Tag Archives: fallacy


‘The Faith Fallacy,’ and other fallacies

A few days ago one of my friends notified me of an op-ed publication in her university’s (Grand Valley State University’s) paper Lanthorn titled “The Faith Fallacy: Why belittling believers makes no sense.”  The piece of course attempts to defend faith, particularly religious faith, particularly by showing how everyone else has ‘faith’ in something else.  If everyone else has ‘faith,’ then religious people are at least safe in, maybe justified in, their faith.

Gee, haven’t heard the old “you do it too!” one before.  It’s a very difficult argument to construct well, and has to be premised on actions from non-believers that really do mirror religious faith in one critical aspect: lack of evidence for these beliefs.  In accordance with this argument’s tradition of throwing things at the wall until they stick, the action-flavor of the month is getting a college education:

“College, like religion, is an institution. […] In both cases believers in these institutions take a gamble, hoping their investment makes a return: most students believe they will leave college with a degree/career potential and most religious people believe when they leave this earth they will be rewarded for their faith.”

Before addressing this basic premise though, I would be amiss to not mention a following line that struck me as out of place (my emphasis):

“Believing in something, so long as it is not blind faith, should be commended– not chastised.”

That’s basically the whole point, the crux of one of the most important reasons why non-believers don’t believe in a god or in religion.  Right there is a written rejection of the ‘critical aspect’ of religious faith I mentioned earlier.  I would ask why this statement was put into an article that is trying to refute non-believer arguments against religious faith; it’s not clear from the rest of her article, however, that Christine Colleran has an understanding of what non-believers even mean by ‘blind faith.’  I think that a useful illustrative tool here would be contrast to something else we might believe in: college.

“Despite evidence proving that great success is attainable without college, we continue to have faith in the power of a degree.”

Christine’s cited evidence is a handful of (admittedly extremely) successful people: Mark Zuckerberg (who actually did attend college – Harvard no less! – but dropped out because he developed Facebook while in school), Richard Branson of Virginia Atlantic, and computer entrepreneurs Michael Dell and Steve Jobs.


I suppose that this technically is proof that success is possibly attainable without a college education.  I’m not really sure whoever said that you’re guaranteed to fail; I would bet money that Christine was told at one point that you’d be more likely to succeed with a college education.  Is there evidence that around 90% of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs have college degrees?  Is there evidence that unemployment rates for college graduates is lower than people without college education; that Master’s degree holders have lower unemployment still; that PhD graduates have even lower unemployment?  Why, yes there is.  It’s not proof that you’ll get a job – these rates are progressively lower, but none of them zero.  It’s a belief without total certainty, but a very justified belief to hold.

Since we’re contrasting, we might ask the same questions of religious claims: is there evidence that being religious gets you into heaven?  Is there evidence that a particular religion is correct?  Is there evidence that there’s even a deity to worship in the first place?  Why, no there is not.

Encompassed in the questions for religion is also a distinction that warrants its own mention: you can make judgments throughout your college career about whether or not it will actually be beneficial to you in the long run.  If you notice that your major’s unemployment rate is almost up to 20%, you can factor that into your decision to pursue your education.  Demand for jobs in particular industries is reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and there is research you can do in general to find if jobs are available.

The potential outcomes for religious beliefs, however, are only realized after death.  There is no indication while you are living of whether you’ll be successful, whether there’s something you should perhaps do differently that will cost you in the end.  Adherence to a belief system that has no evidence and no means of validating itself along the way is definitionally blind faith.

If a belief makes you a better person, then more power to you.  Worthwhile to consider, however, is if you even have reasons for believing in what you do.  It’s a good way to get people off your back who think that uncritical belief was, is, and/or will be a detriment to society; think of all of the help it would be in writing op-eds too!


Guest post by Alexander Coulter from the University of Michigan. Cross-posted with permission from U of M SSA’s blog: http://michiganssa.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-faith-fallacy-and-other-fallacies.html

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,