Bad Arguments Never Die

There seems to be no argument in favour of gods and religion, or against areas of science deemed incompatible with these, which has been entirely discarded by people of faith for its poor merit and performance.

Question I’ve been pondering:
There seems to be no argument in favour of gods and religion, or against areas of science deemed incompatible with these, which has been entirely discarded by people of faith for its poor merit and performance.

People are still proclaiming that the second law of thermodynamics prevents order and complexity from increasing at all without divine help, or that the continued existence of apes disproves the idea that we evolved from apes, or that we all ought to worship a particular god because the only alternative is that there are no gods.

Do these people not see or understand the counter-arguments? Are they preaching on auto-pilot?

Answer:
Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

The hypotheses I’m about to put forward don’t only apply to religious people. Advocates of any position in any area (including my own positions) may have the same issues with their thinking. It’s just that working on the sites I do, I mostly see these in the context of religious and anti-atheist arguments.

Here are three reasons which together, I think, can fully account for the persistence of invalid or unsound arguments.

1. Ignorance
It’s an unpleasant word, but it’s not necessarily an insult. Ignorance simply means there’s something a person doesn’t know. Some people really think, for example, that evolution causes entire populations of one species to change en masse into another, leaving no precursors and no diversity. Thus if there are humans, supposedly there can be no remaining apes.

The reasons for ignorance can often be deduced when trying to inform people and reduce ignorance, because either they welcome new information or they don’t. They could be genuinely incapable of grasping the essential concepts in their current frame of mind and merely parroting the arguments, or they could be deliberately shielding themselves from dissent to preserve their own determination (e.g. standing “firmly in Christ”), or their mentors could be the ones doing the shielding (e.g. warning against “the devil’s words“).

2. Overconfidence
I came to this realisation only a few days ago. There are some people who presume that any argument in favour of their position, no matter how old, incomprehensible or well-refuted, must be perfectly sound and is therefore worth repeating and defending. They will not concede a single aspect of a single point to their opponents, so sure are they that every person who has ever argued alongside them was correct in every way. (It seems to follow often from the idea that gods don’t lead their own soldiers astray.) As opposed to not knowing or understanding enough to find the flaws in their arguments, they just never try.

3. Sophistry
This is broadly defined as using arguments which one knows are unsound, which is a dishonest practice at its core. One might know exactly why an argument doesn’t hold water, but if one’s objective is to convince as many people as possible then one can spread the argument far and wide regardless, aiming it at those who don’t yet know its flaws. It’s a way of exploiting the ignorance of one’s opponents or the public without attempting to inform or educate anybody. It’s a very self-serving approach, and I’m pretty sure it goes on all the time.

Sadly, thanks to the above three phenomena, bad arguments can still serve misguided or unscrupulous people, so they never go away. It’s worth trying to determine which of the three is responsible in a given case, because it will inform your response or reaction.

SmartLX

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