God (Part 3)

In parts 1 and 2, we looked at the common intelligent arguments for the existence of a god. But most arguments - for anything - are stupid, so I'll finish off the series with a look at the most common of the stupid theological arguments I've encountered. Enjoy.

  • You can't prove he doesn't exist, therefore he does.

This is the classical Argument from Ignorance.The general form is: 'You can't prove that X is false, therefore X is true'. Occasionally you'll encounter the converse: 'You can't prove that X is true, therefore X is false'.

It relies on a failure to distinguish between 'not proven' and 'proven false' - a surprisingly common mistake in political discussions.

  • God is beyond all reason or evidence, therefore all arguments against his existence fail, therefore he exists.

This is the Trancendental Argument, which is a special case of the Argument from Ignorance, this time failing to distinguish between 'neither provable nor disprovable' and 'disproven'.

  • The bible is true because it says it is.

Good old fashioned circular reasoning.

  • If god didn't exist we wouldn't be able to conceive of him.

This one was actually used by Rene Descartes, who also argued that: God, being good, wouldn't let me be deceived by false experiences. My experiences are genuine, therefore god made them that way.

  • Something unexplained happened, therefore god did it. Or aliens.

Another variant on the Argument from Ignorance - 'You don't have an explanation for X, I'm putting forward explanation Y, Y is the only explanation available, therefore Y is true.'

You'll often find this in political discussions, where it takes the form: 'You reason that explanation A is false, but you don't offer an alternative,therefore A is true.', often as the rhetorical question: 'Do you have an alternative?'

  • The only possible explanation for christianity's success is it's truth. Alternatively, X million believers can't be wrong.

Known as the Argument from Majority. Sometimes countered with an argument from a different majority, eg: 'Islam is the fastest growing faith in the world.'

  • If there's no god, there's no heaven. So where do you go when you die?

This one isn't really a failure of logic as such - more a failure to distinguish logic from hope, or from beliefs chosen simply for the comfort they give.

  • The proof of god's existence is only available to those who already believe.

A common variant is The scriptures make perfect sense and are all true, but you'll only see why if you believe them.

This is essentially a redressed Argument from Revelation, dealt with in part 1.

  • Everyone has faith in something, so there's no such thing as an atheist, so faith X is the correct one.

This is a blend of two arguments - the second is yet another Argument from Ignorance, but the first relies on conflating two difference senses of 'faith'.

Specifically, there is inductive faith, that past experience is a guide to the future - my chair won't collapse today because it hasn't collapsed so far, or the last three Transformers movies have been rubbish, so the forth will be rubbish too.

Contrast with faith in the absence of an evidence or experience whatsoever, or faith which actually goes against the evidence. That's the kind of faith involved in religion.

The believer will object that their faith is actually of the first kind - that they see evidence of god everywhere. Which brings us to our final blunder, confirmation bias:

  • Look at the structure of the universe, the beauty of the world, the goodness of people. It couldn't happen unless a good god made it that way.

Odd how they never mention entropy, cruelty in nature, or war. Confirmation bias involves taking notice only of evidence which agrees with a belief, and ignoring or handwaving the rest away.

Most counterfactual beliefs don't require support beyond habit, upbringing, or to be shared by one's group. But occasionally doubt intrudes, either in the form of an intense personal experience that can't be immediately rationalised away, or a falling out from the group, or the beliefs of one group that one is a member of colliding with the beliefs of a different one.

When this happens, it doesn't take much to patch up the belief with ad hocreasoning that looks solid until the moment it's examined - but of course, there is motive to not examine it. Indeed, for some people the vast majority of what they believe is a heap of contradictory ad hoc rationalisations that have built up over the years.

The above list give the patterns of the most common rationalisations. Being familiar with them may or may not may you less susceptible to bullshitting yourself, but it should at least help in spotting when others are doing it.

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