Monday, February 21, 2011

Classic Intellectual Dishonesty

I have mentioned before how the religious engage in intellectual dishonesty on numerous levels.  One of their most frequently used tactics is to try to shift the burden of proof.  They do this by engaging in a series of dishonest arguments.  A recent article in the Huffington Post by Rabbi Adam Jacobs is a classic example, which illustrates perfectly the sort of dishonest arguments used and also many of the points I have tried to make in my posts in this blog about the dishonest nature and tactics of the religious.

The first such dishonest argument is the "straw-man" argument in which the person claims that his opponent has made a certain argument which the opponent did not, in fact, make and then attacks that argument.  It is called the "straw-man" argument because the person making it has metaphorically replaced his opponent with another, much weaker, opponent.  The straw-man argument is always a much weaker argument than the actual argument the opponent is making, which is why the person making the straw-man argument wants to shift the discussion to it.  He feels he has a better chance of winning on that point.

Often the person making the argument will think he is engaging in a sort of "reductio ad absurdum" argument.  This confusion arises out of a misunderstanding of what a "redutio ad absurdum" argument is.  "Reductio ad absurdum" is an argument based on inherent contradictions in the opponent's argument.  For example, the argument that the existence of the universe proves god is subject to a fatal inherent contradiction:  If all things that exist must have a cause, and god exists, then god must have a cause; but if god exists without a cause for his existence, then the initial premise is contradicted.

Many people, however, seem to think the argument consists of simply making fun of the opponent's argument--or, in this case, making fun of what he thinks are the implications of that argument.  Sometimes, however, the implications that the person thinks he sees are in his mind only and not in the argument itself.  Such is the case here with Rabbi Jacobs.

The straw-man that Rabbi Jacobs insists on attacking is the same straw-man that believers have been attacking with regard to atheists ever since believers stopped burning us at the stake:  That atheism is an assertion of absolute certainty that god does not exist.

The implications of this straw-man argument is that atheists are making a positive assertion and therefore are assuming the burden of proof on that assertion.  As I pointed out before, believers engage in this dishonesty in an attempt to shift the burden of proof from themselves to atheists.  They know that they have made a positive assertion and that they can't meet their own burden of proof, so they try desperately to shift the debate to new ground.

The Rabbi's article is a classic--a reiteration of numerous such articles I have seen in the past.  These articles are almost always written by clergymen or other members of the religious "intelligentsia".   Like all such articles, it is merely an attempt to give a veneer of intellectual respectability to the intellectually psychopathic sneer "prove it".

Another implication of the argument, and one that those who make it seem not to notice, is that the argument is based, in part, on an assertion that it is impossible to prove god does not exist.  In other words, it is an admission that the god hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

The author admits himself that the only way to disprove the existence of god would be to know everything about the universe.  This is an admission that proving that god doesn't exist is literally impossible because the standard he sets is one that is impossible to meet.  The universe is, for all practical purposes, infinite.  It may not be infinite in size (though even that is subject to debate), but once one considers other dimensions such as time, then the fact that its size in the first three dimensions may be finite quickly becomes overshadowed by our inability to estimate its size taking into account other dimensions.

One can never falsify the god hypothesis for at least three reasons:  First,  the hypothesis includes the notion that some power is being used to fool you into thinking you have (or have not) falsified it, which was a point I made before.  In addition, the god hypothesis is infinitely malleable and therefore an infinite number of proofs requiring an infinite amount of time would be required.  Finally, the hypothesis contains the notion that the thing being hypothesized is outside the realm of human sensory experiences.  Thus, there are at least three separate reasons to conclude that the god hypothesis is non-falsifiable, any one of which is sufficient. 

When a hypothesis is unfalsifiable, the burden of proof is always on the proponent of the hypothesis for the simple and obvious reason that only the proponent can ever meet his or her burden of proof.  As I also pointed out before, the lack of evidence for such a proposition is more than sufficient to meet any burden of proof on those who deny its truth unless and until the proponents produce some evidence that it is true.  This is particularly true when the proposition is extraordinary and accompanied by numerous indicia of falsehood.

Why is the Rabbi so eager to state that the god hypothesis is unfalsifiable?  So eager that he overlooks the fact that it undercuts his argument?  Because he is engaging in another bit of dishonesty called "raising the bar".  As I pointed out before, burdens of proof are not simple static things.  They can be lesser or greater when compared to each other.  The Rabbi is so eager to state that atheists can't prove him wrong that he ends up making the case that the burden of proof is impossible to meet and therefore the god hypothesis is unfalsifiable.  (And, as is usually the case with religious apologists, appears too dimwitted to notice that he has done so--or the implications of having done so.)

Why does he not see this?  Because for him, like most believers, the burden of proof with regard to disproving god will never be satisfied.  Believers do not base their belief on reason or evidence and their repeated assertions that no amount of evidence can dissuade them shows this.  Only complete, airtight proof could ever begin to dissuade him.  More important, he wants not only to shift the burden of proof to atheists but to make it insurmountable.  The goal is to make the atheist feel that his position isn't supported by logic and to try to pressure him into calling himself agnostic.  By doing so, the atheist would be, for all practical purposes, giving up the fight--withdrawing and therefore conceding--even though his position is the correct one.

Like all the others who try this ploy, the Rabbi seems to miss the fact that his argument cuts both ways.  If atheists are actually all agnostics because they can't prove that god doesn't exist, then believers have to be agnostic as well because they can't prove god exists.  He says he is willing to admit this only "for the sake of argument".  This sort of outrageous double standard is uniformly asserted by the religious and reveals their utter dishonesty.

If you point out that they cannot prove god exists, most of them will respond with an assertion that they don't have to prove that god exist, and that, of course, was the point that they wished to make in the first place with their dishonest charade:  that they do not bear any burden of proof.

(Ftnt.:  If there were any doubt that the Rabbi is intellectually dishonest, it is dispelled by his assertion of the outrageously false calumny that Hitler was a secularist.  As I have pointed out previously, twice, this assertion is so clearly false and contrary to all evidence that anyone who asserts it is necessarily pathologically dishonest.)

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