When I was in college, just about every Christian fundamentalist I knew recommended that I read Christian apologist Josh McDowell. He was held up as “the guy” that would convert me. At some point, a Christian friend even bought me McDowell’s most well-known work, “More Than a Carpenter.” To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
Unlike the religious, I actually like reading intelligent and well-reasoned arguments from people with opposing views. That was not however the case with McDowell, whose arguments were all too familiar and had already been refuted quite well. Now when someone brings up McDowell, I laugh.
The thing is that there are a number of similar religious apologists all with bad arguments which have long since been refuted. They all have their tricks though. Denish D’Souza is a particular favorite of mine. He likes to play the line between fundy and mainstream. He also loves to argue that his faith-based beliefs are reasonable and that reason-based beliefs are faithful. But in the end, he’s just a very good bullshit artist.
Then there are the apologists who try to make arguments that seem intelligent by using lots of philosophical terms and referencing complex ideas like William Lane Craig. He must know what he is talking about because he clearly knows a lot about logic and philosophy. Unfortunately, Craig’s arguments are actually pretty poorly reasoned and as it turns out, he seems little different than D’Souza in his ability to dress up bullshit.
The thing is that most fundamentalists don’t actually know or care about what these apologists think or say. They just like to throw their names out there because they think it will scare atheists. They treat these apologists as authority figures not because of their arguments, but because fundamentalist religious believers are often authority driven.
What this means is that unless an atheist is in a scored debate in which there is some method for determining an actual winner, there is no sense in debating one of these apologists. Unless an atheist is writing a blog post against a particular argument made by one of these apologists, there is no sense even mentioning them by name and then only briefly if at all. To do otherwise gives these apologists more credibility than they deserve.
Criticizing ideas is great, but when we harp too much on the apologist holding those ideas we increase the authority of that apologist to their flock. We turn them into idols and gods for the believers to worship.
I recommend generalizing the arguments. I don’t much care which apologist or what believer X has to say about Y. A bad argument is a bad argument no matter who it comes from.