I’ve been reading The A-Unicornist by Mike D a lot lately. He’s the same guy who recently embarrassed a certain theist (who resorted to lying, as usual). What I really like is the great clarity in his writing. Every time I read one of his posts, I know exactly what he’s saying. Take this one, for example.
2. Genetic fallacy
I hear this one from believers a lot, most commonly misattributing it to statements like, “The main reason you’re a Christian instead of a Buddhist is because you were raised in a predominately Christian culture”. This may be an erroneous statement depending on the believer, but it’s a logically valid proposition – people do tend to adopt the prominent religion of their culture, though of course not all of them do.
Richard Dawkins and John Loftus have often talked about the powerful familial and sociocultural transmission of religious beliefs (it’s the basis for Loftus’ “Outsider Test for Faith”), but this is only meant to spur critical thinking in the believer, not to disprove the tenets of Christianity. The genetic fallacy would say, “Because Christianity is most commonly transmitted through familial or sociocultural tradition, its tenets are not true.” A proposition can be true regardless of how people come to believe it.
This isn’t anything that is difficult to understand, but I can’t help but appreciate how concise Mike has made it. Besides that, I’ve run into that exact misunderstanding with believers myself.
5. Special pleading
Special Pleading occurs when someone tries to justify a claim as being exempt from well-established logical principles, without justifying the exemption. It’s very subtle, but I encounter this one frequently with regard to religious experiences and Biblical history. For example:
* “If you do not believe in the historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Christ, you ought to disregard the historical evidence for George Washington.” The special pleading in this case is assuming that we ought not to be any more skeptical of supernatural historical claims than we should be about mundane historical claims.
* “The real proof to me that God is real is that I have experienced His presence.” This special pleading fallacy assumes that one’s subjective experiences constitute valid objective knowledge, when they may be tainted by a variety of assumptions and biases. Indeed the entire spectrum of scientific inquiry isn’t designed to eliminate bias from the researchers, but methodologically account for the fact that we are all highly biased so that invalid conclusions can be identified and disregarded.
I really appreciate this one as well, not because I’ve come across the same problem, but because I’ve come across the exact same example in the problem. A theistic friend of mine gave me that George Washington example when I told him that there was not solid evidence even for the existence of Jesus. (I do find it perfectly plausible that Jesus existed, though he was certainly not divine; but that doesn’t mean the evidence is solid.)
Start giving this blog, now featured on the FTSOS blogroll, a look.
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