Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 7

“You can’t reason someone out of a belief they weren’t reasoned into.” I really could have included this in Part 1 as the very first entry, since this may well be the single most insidious, self-defeating, and quite simply wrong (and yet despite all this, maddeningly common) cliché in the entire atheist lexicon. Matt Dillahunty once served up as thorough an eviscerating of this cliché as one could possibly imagine, to which I have very little to add. But on a personal note, I will just say that I’ve spoken with hundreds of atheists about their “deconversion” stories, and I can count on one hand the number who were not “reasoned out” of religion, regardless of what their initial reasons for believing may have been.

“It is easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than for him to enter the kingdom of heaven”. While not as egregious an example as the “slay them before me” passage, this is also an example of a Bible verse that’s often unfairly taken out of context when attempting to point out the absurdity of the Bible, or simply to make the claim that the Bible says the rich cannot enter heaven. After all, the passage immediately following it makes clear that it’s intentionally describing a physically impossible scenario in order to make the point that even seemingly impossible things are possible “with God”. There are plenty of actual errors, absurdities, and contradictions in the Bible. This isn’t one of them.


“If there’s a god, why does he allow so much evil and suffering in the world?” For many atheists (and theists), this is the big one. Even Bart Ehrman–who has perhaps done more than anyone else to educate the public about the Bible’s countless flaws and contradictions–cites the Problem of Evil as the main issue which led him away from theism. But the Problem of Evil is only a disproof of the traditional Judeo-Christian notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God, not all “gods” in general. And such a god concept is no more probable than a “god” which is apathetic (or even evil), or a god which has limited power. If anything, the traditional god concept is inherently LESS probable (if not impossible) simply due to the logically contradictory nature of having mutually exclusive attributes, which renders the Problem of Evil something of a moot point. In other words, while we have plenty of reasons to disbelieve in the existence of gods, just because God may be an asshole (which the God of the Bible certainly is) doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. The problem with invoking this phrase to dismiss religious claims is that it implies that the claim in question has “ordinary” evidence going for it, but simply lacks “extraordinary” evidence. But that’s FAR too generous when it comes to most religious claims, which typically fail to meet even “ordinary” standards of evidence (and in many cases lack any evidence whatsoever beyond an unsupportable claim of divine revelation).

For the rest of the series:

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 1

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 2

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 3

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 4

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 5

Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 6


10 thoughts on “Atheist Clichés to Avoid – Part 7

  1. Pingback: More Annoying Atheist Clichés

  2. Greetings, I found your post via Friendly Atheist. Some very good food for thought. As a recovering Christian ( 🙂 ) atheist, I do have a few thoughts on this.
    First, regarding the question of evil, you say “just because God may be an asshole (which the God of the Bible certainly is) doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.” That is true, however there is another factor which in conjunction does: most Christians insist that God is actually good (I say most, as I’ve learned to “never say never”, but I’m actually unaware of any sect that alleges otherwise). This is an unshakable facet of his personality, as the story goes: that he is a just and loving god. Those are mutually exclusive states, being a murderous asshole and a just and good being. So, while I agree that the problem of evil is not an argument *for* atheism, it is an argument *against* Christianity — which while being very different things, in practice, in Christian parts of the world, tends to yield the same result.
    I think atheism, in the west, tends to revolve a lot around disbelief in Christianity — in part because atheists in this part of the world are daily impacted by Christianity, more than any other faith, and are often former practitioners. I imagine you would find a similar correlation between atheistic criticism of a faith and that faith’s prevalence in most areas (where that sort of thing can happen, anyway). I think another factor of this is that, outside the blinders of our beliefs, it’s pretty easy to see that most other religions are implausible and false. “Muhammad rode to heaven on a winged horse? What a load of craziness! What’s that you ask? Why, yes, a donkey did talk to Balaam. It was a miracle from our Lord. Isn’t he amazing?” So when we see that the thing we, or our culture, accepts as being true is actually not, that tends to get a lot of attention. I don’t think that’s necessarily something we should change (I suspect that a majority of Americans would be atheists if they suddenly realized that Christianity was false), but it is something that I think should be clarified. Atheists don’t simply “have it out” for one religion; we have every reason to conclude that they’re all nonsense.
    I also think you make a good point about extraordinary evidence. The quote is a good one, but it should at least be used with the caveat that religion doesn’t even meet the standard of ordinary evidence.
    Anyway, enjoying reading your lists.

    • Thanks Rachel. I agree with your point (and Skylar’s) regarding the Problem of Evil; to be clear, as is the case with many (perhaps most) of the examples in this series, I’m not suggesting that it’s a phrase which should never be used under any circumstances. As you noted, it certainly is useful to reference the PoE when specifically refuting the orthodox Judeo-Christian concept of an all-good and all-powerful God; I just think it tends to be overused in a way that goes beyond the specific God concept that it actually refutes (i.e an argument for atheism).

      Perhaps another reason that I don’t find the PoE to be a terribly compelling argument/refutation is simply because I’ve never experienced any religious indoctrination, and I’ve never had any particular attachment to the notion that “God” must be all-good or all-powerful (and, of course, the Bible itself provides ample indications that the God it portrays is neither). If anything, as far back as I can remember I’ve always felt that if there were a God, it would almost certainly not possess both of those attributes simply based on personal observation of the world we live in.

  3. “But the Problem of Evil is only a disproof of the traditional Judeo-Christian notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God, not all “gods” in general.”

    This is sort of a banal point. The only admonition/caveat I disagree with on your list, for the simple reason that for the Jews, Christians and Muslims (let’s face it- the majority of theists we interact with adhere to one of these religions) who believe in this version of god do not believe in any other gods- so there is no need to disprove all other gods- these theists have already rejected those, and so the problem of evil remains a salient argument in an atheist’s portfolio.

    • However, rejecting the Jewish/Christian/Muslim God doesn’t make you an atheist, so it’s a weak argument in favor of atheism even if it holds some water against that particular God.

  4. But religious claims DO have evidence. The making of a claim is, for instance, itself evidence for the claim. The weight which we accord said evidence is a matter of degree, but being accorded low weight doesn’t disqualify something from being evidence.

    In fact, if your criterion for something being considered evidence at all is for it to meet a certain evidential standard, then that’s problematic since we would be unable assess whether it meets said standard if we’re unwilling to even consider it as evidence in the first place. ‘Evidence’ HAS to simply mean ‘whatever is used to support the veracity of a claim by the claimant.’ Whether it does so successfully HAS to be a further assessment of the offered evidence.

    Saying there is no evidence whatsoever for religious claims should be included on your list as an atheist cliché to be avoided, since it fatally micharacterises the nature of evidence. It’s better to say that there is insufficient evidence or that the available evidence is inadmissible or problematic. Not only is it more correct, it’s also more conducive to proper reasoning, and it serves as a springboard for a potentially informative discussion on evidential standards and why hearsay, anecdotes, ancient texts etc. fall short.

    • “But religious claims DO have evidence. The making of a claim is, for instance, itself evidence for the claim. The weight which we accord said evidence is a matter of degree, but being accorded low weight doesn’t disqualify something from being evidence…”

      That’s a good point. To be clear, the claims I had in mind were purely revelation-based claims, e.g. Paul’s regarding salvation which–by his own admission–were not based on any teachings of Jesus while he was alive, or even based on any conversations with Jesus’ disciples (in other words, he made them up). But you’re correct; I apologize for the sloppy wording, and will edit my post accordingly.

  5. I like this series immensely, but I think it’s lacking something critical that the Christian version that (I believe) inspired this has, which is a reframing the lessons to take from this in a more positive light. For example, in the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” section, a solid, positive follow-up might suggest that people focus on the fact that claims require evidence and that they should be up front that they find the evidence lacking, which would hopefully provide a much smoother discussion on why the evidence is lacking at best, and would at worst help the world get used to people finding theistic evidence lacking.

  6. The question on the “eye of a needle” has a more significant problem than what you mention. It’s actually a feature of many palastinian cities. It was a very small entryway only 3-4 feet high and 1.5-2 feet wide at it’s widest point (obviously too small for a camel). Anyone familiar with archeology would tear that argument apart. Below is a picture.

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