Friday, November 30, 2007


Just when you think you have heard from all the evangelical, anti-atheist lobby, there suddenly comes to your attention a new candidate who has been groomed to speak against atheism. However, you would think that he at least does it with some more reasoning and some less rhetoric than Ravi Zacharias.

I had never heard of Zacharias till an acquaintance alerted me to his upcoming talk at IISc. (Bangalore) in December. Zacharias is an Indian Hindu who converted, and has given talks at "many prestigious institutions including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and the UN General Assembly", as if his appearances at these places by themselves make him infallible and worth listening to. Zacharias has written books against atheism, and the reviews of his books suggest the kind of obvious fallacies and cherry-picking he indulges in. But it would not be fair to judge someone based on second-hand knowledge, so I saw some of his videos on YouTube and they appalled me to be frank. There are many there, but here's one that's particularly galling.

Zacharias appalled me not just because of his aggressive, soulful rendition against atheism, but because of his remarkable ignorance about atheism and his nauseating and judicious cherry-picking of examples that apparently serve to "disprove" atheism in his opinion. Zacharias also has that kind of persona that religious leaders have, so unfortunately his ineffectual and straw-man arguments seem to enrapture an already compassionate audience. Here is another set of videos of a talk he gave at Penn State and the ensuing questions. Seriously, it's the fawning audience of thousands which buys into his rhetoric that's scarier than Zacharias himself, whose image is projected on a huge screen behind.

There are several fallacies that Zacharias repeatedly commits, but there are some that are so spectacularly misguided that they are worth representing. First, he talks about some talk that he gave where there was a student with two of his atheist friends. After the talk, the students asked his atheist friends why they did not ask the questions they had prepared for Zacharias. The atheists supposedly answered that Zacharias's points were so persuasive that they simply couldn't counter them. So what does this prove? That atheism is wrong? Or that those two students simply lacked the logic and knowledge to counter Zacharias's ingeniously specious arguments? (As many arguments about faith are). Zacharias's enunciation of half-truths is despicable. Zacharias seems to take their inability to counter his points and their still reiterating their lack of belief in God as proof that even atheism is based on faith, a common strategy used by religious people these days when they know they cannot beat atheism on its own territory.

In another case at the Penn State talk, Zacharias talks about a speech he gave to atheists in Russia. At the end of the talk, a man asked him, "Just what are you asserting"? Zacharias retorted, "Just what are you denying?". His point is that atheists don't even know what they are denying, so their "beliefs" about the lack of God are as much based on "faith" as anyone else's. Actually, the answer to Zacharias's question is simple. Atheists are denying any existence of a supernatural deity who performs supernatural acts. But there is a reason for the question. The question "Just what exactly are you asserting?" actually means to ask, "There are so many Gods and so many religious explanations for so many things in the world. There is no consistent religious worldview shared by everyone in the world. So just exactly what is it that you are asserting when you say 'God' when the word has so many diverse and in some cases, contradictory, meanings?". Again, Zacharias cleverly skirts the question and impresses the audience with what he thinks is a diabolically clever counterquestion, which ironically should trump faith, not atheism.

Zacharias is trying to make a very common kind of allegation against atheism as noted above. And I think we will see this allegation increasingly, given the fact that atheists are being more outspoken. What would be the best way for people of faith to debunk atheism? It's pretty clear that if religious people can brand atheism as being akin to religion, as being based on faith and belief as much as religion is, then it would serve as a first nail in atheism's coffin in their opinion. Zacharias's emphasis continually seems to be on proving that in the end, atheism is as much about belief and faith as anything else. He seems to ignore the simple but important fact that most atheists would be willing to accept the existence of God if provided with due evidence. We cannot reiterate this enough number of times; atheism is a lack of faith, it's not "faith in a lack of faith" as Zacharias and others would have everyone believe. And you know what, I am pretty sure Zacharias knows this. What gets my goat about these people is that they seem to be smart people who would know such things, but still insist otherwise for asserting their faith. As Richard Feynman says, it's dishonest people, not honest fools, that really aggravate us.

Zacharias also keeps on gratuitously neglecting the simple concept of burden of proof. I mean, really, how hard is it to understand that the burden of proof is on the person making the positive assertion? Zacharias keeps on trotting out ad nauseum the assertion that "science has not disproved the existence of God'. Apparently, Zacharias has already freed himself from the burden of proving the existence of God.

And lastly, Zacharias just like others cannot seem to help flog the many-times-dead horse; that atheism and immorality are in some way related. Right from arguments that evolution and the lack of purpose somehow mean that there is no possible reference frame of morality for atheists, to regurgitating the tired old nonsense about Stalin and Pol Pot being atheists, people of faith just cannot stop spouting this nonexistent connection between atheism and immorality. Zacharias as others have done, conveniently neglects the moral travesties in the Bible and other holy books, and also conveiniently neglects the countless moral things that atheists have done. Frankly for me, this connection between atheisms and immorality or religion and immorality is a connection that's after a certain extent neither here nor there, but atheists have to argue about that connection only because of religious people's allegations that immorality and atheism are connected.

In the end, Zacharias uses techniques that any charismatic religious leader worth his or her salt does; use rhetoric and elegant language to sway people, erect as many fallacies and straw men as possible to confuse the audience, cherry-pick away to glory, constantly generalise on the basis of individual incidences, make non-existent connections, and after assuming false premises, use the most impeccable internal logic to draw reasonable-sounding conclusions. It's deplorable. Zacharias needs to be severely reprimanded. And it would be nice if bloggers could expose his hollow arguments and strident rhetoric. In the end, Zacharias is nothing more than a polemical preacher.

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Blogger The Tobacconist said...

The audio clip is pretty intense. The arguments don't hold much weight but they are made enthusiastically. Dude, this argument of design is really getting irritating. I think the problem is there is so much information out there and most people do not have the time or the patience to sift through it. They look for an answer that correlates their worldview. Considering there are more people who believe in religion than in atheism, guys like RZ are always going to have an audience. It is amazing how they use scientific discoveries to explain BS and creationist crap.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

I was sort of amazed to see that no one among those thousands challenged his arguments. Maybe they were just intimidated by his supposed stature and outspoken style of speaking.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Ratna said...

In all your article, I didn't find single statement or fact that you are specifically opposing against Zacharias. Can you be more specific on which of his statements? and how your worldview I guess Atheism gives a satisfying answer?

7:00 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Ummm...I thought that's what I said in paragraphs no. 4-6. And it depends on what you mean by a "satisfying answer". To what? If you mean atheism does not give comfort, what would you rather have, the truth or false comfort?

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ravi may be appalling, but i think he at least does a good job in defending his faith and reaching out to atheist to provide not only a logical proof, but evidential proof of God. With the videos you saw, I kindly recommend that you stick solely and closely to his arguments. His personality and maybe styles of preaching are only subject to him. We each have ways of delivering presentations, but the centralilty of it is providing evidence for the existence of God.

In as much as Ravi may not be adequately informed about atheism, similarly and with all due respect, it seem you're also not well informed about atheism and Christianity (or religion as a whole).

If you talk about many fallacies, then write as many as possible. The few you highlighted are not central to his arguement against atheism.
Note that Ravi is not in to attack atheists, but to give them an opportunity to reevalute and question their beliefs.

Examine this example: It is an accepted truth that 1+1=2 which I believe you would agree to it. Suppose I said 1+1=10 you would disagree with me and provide proof that 1+1=2 only. If I'm not able to refute your proof you will at least assume most likely that I will accept your proof and hence believe and the truth that 1+1=2.(whether a proof imply truth is another argument). Your goal all along will be to disprove me. After, maybe you would think I would come up with a counter arguement and so you will reevaluate your proof to give a better one. With the case of the atheist, that was Ravi's goal, to disprove atheism. The atheist had not even evidence to back himself so at least he/she should accept Ravi's claim unless he's able to come up with a better argument. Yes! Inability to refute ones claims doesn't necessarily imply your opponents claims are true. However note that if one's intension is to know that truth, one will at least accept defeat and possibly re/consider his oponents view.(By the way 1+1=10 when you deal wit base two. In the real world it's ten, but for example in the world of computers, it's 10)

Just a question to ponder: wouldn't a lack in something imply a gain in another? If I lack energy, then don't I have gain in no energy? (Note that faith in something doesn't always imply belief and vice versa). Also lack in something at least leaves a little room for gain in that thing. And gain in something would also leave a little room for lack. So Lack of belief in say God will imply gain in belief of no God. If you believe there's no God then no God is your believe.

Ravi's effort to prove the existence of God aren't deplorable or appalling. In a law court for example, both attorneys of the plaintiff and defense do all they can to defend their client. In like manner Ravi is fighting hard (not to defend God by the way) to introduce people to the saving knowledge of God who cares so much for mankind and wanting to save them from judgment. The price of judgment is unbearable and as such his efforts to continue spreading saving grace of Christ.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Faith in something does not always imply belief? Even religious people won't have trouble accepting that faith entails belief without evidence. And I don't "believe in no God" because of any kind of faith. I simply don't believe in God because of the lack of evidence. And I am willing to accept that I have "faith" in atheism if your Ravi is willing to accept that because science also cannot disprove unicorns, fairies and goblins, these have as much claim to existence as Christian Gods.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but this article is an embarrassment to Atheism. Your arguments are so weak that it makes us look like fools.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Wavefunction said...

And this comes from an anonymous commenter who does not bother to support his own statement with a single argument?? Neat!

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across this blog randomly while googling about Ravi's upcoming work in Russia.

I have no idea who you are, and it seems you made this post 4 years ago, so I'll be brief.

You are correct in stating that the burden of proof rests with Ravi and other evangelicals. What ultimately separates my worldview and yours is how you stated you're an atheist because of a lack of evidence, whereas I agree whole-heartedly with the book of Romans that states all are without excuse BECAUSE of the overwhelming evidence (in the words of Kant: "...the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.").

The compelling thing about comparing the God of the Old & New Testaments to unicorns and fairies is, had someone given a speech about the virtues of unicorns and fairies, you wouldn't have dedicated a long, thought-provoking blog post in opposition to it. Christopher Hitchens will never write a book called "How Unicorns Poison Everything," because everyone would laugh at him.

Instead, there's obvious hostility in your tone, and I'd say Hitchens is a cold, hard, cynic as well. I'd wager he and you both are rather disgusted by the IDEA of God because of the prevailing injustice you see in the world (a topic Ravi discusses brilliantly).

I wish we could talk more but...I don't know you. I also strongly urge you to also evaluate the historicity of the Bible.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Dawkinsian said...

Your article is well written and timely because I know Christians who think that Zacharias is the ultimate apologist. His 'arguments'are just as ignorant as that of the other apologists. It is a shame that he did not engage in debates with someone like Hitchens or Krauss who would have blown the nonsense he peddles out of the water.

9:36 AM  
Blogger carmelo said...

everything you accuse Ravi of I see in this blog here. Why don't you write to RZIM ministries and ask all the questions you have, they will certainly answer you without all the profanity, vitriol, filth or just plain old mockery that is associated with the writings when you normally ask Mr Atheist.

6:10 AM  
Anonymous Rick hall said...

Ravi uncovers the mask and bullshit of atheism - that's why you hate him. I am a sinner and I know I am up to no good - that's why the message of Christ flings the mask of my unbelief into the garbage bin - I am a hypocrite because I scorn some of the harsh teachings of the Bible but I hate the hypocrisy of atheists even more - Ravi is so right - the problem of sin and evil is not an intellectual one but a moral one. Malcolm Muggeridge said that the depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable fact while at the same time being th exist intellectually resisted. Atheism is sheer madness and so bankrupt that it makes the Great Depression look like an eternal bull market.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Tyndale verwer said...

this is the most awkward thing I hav heard
"I simply don't believe in God because of the lack of evidence"
Christianity has more evidence than anyone can study in a lifetime
u ar one of them
I bet ur age is somewhwere around 18-35
u will always see the wrong part of the design
"It is a shame that he did not engage in debates with someone like Hitchens or Krauss who would have blown the nonsense he peddles out of te water"
It is a shame that Hitchens or Krauss do not engage in debates with ravi
who will show them their real face
bcause they are blinded
some die blinded

9:22 AM  
Blogger Tyndale verwer said...

It is a shame that Hitchens or Krauss do not engage in debates with ravi
who will show them their real face
bcause they are blinded
some die blinded
That was the right reply for a foolish logic
But here is the real thought
Tell me why
Only ravi has the guts to risk his life
To go to the sheikhs,communists in their country
Just to spread the truth he believes in

9:04 AM  
Blogger Manny Santos said...

"They look for information that matches their worldview". Is this not a very hypocritical statement? For years, scientist believed the Universe was eternal. Since the solid evidence for the Universe having a beginning, atheist scientist, look for conjecture that fit their worldview. Now you have the idea of multiverses or small fluctuations, so not "nothing".
Ravi Zacharias has one of the most brilliant minds on the planet and always provides sound logic. What you will find consistently is the dismissal of any sound logic when it does not fit a worldview where God does not exist. Very hypocritical!

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has science buried God? Triple doctorate, Dr. John Lennox....

1:47 PM  

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