Posts Tagged “fallacy”

Father & ChildThe litany of excuses that religionists come up with in order to be able to dismiss anything a non-believer says, is legion. “You must have had a bed experience with religion!” is among the most common (it’s closely related to, “Some believer must have hurt you very badly”). They will say or do almost anything to avoid admitting that any non-believer might actually have a valid point, and no rationale is too ridiculous for them to use. One religionist who wrote a book about one of these rationales, as Religion News Service reports via Hartford FAVS, has recently re-issued his work (WebCite cached article):

A once-popular book that links atheism with shoddy fathering is getting a second life with a new publisher, thanks, in part, to the rise of nonbelief in the United States.

“Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism” by Catholic psychologist Paul C. Vitz posits that “intense atheists” throughout history — Nietzsche, Voltaire and Madalyn Murray O’Hair — had absent or rotten fathers. This, he argues, damaged their ability to form a relationship with a heavenly father.

It’s common to confuse correlation with causation, but a whole helluva lot harder to demonstrate with meaningful evidence. Logicians have a name for this particular fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc or “after this, therefore because of this.” I have to thank Dr Vitz for providing such a marvelous example of this fallacy. To be clear, demonstrating a direct causal connection between absent fathers and atheists, requires more than just a short list of some fatherless atheists.

The reason this book is being re-issued is, apparently, as a response to the rise of the “New Atheists” whom religionists despise:

So why revise the book?

A lot has changed since 1999. For one, the first decade of the 21st century saw the rise of the so-called “New Atheists” — outspoken critics of religion such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, whom many contemporary atheists credit for swelling the ranks of nonbelievers.

This article includes a snide, gratuitous “dig” at said “New Atheists”:

“The rise of militant, evangelical, fundamentalist atheism in our time adds to the pertinence of this book,” said Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, the Catholic publishing house that has reissued the book.

Boo fucking hoo, you little sniveling crybabies. So what if some “New Atheists” have come along and were insolent enough to dare critique your precious religion? Too fucking bad. My heart bleeds for you poor little things. It must be so hard to be critiqued. How dare they do that to you!?

For the record, there is no such thing as “atheist fundamentalists.” There can’t be! Atheists have no “fundamentals” to revere (as fundamentalist Christians, for example, have their Bibles coupled with Biblical literalism).

Religionists would be much better off if they simply grew the fuck up for once in their lives, and stopped looking for reasons to dismiss whatever their critics say. If their religion had any veracity, it would easily withstand scrutiny. Nothing the “New Atheists” … or anyone else … said about it, could possibly have any effect on it. That religionists view the “New Atheists” as evil — and as trying to destroy them — merely because they’re outspoken, reveals how insecure and childish they are.

Photo credit: momento mori, via Flickr.

P.S. I guess I fly in the face of Vitz’s hypothesis about non-belief being caused by absent fathers. My own father passed away only after I’d reached adulthood, and I’d crossed into non-belief before then.

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Antonin Scalia 2010By now most of my regular readers have heard about Antonin Scalia’s New York Magazine interview. The main news out of it has been that Scalia believes Satan is a “real person.” I hadn’t commented on it, since I don’t find it very remarkable that a famous Christianist believes the Devil is real. I mean, seriously … that’s news to anyone? Come on! I initially regarded that interview as a “water is wet” or “sky is blue” story, unworthy of attention.

With that said, I recently noticed something he said which, after consideration, I find noteworthy. At least, I think the significance of it needs to be pointed out, if for no other reason than that to show that almost anyone can fall into illogic, if s/he isn’t careful — and that large amounts of irrationality and illogic can be expressed within one short statement.

The important part comes in page 4 of the article (WebCite cached version):

[Interviewer Jennifer Senior:] Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?

[Justice Antonin Scalia:] You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

First, note the sanctimony of Scalia’s response. Sanctimony is the religionist’s stock-in-trade. How dare Ms Senior question belief in the Devil? Scalia’s outrage is palpable. But it also doesn’t mean anything — to anyone.

Next, Scalia cites as evidence of Satan’s existence, that “most of [America] believes in the Devil.” This is a fallacy known formally as argumentum ad populum, and by other names, such as appeal to consensus, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to popularity, the democratic fallacy, appeal to the masses, etc. The error here should be obvious and summed up in this short statement: Veracity is not up for a vote. People — even many of them! — can be, and often are, very wrong sometimes. Just because something is widely believed, doesn’t make it true. For most of history, nearly all of humanity was utterly convinced the earth was at the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, planets and stars all revolving around it. It turns out, that’s not true at all!

Another piece of evidence Scalia cites as proof that Satan is a real person, is that ‘Jesus Christ believed in the Devil.” Sorry, but this isn’t going to fly, because the reports we have of what Jesus did and didn’t believe come only from the gospels, which Scalia also cites, themselves, as evidence of Satan’s existence. The problem there, of course, is that this just means some late-first-century Christians who wrote those books, believed in the Devil. It’s not actually objective or verifiable evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.”

Third, Scalia lambastes his interviewer for being “so removed from mainstream America that” she’d dare imply belief in the Devil as “a real person” is a bad thing. This is his attempt to discredit his interviewer by saying she’s an elitist; and this, too, has been a common Religious Right tactic. Folks on the Right love to rage and fume about “the Elite” (aka “the Bicoastal Elite,” the “Mass Media Elite,” etc.) and how horrible they are for being insolent enough not to think, act and talk in ways unlike all the folks they call “normal Americans” (aka Flyover Country, the Deep South, the Bible Belt, etc.). The cold fact is that Justice Scalia is, himself, a bona fide card-carrying member of the country’s “elite:” He’s university-educated; a professional, no less (i.e. a lawyer and judge); and he’s one of just 9 people who comprise one of the most powerful bodies in the US. Scalia is one of the last people who ought ever to accuse anyone else of being out of touch with America!

After these little tidbits of illogic and irrationality, Scalia swerves back to the old argumentum ad populum, citing the beliefs of “most of mankind” and of people “more intelligent than” himself or his interviewer, as evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.” Unfortunately, as I’ve already explained, this is fallacious. What’s more, for Scalia to repeat a fallacy, in the (obvious) hope it will reinforce what he’s saying, is itself a fallacy, called argumentum ad nauseam, or argument by repetition. Saying something that’s not true more than once, can never make it suddenly, magically become true. Nonetheless, fierce religionists like Scalia love to think the universe works that way. They repeat tired old canards like, “Evolution is ‘just’ a theory,” and “It takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer,” and so on. They truly think that repeating these things without cessation will make them so. But it can never work, any more than saying “2 + 2 = 5″ endlessly can never make that equation mathematically valid. It just can’t.

Once again, Justice Scalia has provided me with evidence that anyone, at any time, can engage in fallacious thinking, and probably not even be aware of it. It’s something we must all be on guard against, at all times.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Alien,extraterrestrial,UFOIn a move that’s sure to enrage, rather than calm, paranoid extraterrestrial conspiracy-mongers, Universe Today reports that the White House has denied that our planet has been visited by E.T.s (WebCite cached article):

The White House has responded to two petitions asking the US government to formally acknowledge that aliens have visited Earth and to disclose to any intentional withholding of government interactions with extraterrestrial beings. “The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race,” said Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, on the WhiteHouse.gov website [cached]. “In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”

5,387 people had signed the petition for immediately disclosing the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race.

These petitions are predicated on the usual kind of logic that E.T.ers love to employ: Subjective, anecdotal evidence, not to mention the fallacy of argumentum ad populum:

“Hundreds of military and government agency witnesses have come forward with testimony confirming this extraterrestrial presence,” the second petition states. “Opinion polls now indicate more than 50% of the American people believe there is an extraterrestrial presence and more than 80% believe the government is not telling the truth about this phenomenon. The people have a right to know. The people can handle the truth.”

Unfortunately for these folks, neither personal testimonies nor public-opinion polls constitute objective, verifiable evidence of anything other than that people are willing to believe in crazy notions. That people think we’ve been visited by extraterrestrials, doesn’t mean we actually have been.

Photo credit: Markusram.

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A UFO - It sort looks like an old style ceiling light fixtureAs though a divided, contentious Congress in a divided, contentious Washington has nothing better to do with its time than satisfy wingnuts, cranks and freaks, a University professor in Missouri thinks Congress should hold hearings looking into UFOs. AOL News reports on this demand (WebCite cached article):

Do you think the House or Senate will have any extra time to discuss UFOs? While it sometimes might seem as though our lawmakers are from outer space, this hasn’t stopped one college professor from urging Congress to take a serious look at unidentified flying objects.

Citing findings from a 12-year-old groundbreaking French UFO study, University of Missouri-Columbia psychologist and adjunct professor of peace studies Bill Wickersham has issued a call for congressional leaders to boldly go where their predecessors wouldn’t.

The report Wickersham cited is called COMETA, and it was released in 1999. Since then it’s proven a favorite “proof” of a US-government cover-up of extraterrestrial visits in the ufology community. Pretty much everyone else has ignored it as much-less-than-compelling “proof” of anything.

Ufonauts love to trot out that the committee that produced COMETA was made up of fairly eminent French engineers and former high-ranking military officers. While this sounds impressive, it unfortunately does not grant them any veracity; to assume it does, is to stumble on the fallacy of the appeal to authority. That COMETA could not explain some 5% of UFO reports collected by the French government, does not mean that they can only be explained by extraterrestrials. That in itself is another fallacy, the argument from incredulity, aka “the divine fallacy” (since the agent called upon to explain any given mystery is often God). In addition, the assumption that there must be one — and only one! — explanation for those mysterious 5% of UFO reports, is itself invalid. In fact, we have no way to know how many explanations there may be for them! It’s possible there are 2 different explanations for them, or 20, or even that each and every one has its own, unique explanation. That the folks who drafted COMETA could not think of any, is — quite frankly — unimpressive. And it hardly proves anything.

Photo credit: dimland.

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Smallpox vaccineStrangely, after the antivax movement has been demonstrated to be pseudomedicine, and after a number of outlets have formally retracted their prior involvement in it, CBS News has decided to weigh in on the putative link between childhood vaccinations and autism, and has gone over to the side of the quacks, cranks, pseudoscientists and sanctimonious mommies (WebCite cached article):

For all those who’ve declared the autism-vaccine debate over – a new scientific review begs to differ. It considers a host of peer-reviewed, published theories that show possible connections between vaccines and autism.

The article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology is entitled “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes–A review.”

CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson, this article’s author, uses a fallacious appeal to authority in order to grant this study greater weight and credibility:

The author is Helen Ratajczak, surprisingly herself a former senior scientist at a pharmaceutical firm.

Here, Atkisson implies that, since the author worked for a pharma company — thus, one would she’d support the use of vaccines — then if she’s decided otherwise, why, the evidence must be incredibly compelling, no? Unfortunately that’s not how these things work.

Attkisson further implies that no one has been scientifically reviewing the supposed link between vaccines and autism (“Ratajczak did what nobody else apparently has bothered to do …”) but that is absolutely not true. Of course other people have reviewed the matter! Atkisson also mischaracterizes the study as Ratajczak’s own original work, but it’s not … it’s merely her review of other people’s studies. (That, of course, does not in itself invalidate what she says, but it does mean that Atkisson is making the study seem to be something other than it truly is.)

Another way Atkisson tried to grant greater authority to this study, is by implying that the CDC … which has consistently said there is no connection between vaccines and autism … was stunned speechless by it:

We wanted to see if the CDC wished to challenge Ratajczak’s review, since many government officials and scientists have implied that theories linking vaccines to autism have been disproven, and Ratajczak states that research shows otherwise. CDC officials told us that “comprehensive review by CDC…would take quite a bit of time.”

All in all, I must give CBS News and Sharyl Attkisson credit. They certainly crafted a marvelous piece of yellow journalism. They must be so proud!

Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Muslim Brotherhood EmblemAccording to Franklin Graham, son of the world-famous preacher Billy Graham, the Obama administration is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and has saturated the US government with its vile Islam-loving and Christian-hating agents. We know this is true, because … well, he says so, and because his media outlet of choice, Newsmax, is reporting it (WebCite cached article):

The Muslim Brotherhood, with the complicity of the Obama administration, has infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels and is influencing American policy that leaves the world’s Christians in grave danger, warns internationally known evangelist Franklin Graham.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active here in our country,” Graham tells Newsmax. “We have these people advising our military and State Department. We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries.

Note that this isn’t really a new allegation; the American Family Association made a similar claim about a year ago — about the US military — after the Pentagon disinvited the younger Graham from its National Day of Prayer event.

Graham’s “evidence” for this, is the following:

A new report from the Roman Catholic aid agency Aid to the Church in Need supports Graham’s contention that the persecution of Christians world­wide has worsened exponentially in the past few years.

According to the report, Christians face increased suffering in 22 countries around the world, with Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Nigeria being among the worst countries to be a Christian in today.

Even if this report were true, it still does not prove that Barack Obama has allowed a cabal of Muslim Brotherhood adherents to infiltrate the US government and ceded control to them. What I can say is that Christians are guilty of no small amount of persecution, themselves, so Graham hardly has the “moral high ground” to stand on.

Generally speaking, I find paranoid conspiracy theories like this one amusing … if only because so many people buy into them, in spite of such little evidence that they’re true. In some cases the lack of evidence is, perversely, viewed as being evidence itself; i.e. “If this conspiracy existed, of course, they’d make sure no evidence of it was available, so a lack of evidence is precisely what we’d expect!” The illogic of this just shows how abysmally ignorant people are. It’s as though they walked around with neon signs that say “Idiot”!

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum at Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Because expressing how dumb that was in words, just doesn't work.No sooner had I blogged about a report of a military chaplain declaring that a soldier’s rape is “God’s will” and that she could get over it by worshipping the deity who ordered it to happen to her, I read about an outspoken Religious Rightist giving her (yes, her!) stamp of approval on the sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan during a post-revolution celebration in Cairo (WebCite cached article). Here’s what the ferocious religiofascist Debbie Schlussel had to say about it (cached article):

As I’ve noted before, it bothers me not a lick when mainstream media reporters who keep telling us Muslims and Islam are peaceful get a taste of just how “peaceful” Muslims and Islam really are. In fact, it kinda warms my heart. Still, it’s also a great reminder of just how “civilized” these “people” (or, as I like to call them in Arabic, “Bahai’im” [Animals]) are

To Schlussel, this attack on Logan is acceptable, because of what’s been dished out to her:

Hey, sounds like the threats I get from American Muslims on a regular basis. Now you know what it’s like, Lara.

Of course, death threats that are made but never carried out are a far cry from an actual physical attack. But Schlussel just conflates it all into the same thing and — using “two wrongs make a right” thinking — says it’s great that Logan was attacked.

In an update to her post, Schlussel simultaneously claims moral rectitude and that she never expressed approval of the attack:

The reaction of the left to this article is funny in its predictability. Sooo damn predictable. Of course I don’t support “sexual assault” or violence against Lara Logan, and I said that nowhere here.

Schlussel must be right, you see, because she’s been widely criticized. (In the religious mind, criticism is equated with persecution which in turn is equated with veracity.) She also claims not to have supported sexual assault, but her support for the attack was clearly implied in what she originally wrote, which included (emphasis mine):

it bothers me not a lick when mainstream media reporters who keep telling us Muslims and Islam are peaceful get a taste of just how “peaceful” Muslims and Islam really are …

Schlussel clearly stated that she was “not bothered” by the attack. Thus, her attempt to backpedal, by saying she never stated that she supports sexual assault, fails miserably.

Way to go, Ms Schlussel. Thank you for displaying your (total lack of) character. Please, by all means … keep it up! I couldn’t possibly ask for any better confirmation of the moral abyss which is the Religious Right.

Hat tip: Romenesko blog.

Photo credit: Village Voice.

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