Straw Manning the Opposition: a Christian Apologist on Two Common Atheist Arguments

Robin Shumacher at The Christian Post recently wrote an article entitled, “A Look at Two Common Atheist Arguments.” I want to quote the first two paragraphs of the article in full.

Behind my desk is a huge binder containing essays and meaty book excerpts of atheist literature. The likes of Russell, Hume, Nietzsche, Sartre, and many more scientists and philosophers make up this hefty collection of anti-Christian thought.

Part of my Master’s requirement was that I read the binder in its entirety and write summaries of every argument so that each was thoroughly impressed upon me. Needless to say, that took some time, but it was time well spent.

While one may wonder why the Master’s program didn’t require that students read entire books and instead simply opted for “meaty book excerpts,” let’s put that to the side. At least the program required that students read something written by atheists!

A much more problematic issue, however, is the quality of the atheist literature mentioned. While Hume continues to be relevant today, I’m not aware of any atheist philosophers working in the philosophy of religion who think Russell, Nietzsche, and Sartre are representative of the best of atheist literature or that their arguments are representative of the best arguments for atheism. (If I’m mistaken about this, I would welcome any corrections in the combox.)

Of course, it’s possible that the binder also contains essays or excerpts representative of those arguments. Shumacher writes, “Through that exercise, I learned that atheism, just like every body of thought (including Christianity), has both good and bad arguments.” Since he doesn’t mention the “good arguments,” however, it wasn’t all that surprising to find that Shumacher discussed two “arguments” which would not be endorsed by any atheist philosophers working in the philosophy of religion today. Instead, Shumacher chose to discuss the following “arguments.”

  • “Everyone is an atheist; we just deny one more god than you.”
  • “Science flies you to the moon; religion flies you into buildings.”

I have put scare quotes around “arguments” to highlight the fact that these are not arguments and certainly not arguments for atheism. Rather, they are slogans, claims, or assertions. As for actual arguments for atheism, such as the evidential argument from evil, the argument from reasonable nonbelief (aka the argument from divine hiddenness), and so forth, they do not get so much as a mention by Shumacher, either in this article or in any of his other articles at the Christian Post.

I want to make clear I have no problem with anyone criticizing the slogans listed by Shumacher, since there are many atheists who do make these claims. Rather, my point is this. I have read many partisan books and essays by both theists and atheists which do not fairly, accurately, and completely represent arguments for conclusions they reject. This needs to stop.