July 27, 2008

The foolishness of the 'atheists are fools' "argument"

If a man, who happens to be a Christian, has written a computer program that has some bug in it somewhere such that when you run his program to produce a list of purchases in a selected month but the "money paid" amount is wrong;

and a man, who happens to be an atheist, is assigned to perform the bug analysis, so he experiments with the program a little bit and digs into some of the program code and discovers that the bug in the program is simply that the query code that is run on the database is wrongly including purchases that have a "cancelled" status;

and then the man, who is a Christian, says, "You're an atheist, so you're just a fool. The Bible says so. So your claim that I've made an error in my computer program and your explanation and solution of it is wrong";

then the genuine fool - indeed, the idiotic moron (no joke) - would be the man who happens to be a Christian for using such a silly "argument" in the first place.

If a man, who happens to be a Christian, gets caught up in having an adulterous affair with a woman;

and another man who is a private investigator, and who happens to be an atheist, is hired by the first man's wife (who didn't happen to inquire into his religious beliefs or lack thereof) to do some investigative work to discover whether or not her husband (who is a Christian) is lying to her about what he's doing with some of his time on his own, and in the course of doing his investigative work on the husband the investigator (who is an atheist) tracks him (using a GPS device attached to his car) and ends up discovering him and "the other woman" at a hotel in a nearby town, and he even takes some really "juicy" (i.e., incriminating) pictures with his camera, after which the investigator gives a full report to the wife;

and then when confronted by his wife using the critical information provided by the investigator (who is an atheist), the man (who is a Christian), points out to his wife, "You can't pay any attention to that investigator, because he's an atheist, and as God tells us in the Bible he's just a fool,"

then the wife will show the husband exactly how irrelevant his prejudice-pandering "atheists are fools" red herring argument really is, as she completely ignores the very foolish and totally stupid argument of her husband and tosses him out on his ear and then files for a divorce for his unrepentant attitude and defiance in the face of his own error.

It's quite ironic how Christians who go for the "It's perfectly okay for me to ignore the errors this man is pointing out in my statements, because, as the Bible tells us, atheists are fools" (Psalm 14:1 - "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'") are the very ones who are demonstrating their own foolishness by using such obviously fallacious rhetoric in the first place.

The fallacy (actually, multiple fallacies are wrapped up in it) is one of the kinds of arguments that are called "red herring" (more generally, fallacies of relevance).

Red Herring
The name of this fallacy comes from the sport of fox hunting in which a dried, smoked herring, which is red in color, is dragged across the trail of the fox to throw the hounds off the scent. Thus, a "red herring" argument is one which distracts the audience from the issue in question through the introduction of some irrelevancy. This frequently occurs during debates when there is an at least implicit topic, yet it is easy to lose track of it. By extension, it applies to any argument in which the premisses are logically irrelevant to the conclusion.

Argumentum ad Hominem
A debater commits the Ad Hominem Fallacy when he introduces irrelevant personal premisses about his opponent. Such red herrings may successfully distract the opponent or the audience from the topic of the debate.

Ad hominem
(RationalWiki entry, 7/20,2008)
It occurs when people who are unable to attack the argument being made attack instead the person making it. As such arguments have nothing to do with the topic, they have no weight, not even if the attack is true. Two plus two still equals four even if the first person to point this out was the most morally reprehensible person to have ever lived.

Ad hominem
(Wikipedia entry, 7/20/2008)
An ad hominem fallacy is a genetic fallacy and red herring, and is most often (but not always) an appeal to emotion.

An ad hominem fallacy consists of asserting that someone's argument is wrong and/or he is wrong to argue at all purely because of something discreditable/not-authoritative about the person or those persons cited by him rather than addressing the soundness of the argument itself. The implication is that the person's argument and/or ability to argue correctly lacks authority. Merely insulting another person in the middle of otherwise rational discourse does not necessarily constitute an ad hominem fallacy (though it is not usually regarded as acceptable). It must be clear that the purpose of the characterization is to discredit the person offering the argument, and, specifically, to invite others to discount his arguments.


"You claim that this man is innocent, but you cannot be trusted since you are a criminal as well."

This argument would generally be accepted as reasonable, as regards personal evidence, on the premise that criminals are likely to lie to protect each other. On the other hand, it is a valid example of ad hominem if the person making the claim is doing so on the basis of evidence independent of their own credibility.

This particular piece of rhetoric ("atheists are fools"), used as an argument, also happens to function as another form of red herring at the same time, namely as an appeal to emotion by appealing to many other Christians' emotional prejudice against atheists: "This criticism of this creationist claim is wrong because the criticism is made by atheists (and you know how bad atheists are)." In other words, the rhetoric is being used to attack something an atheist has stated in discussion (regardless of whether or not what the atheist is talking about has any relevance to what is being discussed) on the basis of nothing more than anti-atheist prejudice.

Emotional Appeals
Emotional appeals all have two things in common:

1. They attempt to elicit an emotional response that will serve as the basis of any decision made, instead of presenting an argument and relying on its soundness.

2. As a result, they are never acceptable in an argument, though they can be quite effective in arousing non-rational responses.

Fallacious appeals to emotions are effective because it's easier for most people not to think critically, but to rely on their gut reaction; and it's easier for the person making the appeal to excite his listeners' emotions than to construct a persuasive argument.

Appeal to Prejudice. A prejudice is a predisposition to judge groups of people or things either positively or negatively, even after the facts of a case indicate otherwise....

By appealing to a prejudice in the listener, the person making the argument attempts to ensure a favorable reaction. Most often, such an appeal works on negative images, and extreme cases can be classified as so-called "hate speech" when directed against a group defined by race, ethnicity, or gender.

Finally - and note that this in only in the case of certain contexts in which this rhetoric is used, such as in discussions where a person who is an atheist has been discussing various factual errors and errors in reasoning used by creationists in their attacks against science - the function that the "atheists are fools" rhetoric serves is as a "begging the question" form of fallacy. The argument goes something like this: "We know that atheists are not able to correctly deal with facts and reason properly because of the very fact that they are atheists, therefore it is okay to ignore any of the criticisms stated by this atheist about creationist arguments since criticisms by atheists are wrong." In logical form, it's something like this:
Premise 1: Statements made by atheists are wrong.
(Atheists are not able to correctly deal with
facts and reasoning about the facts, because
atheists are "fools.")

Premise 2: This person who is stating criticisms
of creationism is an atheist.

Conclusion: Therefore, we can ignore anything
pointed out by an atheist because his
criticisms are wrong.
The conclusion merely assumes the truth of the first premise (it actually only restates the first premise).

Of course, the only way to know whether or not the criticisms being stated by the atheist are right or wrong (or irrelevant) is to actually deal with the facts (or dig into the information being purported to be factual) and to actually deal with the conceptual details of the reasoning that is being used with the facts that the person who happens to be an atheist is pointing out - and the very purpose of the "begging the question" fallacy being used is to prevent others from conducting such rational consideration.

So the use of the "atheists are fools" rhetoric as any kind of argument is based on a whole bundle of rhetorical fallacies. The fact that the Christians who use this rhetoric would even think that their "atheists are fools" "argument" has any relevance whatsoever for dealing with... well, with dealing with anything in terms of rational argument, especially in the context of discussing criticisms of creationist arguments to try to get creationists to deal with the scientific facts that show that their numerous arguments are permeated with factual and conceptual errors (as well as being ignorant about the actual science) is just another one of those amusing ironies of how so much of the rhetoric creationists love to use is itself quite foolish, being nothing more than the use of basic and well-known fallacies.