With all the “new atheist” brouhaha, there’s bound to be a few kids who are new to freethought making bad arguments, messing up our lawns, and otherwise making the rest of us cranky. When believers encounter nonbelievers like this, they might understandably take such bad arguments and lack of concern for lawn care to be characteristic of atheists, which would only then serve to reinforce their faith. So here are some quality control tips for the kiddies.
Bad argument: “Genesis has two different accounts of the creation of the universe. Since they’re different, both can’t be true. The existence of the two stories is a biblical contradiction, and a divinely inspired work cannot contradict itself. Therefore the Bible can’t have been divinely inspired.”
Why it’s dumb: It is implausible that the holy text of the ancient Jews would for centuries include two contradictory accounts for no reason, with no explanaion, and without anyone noticing. It’s right there in the first few pages. The contradictory passages must be there for some deeper reason other than serving as some kind of AP report of what God did when he created the Universe. Most believers will immediately respond that the second story is an interpretation of one of the days of the first.
What you should say: This point is really only helpful to bring up against people like Ken Ham and his friends at Answers in Genesis who insist that they don’t interpret the Bible, and that they simply read God’s Word as is. Self-professed biblical literalists, in other words. It’s all well and good to try to understand the Bible literally, but when confronted with the contradictory creation accounts they will invariably give a response very much like what I just said above. But the problem with that is that it’s not actually in the text. Nowhere in Genesis does it actually say that one account is an extrapolation of the other. The two stories are simply mentioned one after the other. A more sophisticated believer can interpret what they like, but a literalist would have to admit that they are using their own human reason in order to come to an understanding of the text, and not simply the text itself. And the human reason they would use to do such is a product of the Fall – a point made constantly in Ken Ham’s creationist “museum.”
Bad argument: “Religion is a disease.”
Why it’s dumb: This meme came from an essay by Richard Dawkins called Viruses of the Mind. It compares the way that viruses and memes infect hosts for their own benefit and not that of the host. But Dawkins goes to great lengths to make the point that viruses aren’t necessarily always bad things. Most of the time they are neutral. This and other caveats and intricacies are areas where Dawkins is great at explaining, and they’re lost when you just tell someone that their beliefs are a cancer which must be destroyed.
What you should say: Simply point out that the best predictor of one’s religious convictions happens to be their geographical location. This should give believers pause. Why doesn’t God transcend geographical boundaries? Why does religion, like language, appear to have evolved from the bottom-up by cultural means instead of given to us by a deity from the top-down?
Bad argument: Jesus condoned slavery, and even the beating of slaves in Luke 12:47
And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
Jesus also made this strange and barbaric request in Luke 19:27
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
Why it’s dumb: Read it in context. These are parables.
What you should say: Sure, they’re parables meant to teach a lesson. It’s just that the lessons here are very immoral because they promote a Might Makes Right mentality commonly found within authoritarian systems such as Christianity. To be fair, Jesus wasn’t just swinging around a sword, screaming like a maniac while (if) he was saying what he said in Matthew 10:34
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
, but the point to make is that he didn’t have to actually have a sword to be immoral in this instance. That is all for now.