At the Apologia, we come into a lot of contact with atheist writings. From the articles, books, and debates I’ve read, I have noticed five main (though there are more) types of fallacies atheists commonly make.
1) The genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is that lapse in logic whereby one seeks to discredit some belief or belief system but pointing out that it’s origins are suspect. Atheists employ this fallacy against religion both as a general phenomenon and a particular one. As general, they often seek to give an account of how the religion historically developed. If they’re hardcore evolutionists, they might make up a story about how we evolved the religious instinct because it was useful for survival. Otherwise, they might say we invented religion to explain the world (as with Greek polytheism), and those explanations have become less important as science has discovered more and more truth about how the world operates. But what the genetic fallacy says is that you can’t logically discredit a belief by discrediting it’s origins. So even if we invented religion to explain to world or had the religious instinct implanted in us by evolution, that doesn’t tell us anything about wether theism or a particular religion is true.
Of course, the other problem with this argument is that theists themselves often argue that religion is natural to man. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for…In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being.” This means that even theists think that mankind has some natural tendency to religion, which is of course fully compatible with the idea that we evolved some religious sense.
On a personal level, atheists often point that, for example, one is only a Christian because one was born into a Christian family and/or society. Ignoring the fact that one could never actually know that (counterfactuals are notoriously difficult to prove), this claim also commits the genetic fallacy. Even if the origin of our belief is geographical and familial happenstance, that doesn’t tell us whether the belief is true or false.
2) Jargonizing. Even in the “more sophisticated” atheist works, there is a tendency to replace argument with, basically, name calling. Therefore, faith is “irrational” and “antiquated”, religious belief “mythology” or “fairy tales” etc. Very rarely are these words given definitions (probably because, definitionally, e.g., religious beliefs and fairy tales can’t be equated), and even more rarely is a case made for why these different terms are synonymous. Instead, the words are thrown around carelessly in order to taint the associations one has with religion and faith. If you call faith irrational often enough people start to associate the two with each other, even absent any good reason to do so.
3) Invocation of science. Like (2), this tactic really has no rational grounding, but it’s popular none the less. Atheists make different claims about science, but they all have a semi-magical quality to them, as if merely invoking science vindicates whatever claim you happen to be making. Some claims are: “I can’t believe in God, because science/evolution has disproved Him” (which is nonsense), or “Science can explain everything” (which is a philosophical, not scientific statement), or “Now that we have science, we don’t need religion anymore”, or “There is no scientific evidence for God’s existence, so he doesn’t exist.” All of these kinds of claims forget that science is a particular academic discipline among many others, and a particular way of getting knowledge about the world. But it is not the only such discipline or only such way. Furthermore, it is conducted by fallible humans, just like every other discipline, and therefore is just as liable to error. People seem to think that by making “science” impersonal and abstract, it somehow makes it infallible. But science doesn’t show anything- that’s just a bad metaphor. Particular scientists conduct experiments from which they infer certain general laws or explanations. There’s no reason why we should prioritize that form of knowledge over any other, no less use the word “science” as if it is some infallible arbiter that can settle all our disputes for us.
4)Secondary causation absolutism. A popular historical narrative among atheists, as mentioned above, is that humans invented religion to explain the world, and science (being based in fact and reason, unlike religion) has gradually taken over this explanatory role. Implicit in this narrative is the idea that once we have explained the natural cause of something, we have eliminated the need for God as an explanatory hypothesis. This, from the Christian point of view, is complete nonsense. Christians, and theists generally, have always acknowledged that God works through natural, material things, more than he does things supernaturally or miraculously. They even have a phrase for it: secondary causation. Something is a secondary cause when it is a natural or material thing that explains some natural phenomenon. Some acts, like miracles, don’t have any secondary cause- they are done directly by God. But most divine acts make use of a secondary cause, be it a law of nature or whatever. So even when we can identify the natural cause of something, that doesn’t at all show that God isn’t the primary cause behind it. Indeed, there are a lot of good arguments to show that secondary causation is only intelligible in light of divine primary causation.
5)The fallacy of the unattainable office. We at the Apologia made up the name for this fallacy, because we noticed that a very common atheistic fallacy lacked a name. This fallacy refers to the claims made up atheists that God doesn’t exist because if he did exist, he would have done things differently. So Dawkins claims that God can’t exist because if He did, He would have made fewer species. Goldstein says God can’t exist because if He did, there would be less suffering in the world. The problem with all these claims is that they assume basically that if God existed, he would create the world exactly as atheists would create the world if they were God. Of course, there’s no good logical reason for thinking that. We call it the fallacy of the unattainable office because God’s office is unattainable for humans, and thus it’s fallacious for us to disbelieve in Him because we disagree with the way he exercises that office.