Thursday, February 14, 2008

A common mistake in reasoning

In my studies of religion, I keep running across a very common fallacy, the appeal to consequences. It is very widespread. Basically, this fallacy is arguing that some proposition is either true or false based on the consequences of that proposition. For example, one might argue that without a belief in God, one cannot have a belief in absolute moral values, and therefore God must exist to allow us to believe in absolute morality. Another example would be that evolution leaves no room for God, therefore it must be wrong. It is usually an emotion driven argument, primarily propped up by fear or anger, although sometimes it is simply a lack of understanding or imagination. In the case of the "existence of God" example, it was driven by a fear of having one's moral grounding undermined. In the second case, the person was simply unwilling or unable to imagine the possibility that there could be some form of theistic evolution.
I bring it up, because I just got done listening to a partial sermon by the Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias. His entire message was based on this fallacy(although his further sub-arguments revealed a few more fallacies): I can not be an atheist because I can not live with the consequences.
Of course, such a statement has no bearing on whether Ravi's god actually exists. One way to point this out to someone using such an argument is to turn it around: I cannot be a Christian because I can not live with a god who would create Hell, for example. You can then point out that your feelings about a god who would act in such a way have no bearing on whether that god exists, a point which they would certainly agree with as a theist. But, be ready to deal with an emotional blockade whenever this argument rears up, because in my experience, it is almost always driven by pure emotion.

PS - I did find it funny that Ravi took the time to point out his respect for agnostics who have taken the time study the issue of the existence of god seriously. He is a little mixed up as to the difference between atheism and agnosticism. One is a question of knowledge(can we know that god exists?) and one is a question of belief(do I hold to a belief in god?). So, he really spent the time lauding every atheist who is not just a knee jerk non-believer. Thank you, I guess.

EDIT: I just noticed the Wiki link for this fallacy:The Appeal to Consequences

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I'm far too slow

I hate it when I find an interesting conversation online, and realize that it took place months ago. Case in point: Jacob Stein's blog from August 24, 2007.
Jacob brings on a few tired old saws about atheism, but this one gets my goat the most:

It is apparently impossible to find a well-documented case of an atheist who was kind, honest, sober and sexually responsible.

I'm pretty mild mannered in person, but I think that this would have elicited quite a heated discussion, to say the least. I can think of many people I know personally who fit the first three criteria without a doubt. This group includes every single atheist I know personally, myself included. I strive for honesty. I treat others with respect and dignity, including giving to charities that I think are worthwhile and personally handing out food to the homeless, among other things I think elevate my character to kindness at the least. And, while I enjoy a drink of wine or a beer now and again, I am in no way a drunk. And the same goes for all of the people I mentioned!
Now, the last qualification is vague, at best. I think it is obvious that Jacob has a certain sexual morality in mind when he says "sexually responsible." He later attempts to link pornography with atheism, by linking to a "Smut for Smut" table set up by a college group, exchanging religious writings for porn. If that's his proof, it's little surprise that he is incapable of grasping the basic use of logic that underlies atheistic reasoning. I can't even say "correlation without causation" because he doesn't even get to the point of proving a correlation!
Personally, I have no problem with most pornography, nor with adults enjoying it. I don't commit adultery(outside of the Christian view that any sexual thought not centered on a spouse is adultery). I don't long for relationships outside of my marriage. So, I feel perfectly fine laying claim to being sexually responsible as well. I happen to know that the most committed atheists I know eschew even that, and actually behave more in line with Judeo-Christian sexual morality than ANY religious person I have ever known well enough to be able to say anything about their sex lives.

He goes on to ramble on about science disproving the underpinnings of atheism. Newsflash, Jacob: neither quantum mechanics or the Big Bang disprove any part of the idea that there is no God. Pick up a book other than your segment of the Bible sometime, and read all about it. You might be a bit surprised about how few physicists agree with you.

The crux of Jacob's argument is that atheistic arguments are "clearly just excuses atheists use to justify their own addictions." I would simply reply that his arguments are clearly just an excuse to justify his immature insecurities about an uncertain universe and his fear of death.

He continues to babble on in his comments, dredging up such chestnuts as this:
when science, such as the anthropic principle, proves atheists wrong, they become apologetic and come up with fanciful speculation such as multiverses to explain the contradiction.

This proves absolutely nothing of the sort, which he would know if he had read the article he linked to. I assume that he hasn't, or is perhaps too indoctrinated to see the counter arguments.

Later in the discussion, he comes out with this gem(the quote in quotation marks was a previous reply from an atheist):
"Atheism contains no specific ethos."

Exactly my point. Leaving atheists to behave like animals if no police are watching them.

Ahh, another piece of grand old stupidity. Apparently, Jacob can only behave humanely because he is worried that God will smack him down. I say this, because he is apparently unable to grasp that people can and do live moral lives without fear of hellfire and damnation, even morality on his terms. I'm sad that he is so sociopathic that he is brainwashed into believing that everyone else must be, too. Of course, given the psychotic murderer he takes as his god, he is just being true to his beliefs. If you'd like to debate that last bit, Jacob, feel free. We can run through your holy books and point out all the fun places where your god reportedly acted like a murderous bastard.

In short, Jacob, if you ever happen to read this, I think you are a stunted, bigoted little man. I'd like to see you present a logical defense of your beliefs, if you ever manage to grow a brain cell.