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I recently had a debate with a Chriatian apologist, Lydia McGrew, on the Unbelievable? show on Premier Christian Radio. The debate is on YouTube and I made the mistake of getting involved with some of the comments there. Lo and behold, the most pathetic and egregious of arguments was put forward – the one you see from really naive Christians with such a Christocentric worldview that they can’t see past the ends of their noses to the quite incredible double standards and special pleading. This is sadly not an uncommon argument.

The argument? Let me reproduce the comments from Christian commenter “Martin Ploughboy” (I will splice his comments together for ease of illustration). Geoff Benson also threw in his oar between a few of these:

On the other hand, I’d say Jonathan Pearce is a liar because he calls himself an Atheist.

The fact that you know God exists, so, starting from that position, why do you speak of “outlandish ridiculous childish claims & assertions” since such are within the capabilities of the God you know exists.

Where did I say believe? God makes us all with the knowledge that He believes, the Atheist merely pretends he doesn’t know.

Where did I say believe? I said you know God exists, you just pretend not to.

You may dispute the assertion, but you know it is true. Therefore I was correct and you are wrong, knowingly wrong.

This is where I got involved to say:

You have a very dubious definition of “know”. Blackford and Shuklenk deal with your “atheists know God exists” argument in their 50 Myths about Atheism book. It’s a common, irritating trope. eg:

You know unicorns exist. Unicornia created you with that knowledge.

I think this does a pretty good job of illustrating the special pleading he had to silly such that he gets to assert a knowledge claim on me but is somehow immune from one himself.

Apparently, logic is not his forte. He replied:

You have belief, I have knowledge.

@A Tippling Philosopher Is that the best you can come up with? It’s not very good.

I replied: @Martin Ploughboy you would need to show how there is no false equivalence there [with unicornia].

On the other hand, he dug himself deeper into his really very silly hole:

No, it is knowledge. Why would any Christian be embarrassed by what the Bible says?@A Tippling Philosopher Since you know God exists you know your comment is foolish.

I asked: are you actually being serious because that’s a truly immature argument that deserves none of my time…He replied:

I’m deadly serious, you know God exists. It’s hardly immature, indeed, if you knew the Bible you would know that is what it says. All you have is the pretence that God does not exist.

The last I have so far said is: do you not see the inherent contradiction in your last comment?

And again, you know unicorns exist because it says in the holy book of unicorns, which you would know if you read it.

This really is the very worst argument I have ever come across because it is pure, unadulterated nonsense. And the idea that I am pretending is preposterous.

Let’s do the reductio ad absurdum again, as I have done with unicorns. I could claim that he knows the moon is made of cheese. Cheese Lord communicated this and it is written in the First Book of Cheese. That he denies it means nothing. He still knows it. This is knowledge, not belief.

Obviously, this is stupid and also shows a very naive understanding of epistemology. He could do with setting out how he differentiates knowledge from belief. Christian Rene Descartes saw that the only indubitable knowledge one could have was cogito ergo sum. Everything else is a belief (and even that is a belief, just with a 100% probability). That the sun comes up tomorrow or that I will win on a scratch card this week are mere beliefs in probability assignments to a proposition. The same can be said for “God exists”. It has a probability assignment, but it cannot be 100% – only cogito does this. And it is still a belief in a proposition. “I believe that God exists”, to which I assign a probability.I am an atheist because I assign an exceptionally low probability to this proposition – far less then 1%.

But, in misunderstanding belief and knowledge, this interlocutor is effectively calling me a liar. He is saying that I actually have somewhere approaching 100% probability ascription to “I believe God exists”. Except, of course, he incoherently claims that I don’t have a belief but I have knowledge. Without wanting to bog this down with, you know, philosophy – in this case, justified true beliefs – a simple understanding of how knowledge sits within the confines of belief can be seen by this Euler diagram:Of course, there are different kinds of knowledge, many of which I have set out on these pages over the years. But this is apparently beyond this commenter who can just, without any clarification or justification, claim – utterly against my own declarations, and without knowing me at all – that I know God exists. Indeed, all atheists must.Pah.At least try. At least invoke Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga and his Properly Basic Beliefs. But they’re beliefs and he’s talking knowledge as a supposedly entirely different category.

He can try to establish his case, but merely repeating the same mantra over and over is, other than par for the course, not good enough.

Truly pathetic stuff, with all due respect.

Which, in this case, is none.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...