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.

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No true atheist?

I just read this excellent article, which I suggest you read too.

The article states several points well, but what really struck me was when the author mentioned being accused of not truly being an atheist. I’ve been criticized with that too, and I’ve also seen that criticism used in more general terms by theists when debating atheists on Facebook atheist versus theist debating groups.

It seems to underpin a particularly strange belief, one perhaps best paraphrased with their own meme’s line “There are no atheists in foxholes”. A belief that is, of course, utterly mistaken. (A belief possibly rooted in psychological projection. A person who can not comprehend disbelief might think, deep down, that everybody else also believes. Hence there are no real atheists, just believers who believe the opposite of theists. So to such people, atheism is an ideology or a religion that represents the polar opposite of theism.)

Often the criticism comes from the point of view that my (or others) admission that we do not know (and can not know) that there is a creator, must mean that we are not truly atheists, but rather are agnostics. Often when debating in groups, those kind of comments are targeted at “science” in general terms, as if, since science can not explain how life originated, we should discard evolution and choose instead to believe in the nonsense made up by primitive people thousands of years ago. In reality, there is plenty that science doesn’t know, and that’s OK. There is plenty that I don’t know too, but it doesn’t mean that I should accept magic.

It comes down to an apparent misunderstanding of what atheism is. I am perfectly comfortable to say that I don’t know certain things, like where the universe came from and how life originated. I’m also perfectly comfortable to say that I am absolutely certain that every single god ever worshipped by man, was also created by man. So while I can’t deny that a theoretical god might exist, I can and do deny the existence of every god that every person has ever believed in. If that doesn’t make me an atheist, I do not know what it makes me. I certainly do not believe in any god or gods, and that makes me an atheist by definition… a label I am proud of.

So please do not redefine what you believe atheism to be when atheists don’t fit into your mould. Consider instead that your impression of atheism is wrong. I have spoken to enough other atheists by now to be quite confident that, even though I came to my views and beliefs (and lack thereof) completely alone, I am a fairly typical atheist. So don’t tell me I’m not just because you don’t understand. It’s annoying.