“Arguing with creationists is like playing chess with a pigeon: no matter how good you are at chess, the pigeon is just going to knock over the pieces, crap on the board and strut around like it’s victorious.”
This is an adaptation of the quote by Scott Weitzenhoffer, and is an analogy that perfectly describes most debates I’ve held with religious friends. Often, after a few rational arguments from both parties, the religious participant dissolves into irrationality. Arguments like “God isn’t science, it’s more than that” are intrinsically poor, but the very fact that they have no value means that they cannot be outcompeted. There is no counter to something that effectively has no meaning, and like matter and antimatter annihilating when they meet; logic and illogic annihilate any otherwise intelligent argument and leave both people locked in a stalemate.
After many an argument over this, I’ve established a few workarounds to tackle this kind of non-thinking that you may find useful should you find yourself hearing this argument.
Your Argument is Invalid
Explaining why the argument itself doesn’t work is a tactic I have yet to succeed with. It is usually met with an equally incomprehensible argument that has just as little worth as their original point. However, I shall quickly give my own opinion as to why the God debate is very much a part of science. Though probably the least likely way to penetrate their shield of irrationality, it is certainly the most powerful as it beats their argument rather than avoiding or indeed conceding to it as with the other two strategies below.
Science is the study of the Universe. It has no agenda and it isn’t selective, though scientists themselves might be. Science has no goal, but the goal of scientists is, in short, to discover truth. Ultimately, the point of doing science is to advance our understanding of what is true in the Universe. To me, God is to be included in science because if he exists, he is a part of the Universe, and the truth of his existence is a topic that science has every right to explore.
The retort I always hear is that “God is beyond scientific reasoning. He exists above our realm.” Superficially this might sound sensible, but it certainly isn’t. Something being ‘beyond science’ is a contradiction in terms - if something more exists, it is to be included in science by definition. Science doesn’t limit itself to anything, so saying “God isn’t part of our Universe” doesn’t exempt God from scientific scrutiny.
If God exists, then science can be applied, because science is applicable, again by definition, to anything that exists. An analogy to show this is like inventing a new vehicle in order to speed on the motorway. You may see that the law states “cars cannot travel over 70mph on a motorway” (the UK speed limit) and so invent a brand new vehicle to make yourself exempt from the law. This is the religious debater who claims that God is above science. Other people would see the law and realize that if you invented a new vehicle, the law would simply expand to include this new vehicle in the speed limit. This is the rational thinker.
Establishing The Win-Win Scenario
If I am about to debate with someone who I have never before discussed this topic with, I try and do this as an aside before starting to make my arguments. The argument that “God is above science” is little more than excuse making. Reverting to incoherence tends to come after you have proved wrong their original arguments, and serves as nothing less than bare-faced denial.
These kinds of fallacious arguments are tantamount to saying “I’m just right no matter what you say” and in my opinion, many people who use this argument have some little voice in their head saying “I don’t really believe what I just said, but I need to try and believe it so as not to change my opinion.” Establishing the win-win scenario is an appeal to that voice.
The win-win scenario is this: challenge your beliefs. Actively trying to disprove your own notions is win-win and should be encouraged. What do I mean by win-win? Well, let’s say you genuinely try to change a belief of yours, really attack something you believe in and try to disprove it, but you decide that you can’t. Your belief is airtight; you can’t fault it.
Well, then in a case of ‘whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’ you come off better. Your opinion has survived harsh criticism and you can be more assured in and satisfied with your own belief. But what if you’re wrong? Brilliant, you’ve just debunked one of your own superstitions, and again you are better for it. You can happily change your own opinion, content in the knowledge that you are now more likely to be correct than you originally were.
In this spirit, any argument you provide in a debate should be one you genuinely believe to be true, and any argument you hear you should take into careful consideration and thoroughly weigh its pros and cons. After all, what’s the point in arguing in the first place if you aren’t prepared to adjust your own opinions with new information? Of course, if you can explain all of this to someone then don’t be hypocritical - follow this yourself. The win-win scenario is no trickery of language, it is true and you will benefit as much as anyone else.
Assume They Are Right To Prove Them Wrong
I find this quite effective. If you can still fault their opinions even assuming that God exists, then your argument will have more impact. My previous article, ‘The Greatest Lie Ever Told’ takes this stance. Below is another example.
Here’s a typical debate: “Why believe in God? If God existed then the world would be perfect and there would be nothing bad on Earth.”
“God works in mysterious ways.”
And therein commences the stalemate. If God works in mysterious ways, how else can you possibly argue against him? Any point against him can be countered with “God works in mysterious ways.” It’s tough to overcome this erroneous statement. So, how about we take it as true? Let’s assume that God exists, and does indeed work in mysterious ways. I would continue:
“Ok, God moves in mysterious ways. In which case, we cannot hope to understand God, presumably because he is above our plane of thinking. Then why pray to him? If God moves in mysterious ways, you can have no way of knowing if God likes being prayed to and worshipped. Maybe you’re annoying him - there’s just as much chance of him hating being worshipped as liking it. Maybe he’s insulted that he gave you an incredibly powerful brain with the capacity to contemplate the very nature of the Universe and you use it to blindly follow him without question. There’s just no way of knowing - after all, you said he works in mysterious ways.”
There are lots of other examples of arguments that assume God’s existence, some of which I’m sure I will discuss in future articles. I wish you luck in talking some sense into the next person who spouts that “God is beyond science” and other phony nonsense.