling that particular question. No other atheist author that I know of seems to appreciate that point but me,

I don't understand what you mean by "settling that particular question". What question? It is a brute fact that you hold the beliefs that you do, and Christians hold the beliefs that they do. By "settling", do you mean deciding which of the two belief-sets is true? But doesn't "settling" require that both parties accept the result? Otherwise you're left with the status quo ante...

Pretty much every atheist author that I've read has defended the truth of a naturalistic epistemology, with a non-dualist view of the mind. Very few would call it a "bias", because although they will happily acknowledge the cultural and historical contingencies which led to their positions, they think that a stronger, less equivocal form of language is justified.

strangebrew said...

Christians are the most emotional and superficial bunnies hopping today!

This rhetoric is simple projection...and none do it better!

From The theory of evolution to an infallible Pope on Earth...to Atheism and atheists.

One is a simple 'belief' ...one is ordained by god...the last are reflections of misguidance...

The Atheist must be emotional and superficial...because those emotions are so common in their psyche they cannot imagine anyone functioning without those props to a 'belief'...mainly because you cannot maintain a 'belief' in a fairy story at all without resorting those props.

They tend to Evolution as a debate categorized by claiming it a Darwinian 'belief'...because they can fight that...they are used to the workings of a belief system because they can relate it to their own...they know how that works...they know how that works in the other religiously formulated competitors mind...they have a handle on it!

Science they have not a clue over...they did not have to study that cos they found a handy shortcut quite early on it was... 'twasgodwhatwentandgoneanddidit'

Projection as their world view they find easy and comforting...tis far better to claim emotion and superficiality in opponent then to consider admitting to it themselves!
And they are by and large pompous enough to believe in their own analysis...plus it has the added bonus of fooling the hard of thinking clones that cluster avidly around the debate looking for comfort and platitudes to bolster and plaster over their own doubts!
And that meme gets disseminated further afield...it is the sowing of the seeds of mockery and subjectivity.

It is an old trick...fails to actually impress the slightly more discerning in intellectual argument ...mind you few things they claim are particularly impressive anyway...being bunnies of little wherewithal!
Seems the default setting is insult and mock indignation...it is very predictable!

John W. Loftus said...

Geoff said...You're saying that it's a question of your "bias" versus their "bias", which is perilously close to the Christian apologist's argument that "atheism is just another form of faith, just another belief... equally valid."

I understand that criticism, but as I argue in my book there is no parity between those two positions at all. I said that skeptics won't all appreciate how I argue and the reason is because I am not preaching to the choir. My goal is to enter the language game of the Christian and meet them on their turf and then in turn demolish their whole worldview, and I do.

Geoff said...By "settling", do you mean deciding which of the two belief-sets is true? But doesn't "settling" require that both parties accept the result? Otherwise you're left with the status quo ante...

I think I present a devestating case against Christian theism, but an argument need not be convincing in order to be a good one.

Geoff said...Pretty much every atheist author that I've read has defended the truth of a naturalistic epistemology, with a non-dualist view of the mind. Very few would call it a "bias", because although they will happily acknowledge the cultural and historical contingencies which led to their positions, they think that a stronger, less equivocal form of language is justified.

That's what I'm saying. Almost all atheist authors do not understand what I do about the Christian arguments and so they can hardly debunk them if they don't understand them.

May I suggest you are not a philosophically minded person? Philosophy causes us to question everything we might accept. We know nothing much at all, if anything, with certainty.

Andrew said...
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icelander said...

The only reason I can find for staying in "the flock" after one's belief has waned is an emotional one.

So I say you did the only rational thing. Or do they want you to hang around just to be polite?

Lvka said...

No, they're not. And what in God's Holy Name is wrong with our human emotions? -- Without them we would not know the difference between good and evil in the first place. Logic is an algorithm, but this algorithm needs some input data, something real to fall back on, or rely on: which is not contained in it, but some-where else: namely, in our emotions.

You argue, for instance, in Your book (which I haven't bothered reading, though it's available on-line for free) about pre-lapsarian (even pre-human) problem of pain (and evil). You also adduce many other logical arguments. -- None of which are unanswerable, but I can't say that You're approach is mindless or senseless.

Jazzy said...

Hello All,
I spent a lot time on Internet reading both religious and skeptic posts. Especially I liked to read the stories of those persons ,who once were devouted religionists and then turned skeptics, and vise versa. At one discussion board someone said(i stored this post): "the number of theists who deconvert back to atheism is FAR FAR greater than non-believers who change their minds and start believing" .I don't know if it's true,where this person got this statistics.But I observed interesting phenomena.Granted,the reason for conversion/de-conversion could different for every person. But at general, in case of religionists/converts there is mostly just...complaining...meaning: "Oh, under atheism everything is so bleak, if the atheism is true (life is finite, no over-all meaning, make-your list…))"
On the contrary, most ex-religionists and de-converts say like that: “Look, my religion provides a lot of good things, and answers deep questions, but…it doesn’t seem to fit reality. And if I begin to see that the dogmas of my religion don’t fit reality, then I’ll choose reality, however uncomfortable it may seem”. Just my observations.
And for me, personally, it creates deep antipathy for the persons who use just complaints while arguing for religion. I’m agnostic, and open minded to the existence of Higher Power and possibility of some (mysterious) Cosmic Purpose, but complaining and crying doesn’t create reality

Dr Funkenstein said...

Some people see all the evil in the world and ask how anyone could believe that a good god exists; I see all the evil in the world and ask how anyone could believe that a good god who will put it all right doesn't exist.

because the world doesn't conform to wishful thinking, no matter how much you want any apologist wants it to is about the most obvious answer to that.

The same reason me waking up thinking 'life would be so much better if I just had a million dollars in the bank and a rolls royce parked in my drive' isn't going to make it come true.

Swimmy Lionni said...

I would not call them "biases" so much as Bayesian priors. I have a prior against supernatural occurrences, but it is not 100% and I can be persuaded otherwise. My belief is that the Christians' priors are often 1 or 0, that they sometimes even celebrate this fact (nothing you say could convince me!), and that this causes failure to take into account the true impact of evidence. In other words, that religious people are overconfident.

Eric said...

"because the world doesn't conform to wishful thinking"

First, I think you're taking Inwagen's remark as an argument; it wasn't. It merely reflects a different emotional response to the same data. We certainly agree that "It is so" doesn't follow from "I wish it were so," (the wish fulfillment argument); however, it's also the case that "It isn't so" doesn't follow from "I can't see how it could be so" (argument from personal incredulity). As I said, the argument from emotion (in which one claims that another's conclusion follows from an emotional response alone) cuts both ways.

Second, while the world certainly doesn't conform itself to our wishes, the fact that we wish something to be the case doesn't constitute a defeater for it (just as the fact that we can't understand how x could be the case is no defeater for x). Let me prove it: I wish this post goes through...

strangebrew said...

'In other words, that religious people are overconfident.'

I would suggest that possibly the opposite is a little more accurate actually...I tend to the view that all the Christian demonstrations and bleatings in the media rather emphasizes the fact that their claims for their god are just that ...claims...

Seems that on one hand they chant and extol the grand virtuosity of god while at the same time trying to swaddle the concept in bubble wrap.

Blasphemy and cries of intolerance and discrimination of their delusion undermines their all powerful deity claims.

They are obviously not that confident that their sky daddy can in fact defend itself from outrageous slurs perpetrated by nasty atheists and an uncaring world!

Cognitive dissonance can only go so far...what was undoubtedly a cozy and mental self masturbatory fantasy when younger is being chipped away by explanations and reasons that come thick and fast from scientific inquiry into phenomena.

One can imagine in the past the beauty and wonder of a rainbow easily being dubbed the work of a god!

Now it seems it is just a very special...to us...affect of a natural occurrence requiring light and angle and the property of spectral colors.

No god required!

This dissonance is being repeated in all areas of life...from health to research in fundamental particles!

Things are not adding up...and calls and protestations of a science /religious group hug impresses no one.

Religion bleats that arrogant science does not want to engage with them...quite right to...there is no room in science for sky daddies of any hue form or color!
Religion has nowhere left to go to plug the leaks...they are sinking beneath their own weight!

I would suggest that never before has the premise of a sky daddy been so refuted under the rational hammer!

They are not over confident...more like disparately pompous in their collective ignorance...

Tis only peer pressure that maintains the status quo...and that is disintegrating with time...
The old trick of bullying and threatening with social exclusion and suspicion of lack of moral fibre is diminishing in potency.

Moderate Christianity is in crisis...not only in the actual belief but in the administration....when a company has difficulties in the board room...the result always ends in disaster for the corporate fodder on the front line!

That ark is seemingly being abandoned to the destructive waves of rational and evidenced based facts!

They are transferring to the fundamentally more secure and insular atmosphere of cult and evangelistic ministry...seems the more they talk loudly and quickly about a god the more that god seems to materialize in their life...a self fulfilling prophecy no doubt!

Rationality is by default barred at the door!

But the danger is that society will fragment into 'if you are not with us you are against'...if it is not there already... tis indeed disparate times for the bunnies...they is getting rational myxomatosis in their colony...no known cure except marginalization and isolation...that is why they are whining so loud and bitterly...simple like so!

Gandolf said...

It seems Geisler says "It was only after the emotional upheaval came that the (rational reasons) followed"

Then he evidently suggests people dont become atheists for rational reasons.

My opinion by this is its obvious that Geisler is really emotional himself and doesnt quite know just what to really believe!.

John you will never be able to please everyone.And many people will always continue to believe what suits them and their belief best.

Its a matter of faith.

But hey dont let it worry you at all because its often emotions that get us thinking about many things in life,that otherwise we just might not ever bother thinking about.Like famine or war happening in some places for instance.

Would it be likely that Geisler would ever call this type of thinking as based totally on emotion and therefore as something totally irrational?.

No he is just suggesting your thoughts are not rational,because being pro faith!its what he wishes it to be.And its what he wants others to think also.