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Five Popular Argument Schemes that Christians Use Over and Over Again

Updated on December 3, 2012
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...and Fail Miserably at

As an atheist of more than ten years, I've debated with many a Christian. However, it took taking a Philosophy of Logic class in college to really understand these tired arguments that Christians keep using, and how to address them appropriately. So now, I will share my wisdom with all.

Now, for some atheists, logic seems to come naturally. I have encountered many an atheist that can recognize an argument scheme immediately and shut his opponent up within seconds. Christopher Hitchens would be so proud. I, unfortunately, am not one of those atheists. The artistic side of my brain is the one I engage the most, so things like logic, math, and science don't come as natural to me. That doesn't mean I am not fascinated by them or do not respect them. I am and I do. So much so that whenever the opportunity presents itself I endeavor to learn more about these things. So, without further ado, here are five argument schemes that I analyzed from a Dawkins/Lennox debate, which I have posted below for your viewing enjoyment.

Dawkins/Lenox debate at Oxford University

Argument From Commitment

If you look at about the 7:40 mark on the video you will hear Lennox make a statement that goes something like this: Since you are an Atheist and you don't think there is any rationality behind the existence of the universe, you therefore believe it was a freak accident.

According to my Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation book, this is an argument from commitment. Basically what Lennox is doing is drawing a plausible conclusion that since Dawkins is an atheist, and an atheist doesn't believe in a creator of the universe to provide order, he therefore believes it was a freak accident, which is the opposite of order. This might hold up if those are the only two choices--either a universe with order and a creator, or a universe without it and chaos. However, as Dawkins goes on to state, there is a third option, and that is a model based on Darwin's natural selection theory.

So this argument becomes a fallacy because it does not follow that simply being an atheist demands that we believe that the universe was a freak accident. There are two critical questions that Lennox should have asked before making this argument. 1) What evidence is there to support the claim that Dawkins is an atheist that is committed to this "freak accident" theory and is there any evidence to suggest that he might not be? 2) Is there room for questioning whether this is an exception to the case or a general rule?

I think to most Christians it would seem that not supporting a universe with a creator might make it seem like atheists support a universe that was a freak accident, but that just isn't true. Here's where educating yourself on what an atheist really holds to be the truth would be very beneficial to a Christian before starting with this weak argument.

Appeal to Ignorance

Here, at the 11:40 mark on the video, Lennox poses another argument that just does not follow: Darwin's Theory doesn't explain the origin of life or of the universe. If the universe is assumed to be rationally intelligible there should be an explanation for these things, and God must be that explanation.

This is a bit of an appeal to ignorance. Lennox is suggesting that because a theory does not offer an ultimate explanation for everything this validates his personal belief in a god, and not just any god, mind you, but the Christian god, which is another fallacy all on its own. I think this is best described in more recent times as the "god of the gaps" theory by elite scientists. If there is no explanation, it has to be god, and since you don't have an explanation, either, you can't prove me wrong.

Well, nice try, Christians. If Lennox had done his homework he would see that the Theory of Evolution never makes any claims as to the origin of life or the universe. I think most Christians make this same mistake. The Theory of Evolution simply states that changes within a population of a species over time lead to genetic modifications. As for not having the answer to all of life's mysteries, we'll get there, eventually. In the meantime, we are not going to just give god credit for it. That would be cowardly and lazy.

Argument From Sign

I love this one. At the 17:30 mark Lennox makes this comparison: The universe functions by laws that are blind and automatic. My watch also functions blindly and automatically, but it had a designer, therefore, the universe had to have a designer, too.

Argument from sign is basically observing data in one case and taking it as a sign of something that fits a pattern. This is a defeasible argument and can only lead to a plausible conclusion, so at the very start it is a weak argument. So, once again Lennox's argument does not follow. There are plenty of things without designers in the universe--Darwin's studies have proven that. The problem is that most Christians just cannot wrap their mind around that fact. Even if they do accept evolution as a legitimate theory, they still might wonder, but where did all of this come from? Simply not knowing is not an option for them. They have to know and when there just isn't enough information to figure it out, god as an answer will do just fine.

Besides the Point or Red Herring

This next one is quite comical if you follow it in the video. At 34:00 Lennox makes this statement: There is massive injustice in the world. If there is no god then there is no ultimate justice. People will never be held accountable for their crimes, therefore there must be a god.

"Too bad!" is what Dawkins replies. I love it! Lennox's claim is highly irrelevant to the topic of god and science. What offers him comfort personally has no bearing on reality. One might just as easily find comfort in the idea of Superman offering ultimate justice. Does that make it the truth? Dawkins even concedes that yes, a world with ultimate justice and an ultimate reward for those who are good would be great, but that doesn't make it a reality.

Christians use this argument all the time. I think this one, and perhaps the circular argument is the one they use the most. And oddly enough, these seem to be the weakest arguments. Trying to detract attention form the real topic is a classic move for the loser in a debate.

Circular Argument

And finally, another argument that Christians tend to use quite a bit, and perhaps one of the easiest to identify--the circular argument. Even Lennox, smart man that he is, fell into this one. At the 1:06:50 mark, Lennox states: The fact that this is a universe in which science can be done, and the fact that there are laws in place to rule the universe point to a logos, and that logos is the Christian god.

Okay, so he didn't specifically say the Christian god, but that is what he meant. The idea that only his version of an imaginary sky daddy has to be the creator of the universe that we all reside in is ludicrous in and of itself, but to make this argument and think it is a legitimate one is ridiculous. One could just as easily state that because the universe operates by scientific laws Einstein must be running it because he is the father of modern science.

This argument is circular because it doesn't offer a conclusion that is not already stated in the premise--science can be done in this universe and god allows science to be done in this universe, therefore, god exists. Really? I was a little disappointed with that one, myself. I expected better from Lennox.

Other Popular Arguments

I've listed five famous argument schemes that Christians tend to overuse...and still fail at, but there are others. Straw man is a popular one and easily recognizable. I think ad hominem arguments are used quite a bit, as well. I won't go into them any more, however, because if you don't know what these are or what any of the ones I have described are, you should probably get a good philosophy book, like Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation, and educate yourself like I did. Taking a class also helps. I've seen too many atheists, (I was one myself), that enter into debates with Christians who use these sorry arguments, yet the atheist humors them because he or she just doesn't know how to address them appropriately. If you are one of these people, I hope I have inspired you. Good luck on your journey to enlightenment!

Reference

Walton, Douglas. Fundamentals of Critical Argumentation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Books from Christopher Hitchens, the Master Arguer

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    • adagio4639 profile image

      adagio4639 2 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

      @Emma: "This might hold up if those are the only two choices--either a universe with order and a creator, or a universe without it and chaos. However, as Dawkins goes on to state, there is a third option, and that is a model based on Darwin's natural selection theory."

      Hi Emma. I applaud your digging into logic and critical thinking to analyze statements made by anybody, theists included. What Dawkins points out is a False Dichotomy. It has other names that include: •Bifurcation

      •Black-and-White Fallacy

      •Either/Or Fallacy

      •False Dilemma

      Disjunctive Syllogism:

      Either p or q.

      Not-p.

      Therefore, q.

      Usually, the truth-value of premisses is not a question for logic, but for other sciences, or common sense. So, while an argument with a false premiss is unsound, it is usually not considered fallacious. However, when a disjunctive premiss is false for specifically logical reasons, or when the support for it is based upon a fallacy, then the argument commits the Black-or-White Fallacy.

      The bifurcation fallacy is committed when a false dilemma is presented, i.e. when someone is asked to choose between two options when there is at least one other option available. Of course, arguments that restrict the options to more than two but less than there really are are similarly fallacious.

      (1) Either a Creator brought the universe into existence, or the universe came into existence out of nothing.

      (2) The universe didn’t come into existence out of nothing (because nothing comes from nothing).

      Therefore:

      (3) A Creator brought the universe into existence.

      The first premise of this argument presents a false dilemma; it might be thought that the universe neither was brought into existence by a Creator nor came into existence out of nothing, because it existed from eternity.

    • Jonathan Norburg profile image

      Jonathan Norburg 2 years ago

      Interesting comment, Adagio4639, and I mean that in a good way. Very educational. The initial syllogism you present is fallacious on a number of levels, not just the one you point out. To begin with, it presupposes the existence of God. Before one can try to prove that God exists without beginning, one must prove that He exists. This is a common fallacy in fundamentalist Christian apologetics. Sye ten Brokenrecord is infamous for using, as part of his method of argument, statements to the effect that, "Everyone knows that God exists; therefore, I need not provide proof." Presuppositionalism at its finest.

    • adagio4639 profile image

      adagio4639 2 years ago from Brattleboro Vermont

      I really enjoyed this Hub. As a constant practitioner of logic and critical thinking, I appreciate knowing that there are others out there that have put in the time and effort to actually study this subject. There are courses that can be taken online, for example Standford has a free online course in logic. There are many websites that you can use as reference sources such as Logical Fallacies Handlist: ; Fallacy Files is another good site, Logical Fallacies is another Austin Cline has a site on Atheism/Agnosticism (http://atheism.about.com/od/criticalthinking)

      Nizkor is another on Logic. I'd recommend a book; Critical Thinkin; a Concise Guide, which is a book used at Oxford University.

      If you want to arm yourself against irrationality, then this will help you.

      I recently had a back and forth with a guy that offered this deductive syllogism claiming that it proves God:

      P1 Whatsoever begins to exist has a cause

      P2 God has no cause

      ______________________________

      C:Therefore God does not have a beginning.

      This of course is pretzel logic. You could replace God in the Syllogism with Purple Unicorn and show that God has the same quality as that of a Purple Unicorn and deserving of just as much worship.

      The problem with his logic, is that he didn't prove the existence of God. He demonstrated why God doesn't exist. One of the rules in logic is that you cannot draw a positive conclusion from a negative premise.

      ("All validating forms of categorical syllogism which have at least one negative premiss also have a negative conclusion.")

      His second premise is a negative. His conclusion is that God has the positive quality of not requiring a cause. So his syllogism is invalid.

      The Syllogism actually reads this way:

      P1 Whatsoever begins to exist has a cause

      P2 God has no cause

      ______________________________

      C:Therefore God does not exist

      Inferring an affirmative conclusion in a syllogistic argument that has at least one negative premiss is a formal fallacy in the logic of categorical syllogisms.

      What I had don was called Argument reconstruction which is a common practice in Critical Thinking. The first step in analysing and reconstructing an argument is to identify its conclusion, then its premises. Much of what people say or write, when advancing an argument, plays no argumentative role. Much is there for emphasis, or is rhetorical, or plays some other role than that of expressing the propositions that properly constitute the argument. When reconstructing arguments, then, we have to slice off this extraneous material.

      Often the language used by the arguer is not especially unclear, but it is awkward to deal with because it does not even take the form of proper sentences. Rewriting the material in terms of ‘if— then’ sentences makes the argument easier to handle and its logic more obvious. It's called logical streamlining. Here's a guide:

      Where appropriate, rewrite sentences as either conditional or disjunctive sentences of one of the following forms:

      If A then B. If not-A then not-B.

      IF/THEN. Modus Ponens, and Modus Tollens

      Modus Ponens looks like this:

      •"If you have a current password, then you can log on to the network"

      •"You have a current password"

      Therefore:"You can log on to the network"

      Modus Tollens looks like this:

      You can't log into the network

      •If you have a current password, then you can log into the network

      Therefore:•You don't have a current password.

      This form of argument is called modus tollens (the mode that denies).

      Modus Ponens

      If p then q.

      p.

      Therefore, q.

      Modus Tollens

      If p then q.

      Not-q.

      Therefore, not-p.

      If Philosophy is is your thing; and in dealing with a theist it should be, then logic is a must. Every university requires logic as a course for a Philosophy Major. Critical thinking is the application of logic in an argument. There are people today, usually of a conservative ideological persuasion( and that would include all fundamentalists) that hate Critical Thinking because their emotional positions never stand up to it.

      Over the years I've noticed that most conservatives and theists apply inductive reasoning ( bottom up) to their arguments. Most liberals and atheists apply deductive reasoning ( Top down) to their arguments.

      Induction never proves a theory. It takes known facts, and adds them up to demonstrate a generality. They then falsely claim the generalization is a fact.

      Deduction works the opposite. It take generalization and then reduces then down to the lowest common denominator in the form of the deductive syllogism whereby if the premises are true, the conclusion MUST logically follow.

      1. All men are mortal

      2. Socrates is a man

      _______________

      C: Socrates is mortal.

      If the premises are true, the conclusion must infallibly be true. Premise 2 is a subset of premise 1. So the conclusion follows of necessity.

      This is a really good Hub Emma. I hope to see you often on these pages battling irrationality.

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 4 years ago from Kansas City

      Hi, Freshmanyear. Well, this was actually the final for my logic class. This was the debate given to us and we had to find five different argument schemes in it and pick them apart. I have definitely considered doing the same to other debates, but I am still in school, so most of what I publish on here are things I have to do for class anyway. However, winter break is coming up so I may just do that. Thanks for your comment!

    • profile image

      Freshmanyear 4 years ago

      Hey Emma! Quite an interesting article you have here! I'm doing an argumentative paper right now on the topic of spirituality (particularly belief vs. non-belief).

      My question was whether or not you had any other debates to share. While this debate looks interesting enough, it seems as if you picked and chose an argument with open flaws on the theist's side. Of course, you probably needed this one in order to point out the five popular "schemes" that Christians use. In that case, it's understandable.

      Anyway, if you could provide some more credible and engaging debates, that would be appreciated! Thanks!

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 4 years ago from Kansas City

      Thank you for that comment, Paladin! Yes, I agree. Sheeple are often very close sighted and can't see the bigger picture.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 4 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Great hub, emma!

      You list some excellent, very common examples here, though I'd say the straw man argument is much more popular among theists than you give it credit for.

      I'm also amused to see that, while Miles characterized everything you wrote here an "ad hominem fallacy," he didn't bother to offer any specifics. He clearly doesn't understand what "ad hominem" even means, for it's clear to any rational reader that you critiqued Lennox's arguments, not Lennox himself.

      Well done!

    • Carneades-Georgia profile image

      Carneades-Georgia 5 years ago from Augusta, Georgia

    • Carneades-Georgia profile image

      Carneades-Georgia 5 years ago from Augusta, Georgia

      Emma, my hub Carneades-Georgia and my other hubs identify the problem behind failed theism- no divine intent. That intent stems from pareidolia and reduced animism.

      " Logic is the bane of theists." Fr. Griggs

      Please visit those hubs for a while as I visit yours! This is not promotion but identification.

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Leave it to a christian to consider an amoral article an "attack."

    • slcockerham profile image

      slcockerham 5 years ago from Tallahassee, Florida

      And I thought evolutionists were the champions of circular reasoning,in dating methods, etc... I respect your right to your views as an atheist or whatever god you choose to worship, and I don't feel the need to attack your views or convince you of mine! Thanks for the interesting hub.

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Your point? Isaac Newton believed in god, too, unfortunately for him. That's why he got to a certain point in his research and then just stopped. There have been quite a few scientists from that period that believed in god. While their research may have been brilliant, that doesn't mean that their thoughts on god were. Perhaps now you will argue with me that the earth is really flat because some brilliant ancients said so. Nice try, but definitely a FAIL.

    • socratus profile image

      socratus 5 years ago from Israel

      " I believe that the more thoroughly science is studied,

      the further does it take us from anything comparable to atheism."

      / Lord Kelvin, /

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      No one is forcing you to read my hubs Miles. What are you, a troll? And when someone like you goes through such lengths I have to conclude that you are an idiot. You can go to each and every one of my hubs and post nonsense like this, the truth is still the truth, even if you don't agree with it.

    • MilesArmbruster profile image

      MilesArmbruster 5 years ago from Somewhere on the journey

      Actually, the funniest aspect of reading this hub was that in the midst of your cherry picking, all you did was point out the same fallacies that atheists use all the time. I am always amazed that atheists claim logic as their own personal domain and then abuse it in the ways they accuse others of abusing it.

      For the record, you would probably be well served if your responses to everyone weren't so nasty and insulting. If you go back and read your comments you will find that most of them come down to, "I'm right because I understand everything perfectly and you are wrong because you are an idiot." Almost everything you write is an ad hominem fallacy, so you should probably not flaunt your perfect use of logic when your comments are so nasty.

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Thanks Charles! Yes, that one is the easiest to "prove" simply because you can't prove a negative. Lack of evidence speaks for itself.

    • profile image

      Charles Hilton 5 years ago

      ROTFLMMFAO!!!! I love your comments! Your point-blank honesty is so rare and refreshing!

      I was a history major in college and I took Philosophy 101(Intro to Logic) and loved it. It was tougher than I assumed it would be, but, it taught me so much about faulty reasoning, which led me to observe that most of us are prone to it and over the years has helped me to understand why the world is so screwed-up.

      As an ex-fundamentalist Baptist, I've had my share of indoctrination followed by my share of arguments. My personal journey has seen many a strange twist and turn and like they say, "it's not the age, it's the mileage."

      But, through it all, I've developed a healthy skepticism and yes, even cynicism. But, like a local radio personality used to say, "Cynicism is the price I pay for paying attention."

      One argument that I've encountered a lot is one that you're probably familiar with: the You-can't-prove-that-God-doesn't-exist argument. Which is also one of the easiest to rebut. I like to say: "And you can't prove that three-headed leprechauns don't exist. Therefore, they must exist."

      Another excellent and well-written hub!

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Before anyone else posts something moronic about faith read the hub. This is not an invitation to vomit your religious opinions all over my hub. This hub is intended to analyze argument schemes in a debate. If you want to post on something else find another hub to do it on.

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Glad to help!

    • profile image

      Blonde Nonbeliever 5 years ago

      Thanks for this!

    • emmaspeaks profile image
      Author

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      The only reason I approved your comment was so everyone can see what an idiot you are. Thank you for playing.

    • socratus profile image

      socratus 5 years ago from Israel

      Genesis XXIc: The sacred book of the Physics.

      The God can govern the Universe only using

      Physical Laws, Formulas, Equations.

      =.

      God : Ten Scientific Commandments.

      § 1. Vacuum: T=0K, E= ? , p= 0, t=? .

      § 2. Particles: C/D= pi=3,14, R/N=k, E/M=c^2, h=0, c=0, i^2=-1.

      § 3. Photon: h=E/t, h=kb, h=1, c=1.

      § 4. Electron: h*=h/2pi, 1, E=h*f , e^2=ach* .

      § 5. Gravity, Star formation: h*f = kTlogW : He II -- He I -- H -- . . .

      § 6. Proton: (p).

      § 7. The evolution of interaction between Photon/Electron and Proton:

      a) electromagnetic,

      b) nuclear,

      c) biological.

      § 8. The Physical Laws:

      a) Law of Conservation and Transformation Energy/ Mass,

      b) Pauli Exclusion Law,

      c) Heisenberg Uncertainty Law.

      § 9. Brain: Dualism of Consciousness.

      § 10. Practice: Parapsychology. Meditation.

      ===.

      Best wishes.

      Israel Sadovnik Socratus

      ====.

      P.S.

      And then " God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light"

      / Genesis 1:3 /

      It means:

      The secret of God and Existence is hidden

      in the ‘ Theory of Vacuum & Light Quanta ‘.

      ==..

      #

      I want to know how God created this world

      I am not interested in this or that phenomenon,

      in the spectrum of this or that element

      I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details

      / Einstein /

      ==========.