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.

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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.