I don’t know about you, but I get tired of hearing the word “debunk.” In fact, the more I study and attempt to engage in helpful conversation and, even, debates, my brain has an automatic shut off when the word “debunk” and all of its synonyms are introduced.

Confute, deflate, discard, demystify, disprove, invalidate, refute, repudiate, shoot down, shoot full of holes, unshroud, and, my favorite, “. . . like shooting fish in a barrel”.

Ever heard these titles for a book or a blog?

“Christianity deflated”

“Resurrection disproven”

“Unshrouding the lies of the Bible”

“Debunking Christianity is like shooting fish in a barrel”

“Christianity debunked”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t really like this kind of language from unbelievers or believers. Rhetoric can be a tool or a turn off.  I have seen it much from unbelievers and atheists, but it often comes from the lips of those carrying my flag. I have seen this title before: “Evolution debunked.” Or how about this one: “Refuting atheism is like shooting fish in a barrel.”

More often than not, extreme rhetoric, to me, evidences great insecurity. I know this is not always the case, but that is just what it communicates to me. I can’t help it. When we are not really confident in our position, whatever it may be, we resort to emotional rhetoric, believing that the force of our overstatement will win the day and cause people to be endeared to our position. Often this works, but it does not make it godly, especially in a generation that is checking out when it comes to dogmatism and shallow thinking.

Most thinking people these days will see through our rhetoric. We may preserve the ear of those who already agree with us, but we will find that we have lost those who need to trust us the most.

That is why I like 007. He never has to resort to the extreme in anything. Why? Because he always has things under control. No matter what his opposition may bring, his temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And it is not that he is fighting the temptation to explode. It is not that he did his Yoga that afternoon and has learned to control his emotions. It is just that he really does have things under control. He is so confident that it naturally produces a calm demeanor.

Belittling people or positions, using extreme rhetoric, and “debunking” is a bit extreme. If we have to resort to such emotional talk, we probably are not really debunking anything at all.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    21 replies to "Debunk This . . ."

    • Luke N

      I agree with you to a point. 007, even though he chooses not to use extreme language, certainly can. It would not be an exaggerated claim by him if he did so.

      It does seem that people use this extreme rhetoric on their sites and in their talks to drum up support from their followers (“preaching to the choir” or a pep rally), while prodding those who disagree. But the cause of this is not necessarily a lack of confidence or lack of argumentative support. Extreme rhetoric can coexist with a person’s confidence and argumentative support (007).

      Since both sides use extreme rhetoric, it indicates that both are epistemologically confident in their positions. But only one can be correct. As Christians let’s up the ante…let’s see their confidence in a falsehood, then explain it in light of our worldview, without contradicting any other doctrine. Then we can challenge them to explain our confidence in a falsehood, without contradicting any of their doctrines.

      By doing this we can test the explanatory power of the worldview and the true confidence level behind the rhetoric.

    • rob Haskell

      You totally debunked those extremists! Whoo Hoo. Totally AWESOME!


      • Leslie Jebaraj

        And without using the word, debunk! 🙂

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      You totally debunked those extremists! Whoo Hoo. Totally AWESOME!

      Dang. You beat me to the punch, Rob Haskell.

      C. Michael Patton has debunked the debunkers!

      Moderation to the Extreme repudiates and refutes those extremists!


    • Wintery Knight

      It’s almost like they want to announce their CONCLUSION instead of emphasizing the reasons for their conclusion.

      Atheism debunked

      How the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation argues against an uncaused, eternal universe

    • Ron

      Or how about this one: “Refuting atheism is like shooting fish in a barrel.”

      You’d be saying this too if you had also discovered the silver bullet of presuppositionalism!


    • Lynn

      “Debunk” is not a pretty-sounding word.

      I think both sides sometimes say drastic things in order to get people’s attention or provoke the other side into coniptions.

      I’m sure the God debates will continue after we’re all long gone. I’m just glad to have the internet where you can openly discuss these things. I can’t wait til I find people in my real life to discuss it all with also.

    • Lynn

      I don’t see any way to email you, Michael, so just a note-Are you gonna put up a new poll soon? I wanted to participate in the current one, but I disagree with all the answers, including “don’t know.” Frustrating!

    • John W. Loftus

      …or it can be an attention getter. Rhetoric like this can draw attention to a site.


    • Ed Kratz

      The problem is when you have overstatements and emotional rhetoric from the very beginning. What are you preparing people to expect except for more of the same? It becomes hard to take anyone seriously.

      BTW John, I did not have your blog in mind when I wrote this. It was a blog post I read which basically used this line in every paragraph where every Christian argument, according to the author, had “already been debunked years ago.”

      I thought to myself, and go to a Christian site and you will see that all of these arguments have been debunked years ago too. And back and forth.

      What they should have said was that “Viable alternative options had been given years ago” or something such as that.

      I am not saying that there are not things that can be refuted and debunked, but those words should be used more sparingly for those things that actually qualify. The rhetoric carried with these words in other issues that don’t qualify is a way to immediately turn away true seekers and to paint yourself into a corner of naive fundamentalism who has no real arguments, no matter what your position.

    • Ed Kratz

      In other words, the “debunking” should only come in the arguments, not preemptive use of the phrase.

    • Lynn

      At first I was going to agree with you in what you said to John above re using the word “debunking”-that it would turn away true seekers. But I’m not so sure.

      I think the shock value of seeing “debunking Christianity” or some other statement that’s shocking because you’ve never heard it, can be very effective. It takes your mind into a whole new world that fascinates you. You feel like you’re opening up your mind.

      At least that’s how it struck me as a doubting Christian. I don’t know how it would strike a non-doubting Christian. Maybe they wouldn’t even look. I’ve yet to have a Christian show any curiosity about what I read.

      Like now, when I’ve become agnostic, if I saw a blog called “atheism debunked” I’d want to read it-cause I’d think “wow, maybe those arguments that so impressed me aren’t so great after all.”

      So maybe it’s great for getting attention. Of course then you have to back it up and be decent to people, etc. Your arguments can’t fall way short after the big billing.

    • Ed Kratz

      Lynn, I understand where you are coming from, but I think what I mean is more geared toward postmodernism. Modernists are more black and white. Postmodernists are more grey. “Debunk” is a black and white word that leaves no room for alternatives. The postmodernist has usually been broadly exposed already (that is why they are postmodernist). Therefore, they are going to see such overstatements as naive and manipulative.

      I agree, however, that it will have an emotional appeal. I see very harsh Christian writings all the time that become very popular because of their preemptive claim of such definitiveness.

      Again, I am not saying we cannot be definitive, I am just saying that this rhetoric, when used with such liberality, can be very counterproductive and dishonest, evidencing a narrow and emotional understanding rather than true and helpful engagement.

      The best example I can give you right now is the current “review” of Mike Licona’s Evidence for God going on at this site right now: http://www.eremiticlife.com/. There is no lack for overstatement here without any, that I saw, true engagement. A lot of emotion though. It tells me that this person is working off a strong emotional bias without any honest engagement with the issues.

      Maybe you can read some of it and tell me if you agree. Or maybe I am simply responding emotionally!

      • bishop

        That would be because there was very little in the book to engage. It was a fluff book. If you’d waited to the end, you’d see that I provided alternatives to this crappy book that are far more engaging and far better to “equipping the saints” in their quest for good materials.

        Then again, I grew up in a strong conservative church that I watched water things down after the original minister died and I’ve seen this trend in Christianity overall since then (and probably faster than at any time in the past). I grew up hearing the bible preached at a granular level so that Sunday morning service was more akin to a seminary class than some emotional feel-good pat-on-the-back salvation call.

        I have yet to read anything by Licona that impresses me. Even the one article I gave props to wasn’t enough to change my mind on the man overall.

        However, the “review” was about opinion–as any review is, of course. Given that your review was minimal at best and truly worthless to tell us what was inside the book, at the very least I’ve provided a challenge for those who read it to know what they’re in for there. And I reviewed it precisely the way it read: quick, reductive, and full of holes.

        The book is worthless for apologetics and I stand by my statement that Licona can (still) be refuted by any reasonably thinking third grader. Call it overemotionalism if you wish. I call it pointing out the emperor (still) has no clothes.

      • Lynn

        I see what you’re saying. I will definitely check out that link. Lately I’ve been thinking Christians say “A”, atheists say “no, it’s B”, and it will probably turn out to be “C.”

        What really gives you pause is if you’re studying a particular area, and you come across a truly disinterested party and read what they have to say. It’s usually less dramatic, but very helpful because they don’t care which side turns out to be right.

    • Bible Study

      I have seen the title debunking Christianity many times myself, and I too get aggravated with it. For one it makes no sense, and Christianity can never be debunked for it is truth, well at least Jesus is true. However, I understand the turn off from the terms. Thought I was the only one.

    • John W. Loftus

      “For one it makes no sense, and Christianity can never be debunked for it is truth…”

      Actually at least since enlightenment times Christianity has been “debunked” in every single generation, or do you need a history lesson? What happens in each generation is that the goal posts continually move because Christianity is a cultural phenomenon. Christians just change what they believe in the face of the evidence. And then they say Christianity cannot be debunked.

      Michael, offer a historical theology class will you?

      • Gary Simmons

        Leftus: Experience, Tradition, Revelation, Reason. These four epistemological modes flow into one another and build upon one another in what could be considered a circular (or better yet, spiral) fashion.

        Reason is the abstraction we draw based on what we accept from our already-available pool of experience, tradition, and revelation. (I take it you plug in a zero for that last variable, no?)

        It is simply the way things work. When you acquire new acceptable experience, that modifies your reasoning thenceforth. Tradition is, essentially, second-hand experience. And revelation is (allegedly) divinely-revealed reality claims that someone (allegedly) experienced. What is reason? Well, as I said: it draws on all three. Everything ultimately boils down to experience.

        Even reason is not spontaneously generated. If you want to call Christianity a cultural phenomenon on the basis of reason, fine. I don’t disagree, since one’s epistemology influences one’s culture and vice-versa. Yet if you hold that the Enlightenment mindset is somehow beyond this cultural limitation, then that is rather unfortunate. You are in the same boat, but I wonder if you even realize it.

        All beliefs are cultural phenomena. Paradoxically, so are beliefs about beliefs. Everybody to some extent “moves the goalposts” (a metaphor of questionable accuracy) as new experience (or second-hand experience, or experience of the supernatural) is taken into account. Or do you venerate stubborn Fundamentalists who refuse to take new experience into account (i.e. learn)?

    • John W. Loftus

      “All beliefs are cultural phenomena. Paradoxically, so are beliefs about beliefs. Everybody to some extent “moves the goalposts”…as new experience…is taken into account.”


      Our ideas and social institutions all evolve.

      Agreed, but I said it first, differently.

      Now there is that small trifle of a problem yet to be discussed, and that is the nature of what it means to be a non-believer and why it’s not possible for non-belief to move any goal posts, but we’ll leave it at that.

    • […] http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/12/debunk-this/ The truth of your own assertions does not reduce the dignity of your partners in conversation! […]

    • Franck Barfety

      What tires me is when Christians use idioms like “my brain has an automatic shut off…” or “pick his brain,” “rack my brain,” “she has brains,” “he has a bird brain,” “she’s the brains behind this or that” and all the usual brain suspects. Let’s start using mind talk. Do we have souls with minds and freedom to exert our will or do our brains automatically turn on & off deterministically?

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