The Argumentum ad Smarterum

by Tom Gilson

I’m a firm believer in speaking the truth with love (Eph. 4:15) and letting my speech be gracious, “seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Usually this means practicing great patience and gentleness. There is one frequent form of skeptic/atheist argument, though, for which love demands a firm and intense rebuttal. I’m referring to the argumentum ad smarterum, defined as, if you were smart like me you’d be an atheist (skeptic) like me.

The argumentum ad smarterum usually comes in the form, “Christians are irrational; atheists (or skeptics) are rational.” It also shows up in hand-waving dismissals like “Faith is belief without evidence,” or “You might just as well believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Sometimes atheists trot out statistics showing that belief in Christianity correlates negatively with educational level.

The argumentum ad smarterum is not to be confused with smart arguments. Well-reasoned arguments based on solid, relevant evidence deserve thoughtful, respectful responses. But the argumentum ad smarterum deserves a smart kick on the backside, especially when it shows up the way I see it so often here. Erstwhile Thinking Christian commenter doctor(logic) adopted the argumentum ad smarterum into his very nom de blog. The not-too-subtle implication was that he was the logical one; but the fact is that quite frequently he wasn’t. (He is still most welcome to comment here, though we have not seen him in a while.)

Sam Harris played a similar tactic, just slightly removed from doctor(logic)’s: he named his organization (not himself, thankfully) Project Reason. When faced with logical arguments, though, he retreated to emotional answers. That was odd, I thought. \

You know plenty more examples, so I need not multiply them for you. Dawkins comes to mind, but in the words of a friend of mine, when I made some remark that opened me up for an obvious wisecrack in response: “Nah, too easy.”

The trap that theists can fall into with the argumentum ad smarterum is to think that it’s about refuting the smarterum arguments (“There’s no more evidence for God than there is for a Flying Teapot!” etc.). That has never worked, in my experience. It’s not following Christ’s example, either. The person who comes presenting this argument comes with a great deal of personal pride; and when Christ saw pride, as in the scribes and Pharisees, he hit it square on. When they laid theological traps for him, he turned around and dealt with their pride instead…

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