Tag Archives: Logical fallacies

God, therefore Heaven, obviously

I was on the Belfast Telegraph comments and the usual suspects got into a religious argument, in this case the logic and likelihood of Heaven (and in this case, we’re talking the Christian one).

One commenter asserted that if we began with a god, existence of a Heaven was logically consistent and perfectly reasonable proposition, to which I responded that it requires multiple assumptions e.g. “perfectly reasonable proposition”, fallacies and leaps of faith. That’s not logic, that’s religion.

So I had a think about it and came up with this thirteen point list:

Assumptions required to get from god to heaven (one we can get to):

1. There is a god,
2. It’s still around (i.e. wasn’t destroyed by the creation of the Universe),
3. It had a choice in the creation,
4. It had a reason for the creation,
5. The reason was us; out of all the estimated 10^22 stars, just one needed for us, after several cycles of star life and death to create the necessary heavier elements. We’re more likely a contaminant that the goal!
6. It knows where we are,
7. It can interact with us,
8. It has interacted with us (but only in one tiny region in the Middle East and nowhere else, because an omnipotent, omniscient being will of course suck at PR),
9. There is dualism of the mind and brain,
10. There is an incorporeal place called Heaven where this being lives,
11. The incorporeal mind can move to this place,
12. This being wants this to happen,
13. This being allows it to happen, or has a choice in the matter.

And I’m sure I’ve missed a few steps.

At each and every point, I could posit one or more equally plausible alternatives based upon logic. So, the only logic in this argument appears to be the fallacy of special pleading.

Pious Misrepresentation of the Day – a complaint to the BBC

This is the unabridged version of the complaint I sent to the BBC concerning a Thought for the Day radio broadcast that stepped way over the line of religious contemplation into an outright attack on atheism and secularism.

“I wish to complain about the disgraceful misrepresentation of secular atheism as broadcast on BBC Ulster’s Thought For The Day on 28th May 2012. The recording begins at 25 minutes 45 seconds into this podcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01j8h3y/Good_Morning_Ulster_28_05_2012/

In it, the Rev Dr. Johnston McMaster asserted a number of human disasters were due to atheist secularism, in an attempt to promote his own religion.

Of the four examples of atheist secularism cited – the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and China, at most only one meets the criteria of secularism – i.e. the state is neutral on matters of belief. Communism actively discriminated against religion, and Nazi Germany discriminated against Jews and promoted Christianity, or at least used it to it’s own ends – it is certain that it had a treaty with the Vatican which they adhered to until the end. The French Revolution heralded the end of the feudal era in France, driven by principles of the Enlightenment. Modern secular Europe, possibly the most stable and peaceful region of human civilisation, has roots in this turbulent period. I think the French would take a dim view of the opinion that it was a disaster or a failure.

To summarise, the preacher was guilty of the following logical fallacies:

* Straw men – see above plus ‘God is consumerism, nationalism or consumerism’ – these are not in any way religions.

* Affirming the consequent – ‘Stalin was an atheist and evil, therefore all atheists are evil’ makes as much sense as ‘Hitler was a vegetarian and evil, therefore all vegetarians are evil.’

* Begging the question – ‘God is dead’/'God doesn’t go away’ – requirement being he ever ‘lived’.

* Lying – ‘we need God to be good/be humane/be dignified’. This is known to be false – see this scientific study as an example -  http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/04/30/religionandgenerosity/

* Special pleading – Karl Marx’s ‘opium of the masses’ true of ‘some forms of religion’ implication being ‘but not ours’. Why should Christianity be an exception?

That’s a lot of logical fallacies to squeeze in in only 3 minutes.

Oddly, given how disastrous secularism allegedly is, Norway has just disestablished their church and, weeks later, still haven’t had one decent massacre. The last one they had was because of a religious fanatic.

I believe the broadcast contravened the following BBC Editorial Guidelines due to the gross misrepresentation of secular atheism:

12.2.1 The beliefs and practices of religions and denominations must be described with due accuracy.

12.2.2 The religious views and beliefs of an individual, a religion or denomination must not be misrepresented or abused, as judged against generally accepted standards.

The subject matter of this broadcast was controversial, and was not impartial, nor clearly distinguished as opinion and not fact, contravening these two guidelines:

4.4.5 We must apply due impartiality to all our subject matter.  However, there are particular requirements for ‘controversial subjects’, whenever they occur in any output, including drama, entertainment and sport.

A ‘controversial subject’ may be a matter of public policy or political or industrial controversy.  It may also be a controversy within religion, science, finance, culture, ethics and other matters entirely.

4.4.7 When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.

In the interests of balance, the BBC should either apologise for this disgracefully biased broadcast, or allow an opposing view to be broadcast as Thought For The Day.”

 

7th June 2012, a response – I’ve reproduced the email from the BBC’s Senior Religious Programmes producer, Rev Dr Bert Tosh, apologising for the ‘over-much generalisation about “secularism and atheism”‘, agreeing that Thought for the Day ‘is not the appropriate vehicle for a discussion about the relative merits of religion, humanism, secularisation’, and assuring that ‘corrective action has now been taken to avoid any recurrence of what happened on this particular occasion.’

An adequate apology, and closure of the matter. Perhaps it would be too ask that a humanist be allowed to broadcast a Thought for the Day? ;)

7 June, 2012

Dear Colin

Editorial Complaint – Thought for the Day

I’m replying to your recent complaint about a Thought for the Day piece which was broadcast on 28.05.12.

Dr McMaster’s contribution was intended to describe the effects which a loss of religious faith and a “sense of the transcendent” might have on society. His comments were/are contestable, but they were not meant to suggest that religion is the only guarantor of “our humanity” or people’s ability to negotiate “the difference between good and evil”.  Dr McMaster acknowledged that religion itself “has done enormous harm and [that] God has frequently been recruited to bless wars and our Irish violence”. In affirming what he feels to be positive about religious belief however, there was, on reflection, over-much generalisation about “secularism and atheism”. We accept that Dr McMaster’s script should have been amended before broadcast, consistent with the established conventions around this slot, and apologise for any upset or offence caused.

We welcome all feedback, and take careful account when people feel that the BBC has got something wrong, or fallen short of their expectations. Diverse views and honest debate are important within our output, but we also need to take account of what is appropriate in different programme slots. Thought for the Day is meant to provide a religious/ethical and personal view on loosely topical issues. It is not the appropriate vehicle for a discussion about the relative merits of religion, humanism, secularisation etc. We need to ensure that our guidance to contributors is clear in this regard and that what we broadcast is consistent with Thought for the Day’s editorial brief. Corrective action has now been taken to avoid any recurrence of what happened on this particular occasion.

I hope this is useful and am grateful to you for taking the time to get in touch. Your concerns have been shared with senior editorial colleagues.

Yours sincerely

Rev Dr Bert Tosh

Senior Producer Religious Programmes – BBCNI

Religious criticism : the importance of not being silent

This blog is an adaptation of a comment I wrote on the Belfast News Letter in response to a letter attacking Mormons as ‘not true Christians’ by a family of Northern Ireland Protestant fundamentalists.

If my religious criticism offends a religious person, I will not apologise and I will not refrain from repeating it. I will not be silent, so asking me to refrain from commenting on religion simply because I do not subscribe to one myself is pointless.

The mark of any robust system of thought is how it responds to criticism – that religion’s only defence is to discourage, threaten or outlaw dissenters tells me just how sturdy a foundation it has. It should be noted I am not attacking religious people, but their ideology. That their sense of self is so bound to it that to attack it is seen as attacking them is just one of the many failings of religion.

I will admit that I am not particularly well read in the intellectually gymnastic, pseudo-academic discipline of theology. I am content to study science, because unlike theology, it demonstrably works; the test of science is that it can make accurate predictions, which it does.

That many religious people are repeatedly shown to have inadequate knowledge of not only science but their own faith, and that their arguments are fallacious, prejudiced and deceitful is not my fault. Indeed, take Pascal’s Wager, a known fallacy in that it presumes a false dichotomy of Christianity or atheism, when in fact they could both be wrong – Christians will burn just as surely as I if Lord Brahma or Zeus turn out to be the real god!

I will not be silent. As pastor Martin Niemöller regretfully said of the lack of opposition amongst the German intelligentsia during the rise of Nazism:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

I support gay rights even though I am not gay, I support racial equality even though I am not of an ethnic minority, I support women’s rights even though I am not a woman, I support the right to religious belief and worship even though I am not religious.

Yes, I think all religions are based upon doctrines of ancient fabrications, assertions, assumptions, plagiarism and forgery. On that basis, any attempt by members of one faith to smear the belief system of another as somehow lesser, when their own faith has such shaky historical and moral foundations, is an act of naked religious supremacism and should be opposed on the basis of fairness. Thus, it is not only my right not to be silent, but my duty.

David Cameron, Christian morality, and the News Letter

On 19th December 2011, the News Letter reported on David Cameron’s speech on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, stating Britain was a Christian country, and ”that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.”

In the Morning View editorial, the author was full of praise for Mr Cameron, though was disappointed he hadn’t gone further. I’ve long viewed the News Letter as a right-wing, neo-conservative rag, a Norn Irish Daily Mail, so I sent them a rebuttal on the whole business of  Christianity’s claim on morals.

I didn’t find it online until 9th January 2012, and when I did, it had attracted two posts. Let us just say that the News Letter’s readership would not be, in the main, Internet-savvy. (i.e. not in their first, or indeed second, flush of youth), so the limited response is understandable.

(Incidentally, I also saw a letter on gay marriage of such outrageous homophobia, I posted a comment describing it as “a vile piece of borderline-criminal hate speech” – the comment was not posted, but instead the whole letter was pulled! Result!)

Nevertheless, I set about with a staunch defence of my letter, which I’ve reproduced below should it ever vanish from the News letter’s site.

What followed was a fairly one-sided debate where I slapped around an at first fairly reasonable, but eventually pop-eyed religious nut, whom in turn kept coming back like Monty Python’s Black Knight. As I kept bludgeoning his arguments, he one by one distanced himself from his fellow Christians (the ones who had strayed), the Jewish origins of the Christian church, the Old Testament, the Roman Catholic church (he was a Protestant) and eventually the original argument altogether.

I thought my invention of the philosophical position of amarmitism was the highlight of the exercise…

I eventually, reluctantly, had to stop replying because while I had won the argument, it was quite apparent there was no reasoning with the loon. It’s not like there was even an audience.

 

Christianity did not ‘create’ morality

Published on Thursday 22 December 2011 09:31

IN response to Morning View (December 19) I felt compelled to challenge the assertion that the UK needs greater emphasis on the ‘Christian’ moral code.

The article says that the ‘overwhelming majority of citizens in the United Kingdom’ are Christian. According to a 2011 YouGov survey of Great Britain, a bare 55 per cent of respondents described themselves as Christian – of these only 38 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds are Christian, while 70 per cent of over-55s are Christian. In other words, while Christianity is in the majority, just, it soon won’t be.

I note the News Letter failed to report Dr Richard Dawkins’ response to David Cameron’s speech, which described Christianity as ‘an appalling moral compass’. Some Christians may be shocked by this statement.

Let me explain: a cursory reading of the Bible reveals genocide, slavery, treatment of women as little more than property, rape and stoning of people for adultery and other lesser crimes condoned in the Old Testament.

More recently, we have the Inquisition, and in modern times, we are witness to the paedophile scandal engulfing the Catholic church, their campaign to discredit the use of condoms in developing countries in the face of an HIV epidemic, and their complicity in the Holocaust in the signing of the Reichskonkordat.

Protestantism doesn’t get away scot-free either; the record of racism and homophobia by Protestants, predominantly in the United States, is a poor one.

I’ll omit our own Troubles, as nearly everyone, religious and political, comes out looking bad.

I am not saying that Christians are bad people – many of them are loving, kind and generous. You will, however, find that this is also true of non-Christians.

To quote Steven Weinberg, ‘Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.’

Christianity did not ‘create’ morality; it subsumed it from pre-existing society. This is true of other religious moralities, too. Given this was a bronze-age civilisation (Old Testament), or if you prefer iron-age (New Testament), things have moved on in the Zeitgeist (‘spirit of the age’) – the 20th century saw the introduction of equality in gender, race and sexual orientation. These are increasingly considered ‘good’ morals, and have absolutely no basis in religious doctrine.

If you want an idea of what a secular society looks like, largely unfettered by Christianity or any other religion, look to Scandinavia. It should be noted that the Scandinavians have amongst the best social standards and life expectancy in the world.

To finish, I agree that there should be no legislation preventing Christians publicly expressing their faith; I know of no legislation that attempts any such thing, and I think it’s disingenuous of the editorial writer to insinuate that such things are afoot.

I would, however, wish the same thing for all faiths, and those with none, so long as they do not oppress or harm others. As a secular society, free speech is a central pillar of our culture.

Colin Morrison

Fermanagh