“Look at the good we’ve done” is as bad an argument as “Other people are also wrong”.

I’ve seen several arguments in debates recently where the reasoning of the apologist debater could be paraphrased as, “Others are also wrong”.

To illustrate, here are a couple of examples:

  1. (The one I wrote about recently.) Islamic apologists responding to the criticism of their religion’s oppression of women, who point out that other religions also oppress women.
  2. Religious apologists who respond to people criticizing the inhumane religious slaughter of animals (halaal or kosher) and say that others are also inhumane in their treatment of animals.

Is it not obvious that just because other people are also wrong does not mean that you are right? Two wrongs don’t make a right… This is a tactic used by children when adults point out they’ve done something naughty, and I shouldn’t need to explain that it is a bad argument.

In the case of animal abuse, there’s probably a good argument to be made that at least in the first world (and the developed parts of countries like South Africa where I live and we can afford to make this choice), those of us who are privileged enough to be able to do so should ethically stop eating meat. Nowadays, many of us can get by without eating meat. We are evolutionary omnivores, but just like we can use our intelligence and rise above the evolutionary trait to believe in bullshit (AKA religion and other faith-based beliefs), we too can rise above an eating pattern that is no longer necessary. (I eat meat, by the way. But I do believe the time has come when it might be a good idea to make this change. Not me though, because I like the taste of meat. Yes, I’m a terrible person, sorry. But the point that this argument can be made stands.) So yes, eating meat is probably wrong, and while we can’t get everybody to stop, surely at the very least we can stop the barbaric and ritualistic killing that’s inhumane and based on superstitious nonsense?

Recently I saw a similar argument, just as faulty as the “others are also wrong” garbage, and it goes like this: “Look at the good we’ve done”. This meme featuring a quote by Stephen Fry sums it up perfectly:


Again, this should be obvious. Just because an institution of person/people that’s done wrong has also done some good, does not make the wrong not wrong. It’s still wrong. (There may be degrees of wrong, but something you did wrong doesn’t go away if you do something good. Again, this is reminiscent of the reasoning of small children and shouldn’t even need to be written.) The Catholic church is a fine example… While it brings comfort to many, the systematic covering up of child abuse, and lately the all too often blaming of the victims for their abuse, is wrong. And let’s be fair – the church has collected wealth for generations, more so than it has ever given to people in need. The sainthood of someone like Mother Theresa, who left sick people to die without medical attention while taking millions for the church, is sickening. The false comfort people receive does nothing for the harm that has been done. That church has overall done more harm than good.

I was loath to tag this post with “critical thinking”, because for me it paints a disturbing picture where most people on this planet are dismal at thinking critically. Then again, if 70% of people are religious (and I don’t recall where I heard that statistic), then it is not unreasonable to conclude that most people don’t think critically at all. Heck, maybe none of us are good at this? But we can at least try, and a good way to start is to throw out any belief you have which is based on faith rather than evidence. The fact that I have frequently seen adults make such childish arguments as those mentioned here, and not once have I read or heard anyone point out how childish those arguments are, is something I find upsetting.


About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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One Response to “Look at the good we’ve done” is as bad an argument as “Other people are also wrong”.

  1. Gerhard Lemmer says:

    I agree with most of your post[^footnote 1], but I think it contains one serious flaw, exposed by the following questions: What exactly do you believe in? That you believe in nothing? How is that rational?

    Let’s use the religious, historical and generally accepted philosophic (according to Prof. John Lennox and my own great grandfather, Prof H.G. Stoker) definitions of “faith” and “believe”, namely your fundamental assumptions upon which you base the interpretations of your observations (without which even specialized machine intelligence is theoretically impossible, by the way, let alone general human intelligence). The notion of “faith” as something religious people have despite evidence to the contrary is a different concept and the correct word for it is “superstition”, not “faith”.

    As the Bible states in Hebrews 11 (paraphrased in, um, common programming language): { assertTrue(“believing is seeing”); assertFalse(“seeing is believing”) }. To base beliefs on observation is impossible since faith is more fundamental than knowledge. That said, a rational person who finds his own observations contradicting his own beliefs, has a serious problem if he cannot generalize his belief system to one that is internally consistent, can explain his observations and has predictive power.

    [^footnote 1]: I’m even in the same boat of knowing I should stop eating meat but I’m not likely to make the change in the near future. That said, my motivation isn’t so much the slaughtering of the animals, as it seems yours is. The idea I get is that humans are generally less cruel to animals than nature and furthermore a too fast and drastic loss of the income from slaughtering animals will likely result in huge and unpredictable shifts in the ecosystem which may ironically increase the rate at which humanity is currently driving the ecosystem (including ourselves) to extinction. I wouldn’t take the chance.


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