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Monday, September 1, 2014

The Fallacious Arguments of Atheists and Fundamentalists: The False Dilemma (Part I)

Many Atheists and Fundamentalists love to debate each other. Unfortunately, both groups display a fondness for arguments that would be rejected in most high school debate classes/clubs. As the Bible is central to most of the arguments between Atheists and Fundamentalists, I thought that it would be instructive to look at some of the types of fallacious reasoning that both sides employ to discredit each other's positions relative to those writings and the question of God's existence.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that both groups start out with a False Dilemma about the Bible that impinges on most of their subsequent arguments about these topics. To begin, a False Dilemma or Excluded Middle is a type of reasoning where only two alternatives/options are presented as possible relative to the subject of focus when others exist. For our purposes, both sides in our debate (Atheist and Fundamentalist) begin with this premise about the Bible: "If you can't believe all of it, then you can't believe any of it!" In other words, the Bible is either true or false.

Atheists would frame their argument in these terms: Since it can be easily demonstrated that the Bible is full of factual errors, discrepancies and contradictions, we must conclude that the Bible is a false and completely useless collection of writings. A corollary to this argument would be: Since it can be easily demonstrated that the God of the Bible is an angry, vindictive and murderous entity, he is discredited as being a legitimate deity (or, at the very least, one who is worthy of worship).

Fundamentalists, on the other hand, would frame their argument in these terms: Since it can be easily demonstrated that the Bible contains the words of Almighty God, then we must conclude that the whole book is true and without any error or contradiction (more about Circular Reasoning in a later post). A corollary to this argument would be: Since the Bible states that YHWH is the only God, then He is upheld as THE God of the universe - the Creator and Supreme Ruler over all (and is entitled to act in whatever way He deems best).

There are obvious problems with all of these arguments, and they go back to the foundational premise about the Bible that both sides so readily accept. While a statement can be characterized as true or false, it should be obvious to everyone that the Bible is the compilation of a great many statements (some "true" others "false"). In other words, both groups are characterizing the entire work by pointing to certain statements within the texts that demonstrate their point of view (more about Cherry Picking or Suppressed Evidence in another post). The Atheists simply cannot see that anything of worth could be derived from a work riddled with errors and inconsistencies. Likewise, the Fundamentalists cannot tolerate any view of Scripture that does not embrace the entire work as truth.

It seems incomprehensible to both sides that the Bible could be a mixture of truth and error. Nevertheless, to an objective observer it is apparent that a single piece of literature is easily able to accommodate both. In other words, both sides in the debate have engaged in Fallacious Reasoning relative to the Bible. Since both claims about Scripture can be characterized as false, it is illogical for either side to assert that their claim about Scripture is true based on the falsity of the other side.

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