The Atheist Cage Match Challenge

by Brian Holtz
Posted 2003-02
No takers as of 

To any Christian apologist reading this:

My best arguments against Christianity are better than your best arguments for it.

If you disagree, I challenge you as follows. Let us each compose a single document of a fixed size that gives our best arguments, and then successively revise it (if we choose) to address the other's arguments, until we each think that our document adequately answers the other's. Once we have achieved this reflective equilibrium, we can leave it to any readers to decide whose arguments are in fact better.

The Rules

  1. Each document must be a single html file no greater than 50Kb.
  2. Each document's first paragraph must be worded precisely as specified in the next rule, and must contain
  3. After an optional title and author credit, the first paragraph of each document must be:
    1. These are currently my best arguments {for|against} Christianity, chosen specifically against the contrary arguments here, and in accordance with these debating rules. Here are more materials that support my thesis but that are not as important as the material I present here.  I believe the arguments in this document alone make a better case for my thesis than the opposing document makes for the contrary thesis. I believe that an educated and reasonable non-specialist who reads just these opposing documents should recognize the superiority of my thesis without having to also read any other material that either side makes available or reference to. If anything in this document or my supporting materials violate the rules of this challenge, it constitutes an admission by me that the contrary arguments are superior to mine.
  4. No other external links are allowed, except to source materials listed at and hosted on pages consisting primarily of original source material and containing no polemical content or links. (e.g. Bible Gateway, but not the Skeptic's Annotated Bible.) In these rules, "link" means any way of  facilitating or suggesting navigation by the reader or her browser to any web page.
  5. Each author may modify his document at any time.
  6. The rules are always open to modification, but only at the agreement of both authors.

Justifying The Rules

Why limit the size?  For several reasons: Why not a larger size?  This is a challenge to debate, not a call for dueling monographs. If an author has a book or well-organized and well-edited online text whose entire contents he is confident potential debate readers would actually scrutinize, then he might feel no need to answer my arguments except by reference to this discrete magnum opus. However, if the author simply presides over an ever-increasing spaghetti pile of regurgitated self-citations, skeptical readers could justifiably suspect that the author is hoping to achieve by quantity of argument what he cannot achieve by quality.

Why not a smaller size?  I'm willing to work within any smaller size limit, provided my opponent is the first to post a draft that comes in under that limit.

Isn't disallowing external links unscholarly?  Of course it is. But in self-published polemics, there is no peer review and no editorial oversight, and thus no way to enforce the space constraints recommended above. Any polemicist who thinks this format is beneath his high standards of scholarship is free to exhibit his scholarly citation  practices on his "more materials" page or elsewhere in his oeuvre. What he is not free to do is pretend that he has abstracted his best arguments and then present a hollow shell adorned with trapdoors into a labyrinth of dilatoriness and obfuscation. If he has some research he wants to reference, he should describe it and cite it. If he has a powerful argument he wants to employ, he should state it (or even copy and paste it).  If he does not think his readers deserve a well-edited summary of his best arguments, then his readers might justifiably question how good his arguments really are.

Why iterate?  An argument cannot be properly evaluated until one has considered something approximating the best available counter-argument to it. If the opposing documents do not address each other's arguments, readers will find it harder to judge which side is right. If the documents approach reflective equilibrium, in which each author is satisfied with his answers to the other's arguments, then neither side has the asymmetric advantage of the last word.  If the strength of a polemicist's position depends on his always having the last word, that's a clue that his position is in fact weak.

Why not other forms of polemic?  There is already a mountain of books, web sites, online debates, archived newsgroups, etc. related to the topic at hand, but there are (AFAIK) no examples of contrary discourses that have been continually revised until reaching reflective equilibrium.  Such an exercise might prove illuminating, and I'm curious how it would turn out.  Who knows, I might find my arguments succinctly demolished, and convert to Christianity.

Why Should You Do It?

To demonstrate that your best arguments are better than mine.  Or at least, to demonstrate your confidence that your best arguments are better than mine.

It's surprisingly hard to find comprehensive self-contained essays surveying the evidence for Christianity. Here are some of the places I've looked and the closest candidates I've found:

Surely somewhere in your writings there is material that could readily be assembled into a relatively comprehensive summary of your arguments. Indeed, if any extant text of yours smaller than 50Kb makes a better argument than my document does, then you're already done!

What If You Don't Do It?

I (and probably others) will consider it likely that Of course, we'll also consider it remotely possible that the truth of your position is only evident to people who have mastered all the alleged biblical scholarship that you probably claim supports your position. However, we would then question the morality and competence of the god(s) whose revelation is so difficult to appreciate.

So: what Christian apologist dares lock his arguments in a cage with my arguments?