The clownish arguments of Dan Marvin: Part 1

Well well well. I go away for a week, and look what happens. I know, I said I’d be back to deal with the nonsensical disquisitions of Dan Marvin. But I wasn’t expecting an 80+ comment-long thread in which I’d be treated to some of the most flagrant displays of ignorance and dishonesty I’ve seen from an evangelical in a long time &#151 complete with gloriously unflinching rebuttals to same.

This is, of course, what having an atheist blog is all about, and I’m utterly delighted. I’ve had nothing but pleasure in observing the punishment Dan has been dealt at the hands of Stephen, Tracie, and other commenters here.

However, lest any of you think there is no more to be said, rest assured, I have plenty to say. And as I’m not limited to replying to just one or two posts from Dan, I can over the course of the entire comments thread make an assessment of his overall pattern of arguing. Hopefully, this will prove both a convenience to readers here who don’t wish to devote an afternoon to reading over 85 comments, and instructive in helping other atheist arguers out there try to comprehend and navigate the whirlpool of confusion that is the mind of the fundamentalist.

I suppose it should have come as a kind of bleak foreshadowing when Dan confessed to being an admirer of Ray “Banana Boy” Comfort, evangelism’s greatest unintentional comedian, that we weren’t going to be dealing with a guy who was firing on all five cylinders here. But Dan exhibits all of Comfort’s least admirable character flaws, a selective reading (informed by flat ignorance) of the contents of his own beloved Scripture, married to a form of scientific illiteracy that is made doubly infuriating by an undeserved smug confidence. There’s probably nothing more exasperating than a scientifically illiterate person attempting to lecture scientifically literate people on science, and in the second part of these posts, I’ll supply the corrective Dan needs to remedy this little error.

While it’s nice of Dan to think he needs to use “kid gloves” in his own posts, here the gloves come off. Dan, welcome to school.


I. Dan’s Biblical dodgeball

In his first of many posts, Dan attempts to respond to my bullet points in a manner that starts poorly and gets increasingly inept as the comment rebuttals come in. He first tries to whitewash the Doctrine of Hell in a way that indicates he completely skimmed over the very first of those bullet points: remember, most of us here used to be Christian and have read Scripture. Indeed, it’s because we read it and understood its implications that is a large part of why we left the Christian fold. Dan writes:

Hell was not created to punish the ones that “doubted” God; it was created to punish the morally evil people.

Stephen immediately heads this one off at the pass, pointing out that there are many passages in scripture that make it abundantly clear that mere disbelief is all that is necessary for condemnation to the lake o’ fire. Dan’s reply to this:

When Martin said ”chooses to punish people with an eternity of torture “for” doubting his existence” I was under the impression that he meant just because you doubt you go to hell, which is not the case, our sins is what we are judged by, as well as doubting, not just doubting.

Okay, class, it’s Reading Comprehension 101 time. Let’s look specifically at each of the preceding passages I referenced.

Mark 6:16: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

John 3:18: Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

If anything in the hopeless literary mishmash that is the Bible seems unambiguously clear, it’s this. Nowhere in any of these scriptures does it say that that disbelief-plus-sinful behavior is the required combination for being hellbound. Nowhere in any of them does it say that an unbeliever who nonetheless lives his life virtuously will get a pass to Heaven on general principles. Instead, it’s quite simple: Don’t believe? Go directly to hell.

Dan and other Christians might try to worm out of this one by saying it’s all a moot point, that we’re all born into sin and are thus condemned merely for being alive in the first place — a position of sheer misanthropy so sickening I’m really at a loss for words to condemn it adequately. But that would not change the reality that there are those passages in scripture stating without equivocation that disbelief alone will earn you lunch-special placement on Satan’s Barbecue of Souls.

Dan has ignored another of my bullet points. Don’t make logical fallacies. The fallacy Dan is flailing in here is called shifting the goalposts, in which one attempts to change one’s views, or at least the premise of their argument, in mid-argument. Dan starts by saying, “No no, God won’t condemn you for not believing in him, only for your sinful ways,” then, when shown scriptures saying that’s exactly what God will do, he waves his hands and says “No no, what I meant was that God will condemn you for not believing in him as well as for your sinful ways.” The pitiful thing is that Dan thinks we won’t notice this. Once more with feeling: what’s the hallmark of an amateur arguer? Yup. The open employment of logical fallacies.

Stephen follows up with the correct assessment that in a world where everyone sins, “the only differentiating factor is belief.” He then ambushes Dan with a fantastic pop quiz of the sort that makes Christians utterly livid when arguing with atheists, the kind designed to get straight “no spin zone” answers about exactly what it is they believe. I don’t think I could’ve done better than this if I’d tried.

True or false: A horrible, genocidal monster who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and accepts him into his heart on his death bed goes to Heaven.

True or false: A sweet, loving little girl who dishonored her mother once by crying when she was hungry, dies without accepting Jesus into her heart, so she burns in Hell for all eternity.

Multiple choice:
A sinner accepts Jesus into his heart at age six, and is therefore forgiven for all sins, past, present and future. Later, one of those sins is doubt that God exists after all.
a) Will he go to Heaven because, once saved, he was always saved?
b) Will he go to Hell for being born a sinner, by no fault of his own?
c) Will he go to Hell for discontinuing belief?

Caught like a deer in the headlights by this direct confrontation, Dan resorts to an Olympic-quality feat of rhetorical calisthenics to avoid anything like a direct answer. Replying to the first of the three, Dan squirms as follows:

Not sure by that example. I don’t know the level of righteousness and only God can judge that. BTW No where in the bible does it say accept Jesus in your heart to be saved. That is quite an insult.

Who knew that bullshit was such a compressible solid? Dan’s packed more of it in those few sentences than can be dealt with using an
ything short of a high-pressure hose. First, what has the “level of righteousness” got to do with a damn thing? I suspect that the point Dan is making here is that if someone makes a dishonest or false conversion, then God will see through their dishonesty, being such a smart guy, after all, and promptly eject them into hell anyway.

But so what? That little detail is irrelevant to Stephen’s question. Stephen posed a hypothetical scenario, so let’s assume that, for the sake of argument, Dan is being asked to consider that the genocidal killer’s deathbed confession is truthfully 100% sincere. What then is Dan’s answer? If Dan wanted to follow scripture, the only correct answer could be “yes,” as Christian teaching makes it clear that all one’s sins can be forgiven and washed away in the blood of the lamb, and all that. But Dan has at least enough synapses firing to recognize that Stephen has laid a trap for him to get him to state outright that there are ways for the world’s Adolfs to get into Heaven while more virtuous people — perhaps not sinless in Christianity’s ugly worldview, but at least not monstrous, genocidal killers &#151 may find themselves thrown in hell for far less heinous offenses.

So the best Dan can offer is a mealy-mouthed “I dunno,” followed by an attempt at distraction by huffing and puffing over Stephen’s use of the phrase “accept Jesus in your heart.” Coming from a guy who has himself already rather blatantly claimed the Bible says things it doesn’t say, and doesn’t say things it actually says, this is about as hilarious a scene of getting caught with his pants down as Dan could suffer. Stephen, being no slouch, recognizes Dan’s dodge for what it is and calls him on it front and center.

Dan fares no better in his reply to the second scenario.

…you are not dishonoring your mother by crying “I’m hungry, mumsy”. You dishonor your mom for example by arguing with her because you want to stay out until 3am instead of the 10pm rule and you stay out until 3am anyway.

Wow. Does Dan really believe a kid deserves eternity in hellfire just because she stays out past curfew? The guy’s not exactly making a very appealing argument for his god’s loving, fatherly nature, is he?

Dan, again, resents being trapped into saying the Bible advocates certain things, like ghastly eternal punishments for children. Here his reply is even more brazen. The guy who just attacked Stephen for using a phrase that isn’t in the Bible (despite the fact Stephen never claimed he got it from the Bible in the first place) now just plain makes up a position for the Bible on a subject that troubles him morally.

YES the bible is clear of that, “FOR ADULTS” but I believe all children go to heaven it is just logical.

Logical? Maybe. Biblical? Not at all. Again, take a quick scriptural read-through and you’ll see God making no distinction whatsoever between adult and child when he orders those who don’t worship him and oppress his chosen people put to the sword. (Okay, maybe I could understand ordering those who enslave your chosen people to be taught a nasty lesson, but what did their kids ever do?) Try Exodus 11:4-6, 1 Samuel 15:3, Hosea 13:16; and Psalm 137:8-9 for starters. Now, is Dan going to suggest that when God ordered the massacre of the Amalekites, the Midianites, and the Egyptian first-born, he went ahead and sent the adults’ souls to hell but gave those of the children to Heaven, on account of his being such a swell guy? And if so, what scripture would Dan get that from?

With Dan’s answer to this, we have a shining example of why I and many other Atheist Experience alums often refer to the Bible as Christianity’s Big Book of Multiple Choice. Point out something in their Bible that is undeniably morally reprehensible, and Christians will either tap dance around it all day, or “interpret” it out of all recognition — anything to avoid having to face the clear moral atrocities condoned and even ordered by God in its pages, and the quandary that puts Christians in when having to deal with the Doctrine of Hell and Problem of Evil. Pick ‘n’ choose, pick ‘n’ choose. In the end, the Bible is the Divine Word of God, and yet it somehow always says what they wish it to say.

Now, Stephen responds to Dan’s waffling with Mark 10:15, which is probably not the best choice since it can be interpreted to mean that one must experience conversion with the wide-eyed, unquestioning mental state of a trusting child, not necessarily that they must convert while still a child in age. But there we go again with the “interpretation” business (something Christians like to call hermeneutics, which, though it might sound all scholarly and stuff, still amounts to “let’s make sure the Bible says what we want it to say”). I think it would have been much more to the point to go back to John 3:18 and 3:36 and note that, just as there is no qualifier about sinful behavior, neither is there an exception made for youth. Dan’s “logical” belief that all children go to Heaven by default is just something he made up to counter an aspect of his religion he finds morally troubling — another hint, if one were needed, that perhaps Christians don’t get all their morals from their Bible the way they think they do.

(By the by, Mark 10:14 and 2 Samuel 12:22-23, which Dan later references to support his point, in fact say nothing on the subject of whether or not children go to hell.)

Finally, Dan squeezes out a popcorn fart of a nonanswer in reply to the multiple-choice scenario, mumbling something about real belief versus “going through the motions” that addresses nothing in particular. With this, Dan ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. Stephen administers the coup de grace with a nice little summing up that I could not improve upon. (Stephen is really good at that sort of thing.)

I noticed that each of your answers to my quiz questions was a noncommittal “I don’t know.” That’s a fine answer for a scientist to offer, but someone who claims to have special knowledge from an all-knowing God really ought to have a better idea of what it takes to get into the club. Why hasn’t God made the correct answers to these important doctrinal questions more clear?

As we’ve seen, Dan Marvin is a rank amateur. It’s taken a lot of guts for him to drop by and take on the old pros. But I promised that we wouldn’t allow bad arguments to slide, and the commenters here have lived up to that promise admirably. I don’t suspect Dan has learned anything; the depth of his fundamentalist indoctrination appears to have rendered him ineducable, and though he claims to appreciate Stephen’s getting him to think, a real resentment does seem to seep through. Nevertheless, it’s the duty of smart and honest people not to give foolishness and dishonesty a pass, and here at The Atheist Experience, you can rely on us to be on the job.


Next: Dan’s scientific illiteracy earns him a knuckle-rapping with the big wooden ruler, and he’s sent to the corner with the pointy hat.

Too busy to blog, back this weekend

For those of you wondering why I’ve been AWOL from the blog and its comments threads lately, rest assured I am planning a lengthy and detailed post addressing the remarks of Dan Marvin (which a number of folks have been addressing nicely themselves in said comments) — but I will not be able to get around to it until the weekend at the earliest. This is good news, of course; a very busy week is what anyone working in the nebulous world of the Austin film community wants to have. So look for the next big post from me Saturday or Sunday at the earliest. Perhaps in the interim, some of the other guys on the team here — this is a team blog, guys, right? — will find time in their own schedules to toss up a post or two.

An evangelical visitor

If you’ve been paying attention to this comments thread, you’ll have noticed that we’ve been paid a visit by an evangelical Christian blogger named Dan Marvin. Dan isn’t trolling, but is a sincere guy who doesn’t want us all to go to hell. I’m happy to have Dan visiting us, but there are a few helpful ground rules that Christians ought to be aware of before coming to atheist sites to save our souls. This will help make the experience less unpleasant for them and less of a nuisance for us.

  • Be aware that most atheists have come from religious upbringings. This means that your arguments and appeals have most likely been heard by us before.
  • Be aware of logical fallacies so that you do not make them. Atheist bloggers tend to be reasonably well educated folks, with backgrounds — either professionally, academically, or as involved laypeople — in religion, science, philosophy, and forensic debate. Nothing marks a person as a bad arguer quite like the clueless delivery of logical fallacies. From Dan we’ve already had appeals to belief and popularity (millions of people believe Christianity so it must be true), and these amateurish debating mistakes can be easily corrected simply by studying what they are. Just Google “logical fallacies” and you’ll be okay.
  • Don’t mock guys like Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins if you’ve never read a word they’ve written. Ignorance alone is annoying; ignorance coupled with undeserved cockiness is just offensive and arrogant. And before you remind me that this kind of thing swings both ways, be aware that most of us here have, in fact, read the Bible.
  • Don’t make foolish assertions that your religious belief is on the same footing as science. We’ve already had this silliness from Dan, and nothing catches a believer with his rhetorical pants down more embarrassingly. Faith-based belief in an ancient holy book full of angels, devils, and talking donkeys is not even close to being in the same intellectual ballpark as the scientific method, which entails drawing conclusions about the natural world through experimentation and observation. Science is a rigorous exercise, ruthlessly vetted through a process of peer review to weed out and correct mistakes. There is no analogue in religious practice. To say, as Dan did, that to disbelieve the Bible one must also disbelieve every work of science ever written, well, that’s the kind of thing that’ll get you sent to the corner with a dunce cap on your head.
  • We are aware that to Christians, atheists can often sound brusque, condescending, and downright pissy. Chalk this up to frustration. Our position, by and large, is this. We’re just normal folks, trying to live our lives and get by as peaceably and decently as we can. And because we don’t share the belief in sky gods held by others, we are condemned as the worst kinds of people in society. We are told we are deserving of eternal torture for not sharing your beliefs, and we are fed the same bogus arguments — most of which are emotional appeals and exercises in loopy illogic — in your attempts to make us see the error of our ways. Mainly, we just want to be left alone. But in a religion-addicted world, this is impossible. So the next time you wonder, “Why are atheists so angry?” think about how religionists routinely behave towards us. I certainly will do my best to be polite and cordial to guys like Dan as long as they are polite and cordial and not trolling.
  • Be aware that the minute you fall back on “You just have to have faith,” you’ve lost. If atheists differ from believers in one area more than any other, it’s that believers think that “faith” — belief in the supernatural claims of the Bible without evidence — is an acceptible means of cognition. We know it isn’t. There is no religious belief — not yours, not anybody’s — so innately special that it gets to bypass the same criteria that human beings use for any other decision-making they do in life. If I wouldn’t do faith-based used-car shopping, or allow someone to perform faith-based surgery upon me, I see no reason to accept a faith-based belief about questions regarding the nature of the universe and my own fate. If you’re going to tell me flat out that I’m eternally doomed for not believing as you believe, then you’d better make with the most incontrovertible evidence anyone has ever produced for anything. Otherwise, you’re just insulting and threatening me, and that not only reflects poorly upon your arguing skills but upon your personal morality.

There. That should help our evangelical visitors understand the boxing ring they have chosen to step into. We’re all for being nice folks and carrying the torch of positive atheism. But if you make bad or hackneyed arguments that we’ve heard before, we’ll call you on them. Atheists, contrary to preconceptions, can usually be counted on for honesty.

I guess this is worth a mention

Kent Hovind — convicted, disgraced, pathetic and forgotten — continues to fight the good fight against the penal system. He’s got his attorney (presumably the same incompetent no-hoper who couldn’t even get his paperwork organized in court and thus earned a rebuke from the judge for wasting everybody’s time with his incessant shuffling) asking for an acquittal on the grounds that the Hovinds didn’t mean to defraud the government. This is a bit of a step down from the tough-talking “they’re the ones breaking the law, not me!” bluster Hovind puffed himself up with on his recorded prison phone calls.

You know, if you shoot a guy in the face, and then tell the judge you didn’t mean to kill him, you just might still find yourself sent up the river for murder. Crimes don’t become not-crimes when the perp commits them by accident. I mention this only by way of making a point. Kent Hovind, in fact, meant to do every sleazy thing he did, and with his lawyer, he’s now lying once again, as he’s lied all his life about things like evolution.

So long, Kent. You’re as irrelevant as the creationist twaddle you peddle to the uneducated and gullible. No one but you believes your delusions any more.