A couple months ago I was sent a copy of Josh and Sean McDowell’s new edition of Evidence that Demands a Verdict. It’s a mammoth book (798 pages) and I hope to review it soon. But I keep finding myself getting distracted as I read, and often it isn’t for a good reason. Consider, for example, this quote that McDowell and McDowell provide from Paul Copan on why “tolerance [as an objective value] is only intelligible if God exists”:
“If tolerance is a value, it isn’t obvious from nature; so if there is no God and we are just hulks of protoplasmic guck, how could tolerance be an objective value at all?” (cited in McDowell and McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, xliv)
This brief-but-obnoxious passage is a bald example of the strawman fallacy.
To begin with, Copan assumes that for the atheist to justify belief in the virtue of tolerance it must be “obvious from nature”. But this is absurd. There are many ways an atheist could claim to know tolerance is a virtue including through a basic intuition or by way of abstract reasoning.
Further, Copan assumes that on atheist presuppositions human beings “are just hulks of protoplasmic guck”. This too is patently false. But it isn’t just that it is false, it is that Copan purposely adopts insulting, demeaning language to marginalize his opponent. This is no different than an atheist saying that Christians believe in a “celestial sky daddy”.
Now for the real irony. This offensive passage is quoted in a section dealing with misconceptions about Christianity. In particular, it is addressing “Misconception #4: ‘The intolerance of Christians is a good reason to reject the Christian faith.'” Meanwhile, Misconception #3 is “The hypocrisy of Christians undermines the reasonability of the Christian faith.”