This one always gives me a chuckle. Whenever the subject of drug legalization comes up and I say I am not in favor of it, the nutty drug advocates desperately try to find something that I do that they can point at and say “aha! You’re guilty too!” They never can, of course, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, and I’ve even started saying I don’t do religion because that’s an addiction as well. I am about the least addictive person around and that just frustrates the hell out of them. They really want to find something that they can point to and feel smugly superior about. Too bad they always fail.
Mostly this is because they can’t actually argue their point. They can’t defend drug usage rationally. They can’t show that drug usage is actually a net positive for society. In fact, they really only have three arguments.
First, “I want to!” Well who the hell cares? That’s the most immature argument of them all, it’s throwing a temper tantrum, holding your breath because you don’t get your way. Rational adults don’t operate like that.
Second, “you can’t stop people from taking drugs to stop trying!” That’s equally idiotic. We can’t stop people from killing each other either, does that mean we ought to stop trying? This is one of those lowest common denominator arguments that I’ve talked about before. “Stupid people are stupid so don’t try to stop them from being stupid!” Rational adults don’t act like that either.
Finally, as I’ve already pointed out, is the “gotcha!” argument. The “see, you’re just as guilty so shut the hell up!” argument. And as I already said, that doesn’t work either but they sure do try. They go to extreme lengths in fact, I’ve even seen some of them say “do you drink coffee?” or “do you take aspirin?” Well, no, I don’t drink coffee, can’t stand the stuff, and while you might have been able to make the case for caffeine not too long ago, my doctor has me on a strict water regimen now, so nope, no caffeine for me. And aspirin? Seriously, that’s a legal OTC medication that cannot, no matter how hard you try, make you high. It is a pain killer. And they’ve even tried that one, saying that the purpose of pain killers is to “make you feel good”, therefore there’s no difference between aspirin and cocaine. Give me a break! By that “logic”, eating a good mean is the same thing as injecting heroin into your veins because both can make you feel good.
But these people say stupid things because they are desperate. They have no credible arguments. They are immature hedonistic idiots who care only about themselves and not at all about society as a whole. They want no responsibility to others, they only want to take care of themselves and screw everyone else. And the more that you point out how stupid their arguments are, the more upset they get. The harder they try to use one of these ridiculous arguments to regain some semblance of credibility. It doesn’t work though. It doesn’t convince anyone. It just makes them look more and more pathetic.
Lots of people out there who are actually offended that anyone disagrees with them, to the point of calling anyone who opposes their point of view abusive. Disagreement isn’t abuse, it isn’t offensive and so long as it isn’t done in an insulting way, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. In fact, if you do feel bad that someone challenges your beliefs, then your beliefs are pretty poorly supported out of the gate. Saying “I’m right” doesn’t make you right. You have to prove that you actually are.
Let’s be honest, you are only correct on any particular subject if you are actually correct and the only way to demonstrate that you are actually correct is to have some kind of objective evidence of critically evaluated reasoning to back you up. If you have that, you ought to be able to present it to all challengers in order to convince them that you’re actually correct in your assertions. If you cannot, then you have no good reason to think you’re right in the first place. If your evidence does not convince your detractors and they can point out logical fallacies and failures, then you need to go back to the drawing board. Of course, we all know this isn’t how it works in many cases. People get emotionally attached to their opinions and really couldn’t care less if they are objectively correct or not. It makes them feel good, therefore they have to be right. There are any number of examples that I could give, of course, but I wanted to limit it to just a few.
Religion is probably the biggest one that comes to mind. The overwhelming majority of religious adherents are emotionally attached to their beliefs, such that even daring to question them results in a serious emotional reaction, not a rational one. Most religious people cannot step back and evaluate their beliefs critically, they are not able to doubt that what they believe is true, they just have to have blind faith because to do otherwise causes emotional pain and suffering. That’s why you really can’t argue with the majority of religious believers because they cannot even imagine being wrong, it isn’t even a remote possibility for them, they are fundamentally convinced, not by reason or logic or evidence, but by feelings. It makes them feel good. That’s all they care about.
Then we get to the other end of the spectrum with feminism. Feminism is rarely associated with religion but it looks an awful lot like it. Modern feminists, particularly third and fourth wave feminists, are really indistinguishable from the religious in their faith. They believe the things they believe because they are emotionally invested in believing them. It doesn’t matter if they are true or not, it doesn’t matter if they have any evidence to support the craziness like the patriarchy and the gender wage gap, they just have to be true because their entire ideology depends on it and there is no point in challenging them on it because disagreeing, to them, is the same as “raping” them, which is idiotic in and of itself. The same is true of other fanatical beliefs, like some of the more extremist libertarians who follow essentially the same path, they believe what they believe and anyone who doesn’t agree is the enemy.
Just to show you that this is ridiculously widespread and not necessarily politically connected, I wrote a review on my other blog about this season of Dominion where I pretty much panned it, said I was done watching it and, if there’s any justice in the world, it would be cancelled (and it was). I gave my reasons why I thought it was an actively bad show. The responses I got were just mindless insults, both on the blog, on Facebook, on Google+, etc. Nobody could be bothered to explain why they liked it, why they thought I was wrong, or to defend the show against my charges, they could only say “you suck” and “you’re a hater” and other mindless crap like that. There’s no conversation to be had with people like that, they cannot be reasoned with, they are right and everyone else is wrong, so there, fuck you.
But how can anyone actually discuss their positions, regardless of what those positions are, if they are unwilling to even examine or think about what they already believe? How can they find out if they are wrong if they won’t listen to the criticism leveled against them? Simply put, they don’t care and in not caring, they have excused themselves from any form or rational conversation. There was a time that I wasted a lot of time on debating abortion and creationism and all of that, but no longer, because it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Nobody will change their minds. Nobody will listen to the arguments. Nobody will look at the evidence. In the end, you’ve just wasted your time and the other party leaves even more self-assured that they were right all along. What’s the point in that?
Even though this particular example is directed at a Christian, it seems to be a problem all over so I don’t want anyone to think this is a religious-only issue. On an atheist forum, a Catholic member asserted that there were more male forum members on atheist forums and more female members on religious forums and was wondering why this might be. Now, it’s an innocuous question but while other forum members were trying to provide possible answers, I took a step back and started wondering exactly how she came up with those statistics in the first place. Having been a member of the atheist forum for a very long time and going to the religious forum she mentioned, there was nowhere that I could see where the members identified their real life genders and besides, even if they did, how would anyone know if they were telling the truth?
So I started asking questions about how this data was determined and how was it tested? I would have actually been satisfied if she could point to anywhere on both forums where gender statistics were listed, but she couldn’t. She said through “observation”. Well how the hell can you observe someone’s gender in an online forum? Guess? Still, she maintained that somehow she had that knowledge, just like she maintained that somehow she knew that God was real. I guess delusion is an equal opportunity liar.
Certainly though, she’s not alone, there are plenty of people out there who claim that they have knowledge they cannot possibly have, there is no end to online debates and discussions where one side will say they know things they can’t conceivably know and when cornered, they will ignore any and all requests for their methodology. They just know. I guess it’s magic. Everything from the feminist’s favorite whipping dog, the patriarchy, that thing they can’t prove exists but they’re sure is real, to various motivations ascribed to large groups of people without a shred of evidence to back it up, This is a huge barrier to having intelligent discussions with people whose confirmation bias not only leads them to cherry picking data that agrees with them over that which does not, but to just make things up when they can’t find any actual data to trot out during the debate. And, of course, they can’t be honest about any of it because that gets in the way of feeling good about their positions. They’re too busy just making stuff up to care about reality.
It’s sad that rationality is a lost art for so many.
I ran into this on a short podcast and honestly, I have no idea how philosophers can spout this crap and not see the obvious flaws in their “thought experiments” that I identified in mere seconds. This is hardly the first time I’ve talked about the utter failure of much of modern philosophy, there are tons of examples of “thought experiments” where anyone with half a brain that looks at the set up can disassemble it quite quickly and easily because the assertions made by philosophers are just downright ridiculous. Therefore, let’s go take a look at the philosophical argument called “Mary’s Room”.
The concept, thought up by Frank Jackson in 1982, proposes:
Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. […] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?
Of course, the concept assumes that Mary is a super-genius scientist who is working with every bit of evidence and information possible in making her conclusions about vision. They they introduce more information, in the form of a color monitor, and expect people not to recognize that all of a sudden, there is an increase in the amount of physical evidence that she’s now been exposed to! They argue that suddenly, there’s some form of supernatural evidence that has made her see color for the very first time. That’s absolutely ridiculous, nothing “beyond the physical” happened in this example, she thought she had all the data, she was wrong, she got more physical data and discovered something new! If you think you have all knowledge, then you leave the room and gain more knowledge, then you didn’t have all knowledge to begin with. Nothing magical happened! It’s like saying if you take someone who has been colorblind their entire lives and then you surgically correct whatever the cause of their colorblindness might have been, you’ve done something mystical. That’s ridiculous.
But this is par for the course for a lot of modern-day philosophers. They come up with these bizarre ideas, completely fail to recognize what they’re saying and take a sharp left at Albuquerque when it comes to critically thinking about their ideas. This is especially true of those who claim that somehow, this thought experiment proves physicalism false. They say that if she learned something new by being exposed to a direct experience of color, that suddenly, physicalism can’t explain it. Why not? It’s not my fault that the whole thing is set up very, very badly, as I’ve already pointed out. In reality, if Mary walks out of her black and white world into a world of color, the particular wavelengths for color strike her retina, which is interpreted in the brain and experienced by the conscious mind. All of that is a wholly physical process. Where is the disproof of physicalism? How have any of the mechanisms she’s worked out in her black and white room changed, just because she’s gone from seeing only black and white images to color images? They haven’t! The whole process works exactly the same, she’s just experiencing a different kind of image than she did before, she’s still experiencing it in the exact same physical way she did before. There is nothing “beyond the physical” that’s been added. Sorry, philosophy loses once again. The kind of twisting and turning that philosophers have to do is absurd. Even Jackson said:
It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then it is inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.
All of that is just bullshit spread on shit toast. You cannot claim that she had all the information, then provide more information, and still hold that she always had all the information. It’s crap, pure and simple. It could be that this particular thought experiment is just very badly formulated, which may well be the case, but this is exactly the kind of thing that I see modern armchair philosophers noodling their navels over constantly, pretending that they are intellectually superior because they cannot see the clear and logical implications of the arguments.
Yet another reason why I think the vast majority of modern philosophy is shit.
Maybe you’ve noticed this as well but it’s becoming absurdly common in my encounters with the religious. A religious person simply cannot abide by the rules of evidence, logic and common sense that actually exist so they pretend they get to make up their own rules and insist that by following these imaginary rules, they can proclaim victory.
That doesn’t stop it from happening every day though. I can’t tell you how many theists I’ve run into recently who freely admit that they have no evidence whatsoever for their claims, yet they pretend they have no obligation to support anything they have to say because, well, they’re right and that’s all there is to it. And, of course, they have “proof” but they’re not going to share it because we wouldn’t believe them anyhow. Because we’re all materialists. Well yes, we’re materialists, not because we have some quasi-religious belief in materialism, as they seem to believe, but because the material world is all that anyone has ever managed to find a shred of objective evidence for. I’m a materialist for the same reason I’m a “gravitationalist”. That’s where the evidence points. If you want me to accept the supernatural, you’re going to have to make a convincing argument, complete with objective evidence and until you can manage to do that, I’m not going to take your claims seriously. Of course, these people are convinced that we’re all somehow biased against the supernatural, that we practice some bizarre form of materialist religious belief, in fact I recently had someone make that exact accusation. All I could do was roll my eyes at his stupidity.
There are reasons that we have established laws of logic and basic rules for rational discourse. It’s because it is the only system we’ve found to date that produces demonstrable results. We use it because it works. If they can come up with another system that produces objectively true results as well, I’d be more than happy to use that as well. Unfortunately, they simply cannot do that, all they can do is make things up, follow their emotions and when logic and reason shows their conclusions are faulty, instead of rejecting their conclusions, they just make fun of logic and reason, as though that makes their faulty beliefs somehow better.
So where did this load of nonsense start this time? There were a couple of people arguing that “mysticism” was real yet they were unable, or more likely unwilling, to actually define what they meant by “mysticism”. I therefore filled in the blanks from Google, producing the definition “belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender”, but suggesting it was closer to “belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.” Yeah, that didn’t go over too well. However, they spent the next couple of days running all over the field with the goal posts, accusing me of being biased against “higher consciousness”, again without being able to provide a working definition, and finally one of them came up with that wonderful chestnut “well, maybe that’s how reality is for you, but it isn’t for us!” Oh brother. That was about the time I gave up, I had no more interest in dealing with complete and utter idiots. Unfortunately, those people are not remotely alone in their inability to deal with reality or logically evaluate their own claims. It’s also unfortunate that these irrational, illogical basketcases are among the loudest idiots on teh street corner, standing on their imaginary soap boxes, declaring how true the idiotic nonsense they believe really is.
I’ve questioned a lot of “philosophers” over the years, asking what is modern philosophy good for and haven’t really gotten a lot of good answers. Sure, they’ll toss out all the things that the ancient philosophers have done, but what has philosophy done for us lately?
Anyhow, I came across this short video on YouTube and wanted to address what it has to say. I still find philosophy, at least as I see it practiced most often, to be entirely problematic. I’m not saying that philosophy can’t be valid or useful, only that in practice, at least as I see it practiced, it just isn’t all people pretend it’s cracked up to be.
Let’s just go through this in order, shall we? First, they say that philosophy is about asking the “big questions” and points out a couple of them. “What is the meaning of life?” “What’s a job for?” “How should society be arranged?” He argues that only with sound answers to these questions can we direct our energies meaningfully. Unfortunately, he’s wrong. Most of these questions have no good answers, and by that I mean that they have no answers that can be demonstrated to be actually valid or true. Individual people might have personal answers that they find valuable, but these vary from person to person. Philosophy has no means of actually finding objectively true solutions to these questions because no such thing actually exists. He tries to pretend that philosophers are being brave in asking big questions because they’re likely to be ridiculed. No, professional philosophers are desperately trying to find someone… anyone… who will pay them for sitting around and thinking and trying to pretend that what they think up is actually valuable.
But let’s move on. He does make a good point about common sense being terribly uncommon, but what, exactly, is common sense anyhow? It’s not something that is easy to define and therefore, demonstrate actually exists. The video argues that people ought to think for themselves, but that’s what causes the error in the first place, isn’t it? That’s why we have defined laws of logic and methodologies for locating irrationality. It’s why we understand what logical fallacies are. It’s like telling scientists to think for themselves and not bother with the scientific method.
Next, it says that we are mentally confused. I’ll agree with that. Philosophy is interested in self-knowledge, but we have to go beyond that, we need to be able to step back beyond the self and evaluate whether or not the things that we claim to know are actually knowledge, or simply belief and faith and wishful thinking.
Continuing on, he says we have muddled ideas about what makes us happy, but I find that to be entirely irrelevant. If we’re going to use philosophy to come to actual conclusions about important question in the real world, what makes us happy has nothing to do with it. Just like in science, how we feel about gravity has no bearing on the reality of gravity, what makes people feel good has nothing to do with philosophical truths.
Lastly, he says we panic and lose perspective. I’d be in agreement with that until he throws it all out the window and claims that philosophers are really good at knowing what’s important and what is not. Clearly that’s just not true, otherwise you wouldn’t have so much disagreement between philosophers. The idea that Zeno’s losses somehow make unencumbering his life a philosophical concept is absurd. If his leg got chopped off, would he conclude that hopping around on one foot was the better path of life?
There is a reason why we don’t have modern philosophers on the payroll, for the same reason that we try not to have priests and rabbis on the payroll. They aren’t saying anything worth listening to by and large. They aren’t solving problems in any way that’s demonstrable or effective. In fact, they are more like theologians than they are like scientists and I think we need a lot more scientists, people who are more interested in demonstrable reality and objective evidence than in personal opinion and wishful thinking.
So that brings us back to those supposed big questions. What is the meaning of life? There isn’t one, at least not an inherent one. We all give our own lives meaning and no meaning is inherently better than any other. You don’t need to sit on a mountain top and noodle your navel to come up with that one. What’s a job for? For making money so you can live and be a productive member of society. How should society be arranged? However society wishes, such that society operates as the majority of its members are comfortable living within this arrangement. These are answers that we should ask, but not questions that can be demonstrated by the philosophers. In fact that’s really the problem with modern philosophy, it’s just people using big words to express opinions that are wholly undefended and unsubstantiated. Where philosophy might be useful is in pointing out irrational arguments and logical fallacies, but if they did that, they might have to “know themselves” and realize that they’re often engaging in exactly the same thing.
While it will come as no surprise to people who have had experience with debating irrational theists, theists can be pretty childish when it comes right down to it. In a recent discussion, we were discussing the rationality, or lack thereof, of religion and how faith really isn’t a rational process. I explained that rational people don’t believe things for which there is no good, objective evidence, therefore rational people no more believe in gods than they do in leprechauns or unicorns. It doesn’t mean we automatically reject the possibility that these things exist, only that we will not assent to their existence until it is proven objectively. This, of course, pissed off the theists.
One guy came back and said that he could believe whatever he wanted and nobody could stop him and if I didn’t like it, I could take a long walk off a short pier. Sure, I could do that. Instead I pointed out that this person, ostensibly an adult, was acting like a petulant child, stomping his feet and screaming that he deserved to get his way. Again, this is not how rational, intelligent, mature adults act. They do not pitch a fit because someone else happens to disagree with them and they certainly do not hold their breath until they turn blue because someone dared to suggest their ideas might be wrong. That is the stuff of children, not adults.
At least not unless those adults are religious and emotionally attached to their beliefs.
Now not to pick on Roger, who occasionally posts here, but he suffers from this quite dramatically, although certainly not as obnoxiously as many I’ve run into. I don’t have an irrational hate-on for Roger like a lot of people seem to but when it comes to his religious beliefs, Roger most certainly is not rational and he makes the same childish arguments, that he’s going to believe whether anyone likes it or not, so there, pffffft! Now sure, he can believe whatever he wants to believe but rational adults don’t work that way, they don’t just pout and act upset because someone dares to question their faith. Anyone who cannot step back and objectively evaluate what they believe, no matter what it is that they believe, has some issues.
But Roger is in good company because most serious theists are exactly the same. They believe because it makes them feel good to believe, not because they have any good reason to do so. They are convinced, not by reason, but by emotion. They are largely incapable of deconstructing their own faith to see if it is something they ought to be believing, they simply cling to it, like a child clings to a security blanket. It provides emotional comfort, even if it is as pointless as keeping a lucky talisman on your keychain that doesn’t do anything useful, it just makes you feel good.
Note that I am not saying that religion is the only place where supposedly mature adults have taken irrational steps to believe things for emotional reasons. Believe it or not, I’ve had theists tell me that there are lots of other irrational things that people do, as though that was somehow permission for themselves to do the same thing. There’s a lot of irrationality in the world and all of it is wrong. You shouldn’t be proud of any of it. You ought to be ashamed and doing whatever you can do to rid yourself of that illogical affliction. That’s how rational people, logical and critical skeptics, operate. We see our intellectual failings, acknowledge that they exist and move to correct the problem.
Theists do not, mostly because they haven’t gained the emotional and intellectual maturity to even see that there’s a problem.
It’s really hard to write some of these articles and stay remotely timely because of the tremendous lead time I often have. A while back now, a caller named Steven called The Atheist Experience and tried to make an argument from contingency. It was completely lame and more based on Matt Slick’s presuppositional nonsense, but after the call, which went absolutely nowhere, most figured it was just a random kook, at least until someone in the comments section found a website, by someone named Steven, published on the day after the call, which went into the same ridiculous “argument from contingency” nonsense. It’s been a while since I deconstructed one of these absurdly fallacious arguments, so strap in, it’s about to get weird.
Let’s keep in mind that nothing I’m going to say here is going to convince Steven or any other presuppositional wingnut that their views are wrong, any more than it’s possible to convince conspiracy theorists that their crazy ideas aren’t true. I wrote once about the crap that Matt Slick posts and he invited me to call into his talk show instead of simply addressing the issues in print. It’s pretty hard to do a Gish Gallop in print, which is typically what Matt Slick engages in. He just vanished into the woodwork when he realized that his shtick wouldn’t work on me.
And so, on to the lunacy that is the Argument from Contingency.
1) If something is contingent, then it derives its existence from something outside of itself.
Let’s look at the argument itself. If you go and look up the word “contingent”, you don’t find any definitions that really fit the usage here. The closest I was able to find among the myriad definitions was “dependent on or conditioned by something else”, there is nothing which states that any existence must be derived from something outside of itself. At best, Steven might be able to say he is unaware of anything that’s existence is derived from itself, that doesn’t prove that it must be so, only that he cannot think of any cases where it is so. I might be willing to agree to this odd usage of the term, just for the sake of argument, otherwise this will be a pretty short article.
2) The universe is contingent.
3) Therefore, the universe derives its existence from something outside of itself.
Given our momentary acceptance of the first point, this is true. However, what does it actually mean? Well, nothing. It doesn’t actually tell us anything about what this outside influence might have been, how it might have caused the existence of our universe, nor if it still exists. Anyone who has read the blog for any amount of time will know that I’m very big on drawing direct causal links. Theists leap around wildly, making claims they cannot demonstrate and arguing causes they are unable to support with anything remotely resembling evidence. They just hope they can slip these lapses in logic past the unaware viewer by mesmerizing them with big words. That is exactly what we will see as we continue.
To reiterate, if it’s possible that X could (have) fail(ed) to exist, then the reason for its existence is not contained within its own nature, and thus it must be contained in the existence of something else—and this thing would be where X derives its existence from.
This is just philosophical masturbation and where we start to see him slip in some of his unjustified concepts. While it is certainly possible that the universe could have failed to exist, as we will talk about in a moment, it simply asserts that there must be a reason for the universe to exist. Says who? Reason and purpose assume intent, something that he desperately wants to include, but since there is no reason to assert intent, he just shoves it in there while your eyes are glossing over. So far as we know, there is no inherent reason for the universe to exist, any more than there is an inherent reason for the rain to fall. There is a cause for it, but no reason for it.
So, the first thing we can ask is whether it is possible for the universe to have failed to exist. Here we might meet some resistance. First, what exactly is meant by the universe, and how do we know that we can conceive of it failing to exist? Well, by universe I simply mean “all matter, energy, and space-time,” and therefore this includes not only our observable universe, but any meta-universe(s), if you will. Subsequently, to say that we can conceive of matter, energy, and space-time not existing does not seem to bring forth any inherent difficulty. That is to say, there is no contradiction or incoherence in such a statement, and thus I see no claim for inconceivability that could be made here. (Note that something is said to be metaphysically possible if it is conceivable.)
This is really just a load of mumbo jumbo. Universe does not mean what he has defined it to mean, the proper definition for universe is only that which exists without our particular set of dimensions that we experience on a day to day basis. Anything that exists beyond the bounds of our universe is entirely unknown to us at present, hence we cannot make any claims or conclusions about it. The idea that we can imagine the universe not existing has no bearing on anything.
(a) How do we know that what the universe derives its existence from is God? There is nothing logically wrong with claiming that perhaps the universe derives its existence from something that is itself contingent. However, this only pushes the problem back a step further, for then this thing requires an account for its existence. The point here is that we must, at some point, admit of something which is non-contingent, that is, necessary—something that cannot fail to exist. This would be something whose nature contains the reason for its own existence, and whose nature we can contemplate while simultaneously contemplating its existence. This thing then just would be existence, that is, it would be pure existence, or pure being. And surely this is worthy of earning the name “God.”
He actually presents four arguments here, I’m simply going to address them all in one go because there are plenty of bald assertions here, all of them laughable. First, it asserts that there cannot be an unbroken chain of causality, that every effect must have a cause and that, in turn, must have another cause ad infinitem. Since such is impossible, he surmises that there must be some uncaused cause. Unfortunately, this is just a claim without support. Cause and effect are part of the physical laws of our universe. We have no way of knowing if they are inherent to all universes or to the multiverse as a whole, assuming such exists. Therefore, once we get out of our universe, cause and effect might not exist, doing away with his argument entirely. If there is no cause and effect, infinite regress becomes meaningless. If the multiverse is actually infinite, there can be an infinite line of cause and effect, again doing away with his argument. He’s simply asserting that because he is familiar with the physical laws of our universe, that all universes must be the same. We can make no such assumptions. We have experience only with a single example of a universe. The state of other potential or possible universes is wholly unknown, therefore any argument based upon an assumption must therefore be thrown out as unsupported.
Next, he simply asserts that there must be an “uncaused cause”, simply as his “get out of this illogical reasoning free” card. There’s no reason to think that there actually is one, he simply defines it into existence. Just because he can think of no other explanation, that doesn’t make his invented claim a reasonable explanation. That’s the epitome of the argument from ignorance. This is a common tactic among apologists, to simply wave their arms and pretend that by giving something a name, they make it real. Nothing could be further from the truth. Further, he names his non-contingent entity “God”, which is really meaningless. Why not call it “unicorn” or “leprechaun”, or “Fred” for that matter. Because he’s trying to smuggle his religious traditions into the equation while people are being distracted by the rest of his rhetoric. Even if he could prove that such a thing actually existed, which he hasn’t, that doesn’t make that thing God. It makes it a thing. To make his case for God credible, he’d first have to prove the thing existed, then he’d have to provide further evidence that that thing actually met the standards for being a god, then he’d have to go still further to show that the now supported god idea actually was best represented by his own personal beliefs about the Christian God. He’s done none of that. He’s using the old magician trick of misdirection, dazzling you with bullshit while trying to sneak the scam past you in his other hand.
Unfortunately, there are no end to con men with this exact tactic, selling all manner of snake oil. Presuppositional apologetics is just one of the new fad that presents nothing new but a load of horse crap and empty claims and relies on the gullibility of the listener to be hypnotized by the terminology. Don’t fall for it. There’s nothing substantive here. This is really why such shysters don’t want to operate in print, it gives people too long to dig through the words and find that there’s nothing actually there.
So in that, it’s really no different than any religion, isn’t it?
Someone called a recent Atheist Experience and said that that they didn’t understand Matt’s position that science cannot prove the supernatural. In fact, he argued that science could and gave an example. What if, he said, we found out that people could pray and invoke magical words that would make their wishes and dreams come true. Of course, such a thing is absurd, but what he was hoping for wasn’t rational and clearly he never thought out the fact that even if such a thing happened, it still wouldn’t prove the supernatural, it would only prove that something happens, not what caused it to happen. This is the eternal problem with theists and supernaturalism: it’s never well defined and can never be proven.
A lot of this goes back to a recent post of mine about knowledge. Unless we can actually show a direct causal link between an event and a claimed cause, we can never determine whether or not that cause is actually responsible for the event. In almost all cases, the best we can say, at least at the moment, is that we just don’t know what caused it. Our lack of knowledge is not license to just make something up. Until we can demonstrate that the supernatural exists in any meaningful way, we cannot simply attribute things we don’t understand to supernatural causes, any more than we can simply decide that any answers we can’t immediately answer were actually caused by leprechauns.
But theists don’t get this no matter how many times you explain it, even in the simplest terms. I’m beginning to think that most of them are simply incapable of setting aside their blind faith for even a moment so they can step back and look at their beliefs rationally.
This reminds me of a recent discussion I had with a fundamentalist who was only too happy to explain exactly what God wanted and how God thought. How he knew any of this, I had no idea and he was loathe to explain it, except to say that it says some things in the Bible. Well how did the people who wrote the Bible know these things? Where did they get their information? And how did this theist know things that God wanted that didn’t appear in the Bible? Of course, he was just translating his own wants and dreams into “God wants this” but he’ll never admit it. These people “just know” that God is real but can’t back up their supposed knowledge with anything resembling critical thinking, skepticism or rationality. It “just is” and they’ll never change their minds.
That’s one thing that really confuses me. How are these things so easy for atheists to see, yet so impossible for theists to acknowledge about their own beliefs? Are they so totally self-deluded that they are blinded to what’s right before their eyes? You get theists who will scream up and down that they are rational, yet seem to have no clue what the word actually means. They will pretend to approach their beliefs logically but once you point out all of the fallacies in their faith, they will explode and become an emotional wreck. I had one theist recently redefine the word “correct” to mean that it “accurately reflects the beliefs of the religion in question”. That makes the word “correct” totally meaningless because everyone’s beliefs are automatically accurate to what they believe, it’s a circular proposition. How do they not get any of this?
It’s just more frustration with the theistic human species for me. I don’t get how these people operate. Can someone please shed some light for me?
I know this is like a broken record, but lots of theists out there, Christians particularly in this example, just don’t have the slightest clue what logic is. I had someone argue that there is an objective morality because, assuming God exists, then such a morality is a characteristic of God.
Let’s look at an example of this. Let’s say you had never seen a cheetah, you had no idea what a cheetah was. I came to you and told you that one of the defining characteristics of a cheetah was that it ran really fast. You could ask me how I know this and I could take you to see a cheetah and you could see it run really fast. You could, and should, ask me how I know that this claim I’m making is actually true and it would be on my shoulders to demonstrate how I came to this knowledge. Even if I wasn’t able to take you to see a cheetah first hand, I could show you all kind of videos online, books, expert testimony, etc. And you could, and again should, ask how those experts came by their knowledge and the same rules would apply. Eventually, those experts would have to get back to actually having a way of seeing a cheetah in action or studying the structure of a cheetah or something whereby they could have rationally gained that knowledge.
Claims about gods don’t work that way. Theists cannot produce any rational means of coming by the information they claim to have, they cannot show that the gods that they claim are real actually operate the way they assert. There are no experts that can show that they have achieved such knowledge through any demonstrable means. There is no way of demonstrably differentiating between a real characteristic of a god and an invented one. You cannot go see a god and find out if the claims made about it are actually so.
This kind of thing goes right over the head of theists. There’s some circuit in their head that insists that their gods are exactly as they imagine them to be, they’re entirely unable to contemplate the possibility that they have no way whatsoever to know if their gods are real or what they might actually be like. In that way, it is exactly like an imaginary friend and that’s important.
Seriously, how many times have you had a theist tell you in complete confidence exactly what God is like and how God would react in every possible situation, but can’t explain how it is that they know any of this? Oh, they might say they read it in the Bible, but again, they can’t describe how the people who wrote the Bible came by their knowledge either. It’s just magic! Or maybe it’s personal revelation! Unfortunately for them, there’s no way of telling the difference between personal revelation and just making something up and again, they’re left with empty, un-demonstrable claims that nobody with the slightest grasp of reason ought to take seriously.
That’s probably why they buy into it. Zero reason skills whatsoever. And they wonder why we laugh at their absurd beliefs.
One question I get from a lot of theists is why do I spend so much time harping on the existence of gods? Why does every single debate circle around to whether or not gods actually exist? The answer is simple. It’s because all religious arguments hinge on that specific claim. If gods don’t exist, then all the claims made by religions that rely on that particular belief become irrelevant and therefore unworthy of debate. If gods aren’t real then all the things that gods supposedly want us to do or believe or think don’t matter. It does away with sin and the afterlife and all of the claims that religions make that only make sense if the gods they worship are actually so.
That means that debating the contents of the Bible is a waste of time. It doesn’t really matter if the Bible preaches slavery or rape or misogyny if God isn’t real, it just makes the Bible a book of human myths and therefore irrelevant. Everything starts at step one, until that point is demonstrated, going on is a complete waste of time. Since is is unlikely that theists will ever be able to demonstrate the factual existence of their gods, that means religious debates are guaranteed to be pretty short.
What always amazes me, but perhaps it shouldn’t, is the fact that so many theists want to gloss over that particular point. I suppose they are well aware that they have nothing worthwhile to say, leaving it all to blind and utterly empty faith, and therefore they want to get past it with as little comment as they possibly can. When your basic position is that weak and you recognize it as such, trying to sneak past irrational problems is probably your best bet. It isn’t, however, in the best interests of anyone rational who wants to point out the imaginary elephant in the room, who has somehow sneaked into the theist’s pajamas.
So what do we do when theists refuse to debate this most central point of their theology? Don’t let them off the hook. Keep pointing it out. Keep bringing it up. Eventually, they’re going to have to address it or they’re going to just run away. Both are a win for the atheist. If they address it, or more likely, admit that they cannot address it, you reveal their entire theology as a sham. If they run away, you show them to be the irrational coward that they are. Either way, you win and probably piss off a whole load of theists who are upset, more that you showed how weak their beliefs actually are than that you were “mean” to them. It’s not mean to reveal the truth. Anyone who is offended by the truth has some issues.
So get back to the basics and hit them where they live and don’t let them wiggle out of answering the central tenet of their entire spiritual claims, the existence of their gods. Too bad they have no answers. That’s why we start at the beginning.
Welcome to part 4 of my series on cognitive biases and other irrational things that go on in our heads that we need to not only be aware of, but we need to know how to counter. As in the past, I’ll give a short explanation of each and hope that you try to recognize these problems in your own life and how they affect your rationality. As critical thinking individuals, we have to be aware of potential problems that may arise in our thought processes. Just wanting to be rational isn’t enough, we have to continually test our positions to make sure they are arrived at through rational means.
So on with the show!
Observer Expectancy Effect – Here, the observer can influence witnesses by holding and/or expressing an expectation of the witnesses. One example of this was backmasking, the belief that Satanic messages are recorded backwards in songs. Because people are told that there are messages in the songs, many people hear these messages where, before they were told what to listen for, they only heard random noises. This is also common in irrational and undemonstrated practices like dowsing.
Omission Bias – When engaging the Omission Bias, people are likely to judge an action that is harmful as worse or more immoral than an equally harmful lack of action because it’s easier to see action than inaction. A good example would be a politician who knows his political rival is allergic to a particular food. If people are asked if it is worse that the politician gave his rival food that he knew his rival was allergic to, or if he purposely did not inform his rival that the food he was about to eat contained something he was allergic to, people tend to identify the first option as more immoral when they both lead to the same conclusion.
Ostrich Effect – Those guilty of the Ostrich Effect attempt to avoid risky or dangerous situations by simply pretending they do not exist. While typically used in financial transactions, it does apply, for example, in faith healing cases, where the parents simply refuse to acknowledge the possibility that prayer doesn’t work and their child may die from lack of proper medical attention.
Outcome Bias – When considering a past decision where the ultimate outcome of the decision is known, individuals will often judge that decision, not on the basis of the decision itself, but on the outcome, positive or negative. Data discovered after the decision is made should have no bearing on whether the decision was good or bad at the time. A doctor, for instance, should decide whether a particular treatment option is warranted based on the prognosis at the time. If an operation had a good chance of success for the particular ailment, it would have been a good decision to make, even if the patient ultimately died.
Overconfidence Effect – Some people are extremely confident of their abilities, even when their abilities are demonstrably faulty. People tend to overestimate their own accuracy when the truth is notably less. Someone who claims to be 99% confident in their ability to correctly answer questions, yet their answers are only 40% correct, has a problem with the calibration of their subjective probabilities. We need to understand the reasonable limits of our abilities and not pretend, through ego or unwarranted confidence, that we are better than we actually are.
Overoptimism – Also called the Optimism Bias, this is the state of belief that one is less likely to suffer adverse effects because they are optimistic about the world around them. For example, there are smokers who are convinced that they are less likely to contract lung cancer than other smokers, people who think that they are less likely to be victims of violent crime than others in similar situations, etc. Much of this comes from self-presentation, the desire to present a specific image of oneself, whether that image is realistic or not. It can also come from a desire to impose personal control on the world around them, whether or not that control is possible. It really asserts that the individual is special and thus at less risk than anyone else, a demonstrably faulty assumption.
Pessimism Bias – This is the opposite of Overoptimism, it is the assumption that bad things are more likely to happen to an individual than to other similar individuals under similar conditions. All of the things that I said about overoptimism apply here as well.
Placebo Effect – In medicine, the placebo effect is a demonstrable change in health or behavior that cannot be attributed to actual medication or treatment, only the assumption by the patient that such treatment has been given. Our brains have a wonderful capacity to heal and sometimes, it only takes the assumption that we are being treated and the confidence that such treatments are effective, to trigger these healing properties and allow the body to fix itself without outside intervention. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to medicine, people who believe, for instance, that they are being prayed for, can experience dramatic changes in attitude or experience if they believe prayer helps. It is important to recognize that outside of a desire to improve, placebo doesn’t actually do anything, it just provides a means for people to improve their own situation.
Planning Fallacy – People often have difficulty estimating how long it will take to complete a particular project, even if they have experience with the amount of time it may actually take. Asked to estimate how long it would take to complete their thesis, only 30% of students actually accurately predicted the timetable. Most vastly underestimated how much time it would take.
Post-Purchase Rationalization – Especially when it comes to expensive purchases, or perceived expensive decisions, the decision maker will attempt to build up their purchase or decision to rationalize the cost. This isn’t just a matter of cars and boats, where a buyer may disregard any shortcomings because they paid a lot for the product. People who make heavy decisions that have a lot of personal cost to them may ignore problems with their decision in order to make themselves feel better about having made it. People tend to want to avoid admitting that they have made bad decisions for bad reasons.
Next Monday, ten more! We’re coming down to the wire, I hope you’re enjoying this look at things we need to avoid to make good decisions.
I can’t tell you how many times I have theists tell me they don’t understand how something works, therefore God did it. They don’t seem to be able to get it through their heads that the only way to say “therefore God did it” is to actually demonstrate that God exists and was demonstrably responsible.
Let’s be honest. Theists, you know you can’t produce a single shred of objective evidence for your God. I know you can’t produce a single shred of objective evidence for your God. Everyone knows this so stop pretending that you can. Even the most ardent professional Christian apologist gave up trying to prove that God was real using objective evidence a long, long time ago. They know there’s no evidence to give, that’s why, almost without exception, they’ve gone to philosophical proofs and this is really where so much of modern apologetics falls apart.
See, you can play your word games all you want, and let’s be honest, that’s all these arguments are: word games. They don’t actually prove anything and, if deconstructed, are full of irrational claims and leaps of illogic. I’d like to focus on one of those leaps because it’s the most common one that I run across, the seeming inability of theists to understand how causation works.
This is very closely associated with the argument from ignorance and therefore, I’m going to start by explaining exactly what that is and why it’s problematic for anyone who actually cares about factual truth and reality. In very general terms, the argument from ignorance says that because an assertion has not been proven false, that it is therefore valid to believe as a proposition. Essentially, it’s like saying that because we cannot prove that the pyramids in Egypt weren’t built by aliens, therefore, aliens did it. The fact is, claims are not accepted because they are not proven false, but because they are actually proven true. No one should believe that aliens built the pyramids unless we have actual, objective, demonstrable evidence that it is so. This is also related to the argument from personal incredulity, another common fallacy used by theists, wherein the theist says that they cannot believe or understand the solution presented for a problem, therefore the solution cannot possibly be true and this is often followed by the theist claiming that their favored and totally unsupported explanation, usually God, is therefore what must be true instead. This usually breaks down to “I don’t know how this happened, I don’t understand the explanation offered for what happened and the explanation that is offered makes me emotionally uncomfortable, therefore I am going to reject the explanation out of hand and assert one of my own, one that makes me feel good and validates my pre-existing beliefs.” Theists, chime in, I’m sure that sounds very, very familiar.
The problem is, the whole thing falls apart under even the most cursory evaluation. You’re welcome to suggest your own solutions to the problems but as soon as you do so, you’re obligated to follow the same rigorous requirements to present objective evidence and open your claims to peer review as any scientific explanation. This is why many apologists simply declare that their beliefs are beyond any rational evaluation, they’re just magically true because they want them to be true. That’s no more worthwhile than saying that waving a magic wand makes things happen and you don’t have to prove it because it’s beyond rational evaluation. If you’re unwilling to accept every claim of that sort, why should anyone accept your claim?
But let’s get back to causation, shall we? If you’re going to suggest that X caused Y, or that X was responsible for Y, you need to show that X and Y are actually real. You can’t just assert things and pretend that because you believe them, everyone else should as well. If you’re going to claim that aliens abducted you and performed bizarre sexual experiments on you, you not only have to demonstrate that you were actually abducted, but that it was aliens that did it. To do this, you have to prove aliens actually exist. The same goes for God. If you want to say that God created the universe, we follow the same steps. We can prove that the universe exists, we’re good there, but when it comes to proving God, we run into a brick wall. Since we know that the typical theist arguments, the argument from ignorance and the argument from personal incredulity, are fallacious and must be rejected, we’re really stuck. There is no evidence to support the factual existence of God, thus this idea grinds to a very quick and permanent halt, at least until someone can come up with objective evidence to support their particular version of God.
But even if you can provide evidence for your agent, you then need to prove that your agent actually performed the action which you assert he engaged in. Even if Giorgio Tsoukalos somehow manages to prove that aliens exist, he’d still have to show that they actually performed the actions they are being accused of. In other words, you’d need to provide a direct causal link, evidence that the aliens actually went out and kidnapped some backwoods hick, took him up into their spaceship and diddled his backside. Every single element of this tale needs to be corroborated independently. If you fail to do so in any regard, your claims about the event are unjustified and can be safely rejected for lack of evidence.
Yet this is exactly what theists do constantly. They cannot prove their God exists. They cannot provide any evidence, except their own self-imposed ignorance of the real evidence, that this unproven God actually did anything, they just claim, without evidence, that it must have been the case because it makes them feel uncomfortable to think otherwise. However, one’s comfort doesn’t change reality, one’s desire for a particular proposition to be true doesn’t change the facts and one’s insistence that something must be true doesn’t have any bearing on whether it actually is or not. This is something theists have to learn but I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do so any time soon.
Logic and reason exist because they help us to understand what is actually going on in the world around us. We’ve developed systems, some of them codified into the scientific method, because they work, they produce demonstrable results, they make testable predictions and they are concerned with factual reality, not individual emotional responses. So long as theists have nothing more than logical fallacies and are concerned with nothing more than feeling good, theists will remain the laughing stock of the intellectual community. They have to earn their place among the rationalists and, as we all know, they’re neither interested in doing so, or capable, they hold beliefs which are laughable to anyone and everyone who doesn’t cling to them via impassioned wishful thinking. I don’t expect theists to understand where they go wrong because to do so would to understand that they don’t have any reason to believe what they believe. The rest of us, however, know better.
Here we go again! This week, Fox News falls for a 4Chan hoax, or do they? Egypt outlaws unlicensed Imams and we wonder where you get an Imam license? Christian persecution, a new study shows it’s nonsense but the Christians probably don’t care. Pat Robertson encourages children not to involve the authorities in domestic abuse. Plus, we have a long discussion on where religious debates go wrong and why apologetics fail but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Give it a listen!
On the most recent Atheist Experience, at least as of this writing, they had a caller who was quite insistent that the claims of former Christians, including Dan Barker, of miraculous experiences while they were religious, somehow proves that miracles really happen. My response? Prove it.
See, I’m sure there are plenty of things that people who were once religious experienced while they believed but those supposed miracles weren’t enough to keep them from losing faith, were they? Just because you identify an event as miraculous doesn’t mean it actually was. The caller in question kept admitting that he couldn’t actually validate the details of any of the miracle claims. Barker, according to the caller, said that he laid hands on a mute person and magically they could talk. How is this verified by medical science? I’m sure it hasn’t been. I don’t doubt that something happened to Dan Barker that, at the time, he couldn’t explain. I’m sure that, at the time, he thought it was a miracle. However, he could never prove that it was actually a miracle and I’m reasonably sure that today, he would not consider it so. How would you prove it was a miracle? You’d have to take a person who was certified mute by a doctor, that they could not, through regular medical means, be made to speak. You’d have to have a clergyman lay their hands on the person and have them begin to speak, then have them re-examined by a doctor to certify that whatever medical problem they had before is now gone. Then, and this is the part that apologists seem to miss, you’d have to demonstrate that the malady was actually cured by a supernatural entity. If you can’t, it’s not a miracle, at least not the religious kind.
Oh, and for the record, Barker was not talking about a mute person, he was talking about someone who showed up to preach, but who had a sore throat and after having hands laid on him, he could speak again. That’s not terribly impressive, we know people recover from laryngitis without divine intervention all the time, in fact, I’d be rather surprised if prayer was the only thing the sick individual tried, he may have been drinking chamomile tea or taking medication for his condition, both of which are more likely to explain the “miracle” than a couple of guys talking to themselves.
This goes straight back to my 30-second debate idea. Just claiming that a god exists because you like the idea that a god exists does not, in any way, prove that a god exists. The same applies to miracles. Just claiming that a miracle happened because you like the idea of miracles and can’t come up with a better explanation does not prove that miracles happen. It’s yet another example of the argument from ignorance, a clear favorite among the religious. Miracles cannot be simply defined into existence because the person or people involved declare it to be a miracle. It takes significant evidence and without that, it’s just an event for which we cannot demonstrate a cause. We don’t know. That’s all we can say.
Of course, I’m sure the theist would never accept that their religious beliefs and religious claims actually need corroboratory evidence and demonstrable direct causal links in order for the skeptical to accept that it was, in fact, an actual miracle. Since they have nothing to provide and no likelihood of ever getting such, I’m sure they’ll continue to call it unfair that we’d even dare to ask for such things, but that is how the real world works and all claims, no matter who makes them, are held to the same standard.
It seems to me that there are a few topics that lend themselves to axiomatic victories. People who argue these aren’t really interested in demonstrating that they are true, they simply insist that they are and move on from there. They start with the conclusion that everything they believe is right and look for evidence, if they bother at all, that supports that foregone conclusion. By and large, these conclusions are entirely emotional.
So let’s take a look at a couple of these arguments. This is by no means a complete list, many emotionally-based positions take for granted their own correctness, whether they can actually demonstrate it or not.
Religion: The granddaddy of them all, religion asserts the existence of an unseen and undetectable god as the basis for everything they believe. How do they know? They just do. They can provide no evidence, they can concoct no rational argument, they just believe without the slightest shred of proof and expect everyone else to do the same.
Presuppositionalism: It deserves it’s own separate category. Not only does it suffer from all the weaknesses of religion, but it makes a huge unwarranted assumption on it’s own. It teaches that everyone knows God is real and that without a belief that God is real, no position can be argued for. Perhaps more than any other, this is a shining example of the stupidity of the axiomatic win.
Libertarianism: The central core of libertarian thought is the “natural right”. They’re absolutely certain that they exist, they just can’t reason their way to them. They cannot produce evidence for them. They’re just damn sure they’re real though. I did have one person, and this is where the title of this article comes from, declare that “natural rights” are a libertarian axiom, therefore he didn’t have to actually demonstrate them, they were simply defined to be true.
Antinatalism: This is the newcomer to the list but it’s just as nutty as the rest. It starts with the unjustified claim that all suffering is bad. Well, not all suffering, just human suffering. Why just human suffering? I don’t think they really know, it all comes off like a bunch of emotionally-stunted, hippie-spewing nonsense. If they were honest, they’d say all suffering was wrong and preach planet-wide Armageddon, but they don’t.
By definition, an axiom is a statement which is universally accepted as true and thus, not under debate. It can only be an axiom so long as everyone involved accepts it. If anyone disagrees, then it ceases to be an axiom and it must be defended like any other claim. These views are not acceptable to the emotionally axiomatic above. These people all approach their beliefs not only wearing their emotions on their sleeve but covered head-to-toe in them. There is no rational thought in any of these positions, they’ve entirely given up the intellectual high ground for arguments that are little better than “I’m right, so there!”
Anyone who resorts to axioms as a means to an automatic, immediate victory has lost before they begin. That’s not how the real world works and certainly not how science works. Could you imagine a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal starting off stating as an axiom that they were right and anyone who disagreed was a Nazi? That’s absurd, yet essentially the same thing that happens with these axiom-rich beliefs. Certainly these are not all of the ridiculous positions that use this tactic, they exist simply to highlight the absurdity of it all. You can’t start with an unproven and highly controversial statement and then base your entire argument and belief system off of that statement. It just doesn’t work that way.
But then again, if these groups were rational, they’d already know that, wouldn’t they?
This week, we take on the flaming remnants of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, talk about a Louisiana school district that told a Buddhist child to get lost, Jewish cock-sucking spreading disease, Christian cannibalism in Africa, a pastor who lost his faith and found financial salvation with the atheists and a long discussion on being rational, whether you like it or not. All this and more in this episode of The Bitchspot Report.
This is a constant problem in religious debates and I don’t know if it’s because theists are just too stupid to get it or because they honestly don’t understand. I do know that when I’ve tried to explain it in the past to theists, no matter how carefully I do so, they just don’t get it and nothing changes. Therefore I wanted to do a more well-thought-out version to explain to theists why their various tactics just don’t impress skeptics and why they shouldn’t convince theists.
Claims of Supernatural Experiences: Lots of Christians claim to have had an experience with something they cannot explain and they attribute that experience to God or Jesus or the Virgin Mary or whatever and then they present these experiences to atheists as though they should be convincing evidence. They are not for two separate, but important reasons.
Every religion claims to have these exact same experiences. Christians claim to have them, Muslims claim to have them, Hindus claim to have them, etc. They are, so far as we can tell, extremely similar claims, the only real difference is the claimed entity responsible. Imagine two theists sitting in a room, a Hindu and a Christian and they’re discussing their supposed supernatural experiences. Would you, as a Christian, accept the Hindu’s claims as evidence that Krishna is real, or would you, as a Hindu, accept the Christian’s claims as evidence that God is real? Because if you wouldn’t accept the claim from the other guy, why would you expect anyone to accept it from you? The strength of one’s conviction has nothing to do with the validity of one’s claims. If you cannot understand that your experience, however real and important it might be to you, has no inherent validity to anyone else, then you’re a lost cause because you cannot act rationally.
More importantly though is the fact that these religious claims are not verifiable, either objectively or logically. These claims cannot be demonstrated whatsoever. Let’s use an analogy. In a courtroom setting, the lawyers are trying to demonstrate that Bob murdered Joe. We have a demonstrable fact: Joe is dead. He’s been hacked up with a cleaver. This is what actually happened and we can prove it by producing Joe’s dead body. However, to be able to link Bob to the crime, prosecutors have to produce a chain of causality, each link coming together to show that Bob actually did kill Joe. The lawyers might argue that Bob hated Joe and produce witnesses to that effect. In fact, Bob might have told someone that he wanted to kill Joe and that person could be put on the stand. They could produce credit card receipts that Bob purchased the cleaver at Walmart. They could come up with evidence that Bob and Joe were at the site of the murder together, they could find Bob’s fingerprints on the handle and find witnesses that heard or saw the crime take place. All of this establishes that Bob did, in fact, kill Joe. There are tons of little pieces of objective, demonstrable evidence that links Bob to Joe’s murder. That’s how rational arguments are built and it would lead to the conviction of a murderer. However, theists don’t do this. They will describe something that they assert happened, some experience they cannot explain, and then they will make the claim that God was somehow responsible. How do they know? Where is that causal link drawn? A theist is the lawyer, the skeptics are the jury. It is their job to produce that evidence to show that their experience actually comes from their claimed cause. If they cannot do so, the jury is going to come back with a “not guilty” response. If the lawyer in our above case walked into court and said “Bob killed Joe but I can’t produce any evidence that he did it or any reason he might have committed the crime, in fact, I can’t even prove that Bob is real, I just read about him in a book, but I have faith that he did it!” he’d be thrown out of the courtroom.
In the end, no matter how much you believe in your mystical experience, it isn’t going to convince anyone else because you cannot show that it happened how you claim it happened. In fact, I’d argue that you cannot even demonstrate that it happened how you think it happened to yourself.
Holy Books: While you might value what it says in the Bible or the Qu’ran or the Vedas or whatever other book you hold holy, just because you believe it doesn’t necessarily make it so. All this requires is the ability to step back and realize that every other religion on the planet, with every other holy book on the planet, thinks the exact same thing you do. The Hindus value the Vedas and think that the Bible is a pile of crap. The Scientologists value Dianetics and think that both the Bible and the Vedas are a pile of crap. You can go on and on and on through all of the religions until you realize that people who believe in the Bible are not significantly different than people who believe in the Vedas or people who believe in Dianetics. Once you understand why you don’t take their claims that their books are authoritative, you’ll understand why they don’t take your claims about your book seriously either. Atheists don’t take any of these claims seriously because none of these books, whether you like it or not, have been actually demonstrated to be factually true. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them have been shown to be factually false and that includes books like the Bible and the Qu’ran. No matter how you spin your stories, no matter how hard you try to rationalize away the problems with your books, they still remain. Your belief to the contrary really means nothing, it all comes down to what you can prove, not what you believe. Speaking of belief, that leads to our next section.
Faith: The fact is, no matter how much the religious wish it was otherwise, that faith doesn’t impress anyone and if the religious were honest about it, they’d understand why this is the case. Clearly, just having faith in a thing does not automatically make that thing true, otherwise every religion would have to be true because they all have people who are faithful. This is problematic when Christians, for example, think that they have some special kind of faith that makes their own beliefs true, while every other religion is somehow deluded and thus wrong. They refuse to admit the possibility that some other religion could be true and their own faith could be delusional and thus wrong. It’s not something they’re willing to even consider and that is, by it’s very nature, irrational. Anyone who is irrational is simply not worth debating with because no conclusion, outside of their very strongly-held faith, can be agreed upon.
The Argument From Ignorance: This is arguably the most common logical fallacy perpetrated by the religious and the one that they understand the least. I’m going to try to explain it in as plain and simple language as I can but I fear that for most theists, it won’t make a difference. They can’t understand or, more properly, won’t understand because to understand the Argument from Ignorance is to be required to admit what they’ve been doing wrong all along. Simply put, the Argument from Ignorance occurs when an individual takes an event that they do not understand the actual cause of and, because they are uncomfortable not knowing the cause, they simply assign one that makes them emotionally comfortable. It’s like saying “I was in a traffic accident, I don’t understand how I survived, therefore angels saved me.” Unfortunately, as in my discussion of religious experiences above, there is no demonstrable causal link between the event and the claimed cause of the event. It is very similar to another very similar fallacy, the Argument from Personal Incredulity, where a person cannot understand the event and has therefore convinced themselves that the only possible explanation, to which they are emotionally predisposed, must be true. Essentially, “I don’t see how it could be anything but X.” It is never a matter of coming to a conclusion through a well-reasoned evaluation of logic, evidence and critical thinking, it’s always based on a lack of imagination and a whole lot of wishful thinking. If, at any time, your explanation can be replaced with “leprechauns” or “unicorns” and have it make as much sense, then you’re doing something wrong. You can easily tell if your claims are valid if you can move, step to step, along your argument and actually show, via logic or objective evidence, that your claim is true. In my above example about angels, ask yourself how you know it was angels. Is it something you can prove or just something you believe. If it’s only something you believe, you’ve failed to make your case and therefore the explanation should be rejected. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” in any situation where you actually don’t know what the explanation is. Of course, this only matters to people who are actually concerned whether what they believe is actually true in reality and, unfortunately, far too many theists fall outside of that camp. Most theists believe for emotional reasons, not rational ones. Those people are lost to reasonable debate and intellectual argument.
If our goal here is to reach the truth, rather than just push a theological agenda or propagate a belief, then people, especially theists, have to be willing to open up their beliefs to the most harsh criticism. If your beliefs are actually true, you have nothing to worry about, they will be proven so in the end. If they are not true though, if your emotional comfort is more important to you than actually believing correct things, at least be honest with yourself. Stop pretending that your beliefs are rational or that they can stand up in a fair fight because they can’t. Trying to pass off a heartfelt belief that isn’t intellectually valid is inherently dishonest and, truth be known, atheists are really tired of debating intellectually dishonest positions presented as rational when they’re anything but. I’m not telling you to stop believing, although certainly I think you should, I’m telling you to have some kind of understanding of what you actually believe and why, you can’t rely on atheists to school you in the basics every time you open your mouth.
This seems to be a common misconception among theists, that anyone who makes a claim that they have had an experience with a god is actually evidence that said god exists. Nothing could be further from the truth but so many of these theists, no matter how many times it’s explained, simply can’t get it through their heads. I recently went through a long debate here with someone who just refuses to acknowledge that a story of an experience is not evidence that the experience is true.
The real problem is that none of these claims bear up under any kind of objective examination. All of these claims that I have seen consist of “I had some kind of experience I cannot explain, therefore God did it”. It is a classic example of the argument from ignorance logical fallacy. That’s just not how a logical argument operates. If something happens to you that you cannot explain, you do not go leaping wildly to the explanation that you most favor, you actually try to find the real solution, moving from the actual experience, step-by-step, toward a credible conclusion, supported by evidence and reason. Say a vase falls off a table. You don’t just jump to “a unicorn did it!” You take each logical option and examine the evidence to see if it fits. Was there a minor earthquake at the time? You can check out the USGS website. Did someone bump the table? Did a truck go by outside? Was there a gust of wind? What evidence do you actually have that fits the data at hand? If you exhaust all logical possibilities, the only rational solution you can have is “I don’t know”.
One thing you cannot do is simply invent a solution because you don’t like not knowing. You can’t say “that vase fell off the table because of ghosts”. You have no evidence that ghosts are real. You have no data tying the factual existence of ghosts to that particular event. Your belief in ghosts or your desire for there to be ghosts is not proof that there actually are ghosts. The same can be said for actions supposedly taken by gods. First you have to prove that the god actually exists, then you have to provide a step-by-step causal chain from the experience to the actually real god. You can’t skip steps. You can’t make illogical leaps. You have to move slowly and purposely from one step to the next until you have demonstrated the entire claim is true. Theists have been utterly unable to do this, even once.
And let’s be honest, even the theists don’t take this idea seriously when it comes to any other claim. People who claim to have been abducted by aliens? Those claims aren’t taken at the same face value that theists expect their own claims to be. Bigfoot, leprechauns, unicorns, it doesn’t matter, theists would reject these claims out of hand. To use the example I’ve used many times in the past, someone running up to you and proclaiming that Godzilla is destroying the city, that would not be accepted as evidence that Godzilla was real, but as the ravings of a crackpot. Virtually no Christian is going to accept the same kind of claims made about another god, yet they expect people to immediately buy into their own claims about their own God. Sure, some theists might try to twist the claims of other religions around to support their own gods, ie. “that’s not proof of Vishnu, that’s proof of Satan!”, but when the exact same thing is said about a competing deity as they are saying about their own, they’re incredibly biased about what they consider evidence and what they do not.
Of course, then they’ll come up with the old gem “you’re just biased against this explanation!” Of course I’m not. I don’t care which explanation is actually true, so long as it is the most likely explanation to be actually true. The only bias I have is toward the factual truth. I’m not anti-religion, I’m pro-reality. So far, no one has demonstrated the existence of any god(s) to me rationally and via evidence. So long as that is the case, I am not going to believe in god(s), just as I am not going to believe in leprechauns or unicorns for the exact same reasons. So many of these people are so desperate for their favored solutions to be right that they just stop looking at any other solutions, their faith makes it a one-size-fits-all “fact”, whether it’s factual or not.
I suppose it’s no surprise that theists don’t understand these points since theistic faith is diametrically opposed to rational logic. They think that feeling good is the only justification they believe and when someone calls them on it, they immediately start applying the ideas that they know best, even if they are laughably bad. I suppose that’s why debates with theists never really go anywhere, everyone is speaking a different language.
A while back, I wrote a review of an article called “Atheism is Illogical“, written on a theist philosophy site called Philosophy Out of the Box. I pointed out how absurd many of the ideas contained within the article were and, even though I had gotten the idea from a fellow atheist blog, the Athefist, I said I was going to keep an eye on future developments.
There has been a second, and in fact, a third article written and so, as before, I will delve into the ideas of this theist philosopher and hope he fares better than he did the last time. Watch for my take on his third installment, probably next week.
He starts off arguing that religious fundamentalists tend to ignore uncomfortable facts when he points them out in their holy books, but that’s not been my experience. In fact, it’s the fundamentalists who tend to do their best to adopt all of the inherent craziness that you find in religious books, that’s why you get loons handling snakes and drinking poisons and the like. It’s the liberal theists who pick and choose only the parts of religious books that they like and ignore the rest. Those are the people he should be complaining about, the hypocrites who only believe what they want to believe. And of course, he says he’s proven that atheism and theism are both religious positions but I beg to differ, I blew that position entirely out of the water in my last evaluation and simply stating something doesn’t make a belief so.
He starts arguing that words have meanings, something that anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will recognize, yet it seems that he has no clue what the words he’s trying to use mean. We already know he’s hopelessly lost with regard to “atheism”, in fact he entirely ignores the OED which defines atheism as “One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God”. He gets to “denies” and calls it a day, proving that either he’s incapable of reading and understanding a dictionary, or he’s just dishonest. I lean toward the latter.
I say that because he does, in fact, make a vague attempt to handle the “disbelieves” part of the definition by quoting another “page” of the OED which defines “disbelief” as “to not believe or credit; to refuse credence to”. Okay, that’s certainly not what he’s asserting, he’s saying that disbelief means that atheists are holding an active belief in the non-existence of something, which is certainly not the case.
In my last article, I used the example of a froozle and I think it can be useful once again. See, according to Site Philsopher, there are only two possibilities. You either have a strong positive belief that the greater red-breasted froozle exists or you have a strong positive belief that the greater red-breasted froozle does not exist. There are no other possible conclusions you can come to, yet I trust anyone reading this will understand just how foolish such a position actually is. There are plenty of other options available to a true seeker. You can simply withhold judgement based on a serious lack of evidence supporting the claim, that’s what most atheists do. No matter how much some of these pinheads wish it were the case, that’s exactly what an atheist is, it’s someone who rejects the claims made by theists for lack of evidence or even coherent claims. Theists are unable to clearly define what their gods are in any way that makes rational sense, they are not able to provide a means by which an unbeliever can verify and validate the factual existence of the deity and they certainly have not ponied up a single shred of evidence that would differentiate the existence of a god from the difference of a froozle.
I really don’t see how this guy’s argument is going to get any better when he’s failed so utterly in his most basic of assertions. What he’s calling philosophy is really just embarrassing. Unfortunately, most apologists never rise above the simplistic level that we’re seeing here and that’s why they largely get laughed at by anyone with a clue. What we’re really seeing is a prime example of why theism is illogical and why theists have so much to learn.
As with many other blog post ideas lately, this one came from the latest episode of The Atheist Experience, where a self-identified deist called in and started arguing that atheists should not be the enemies of deists because deists were so rational and logical and all that nonsense.
Sure, great claims, if only it was true. The problem is, it’s just not. I always found deism to be nothing more than misguided theism with no imagination. It’s got a lot of self-congratulatory, back-patting nonsense involved and it still manages to come to the wrong conclusion. Then it assigns characteristics to itself that fail miserably under even the most cursory evaluation. As Russell said on TAE, while deism may be somewhat better than theism, especially given it’s lack of churches and holy books and the inherent conflicts those things bring, it’s still got massive problems that deists refuse to address. If one actually cares about the truthfulness of one’s beliefs, deism isn’t any better, and in fact, is worse in some ways than theism. At least most forms of theism don’t try to hide their irrationality under a thin veneer of logic.
I wanted to address some of the “core beliefs” and point out exactly where they are problematic, if I may.
1. Belief in a single creator based on reason.
Reason? What reason? Now I suppose it depends on how you’re going to define your terms, which I think is clearly problematic in a lot of religious belief systems. Believing in something for which there isn’t a single shred of objective, demonstrable, testable evidence is not reasonable. The dictionary definition for the term is “to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic”. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, logic, and I mean pure logic, is very easily misused unless tempered by other forms of rational thought. Some people think that if they can form an idea into a valid logical syllogism, then it must be rationally valid. They are wrong. Just because they can come up with true premises, that doesn’t mean that their conclusion is going to be valid. Take for example, one of the classics:
God is love.
Love is blind.
Ray Charles is blind.
Therefore Ray Charles is God.
You take these truisms, sayings that are commonly heard, apply them improperly and come up with a conclusion that is wholly unjustified. Logically valid? Yes. True? No.
2. The order and complexity of nature and the universe make God self-evident.
No, this is the argument from ignorance, you don’t understand the complexity of nature, therefore you invent, out of whole cloth, the idea that some intelligence had to be responsible for it. This is no different than theism, deists just won’t put a name or characteristics on their imaginary friend. This is something that I’ll get into more deeply in the next question.
3. God’s full nature is incomprehensible due to limitations of the human mind and language.
Just like so many modern religions, they place any discussion of their god’s characteristics inherently beyond any ability to reasonably or rationally discuss. It always strikes me that these people are just giving up entirely too soon. It seems to me that there is nothing that is theoretically beyond the human mind and human understanding. Certainly, there are things that we don’t understand right now, but nothing I can think of that we can never understand, no matter how far we advance or how hard we try. It strikes me as a cheap dodge, we’re never going to get it so just stop thinking about it and believe. Sorry, that’s not the way a rational mind works. I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency among theists, and apparently among deists as well, that either we know everything there is to know right this second, or we know nothing and we never will. The only thing about the human mind that seems limited is the imagination of the theist.
4. God gave humanity reason and conscience so we could develop our own moral and ethical principles.
That’s a bald assertion for which no evidence exists. We have no evidence for God, we also have no evidence that God did anything whatsoever to provide mankind with anything. In fact, depending on what kind of deist you are, many think that their unnamed “something” started off the universe and then went away and never had a second thought about anything that happened in it. Man wasn’t part of this god’s plan because this god apparently never had a plan, beyond knocking over a beaker in his laboratory somewhere. Some deists won’t even claim that the creation of the universe was intentional. Therefore, given this statement, it seems to me like there are a lot of people using deism as a means to hide from the inherent irrationalities of theism. One question I often ask theists is how they know which god is real, considering there are thousands upon thousands of them that man has invented, how did they just so happen to pick the right one out of a hat, since they have no evidence to support their decision. I would suspect that the deistic claims of some people spring from a realization that they cannot justify any particular deity, but still want to have one. Then they do the same thing theists do, they arbitrarily assign characteristics to their unknown god which they cannot justify.
5. Human beings should be free to find, know and worship God in their own way. All views of God should be respected, so long as they do not cause harm or oppress the views of others.
All views are to be respected, so long as they follow your rules. Right. This seems to be a very accomodationist view, that nobody can ever be criticized, no matter how absurd, so long as they don’t criticize you first. This also smacks of universalism, the idea that all gods are the same god, even if nobody ever acknowledges them as such. Therefore, don’t say bad things about any religion because they’re all fundamentally the same. And of course, who gets to determine what constitutes “harm”? I’ve got a whole Religious Horror Show that proves just how harmful religion can be.
6. All human beings were created under God, with the same natural rights.
And finally, the all-too-common natural rights claim, which again comes without any evidence to support it. This is the same thing that we see among libertarians and I have yet to find any of them that can rationally justify the belief in natural rights. Please, will someone out there who believes in natural rights debate me? Try to demonstrate that these things actually exist and can be demonstrated, articulated and produce a means by which we can find what rights are actually true and which ones are not? This seems to be something that is wholly lacking among the natural rights crowd.
The problem I see here is that so many deists claim they’re better than religion because they’re not as bat-shit insane as many theists are. That’s not really comforting. It’s like the zombies in the fantastic Jonathan Coulton song Re: Your Brain, where the zombies try to convince their potential victims that they’re really not bad guys, they want to eat your brain, but at least they don’t want to eat your eyes too. Crazy is crazy, irrational is irrational, just because you’re not as crazy or irrational as those real whackos over there, doesn’t mean you’re get away scot free.
Long time readers may notice that when I talk about logic or reason, I almost always do it in the form of mentioning logic, reason and critical thinking in quick succession. One without the other can produce flawed results, all three together rarely do. A lot of deists try to claim the high ground when, in reality, their arguments aren’t any better, nor any more demonstrably factual, than their theist cousins. I don’t care how much lipstick you put on the pig, it’s still a pig and pigs just don’t qualify to be sitting at the dinner table with the rest of the actually rational folks who value logic, reason and critical thinking. You know, the people who actually care about truth.
I walked away from the whole furry fandom thing many years ago, I didn’t keep up with any of the people and I haven’t paid attention to what few smoldering ruins of the fandom still remain. In fact, I honestly don’t care if the vast majority of furries I was aware of would explode into a fireball, that’s how little I care about any of them. However, I do know people who, through friends of friends of friends, still maintain a vague knowledge of what’s going on and from time to time, they spring the most absurd parts of it on me, mostly to remind me why I walked away in the first place.
Today, they informed me that one well-known furry artist from the old days was arrested for having a metric shit-ton of kiddy porn on their computer. Another, he wagers, should expect a visit from CPS because he’s teaching his kids how to dumpster dive, that is unless his wife just takes them away entirely in the upcoming divorce. Kind of a shame, now that I think of it, because I was the one who put together the music for their wedding in the first place.
But you know, it isn’t just that I walked away from furry, but honestly, furry, which was somewhat of a force back in the early days of the Internet, has largely just gone away. Oh sure, you can find a couple of conventions around, you can find some websites on fursuiting, but by and large, you don’t go to conventions and find big banners for furry parties, you don’t find tables selling memberships for furry conventions, it seems to have gone very much underground.
Why? Because it’s just not necessary anymore. The people we saw back in the day were the early adopters, the fanatics, the people who really buried themselves in it and never came up for air. These people were the “lifestylers”, and yes, that was really a thing. They were the people who not only enjoyed anthropomorphics, they not only wanted to go to conventions, they not only wanted to talk about it, these people wanted to live it. These were people who were so delusional, they thought they were actually furry animals trapped in human bodies. There were some of them who refused to answer to their “human slave names” and even some who felt so attracted to their animal selves that they underwent surgical techniques to bring themselves closer to their idealized inner beast.
Now yes, these people were crazy, but I only bring this up because debating one of these “lifestylers” was pretty much identical to debating many modern-day crazy Christians. The logical sledgehammer just doesn’t work on these people because they’re so buried under their fanatical beliefs that there’s no room whatsoever for anything else. I had one guy tell me seriously, that he was, in fact, not a fat, balding, uneducated turd with bad skin and worse breath. No, he was a 40-foot long fire-breathing red dragon! Why did I see him as a pathetic excuse for human excrement? Because, according to him, my puny human mind simply could not process the majesty of his true form and was thus, inserting something it could comprehend. It took me a few seconds to process this incredible nugget of information before I looked around the small room we were in and asked him how he, in his true red dragon form, had managed to shove himself into the perhaps 12′ room, and how he had managed to squeeze his magnificent bulk through the rather narrow doorway. I’d like to say I walked away, just as smoke started pouring from his ears, but that’s not true, he remained supremely confident in his claims, whether they made any sense or not.
Just like theists. I find that I can have the same kind of conversations with theists who are convinced that they have angels watching over them, certain to leap to their defense at a moment’s notice. I always wonder what would happen if I just walked over and punched them in the face. Would the angels keep me from it, or, more likely, would they find some ad hoc rationalization for why the angels didn’t bother to try?
There are a lot of people out there that need professional help. At least the crazy furries, the people who go on job interviews in fursuits (yes, that actually happened), or show up to jury duty wearing ears and a tail (that happened too) can be declared out of their ever-loving minds and carted off for 24-hour observation. The religious though are a different matter. Religion gets an automatic pass in much of society. When a large portion of the population thinks there’s an imaginary friend in the sky watching over them, it’s pretty hard to get judges to order psychiatric evaluation for all but the most extreme examples without getting lynched. This is a fundamental problem because honestly, I think there are a lot more religious people out there who are really insane, not just deluded, than we might like to think. Maybe we ought to start looking a bit closer at the religious crazies, the people who really drink the koolaid, and see if maybe these people are more of a danger to themselves and others than we’d often feel comfortable admitting.
Because seriously, these people should not be on the streets with the rest of us.
Believe it or not, I’m not a cruel guy, even if some people think that I am. To be honest, I don’t really give a damn if people think I’m nice or not, the people I’m not “nice” to are usually the ones who misunderstand why I’m not nice. The fact is, I have the ability to manually separate and compartmentalize emotion from rational reality, I can evaluate events and ideas on a wholly rational, intellectual and critical basis without resorting to blind emotion. It’s a very valuable skill, one I think far too many people lack and ought to develop.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that emotion is useless and should be eliminated, I’m saying that there are a lot of things in the real world that need to be evaluated rationally. They need to be looked at from a critical perspective. They need to be examined with a dispassionate eye and an intellectual bent. In fact, I think that for a whole host of issues, emotion only gets in the way of finding actual, workable, reasonable solutions.
So I wall that part off and don’t use it. And that pisses a lot of people off.
“Oh, don’t you feel…” “Doesn’t this make you feel…” No, purposely not. Unleashed emotions are just not conducive to coming up with good ideas much of the time. In fact, I’d argue that many of the world’s problems are caused by uncontrolled emotionalism. However, just recognizing that tends to piss people off.
Want an example? The world’s population, while perhaps not beyond the ability of the planet to feed, is distributed very poorly. The countries that tend to produce the most offspring are also the countries that are usually least equipped to feed and care for them. That results in not only overpopulation but high mortality. The popular “starving kids in Africa” thing that mothers tell their kids when they don’t clean their plate is a reality. So how do we solve it? It sure isn’t by watching commercials on TV and “adopting” a child for 33 cents a day. But the overly-emotional people will say “these people have a right to breed as fast as they possibly can”. I acknowledge that I can’t stop them, but clearly, the high mortality rate is linked to the high birth rate and, like it or not, actions have consequences. Now I know that these people had no part in being born into a poverty-stricken area of the world and that there is a biological drive to breed, but how can anyone be surprised when nature takes it’s course and people die because of it? Any rational solution there is going to have to be part birth control, part technical improvement, part intellectual improvement and a whole lot of telling the Catholic Church to go fuck itself. That’s a whole group of people running on nothing but emotion. “Oh, we don’t want you to use birth control!” Yeah, I don’t want you to hide pedophile priests, let me know how that’s working out for you. You can’t always get what you want, especially if what you want is stupid.
And that’s another thing, I have no problem calling someone stupid if they’re stupid. I think people ought to call a spade a spade. I’m not really concerned with how you feel about things, but about how you deal with them. I have never understood why so many people get so upset if I reject their beliefs or positions. Do you think that if I reject what you say, that somehow, I reject what you are? I certainly never get upset if someone criticizes something I say, I don’t lash out, I don’t get mad. Why would I? Why would you? It makes no sense to me. If you’re stupid, you’re stupid. If you’re ignorant, you’re ignorant. Ignorance can be cured, just learn something. Stupidity is often another matter, but hey, give it a shot anyhow. If I don’t know something, I go learn about it. I freely admit there are tons of subjects of which I am totally ignorant, only because I haven’t gotten to them yet or I’m just not interested. Am I supposed to be hurt by this? I’m not. Neither should you be.
Besides, I figure adults ought to act like adults. I shouldn’t have to pussyfoot around and treat you with kid gloves, you ought to be able to think for yourself, use reason and deal with reality as it is, not how you wish it was. If you can’t, then you ought to get a metaphorical 2×4 to the head to knock a little sense into you. I am not, nor will I, nor should I be responsible for protecting your precious little feelings from harm, nor you from feelings of inadequacy. Man up. In fact, if we had a planet of people who manned up and took responsibility for their lives, for their ideas and for their beliefs, this planet wouldn’t be in the dire straights it is in today.
So to make it clear, if you think I’m being a dick, you’re probably wrong. Well, for those mental midgets whose beliefs are so utterly absurd and whose positions are completely emotional, and wrong, to boot, maybe I am, but those instances are few and far between. More likely, you’re so used to the kind of mental masturbation that “polite society” uses to avoid even the slightest chance of hurting anyone’s feelings and being treated like an emotional cripple that you can’t take straight, honest and unequivocal talk. I’m not going to bullshit you, I’m not going to play games with you and, believe it or not, I listen to what people say and if they have a good idea, if they can demonstrate their beliefs are factually true, I can even change my mind. Imagine that!
I find it bizarre that there are people out there who hold beliefs for which they have never thought of the rational justifications for. They have faith in things that they plainly don’t understand. They believe things and have never bothered to ask themselves why they believe them, or if they should believe them at all. That’s not the case with me. Pretty much everything I let into my head, I can justify with evidence or well-reasoned logic. I don’t “feel” my way through life, I “think”.
But please, don’t get me wrong, emotions do have a place in a rational mind but I think it’s usually in a secondary role. It’s great to love someone but you shouldn’t make life-altering decisions based solely on an emotion. I don’t care how much in love you are with your significant other, making a commitment to them should be based on a lot of rational criteria that needs to be evaluated critically. Is this relationship going to work out in the long-term? Is this someone that you can actually live with for the rest of your life? The overwhelming majority of relationships I have seen that have fallen apart catastrophically have been because they were too busy smelling the flowers to stop and tick off the boxes and make intellectual decisions.
So now you have a little better insight into my thought process and understand that it’s probably not personal, but that I have high expectations of myself and, like it or not, I’m going to have high expectations of you. If you’re not willing or able to rise to the challenge, expect me to call you on it. That’s life. Don’t have a cow. Just push yourself to be a better, more rational, more intellectual individual. It can only make you stronger and so long as it doesn’t kill you… you know the drill.
I ran into this over on a debate forum and thought it was extremely well written so… I stole it. Actually, I want to make sure people see it and I wanted to respond to some of the points, therefore I’m going to cut and paste some portions here. Please, make sure you go read the original, there’s more there that really deserves to be seen.
As atheists, we run into so many really awful arguments made by theists, so many ridiculous claims that demonstrate just how little understanding theists have, not only of their own religious beliefs, but of the world around them. No matter how many times we destroy these claims, the one thing we can be sure of is that some other clueless ninny is going to pick up the identical claim and come at us, as though jousting with the atheist windmill will somehow make these ideas worthwhile.
It just won’t because these ideas are flawed from the get-go. And so, I present, the Ten Bad Commandments and why only an idiot, an ignorant, irrational, illogical idiot, would ever try to use these against atheists.
One: “You have faith in no God”
Fallacy: Tu Quoque (you too!)
Very well. Let us assume, for a moment, that this is the case. How does this dismantle the argument the atheist is presenting?
Is having faith good or bad? If having faith is a good thing, one would think this is a compliment to the atheist. “Why thank you, I *do* have faith in no God, and you have faith in God… isn’t it nice to have faith in things?” This gets us nowhere. So where is the argument? There is none.
How many times have we seen that? It seems that many theists are simply incapable of understanding the difference between not believing in a god and believing no god exists, yet it is a very basic and fundamental difference. Now I don’t think that all theists who use this argument are so stupid that they don’t understand the flaw, in fact, I think there are many who recognize the flaw, yet use it anyhow in hopes of sneaking it past atheists who aren’t paying close attention.
Two: “You hate God”
Fallacy: Logical incoherency, Ad hominem.
This is logically incoherent because hating something requires that you believe in it. The atheist is saying they do not; thus, they cannot hate God.
Even if we assumed that they secretly believed in God and secretly hated God – how does this emotion affect their arguments? It does not. Therefore, this objection too is invalid.
Honestly, do Christians hate Krishna? Do Muslims hate Enki? Do they think Buddhists hate God? Or Allah? The idea that you can hate something that you don’t even think exists is absurd. I don’t hate God anymore than I hate unicorns or leprechauns. I think there are a lot of theists out there who just can’t wrap their tiny little minds around the fact that people can entirely reject the existence of their deity. They just can’t understand that so they desperately try to force atheists into a mold of their own invention, that atheists really believe in God, they just can’t stand the guy. While I will agree that the mythical God has a lot of reasons for hatred, like Lord Voldemort, I don’t hate him because I have no reason to think he’s real.
Three: “You can’t prove God does not exist”
Fallacy: Shifting the burden of proof.
The burden is on whoever makes a positive statement, such as “There is a rock in my hand.” This is a statement that requires some level of proof to show it is the case. The more extraordinary the claim, the more proof we should require of it. Uttering to someone, “You can’t prove there isn’t a rock in my hand” and not allowing them to look at what you are holding – if indeed you are holding anything at all – shifts the burden to them; they cannot disprove it, and it is you who should prove it.
Other “you can’t prove” statements could fill libraries with things we cannot prove do not exist: goblins, orcs, dragons, etc., but the burden is clearly on the one who makes the claim that (X) does in fact exist. Typically, this statement is made because the person additionally assumes that atheists are claiming either as a single person or as a whole that “there is no God,” when this is not the thing they as a whole are claiming – they as a whole are claiming, “we lack belief in a God.” Although there might be a singular person who says, “there is no God,” this is not the point – for that person, whoever it is, has the burden to show reasons why we should think they are correct.
But if one still wishes to press forward this statement, what does it matter if the answer is “you are correct; I cannot prove there is not a God…”? This does not mean there is a God.
Luckily, I don’t have to prove that God doesn’t exist for the same reason that argument #1 fails. I don’t have faith that there is no God, I simply have not seen sufficient evidence to suggest God is real, hence I reject claims that he is until better evidence becomes available. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone because I have made no claims that need supporting, unlike theists.
Four: “Atheism is a religion”
Fallacy: Tu Quoque.
This is again not an argument at all. Even if atheism was a religion (and it is not), how does this dismantle the arguments being made? If there is only “one true religion,” as some say, and atheism is a religion, who’s to say that it is not, in fact, the one true one? However, this is not an argument, and thus should not be utilized, as it is nothing more than a “you too!” statement and not an argument at all.
Atheism is not a religion because it does not fit the criteria of being a religion, this is a simple case of definition. If you expand the definition, as some theists do, to the point where atheism can be considered a religion, then virtually anything and everything must be considered a religion. Political parties are a religion. Food preferences are a religion. It gets absurd and thus, we cannot consider atheism as a religion because it just doesn’t qualify.
Five: “You have an agenda to deconvert!”
Fallacy: Ad hominem.
This is attack to the person, rather than to the argument, because even if true – say the person does in fact have an agenda to deconvert people – so what? If those of faith have the right to convert (or try to convert) people, then those of non-faith have the right to deconvert (or try to deconvert) people as well. Even if true, it does not dismantle whatever arguments the person has.
See, I’m actually fine with this, I have no problem thinking that I have an agenda to deconvert, or at the very least, an agenda to encourage rational, intelligent and critical thinking about all things. I freely admit that I do. So what’s the problem? The fact is, we only really have one solid set of tools that demonstrably work when looking at the real world around us. A theist who disagrees simply has to produce another method that is testable under rigorous conditions and can produce the same demonstrable results that science and the scientific method can. How long do we have to wait until someone formulates an equivalent methodology for prayer? A long time, I’ll wager.
Six: “Atheists have no morals”
Fallacy: Poisoning the well/Strawman/Ad hominem.
Three fallacies at once! Seriously, this is nothing more than an attempt to poison the well – to say this is akin to saying that Muslims are terrorists or that Catholics are pedophiles or that Christians think slavery is all right. There might be some who are, but to say all are is poisoning the well. It is a strawman because you do not know it to be true, and finally it is an attack to the person, rather than the argument. Again, perhaps they have no morals, but this does not dismantle the arguments they have at all.
Further, this is used by theists who want to redefine “morals” as only those things handed down by a magical, universal, imaginary man in the sky. You’re right, if that’s the only definition of “morals” that you’ll accept, I have no morals. Nor do I want any. I’d much rather be able to think about the consequences of my potential actions and their impact on others and decide, based on evidence, what I should and should not do. That’s really what’s moral, not blindly following a primitive book of mythology. And let’s be honest, Christians, according to their own book, aren’t moral either because none of them follow all of the moral precepts that their book demands. Stoned any unruly children lately? I thought not.
Seven: “You believe that nothing started the universe”
There is no held statement of any kind of atheism in regards to what, if anything did start the universe, or if “start” is even the correct word. Here, atheists typically turn to whatever science is saying for answers. If science does not yet know, then the atheist typically does not know. There is at least one scientist who is promoting the idea of the universe starting from nothing, but when he says nothing he does not mean the philosopher’s nothing, and honestly I really would prefer if he came up with a new word for it, but it might be the case that nothing came “before” the universe if there is no “before” or it might be the case that nothing did cause the universe, and now that we have a universe there is no more “nothing” so we can’t have a new universe made.
We simply do not know, but we cannot just place aside the possibility – even if it goes against what our brains think of things and how we think things should work. If the theist really wants the atheist to allow for God as a possibility, they should be equally fair (intellectually speaking) to allow for nothing to be a possibility as well.
Still, this is nothing more than a strawman, although it could be the case that there is an atheist that thinks nothing made the universe, again such a person has the burden, and the scientist who thinks this is producing peer-reviewed papers to forward his arguments. To restate saying “you believe (X)” is a strawman – let the person tell you what they believe first, and then argue against THAT.
Now this is something I’ve handled several times recently and it’s still absurd, but the author brings up a very good point that I’ve missed in the past. This has nothing whatsoever to do with atheism. So what? Atheism is, by definition, a lack of belief in god(s). Period. That’s it. It requires no other beliefs. Theists like to claim that being an atheist requires that you believe in evolution, that you believe in this or that and it’s just not true. You don’t have to have any of those beliefs to be an atheist, all you have to do is not believe in god(s).
Eight: “You can’t explain how life began…” (or) “You can’t explain the universe” (and other you can’t explain statements).
Fallacy: Appeal to ignorance.
It matters not if we cannot explain anything at all. This does nothing to make your stance any better. It appeals to ignorance- “I can’t explain it, so it must be (X)” where (X) is the made up idea that you think is the explanation. Now, you might object and say, “But God is not made up!” You are free to believe that is the case, and you might be right for all I know, but you have still made a logical fallacy by placing God where it might not belong. If I cannot explain my computer, I would not say it is here because of God – it could be, but it might not be. I cannot fill the void of knowledge that I have with an explanation – and this is what these sorts of statements try to do.
Similar to #7, atheists don’t have to have an explanation for the beginning of life or the beginning of the universe, it is entirely irrelevant to atheism. That said though, theists don’t have any inherently better explanation for any of these things, they simply have bald assertions. They cannot demonstrate that any of those assertions are factually true. Science, however, has it’s own evidentially-supported ideas on these things, science does know how those things came about, at least in the broad strokes and we’re gaining more information and a better understanding every day. Religion, though, isn’t learning anything, it isn’t about learning, it isn’t about improving, it’s about making bald-faced assertions and clinging to them, even after they’ve been demonstrated to be laughably false.
Nine: “If there is no God, then I’d do all sorts of bad things!”
Fallacy: Appeal to emotion.
I question the morals and ethics of the person who would do bad things the moment they stopped believing in God. I think this is a harmful idea for people deconverting – and if you’ve managed to convince someone that if there is no God then you (or anyone) can do anything, then you’ve potentially made it so someone who deconverts can do anything – and that’s no good for anyone. Still, this is nothing more than an appeal to emotion, a strange blackmail that seeks to stop the arguments of the opponent in their tracks. “I’ll kill myself if there is no God” is similar in nature to this. I cannot control what you choose to do or not to do if you decide that you do not believe in God, but stating this forwards no positive argument for your side.
I actually just had this discussion with a theist in the last couple of days, where the theist stated that without belief in God, he’d have no control over himself and would go on a rampage. I responded that he doesn’t need God, he needs a therapist. People who honestly hold beliefs like this need professional help, they are borderline sociopaths whose brain chemistry is on the fritz. Normal people are able to control their actions without having to believe in imaginary friends. Normal people can control their impulses without thinking God will fry them in a fiery skillet for all of eternity if they don’t. Anyone who cannot keep their actions under control lacks sanity, not religion.
Ten: “The Bible says…”
Fallacy: Circular logic.
The Chronicles of Narnia say that Lucy found Narnia in the wardrobe, and Lucy was known to not lie, therefore Narnia exists.
This is so similar to everyone who quotes scriptures at people as if that, by itself, is enough. It is not. It assumes said scriptures are true in order to assume the rest is true. This is the core of circular logic and really should stop.
If all you have is some verse quote, then you do not yet have any argument. The only place where verses matter is when you are debating your Bible. Also, do note that Bible might be any “Holy” writings or sacred documents of anyone; the Christians do not have the only written account of their idea of God. Other religions do as well.
So no. This will not work, it cannot work. It’s circular. Cut it out already. Prove your writings are true first, and then you are free to use them as reference.
Sometimes I honestly don’t know if theists are just ignorant, not knowing that the Bible isn’t absolutely proven as fact, or if they just don’t care. So far as most of them are concerned, it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and nothing anyone says will ever change their mind. Well, at least until they find a part they don’t agree with, then they’ll work their way around it and pretend the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says. However, Christians need to stop and think when using the Bible this way. I know logic is hard, but please try. They wouldn’t pay any attention if a Muslim claimed the Qu’ran was perfect in every way, they wouldn’t believe it if a Hindu played the “The Vedas say…” game, so why do they think that quoting the Bible is going to mean a damn thing to atheists? Of course, this requires logic and… you know…
So there you go, what do you think? Does anyone have any more to add? Inquiring minds want to know!
On Thanksgiving, I had the annual displeasure of having to hang around with a “family friend” who has come to attend family functions with her obnoxious hyperactive kid. She’s one of those annoying extremely permissive parents who lets their kid get away with murder and wouldn’t know how to discipline if her life depended on it. As such, her daughter is an obnoxious brat with serious entitlement issues. She thinks she’s the center of attention for anyone and everyone and has no problem butting into conversations, taking things from others without asking, etc. She’s just asking to get smacked and her mother is too.
However, that’s not the point of the story. During the evening, she was wandering around the house with an iPad trying to show people YouTube videos of “monsters” like Chupacabra and the like. Her mother says she thinks they’re all real. It was annoying and my kids were trying to be nice and not tell her that she was a fucking idiot, which, of course, she is. My kids aren’t that much older than the little spoiled shit-stain, but they’ve never been into that.
I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when my wife and kids were watching one of those “Alien Conspiracy” shows on TV. You know something? They were laughing at it! My oldest daughter sits there pointing out everything they do that is irrational and illogical, detailing the holes big enough to fly an alien mothership through. They know how to think critically and they apply that knowledge. The conspiracy-theorist minion hasn’t a clue and neither does her mother. They come off as people who believe anything they are told without a moment’s thought, incapable of rational evaluation and seemingly uninterested.
It makes me even prouder of my kids who, not only know how to think, they apply that ability to every day life on their own, without being told they ought to. Healthy skepticism is a way of life for them. They actually care if what they believe is factually true and they have the basic tools, and are developing more all the time, for making the determination if something is worth believing or not.
So while they’re excellent students who everyone raves about, the other little shit is going to be subjecting the planet to a lifetime of entitlement-whining and utter stupidity because hey, thinking is for other people.