Three Ways to Win Every Debate with an Atheist

Last month Tim – a commenter on this blog – thought up a cunning plan which went like this:

I’ve had a brilliant idea!  I shall challenge Stacy on her blog to a debate as to whether Jesus existed or not, and allow her the first say which she will tackle with gusto and great detail with huge amounts of information.  Then, when it’s my turn I shall simply concede the debate and tell her that she has won it as her arguments are too persuasive to deny. Voila!  A post giving all who care to read it as much evidence for Jesus as anyone could possibly need and I have hardly needed to lift a finger!

And Tim, true to his word, did just that by planting this comment on her blog.

Hello Stacy.

I’d like to challenge you to a debate on your blog as to whether Jesus existed or not. You argue for and I against. As it is your blog, and you are a lady too, I will let you go first.

Stacy duly replied:

Tim

Haha. I just saw that.

Yes, we can do that. I’ll set up a post, but it’ll have to wait a few weeks because I’m going to be very busy writing theology papers.

Can you give me a reminder in a week or so? Thanks!

And today Stacy began her response to this question in a blog post entitled:

Three Ways to Win Every Debate with an Atheist

Hop over and give it a read.

By the way, we did confess to Stacy that it was a setup. ;-)

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14 Responses to “Three Ways to Win Every Debate with an Atheist”

  1. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    Hey busy Dad, thanks! I’d actually like to know what atheists think about what I wrote (which is not really mine, but referenced to people I admire). God bless you and your family!

  2. yossarian Says:

    Hi Stacy, from one atheist (me!)

    I’m not sure many atheists deny Jesus existed as a man. But this is a question for historians. We would challenge (and ask for evidence) that he was more than a man however.

    For the three points:
    - 1: It is sometimes argued that the scientific method doesn’t really deal in proof although the term is frequently used as shorthand for sufficient evidence. Proof really is the remit of maths and formal logic which of course support scientific analysis. I would ask for at least the same standard of evidence for belief in god as I would for any other scientific hypothesis. (One could argue that because the hypothesis is so fundemental and earth shattering an even higher standard is called for). That is assuming that your argument is empirical. If it is infact based soley in formal logic (i.e. an ontological argument) then the nature of proof is defined my the model being used. (I would btw argue that a-priori arguments are incapable of deriving ontological conclusions but we can leave that for the argument itself)

    -2: I’m not sure it’s the atheists job to articulate the church’s position? I often struggle (see previous chain) to get a grip on what believers really believe. If I don’t understand that, then there is the danger that I am sure you would recognise of attacking strawmen. I think you – and I – should be clear in articulating our own positions and trying to understand the others’ even if we don’t agree with it.

    -3: You can pray for me all you want but I’d rather you did something meaningful. Experiments on the efficacy of prayer have failed to show any effect.

  3. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    Hi yossarian,

    You would want some demonstration of proof that Jesus was God and man, then? OK. It still comes back to believing the historical record. The miracles of Christ, the teaching, His death and Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, are events that were recorded by witnesses and passed on. In Christianity, the accounts are taken as true.

    As the Gospel message spread, people were converted and believed even to the point of martyrdom. Today they still do. The miracles of the saints and the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit are all taken today as evidence, collectively. The experience with faith is also, for the believer, “experimental” if you will, an experience that is mental. People of faith share common experiences.

    Of course if someone does not take the historical record and the modern records as true, then yes, logically one could call into question whether Christ was true man and true God. But there’s a whole lot of history to be dismissed, and it would require believing instead that all those people who made up so much nonsense and bought into it to the point of death were just nuts. All of them. Nuts.

    But to read some of the writing — not the writing of a nut. Some truly inspiring, and logically tight stuff.

    -1. It’s a little like how in math and science we envision absolutes, frictionless planes, absolute zero, infinity, etc. We can’t prove those exist by pointing to them in the real world, but our systematic sciences are built upon their truth absolutely.

    -2. That’s why I enjoy the dialogue. But, to really debate/discuss you must understand the opponents arguments, even if you don’t believe them to be true. That’s also why I like talking with atheists, I’m trying to figure out what you believe.

    -3. All my scratches healed when I prayed they would? Does that make you a believer in prayer? No. :-D It’s not like that. Another whole discussion though, so I’ll leave it at that I guess.

    Thanks for your response.

  4. Simon Says:

    Stacy – not nuts, wrong. Plenty of people have believed in and died for causes, both large and small, that are plain wrong to almost everybody else. What is special about Christians dying for their beliefs, versus say a Hindu, or a Sikh?

    The historical record is all well and good, but how do you know it’s true? Even if you grant that it’s an accurate representation of what the author believes, how do you know they are not mistaken, tricked, or lying?

    You asked why I would believe in Aristotle given the same evidence. Well, Aristotle was a great thinker, but just one among a whole legion of great thinkers. We have great thinkers today; we have great thinkers in the recent past and in the long past. He’s one in a million, certainly, but there are six thousand one-in-a-millions alive today. Basically, Aristotle is mundane compared to the claims about Jesus. That’s why I’m happy to believe that Jesus existed (plenty of people do that), and taught (plenty of people do that) and convinced people to follow him (few people do that on such a scale, but he isn’t unique) even after his death (fewer people still, but still not unique), but not to believe that he actually walked on water or to leap to the existence of God.

    In short, the fact that people believe in Jesus’ teachings, that they are willing to die for them, that they can be inspired to teach and write themselves is impressive, but is not inconsistent with the idea that he was a remarkable man.

  5. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    Simon,

    There is nothing comparable to the rise of Christianity, nothing comparable to the life, death and Resurrection of Christ, or what came after it. Nothing comparable to the Church and the Papacy. And what is special about it compared to every other religion is carefully articulated in Catholic teaching. (See #2)

    All I’d ask from an atheist is to acknowledge that the weight of the history is not unreasonable. If it’s a difficulty in admitting miracles, I assure you that they still occur today and there are witnesses. The miracles of saints are very, very carefully documented and verified by an exhaustive process. Just like great thinkers. Still happens, still is recorded.

    People just don’t believe it. Heck, some people don’t even believe people can really *think*.

  6. yossarian Says:

    Only Platonists (of which I’m not one) think that perfect lines and infinities exist ‘in the world’. They are rather handy models for mapping the world but that’s a different thing. (A mathematician, Kronecker, said “God made the integers; all else is the work of man.” – thought you’d like that.)

    But that’s slightly off topic. Simon has said what else I would although I also think it’s interesting historically how much of the stories related to Jesus’ divinity are echos of beliefs of previous cultures, which may lead one to believe they are memes that pre-date him. One should at least ask why we should believe those stories about him and not his predecessors?

  7. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    yossarian,

    The question is, “Does it exist?” And, “Is there something which nothing greater can be thought?” The philosophy deals with what is *conceivable* as opposed to only what is imaginable based on sensory experience. We do use our imaginations, but the work of the mind can go beyond that. I.e. the absolutes and existence.

    A perfect circle is conceivable. A square one is not. That’s related to the question about whether God exists. Is it conceivable?

    However, whether Christ was true God and true man is a theological question based on the written record, the tradition passed down, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I understand that you have your opinion about previous cultures and echos, but have you ever sat down and worked through the reasons why so much of pagan terminology was integrated in the Gospel message? How that doctrine was worked out? Why Christianity is true, and not some other religion?

    This is what I meant in #1 and #2. You have to decide what the criteria are for determining the truth of something, and you have to be willing to consider what’s already been written in order to reason through it.

  8. Tim Says:

    “I would although I also think it’s interesting historically how much of the stories related to Jesus’ divinity are echos of beliefs of previous cultures, which may lead one to believe they are memes that pre-date him. One should at least ask why we should believe those stories about him and not his predecessors?”

    If you really think that Yossarian then perhaps you might like to revise your opinion? Serious scholars no longer subscribe to such notions as yours, and you might enjoy (or not) perusing this information:

    1/ Alleged similarities between Jesus and pagan deities

    2/ Christianity and paganism

  9. Simon Says:

    Stacy,

    You spoke of defining terms. I’m not sure how you mean “there is nothing comparable to the rise of Christianity”. According to the CIA world factbook, Christians make up around 33% of the world and Muslims around 22%. Given that Islam is about 600 years younger than Christianity, that’s not a bad ratio. If that’s not what you mean, what do you mean? I’m not sure how you mean “nothing comparable to the life, death and Resurrection of Christ, or what came after it”. Certainly there have been other religious teachers who inspired great followings; again, Islam comes to mind. Certainly his death was not unique (the Romans used crucifixion for another 400 years). Resurrection isn’t unique even in the Bible (2 Kings 4:32-37, for example). What came after the resurrection is ascension to heaven, which is also not unique. I presume I am misunderstanding you somehow.

    You say that what is special about Catholicism is carefully documented in Catholicism. I have no doubt that what is special about Judaism is carefully documented in Judaism – and so on and so forth. I’m just wondering in what sense the Catholic arguments are better. But the context of my original remark about “what was special” was about martyrdom. I asked what was special about Christian martyrs that implied that Christianity is correct, while (say) Islamic martyrs do not imply that Islam is correct – which is a different point.

    With regard to your “weight of history” comment – it’s impressive, but it is still perfectly consistent with Jesus being merely a remarkable man. Since Mohammed inspired a similarly long-lasting, similarly-sized following, why does the weight of history (in your view) support the divinity of Jesus but not the prophet-hood of Mohammed? As to miracles, I’ve yet to see one; I’ve had one horribly convincing hallucination, however, so no, I don’t believe them. I do believe in the ability of people to convince themselves of what they want to believe.

    I’ll just add one comment on your reply to Yossarian – something that is conceivable need not exist, and may turn out to be explicitly forbidden. An example would be the classical mechanics “rigid body” – a thing that cannot bend or deform. It’s possible to prove that such a thing cannot exist in a universe governed by relativity. So the fact that we can conceive of God doesn’t necessarily mean that he exists, nor even that he can exist.

  10. yossarian Says:

    Tim, I’m happy to stand corrected about academic historians opinion on the precursors to christian stories but you didnt link to any. You linked to apologetics sites. The author of the second is claimed to be a historian but doesnt write under his own name. I can find people on the internet saying all sorts of things (!) Do you have anything in peer reviewed journals that talks to the balance of opinion?

    I only push this point as it was you who used the term “serious scholars”. For me, a serious scholar is someone publishing in their own name through the peer review process.

  11. Tim Says:

    I do apologise Yossarian, I completely forgot the atheist stance that if a christian says something it must be wrong or biased. How silly of me and again I do apologise. But let me taunt you a little more.

    I was going to visit the doctor the other day, but as she was a doctor I decided that she would clearly be biased in favour of medicine. So I decided to visit the local mechanic and ask his advice instead. He in no uncertain terms told me to go away, using some rather fruity language I might add, which shocked me to the core! Shocked and stunned I was I tell you. Then I wondered if maybe the chemist might be able to advise me. No, I decided. She, as a chemist, would clearly be biased in favour of chemistry and its uses in health and healing etc. So I’m definitely not going there! Perhaps I should go into town and see if I could find someone? I was going to get the bus, but the bus driver might be so biased in favour of buses he could very well smash into all the other traffic and put me at risk! So I thought I’d take a little jog. My leg was aching…I do have two legs though so let me just emphasise that, so rather than jogging I decided to amble a little bit. And on and on and on…
    My point is, if someone has the requisite qualifications, knowledge, and experience in certain fields, it doesn’t matter one jot if they happen to be a christian or not, so stop being so bloody narrow-minded.

    I would have thought that the numerous links to source materials contained in the link I listed as 1/ might have been a clue for you. There are also reference works given in the article from the link I numbered as 2/.

    The following is from a CRI journal but if you scroll down to the bibliography I am sure you will find titles to your satisfaction.

    Was the New Testament influenced by pagan religions?

    How about a book written by Bruce Metzger, a very high ranking scholar whatever your views, in which he stated:

    “The differences between the Christian sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist and corresponding ceremonies in the Mysteries are as profound as their similarities are superficial.”

    “Considerations of Methodology in the Study of the Mystery Religions and Early Christianity,” published in the January, 1955 edition of the Harvard Theological Journal (p. 13).

    Then there is “The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship” (1992, 2002) Paul Bradshaw, Oxford University Press, pp 21, 22:

    In referring to the religionsgeschichtliche Schule of the nineteenth century the author states:

    “In their efforts to explain the bible by relating it to other religions, they tried to trace the origins of the worship practices of Paul and the early Gentile Christians to the contemporary Greek mystery religions….This school, which also had a strong influence on Rudolf Bultmann, gave rise to a deep division between scholars throughout a large part of the twentieth century, some insisting that the mystery religions had little or no impact on New Testament Christianity, others believing that their effect was quite considerable. In the long run, however, the weakness of the latter, both in focusing too narrowly on mystery religions and not on the wider religious and cultural milieu of which they were but a part, and also in regarding too readily apparent (emphasis mine – Tim) parallels, including texts from those later (emphasis mine – Tim) than the New Testament period, as constituting sources of Christian practice, has been generally acknowledged…”

    Also there is this:

    “Backgrounds of Early Christianity” ( 2003) by Everett Ferguson, 3rd Edition, p 2.

    “Perhaps the first thing to observe is that there are only a limited number of options in any given historical setting. Only a certain number of ideas are possible, and only a certain number of ways of doing things are available. We need not wonder at similarities, which need not necessarily be a sign of borrowing, in one direction or the other. Many things in a given historical and cultural setting will be arrived at independently by more than one group, simply because there is not an unlimited number of options available about how to do something…That two groups use the same methods does not necessarily mean that one is copying the other.

    Of course, if you had any research skills you could have found out this information for yourself.

  12. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    Hi Simon,

    “You spoke of defining terms. I’m not sure how you mean “there is nothing comparable to the rise of Christianity”. According to the CIA world factbook, Christians make up around 33% of the world and Muslims around 22%.”

    I was talking about recorded human history, not what the CIA records in the last analysis. That should have been clear by the use of the words “there is nothing.”

    “Given that Islam is about 600 years younger than Christianity, that’s not a bad ratio. If that’s not what you mean, what do you mean? I’m not sure how you mean “nothing comparable to the life, death and Resurrection of Christ, or what came after it”.”

    Islam does not speak theologically of a Savior who loves and knows, and dies so that every person (presumes the ability to think) can accept it.

    “Certainly there have been other religious teachers who inspired great followings; again, Islam comes to mind.”

    They followed for vain pleasure of the flesh.

    “Certainly his death was not unique (the Romans used crucifixion for another 400 years).”

    No one wrote about anyone else rising.

    “Resurrection isn’t unique even in the Bible (2 Kings 4:32-37, for example). What came after the resurrection is ascension to heaven, which is also not unique. I presume I am misunderstanding you somehow.”

    You presume that the high status of combox dufus makes you more knowledgeable than the 2,000 years of search for truth from great men that you toss aside, or ignorantly never bother to read even as you argue against them.

    “You say that what is special about Catholicism is carefully documented in Catholicism.”

    Quote me.

    “I have no doubt that what is special about Judaism is carefully documented in Judaism – and so on and so forth.”

    It’s documented in Catholicism too.

    “I’m just wondering in what sense the Catholic arguments are better.”

    If you are wondering, then you’d care to know.

    “But the context of my original remark about “what was special” was about martyrdom. I asked what was special about Christian martyrs that implied that Christianity is correct, while (say) Islamic martyrs do not imply that Islam is correct – which is a different point.”

    They kill other people. I have a question for you. How many Islamic, Sharia Law websites do you speak with such candor as you do here??? This one I want an answer on.

    “With regard to your “weight of history” comment – it’s impressive, but it is still perfectly consistent with Jesus being merely a remarkable man. Since Mohammed inspired a similarly long-lasting, similarly-sized following, why does the weight of history (in your view) support the divinity of Jesus but not the prophet-hood of Mohammed? As to miracles, I’ve yet to see one; I’ve had one horribly convincing hallucination, however, so no, I don’t believe them. I do believe in the ability of people to convince themselves of what they want to believe.”

    If you never saw a ball fall to the ground, would you conclude that they don’t? Or would you test it and see if they — just might!

    “I’ll just add one comment on your reply to Yossarian – something that is conceivable need not exist, and may turn out to be explicitly forbidden.”

    Then how did you conceive it?

  13. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    Sigh,

    Simon, I wrote that after a long day of chasing kids, and under the duress of the common cold while I’m overseeing a major move out of state as the only adult left at home. Sorry for this, still no excuse:

    “You presume that the high status of combox dufus makes you more knowledgeable than the 2,000 years of search for truth from great men that you toss aside, or ignorantly never bother to read even as you argue against them.”

    You’re not a dufus. I am. :-(

    I’ll bow out. Carry on!

  14. Simon Says:

    Stacy,

    I’ve moved house with a cold, but my son was under one at the time so wasn’t too much trouble. It was hard enough – I do sympathise.

    I am not quite sure how to respond to your main post, however. I was producing counter-examples as a way of trying to show you how I see what “nothing comparable” means. I expected you to expand a bit on your understanding, particularly as you appear to me to be inviting criticism. My apologies if I offended you.

    I will address three specific points that you raised, but otherwise leave this alone as further debate seems unlikely to be productive. Happy to revise that opinion, of course.

    You asked [h]ow many Islamic, Sharia Law websites do you speak with such candor as you do here??? I would never bother posting on fundamentalist sites of any religion – I see no fun in trolling and I am unlikely to get any sensible debate. Am I afraid of the consequences should I do so? Perhaps I am. But what does that matter? They would say that they are doing God’s will; you would say they are not. I can only apply my principles to make a judgment for myself, and I have no evidence that those principles come from God. Even if you could show absolutely that my principles are derived directly from a purely Christian tradition, that only shows that your principles and mine derive from common history, which is true whether or not God exists.

    As a side note, you are conflating martyr and suicide bomber. I was thinking of (for example) Sumayyah bint Khayyat, the first martyr of Islam, who was killed for refusing to recant her faith – much as most of the Christian martyrs were (I note that a few Christian martyrs weren’t exactly pacifists – Joan of Arc springs to mind).

    I said I’d had a hallucination but never seen a miracle. You replied: If you never saw a ball fall to the ground, would you conclude that they don’t? Or would you test it and see if they — just might! If you have a way to generate a miracle on demand, as I can drop a ball on demand, I would be very interested. If a ball falling to the ground were as rare an event as a miracle (normally they fly upwards, or something) then I might question the reliability of the witnesses, yes. You’re making an apples-and-oranges comparison here.

    Lastly, in response to my comment that something that is conceivable need not exist, and may turn out to be explicitly forbidden you asked [t]hen how did you conceive it?. In the specific example I gave, a rigid body, such a thing is mathematically describable. It is also a plausible idealisation if you seldom exceed seven million miles per hour or never study electromagnetism. However, it is forbidden to exist in a relativistic universe; such a body would have an infinite speed of sound (impossible in a relativistic universe). In short, we can conceive of it because we had an incomplete model of the world that did permit it. The same argument can be made against the “but we can conceive of God therefore he could exist” argument. Maybe such a being cannot exist; we just haven’t spotted the logical flaw yet.

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