Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Negating the Negations: My Objections to Russ’ Debate Strategy with Christians

John Loftus published a post where he reposts an argument from his friend Russ. Russ’ debate strategy is to affirm theological statements from a theologian, who in Russ’ example is Bishop John Shelby Spong, that conflicts with traditional Christian theology. The idea is that if God is true then all theologians should agree about His attributes. However, there are multiple problems with this argument—it is formally and informally fallacious.
  1. 1.       The first problem is that the argument is formally fallacious because it has the form of denying the antecedent. The argument can be formulated as follows:
1.       If Spong agrees with all the theological claims of traditional Christianity then Christianity is true.
2.       Spong does not agree with all the theological claims of traditional Christianity.
3.       Therefore Christianity if false. (from the formal fallacy denying the antecedent)
                This is argument is invalid because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. There are many reasons why traditional Christianity could true even though Spong disagrees with it. Spong’s sensus divinitatis or God sense could be off causing him to incorrectly perceive God’s nature. He could just be wrong or confused. He could have an agenda against traditional Christianity. In any case, this form of argument is always fallacious.
  1. 2.       This argument is informally fallacious because it is an appeal to authority. Although Spong is an expert in his field, his position does not represent the general consensus of experts in the field of Christian theology. Russ even says that thousands of Christian theological heavyweights disagree with Spong’s opinion.
  2. 3.       Just because an expert, like Spong, is highly decorated and went to prestigious schools doesn't mean they are always right. Take Dr. Albert Einstein, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, who argued for some time for a solid state universe, which was eventually shown to be false. If one of the greatest intellectual giants in the history of mankind can be wrong then anyone, including graduates from Harvard and Oxford can be wrong sometimes.
  3. 4.       Just because people have disagreements about the nature of something doesn't mean that thing doesn’t exist. Saying that God doesn't exist because there are some disagreements about his nature is like saying that because there were disagreements about whether the earth is flat or spherical the earth doesn’t exist. People were walking on the earth and looking at the same earth but came to different conclusion about the nature of it. The flat earthers were just wrong.        
  4. 5.       Even if this argument wasn't formally and informally fallacious, what kind of atheist are you if you are affirming the position of someone who believes in God? The Wikipedia article that Russ refers to says, “He [Spong] states that he is a Christian because he believes that Jesus Christ fully expressed the presence of a God of compassion and selfless love and that this is the meaning of the early Christian proclamation, "Jesus is Lord" (Spong, 1994 and Spong, 1991). Elaborating on this last idea he affirms that Jesus was adopted by God as his predilect son, thus embracing (at least at linguistic level) a form of the ancient adoptionist heresy (Born of a Woman 1992), and yet in an orthodox way he says that this would be the way God was fully incarnated in Jesus Christ.” Even if Spong has some unusual theology he still believes that God exists. It is strange, as an atheist, to embrace a position that says that God exists and then turn around and say that God doesn't exist because there are some disagreements about God’s nature. Nonexistent things don’t have natures to disagree about.
For all these reasons Russ' argument completely and utterly fails.