Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Can you name all the fallacious arguments in this video?

I found this video in my list of recommendations. Watch it for yourself, and see if you can find all the flaws. I'll reveal what I found below the fold. If anyone sees any that I missed, let me know in the comments!

0:46 — "I'm not an astronomer; I'm a theologian."
He appears to be humbling himself. Watch for him to later boast about the intelligence of other people later one to set up a "Look at how this dumb theologian outsmarted all those intellectual elites!" argument from authority.

1:00 — "I want your guy—your astronomer to go first."
He wants to be able to ask the astronomer questions, but not the other way around. It may be that he is trying to dodge any uncomfortable questions, using the "I'm just a dumb theologian" excuse as his cop out. Turns out to not matter anyway as the astronomer can't attend.

1:48 — Something about Romania dying in the hard communist area. "I was like the lamb thrown to the wolves."
He's trying to give the impression that he was speaking in front of a bunch of atheists, because communism is often—incorrectly—associated with atheism. (Communism is more anti-church, especially toward church involvement in the State, than atheistic anti-theistic.) The fact is Romania is quite religious today, with Wikipedia reporting that 86.7% of the population identify as Orthodox Christian. This would not have been the hostile territory he claims (unless huge chunks of the population converted because of his presentation...yeah, I doubt that). Again, I am suspicious about this being part of a setup for an argument from authority.

2:30 — "You know the Bible says that God will give you answers you've never thought about before."
I smell bullshit. By which I mean I suspect him of blatantly lying here. It depends on what the argument is. If it's one I've heard before, then likely this claim is total bullshit. (You could argue that if I've heard the argument before, it's because the people I heard it from got it from this guy...or the chain of people it went through leads back to this get the idea. Or maybe the argument is older, but he'd never heard of it. It's possible, but my experience with apologetic theologians is that many of them have pretty much the same arguments, probably due to borrowing from each other.)

2:46 — "This is one of the most prestigious universities..."
Yep, here comes the boasting.

3:10 - 5:15 — Argument summary: The knowledge base of even the smartest people on earth is really tiny. God could just be outside that knowledge base.
This argument is a prime example of the argument from ignorance. The argument is essentially saying, "You don't know enough to disprove God!" (Or, at the minimum, "You don't know enough to say God doesn't exist!") If you don't understand why this is a fallacy, the problem is this argument can be used to justify just about anything!For more, see my post on what's possible.

5:16 - 6:40 — Two alternatives summary: one is you live and you die, second is there is a loving god who takes care of you, especially in the afterlife.
Once again, the fallacy is made blatantly obvious to those who know their fallacies. This is the false dichotomy. Why do those have to be the two choices? What about a third choice? Maybe there is a God, and he does indeed have happiness awaiting for say 72 virgins (Islam) that will do my bidding. Plus, I get to have an awesomely ripped physique...and, yes, a huge penis. (And for the women, gays, bisexuals, etc, you get whatever it is you want for sexual pleasure.) Maybe I can get my own planet to rule over (Mormonism)! In short, it's the ultimate fantasy land* (and if you're not big into sex, I'm sure there could be something else nice waiting for you). If I had that as a third option, guess which one I'm going to choose? Yeah, that third one. This is, of course, why he is sure to stress that these are to be your only two options. His argument (for Christianity) clearly breaks down once you start allowing for more choices.

* Joking aside, the point is that I can (1) imagine an afterlife more appealing than the Christian version and (2) there are other religions already in existence that have a more appealing afterlife!

Now, I also have some issue with his hypothetical in saying "if they are both believable" (6:06, 6:34, more). Well, what makes them believable? Are they believable simply because they could be outside our knowledge (his previous point)? They can't both be believable based on supporting evidence, since they contradict each other so much! So, if ignorance is what makes them believable, then we have a lot of options to choose from, as I pointed out in the last paragraph.

His objective, though, is most likely to get people to investigate into whether or not Christianity is actually believable. (Evidence to support this is found later at 7:06 in which he says to the audience "So what you really are is seekers.") This is also why he must limit your options to two; he doesn't want you to go out and investigate those other religions! You are to only investigate Christianity! If you don't, you might find reasons to find those non-Christian religions "believable," too.

The next point I have to make is I found it interesting that he noted (5:43) the problem of evil in his second choice, but brushes is aside like it's no big deal. Then again, when you promote ignorance itself as being no big deal, this becomes relatively easy.

For my final point, he suggests that atheists—since the first choice is obviously supposed to represent atheism—don't understand pain and suffering (6:10). Sorry, the problem of evil does not apply to atheists. It's easier to understand pain and suffering when you realize we live in, though this is an oversimplification, a dog-eat-dog world. Furthermore, I'm not going through life alone (6:14); I have family and friends. I'm doing just fine, thank you. (He may mean alone as in "without God," but that would mean he's presuming his second option is already the desirable option, which makes this an unfair choice.) The whole point here—and likewise with option two being a "loving god"—is to make an appeal to emotion, making the first option as undesirable as possible while making the second option sound quite appealing.

6:44 — "...because an atheist says, 'I know God doesn't exist'"
Face, meet Palm. I get tired of correcting theologians on their straw man. I'll just direct you here.

6:59 — "...because an agnostic says 'God may not exist, but I don't even care if he does or he doesn't.'"
Actually, that describes an apatheist. I'll grant him that I've seen a number of apatheists declare themselves to be agnostics, though. (Which may be an indicator that they care juuuuust enough to where they don't want other people to think of them as someone who doesn't care.) At any rate, an agnostic is someone who thinks a deity is unknowable. In practical terms, this can even just be an admission of having an insufficient knowledge base. Again, I'll direct you here.

The rest of the video is basically just preaching...and impressing the audience with how these supposed atheists came up to collect Bibles afterward (assuming that part of the story is true), thus completing his argument from authority. ("My argument was so impressive, it got intelligent atheists to rethink their stance on God!") More importantly, I do want to go back to a question I posed earlier, which would be the one regarding whether or not I've heard the argument before*. I have. Well, particularly the one about God being outside the knowledge we have. I do seriously doubt he was being honest in his claim that he had never thought about that before.

* This one was slightly better formed than when I've heard it previously. There, the argument revolved around the idea of the universe being large. That was just silly; if the person making the argument found reason to believe in God, then I only need to look where they did. And I assure you, they didn't look beyond this planet. So, at least this guy focused only on earth-based knowledge. Ultimately, it's still the same fallacy, but just not to the same degree of absurdity.

So, let's review. How many fallacies did I find?
  1. A veiled argument from authority sprinkled throughout the video.
  2. A blatantly obvious argument from ignorance.
  3. A blatantly obvious false dichotomy.
  4. Typical Christian propaganda that appeals to emotion.
  5. A straw man (misrepresentation) of what atheism and agnostism are.

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