An Irrational Defense of Rationality

Posted: June 1, 2015 in Blog Post
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A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed an entertaining debate between Jojo Ruba, a local Christian apologist with the organization Faith Beyond Belief, and Christine Shellska, a leader in the Canadian atheist community. The topic of the debate was: Which is more rational – Atheism or Christianity?

After hearing the introductions, specifically the titles and qualifications of Ms. Shellska, I was ready for a great discussion. After all, Christine Shellska is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Communication and Culture, Faculty of Arts, at the University of Calgary, Canada. Her research involves studying the rhetorical strategies employed by the Intelligent Design Creationism movement. Among other memberships and involvement in the secular community, she is a Secular Humanist Liaison at the Faith and Spirituality Centre on campus, a member of the Board of Directors and Secular World Representative for Atheist Alliance International, and a regular co-host on the Calgary-based Legion of Reason podcast. A great discussion is not what I got however.

Having the first opportunity to speak, Christine immediately laid out an endless string of irrelevant comments about everything under the sun, except the topic they were there to discuss.

First, she began telling everyone what Jojo was apparently going to say, before he had said anything at all.  According to her, he was going to try and paint her as a moral relativist, which she claimed she was not. Later on however, she argued that objective morality doesn’t exist, which makes her a relativist by definition. She claimed he was going to make all kinds of objective truth claims, while she apparently was not so arrogant to think she knew the truth. I guess she didn’t realize her entire opening statement was one big truth claim. She also claimed he was going to try and make her defend her atheism, but she didn’t have to because she merely lacked a belief in God. She cautiously warned the crowd that those evil Christian apologists are known for using rhetoric to persuade people, all the while using it herself.

She then went on to talk about the Christian community’s desire to set up a theocracy, accused us of hating gay people, scolded us for our disgusting desire to stop abortion, and reprimanded us for our inconsistent biblical morality since we oppose same sex marriage but don’t stone our neighbors for mowing their lawn on the Sabbath. In fact the only book in the Bible she even referenced was Leviticus. I think it is safe to say that the word rationality did not come out of her mouth more than once. In fact she talked about abortion more than anything else.

This whole rant revealed a disturbing trend I have often noticed in debates like this: The Christian comes to debate the issue, and the atheist comes to get their shots in.

The question is why? Why are the atheists, the self-proclaimed beacons of reason, so bent on throwing low blows and misrepresenting the Christian worldview? What does this accomplish? If the atheist position is the more rational one, then surely there would be no need to hide behind rhetorical jabs and silly catch phrases like, “I only lack a belief in God.”

So since Ms. Shellska, and many more out there who have been hoodwinked by this poor system of logic and argumentation, cannot seem to stop with the silly one liners and straw man arguments, I figured I would deal with a few that came up in the debate, in hopes of moving the conversation along for a couple of people….hopefully.

  1. The whole, “I only lack a belief in God,” thing is a really bad argument. If I were an atheist I would never argue this way. Of course atheists lack a belief in God: that is why they are atheists. Dictionary.com defines atheism as: a) the doctrine or belief that there is no God, or b) disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings. If “lacking a belief in God” is going to be the new definition of atheism, then it seems that God could exist and atheism could be true at the same time! In reality, this is just a lame attempt to avoid any burden of proof. Atheists might lack a belief in God, but they certainly don’t lack beliefs about They don’t write books and blogs about their non-beliefs. If I said, “I merely lack a belief in God’s non-existence,” does this get me off the hook from having to defend my beliefs? Nope.

 

  1. “If you don’t like abortion, then don’t have one!” This was another comment that was thrown at the Christians in a failed attempt to dissuade us of our pro-life stance. The problem is, anyone who says this simply does not understand the pro-life position. We are not opposed to abortion because we don’t like it, we are opposed to it because we think that ramming a pair of scissors into the head of an unborn child and suctioning out its brains is murder. Imagine if a person was trying to re-institute the African slave trade in North America, and their argument was, “Hey, if you don’t like slavery, don’t own a slave!” Who in their right mind would let them continue? Would people be wrong for opposing such a person? Absolutely!

 

  1. Why always Leviticus? This seems to be the only book in the Bible as far as the atheist community is concerned in most cases. There is no desire from any atheist quoting it, to understand the historical context, or how it fits into the entire Biblical narrative. It is always simply a game of, “oh yeah, well if you think homosexuality is a sin, then why don’t you stone your neighbour for working on the Sabbath? How come you cut the hair on the sides of your head and wear clothes with mixed fabrics?” I think this tactic shows a huge misunderstanding of the Biblical stance on homosexuality. It seems to me that Leviticus is constantly the focus because it contains a well-known denunciation of homosexual practice (Leviticus 18:22), and the thought is, I guess, that casting doubt on the book’s coherency will show us we are wrong about our “hateful” position towards our LGBT friends. In reality, most Christians have a deep love for those in the LGBT community, and our opposition to a practice should not be construed as hate.

Unfortunately for those who choose to argue this way, our beliefs about homosexual practice are derived from the WHOLE bible, not just Leviticus. There is likely a good reason why no Christians are picketing the law makers to have a death sentence established for Sabbath violation. For the sake of an honest discussion, it might be helpful to attempt to learn why. Or, to quote point number 2: If you don’t like Leviticus, don’t read it! Hey… that’s a good argument! Ok, maybe not.

This is just a small sampling of the red herring/straw man BONANZA that went on during the course of the discussion. There were countless more like them. Notice how little any of these objections had to do with the topic of the debate: What is more rational – Atheism or Christianity? In this discussion, the answer was fairly obvious, even before the Christian said anything.

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