Saturday, July 2, 2011

Convincing =/= Good

C.S. Lewis made bad arguments. There, I said it. The skeptics' apologist, the eloquent, intelligent, reluctant but eventual coup de grace of the Christian camp made bad arguments. As always, I must begin with a "don't get me wrong" clause. I do like reading some of C.S. Lewis's fiction work. In my freshman writing seminar last year, we studied the novel "Til We Have Faces" and, I must say, I quite enjoyed it. I also quite enjoyed the ever popular "Chronicles of Narnia" series as a child. Yet when it comes to Lewis's arguments as to the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, he fails miserably. My intention in this case is not to dissect all of his arguments. I can debunk a few off the top of my head: the Lunatic, Lord, Liar defense presents a false trichotomy, he assumes the efficacy of the Bible when that may not be valid, etc. The Iron Chariots wiki begins (though there is still much to be done on the article) to debunk the entirety of "Mere Christianity" if you want to read more of that. However, I'm more interested in the fact that, though he presents less than solid arguments on a regular basis, hoards of people consider him a great Christian philosopher.

Quite frankly, I think that Christian apologists are so widely beloved, not because they make good arguments, but because they make CONVINCING arguments. The two are not always the same. One might reference my previous post as an example. If the Insane Clown Posse has said "the wonder and power of attraction exhibited by magnetic force remains, to mere mortals as ourselves, a mystery. They can only be explained through the wisdom of divine revelation and intervention", they would probably have sounded a lot more respectable than they did when they rapped "f*ing magnets/ how do they work?" in their song "Miracles". Yet, upon examining the two statements, they are, in fact, saying the exact same thing. We have to admit though, the most famous Christian apologists aren't idiots. Most of them, like C.S. Lewis, are pretty good writers. It seems natural that they would at least give us pause to think about what they're saying. I think I can speculate further as to why so many people not only stop to think about what apologists say, but fall for their platitudes hook, line and sinker. There are two major factors that I hypothesize contribute to the convincing nature of apologetics:

1) A lack of critical thinking.
2) A pre-existing desire to believe.

The two probably go hand in hand, but I think each reason deserves attention.

How many times have we heard the story of the skeptic's conversion. "I DID have doubts," the theist inevitably says. "But I thought about it/read about it/ talked to my religious leader about it and all of my questions were answered!" This story crops up so many times, it's practically a meme, but I am sure that these things actually happen. Religious apologists always have answers. Always, always, always. The real question is "do they have GOOD answers?" Are their answers supported by the weight of evidence and logically sound? I can assure you almost without hearing them that they will not be. Let's face it, there are only so many arguments for the existence of God and they appear over and over again in different forms. Not a single one of them is sound and/or evidentially supported because all of them make fundamentally erroneous assumptions (generally, that "there must be something"). One might ask why the heck more people don't realize this fact. Simple. People don't generally put god claims to scrutiny. Even intelligent, critically thinking people often treat god claims as if they were sacred cows. Some may even make the same erroneous assumptions as the apologetics themselves. Because they all tend to agree on said erroneous assumptions, they don't examine them very well. Why? Well, this leads me to my second factor.

I've heard before that, in order to be convinced the Christianity is true, one must begin with a desire to believe. This is a major, major red flag. When a person is predisposed to believe something, they'll take what they can get. It's very easy to see a well written argument for God's existence, nod one's head in affirmation and block out any criticisms of that argument if all you want is a reason of some sort to believe. Even C.S. Lewis admits that, when he was young, he wanted God to exist. Thus, he has no business calling himself a "reluctant convert". In the end, when we desire to believe something, we are not looking for truth. We're looking for ad hoc justification. This leads us to throw critical thinking to the wind and fall for false premises and phony philosophy. Every single claim we can say we know to any degree of certainty had to endure a barrage of criticism from people who wanted to do anything but believe. Why do we expect anything different from God claims? We shouldn't. End of story.

Bad arguments are only as convincing as we want them to be. Can we stop searching for affirmation and start caring about what's factual? Can we stop lending credence to patently absurd notions just because they make us feel better?