About the biases on both sides in debates between creationists and atheists

First, a little heads up to creationists who think they can convert atheists. These kinds of arguments don’t work…

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Having said that, there are a couple of points of interest here…

Creationists in general often share the same kinds of rhetoric when it comes to religious apologetics, but this is an interesting place where Christians and Muslims differ:

  1. Christian literalists, such as those guys from Answers in Genesis, invent their own science. They have their own universities and dubious qualifications in science that has been twisted to follow their dogma.
  2. Islamic scholars, on the other hand, will take things they observe in real science, and twist their own doctrines, reinterpreting them such that they “predict” things that have been proven to be true.

Both are wrong. It’s just interesting that they take the opposite approach. But whether you change the science to match the dogma, or try to interpret the dogma in such a way that it somehow predicted the science even though it clearly did not, you’re still wrong.

The post I refer to today was shared by a Muslim, so it tries to claim that the fires of Hell, as described in their religious text, burn black, “as it says” in modern science and thus the Quran is correct. Except they fuck it up, because such a fire will burn white, not black. Thus their claim couldn’t be more wrong. Still… white… black, they had a 50/50 chance of getting it. Regardless, there are many of them who do nothing but make this kind of argument in debate groups, some of which are quite comical because they take verses about, for example conception, and try to read actual science into them.

Of course threatening someone who doesn’t believe in life after death, or a soul, with eternal torment, in a literal fire, to their incorporeal soul, is never going to convert anybody. That’s without even considering that a deity that created beings only to torment them forever if they don’t worship him would be evil. And there’s no reason such a creator would demand worship anyway.

What fascinates me the most about such arguments is that those who make them seem oblivious to bias. Someone brought up Christian, for example, only ever takes Christianity seriously. So if you present a claim to an atheist who used to be Christian, the chances are high that you’re dealing with an atheist who is only interested in debating Christians. They don’t believe in Christianity, but having been raised Christian will at least have a reaction to Christian claims. It might be an emotional reaction. It could be some kind of trauma. It might even be anger, but we are all biased, even if only a little. Thus much of the time, you will only have something to debate if the atheist at least used to believe in your religion. Claims from other religions are perceived as little more than jokes. I try to be aware of my bias and at least make an effort to engage even with other creationists apart from Christians, but still… such bias is understandable. I’d much rather engage with somebody who believes in something I used to believe myself because I have an emotional investment in it, than something I never even considered believing in, even before I became an atheist. We don’t all do this though.

Creationists, though, are not only unaware of the biases in atheists they deal with, but unaware of their own biases too. This is where it gets amusing even if we atheists are not biased towards our own former religion, because creationists will often make similar non sequiturs but reach different conclusions. So they present similar arguments such as the argument from first cause, Pascal’s Wager, or the argument from morality, and then leap to “therefore god”. But ask them “which god?” and they get confused. This is because they all beg the question, all start with the conclusion that their (specific) god exists and then use motivated reasoning to make pseudo-logic that arrives at that predetermined conclusion. But they don’t realize they’re doing this, don’t realize that the conclusion does not follow, and hence the confusion at “which god?”.

I wrote this hours ago but was down with a cold today… Feeling much better now after much cold medication and a few hours sleep but I have no recollection of what the last paragraph was supposed to be. I like it anyway. I think it is important for us to be aware of biases, our own and that of others. Some people seem to enjoy endless debating, even when talking past each other and never getting anywhere. Not me. I’ll point out what I see that’s wrong, including the biases and assumptions, and if the other person makes the same argument again, rephrased but no better, I just leave. No point in wasting more time.

An interesting read

Again, not something I’d normally necessarily share here, but since I’m still on my Facebook ban…

One of my Facebook friends and a better writer than I, a fellow atheist and a man who has a masters degree in theology and a doctorate in the sociology of religion, as well as a bunch of other qualifications, has written a great piece about a fallen “star” – a religious apologist and evangelist who recently died. (Ravi Zacharias) I find the fallen star metaphor (which I stole from his article) quite fitting actually… because stars in religious texts have so much meaning ascribed to them, meaning which turns out to be baseless. The article treats him with respect and almost reverence… though I must apologize as I have no such sentiments for anybody who wastes his life devoted to a delusion.

Please go ahead and give it a read. I find it quite fascinating, mostly for the history.

Poking fun at pascal’s Wager.

I saw this shared to that group filled with dummies, and it amuses me.

Sekhmet

What amuses me is it is an obvious poke at Pascal’s Wager, which posits that it is safer to bet that god exists than risk the “consequences”.

Of course the main problem with Pascal’s Wager, and I’ve written about it before so I won’t get too deep now, is that like many arguments in religious apologetics, it only works if you assume your god is the only “true” god and that you are indoctrinated but not really thinking. So you have to assume your god is real to justify assuming your god is real. Since many others were worshipped throughout history, the argument doesn’t actually make any sense, because the probability of being born into the right religion and then brainwashed to believe in the right god is miniscule, even if you assume a god exists (which you shouldn’t because all gods were invented by men).

Of course the dummies in that group don’t get it, even though they would happily argue Pascal’s Wager as a reason their god exists…

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“Not the living god” is about as useful as, “Only Christianity is the true religion because only Christianity is about Jesus who died for our sins”, which of course makes as much sense as “My magic is the real magic because my magic is real”.

OK then theists, let’s consider why you shouldn’t shift the burden of proof onto atheists.

In my last post, I mentioned that theists often ask us atheists to prove there is no god. I also mentioned I wasn’t interested in writing about that. But I do think it adds value to consider that now.

In my research for this post, I found this article which asserts that sometimes theists have the burden of proof, and sometimes atheists do. The gist of it seems to be that whoever makes the claim has the burden, so when atheists claim there is no god, the burden lies with us. Except that isn’t what atheism is about, so the article is wrong because atheists don’t make such a claim. Theists will say that we do, but the thing is, that opens up a can of worms that they certainly don’t really want opened… but since most don’t even seem to know what atheism is, they don’t realize this either. So let’s open up that can of worms, shall we?

First I’ll jot down a couple of notes that demonstrate why shifting the burden of proof onto atheists also introduces some worms into your clever little plan.

  1. Atheism makes no claim but rejects all claims that gods exist.
  2. Theism, in most cases, not only claims that a specific god exists, but also implicitly rejects all claims that other gods exist, just like atheism.
  3. Theists always forget about point two because when they say “Prove that god doesn’t exist”, they imagine their specific god.

I have dealt with many Christians who think it clever to shift the burden of proof with, “Prove god doesn’t exist”. And I always answer the same: Which god? (Crickets…) Seriously folks, Jesus/Yahweh/Allah is no more notable a claim than Odin/Zeus, or some older god you never even heard of.

So by all means, feel free to insist that we atheists must prove god doesn’t exist, as long as you are then willing to prove that every other god doesn’t exist, because if me being an atheist means that I claim your god doesn’t exist, then by your own poor logic that means you claim all gods but your own do not exist, and the burden of proof lies on you to prove that. Good luck!

Of course there’s a bigger issue at stake here, an issue that theist debaters do not want to face… In religious apologetics, their arguments are often interchangeable. For example, a Muslim or a Christian might argue variations of Pascal’s Wager or the Argument from First Cause. This is common, and inexperienced debaters bring them up without even knowing they are common arguments. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It implies they came to those arguments by themselves. One should not fault anyone for that any more than one would fault somebody for not knowing how to pronounce a word they learned by reading.)

But their arguments are generic arguments for a “creator”, often filled with flawed logic. That logic aside, none of their arguments ever lead to a logical conclusion that their specific god exists. Debating theists is thus always an extended visit to Non Sequitur Land, a place where theists of different religions all make the same nonsensical arguments and all of them come to different conclusions. (This is an expected side-effect of starting with your conclusion and then fabricating pseudo-logic that you think leads to it.) Of course the lazy way to avoid this problem is not make an argument at all, and instead shift the burden of proof onto your opponent, which in this case makes no claim at all. (Sigh.) And you wonder why so many of us just end up calling them idiots?


Edit… I was looking for a post I saw on Facebook this morning, where a theist posted to a debate group that atheism is a “proposition that no god exists” in his attempt to shift the burden of proof. Can’t find it, but I do see that I have shared on this subject before…

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Another edit… Not the original one I was thinking of, but check out this bullshit. It’s from that guy again, and this time he posts his oddball false dichotomy and successfully suckers people into answering with the second option. (It’s a trick. Answer with option 2 and he will use it to mean something else.) Obviously the correct answer is “I identify as an atheist and thus I lack the belief there is a god.” I’m still on my ban so I had to save this to a collection to reply if I get the chance.

Other than the obvious errors in his logic with trying to turn a rejection of claims into a claim itself, asking a question that can have many answers and limiting those you accept to a simple binary is not terribly smart. But then John is not a smart man. See? This is why you shouldn’t debate.

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By the way, even if you do believe there is no god, that means something different to what he thinks it does. In his mind it means you reject his god because his one is the one true god.

I’m kind of surprised nobody has commented to this post with “But Christianity is the only true religion because Jesus [insert did something specific to the claims of Christianity here]”, which essentially comes down to “my magical thinking is correct because the magic I believe in is real”. But hey… it’s still early.


OK, last edit… I promise. Here, from the same group by another Johnny, is another fine example of pseudo-logic that jumps through some hoops to arrive at the predetermined conclusion that doesn’t follow.

This isn’t relevant to the burden of proof, but is relevant to my last point about arguments that “lead” to a creator being more than a little flawed and all of them being non sequiturs.

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Questioning the origin of the claim that god exists is not a genetic fallacy. Here’s why…

I still don’t have time for much writing, but thought I’d share this excellent meme I found yesterday…

Magic

Of course it’s a variation of what I’ve written before – god is nothing more than an explanation for the unknown, invented by primitive man, and handed down through generations of indoctrination.

Once, when I wrote something like that here before, a commenter took offense and accused me of a genetic fallacy, then presented his version of an argument from first cause. And that prompted me to write about the argument from first cause. (Not my best piece of writing but it’s not bad, I think. I didn’t know what special pleading is, although I mentioned it without using its name.) Of course, in the case of the argument from first cause, it introduces a rule that everything needs a creator, in a sequence of causes and effects that can be traced back to a “first cause”. Then it leaps to the conclusion that the first cause is god (a non sequitur because that does not follow) and states that god does not have a cause, which violates the rule of its premise.

But seeing the meme I’ve shared today made me think about it again. The question in my mind, which I’d like to address today is: How can you believe that questioning the origin of god is a genetic fallacy?

So what is a genetic fallacy? From the Google preview…

The genetic fallacy (also known as the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue) is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context.

So, clearly this is a fallacy where one reaches a conclusion on something, based solely on the origin of that thing, without considering its current meaning or context. I see then, how a person could claim that rejecting belief in god based on the origin of god might be considered such a fallacy… But I also see how that would be wrong. Can you?

It’s like this: If you assume that god exists, then the origin of the claim that god exists becomes irrelevant, because god exists.

Of course, the reason that’s wrong should be obvious… Like every religious apologetics argument, it starts with the assumption that god exists. That’s not how logic works.

In fact, almost every apologetics argument has this problem. And many of them work like this:

  1. Start with the implicit, always unstated assumption that god exists.
  2. Make some statements about something else.
  3. Conclude that god exists, even though it does not follow logically from whatever statements were made. (Steps two to three are a non sequitur.)

As you can see, questioning the origin of god can only be perceived as a genetic fallacy if you assume that god exists. And as I’ve shown above, this conclusion that god exists, in apologetics arguments in general, often only “works” because the assumption was made. (“I know that X is true because I assume that X is true.”… without stating the assumption directly but stating some unrelated stuff after making it.) This is why we often argue in circles in debates between theists and atheists… The theists always start with the assumption that their conclusion is true, but they do not realize that it’s illogical (circular reasoning) to do so.

But because that assumption (that god exists) is implied, not stated, the theists who debate expect us to address their other statements, the irrelevant ones from which they take a leap of faith to conclude that god exists. (Even though the leap of faith only makes sense if one assumes that god exists.) Arguing about the irrelevant statements, whether that involves refuting straw man arguments of science or whatever, is pointless, because they are irrelevant. This is why, when someone wants to debate evolution, I like to short-circuit the debate – suggest to them that we ignore evolution. Assume that it’s false if you want, and ask them how they get from unknown to god. Short-circuit the debate and reveal the assumption. But they don’t want to discuss their actual claim that god exists, or face the fact that an assumption was made. Since there is no evidence for god, they prefer to discuss something else.

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.

“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.