Sunday, May 11, 2014

Special Pleading

One of the most frustrating things about trying to have discussions with religious people is their tendency to insist that skepticism and the rules of logic should be applied to my position but that their position is somehow exempt from the same sort of examination.

This is not just a double standard.  It is extreme intellectual dishonesty.  It is extreme bias.

The term for this type of shifting standard, where the advocate of a position unjustifably claims that his position has to be judged by a different standard or an exception to the rules is "special pleading".

In my experience with the religious the "different standard" continually shifts.  As soon as they realize that a particular standard doesn't support their position, they claim that another one applies.  Furthermore, they do this without justification, which is what makes it special pleading.  There are situations where different standards apply, but only when justified by relevant, demonstrable differences between the things being judged.

The religious will claim that their new standard is justified but usually they will not have an adequate justification for it.  Their arguments for the shift in the standard will suffer from the same fatal flaws as most of their other arguments:  They will be based on unjustified assumptions, circular reasoning or some other logical fallacy.

Although one should know the term "special pleading" and what it means, it won't usually be helpful to use it in a discussion with a religious person.  Instead, once you recognize that the argument is based on special pleading, demand that the religious person justify the use of the claimed exception to the usual rules of logic.

Most often this type of dishonest argumentation is combined with circular reasoning, such as where the religious person claims that the rules of logic don't exist because god's alleged traits make him an exception to those rules.

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