I’ve noticed many atheists use circular reasoning when they explain why they believe what they do. They go from no evidence, to no faith, to no evidence again. I’ve spoken to many atheists in person and online, and this is how it goes:
(If I were to begin my argument against atheism this way, my atheist friends would panic in their hurry to be first to chastise me for my anecdotal fallacy.)
A Southern rant
But so begins the typical atheist’s rant about faith, such as the one I recently read at the SouthernSkeptic…except in my intro, I have kind of put his shoe on the other foot.
He then proceeds… “When I ask why they believe Christianity is true, they usually start by saying there is evidence that god exists: the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, the moral argument, etc. But these arguments are not evidence; they are arguments.”
I’ve read just a small sample of this writer’s stuff and he seems to be intelligent enough to understand the category error he has made, but he doesn’t.
He seems to be saying that Christians have no evidence to believe Christianity is true (a typical claim of atheists). He goes on to argue that because there is no evidence for Christian truth claims, then faith is not based on evidence. Therefore one either has evidence or faith, because, he claims, they are exclusive.
Next, he concedes that Christians use arguments for God’s existence as evidence that God exists. Another argument he extends though, is that an argument is not evidence, it is an argument. This is the extent that the “intellects”, the “open-minded” go to validate their belief that God doesn’t exist.
I believe I have introduced enough evidence here to argue against his argument though. 🙂
First of all, the Reformers definition (and the Biblical definition) of faith isknowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). Each of these elements must be in place to have Biblical faith. One must know of a thing to believe anything about it. That is knowledge. After one has knowledge of a thing, a person can make a judgment about the truth of it. To agree that it is true is called assent. Both of these involve evidence on some level. Finally, after one has been enlightened to a truth claim, and has been illuminated to its veracity, a person can trust it by relying on its ability to fulfill its truthful purpose.
There is no doubt that many Christians posses a less mature understanding of this principle of the elements of faith and may both miscommunicate the definition and misapply it. Some may actually believe that they have no need of evidence to have faith. Some may have faith based upon very little evidence. But to say that Christian faith is something other than what Christian orthodox beliefs define it as, only because some Christians get it wrong, is a fallacy called the isought fallacy. Faith is a Christian term just as sanctification or Eucharist, and if an atheist would like to redefine it, they should become a Christian so that they would have the right to do so. Nevertheless, faith is belief that something is true and trust in its truthfulness. Belief and trust are based upon evidence, period. The evidence may be weak or unreliable or even false, and it is right to challenge evidence. That is not to say that there is no evidence.
Bad arguments are still arguments
Oddly, this person’s (and many atheists) argument becomes rather incoherent. He claims that Christians use arguments for God’s existence as evidence that God exists and in his mind, there is something wrong with that. He claims that arguments are not evidence, “they are arguments”. Implicit in his claim I suppose, is that arguments have no value in understanding truth.
I would argue that if his argument is true, then it is invalid based upon its own conclusion.
Are arguments valid ways of understanding truth?
To say that an argument is an invalid method of coming to truth by making an argument is obviously self-refuting. By this ‘logic’, why would I accept his argument? It is not an acceptable way of coming to the truth, is it? That speciousness is probably just a mere oversight though.
What may not be an oversight but is probably an overstatement, is this idea that an argument is not evidence.
Arguments, in this sense, are ways of applying logic to understand truth. An argument is a way of understanding evidence (premises) in a logical way that produces a conclusion. That is what the cosmological, fine-tuning, and moral arguments for God’s existence are. They are ways of understanding premises (evidence) that bring us to logical conclusions about the universe and our circumstances in it, mainly pointing to theism (God’s existence).
An argument may look like this…
Premise 1: anything that exists has a beginning
Premise 2: the universe exists
Conclusion: the universe had a beginning
That’s a very simple argument, but it illustrates how an argument works to help us understand evidence and come to some conclusion of its ultimate meaning. An argument technically is not evidence. It uses evidence to come to a conclusion about what evidence means. Without an argument though, evidence is useless. It is mere data that is limited to trivia. To impose this type of ‘logic’ is counterintuitive and keeps people from engaging in open logical processes. Who’s promoting ‘critical thinking’ here?
Composition of an argument
But notice, in one sense he is right, arguments are not evidence per se. What is an argument made of though? An argument is made of evidence. Evidence or premises are the what composes an argument. The problem with the way this writer is thinking as well as many others is not that Christians are substituting faith for evidence but that naysayers or faithslayers (my term) are misappropriating evidence for truth.
If you would take the time to read the article hyperlinked above, notice the force of his argument. Of course he is saying that faith has nothing to do with evidence. He tries to create an infinite amount of separation between the two. A problem he runs into though, is that he falsely equivocates evidence with truth. He believes the evidence, he says. All that he knows is evidential, he claims. Well, I would call all of his “so what(s)” and raise him one “so what”?
Data and empty belief
You can believe any amount of data (evidence) that you would like; I can’t see God, the Bible is hard to believe, or Christians are mean to some people. None of these bits of evidence mean anything until you place them in an argument and each one of these pieces of evidence must be able to withstand a challenge.
In other words, evidence is not the same as truth and some evidence may not even be true.
That’s the beauty of logical arguments. Not only can the form of the argument be challenged as improper or sound, but each piece of evidence used to support the argument can be challenged as to its validity.
Sounding the horn of unsoundness
For example, a typical but simplified argument atheists make might look like this:
Premise (evidence) 1: Immaterial things do not exist
Premise (evidence) 2: God is immaterial
Conclusion: God does not exist
The conclusion obviously follows the evidence, so the argument is valid. The problem is that premise 1 (evidence) is not sound. Immaterial things do exist for example the number 3, or the thought you just had, or love, or even an argument. So although an argument like this is used and is proper, truth does not necessarily follow from the evidence. It is merely evidence, and in this case a very subjective type of evidence.
Conclusion of this argument
To claim that all of the truth that one believes about God is mere evidence, absent any argument, is incoherent and intellectually dishonest.
Not only are arguments made of evidence, but they are also logic in practice. Arguments are critical thinking, the mantra of self-described intellectuals. The very thing being argued against in the linked blog is arguments. How illogical is that?