As a former Christan, I have a bit of an outside view of the inner workings of religion. I’ve noticed one major thing among a large amount of Christians, this being that they will often get quite angry at people who don’t believe the same things as them. This includes Muslims, Atheists, Jewish people, Mormons, Occultists, what have you. While this is probably not a worldwide phenomenon, it certainly seems prominent in my area. I’ll often get into long arguments with a few friends of mine, in which it becomes a three-on-one battle for dominance in this ranting, unorganized debate.
The arguments that are most mainly used are referred to as apologetics—defined by the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary as systematic “argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine)” or “a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity.” There are many different apologetic arguments, and a few of the more common ones will be discussed and common refutations will be given over the course of this article.
God can exist without the universe, but the universe cannot exist without god. This is often called the Cosmological Argument. To quote Doug Powell, the writer of The Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics, “The cosmological argument for the existence of God tries to show that because anything exists there must be a god who brought it into existence. In other words, without a god to create it, nothing could or would exist. It is possible for God to exist without the universe, but it is not possible for the universe to exist without God. Thus, the cosmological argument tries to show that the universe is not a necessary being and therefore cannot account for its own existence. The thrust of the argument is to show that the universe was caused by some agent that was neither part of the universe nor itself was caused.”
The Cosmological Argument essentially requires belief in the existence of God before it, as an argument, can be believed. It argues that god exists outside of the universe and created it from there, and he himself did not need a cause. I don’t believe it is a widely argued fact that if there were a god, it would exist from outside the universe, not within it, which is why heaven and hell are places you can only go to at death, and not while you still live. The second statement it makes is that God doesn’t need a cause, whereas everything else does.
The first thing that pops out at me here is the fact that God doesn’t need a cause, according to this argument. This statement appears to be a bit of a cop-out argument since without stating this, it would lead to an infinite regression chain. This means you would ask the same question repeatedly, without ever getting back to the original question—Rather like an infinite chain of dominoes. The question here is “Who created god?” It leads to “Who created the person who created god?” then to “Who created the person who created the person who created god?” and so on in that fashion, with no true source. The question of “how was that created?” will always follow infinitely. Since God didn’t need a cause, who is to say that the universe also didn’t need one? This is a quick and effective way to nullify the cosmological argument.
This is a rather dumbed-down version of the argument, and it does get quite a bit more in-depth, but in my experience, the argument of God’s cause seems to beat any form of the argument I’ve seen.
The Watchmaker Argument is another common one.
According to Wikipedia, the original argument was made by William Paley in 1802, in his book Natural Theology, or Evidence of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature. The argument was written as follows: “In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (…) There must have existed, at some time, and at someplace or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (…) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.”
Essentially what the Watchmaker Argument says is that were you to walk through the forest and find a watch on the ground, you would not assume that watch to be a product of nature or of random chance: Through the fact that it seems something designed through its accuracy at doing such things as telling time, it must have a designer or a creator. In much the same way, the amazing adaptiveness of things such as plants and animals in different environments must be designed by some sort of higher power, such as god.
This argument isn’t hard to refute. Evolution is a very well-known theory and you’ll only need to mention it in order to nullify their argument. Unfortunately, it is an altogether different thing to convince a Christian that evolution is fact and not just some sort of test of faith. If you would like to try in this endeavor, try to present them with evidence in a coherent fashion. It is unlikely that they will be convinced, but it is alright to try, as some people give better evidence than others, and some people are more easily convinced than others.
Another commonly used argument is the reason for the existence of morals.
Many people assume one of two things: It was a creation of god in order to help us in keeping with his commandments, or that it is a product of the tribal “I help you, you help me” concept.
In Doug Powell’s Guide to Christian Apologetics, he introduces the concept through questions of morality. “Are right and wrong objective realities with claims on people at all times, or are they subjective realities only—Matters of opinion? Was Adolph Hitler evil or did he simply have a different opinion about things? … The moral, or axiological, argument tries to show that moral values must be objective and universal to make any sense.
“And if Moral values are objective, the source must be a transcendent, powerful being for whom human actions and motives are not a matter of indifference.” He then goes on to introduce the concepts of Relativism and Cultural relativism, that being a widely held moral value within a society or culture, respectively. It states that societies decide what is right and wrong, but also that the values can vary between different people within society. Cultural relativism, as Powell goes on to state, “says that because each culture is holding to its own view of morality, and because these views differ, there must be no objective morality.” This seems like the most rational approach to morals as could be found; however, Powell continues to state that disagreeing with the theory of relativism means that they must accept the fact that there is a disagreement between others on morals and moral values, meaning that there is no correct view of morals within any society and that they can differ from place to place—thereby making them cultural relativists themselves.
He also states that if a cultural relativist clams the opposing view is wrong, they show they are not actually a relativist, since they believe in an absolute objective moral system. He says, “the difference in morality from culture to culture is an interesting anthropological phenomenon, but it cannot give a satisfactory account of the basis of morality.” Thus, god is brought into the picture, in order to give a satisfactory cause for morality.
As has been stated, most Christians will not take Evolution as a refutable argument. The only real argument against the idea, however, is Evolution in and of itself. The theory behind everyday morality states that millions of years ago, humans began to form packs, or tribes if you will. The tribes were based on a help system—You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. If one was to expect their life to be defended by one of their fellow tribesmen, they should first defend the lives of those very same people. This same philosophy was also carried over to just generally being nice, helping with hunting and gathering food, and just about every other aspect of their lives. The philosophy continued throughout the ages, even as people moved into cities from tribes. For that reason, people have morals similar to those thought of millions of years ago.
In conclusion, Apologetics can make effective arguments for Christians against atheists, but with the proper refutations prepared, or even with some clever improvising, the arguments can just as easily be beaten. These are just a few examples of common apologetics used as arguments, however, and you are encouraged to come up with your own responses to various arguments. You won’t be converting anyone, but it makes for a good debate and being able to refute any arguments they throw your way makes victory all the sweeter.