Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Intergalactic Space Aliens are Raiding my Garbage

I looked out towards the road in my front yard, where I had placed my garbage bags. I noted with horror that they were eviscerated and the contents scattered across my yard and driveway.

"Who, so vile, would do such a thing!", I yelled.

I thought for a moment, eyebrows furrowing, and I realized the answer - Intergalactic Space Aliens


Starting with a Conclusion

Before I explain why I think Intergalactic Space Aliens are tearing open my garbage bags, I'd like to discuss a compulsive behavior of apologetics - starting with a conclusion.

Many theists are theists because that's how they were raised. They were born into a religious household, who immediately started indoctrinating the children into the theistic beliefs. The children aren't reasoned into it. The family and pastor don't give a PowerPoint presentation of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, and works cited. The children weren't allowed to ask questions, challenging the concept, typically.

The children were told it's true, and being impressionable hominids, they just accepted it at face value.

The problem begins when these new theists enter the real world, and quite surprisingly to them, encounter those who do not agree with their beliefs. By Thor's beard!

In order to justify their beliefs, not only to others, but to themselves, they embark on a mission to scour reality for anything that hints towards validating their ill-conceived beliefs. Thus, apologetics is born.

The problem here is that looking for evidence that confirms a pre-conceived conclusion is essentially cherry-picking, while ignoring anything that either supports other possibilities, or refutes one's own.

Let's look at the Complimentary Argument

Diagram depicting the relationship between the starting-conclusion argument and it's compliment no-starting-conclusion argument.
Fear the power of white board figures.
The complimentary argument is something I made up just now. We're evaluating a selected piece of evidence - in this case, torn-open garbage bags.

If we're starting with the conclusion that Intergalactic Space Aliens do this sort of thing, then the presence of torn-open garbage bags confirms my belief that Intergalactic Space Aliens are responsible.

Is this really the best explanation I can come up with to explain the victimized garbage bags? Why am I skipping over possibilities like raccoon or bears? Any rational person would recognize this disparity.

The compliment argument - starting from no-conclusion - would start with an observation that my garbage bags are torn open. I would then examine them thoroughly, find things like claw marks, or footprints surrounding the crime scene. Following the evidence, I would at least conclude that some type of animal is responsible. I would then do further research and find other examples of people videotaping raccoon and bears doing this to other peoples' garbage.

As I investigate and consider the evidence, I am increasingly converging on an answer - a raccoon. 

The compliment argument - starting with a conclusion - would simply look at those garbage bags and declare that Intergalactic Space Aliens are responsible. At least, this is what apologists do. They look at something like the existence of life and declare that a universe-creating all-powerful all-knowing all-present entity, who is obsessed with people chopping off the tips of humans' penises, is responsible.

My question to that apologist would be - is that the best explanation you can come up with?

Bob is a Criminal

Let's briefly consider another example.

Following the Evidence

I am a police investigator who examines a series of burglaries. I gather evidence, and the evidence indicates that Bob McBob is the culprit. I arrest Bob and he's given a trial, where the jury concludes, via the evidence, that he's guilty.

This is fairly typical, right? It's a good way to approach it.

Here's a bad way to approach it.

Starting with a Conclusion

I am a police investigator who, for no apparent reason, concludes that Bob is a criminal. I investigate a series of burglaries. With each new burglary, I consider that additional evidence that Bob is a criminal. I arrest him and bring him to trial. The jury agrees with my line of reasoning, and he's thrown in prison.

But wait, how do we know that Bob is the one who did it? As a police officer, my premise is that Bob is committing burglary within the city, and thus, if there's any burglaries, then that supports my claim.

How do I know it wasn't somebody else? 

If I'm convinced of something a priori, I can support that belief by cherry-picking reality, almost no matter what the belief is. For this reason, many mutually exclusive religious beliefs can exist at the same time.

Final Thoughts

When we actually follow the evidence, we come to a starkly different conclusion. 

In terms of accuracy, starting with no conclusion, and following the evidence, is demonstrably a much more accurate approach. Yet, for some bizarro reason, the whole of apologetics takes the lesser-quality route.

Well, it's not bizarro. That's what happens when one's beliefs are indefensible. They have nothing else.


  1. And there's the problem, you're right.
    By the way: These captchas are an affliction. I needed three attempts for my last comment.

  2. I disabled the capcha requirement. It's mostly to block spambots, but I'll just address those as they pop up.