Straw Man Arguments Against Atheism

In my last post, I lamented how commonly I find Christians using straw man arguments against atheism (often involving redefining atheism in a different way than it is actually used by atheists) when I’m searcing the “atheism” and “atheist” tags on wordpress (usually because I want to find more atheist blogs). What my last post could have really used, though, is some concrete examples. I will attempt to correct that deficit with this post.

To start with, some stuff I found by googling “christian arguments against atheism”:

“The Christian is convinced of his or her position based on faith.”
“The atheist uses faith, too. He puts his faith in science or self.”
“Atheism declares that there is no god. Christianity teaches that there is a God. Both cannot be true. So which one is correct, the atheist or the Christian? How you respond depends upon faith. It depends on the source of your faith. Will you have faith in self? Or in God?”
(source)

This is a good example of exactly the sort of straw man argument that I have been complaining about. It tries to argue that atheists’ position is based on faith, when most atheists conclude that there are probably no gods because there is no solid evidence for the existence of any gods. When someone concludes that something probably does not exist because there is no solid evidence for it, this is not what we usually think of as “[using] faith”.

I particularly dislike the slippery way the word ‘faith’ often gets used in arguments like these. Faith can mean different things. Faith is often used to mean ‘belief without solid evidence’ or ‘trust in someone or something’, which are both very different concepts. Saying that most atheists trust science, to some extent, is very, very different from saying that most atheists believe, without solid evidence, in the non-existence of gods. If most atheists actually did believe, without solid evidence, in the non-existence of gods, then there would be a good case for atheism being faith based. However, this is not the case, and trying to use the word ‘faith’ to conflate ‘belief without solid evidence’ and ‘trust (to some extent) in science’ is dishonest.

Excerpts from another article I found with google:

“Atheism is a philosophical system of contradiction and confusion.”

Atheism is not a philosophical system at all. It is the lack of belief in any gods. Period. That’s all it is. There are, however, a lot of things that many atheists tend to agree on. If you want to talk about philosophical systems that atheists tend to hold to, you’re going to need to be more specific. For instance, you might talk about humanism, which is actually a philosophical system, and which is also something that many atheists identify with.

“[Atheism] robs one of hope and offers emptiness in exchange…”

No. No it does not. There are tons of atheists who have hope and who do not feel that their lives are empty or meaningless. If you want to talk about something that actually robs people of hope, you might try talking about depression. One of the defining characteristics of depression is that it robs people of hope.

Another apologetics article:

“According to Romans 1:18-21, all men know God but suppress that knowledge. All creation proclaims the True God so that all people are ‘without excuse.'”

Here the apologetic claims that atheists actually know, deep down, that God does exist. As someone who has honestly investigated the question of whether or not any gods exist, and was eventually forced to conclude that they probably do not (this was not the conclusion I was looking or hoping for when I started), I present myself as a counter-example to this claim. I do appreciate, however, that this person is at least honest about what his source is, and does not pretend that he is doing anything other than what he is: valuing the words of an ancient book, translated and re-translated, over the words of people who are actually atheists.

“…due to this suppression of God’s revelation, unbelievers ‘exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen’ (v. 25). Those who deny God must invariably replace Him with something or someone else. Whether or not they outwardly bow, all unbelievers worship something that is created rather than He who created all things.”

And here the apologetic claims that atheists must be worshipping something, if they are not worshipping God. He then goes on to argue that atheism is basically idolatry. Again, valuing the words of an old book over the words of actual atheists.

If these are not the actual beliefs and actions of atheists (and the only way to claim that they are, given the many, many statements by atheists to the contrary, is to claim that atheists are either in denial or lying), then perhaps it is the book that is mistaken?

The next example is a guest blog post I found which I decided not to comment on because of the disclaimer that it was “not meant to be an argument but instead to be a reflection on faith”, and that I shouldn’t “get [my] underwear in a bunch because her definition of ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ or ‘atheism’ isn’t quite correct.” Of course, it was precisely the definitions that I took issue with.

Specifically, the guest writer asserts that “atheism is not the absence of faith, but the refusal to have faith in anyone else but yourself.” My problem with this is that she is using one meaning of faith in the first part of the sentence (belief), and another meaning in the latter part (trust), in a statement to tell atheists how we are wrong about things. It not only dismisses the actual positions that atheists take, it’s also condescending.

She also makes the same claim that atheism is faith based that I’ve now spent much of two posts complaining about and arguing against: “Faith and atheism is the same to me. My definition of faith is that you believe in something. The definition of atheism is that you believe that there is nothing. Either way you have a belief.”

I appreciate that the author wanted to reflect on her faith, but I wish she could have done so without blatantly misrepresenting atheists.

In closing, I should probably mention that I did also run across plenty of examples of Christians arguing against atheists without misrepresenting their position when I was googling stuff. I wish more people did this. It seems like, in the majority Christian nation I live in, atheists have to know all sorts of stuff about Christianity, but for Christians, it’s still an option to be ignorant about atheists. I like it a lot more when the Christians who try to argue against atheism actually bother to learn something about what atheists actually say.

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4 thoughts on “Straw Man Arguments Against Atheism

  1. So true that Christians rarely look or study atheism. It’s mainly do to the fact we know there are some great points that will make us doubt, which leads to discomfort. I finally dove in reading Dawkins and Hitchens. It was very uncomfortable but helped me reexamine my beliefs, and to realize atheist aren’t demon possessed! 🙂

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    • I know that feeling. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m reading stuff that challenges atheism, sometimes. It’s good to see what points the other side makes though. Maybe I’ll find somehting I missed.

      I found it interesting how much of that feeling I had when I was reading this one book on Islam. The arguments weren’t convincing–a lot of them were even similar to things I’d grown up hearing about Christianity–but it was still challenging, and I had to think about it a lot to figure out why the arguments weren’t convincing. A lot of it was even just stuff like saying how unbelievers are foolish or evil or something, but if someone says that about a group you’re part of… Well. Comfortable it ain’t, and you want to look for reasons why that’s not so.

      But that sort of thing is a lot different than just reading a book about what Muslims believe, what Islam is like. Is it so challenging for Christians to just read about what atheists are like? Or is even the mere existence of atheists who aren’t evil/depressed/stupid/whatever too much of a challenge? Well. If I consider the angry responses to atheists putting up an ad or a billboard that just says ‘atheists’, I’ve probably already got the answer to that question, and it’s not one I like.

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