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Whenever atheists criticize or attack religion, religious beliefs, or theism, religious theists of course seek some way to respond. Sometimes they may able to show that the atheists' arguments are unsound in some manner, but very often they have to acknowledge the validity of criticisms of particular religious beliefs and doctrines. At this point, it becomes common to argue that atheists are attacking only simplistic versions of religion, not the "real" and sophisticated versions.


Read Article: Myth: Atheist Critiques are Simplistic, Don't Understand Sophisticated Theology

April 28, 2007 at 11:55 am
(1) Alan says:

I note that similar problems exist across the entire field of nonsensical belief systems.

For example, a Neo-Pagan colleague of mine, made a point of publicly disassociating himself from the “casting of spells, black magic, and all that sh*t”, only to replace such discredited nonsense with some yet-to-be-discredited nonsense: his belief in “auric fields”, “quantum energies” in humans, and other psychic phenomenon.

I call such disassociations from already discredited nonsense the “residue fallacy”:

In an attempt to disassociate themselves from discredited data, arguments, or concepts, religionists, psychics, and pseudoscientists may abandon 99% of the above because there still remains a 1% residue of unexplained cases which indicate the presence of a real phenomenon. However, if 99% of the data is bad, what is there to suppose that the 1% residue is of any use either?

There is no reason to believe in imaginary phenomenon dressed in the language of quantum physics, any more than black magic, or magic wands, yet some people believe that they “know” that a supernatural presence exists, but that they cannot adequately explain it, often due to the “limits” of science, philosophy etc. Instead, they “approximate” with “there must be something” ideas about “mysterious energies”, failing to realise that made-up ideas continue being made up, regardless of how one tries to recycle pseudo-mysteries into yet more versions of the same concept. I personally like Daniel Dennett’s explanation that ideas, like organisms, evolve characteristics that are variants of the same theme.

“Sophisticated” theists might well admit that there is no big daddy with a white beard in the sky, but until we have a reason to suppose that an “infinitely simple, uncaused, transcendental quantum-mechanical-like process” exists, the so-called “sophisticated” (or is that sophistical?) conceptions of theism have all the credibility of Thor, Wotan, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

September 27, 2008 at 10:08 pm
(2) Laughing Boy says:

First, you may be right that the beliefs of many Christians are indeed the same simplistic ones that Dawkins, for example, attempts to rebut. However, in attacking the weak, he nevertheless claims to have killed the strong. He also claims intellectual superiority over ‘stupid christians’ while (through cautiousness or ignorance) keeping safe distance from smart ones. Why is he content with that?

I disagree with your assertion that there is no call within the Christian community for more rigorous theological training. There are very popular teachers—R.C. Sproul, for example—who see the theological flabbiness of the church-at-large and seek to remedy it.

September 28, 2008 at 4:22 am
(3) Mark Barratt says:

But Laughing Boy, who is “the strong”? Is it Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford (which suggest that his arguments are the best that theology can offer) and author of ‘The Dawkins Delusion’?

McGrath is known for making the “children who believe in Santa Claus are happier than children who don’t believe in Santa Claus” and “You can’t PROVE Hobbits don’t exist, so being an ahobbitist is a faith position” gambits when attempting to reply to Dawkins?

How about his use of the masterful “The term ‘vicarious redemption’ is not actually used in the bible” move in his
debate with Hitchens

Or his wonderfully sophisticated “God doesn’t intervene, but He does, but He doesn’t, but He does, but He doesn’t, but He does, I’VE ALREADY COVERED THIS!” argument in
Dawkins’ interview with him

What about John Lennox, Reader in Maths at Oxford and a Christian scholar (which also suggests that his arguments should be top-notch) who, in a
discussion with Dawkins
, basically concedes all of Dawkins’ views of Christianity as depending on literal readings of the NT, and actually says that anyone who interprets the NT miracles as anything other than factual events isn’t really a Christian?

Lennox also totally mangles the definition of special pleading to mean consistently rejecting all unsupported magical claims as Dawkins does, not to mean arbitrarily supporting one set of magical claims while dismissing others which have equal evidential support, as Lennox does.

This doesn’t come across as “strong”, it comes across as desperate.

What about Rowan Williams, current Archbishop of Canterbury (supposedly the person who is best at believing in God in the UK)? In Dawkins’ recent TV series, Williams argues with himself, essentially admitting that he uses poetic language to avoid difficult questions he can’t answer.

Who are these “strong” believers? Where are the unbeatable, sophisticated arguments that Dawkins is careful to avoid? I venture that there are none. Dawkins has demolished every argument for any gods worth worshiping (not useless gods like deist “higher powers” or whatever), but theists can’t face abandoning their imaginary friend so they just tell themselves Dawkins avoids the “strong” arguments, so they can keep themselves happily on their knees.

I’d read this article, if I were you:
‘Are the ‘New Atheists’ avoiding the ‘real arguments” by Edwmund Standing
. It’s a response by a trained theologian to attempts to paint Dawkins and other atheist writers as afraid of the real, hard-hitting modern arguments for gods. It uses prominent believers’ words against them to show that Dawkins is right on the money.

However, if I’m wrong, please outline your 4 favourite “strong”, airtight arguments for the existence of the god of your choice that Dawkins ignores.

September 28, 2008 at 7:27 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

However, in attacking the weak, he nevertheless claims to have killed the strong.

Unless there are good reasons to think that there are gods of any sort in the first place, there are no “strong.”

I disagree with your assertion that there is no call within the Christian community for more rigorous theological training.

Then why are such un-rigorous beliefs so much more popular?

September 29, 2008 at 12:24 am
(5) Laughing Boy says:


I’ve read The God Delusion and nothing in it was very challenging for me, so I’ll count myself as one of the strong. I haven’t watched the videos to which you’ve linked, and maybe his arguments are better in them than they are in his book, but I’m assuming he put all his best stuff in the book. I don’t put much weight on internet videos which can be edited to favor one side or the other, or could catch one of the participants having a bad day or making a stupid mistake or looking dorky, or any number of irrelevancies. I prefer written arguments and responses that give each side a chance to state their cases as strongly as possible (without a crowd of hootin’ and hollerin’ yahoos). Dawkins’ arguments lack much if any philosophical sophistication and display his proudly admitted ignorance of Christian theology (although he does make some good points). Better arguments were made a generation ago by people like Mackie, Flew, Quine, etc, and Feuerbach and Nietzsche before them. Compared to these men Dawkins and Hitchens are third-rate hacks, due mostly to the intellectual blindness that results from their unmoderated hatred. Currently Michael Ruse is does much better work than Dawkins or Hitchens. In fact Michael Ruse has gone on record saying that The God Delusion made him embarrassed to be an atheist.

That said, I’d like to see (in person, in a yahoo-free room) Dawkins debate the Resurrection with N.T. Wright, or Naturalism with Alvin Plantinga, or the Nature of God with Richard Swinburne. Beyond that, I think most Christians with some training in philosophy, theology, and logic could deal with most anything Dawkins dishes out.

I don’t believe there is even one ‘airtight’ argument for God’s existence, so I can’t give you four. But from what I’ve read of Dawkins (The God Delusion, The Blind Watchmaker) he seems to think the Design Argument is the only argument out there. Others include the Arguments from: Change, Efficient Causality, Time and Contingency, Consciousness; The Moral Argument, The Kalaam Argument, The Ontological Argument, etc. I’m not sure how many of these Dawkins has addressed or if so, if he has thoroughly refuted any of them. Point me to anything he’s written on these if you can.


Unless there are good reasons to think that there are gods of any sort in the first place, there are no “strong.”

Well, alright then. For some people no reason is good enough, no number of reasons are numerous enough. If a bucket has a hole in the bottom, all the water in the world won’t fill it up.

Then why are such un-rigorous beliefs so much more popular?

I’m not sure, but is this limited to theological beliefs? Doesn’t the same hold true for popular beliefs about politics, military strategy, the economy, etc.? Maybe most people don’t like to think deeply or study seriously. Why do some many people get their dinner from the drive-thru at McDonald’s?

September 29, 2008 at 12:33 am
(6) Laughing Boy says:

Mark, I forgot to thank you for providing the links. I am interested in reading the articles. I appreciate your effort.

September 29, 2008 at 3:48 am
(7) Mark Barratt says:

Laughing Boy

Why the focus on theology? Your continued focus on theology shows that, while you may have read TGD, you have not understood Dawkins’ aim.

Theologies are specific to religions. Catholic theology differs from Protestant theology which differs from Jewish theology which differs from Sunni Muslim theology which differs from Pastafarian theology and so on until infinity, they all contradict each other and they all have the same amount of evidence: none.

Theology is the dubious discipline of debating the nature of an arbitrarily-chosen god, usually consisting of explaining away logical contradictions. The logical contradictions of the Star Wars movies (if Vader built C-3P0, why doesn’t he recognise the droid on Bespin?) are explained by many Expanded Universe stories. Does that mean you can’t be fairly confident that Star Wars is fictional?

Dawkins explicitly and repeatedly states that he is interested in a more basic question than those commonly discussed by theology. The question he is interested in is “is there, as a matter of fact, an intelligent interventionist creator behind the universe?”

As he states in TGD, the vast majority of theologians simply assume that the god of their choice exists and then proceed, via some extremely nonsensical methods, to pontificate on its nature. When pressed for arguments FOR their god’s existence they can only present the arguments you’ve mentioned; arguments that, were they not all flawed and illogical, would only get you as far as deism.

This is true for EVERY ONE of the arguments you’ve name-checked; they never even get you to theism, let alone to the god of one particular sect. In Chapter 3 of TGD Dawkins gives brief overviews of the flaws of common dodgy arguments and refers readers to more in-depth discussions if they’re so inclined. Are you SURE you’ve read it?

The design argument may not be the only one, but it’s the most common one. Ask any believer why they believe and you’ll almost certainly hear a variation on “look how beautiful the world/universe/life is, are you telling me this wasn’t designed?” It’s also made out to be the most knock-down argument for God. Dawkins’ point in Chapter 4 is that science does away with that argument, and so removes an important pillar in the rickety foundations of the shreiking shack of theistic belief.

You say “I think most Christians with some training in philosophy, theology, and logic could deal with most anything Dawkins dishes out.” I’ve seen this tactic a lot, and I’ve often asked people to offer specific points as I’ve just asked you to. Believers tend not to respond, they just stick to vague, generalised condemnation of Dawkins’ personality and attitude, sometimes with vague references to old chestnuts of deistic arguments that are often misrepresented as supporting theism, as you have just done.

Funny, that.

They also tend not to define what they mean by “God”, which is a Rorschach ink-blot term if ever there was one: Everyone who hears it thinks it means a slightly different thing. You’ve also done that. Good show for dodgy godbot argument tactics, there.

By the way, here’s a good
discussion of Ruse’s review of Dawkins
by Jason Rosenhouse. It’s a “Professor Neanderthal” argument.

Furthermore, I’d watch the videos, if I were you. They’re all unedited. Indeed, that’s the point of the McGrath interview: It’s an unedited interview from the “Root of All Evil?” sessions. And it’s totally yahoo-free, although the moment where Dawkins pins McGrath down on his ludicrous theodicy, McGrath looks to the director and says “I’ve covered this!” and the director says “Did you? Could you go over it again?” is priceless. So maybe you’ll think there’s one yahoo.

I’d also stick around to the end, as McGrath asks Dawkins why he is so “hostile” to religion, and Dawkins gives a brilliantly eloquent answer that is utterly humane and sensible, and couldn’t be further from “unmoderated hatred”.

September 29, 2008 at 6:14 am
(8) Austin Cline says:

But from what I’ve read of Dawkins (The God Delusion, The Blind Watchmaker) he seems to think the Design Argument is the only argument out there.

Well, it’s the argument I hear perhaps 99% of the time or better. Since Dawkins is pretty clear that he is focusing on the “god” believed in by the bulk of people in the West, focusing on the particulars of that beliefs and the arguments used to justify that belief just kinda sorta makes a bit of sense, eh?

If a bucket has a hole in the bottom, all the water in the world won’t fill it up.

That is precisely Dawkins’ argument with allegedly “sophisticated” theology.

I’m not sure, but is this limited to theological beliefs?

No, it’s not, though I’m not sure how that’s relevant to any point you are making.

September 29, 2008 at 10:43 am
(9) Mark Barratt says:

Furthermore, Laughing boy, in addition to totally missing the point of Dawkins’ book and Austin’s article, you also totally missed the point of my first post. That’s like a 100% record, well done!

The point of my post was not to show Dawkins’ arguments in another medium just in case you didn’t like the dead-tree version. It was to show that people who you would expect to provide excellent, strong arguments for “God”, like Oxford professors of Theology, only succeed in advancing hackneyed, flawed, fallacious sophistry when they come up against Dawkins and the like. It was also to show that Dawkins is on record discussing religion with such people, and that he doesn’t avoid them to concentrate on the “weak” ones.

My point was that if theologians who are Oxford Professors provide such terrible “arguments” for God, where exactly do these “strong” theologians reside? You claim to be one yourself but you’re not really making any unanswerable points, are you? You need to raise your game if you want to be anything more than a theistic cliche-generator.

You’re using the classic “There are loads of arguments for God that Dawkins doesn’t deal with but I’m not going to tell you what they are, and Dawkins is a dick for insulting my imaginary friend!” tactic.

Incidentally, if you’ve some time left over you should watch Dawkins’
pleasant, polite interview with Richard Harries, then Bishop of Oxford
. See if you can spot any “unmoderated hatred”. Go on, try to find any.

November 25, 2009 at 12:15 pm
(10) Michael Haase says:

Thanks for the comments here. I dont believe in gods or goddesses or any other imaginary friends, but I dont normally have success in articulating it. Normally I’ll hear some inane gibberish and when I stare at the person, blinking, thinking “wtf?”, they smile and get a look on their face that says, “Gotcha!” Well, yeah, your argument confused the shit out of me, but you hardly convinced me. Some arguments for theism could be compared to the “Saturn/Jupiter collision theory”, basically stating that because Saturn and Jupiter have never smashed into each other, how would life on either world REALLY know the other exists. Thats the same kind of argument such as, “Well, you cant prove god doesnt exist, so maybe you should believe just in case”. Well, I cant prove that my miniature pinscher hasn’t calculated the square root of pi, either – it doesn’t mean that I’m going to present her to the worlds leading mathematicians.

April 27, 2011 at 8:55 am
(11) P Smith says:

The dictionary’s definition for the verb “sophisticate” is:

Alter and make impure, as with the intention to deceive

If that’s what the godbots mean when they say “sophisticated”, then that’s fine. But of maturity and refinement, they have neither when using the noun or adjective form of the word. Other apt words for “religious belief” are convoluted and tortuous.

I’ve met people so stupid that they can’t hold two compatible and logical ideas at once. The religious, however, have shown they are more than capable of holding two contradictory and illogical ideas at once (e.g. the 3-in-1/son-is-the-father “god” of christians). For a theist to claim it is a “failure” on the part of others not to blind their own thinking shows just how mentally inept such people are.


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