Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Reason Rally: Avoiding the Bigot's Fallacy

Those who are opposed to the Reason Rally have done a remarkable job of changing the subject whenever it gets uncomfortably close to talking about the costs of some of their policies in terms of human lives and well-being.

For example, they will come forth with a claim like, "But look at all of the good that religion has done," or "You have not looked at all of the religious views out there."

Some atheists and secularists try to respond directly to this type of comment.

However, I have a different response.

My response is:

Therefore . . . what?

Therefore . . . I should not protest the practice of stoning a young woman to death for the crime of being raped or for having sex outside of marriage – while she lays there as a bleeding pulp of flesh?

Therefore . . . I should not care about the child who dies from the lack of medical care because a simple procedure that could have saved his life was frowned on by his parent's religion?

"Therefore, I should not care about gangs going around torturing and killing teenagers who even look gay?"

"Therefore, I should be content to let hundreds of millions of people die an early death or endure prolonged suffering and disability who could have been helped by medical treatments that religious factions forbid?"

"Therefore, I should be happy that children are being taught to hate and fear science, where science gives us the best ability of predicting and, thus, avoiding future harms?"

"What are you driving at here? Why are you telling me this?"

If the answer is, "Well, I'm not talking about those things," my response is, "But I am!"

If the answer is, "Yes," then they should be made to say so. To stay in the conversation, they should say, "Yes, my arguments are meant to conclude that you should be content with these harms and injustices, just as I am."

However, these objections to the atheist claims are often - almost always - made without a thought as to their implications or relevance. What is worse is that, after the theist gives this irrelevant response, too many atheists go chasing after these red herrings and forget all about the need to save lives and reduce suffering.

To be honest, some secularists and atheists have made it easy for others to change the subject. They routinely make a specific logical error that leaves an opening for just this kind of move - and the consequence of changing the subject.

Yes, I am saying that some secularists are not the model of logical perfection that some want to believe themselves to be.

The mistake I am referring to involves making illogical and unwarranted leaps from premises that are true of "a religion" or "a set of religious beliefs", to conclusions about "religion" in general.

These are instances of the fallacy of hasty generalization - an informal logical fallacy that a lot of atheist leap right into.

This is a mistake for three reasons.

First, it is illogical. If we are going to hold that reasonable thinking is a virtue - which seems to be at least a part of the message of the Reason Rally - then we must shun and condemn violations of reason. These derogatory overgeneralizations are an example of that. Are we for reason and rationality? Or are we for unwarranted leaps of logic whenever they appear it gets us to a desired conclusion?

Second, this is how a bigoted mind thinks. It jumps from some wrong done by a subset of a group to derogatory generalizations about the whole group. When secularists and atheists make this mistake, they are showing themselves to be unreasoning bigots more interested in promoting dislike of a target group than rational discussion of relevant social issues. We do not need that type around here.

Third, it causes human suffering. It allows people to change the subject away from behavior that risks likes, promotes suffering, and allows religious interference with the peaceful lives of others. As a result, it provides a smoke screen behind which those practices can continue. Furthermore, it allows the manufacturers of this smoke screen to present the case that the atheist claims are logically invalid and morally hypocritical. As such, they are able to undermine everything else the speaker is trying to advance.

So, don't do it.

For example, if the subject of conversation is a set of beliefs that results in people denying life-saving medical care to children, then keep the conversation on that topic. Do not allow it to morph into a conversation about "religion". This is because some religions are not involved in denying life-saving medical care to children. That is a different subject.

If your opponent gives any answer like those I wrote about at the start of this post, or anything else that ultimately fails to address this issue, snap your fingers and say, "Over here. Focus. I am trying to save some lives here. We are talking about children dying or suffering permanent injury as a result of these bizarre beliefs. Are you interested in helping me save these children? Or do you think we should just let them die or continue to suffer while you go off on your tangent?"


Annie Levay-Krause said...

Nice! Too many go from espousing a belief to "shiney" and can't or won't re-engage. I like your musing on snapping the fingers...I'll have to consider that next time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Words to live by. I've got no problem with religious people who are my allies and as soon as we start lumping them into one basket, we've burned a bridge that may never be rebuilt.

I've posted on our Reno Freethinkers FB page.

Justin said...

Bingo! I too often find myself defending Christians from fellow atheists who have tipped their (justified) anger towards religion to (unjustified) bigotry against all things Christian (or Muslim). I do not question anyone's belief in "God", that's personal, what I question is using these beliefs to make decisions that impact others. If I believe in space aliens, then I might have reasons for that, rational or no, but when I decide to duct-tape my children to their beds at night so that the aliens can't abduct them, or fight to prevent healthcare coverage for prostate exams because it goes against my deeply held spiritual belief that the aliens have a good reason for their anal probes, then we have a serious problem. Sure, we can argue about the probabilities of life on other planets, or UFO sightings, but to carry the possibilities or semantic arguments for something that is not extant in daily affairs nor provable with hard evidence and apply storied intentions onto those agents as justification for our actions is an exercise in madness.