Tuesday, October 1, 2013

5 reasons why you're not successfully converting me

While I'm on the topic of why I'm not a theist (a.k.a., an atheist), I thought I'd write up a handy dandy list. Out of the attempts at converting me, there's a number of tactics/approaches that just fall flat on their face, and there are reasons for that.

Here are my top 5 reasons why you, as a proselytizer, are not converting me.

#5: Your Facts are Wrong

Most people are rational, reasonable people, but their reasoning can be derailed if the premises of what they think is true/demonstrated, is incorrect.

Sometimes, we'll get arguments that "archaeology has proved the historical accuracy of the Bible", or like some guy I was debating with while back, was a Geocentrist, and didn't have a clue how the Moon's orbit around Earth works. "We proved radiometric dating is unreliable", and "I'm going to blurt out the phrase 'polonium halos' as a disproof for radiometric dating" also pop up from time to time. "Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies for the Messiah", "the dead Sea Scrolls prove the Bible is true" and "we have a wide assortment of proved miracles!" also burst forth from the mouths of believers.

It's easy to build a world view on a pile of false premises... and when those are thrown at non-believers, they're not going to stick, because we're going to know better. Instead, we're more likely to see you as being an ignoramus. "It's no wonder this person believes in an invisible sky wizard."

Before you start making claims, try to take some time to ensure that what you're saying is actually true... and even better, by source you may disagree with.

Until then, it's difficult to build arguments on duds.

For example, one observation I've made, that has consistently held as true, is that anyone who doesn't accept evolutionary theory, also has massive, extensive misunderstandings and mischaracterizations about the theory. In short, they don't even understand the thing they're arguing against... and every conversation turns into a Evolution 101 class.

We all have some of our facts wrong... some more than others. The question is whether one strives to ensure that one's beliefs about reality are confirmed and demonstrable. It's a life-long ongoing struggle. 

Some don't care to even try... or, if they do, validate only from sources that already agree with them.

#4: You're Employing Numerous Logical Fallacies

Imagine trying to build a jet engine while getting the chemistry and physics wrong. It'd be difficult to get that thing off the ground, no? (assuming it was attached to something with wings)

The laws of physics and chemistry aren't word games. They aren't semantics. They're the rudimentary basics to how reality works. Ignoring them sabotages your entire effort... and demonstrably so - not merely because we say so.

Likewise, in order to get an argument "off the ground", your logic must be impeccable. Logic and syntax errors plague programming, causing the program to run incorrectly, or simply crash. The code cannot contain errors... like the jet engine cannot contain errors. Everything must be proper for these things to work.

... so why do you think you can get away with stuffing your arguments full of logical fallacies (errors)?

Some of the most common ones I hear are:
  • Argument from Ignorance - "God created life because we don't know how else it could have happened"
  • False Dilemma - "Either the universe came from God, or it came from nothing.. and since it's impossible to come from nothing, it must have been God"
  • Shifting the Burden of Proof - "You haven't proved that there ISN'T a god!", "Prove that this miracle wasn't real"
It only takes a counter-example to demonstrate, even to those who are employing the fallacies, why they're fallacious.

Would they accept the argument, "Evolution is true because we don't know how else the known species formed", or "The Big Bang is true because it's either that, or God did it, and since gods are impossible, it must be the Big Bang"?

The fallacy doesn't mean you're wrong - it just means you tripped up in making your case.

Familiarize yourself with the common logical fallacies, and build the habit of self-checking whether you're making them. I occasionally have to revise what I say in these postings, because I accidentally used some fallacies. I'm not infallible. I'm just in the habit of "proof reading" my own thought processes for logical "spelling errors".

I have an ongoing thesis that, like my previous observation, has held to be 100% true, and I'll often call it the "First Law of Apologetics" - Any argument for the existence of a god contains at least one crippling logical fallacy.

All the apologetic arguments are that bad... and thus, unbelievable.

#3: You're Failing the Standards of Evidence

Evidence isn't anything that "appears to support my case"... not exactly. It depends on how colloquial of a definition one uses. Within the context of science, or any kind of serious investigation about reality, there's a little more to it than that.

Long ago, I detailed a basic interpretation of the standards (link) - basically, a list of requirements in order to qualify as "good evidence", in the same sense that a job applicant needs to meet a list of requirements to be considered a "good candidate" for a job opening.

When considering a candidate for a job, which of these requirements are you willing to waive?:
  • Is punctual and reliable
  • Is competent for the job
  • Is not a murderer or rapist or other type of criminal
What I find, is that the analogous theistic evidence waves most of the requirements, except for maybe "but this guy thinks my company is awesome!"

I've found that most apologists/evangelicals/proselytizers... and dare I say, most of my own side, aren't even aware that such as thing as the "Standards of evidence" exists. The ex-theist atheists tend to be more familiar with the critical thinking and skepticism to suss out what's wrong with the asserted evidences for God, but for the most part, few people have a clue.

Do I really have to explain that things aren't true simply because people say so? Do I really have to explain how psychology and motivation can cause the fabrication and spinning of information? Do I really have to explain how human perception and cognition is prone to flaws and error? (See #2)

... then why do you think that testimony has value?

Wouldn't it be better if the evidence was demonstrable, presentable, objective, logical, repeatable, testable, falsifiable, exclusive, etc? Each one of these qualifications are easily defendable to the satisfaction of the believer, as a requirement for quality.

.. so please use them. It's the difference between your asserted evidence being "useful and convincing", and "pathetic and laughable, and why are you wasting me time? I have better things to do with my life... like playing Fallout 3... again... I'm going to try to beat the game using nothing but a BB gun"

#2: You're not employing science (appealing to testimony, etc)

Science isn't dogma. It's not fundamentalism. It's a tool... one that is repeatedly shown to actually demonstrably work. If I'm trying to cut wood, I'm going to use a saw, because saws work... and your suggestion of closing my eyes and pretending the wood is cut, and if I believe hard enough, it will be - is not adequate.

Science is our honed precision instrument for investigating reality. Unfortunately for apologists, it does not support their assertions.

To me, that'd be a red flag, and I'd be re-evaluating my beliefs on a topic if it did not stack up against demonstrable reality... but that's me.

... and it's apparently not those who are trying to convert me.

Instead of trying to use science, often we'll get attempts to simply redefine science (link to Fox News article on 2005 Kansas science standards), or argue that testimonial evidence meets modern legal evidentiary requirements - while ignoring that witnesses need to be in the courtroom for cross examination, and that while they are enabled to be presented, they have little to no weight, and aren't required to be considered at all. We'll hear about how logic presupposes a god, or that atheists are "borrowing from Christianity" in our attempts to disprove it... and other ludicrous claims.

They've never been able to make their case for these assertions, and typically come across as crackpots.

If you decide to set aside the standards of Science, and instead, modify the process to suit your needs, be correct.

My world view is heavily constructed using this process, and I'll frequently and bluntly tell apologists - "look, if you want to convince me, or any of my fellow atheists, about anything, you need to use this framework. We can debate about whether the framework is valid or not, or whether you have an intelligible and effectual alternative or not, but until we do either of those things, and move past science... science is the language you must speak.. otherwise, your time will be wasted here."

... typically, the response to that clarification is to argue with me as to whether or not I've ever not applied science, ever... or whether science is valid. They know they can't back up their claims through standardized investigations of reality.

In short, if you're not using science, or you don't have a time-tested effectual alternative... don't bother.

#1: You make no attempt to empirically confirm your arguments

I'm not hostile towards philosophy. I approach to the question of philosophy versus science is a question of appropriate application. In short, philosophy to science, is the blueprint to the machine that systematically explores a region. 

For some reason, some people think that drawing up blueprints is directly equivalent to data collection of the region... as though simply coming up with an argument is sufficient to learning about reality, instead of figuring out the tools to learn about reality.

Ironically, the people who frequently tell me that humans suck at reason an logic, are the apologists.

I agree.

That's why simply coming up with arguments for God are inadequate. Science has a solution for this - one for which is demonstrably effective at resolving this issue, not just daily, but second-by-second across the surface of this place - empirical confirmation.

Our application of logic and reason guides us... it produces hypotheses that we can then test (or if we're short of time/resources, we give it an "educated guess", and run with it, and hope we beat the odds). Ultimately, however, some of the most fundamental and strangest aspects of how reality work, run counter to our intuition, and contradict our common sense understanding of reality, and it required copious quantities of empirical confirmation to bring us around on those facts.

Empirical confirmation is the verification that what we reasoned was true, was actually true.

... and yet, across the board, the apologetic arguments lack this key step. They don't even try.

Awesome, you've come up with the Kalam Cosmological Argument - arguing for a "first mover" to solve a common-sense derived conundrum about an infinite regress of causality. 

Great. Now, empirically confirm it. Until then, it's an undemonstrated hypothesis about reality... though calling it a "hypothesis" is charitable, because the point to hypotheses is that they're specifically structured to be testable and falsifiable. The accurate phrase here would be "reasoned guess".

Consider black holes (link to a history of black holes). Centuries ago, as we were learning more about physics, we were realizing a chilling ramification to the laws of physics, as we derived them - the possibility of black holes. 

It wasn't until a few decades ago that the scientific community had enough empirical confirmation to concede that something, which was (and still is) such an affront to our sensibilities, are real.

Science is very conservative like that.

If it takes significant empirical confirmation to get us to accept that infinitely small, infinitely dense objects with infinite gravitational pull at their centers, that defy our current laws of physics... are true, why do you think your assertion about an infinitely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable universe creating infinite intelligent being created everything... without any kind of empirical confirmation... and instead, all you have are these abstract augments that are constructed on a plethora of assumptions, many of which are already disproved?

If you have no empirical confirmation... all you have is speculation.

If all you have is speculation, you are not convincing me.

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