Category Archives: Logical Fallacies

Evidence Explained (or, Why Apologetics Fail)

Webster’s defines “evidence” as – : something which shows that something else exists or is true, : a visible sign of something, : material that is presented to a court of law to help find the truth about something.  To put things in more scientific terms, evidence is that which can be demonstrated, tested, verified, and falsified.

This would seem to be a pretty straight forward idea, and to most people about most things, it is.  However, a strange thing happens when people hold to ideas which can’t be demonstrated to be true with evidence.  Suddenly the definition of what constitutes “evidence” changes or broadens to encompass any arguments or claims they can muster that seem to lend credibility to their position.  This widened criteriaa, however, is only applicable to their own strongly held belief and does not extend to beliefs that other people hold that they disagree with.  More on this later.

Apologetics is defined as – reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.  Bible.org gives the simpler definition as “the defense of the Christian faith”.

When I was a Christian, I was big into apologetics, and spent many hours reading books and watching debates from such notable personalities as Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, and others.  After becoming more familiar with the philosophy of critical thinking, logical fallacies, and the scientific method, I soon realized that there was something strangely missing from all apologetic works, both novice and professional: evidence.  Demonstrable, verifiable, empirical evidence.  Despite the common Christian claim that there is an abundance of evidence for their beliefs, I soon realized that this evidence is strangely absent from any work of apologetics I had ever come across.  What I did see over and over where justifications being substituted and passed of as “evidence”.  That’s what I want to talk about here; common apologetic tactics which are not “evidence” and should not be taken as such.

Arguments

Several years ago I served on a  jury.  Before the trial started the judge went over the rules and guidelines for how we determine a verdict.  One of the points that he made was that the opening and closing statements could not be used in out determination of a verdict.  There’s a very good reason for this – arguments (or argumentation), no mater how compelling, well thought out, or convincing, are not evidence. 

Apologists love their arguments.  The Cosmological Argument, Argument from Morality, Argument from Design, Ontological Argument, Pascals Wager, etc.  There are some problems with this however.

First, arguments can be used to show the plausibility of almost anything.  I’ve heard very convincing arguments for the existence of Bigfoot and the Yeti.  I’ve watched documentaries on how aliens are the only explanation for the how the pyramids of Egypt were built.  Many people are convinced that Hitler escaped Berlin at the end of WWII.  Does this mean that Bigfoot is real, Hitler is alive, or that aliens are responsible for one of the great wonders of the Earth?  Of course not.  Yet this same logic applies to apologetics – just because you can come up with a convincing argument for the existence of something does not mean it is “proof” of its existence.

Second, if arguments are not evidence, then fallacious arguments are even less so.  I’ve yet to encounter an apologist give an argument that wasn’t some form of a logical fallacy.   To use the example listed above, the Cosmological Argument is a classic “God of the Gaps” fallacy as is the Argument from Morality.  The Argument from Design suffers from many fallacies, most notably the Weak Analogy fallacy.   The Ontological Argument is a form of Circular Reasoning and Pascals Wager is an example of Begging the Question.  If anyone can find me a work of apologetics that doesn’t contain logical fallacies, I’ll buy you dinner.

Anecdotes/Personal Testimony

Christians love their personal testimonies.  Whether it’s at church, on social media, at music festivals, or in personal conversations, every Christian has a story about how God answered some prayer,  worked in their lives, or performed a miracle.  For many people, these personal experiences are the main reason for their belief in God.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a Christian claim,”I’ve experienced him working in my life” as their “evidence” of God’s existence…

Personal experiences and anecdotes are not evidence, no matter how real or convincing they may seem to people.  There are several reasons for this.

First, when people use anecdotes as evidence, they are usually committing a logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc (post hoc for short).  The Latin translates to “after this, therefore because of this,” and it occurs whenever an argument takes the following form:

  • X happened before Y
  • Therefore, X caused Y

The reason that post hoc arguments are invalid should be obvious: the fact that Y happened after X does not mean that X caused Y.

Anytime someone claims that God answered a prayer, they are committing a post hoc fallacy.  When someone gives an emotional testimony about how they were an addict, criminal, all around shitty person, and then God miraculously changed their lives, they make the mistake of assuming that since they got better after accepting Jesus into their lives, that it was Jesus who changed them around.

Second, if one is going to admit anecdotes as evidence, then you have to admit all personal stories as equally credible.  That means that the personal stories of Muslims is proof of Allah, anecdotes by Scientologists are proof that their religion is true, and thousands of accounts of alien encounters are proof of aliens.  It is not hard to find very convincing stories by very credible witnesses who claim to have been abducted by aliens.  These people are so convinced of this that they are able to pass polygraph tests when questioned about their encounters.  Is this hard evidence that aliens are visiting earth and kidnapping people?  Most theists would say no, yet they would like to claim that their own stories are “evidence” of God’s existence.  This double standard is known as special pleading –  applying standards, principles, and/or rules to other people or circumstances, while making oneself or certain circumstances exempt from the same critical criteria, without providing adequate justification.  You can’t attempt to argue that your experiences constitute as evidence and then try to discredit the experiences of other believers who disagree with you.

Lastly, anecdotes that affirm a position often ignore anecdotal evidence that contradicts the same position.  Theists can claim that prayer works only by ignoring all the times that it didn’t work.  You can claim that God got you out of addiction, but what about all the people who also reached out to God and are still addicts?  This is confirmation bias – the tendency to seek out information that conforms to their pre-existing view points, and subsequently ignore information that goes against them, both positive and negative.

Luciano Gonzalez over at Patheos sums it up nicely:

“Your experiences are AT BEST reasons for you to believe. They are not (or at least they shouldn’t be) compelling evidence for other people that you want to convince you are right. If you are arguing that your experiences are compelling evidence, I want to know what separates your experiences from the experiences of others that somehow their experiences are not as convincing as yours, or are somehow inferior to yours in such a way that you know your experiences are true while knowing or believing that theirs are not (in cases when you share your experiences with people who disagree with you).”

*(For a more in-depth look at why anecdotes aren’t evidence, check out this article over at The Logic of Science blog)

15055768_1814156855464284_8659794779236935348_n

The Supernatural/Miracles

In a recent debate between Matt Dillahunty and Blake Giunta on the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus, Guinta made the argument that the most plausible explanation for the testimonies found in the Bible, and other sources of people encountering Jesus after his death, was that he had miraculously risen from the dead after three days.  He claims that the actual, physical resurrection is the only plausible explanation for how so many people could have had such similar and lucid encounters.  Remember how we talked earlier about alien abductions?

Miracles, by definition, are a violation or suspension of the laws of nature, thus making them supernatural.  David Hume characterized them as “a transgression of the law of nature” and were thereforethe least likely event possible“.  Yet, miracles abound in apologetics.  In fact, much of the foundation of the Christian faith, such as the Resurrection, prayer, and the divine inspiration of scripture, depend on the supernatural being a very real and active agent in this world.  Contrary to what many apologists think, science can test supernatural claims, and since the scientific revolution four centuries ago, we have learned that there is no supernatural realm.  Natural explanations have been found for that which was previously thought to have supernatural origins in every case that it has been studied.

Occam’s Razor states that when there exist two explanations for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually better.  Another way of saying it is; the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is.  When it comes to the “evidence” produced by apologists for the existence of God, a natural explanation (no matter how unlikely) is always going to be more likely than a supernatural one.  Back to the debate mentioned earlier, when it comes to an explanation for all the witnesses who claim to have seen Jesus after he arose, there are many natural explanations – mass hallucinations, shared psychotic disorder, groupthink, legendary accretion, mistaken identity, false memories, etc.  No matter how implausible some of these explanations may be, they are far more plausible than the supernatural explanation of a bodily resurrection.  You cannot claim that the most likely explanation is the least likely event possible; a miracle.

One final note, the use of the supernatural by apologetics is another good example of special pleading.  If you are going to accept that the supernatural is real then you must also accept the supernatural claims made by other religions.

Awe and Wonder

“The evidence for God is all around us.  Just go outside and look around!”  Sadly, his kind of thinking abounds within Christianity –   people believing that the natural world is somehow evidence for their particular god-claims.  The Bible claims that God reveals himself through nature (Rom 1:20) and many take that to heart.  When asked for evidence of God, some have claimed that He  is “self-evident” in nature and that is all the “proof” they need.

This is similar to what we discussed above about anecdotes.  Personal experiences, including awe and wonder, are not evidence.  They are nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain that give some of us a pleasurable sensation when enjoying nature.  I say “some” because this is not universal.  Not everyone has the same feelings or experiences when being outdoors.

Also, the thing about nature is that it is natural and we have natural explanations for why it’s there, where it came from, etc.  No supernatural explanation needed.  A neighbor said to me the other day, “How can people look up at the stars and not believe in a God?”  My answer was, “Study cosmology”.  This isn’t to say that there can’t be mystery in the universe, but you don’t get to fill in your ignorance of the natural world with “God” and then credit that as evidence.

A common logical fallacy that falls under this category is an appeal to emotions – the use emotion in place of reason in order to attempt to win the argument.  This happens when someone attempts to manipulates peoples’ emotions in order to get them to accept a claim as being true.  This one is easy to spot; anytime someone makes of “feeling God in their heart”, or knowing that “the Holy Spirit is at work”, or feeling some sort of positive emotion and correlating them to a deity.

Absence of Evidence

This one presents itself in a couple of ways.  The most obvious is the classic argument from ignorance – when a proposition is considered true from the fact that it is not known to be false.  It’s common for people to argue that since you can’t prove God doesn’t exist, then he likely exists.  This line of reasoning could be used to support almost any claim: aliens, vampires, fairies, other gods, or a teapot orbiting the sun.  Ignorance about something says nothing about its existence or non-existence.

Another common argument is that, “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence”.  The basic idea being that we can’t be sure something doesn’t exist just because we haven’t seen it yet.  First of all; this isn’t entirely correct.  But more importantly, most situations which make very specific claims can test for evidence.  In these cases, a lack of evidence is evidence of absence.  Put simply – the absence of evidence, when evidence should be present, is evidence of absence.

Apologists often claim the “historical reliability of the Bible” as evidence for their God.  Yet, we’ve seen over and over that when evidence for very specific events, such as the Exodus and Israels’ forty years of wandering are investigated, no historical or archaeological can be found.  It is therefore more likely that these events never took place.  Many apologists would like to claim that just because evidence hasn’t been found, that these events could still have taken place, and we just haven’t found the evidence yet.  This is not rational thinking.  As Matt Dillahunty is fond of saying, “The time to believe in something is after evidence presents itself, not before.”  This goes for aliens, Bigfoot, conspiracy theories, and deities.  It’s completely reasonable to lack a belief in something as extraordinary as a deity if you know of no evidence to support such a claim being reflective of reality.  It is unreasonable to lack extraordinary evidence and still have an extraordinary belief.

14908405_718648211629633_8449387033735605222_n

People will go to great lengths to justify unsubstantiated beliefs.  When these beliefs are challenged, things like “evidence” and “proof” suddenly take on a different meaning than they would in a normal, day-to-day, situation.  A good rule of thumb when debating an apologist is this – would this kind of reasoning hold up in a court of law or a science lab?  If not, then they are likely trying to substitute something else for real evidence, and have no solid case.  And as Hitchens famously said, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”  

Hope this was helpful.  Thanks for reading.

Critical Thinking: Even More Logical Fallacies

Over the last several months I have engaged in or witnessed a number of debates, both political and religious, in which faulty arguments were used.  I realized that some of them were fallacies I hadn’t covered in my previous Logical Fallacies posts (here and here).

Just to recap,  a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning.  This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts.  To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support.  So, here’s another installment to my Critical Thinking series.

Ad Hoc Argument

Very often, we desperately want to be right and hold on to certain beliefs, despite any evidence presented to the contrary.  As a result, we begin to make up excuses as to why our belief could still be true, and is still true, despite the fact that we have no real evidence for what we are making up.  Ad Hoc arguments, simply put, are the fallacy of “Making Shit Up”.

They occur when someone is faced with an argument that discredits their position, and they respond by making something up that serves no purpose except to patch the hole in their view.  Here is a simple way to tell if an ad hoc fallacy has been committed; ask yourself the following three questions.

  1. Did they just make something up?
  2. Is their claim based on evidence/is there a good reason to accept this claim other than that it solves the problem in their argument?
  3. Would someone who wasn’t already convinced of their view accept that claim?

When pointing out to theists the numerous studies that have been done that show the inefficacy of prayer, a common response is something along the lines of, “God can’t be tested.  The studies didn’t work because God knew it was a test.” This is clearly a made up on-the-spot response, with no evidence to back it up, and only makes sense to those who already believe in the power of prayer.

Another common ad hoc argument is the use of “sin” to explain away things that don’t make sense in a world supposedly created and run by an all-knowing, all-powerful God, such as why there is so much suffering in the world or why there are so many design flaws in human anatomy.

Any argument involving magic, miracles, or the supernatural could also be considered ad hoc arguments.  Conspiracy Theories are also a hot bed for made-up arguments devoid of evidence.

“God of the Gaps” fallacy

This is a variation on the Argument from Ignorance fallacy.  This argument generally takes the following form:

  1. Scientists don’t have an explanation for A
  2. Therefore God caused A

Creationism and Intelligent Design (ID) rely heavily on this fallacy, as does apologetics. A common example of this is what is sometimes referred to as the  Cosmological Argument.  Simply put, it looks like this:

  1. The universe began to exist at the Big Bang
  2. Something apart from the universe caused this
  3. Therefore, a creator exists

Just because something can’t currently be explained doesn’t mean that an explanation doesn’t exist, nor that you can simply assume that “God did it”. There is a long history of the “gaps” in our understanding being filled by scientific explanations and the “god gaps” thus getting smaller and smaller.

Another form of this fallacy that I see often is the Argument from Incredulity when someone decides that something did not happen because they cannot personally understand how it could happen.  This fallacy comes up often when discussing “spiritual experiences”; people have a profound experience that they cannot explain, so they automatically assign an explanation to God, the Holy Spirit, etc.

Weak Analogy

Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren’t really alike in the relevant aspects, the analogy is a weak one.  It’s most commonly referred to as an “apples and oranges” argument.

For example, William Paley’s argument from design suggests that a watch and the universe are similar (both display order and complexity), and therefore infers from the fact that watches are the product of intelligent design that the universe must be a product of intelligent design too.  The argument fails because of the many differences between a watch and anything found in nature. Watches are not caused naturally, whereas the universe could have a natural cause.

The weak analogy fallacy is often used by pro-life advocates who compare embryo’s to fully developed, adult human beings, and then argue that treatment that would violate the rights of an adult human being also violates the rights of fetuses.

Equivocation Fallacy

The fallacy of equivocation is committed when a term is used in two or more different senses within a single argument.  For an argument to work, words must have the same meaning each time they appear in its premises or conclusion.  Arguments that switch between different meanings of words equivocate, and don’t work. This is because the change in meaning introduces a change in subject. If the words in the premises and the conclusion mean different things, then the premises and the conclusion are about different things, and so the former cannot support the latter.

A good example of this is seen when Creationists claim that evolution is “just a theory”, failing to understand the difference between the common use of the word the word “theory”, and the scientific use of the word.

Another example of this can be found in the common apologetics argument for “laws of nature” that I covered in a previous post.  The author states that, “the fact that our solar system is called a system is because there is a methodology & a harmony to how our solar system works and exists.”  He fails to understand the difference between a word that is prescriptive versus one that is descriptive.  We give such titles to help us make sense of the natural world, it does not mean that there is an outside agent that assigns these titles.

Sharpshooter Fallacy

Also known as”confirmation bias“, this fallacy gets its name from an illustration that demonstrates how it works: Imagine that someone fired an arrow or bullet at the side of a barn. Then, after firing, they painted a bull’s eye around whatever spot they happened to hit and proceed to proclaim that they were a “sharpshooter.” Obviously they weren’t a sharpshooter, they simply created the illusion of accuracy by painting the target after firing the shot

In actual debates, this fallacy typically occurs as a form of cherry-picking data where you present an isolated result or relationship and proclaim that it is what would be expected if they were right, when, in fact, there are other results that discredit your position.

Theist will claim that prayer works by sighting examples of prayers being “answered”, yet fail to mention all the times that a particular prayer was not answered.  After natural disasters, people are often quick to point out the “miracles” of people surviving, yet ignore all the other lives lost.  These are examples of the Sharpshooter fallacy.

Special Pleading

Special pleading occurs when people fail to apply the same standards of critical analysis to their own views as they do to other views. This fallacious argument involves an attempt to cite something as an exception to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exception.  Special pleading is often a result of strong emotional beliefs that interfere with reason.

Special pleading  comes up often in religion.  Christians will dismiss the supernatural claims made by other religions, while believing in the claims made by their own.  They will claim that the Bible is the only true “Word of God”, while criticizing other sacred texts.  When pointing out the similarities between the story of Jesus’s Resurrection and other legends of deities rising from the dead, they will insist that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but the other stories are just myths.

Another good example comes from the previously mentioned Cosmological Argument.  Its proponents will insist that something cannot come from nothing, therefore God must have caused it.  Yet, when the question is raised, “Then who caused God?”, proponents will insist that he is the exception to the rule.


In my next post we will be talking about how these, and other types of faulty arguments are often used in apologetics in lieu of actual evidence.  If you haven’t already, please go and read my previous post on logical fallacies (here and here) and critical thinking, as it will help to understand why arguments are not evidence, especially fallacious ones.  Thanks for reading

 

Is Atheism Foolish? – A Response

I recently came across a post on a conservative, Evangelical website called Inspired Walk, called “5 Reasons Why Atheism is Foolish.”  I saw the link via Twitter, and being the glutton for punishment that I am, I clicked on it.  The post reads like every other apologetic argument I’ve read – presuppositionalism mixed with a healthy dose of logical fallacies.  So, I decided I should write a response to the reasons listed.  Not because the author lays out a good, reasonable argument; just the opposite, in fact.  But because the points that are brought up are ones that atheists hear all… the… time!  

You can read the full post in the link above.  I’ll be using the main bullet points here and quoting the article when needed.

At the very start of the article, the presuppositional theology comes out – “Below are various reasons why the word of God is 100% true and correct according to Psalms 14:1 when it states that atheism is foolish.”   This is a great example of the Begging the Question fallacy –  The author concludes that atheism is foolish by assuming (presupposes) that the Bible is the literal word of God, and therefore “100% true” and universal.  Logical fallacy #1.  You’ll notice that he continues to use verses from the Bible as “evidence” of his claims throughout the article as a means of bolstering his arguments.  Let’s look dig into some of these arguments.

1. Atheist Don’t Appreciate That Every Design Has A Designer

The author spends the first half of this point talking about complex machines, such as jet liners and the Large Hadron Collider, how long they took to build, how many people were involved, etc.  It is then stated that, “if we were to use the same thought process or the same thought pattern that the atheist uses in relation to creation, it would be very easy to understand why atheism is extremely foolish and why atheists are regarded as being fools by God. Somehow, the atheist cannot appreciate the complexity but yet harmonious aspects of nature or the universe and come to the conclusion that there is a vastly superior Being behind creation.”

Let’s start by pointing out logical fallacy #2 – a False Analogy: when someone applies facts from one situation to another situation but the situations are substantially different and the same conclusions cannot logically be drawn.  In this case, the author is comparing man-made machines build over the course of several years, to nature which has evolved over millions of years.  It’s apples and oranges, but let’s address the point.

This is what’s commonly known as the Watchmaker Analogy or Teleological argument.  This argument relies on a complete misunderstanding of evolution and how it works.  First, it fails to understand that seemingly complex systems in nature did not suddenly appear in their natural form, but are the product of millions of years of natural selection from much simpler organisms.  Second, it assumes that nature has an end-goal in mind and that what we currently see is what we get.  In fact, nature is continuing to evolve and most species on earth will continue to change over time.  Lastly, it’s very easy for scientifically-illiterate people to look at certain aspects of nature and gasp in wonder over how “complex” it is, but are either unaware or don’t acknowledge the endless examples in nature of things that aren’t “properly designed”.  For example, sea turtles having to come to shore and dig a hole in the sand for their nest, a long and difficult process with flippers.  The turtle needs to lay 50-200 eggs at a time to assure that some of them, when hatched, actually make it through the gauntlet of predators trying to eat them.  Also, the fact that human babies have heads that are generally too big to fit through the birth canal, not only resulting in a long and painful delivery, but a dangerous one as well.  Prior to modern medicine, childbirth was dangerous business.

The argument from design takes place in another form known as the irreducible complexity argument.  From The Logic of Science blog:  The basic idea is that some systems are too complex to evolve because they aren’t functional until all of the parts are in place. For example, an eye that is missing a single piece no longer sees, and a bacterial flagellum that is missing a single protein can no longer act as a flagellum. So the argument claims that these systems could not have evolved because there would have been steps that served no useful function, and nature could not have selected for those steps. The problem is that this argument ignores the fact that evolution is blind. Traits don’t need to function for some ultimate final product in order to be selected for. Rather, if they provide any useful function at all, nature will select them. Indeed, no one has ever been able to find a truly irreducible system, and we have evolutionary pathways that explain how complex systems evolve. For example, an early precursor of the eye would have simply involved a few light sensitive cells (much like some flatworms have). They don’t function as an eye, but they still function, so nature will select for them. Similarly, the proteins that make up a flagellum all serve other functions in the cell, and we have even figured out a step-wise series of events that would form a flagellum with each step serving a useful function for the cell, even though only the final step actually serves as a flagellum. So there is just no truth to the notion that some systems are too complex to evolve.

It’s unfortunate that this argument is still used today, as Darwin addressed it 150 years ago in Origin of the Species.  Yet, theists with little or no understanding of how evolution works continue to regurgitate it.  This is a common theme in apologetics – keep rehashing the same arguments in hopes that they will eventually stick.

2. Atheists Think Accidents Can Create Complex & Harmonious Systems & Life-forms

Again, a simplistic and inaccurate understanding of how evolution works.  Evolution does not rely on chance, but on natural selection.  These are two very different ideas.  Evolution works through a process of non-random selection of random variation.  Dale Thomas writes:

One main criticism of evolution from creationists is that it is based on random chance. That’s kind of true, there is chance involved, but it is important to know where the chance is and how it is used.  When organisms reproduce, the genetic duplication is not perfect, leading to some variation in the genes (mutations). That is where the randomness is. But then that individual grows up and interacts with the world. Those random changes in the genotype may or may lead to a small change in the body or behavior.  If this change helps the individual in its goal of surviving to adulthood and finding a mate, then those genes will be reproduced in the next generation. The point here is that the environment (which encompasses everything, from the laws of physics, the terrain, weather, climate, predators, prey, vegetation, mates, etc) will do the ‘selecting’. If the organism dies or cannot find a mate, those genes have been deemed unworthy of reproduction, but if it can, they are worthy, and will persist in the species.  It is such a beautifully simplistic, and easily understandable process.”

I also want to address a point the author brings up regarding word usage.  The author states: “The atheist thinks he is clever but yet is foolish because he cannot understand that the fact that our solar system is called a system is because there is a methodology & a harmony to how our solar system works and exists.”  This is similar to an argument I often hear regarding the “Laws of Nature”; Creationists will claim that if there is a law then there must be a lawgiver.  This is another logical fallacy – false equivocation.  In this case, misunderstanding the difference between a word that is prescriptive versus one that is descriptive. 

Oh, and contrary to what the author asserts, the universe is not as harmonious as he thinks, but is in fact full of chaos and unpredictability.

3. The Atheist Foolishly Thinks Science Has The Answers To Everything

Here we have your classic Straw Man fallacy – when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position.  In this case making the claim that atheists think science has the answer to everything, when in fact you would be hard pressed to find an atheists (or scientist) that makes such a claim.  Most atheists are scientifically-literate and understand the limitations of science, but also its accomplishments.

The author then claims that since science deals with the physical and natural world, and God resides the supernatural realm, that “science is NOT the best means by which a person can learn or observe the nature of God” nor can it disprove His existence.  This argument presupposes that there is a supernatural realm and that his god is a part of it.  The problem with this argument is that science can test supernatural claims and has been doing so for centuries.  Most all claims of the supernatural involve forces acting upon the natural world, thus we are able to test these claims using scientific means.  As Jerry Cohen puts it: “If you invoke a form of the supernatural that claims to have real-world consequences, then those consequences necessarily fall within the ambit of science.  This means that any type of theistic faith involves hypotheses that are ‘scientific’. Dawkins was right to call the existence of God a ‘scientific hypothesis.'” 

4. Atheists Don’t Know That Atheism is a Belief System

First, let’s address the authors claim that, “Neither evolution nor the big bang can be proved by experimentation or observation.
None of these 2 theories can scientifically explain nor give observable evidence of the origin of life.” Yes they can – and have.  The evidence to support both is immeasurable.  Creationists’ continuing insistence that there is no scientific evidence for evolution, the Big Bang, or the origins of life is willfully ignorant and empirically false.   I’m not even going to waste my time putting links here, because the amount of information out there is overwhelming.  The author’s ignorance of science is not a good argument against it.

The author claims that since there is no evidence to support evolution and the Big Bang theory, atheists have to accept them on faith.  This is another example of false equivocation.  There are two definitions of the word “faith”: (1) confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing; and (2) belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.  Atheists’ “faith” in science fits under definition 1, theists rely on faith as defined by 2.  Atheists don’t have faith in a religious sense of the word – we have evidence-based trust. 

5. The Atheist Cannot Disprove The Existence of God

This is perhaps the best example of an Argument from Ignorance – because something cannot be completely disproved, it must therefore be true.  It’s a ridiculous argument, but it’s surprising how often it’s used.  This same argument could be used for aliens, UFOs, unicorns, fairies, vampires, or a tea pot floating around the sun.  It’s an attempt to shift the burden of proof.  The burden of proof always sits with the person making the claim, not the person refuting it.  It’s not an atheist’s job to disprove God, it’s the theist’s job to provide evidence that he exists.

We also can’t skip past the well-worn anecdote used by theists that, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Therefore just because a person has never seen a physical manifestation of God, it does not mean that God does not exist.”  This is only partly true.  Absence of evidence, when evidence should be presentis evidence of absence.  Going back to the discussion on natural vs supernatural, theism makes claims of God interacting and intervening in this, the natural world, which would leave evidence.  Therefore, such claims can be tested, and thus far no evidence for supernatural intervention in the natural world has been found.  Carl Sagan brilliantly counters the “absence of evidence” argument in his story “The Dragon in My Garage”.  After asking multiple questions regarding evidence for a dragon living in a garage and coming up empty handed, this is his response:

“Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.  The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head.  You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me.  The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind.  But then, why am I taking it so seriously?  Maybe I need help.  At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.  Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded.  So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage.  You merely put it on hold.  Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you.  Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of ‘not proved.'” 

I’ve underlined the parts of this paragraph that I find most fitting the current discussion.  Just replace “dragon” with “God” and you can see my point.  The author is right in positing that because we don’t have evidence of theism, it does not prove empirically that god(s) do not exist.  But it does mean that until such evidence is found, it is far from foolish to discount the idea.

 

 

Two things become apparent when reading through this article.  The first is that the author has no idea what atheists actually believe.  The entire article reads like one, big Straw Man argument.  The author projects his own idea of what atheists believe (as opposed to what they actually believe) and then attempts to tear down those beliefs.  His overall view of atheists can be found in the article itself where he states, “I would personally prefer the following definition of atheism that I once saw on one of the social media platforms: Atheism is the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs, birds, trees, fish and the like.”  

Second, the author shows that he is completely ignorant of the most basic principles of evolution and how it works.  This isn’t surprising as Creationism depends on a willful dismissal of science and all the evidence that it provides, as well as how the scientific method works.  This makes the author unsuited for having any debate in which science is going to be one of the main topics.

It’s also worth noting the condescending nature that the author takes throughout the article.  His contempt for atheists comes through loud and clear throughout the article, and he takes special care to use “fool” and “foolish” as often as he can.  For all his use off scripture, he conveniently left out Matt 5:22 – “…whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

As I mentioned at the beginning – these are not strong, well-thought-out arguments.  This is what Matt Dillahunty would refer to as “Kindergarten Theology”.   Lest you accuse me of going after low-hanging fruit, it should be noted that these are very common arguments used by apologists, both amateur and professional.  Hopefully this post will prove useful for anyone who comes across these types of arguments in future discussions.  Thanks for reading.

 

Critical Thinking: More Logical Fallacies

In a previous post, we looked at the Ten Commandments of Logic, that laid out the most popular logical fallacies.  In this post we’ll go over some of the other common fallacious arguments that one is likely to encounter in almost any debate.

Just to recap,  a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning.  This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts.  To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support.

Off we go…

“No True Scotsman”

Also referred to as the “No True Christian” argument, it is an informal fallacy; an ad hoc attempt to retain an un-reasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim (“no Scotsman would do such a thing”), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule.  Put more simply, this fallacy occurs when either A) someone changes the definition of a word to make a claim true by default or B) a term is defined biasedly to allow easier use of the first form.  Instead of acknowledging that some members of a group have undesirable characteristics, the fallacy tries to redefine the group to exclude them.  Example:

Person A:  “Christians have waged just as much violence over the centuries as Muslims have – the Crusades, Inquisitions, Witch trials, etc.”                                                                                                                                               Person B:  “The people who did those things weren’t true Christians, because a true Christian would do that.”

Appeal to Authority

This is an argument from the fact that a person judged to be an “expert” or authority affirms a proposition to the claim that the proposition is true.  This can be a fallacy for two reasons: first, even a legitimate authority speaking on his area of expertise may affirm a falsehood, so no testimony of any authority is guaranteed to be true.  Second, the authority cited either (a) is not an authority, or (b) is not an authority on the subject on which he is being cited.

Whenever an authority is used, the following assessments must be made:

  • Does the person have sufficient expertise in the subject matter in question?
  • Is the claim being made by the person within his/her area(s) of expertise?
  • Is there is an adequate degree of agreement among the other experts in the subject in question?
  • Does the person in question have reason to be significantly biased?
  • Is the area of expertise a legitimate area or discipline?
  • Is the authority in question identified?

Slippery Slope

Closely related to a false dilemma, the slippery slope fallacy falsely assume that one thing must lead to another. This argument begins by suggesting that if we do one thing then that will lead to another, and before we know it we’ll be doing something that we don’t want to do. They conclude that we, therefore, shouldn’t do the first thing.  Examples:

Claim:  “If we allow gay people to get married, then that will open the door for people wanting to marry their pets or their relatives!”

Claim:  “If the government starts imposing stricter gun laws, before you know it, all guns will be banned!”

The problem with these arguments is that it is possible to do the first thing that they mention without going on to do the other things –  there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim.  This is especially clear in cases in which there is a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

Appeal to Consequences of a Belief

In it’s much simpler terms – “wishful thinking”, an appeal to consequences is an attempt to motivate belief with an appeal either to the good consequences of believing or the bad consequences of disbelieving.  Some good examples of this can be found in the reasons people give for believing in God:

Claim:  “I acknowledge that I have no argument for the existence of God. However, I have a great desire for God to exist and for there to be an afterlife. Therefore I accept that God exists.”

Claim:  “If God did not exist, then all basis for morality would be lost and the world would be a horrible place!”

This line of “reasoning” is fallacious because the consequences of a belief have no bearing on whether the belief is true or false.

It is important to note that the consequences in question are the consequences that stem from the belief.  It is important to distinguish between a rational reason to believe (RRB) (evidence) and a prudential reason to believe (PRB) (motivation).   A RRB is evidence that objectively and logically supports the claim.   A PRB is a reason to accept the belief because of some external factor (such as fear, a threat, or a benefit or harm that may stem from the belief) that is relevant to what a person values but is not relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim.

Red Herring

Simply put, this is when the arguer diverts the attention by changing the subject.  The basic idea is to “win” an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic, but merely changing the topic of discussion doesn’t count as an argument against a claim.  Example:

Claim:  “Evolution is not a very good explanation for human life. Anyway, I am pretty offended that anyone would suggest that I came from a monkey.”

Appeal to Emotions

Closely related to Appeal to Popularity fallacy, this fallacy is committed when someone manipulates peoples’ emotions in order to get them to accept a claim as being true.  More formally, this sort of “reasoning” involves the substitution of strong emotions in place of evidence for a claim.

Appeals to emotion are very common in politics and religion, and it serves as the basis for a large portion of modern advertising.  Peoples’ emotions often carry much more force than their reason. Logical argumentation is often difficult and time consuming and it rarely has the power to spurn people to action.  It is the power of this fallacy that explains its great popularity and wide usage.

 

There are many more logical fallacies out there, but this (plus the Top 10 covered earlier) covers the majority of the ones you’ll come across.  If you are interested in a more complete list, you can check out the links below.

These last few posts have been more informational then my typical posts, but I wanted to write them as much for my own understanding as for others.  It will also be good to have them on here as reference in future posts.  Now that I have them out of the way we can “return now to our regular scheduled programming” as they say.  I can get back to speaking from the heart and ruffling a few feathers!  Thanks for reading.

 

NOTE:  Most of the descriptions found in this post were taken from other websites, namely the Nizkor Project, and Logical Fallacies.info

Critical Thinking: The Ten Commandments

As promised, we are going to be diving into some of the most common logical fallacies used in debates.  Put simply – a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning.  This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts.  To be more specific, a fallacy is an “argument” in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support.  Logical fallacies are most often found in debates centered on politics, religion, or social problems, but can be used in almost every subject.  Being mindful of logical fallacies is one of the key components to critical thinking.  It is important to be aware of them when presenting your own case, as well as spotting them in others’ arguments.

We’ll start by going over the “Top 10” fallacies listed above in greater detail.

Ad Hominem

Translated from Latin to English, “Ad Hominem” means “against the man” or “against the person.”  This is when the person or source of information is attacked rather then the information being presented.  Examples:

Person A:  “You shouldn’t give baby formula to infants because it is made with soy, which has been shown to have adverse effects on children.”                                                                                                                         Person B:  “You don’t even have children, so what would you know about raising them!”

Person B ignores the argument, focusing only on the arguer.  Whenever an arguer cannot defend his position with evidence, facts or reason, he or she may resort to attacking an opponent either through labeling, straw man arguments, name-calling, offensive remarks, or anger.  Another example where the source of information is attacked:

Person A:  “CNN reported that gun violence has increased in the last ten years”                                                                                                                                       Person B:  “CNN is a liberal news site!  You can’t trust anything they say”

The reason why an Ad Hominem is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person or source do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made).

Straw Man

A straw man argument is one that misrepresents a position in order to make it appear weaker than it actually is, refutes this misrepresentation of the position, and then concludes that the real position has been refuted. Examples:

Person A:  “I don’t believe in an gods, including the Christian one.”       Person B:  “So, you have no objective base for morality then?  Basically, there is no right or wrong and anything goes?”

Person A:  “I believe we need to cut military spending and put that money towards education health care.”                                                               Person B:  “Oh, you want to leave our country defenseless from invasions from other countries?”

These are fallacies because the position that has been claimed to be refuted is different to that which has actually been refuted; the real target of the argument is untouched by it.

Straw men arguments can often take the form of caricatures – representing a group or person using exaggerations, stereotypes, and falsehoods.  Example:

Hasty Generalization

A hasty generalization is committed when a person draws a conclusion about a population based on a sample size that is too small.  It is important to have samples that are large enough when making a generalization.  Example:

Person A:  “Smoking has been proven to have a negative effect on ones’ overall health”.                                                                                               Person B:  “My uncle smoked two packs a day since he was a teenager and he lived to be 80!  Smoking can’t be all that bad.”

People often commit Hasty Generalizations because of bias or prejudice.  People also commonly commit Hasty Generalizations because of laziness or sloppiness.  It is very easy to simply leap to a conclusion and much harder to gather an adequate sample and draw a justified conclusion.  Thus, avoiding this fallacy requires minimizing the influence of bias and taking care to select a sample that is large enough.

Another way in which this fallacy is used is by going after “low hanging fruit”, or using a particularly bad example of a subject matter to validate ones argument.  Examples would be using ISIS as an example of Muslims, or using the Westboro Baptist as examples of Christians.

Circular Reasoning/Begging the Question

An argument is circular if its conclusion is among its premises, if it assumes (either explicitly or not) what it is trying to prove.  A good example of this can be found in Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, where Keller argues for the reliability of the Bible in the following way:

If eventually we put our faith in Jesus, then his view of the Bible will become ours. Speaking personally, I take the whole Bible to be reliable not because I can somehow “prove” it all to be factual. I accept it because I believe in Jesus and that was his view of the Bible.

Keller suggests that we should accept the entire Bible as “reliable” because Jesus viewed the entire Bible as reliable.  And how do we know that Jesus viewed the entire Bible as reliable?  Because the Bible says that Jesus did.  Circular argument.

Such arguments are said to “beg the question”.  This sort of reasoning is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion.  Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim.  A circular argument fails as a proof because it will only be judged to be sound by those who already accept its conclusion.

Post Hoc (Post hoc ergo propter hoc)

Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by”, Post Hoc fallacy is committed when it is assumed that because one thing occurred after another, it must have occurred as a result of it.  Example:

Person A:  “I know that prayer works!”                                                                 Person B:  “Based on what evidence?”                                                                       Person A:  “A lady in out church had cancer, and after the congregation prayed over her, she got better.”

There could be a number of other reasons that the lady recovered.  It is also possible that she never had cancer in the first place.  Because prayer proceeded recovery is not sufficient evidence to actually warrant the claim that prayers work.

Post Hoc resembles a Hasty Generalization in that it involves making a leap to an unwarranted conclusion.  Many superstitious beliefs often arise from people committing the Post Hoc fallacy – good luck charms, post-game rituals, prayers, etc.

Post Hoc fallacies are typically committed because people are simply not careful enough when they reason.  Leaping to a causal conclusion is always easier and faster than actually investigating the phenomenon.  However, such leaps tend to land far from the truth of the matter.  Because Post Hoc fallacies are committed by drawing an unjustified causal conclusion, the key to avoiding them is careful investigation.

False Dichotomy (Extruded Middle)

Also known as black & white thinking, the false dichotomy fallacy is committed when a false dilemma is presented, i.e. when someone is asked to choose between two options when there is at least one other option available, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes.  False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by omissions of choices.  Examples:

Claim:  “You are either with God, or against him!”

Claim: “If we don’t teach kids abstinence, they will all become promiscuous!”

Person A:  “I don’t believe in school-sanctioned prayers in public schools.”                                                                                                                           Person B:  “What are you, an atheist?”

Appeal to Ignorance (Ad ignorantom)

Often referred to as “trying to prove a negative”, arguments from ignorance infer that a proposition is true from the fact that it is not known to be false.  Example:

Claim:  “Scientists haven’t been able to prove God doesn’t exist, therefore he must exist.”

Ignorance about something says nothing about its existence or non-existence.

Burden of Proof Reversal

Closely related to ad ignorantom is the burden of proof reversal, where the the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side of the debate.  It is important to note that the burden of proof always lies with the one making the claim.  A popular example, used often in apologetics and movies such as God’s Not Dead is the argument;

“Proof to me that God doesn’t exist!”

The side making the claim is the one charged with providing evidence, not the one calling it into question.

Non Sequitur (Affirming the Consequent)

Non sequitur is a Latin phrase that means “that which does not follow”. It means that the conclusion reached does not follow from the premise(s).   A good example of this:

Person A:  “If the Bible is correct, then we must accept Jesus as our personal savior.”                                                                                                        Person B:  “Jesus is my personal savior!”                                       Conclusion:  The Bible is correct.

Here, the fallacy is that Person A and Person B may in fact be correct, but the conclusion is not a valid conclusion. It does not follow that the Bible must be correct because one person finds that Jesus is their savior, even if to a believer this seems like the case.

A subtle but easy use of the fallacy is related slightly to belief in belief. It could be formed like this:

Claim:  “Religion gives great comfort to people and causes them to do good things.  Millions of people are comforted and are good people.  Therefore God is real.”

The non-sequitur here is a failure to distinguish between what the act of believing can accomplish, and the (almost) completely unrelated question of the truth value of that belief.  Without external evidence to say otherwise, you cannot tell the difference between someone being comforted because God exists, or because they just believe God exists.  In short: the premises say nothing about the existence of God, only that some people believe in it.

Bandwagon Fallacy (Appeal to Popularity)

The basic idea is that a claim is accepted as being true simply because most people are favorably inclined towards the claim. More formally, the fact that most people have favorable emotions associated with the claim is substituted in place of actual evidence for the claim.  A person falls prey to this fallacy if he accepts a claim as being true simply because most other people approve of the claim.

Other variations of this can be Appeal to Belief – the appeal to the fact that most people believe a claim, and Appeal to Common Practice – the appeal to the fact that many people take the action in question.

That about covers it for the Top 10.  Next time we’ll look at a few more of the more popular fallacies that I see used.  Any questions, clarifications, or comments, please leave below.  Thanks for reading.

NOTE:  Most of the descriptions found in this post were taken from other websites, namely the Nizkor Project, and Logical Fallacies.info

 

Critical Thinking 101

Critical thinking is a topic I speak often about on this blog, and one that you will come across on most skeptics’ writings.  I thought it would be useful to go into what critical thinking is, common characteristics and philosophies, and how to apply it.  I will also be starting a series looking at one of the cornerstones of critical thinking  – identifying logical fallacies.

Put simply, critical thinking can be described as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”  A more detailed definition, provided by the The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, defines critical thinking as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

So, what are some of the characteristics of critical thinking?

  1. Critical thinking is reasonable and rational. Critical thinkers do not jump to conclusions.  Collect data, weigh the facts, and think the matter through.
  2. Critical thinking is reflective. Thinking the matter through, weighing the facts and evidence.
  3. Critical thinking inspires an attitude of inquiry.  Be inquisitive but also skeptical.
  4. Critical thinking is autonomous thinking.  Critical thinkers are not easily manipulated or swayed by popular opinion.
  5. Critical thinking includes creative thinking.
  6. Critical thinking is fair thinking. It is not biased or one-sided.
  7. Critical thinking focuses on deciding what to believe or do. Critical thinking is used to decide on a course of action; make reliable observations; draw sound conclusions, solve problems; and evaluate claims, and actions.

The National League of Nursing came up with this list (you can view the full version here) and considered critical thinking so important, they added it as a mandatory criterion for accreditation of schools of nursing 20 years ago.  I wanted to add to this list by pointing out what I consider to be the foundations of critical thinking and the common stumbling blocks that get can get in way.

Bias

Everyone posses the ability to think critically, and most of us do in our day-to-day lives.  But very often, when a person holds a core belief very strongly, it can be easy to put on blinders and only seek out information that agrees with one’s own beliefs or pre-conceived ideas, while dismissing any evidence that works against their core beliefs.  This is known as confirmation biasthe tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.  Everyone has the disposition of being bias, which why it is so important to have an open mind, be willing to admit that you could be wrong, and have a system in place to filter through information to determine it’s validity.   

Evidence

If anyone has ever served on jury duty or watched a lot of courtroom drama, then they know how important evidence is.   Evidence is defined as the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.  In the scientific world, evidence is defined as evidence which serves to either support or counter a scientific theory or hypothesis. Such evidence is expected to be empirical evidence and interpretation in accordance with scientific method.   A few important points about evidence:

First, some things that are not considered evidence: Opinions are not evidence.  Arguments are not evidence.  Conspiracy Theories are not evidence.  Hearsay is not evidence.  “Strongly held beliefs” are not evidence.  Emotions are not evidence.

Second, the judicial system has mandated that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution.  In other words, the burden of proof, or evidence is always with the one making the claim.  If I tell my neighbor that aliens have been visiting me at night in my back yard, it is up to me to provide him with evidence to back up this claim.  It is not his responsibility to prove me wrong.  You will often see people trying to deflect their responsibility to provide evidence onto the person demanding said evidence.  This is what’s known as an Appeal to Ignorance fallacy.  A common example can be found when a skeptics asks for evidence for God, the response will often be, “Prove to me that there isn’t a God!”

And lastly, using a phrase first said by Marcello Truzzi, but made famous by Carl Sagan: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  The more a claim differentiates from what we consider to be a “normal” occurrence, the more evidence is required for validating the claim.  If I told my neighbor that I saw a hawk in my backyard, he would most likely take my word for it, as hawks are often seen in our neighborhood and strong evidence is not needed.  If I was to say that I saw a Sasquatch in my back yard, a great deal of evidence (footprints, hair samples, photographs, etc) is going to be needed before he could be convinced.

Probability Spectrum

Sometimes known as Bayes’ theorem, the probability spectrum describes the probability of an event, based on conditions that might be related to the event.  In debates regarding far-fetched claims, often a last-ditch effort is made by appealing to the idea of possibility.  Speaking of possibility gives the illusion of leaving the door open that such a claim may be true, despite the evidence pointing out the improbability of the claim.  As the old saying goes, there are very few certainties in life, but we all make decisions based on the probability of what’s going to happen.  I know that when I leave my home in the morning, there is the possibility that I may get in an accident, but that doesn’t stop me from going to work, because I know that the probability is relatively low.  This same principle applies to critical thinking – in cases where a definitive conclusion cannot be made, the most probable answer or scenario should be the taken.  Another way to think of it is to draw a line, and have “very unlikely” at one end and “very likely” at the other and postulate where a claim or explanation falls on that line.  In his book, The God Argument, A.C. Grayling explains the possibility spectrum like this:

One line of thinking in the theory of knowledge has it that belief is not an all-or-nothing affair, but a matter of degree.  The degree in question can be represented as a probability value.  A virtue of this approach is said to be that it explains how people adjust the weighting they give to their various beliefs as the evidence in support of them changes when more and better information becomes available.  People might not talk of probabilities unless challenged to say just how strongly the believe something, but their beliefs are nevertheless measurable in terms of how subjectively probable they appear to their holder.  

Along these same principles is the idea of Occam’s Razor.  Occam’s Razor is a problem-solving principle attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), who was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian.  The principle can be be interpreted as, “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”  In other words, the simplest explanation is generally the right one.

Another important aspect of probability is natural vs. supernatural explanations.  Supernatural is anything that goes against or beyond the natural world.  When debating religious claims, the supernatural is often invoked as “evidence”.  This is a cop-out of sorts, as supernatural claims, by their very nature, cannot be tested by normal means.  This is why in any discussion; a natural explanation is always favorable to a supernatural one.  Put another way: the supernatural is the least likely explanation explanation for events.  Divine intervention, miracles, the paranormal, psychic powers, angles/demons, spirits, etc are all considered supernatural and should send off warning bells whenever they are used in a debate.  Supernatural explanations are unacceptable in the courtroom and in the science lab, and they should be equally unacceptable in critical thought.

Falsifiability

Last, but certainly not least, we must talk about falsifiability.  Falsifiability (or reputability) of a statement, hypothesis, or theory is the inherent possibility that it can be proven false. A statement is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive of an observation or an argument that negates the statement in question.  For any hypothesis to have credence, it must be inherently disprovable before it can become accepted as a scientific hypothesis or theory.

Falsifiability is a cornerstone of the scientific method and should be equally applied to critical thinking.  For a statement to be questioned using observation, it needs to be at least theoretically possible that it can come in conflict with observation.

For example, I can make the claim that “All polar bears are white”, and it is logically possible to falsify this statement by observing just a single black polar bear.  In the same way, Newton’s Theory of Gravity has been accepted as truth for centuries because objects do not randomly float away.  If they were to start floating away, then scientists would need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a different hypothesis.

Example of falsifiable vs non-falsifiable

With all of that out of the way, we’ll next be looking at some of the most common logical fallacies.  They are easy to spot once you recognize them and will help you in navigating the endless sea of nonsense that permeates our social media and literature.  Hopefully this has been helpful.  If you have any questions or need clarification, please leave a comment below.  I’m no expert, but I’ll do my best to answer or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.  Thanks for reading.