“The glaring errors that pervade all anti-biblical arguments”

I stumbled across this “debate handbook” written by a Christian apologist of the “presuppositionalist” stripe. In a nutshell, these people are far more concerned with winning arguments than they are with entertaining what their opponents have to say, or even with merit. The “presupposition” is simply that the Christian, having God is his side, is right, and all strategy and attitudes appear to flow from this unyielding idea.
Because this is an especially aggressive brand of debating people, and appears to rely even more strongly than usual on intentional obfuscation, those who are fans of it can produce some interesting stuff. For example, here’s the beginning of Part 2 of the manual in question (page 13):

Some of our opponents are outwardly hostile. They might insult us, mock us, and call us names. They regard us as fools, fanatics, and the scum of the earth, and they are not afraid to tell us. Others appear more normal, and they will talk to you about religion seemingly with the same attention and respect that they will show when speaking about serious matters with non-Christians. Then, some appear so polite that they sound patronizing and obnoxious.
However, as long as they are all unbelievers, these are all superficial differences. Many Christians wish to consider their religious discussions with non-Christians as friendly
dialogues between fellow human beings who are both interested in discovering truth
through rational investigations. But this is unbiblical and unrealistic. It is true that many unbelievers appear sincere and courteous, but God looks at the thoughts and intentions of men, and not just their appearance and demeanor.
You might protest that, unlike God, we cannot directly perceive people’s hearts; however, it does not follow that we must therefore judge people according to their appearance. In another context, Jesus said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). Indeed, we cannot directly perceive people’s hearts, but we do not need to, because Scripture tells us what is in their hearts. Scripture tells us what God perceives when he looks pass their appearance. When God looks at them, he does not see a group of civilized and educated gentlemen, but he sees a generation of vipers, lewd beasts, stubborn mules, and vicious dogs. He sees a group of morons, idolaters, and Godhaters.
All humans are born sinful and rebellious, and because all unbelievers have never been converted by God, they remain sinful and rebellious, no matter how sincere and
courteous they appear to you. As Christians, we are indeed intellectually and morally
superior, but we are superior only because God has changed us and made us superior by his sovereign grace, and not by our own will or work. We freely admit that we were just
as stupid and evil as our non-Christian opponents, but this does not change the fact that
they are indeed stupid and evil, that their friendly appearance is superficial, and that their gentle speech is insincere.

This is an interesting collection of ideas: non-Christians are shit, Christians are basically shit without God’s help, God hates everyone, and God is cool. It certainly can’t be faulted for false optimism.
The writer, Vincent Cheung, goes on to emphasize the raw grudge-driven nature of his approach:

This is the biblical way. You must actively and endlessly attack everything about your opponent’s thinking. You must demolish every argument and capture every thought. You must attack his beliefs more strongly and skillfully than he attacks yours. You must intellectually humiliate him, and expose the illusion that his pride is rationally justified. Because this is what biblical apologetics demands, it follows that you must develop and perfect your “take down” technique in debate.
To begin, we should recall our discussion from the previous chapter, that because God has rendered all unbelievers foolish and futile, we can always defeat them in argumentation when we affirm a biblical system of theology and apply the principles of biblical apologetics. A specific application of this means that we can always defeat any question or objection raised against the Christian faith, and more than that, we can destroy every idea within our opponent’s system of thought. Indeed, our task is to demolish every argument and capture every thought that defies what God has revealed in Scripture.
On this biblical basis, our broad offensive strategy is to attack everything in our
opponent’s worldview, everything he says, and everything he implies. We should turn
every question into an opportunity to undermine his intellectual pride, and use every
objection as a springboard to destroy his sense of intellectual superiority.
Those who are trying to learn my method of apologetics often fail to learn this principle. Perhaps they consider it an exaggeration, or perhaps they do not realize what “everything” entails, so I want to make it very clear. When I say to attack everything, I
mean everything, and everything about everything that has to do with anything in the opponent’s system of thought. When I say “everything,” I am referring to every word, every definition of every word, every implication of every word, every proposition, every connection between every proposition, every assumption, every speculation, every inference, every question, every objection, every contradiction – everything.

The guy certainly has a fondness for the word “destroy” (over two dozen instances appear in the PDF) and various synonyms. Clearly he views debates with non-Christians as divinely mandated cage matches.
There was no way I was going to suffer though this whole tract, but the writer’s general advice is to keep in mind that non-Christians, while sometimes appearing coherent enough, not only don’t know their Christianity but don’t even know what they themselves think or believe or where their ideas come from (“it is no exaggeration to say that none of their statements can be logically understood”). Comically, the onus is establishing the truth or falsity of the Christian deity is placed firmly on the nonbeliever:

An objection against Christianity must be an argument reducible to a
syllogism with a conclusion that contradicts Christianity. That is, it must contain true
premises and necessarily lead to a conclusion like, “Therefore, Christianity is false,” or
“Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.” In this case, what exactly is the objection?
What are these true premises? What is the exact process of reasoning that necessarily
leads to the conclusion that Christianity is false or that God does not exist?

Obviously, “unicorns” can be substituted for “Christianity” throughout, with no change in the basic argument–and this, on the heels of so much blather about logical fallacies and crappy reasoning. It’s startlingly dishonest, but I can see how the tactics could be useful to the side lacking evidence in an oral debate setting and in capable hands.

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  1. #1 by Tony P on February 28, 2009 - 12:33 am

    This is where 12 years of Catholic schools comes in handy for an atheist like me. I know their dogma.
    I had a nice little battle with Southern Preachers on YouTube. I got called such things as a neoevangelist so apparently I’m on my game.

  2. #2 by wrpd on February 28, 2009 - 12:54 am

    I sit at my computer with eight different bibles within an armslength so I can challenge any bible-quoting fundie. Most of the times that I get into an argument over scripture, the fundies resort to name-calling and then slink away.

  3. #3 by rufustfirefly on February 28, 2009 - 1:03 am

    Sounds like the great Sye Ten B, of various blogs and forums.

  4. #4 by sinned34 on February 28, 2009 - 1:13 am

    Oh, man. Sye over at Ray Comfort’s crappy blog. What a maroon! I could never get him to answer a straight question, and gave up after about a month of wasting time over there.
    I did learn one thing from him: as soon as I recognize the presuppositionalist argument style, I just walk the fuck away. There’s nothing to be gained from that conversation.

  5. #5 by Kevin Beck on February 28, 2009 - 1:21 am

    At least this Cheung guy can assemble words and sentences. The Sye TenB character is more of a workaday babbling fundie.
    Speaking of Ray Comfort, how did he ever rise to prominence in the creationist world? It can’t be his brains or charisma (creationism consists of poor or absent arguments, but there are intelligent creationists), and there are plenty of people willing to be just plain wacky who don’t become well known.
    What kind of knob orders people not to post URLs on his blog or write “jesus” or “god” without the initial caps? Or puts crap like “An atheist has no scientific creditably, because his ‘nothing created everything’ violates the basic laws of science” in his sidebar? By going after Dawkins he reminds me of the little chickenhawk freak on the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.

  6. #6 by humorix on February 28, 2009 - 2:32 am

    Each is Free to Write the bible.
    Each is Free to make the Amerique.

  7. #7 by Lassi Hippeläinen on February 28, 2009 - 3:48 am

    “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).
    So it is expclicitly stated in the Bible: evidence-based science is wrong. A True Xian(TM) can always win a scientific debate just by waving hands in a spirited way.

  8. #8 by Dr. Kate on February 28, 2009 - 6:58 am

    The sad part is, he’s partly right. It is difficult to “win” a “debate” with this type of creationist–and impossible to convince him that you’ve won–precisely because of the central problem of creationism: it is completely unfalsifiable. There IS no way to prove that the Christian god (or unicorns, or the FSM) doesn’t exist or didn’t do any of the things they claim he did, because when you provide evidence that it didn’t occur, the answer is “Well, that’s because God destroyed the evidence” or “God made it that way”. Because the ONLY “argument” these people have is “god did it”, there is no way to convince them that they are not thinking logically, or that the evidence is on your side, or anything like that.
    Essentially, the fact that this brand of creationism is so blatantly UNscientific is exactly the reason that it’s impossible to effectively debate these people. You will never convince them of anything, because (as is pointed out above), they go into the “debate” KNOWING that you’re wrong, and they can explain anything you say with “God did it that way for his own reasons, and we can’t possibly hope to understand them”.
    Which isn’t to say that we should not present the facts and debunk the myths, and keep presenting the facts and debunking the myths, over and over again. We will never convince people like Cheung. But more rational people who are confused or uncertain might get caught in the spray and realize that people like Cheung are full of coprolites and, no matter how loudly and frothingly they scream about logical thought, are completely incapable of it.

  9. #9 by abb3w on February 28, 2009 - 9:54 am

    The premises required are Wolfram’s Axiom, the definition of Universal quantification from the Existential, the Zermelo-Fraenkel Axioms, and that Reality and Evidence are Related with formal complexity at most Recursively Enumerable.
    Details are tedious.

  10. #10 by T_U_T on February 28, 2009 - 10:45 am

    this breed of apologists is really awesome !
    Meeting one of them is like entering the twilight zone.
    Ale laws of reality and reason simply either fail altogether or start working in opposite.
    They reject all your claims by the most radical absolute philosopical skepticism, then they declare obviously (I mean really obvious like there is something while you can directly see there is nothing ) false thing as rigorously proved fact.
    and dismiss your accusation of double standards by radical skepticism again….

  11. #11 by David Marjanović on February 28, 2009 - 11:07 am

    “it is no exaggeration to say that none of their statements can be logically understood”

    Interesting contrast to Luther, who wrote again and again that reason is evil.
    Celebrity deathmatch!!!

  12. #12 by T_U_T on February 28, 2009 - 11:29 am

    a few of their ideas about science, place of science, epistemioloy

  13. #13 by T_U_T on February 28, 2009 - 11:29 am

    a few of their ideas about science, place of science, epistemioloy

  14. #14 by T_U_T on February 28, 2009 - 11:31 am

    shit. three links in one post. I knew it would be considered spam

  15. #15 by bi -- IJI on February 28, 2009 - 1:03 pm

    > An objection against Christianity must be an argument reducible to a syllogism with a conclusion that contradicts Christianity. That is, it must contain true premises and necessarily lead to a conclusion like, “Therefore, Christianity is false,” or “Therefore, the Christian God does not exist.”
    I am God. Prove me wrong.

  16. #16 by T_U_T on February 28, 2009 - 1:25 pm

    I am God. Prove me wrong.
    that would not help.
    he would simply ask you to define every word you used, to prove every sentence, say about any question in your text that because you need to ask you admit your ignorance and simpy refuse any demands made by you saying you have no right.
    off course, any answer to this will be treated in exactly the same way

  17. #17 by Kevin Beck on February 28, 2009 - 1:41 pm

    I will repeat, all non-Christians are stupid, sinful, and worthless, as Scripture teaches. Even as Christians, all our wisdom, holiness, and worth come from God, and not from ourselves, so that without him, we are nothing and can do nothing (John 15:5). I stress this not just for the sake of insulting non-Christians, and not just because it makes me happy to say it; rather, I am trying to tell you about the reality of the situation, a reality that carries important implications for apologetics. We have already discussed one of these implications earlier, namely, that because human wisdom is foolish and futile, as
    long as we depend on divine wisdom in our apologetics, we will always win in any debate against any unbeliever.

    This guy uses the word “stupid” or a derivative to describe non-Christians or their ideas 22 times in this screed.
    I guess it’s clear what “divine wisdom in our apologetics” consists of: declaring unconditional victory in advance and calling those who don’t accept that an ancient book full of ridiculous “miracles” accurately represents the universe stupid.
    It’s a screwed-up world when you can convince an intact mind that such a stance is anything but insane.

  18. #18 by T_U_T on February 28, 2009 - 1:52 pm

    I don’t think they can convince anyone with intact mind. Just look at the last link in one of my posts. They deny that sensory experience, thinking, action, and causality in general exist.
    He thinks that instead of sensory perceptions or thinking, ideas in your head are directly placed there by god, and even then they lack any capability to effect any action. It is again god who causes your body to move, but, again, movement of your body has no effect on your surrounding. It is only god who moves the other things like they would be touched by you. etc, etc. Entire world is according to this sect only gods sock puppet theater.
    there is no way how someone sane enough to avoid institutionalization to believe that stuff.

  19. #19 by T_U_T on February 28, 2009 - 1:52 pm

    I don’t think they can convince anyone with intact mind. Just look at the last link in one of my posts. They deny that sensory experience, thinking, action, and causality in general exist.
    He thinks that instead of sensory perceptions or thinking, ideas in your head are directly placed there by god, and even then they lack any capability to effect any action. It is again god who causes your body to move, but, again, movement of your body has no effect on your surrounding. It is only god who moves the other things like they would be touched by you. etc, etc. Entire world is according to this sect only gods sock puppet theater.
    there is no way how someone sane enough to avoid institutionalization to believe that stuff.

  20. #20 by Kelly on February 28, 2009 - 1:54 pm

    Thanks T_U_T
    I followed your first link and I think my brain exploded!
    For the benefit of others, here is an excerpt about “Facts” from the first link titled science:

    But strictly, is it the Earth’s roundness that is a fact, or is it the items of evidence that are facts on which the conclusion of the Earth’s roundness rests? For example, the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse has a round edge: Perhaps this is a fact, and the roundness of the Earth is a theory. Of course, it is not a fact that the Earth is a sphere: it is flattened at the poles. But if it is not a fact that the Earth is perfectly round (spherical), what is the fact? Is it a fact that the Earth is an oblate spheroid? But this term embraces a variety of forms and proportions. Which form exactly is the absolute unchangeable fact? -though science does not pride itself on sticking to facts such as this.
    Above, it was said that the shadow of the Earth in a lunar eclipse is a fact-on which the roundness of the Earth is erected as a theory. But is even the shadow a fact? Is it not rather the fact that a certain darkness on the Moon has around edge, and is it not a theory that this darkness is the shadow of the Earth?
    This type of analysis seems to lead to the conclusion that all, or at least many, alleged facts are theories developed out of simpler items of perception. The problem naturally a rises whether there is any fact that is not a theory. Is there anything seen directly as what it is? No doubt many people in Atlantic City on a fine summer’s day have seen an airplane high in the air pursuing an even course; and as they have watched the plane so high and so small, it has flapped its wings and dived to get a fish. Was it a fact that it was an airplane, or was this a theory about a small object in the sky? What is a fact?

    O M G
    He actually compares scientific fact to a guess you might make about a flying shape when it is too far to see clearly.
    Kelly

  21. #21 by MPG on February 28, 2009 - 1:55 pm

    I almost couldn’t make it past the boxer analogy on the first page. The relish with which he uses language like “thoroughly bludgeon his opponent”, and calling informal debate a “delicious opportunity” is both revealing and disturbing.

  22. #22 by Monado on February 28, 2009 - 5:13 pm

    Some people just like to argue. I’d have to resort to, “Prove that God exists.” Then point out the flaws in the “proofs.”
    If I recall correctly, the standards for delusions include believing in imaginary beings or hearing voices, but not if you think they are part of your religion. Does anyone have a reference?

  23. #23 by Monado on February 28, 2009 - 5:13 pm

    Some people just like to argue. I’d have to resort to, “Prove that God exists.” Then point out the flaws in the “proofs.”
    If I recall correctly, the standards for delusions include believing in imaginary beings or hearing voices, but not if you think they are part of your religion. Does anyone have a reference?

  24. #24 by David Marjanović on February 28, 2009 - 7:26 pm

    Quoth the presupper:

    But strictly, is it the Earth’s roundness that is a fact, or is it the items of evidence that are facts on which the conclusion of the Earth’s roundness rests? For example, the shadow of the Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse has a round edge: Perhaps this is a fact, and the roundness of the Earth is a theory.

    That’s how it used to be. But now we have the means to get so far away from the Earth that we can see with our own eyes how round it is. Several people have done it.
    So, yes, it is a fact that the Earth is almost spherical. It was a hypothesis, but turned out to be a fact.

  25. #25 by Joshua Zelinsky on February 28, 2009 - 9:37 pm

    Part of the problem with presuppositionalism is that it takes some of humans worse cognitive flaws such as confirmation bias and belief overkill and rather than make them issues that should be overcome it trumpets them as good things when done in the service of Christianity. In some cases such as this one is does so almost explicitly.

  26. #26 by Kevin Beck on February 28, 2009 - 9:53 pm

    Monado,
    You got the definition of a “delusion” from the DSM, the psychiatry “bible” (and apt term) which states:
    “A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture.”

  27. #27 by Tyler DiPietro on March 1, 2009 - 1:40 am

    Probably the best thing that could be said about presuppositional apologetics is that it is at least transparent. I find that while most Christian apologists aren’t explicitly presuppositional, they do attempt to sneak in the same sort of philosophical skepticism with what David Stove might call “the neutralizing of success words.” In other words, using words like “science” and “knowledge” in a way that downplays their significance while not explicitly giving the impression that you are undermining or rejecting these concepts in their entirety. The goal is essentially to create enough confusion and smokescreens with your rhetorical shenanigans that religious propositions now seem semi-reasonable.

  28. #28 by eddie on March 1, 2009 - 3:00 pm

    The tract quoted above is the perfect example of how the fundies have got no game. 80% of it is fantasising about winning this or that argument and the lotto and the supperbowl, and twice on wednesdays. Then at the end, their only attempt at an actual argument is pig-poo shirking of the burden of proof with lashings of lalalala-notlistening.
    I think the way to combat this is with the parody shown by DM @21. Set out to convince them of the reality of a flat earth, populated by invisible pink unicorns. Directly echoing their phrasing in your parody will help too.
    If you are challenged on this; as being off-topic or not in good faith, point out the double standard.

  29. #29 by eddie on March 1, 2009 - 3:00 pm

    The tract quoted above is the perfect example of how the fundies have got no game. 80% of it is fantasising about winning this or that argument and the lotto and the supperbowl, and twice on wednesdays. Then at the end, their only attempt at an actual argument is pig-poo shirking of the burden of proof with lashings of lalalala-notlistening.
    I think the way to combat this is with the parody shown by DM @21. Set out to convince them of the reality of a flat earth, populated by invisible pink unicorns. Directly echoing their phrasing in your parody will help too.
    If you are challenged on this; as being off-topic or not in good faith, point out the double standard.

  30. #30 by eddie on March 1, 2009 - 3:08 pm

    I do wish the trolls on pharyngula could at least spell, but some seem actually to be convinced that what they say is true. With this, the concept of truth is rejected as reality-based heresy.
    I think we need to realise that if a presupper were to actually know any of the arguments either way, enough to “attack his beliefs more strongly and skillfully than he attacks yours”, then they would be atheist. Most don’t and merely attack misrepresentations of the arguments or deliberate strawmen.
    Of course, you can win anything if you redefine the word win. But the idea in debate is to convince third parties rather than the opponent. That’s why so many of them will only debate on their turf.

  31. #31 by eddie on March 1, 2009 - 3:08 pm

    I do wish the trolls on pharyngula could at least spell, but some seem actually to be convinced that what they say is true. With this, the concept of truth is rejected as reality-based heresy.
    I think we need to realise that if a presupper were to actually know any of the arguments either way, enough to “attack his beliefs more strongly and skillfully than he attacks yours”, then they would be atheist. Most don’t and merely attack misrepresentations of the arguments or deliberate strawmen.
    Of course, you can win anything if you redefine the word win. But the idea in debate is to convince third parties rather than the opponent. That’s why so many of them will only debate on their turf.

  32. #32 by T_U_T on March 2, 2009 - 3:31 am

    I think the way to combat this is with the parody shown by DM @21. Set out to convince them of the reality of a flat earth, populated by invisible pink unicorns. Directly echoing their phrasing in your parody will help too.

    It is not a parody. DM quotes the actual text. Yes. Unbeliavable, but true.

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