What if you’re wrong? (Your claim that I should worship your god.)

I’ve been participating in online debates with theists for a couple of years now, and have written about it many times here. I thought it might be useful to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, in terms of their arguments.

All the theists I have debated with online can be classified as belonging to one of three broad groups:

  1. The asserters. These are the proselytizers. Whether they preach, threaten us with hellfire or quote from their religious texts, all they really do is make assertions. Hence I call them asserters.
  2. The science deniers. These are the ones who present no argument whatsoever for their belief and often don’t even give a clue as to what it might be. Instead they deny something else, usually abiogenesis via a straw man argument of evolution, and assume that by doing so, their preferred belief is the only alternative.
  3. The religious apologists. These are the only ones who do present an argument, generally one of the well known apologetics arguments, often learned from a religious organisation or website and presented by a person who has no idea of the well known counterarguments, and is often incapable of understanding them anyway, because when confronted with the problems in their argument, they either switch to another one, move the goalposts, or ignore the counterarguments and become an asserter.

You can probably see where I’m going with this… Most of these so-called debaters cannot debate at all. Most of them do not even understand that by engaging in discourse with atheists, they are implicitly making a claim, that a god exists, and that the burden of proof requires them to supply evidence to support their claim. But let’s examine the three groups anyway…

The asserters

While there is indeed no known correlation between intelligence and religious belief, one has only to log in to a debate or discussion group once to make the observation that people who post nothing but assertions are not too bright, to put it mildly.

Here are a couple of examples from today:

assertion

And:

assertion1

The first is a typical assertion that Jesus is coming and that we should repent or face eternity in Hell. This is the kind of thing I heard in stories read to me in Sunday School when I was seven years old, and didn’t find terribly convincing at the time, yet these adults write it as if it is the most convincing argument ever! (Baffling, isn’t it?)

It’s just an assertion, one that is meaningless to anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, an eternal soul, or Hell. It also doesn’t consider that there are other religions, and people who believe just as sincerely in them, or that somebody who doesn’t believe in any religion isn’t going to find this assertion convincing. Why should I believe this and not an assertion that Allah is the only god? Why should I believe any assertion for that matter, when asserting is only making a claim? I can also make assertions. For example: There is a boogeyman under my son’s bed. I have never seen him, because when I look, he moves somewhere else. But I know he’s there.

The second is an example of a false dilemma. The asserter believes that anybody who doesn’t worship Jesus must be a worshipper of Satan, because they cannot conceive of anything other than those two options. Of course one can explain to the person what is wrong with their logic. I have done so many times. In every case, they either ignore my response or assert that I am wrong.

Other posts that I refer to as assertions are ones that simply quote scripture, because scripture is the source of the claim that a god exists. To quote scripture is to repeat the claim. The content that’s quoted as well as any meaning imposed on that content is irrelevant because such meaning can only be inferred if one accepts that the claim is true. The claim is not evidence of itself, and posting quotes of scripture to atheists is almost as annoying as it is useless. Again, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve explained why quoting scripture is useless. Such explanations are always ignored.

Maybe “not too bright” is too much of an understatement? The asserters are idiots. There isn’t even any room to debate with them. “I’m right and you’re wrong” is not a debate. It is pointless even engaging with these people, except to point out to them that they are making assertions, and asking for evidence. But getting roped into a series of contradictory statements is a waste of time.

The Science Deniers

I’ve written about this recently, in great detail. I won’t go into detail again here because you can read that recent post for my comprehensive counterarguments against them. But note that they don’t actually make an argument for any god. They simply assume that refuting something else leaves only their specific god as an alternative. Thus they not only implicitly assume creation (which implies a creator) but assume a specific creator, and that by refuting something else, this creator, this alternative hypothesis, must be accepted at face value and should be exempt from criticism. What makes this “logic” especially bad is that people who make such an argument are oblivious to the assumptions they make, and ignore anyone who points this out.

Their arguments against science can be simplistic or elaborate, but they are always irrelevant to a debate with atheists as they do not present anything, any reason to consider theism.

Their “reasoning” only makes sense to those who already assume that their conclusions are true. Thus such arguments are useful only to those who narrow-mindedly seek rationalizations to confirm what they think they know.

The Religious Apologists

The apologists, who turn out to be a tiny minority of the theists who debate with atheists, are the only ones who actually present arguments. I include in this group those who make other generic arguments, besides known apologetics, for a creator or intelligent designer.

There are a number of arguments they use. Two of the most common apologetics arguments are Pascal’s Wager and the argument from morality.

The argument from morality is slightly different to the others in that it assumes the god of the apologist is the source of an objective morality. Yet morality is subjective – one has only to look at different variations of the same religions in different locations to confirm this. Furthermore, it is clear that moral values have changed historically. For example, Christian morals in the Middle Ages were quite different to modern morals. And morals predated the religions of those making such assumptions, so this argument simply credits gods as the source of morality, which requires the assumptions that those gods existed before their claims (the religious texts) were written. In other words, to credit your god for being the source of morality, you must assume your god exists, and did exist before anybody knew of that god (even though an atheist such as myself will tell you that the writing of the religious text in fact represents the creation of that god). In other words, the premise of this argument requires assuming the conclusion to be true. It’s just another example of begging the question.

Another popular argument is the argument from complexity or personal incredulity. (I don’t understand; therefore god.) I have dealt with it many times and it is nothing more than an elaborate argument from ignorance.

In fact, all such arguments are riddled with logical fallacies. They have to be. They are nothing more than rhetoric to justify faith – the belief despite zero evidence – so they must find ways to rationalize and qualify belief without presenting evidence to support it, because there isn’t any.

I started writing this post with the intention of making a single point, and have taken far longer than intended simply to establish the context. Hopefully I haven’t lost everybody’s interest along the way! Anyway, here goes, finally: What all those arguments have in common, and I mean besides the fact that they are riddled with logical fallacies, is that they are arguments for a generic creator or designer. They are all generic arguments.

Without exception, it does not logically follow to conclude that a specific god exists after making a generic argument. One can only do so if one already assumes one’s conclusion at the beginning. Thus the detail that I snuck into parenthesis in this post’s title cannot be answered by any such argument. Even if you could present a convincing argument (and you can’t because there isn’t one), why would you believe that this generic creator demands to be worshipped? To do so means assuming your indoctrination is correct, and there is nothing to indicate that any religion currently practiced is any different to what’s referred to as mythology. That is, to insist that your god is real and demands worship, you have to switch to asserting it. And if you’re an asserter, I must call you an idiot.

Reification – a fallacy I hadn’t seen before

It’s always great to learn something new, and this one is new to me…

When debating in one of those groups I’m in, someone presented a post where they asked atheists to show them where the physical ego or super-ego is. He also stated that he would ignore impolite answers or deflection, and ended off with a smug, “Good luck”.

Here, I found it:

Reification

As so often happens in these debates, he did not state what his actual argument was. They often either do that or imply but don’t state their premise. But today, I learned something while debating the idiot, and that makes me happy.

It’s easy to deconstruct his thinking (or lack of thinking, to be more precise):

  1. He assumes the existence of a spirit or soul.
  2. He assumes an afterlife. (Related to the first assumption. How much of religious belief is grounded in the fear of death, and thus the denial of our own mortality?)
  3. He assumes creation.
  4. He assumes we and the entire universe was created by this creator, the one of his religious indoctrination of course.
  5. He assumes that this creator expects us to worship it. (Why? Surely there is no reason for this other than blind acceptance of what you were taught. Even if there was a creator, there would be no reason for it to demand worship.)
  6. He assumes that after we die, we go to the variation of paradise claimed to exist by his particular religion, unless we disbelieve in or fail to worship the alleged creator, in which case we go to this particular religion’s variation of hell.
  7. He assumes that the brain is not the source of our thoughts, ego, and so on… that the identity, the consciousness, exists outside of the brain, and that the brain is simply something that receives signals from the controlling soul or spirit. (This is a testable claim of course, and has never been proven to be true.)
  8. He assumes then that the identity, the ego, and so on, are concrete, physical things, not abstract things. He attempts to phrase his argument such that we are not “allowed” to mention the brain, thus excluding the correct answer because he doesn’t believe it and doesn’t want to read any pesky facts.
  9. Lastly, he assumes that because atheists cannot point out those abstract things in the physical world, it makes all the other assumptions true. (This can also be phrased as, “You can’t prove my god doesn’t exist; therefore it does” to make the argument from ignorance more obvious.)

Obviously the last assumption is just an argument from ignorance, and there’s also a false dilemma in there somewhere when he assumes that disproving something else would make his god the only alternative, but I’m not interested in pointing out all the fallacies today. What I had never seen before was the treatment of abstractions as concrete objects (point 8 above). And that’s the reification fallacy.

As a programmer, I work with abstractions all the time. It’s a huge part of what I do. In fact, I consider myself lucky in that my greatest asset, in my opinion, is that I learn new abstract concepts easily. While I struggle to learn something that requires learning a lot of data, I grasp anything that’s abstract really quickly. I’m not boasting – it’s just something I learned about myself years ago, and I think it’s what makes me good at what I do.

How anyone can assume that abstractions exist as concrete objects is beyond me. Of course such a person can’t be shown reason in a debate – such people ignore everything that contradict their preconceptions. But it seems like a bizarre logical error to make. Interesting though…

What’s also highly amusing is that people like the one who posted that question (of which he was certain he knew the answer), can be so smug in their ignorance. It’s bad enough when someone is condescending towards people, but to be condescending from a perceived position of superiority, when you are actually the one who is ignorant and most likely less intelligent than those to whom you condescend… Well, that’s just fucking sad. Yet another fine example of Dunning-Kruger.

Plus of course, he asked for no deflection… That’s pretty funny too when the real subject of the debate should be your claim that a god exists, and your entire argument avoids the issue.


I wonder if the theists who partake in these debates are not the ones who can ever really be ambassadors of their religion? They don’t even understand it. They don’t understand what faith is. They don’t get that faith by definition is belief despite a lack of evidence, and that an inherently unfalsifiable position cannot be defended by logic. They then try to use logic, and cannot succeed but produce fallacy-ridden nonsense like the arguments I’ve been reading. Thus the clever theists never debate. Only the idiots do. In fact, the more elaborately phrased arguments are always the same arguments used by people like the one in my example today, where language, rhetoric and syntactic complexity become a smokescreen to hide the dubious logic.

Rest assured, if you’re a theist and you debate atheists, you’re probably an idiot. And I say that with all due respect.

“Every creation has a creator; therefore God exists.” Way to beg the question, dude!

I really ought to stop debating these people. The other day I mentioned the one person in particular who posts nothing but memes that “debunk” evolution, or at least a straw man thereof. Even though I explained the issues with this argument multiple times, and posted my counterargument, this person continues posting the same thing, phrased differently, over and over. Debating isn’t only about putting forward your argument. It’s also about considering the opposing argument, something that person is unable to do.

Then I saw a comment presenting someone else’s argument, which started like this:

Every creation has a creator.

It then went on, via a lengthy and convoluted argument which I didn’t read, to conclude that god exists. I have also pointed out the problem with circular reasoning and begging the question to these people multiple times, but they just don’t get it…

Yes, it is true to say that every creation has a creator, because that’s what a creation is. However, that’s just a rearrangement of what is being claimed. By assuming creation to be true, you also assume a creator. One does not start an argument with the assumption that one’s conclusion is correct.

Consider this statement:

I am always right. I know this to be true because it was stated by me. I thus conclude that I am never wrong.

That’s exactly the same kind of logic. You can see it’s clearly wrong. My premise was that I am always right. My conclusion was that I am never wrong. But always right means never wrong. Likewise a creation has a creator, so assuming the universe is a creation is the same as assuming it has a creator.

In case anyone fond of Tu Quoque claims that as an atheist, I am also making an assumption (of no creation?) let me make this clear: I make no claim. A theist professes belief in god, and a religious apologist argues that the claim is true. That is, the belief that god exists, and that the universe is a creation of god, is the claim. If you assume creation, you assume the claim to be true. Proving that the universe is a creation is part of the problem that needs proving. The other part is to prove the existence of the creator. The source of the claim is usually some religious text, such as the Bible. As the source of the claim, that can’t be used as the proof either. It would also be circular reasoning to claim that you know the Bible is true because the Bible says so.


Aside: There’s more to the claim that I’ve omitted because it isn’t relevant to pointing out the begging the question fallacy. But to be clear, there is more to the claim. Most religions (and I use Christianity as the example because I was brought up as such and it is the only religion I know well) claim that after we die, we live on in some other form. So they claim that we have a soul or spirit. That’s a testable claim, but nobody has ever been able to prove it. They then insist that if we don’t follow Christ, we will burn in Hell, as opposed to living eternally in Heaven. So often, people simply post memes saying that we will go to Hell, without understanding just how many claims they make in the process, claims that have no evidence.

So instead of this nonsense of begging the question and disproving science, if you want to debate atheists, here is what is expected (at least from me):

  1. Prove that the universe is a creation, not by referring to anything in in that you assume your god created, but by proving the existence of your god.
  2. Prove that a soul exists, by proving that the brain is not the source of our consciousness.
  3. Prove that life continues after physical death.
  4. Prove that Heaven and Hell are real places rather than mythological ones.
  5. Lastly, prove that every other claim (of god) is false, and that your specific one is true. Any theist who knows only about their own religion (because they have accepted their indoctrination) but doesn’t know any others, can be assumed to be brainwashed and unable to proceed with debate, right off the bat.

If all those things can be proved without making any assumptions and without using bad arguments that are riddled with logical fallacies, I will gladly accept your religion.

Note that as an atheist, I don’t have to define what proof of your god is. I make no claim… all I’m doing in effect is saying that your claim is untrue. You claim that a god exists, and thus you must provide the evidence. If god truly is the creator of the universe, this proof must surely exist.

As an atheist, I also don’t have to provide some other explanation for the origin of the universe. Again, I don’t make a claim. I simply reject your magical one.

No true addict and another example of the No True Scotsman logical fallacy

Recently someone who knows nothing about me has again insisted that I am not a true addict. This is insulting and I’ll explain why by giving a couple of examples of their fallacy.

Firstly, what is the No True Scotsman fallacy? In a nutshell, it is when you are confronted by facts that contradict a firmly held generalized belief… and rather than change your belief, you redefine the conditions around the generalized belief in order to exclude the facts that contradict it.

A simple example that illustrates this fallacy is the following: You assume that all Scotsmen wear kilts. Then you meet Angus, who doesn’t wear one. Rather than change your belief, you then claim that Angus isn’t a true Scotsman. Obviously he is, and your logic is clearly faulty, but other examples may be more subtle.

No true addict, or not truly in recovery

In this fallacy, someone who follows a 12 step program assumes that all recovering addicts follow a 12 step program. Therefore any recovering addict who doesn’t follow such a program is assumed either not to be a true addict, or is an addict who isn’t truly in recovery. That way, they don’t have to question their belief.

While such programs might work for some, it is dangerous to assume that they work for everybody, especially when the statistics show that such programs are no better than doing nothing at all. Despite this, people who have an emotional investment in their belief in such programs have some terribly fallacious logic going on. For example, every time somebody who followed the program relapses, it is assumed they weren’t working it “properly” – just another example of the same fallacy. That way, they can deny any evidence that contradicts the success of such programs while only paying attention to those who appear to confirm their belief.

But in reality, if such programs are no better than doing nothing, there will be many people who succeed in the program, but who would have succeeded anyway. Likewise there will be many people who successfully stop using drugs without following any such program. But disturbingly, there will also be many people who fail to stop using drugs because they are told that such programs are the only way to clean up, and like me they realize that the programs are not based on evidence, so these programs can do real harm.

It is fair to say that someone like myself never did work those steps. What isn’t fair is to assume that not working those steps means I’m not in recovery. The fact is, every critically thinking person will reject those steps out of hand. The very first step requires admitting that you were powerless over your addiction and that your life had become unmanageable. But I wasn’t powerless. That’s a cop-out. Instead, I admit to being responsible for every bad choice I made, as well as personally accountable for the consequences. Likewise I am personally accountable for the consequences of my choice to stop using drugs. No higher power, no gods were involved.

I recognize no higher power, no meaning, no purpose inherent in life. I make my own.

No True Christian, No True Muslim

As someone who partakes in online debates, I am sick and tired of the arguments stating that Adolf Hitler was either an atheist or not a true Christian because of the things he did.

Not only was he a devout Roman Catholic, but also the church commemorated his birthday right until the end of World War II. Assuming that he wasn’t a true Christian is just another example of the same fallacy. Assuming that he was an atheist is just an example of projecting your idea of what an atheist is on him, despite the evidence to the contrary.

There may be another fallacy that underlies this one: The fallacy of composition. In this fallacy, what is true for one part of a group is assumed to be true for the whole group. So the thinking goes:

  • Hitler was evil and he was a Christian, and from that I must assume that all Christians are evil. (Fallacy of composition.)
  • But I can’t accept that, for example, because I’m also Christian. Therefore he wasn’t a true Christian. (No True Scotsman.)

Two wrongs don’t make a right. The premises of such thinking is already wrong because it’s a fallacy of composition, and based on this, to deny the generalization, a No True Scotsman fallacy is then used to assume that he wasn’t really a “proper” Christian. A critical thinker would realize that the assumption that all Christians are evil, because one of them was was, does not make sense. One evil person who happened to be Christian doesn’t mean that all other Christians are evil, or that his actions represented actions of a “Christian movement”, so it is unnecessary to then claim that he wasn’t a “true” Christian.

It’s the same for Christians (and some atheists too) who assume that all Muslims are terrorists – their fallacy is the fallacy of composition. So ISIS is bad, we can all agree on that. And they claim to represent Islam – true also. But they also happen to live in a part of the world where there is no clear separation between religion and politics. To assume that they represent all Muslims is clearly illogical. Yet some Muslims seem to have the same mistaken impression, and they then claim that those Muslims who are terrorists are not true Muslims… Just another example of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Likewise, there are Christians, whose strain of the religion was only invented nearly 2000 years after the life of their alleged saviour, who presume that all other Christians are not true Christians. This is a result of their indoctrination into their particular version of the religion, which then requires believing that other Christians, even if their version originated closer to the start of the religious movement, are not true Christians because they don’t believe in the version of the person’s brainwashing.

Conclusion

The No True Scotsman fallacy is widespread. But it is highly insulting to me when someone tells me that I’m not a true addict, or that I never really was an addict, or am not truly in recovery, just because I don’t believe the same things they do. It’s also extremely arrogant to impose your narrow-minded assumptions on everybody else, and it is irresponsible to tell any addicts who are still in active addiction that the only way to be clean is to follow a 12 step program, as you may very well do them harm. By all means, encourage people to get help and go to rehab, but to insist to an atheist or other critical thinker who is new to recovery, that 12 step programs are the only way, is a highly effective way of putting their recovery in jeopardy.

Even if you could disprove evolution, it would not prove that your god exists

One of the debate groups I belong to is being bombarded by a barrage of attacks from a veritable army of straw men, most of whom deny evolution. Hence I must write this so that I can link to it or copy and paste my counterargument in future.

I’m not a scientist, although I find science interesting. I reject the belief in all gods by logic alone, so it gets frustrating real soon when I enter into debates with science deniers who assume that if one denies science, god is the only alternative. Science and religion are two different things, and my rejection of your religions has nothing to do with science.

HumanEvolution

Image used without permission to improve browser preview. (Sorry!)

I don’t know how accurate the above depiction of human evolution is. It doesn’t matter, as all I wanted was an image that doesn’t give the incorrect impression that we evolved from apes – one that includes a common ancestor. So the above is obviously oversimplified but suits my purpose of demonstrating that evolution, as presented by theists in debates, is often a straw man argument.

Onto the argument…

Disproving evolution would not prove the existence of God

First off, atheism is not evolution, and there are plenty of religious people who believe in evolution. But to be honest, I don’t care if you accept evolution or not. The argument is fallacious on several levels.

In a nutshell, the argument is that evolution is not true, and therefore your god exists. And you argue this without knowing what evolution actually is, so you most likely deny some sort of straw man (a caricature) of evolution. But I don’t care. It doesn’t matter if evolution is true or not.

The foundation of the evolution-denier argument is an argument from incredulity, which is really a special case of an argument from ignorance, and boils down to this:

  1. Evolution is not true.
  2. Therefore a creator exists.
  3. Conclusion: This is proof of my god (whichever one it may be).

Let’s pretend that you have the first point. Let’s ignore all the evidence for evolution and pretend that it isn’t true. (Evolution is a scientific theory, and I don’t need science to refute theism. Logic is enough.)

How do you get to point two?

A lack of one explanation does not mean that you can concoct another, and have everybody accept yours. If you knew that evolution wasn’t true, the origin of humans and every other animal would become unknown. There is no logical connection between unknown and god. Just because something is not known doesn’t mean that an explanation can’t be found. It means that an explanation hasn’t been found yet. It doesn’t automatically make whatever you fabricate as an explanation true, or mean that whatever you speculate should be accepted at face value. Your claim that a god exists is not exempt from criticism just because you assume it to be true. Such a claim requires evidence to be accepted. God is simply a ready-made explanation. In this argument, god is indistinguishable from magic.

“I don’t know, therefore god.” is not an explanation. It is simply a magical made up answer. And how do you, with this generic argument, then get to your particular god? How do you get to point three?

The answer is simple… The entire argument avoids the issue that is actually the focus of debate. The claimant claims that a god exists, and instead of presenting evidence of the claim, denies something else, in this case evolution. Additionally, anyone who makes use of this argument starts with the assumption that god exists (so they use circular reasoning as well), but not just any god, the god that they already believe in. They deny evolution because they see it as the most popular explanation that contradicts belief in their god, then assume that if evolution isn’t true, their god must exist. That’s a false dilemma because evolution not being true does not mean your god exists, it just means that we don’t know our origin. You seek to disprove what contradicts your religion only to confirm what you already believe, despite there being no relation between the two explanations and those explanations being neither polar opposites nor mutually exclusive to one another.

Besides all the fallacies already mentioned, if you genuinely believe that evolution and religion are arguments of equal merit, even though evolution is a scientific theory and god is just a made up magical explanation for the unknown – a hypothesis made by ancient man and passed down, then you’re also committing a false equivalence fallacy. The scientific theory has evidence, whether you dispute it or not. The god hypothesis has dogma and no evidence whatsoever, but instead relies on indoctrination, the process of instilling belief in children before they are old enough to think critically, producing adults who are unaware that they are brainwashed and cannot evaluate their own beliefs critically.

Conclusion: The argument is an argument from incredulity, which is a type of argument from ignorance. It assumes a binary choice between evolution and belief in god, thus it includes an implicit false dilemma. It can be phrased to equate dogma, which has zero evidence, with a scientific theory that does have evidence, and thus treating them as arguments of equal merit is a false equivalence. Instead of providing evidence of the claim that a god exists, it avoids the issue by arguing against a scientific theory which is unrelated to the debate, often employing a straw man of evolution or abiogenesis to do so. Furthermore, the conclusion, that god exists, is assumed by the premises of the argument, so this is also an example of circular reasoning.

Did you count the fallacies? There are seven above, although to be fair the argument from incredulity and argument from ignorance are one and the same, so that leaves six. Six fallacies in one silly argument I’ve seen several times recently presented by several different people, and that’s why I needed to write this once rather than reply to every one of them. (Of course it’s unlikely that any of them will read this, or even understand it if they do.)


What gets to me is that the atheist debaters often get roped in to arguing about evolution in threads where this argument is made. In such cases, I commend the theists, who have successfully avoided the issue and suckered the atheists into arguing about something else, and by doing so, encouraging those theists to continue their absurd arguments that skirt the issue of the claim they make that their god exists.

No, the “works of god” are not proof of god.

Just a quick one today.

I saw this argument several times in the last few days, and I have also seen it many more times presented in debate groups by simple minded and ignorant believers over the last couple of years, so maybe it’s time to write about it? To be honest, this is the easiest “argument” to refute of them all.

When you say that you see the wondrous “works of god” all around you, and they surely prove “His existence”, what you are really proving is not what you think:

  1. You start with the (implicit) assumption that god, your particular religion’s god, created all things.
  2. You then take the things that you assume god created, and declare that they prove god created them.

I’m sorry, but if you can’t see the problem with this logic, you are a prize idiot.

This is simply an example of begging the question, a type of circular reasoning. The premises of your argument assumes the conclusion. In this case, by implicitly and indirectly (it’s often not stated) starting with the assumption that god created all things, and then holding up those things as proof of god, all that you actually prove is that you made the assumption.