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How Not to be a Bad Atheist

In this great skeptical movement of ours we have had the opportunity to grow complacent. Of course, being the enlightened intellectuals that we are, we have not squandered this opportunity. Here are some problems I have with public skeptics I’ve watched.

1. Regarding Logical Fallacies

So you took a Logic class and you are now entitled to win arguments, I understand. But the point of those informal fallacies you learned was not to be able to relate them in the middle of a conversation and expect your opponent to understand your jargon. Explain to them in the midst of your argument with a counterexample, do not simply accuse them. The ultimate fallacy is strange idea that the first one to mention fallacy wins the argument. For example, if someone calls you an asshole, which if you’re like me is not at all a rare occurrence, do not say “Hah! That, my mere plebeian opponent, is an Ad Hominem informal fallacy. Had you been considerate enough to memorize that section of our textbook, you would be qualified to continue this conversation, but seeing as you are unfit, I will have to claim this verbal challenge for myself!” Instead, agree with them as you are, in fact, an asshole! But then go on to say “but I don’t know what that has to do with the efficacy of duct tape in improving survival rates of patients with gunshot wounds in the neck!” In doing so you explain to the commoner what an Ad Hominem is, without risking associating yourself with those amateurish logicians who apply their informal fallacy education as if it was a weapon.

2. Regarding Gender

So you’ve come out of the metaphorical closet of atheism and stepped into the literal light of day. Suddenly a new creature appears, a female who dares speak her mind in public! Worse yet, you’re attracted to her! Now, before you criticise feminism with your newfound skeptic methods in order to impress her, consider the facts for yourself, on your own time. Otherwise you risk making unintentionally controversial statements. How can you explain your problems with the theory of Patriarchy if your audience is busy criticizing your use of pronouns?! But there is another audience I’d like to address on this matter. Atheist feminists. Take it easy on us. Many of us are trying not to be sexist, and agree with many of the sentiments of feminism. Being a part of a disenfranchised group does not put you above criticism. The most common manifestation of this silly glorification of disenfranchisement occurs with the phrase “as a…”. For example: “as a woman, I think I better understand the irreparable damage an immature atheist can cause to my gender, and thus conclude that anyone who makes such blunders must be burned on a suitably phallic stake.” Though I would applaud your sense of irony, I would remind you that your argument from authority is everyone’s least favorite valid form. Because I said so.

3. Regarding Defining Atheism

Atheists are people who do not believe in God. That’s it. Don’t try to ascribe additional progressive goals to them. It is possible to be a sexist atheist. Don’t go around arguing what atheists should or shouldn’t do, by arrogantly titling your blog posts things like “How to be a Good Atheist” or presumptuously assuming your atheist audience will be interested in your advice about relating to the minority of public atheists. Even though atheism can and should serve as a platform for additional progressive discussion, we should not try to insist anything but disbelief should be a part of “real atheism.” Thanks for your time.

-Luke Smithems

Creative General Opinion

And now, if you will, a Metaphor….

Imagine a massive ship filled with many sailors…

At some time, a rumor began spreading amongst all the people that the boat was heading towards an island that was unbelievably amazing; an island where all the normal laws of reality were suspended and ultimate, endless bliss would enrapture them forever. Many of the sailors took so much joy from this thought that they began ignoring their duties on the ship, doing little more than staring out on the horizon and waiting for the island to appear. Many others did indeed continue their day-to-day tasks on the ship, helping to keep it clean and such, but they constantly talked about the island. It was their obsession, their passion, and their pride. Groups and sub-groups formed around different ideas of what the island would be like. Some thought it would be tropical, others temperate, and still others thought it would have every climate imaginable for all people to enjoy. Arguments sprang up over what sorts of foods would be present on the island!

At various times, different sailors would hold out their spyglasses and shout aloud “I see it! I see the island there!” and many would swell with enthusiasm…that is, until it was revealed that the crier had seen wrong (or, on occasion, even outright lied). Despite all these false alarms and misplaced swells of hope, the vast majority of the sailors kept believing, to the point of certainty, that the island was just over the next wave.

Eventually, almost all of the sailors took to ignoring the present duties of ship-board life and chose to stare out on the horizon with their own spyglasses, each on certain that they could see the island in the distance (despite some of them looking in utterly opposite directions). Indeed, there were many heated arguments, but one thing every one of them could agree on was this: regardless of exactly where it was or what it was like, that perfect island was definitely out there, somewhere. It just had to be.

One day, one of the sailors climbed up to the top of the mast and found two other sailors there, arguing.

“I think the island will be temperate!” said the first. “It will be temperate, I tell you!”

“Ah, but you’re mistaken, friend. It will be tropical!” said the second. “I guarantee you, for I can see it!” he continued, holding his spyglass aloft.

“Fool!” shouted the first. “I can see it, and it is, in fact, quite temperate!”

At that point, the third sailor (who had just climbed up) yanked the spyglasses from both others and told them this:

“Actually, friends, you’re both mistaken. If you’ll just look right here,” he said, gesturing to the ends of their spyglasses, “you’ll see that you each just drew what you wanted the island to be like on the glass. You were never actually seeing the island; you just painted what you wanted to see and thus saw it in your own imagination. Now if you’ll just look without these faulty spyglasses, you’ll quickly see that there is no island; in fact, there never was an island. However, what we do have is an amazing ship with everything you could ever really want already on it. There are lots of other people onboard, too. You can get to know them, make friends, find lovers, and have wonderful conversations. You can learn, eat, relax, work, and overall have a merry life aboard this ship if you’ll only just stop obsessing over this island you came up with.”

“But the island is supposed to be perfect!” cried the first sailor.

“Indeed! Perfect!” shouted the second, both of them clearly distraught at this news.

“Ah, but that is exactly why it doesn’t exist, friends,” said the third sailor. He reached out and put his hands on their shoulders: “Nothing perfect is out there. I’ll admit it, this ship is sometimes leaky and some of the other people aboard aren’t too terribly pleasant. But I think you’ll find that once you stop daydreaming about perfection and start happily working with what you do have, you’ll find yourselves much happier.”

Behold, our ship

Now, guess which sailor was the Atheist…

Opinion Religion

Common arguments, refuted

Hello all,

This is the first in a series of posts deconstructing and refuting some common arguments in favor of theism, religion, faith, etc. This article will feature the so-called “TAG,” or Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God. This is the argument employed by Prussian philosopher & anthropologist Immanuel Kant in his 1763 book, Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes (The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of God’s Existence). Put simply, it goes like this:

(1) If reason exists then God exists.
(2) Reason exists.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

It is sometimes called the presuppositionalist argument as well. Additionally, you can replace “reason” with “knowledge,” “objective morality,” “logic,” “the universe,” or pretty much anything else you want.

There are several common criticisms against this one. The first is that it doesn’t demonstrate any specific god or gods. You could just as easily replace “God” with any other deity and “prove” that one is real, instead. It should be noted that parsimony requires the postulation of one god rather than more than one god, unless you have evidence to the contrary (and really, if we had evidence at all, we wouldn’t need to play these logic games to try to prove a god in the first place). It’s simply more likely that there’s only one god for which there is no evidence that they there are multiple gods for which there are no evidence, in the same way that (even though both are false), Judaism is more likely to be true than Christianity, since Judaism requires that you believe the Old Testament, whereas Christianity requires that you believe both the Old and New Testaments. The more layers of unsubstantiated crap you pile on, the less likely something is to be true.

Another criticism is the assertion that reason exists. If we’re going to use logic, we kind-of have to agree that reason exists. When theists try to use “objective morality” or “knowledge” in place of “reason,” it gets a little easier to refute. There’s no good evidence that objective morality exists, and if you’re skilled at arguing as a global skeptic, demonstrating that the existence knowledge is unprovable isn’t too difficult – this just gets down to an epistemological discussion, which is beyond the scope of this article.

(1) is more or less a bare assertion fallacy. There’s no good evidential or logical reason to justify the statement that if reason/morality/logic/the universe/whatever exists, then [a] god exists. Someone making this argument would have to explain why the existence of reason is dependent on the existent of god. The two aren’t logically linked and we have no reason to believe they are, any more than we have reason to believe, for example, that if people with the ability to type exist, computer exist. There are other explanations for how people with the ability to type came into existence – for example, the existence of typewriters would explain this, as well.

I tend not to argue too much about (2) unless someone claims that objective morality exists. Then I would ask, what’s your evidence for this? What is objective morality? How do you know that? It seems to be another bare assertion.

(3) is, again, a non sequitur relating to (1). There is no logical link between the existence of reason etc and the existence of (any) god. Reason could be explained just as well (more parsimoniously, in fact) by arguing that it evolved as an emergent property of sufficiently complex brains, the same as consciousness. You can also argue this with morality, using the evolution of cooperation & game theory (for more info about this, I highly recommend Axelrod’s The Evolution of Cooperation and Ridley’s The Origins of Virtue).

Ultimately, this argument boils down to a quite simple refutation: It’s an “ipse-dixitism” fallacy that “If (x) exists, God must exist.” That’s just an a priori, unsubstantiated assertion. You could just as easily assert that “If (x) exists, Santa Claus exists.” The two aren’t causally or logically linked. Since (1) contains a fallacy, the argument is invalid, and cannot serve as a sound proof of the existence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (or any other god or gods).

Until next time,

Dave