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Tyronehster and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre

09 September 2013, 09:07
Zealous evangelist, amateur apologist and failed genocide denialist Tyronehster has pilfered the work of the populist fringe pseudo-intellectual Vox Day and challenged non-believers on various arguments and assertions that he claims form the basis of the atheist position. Today’s article is a response to the various points Tyrone Day deals with in http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Occams-Chainsaw-20130906 and http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Chainsaw-anyone-20130906. I will tackle his assertions one by one, and the reader may be confident that what follows is my own original work.

THE ARGUMENT FROM AUTHORITY – to be honest, I’m not even sure this needs a response, given that the highest (however irrationally) conceivable Argument from Authority is claimed by the religious and superstitious themselves, especially on matters as thorny as the moral authority behind the genocides of the Old Testament. The fact that a christian even raises this as a criticism of non-believers demonstrates a hubristic blind spot in his moral and ethical field of view. That aside, argument from authority is not a reliable tool in any debate, but certainly not for the reasons provided by our God-fearing critic. I encourage non-believers to avoid using it in the form of name-dropping, which is all the Christian position is. Used as an observation of behaviour of a defined group is quite another matter, though, and Harris is justified in his observation of an extremely high correlation between disciplines of rational enquiry and non-belief, especially when the group cited represents such a wide cross-section of rational thinkers.

THE ARGUMENT FROM LACK OF EVIDENCE – this inevitably descends into the old “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” line, and has been well covered by rationalists before. Suffice it to say that when a phenomenon is identified by a believer that he or she feels is evidence for the existence of God, the standard of evidence assumed is far too low for such an important idea, or there is a fault in the believer’s reasoning. For example – “creation itself is evidence of the existence of God”; no, it clearly isn’t, because the absolute best such an argument could possibly establish is that there was some “prime mover” whose identity or nature is unknown. It could have been a natural process outside of our universe, itself initiated by a further natural process, each initiated by a precursor for as far back as one cares to consider, each one making the “creator-deity” ever more distant. It is simply not an argument for the existence of Jehovah, Jesus or the bible. Indeed, the most basic error made by promoters of this creation-as-evidence idea is lack of awareness of the distinction between a deistic creator and a theistic entity that intervenes in the world.

THE ARGUMENT FROM HALLUCINATION – well, it was pointed out by CyberMatrix that the phenomenon of sleep paralysis quite adequately accounts for the nocturnal visit by Jesus that tyronehmler claims occurred. Even if it doesn’t quite fit the description offered by our imaginative friend (he will doubtless argue that the differences matter), judicious application of Occam’s Razor tells us that such “hallucination” is by far the better explanation. The counter-examples offered by Tyrone Day are simply arguments from incredulity insofar as they are offered by a superstitious person ignorant of the depths of the human psyche.

THE ARGUMENT FROM TEMPORAL ADVANTAGE – this I can agree with, I do think it’s a weak argument to say that had Galileo known what we know today, he would have been an atheist. What I would say, though, is that culture can be far more compelling than knowledge when it comes to religion, and Galileo lived in a culture that was so immersed in belief and superstition that it may have been hard to tell the wood from the trees. We see the same phenomenon at play today when believers exercise their own argument from authority by listing the names of scientists who are christians – humans have a brain that successfully compartmentalizes reality from desire (ask any adulterer!), and Galileo would certainly have been little different.

I will also add here that for a promoter of rational thought, free from fallacy, to make the following statement is an embarrassment to the point he’s trying to make: “To assert that the greatest minds of the past, the original thinkers who weren’t afraid to challenge either orthodox dogma or the intellectual conventions, would automatically abandon their faith in favour of a status quo professed by the masses of over-specialized, under-achieving scientific mediocrities of today is not only a completely baseless assumption, it is egotistic wishful thinking”.

THE ARGUMENT FROM FICTION – well, the defence offered by Tyrone Day is laughable. To suggest that “…the Bible has not only proven to be a more reliable guide in many instances than the current state of secular science as well as an accurate historical document, but sometimes a better predictor of future events than the experts on the subject” is an idea based on other well-known fallacies, those of selective interpretation and confirmation bias. In citing an instance in which there was a correlation between a biblical interpretation and reality, he has discarded the countless instances in which there has been no correlation at all. Harold Camping, anyone?

THE ARGUMENT FROM THE UNFAIRNESS OF HELL – again, the comparisons offered are superficial and not appropriate to the idea under discussion. A better set of real-world choices might have been between a long, happy life in a delightful rural setting with family and friends, versus a sojourn in a Nazi concentration camp – for all eternity. This is a classic strawman that has been offered by Tyrone Day, ignoring the key aspects and implications of the “choice” provided by his god. For example, the clear implication that friends and family that believers love may be destined for the “hot place”, yet said believers entertain an entirely normal life relationship with them in apparent denial of the reality. To top it all, Christians can’t even agree between themselves as to the nature or even existence of this hell. So the criticism fails, not least because he has failed to address the issues surrounding the limiting of free will implicit in his rebuttal. He also makes the error of so many believers (e.g. “why do you quote the bible so much if you don’t believe in it?”) in thinking that atheists accept the notion of a hell – we don’t. So it’s a moot point.

THE ARGUMENT FROM GOD’S CHARACTER – I find it very difficult to take this argument seriously: “I find it very difficult to take this argument seriously, given how the first words out of every angel’s mouth seems to be ‘Fear not!’ Unbelievable. How is a defence, from a book non-believers don’t accept, an argument? The question of Yahweh’s personality has been dealt with frequently. We have shown that he was the creator of evil (look under this author’s News24 avatar for a number of in-depth analyses). We see instances in the Old Testament where Yahweh commands the most immoral and gratuitously violent actions by his “chosen people”, and believers are unable to provide a coherent argument as to why these should be considered moral actions. Indeed tyronehmler is perhaps the most ardent genocide denialist on this forum, on the incredibly specious basis that despite their “wholesale” scale and horror, the events do not qualify as genocides because of a definitional problem – he prefers the use of the general dictionary definition in preference to that employed by international lawyers and the United Nations itself. Indeed, his argument is used by real genocide denialists today – the vicious, cruel mass murderers we see in the news. The Argument from God’s Character is a very powerful one and shows up the greatest contradictions in the bible that is considered to be the inerrant word of God.

THE ARGUMENT FROM MORAL EVOLUTION – to move the argument onto actual evolution as Tyrone Day does is a strawman. The question is whether morals develop within society without a divine influence, specifically the bible (“The idea that morals are not defined by sacred texts but have instead evolved naturally”). Well, the assertion that sacred texts are required is obviously untrue, since morality in the broader sense is the result of societal learning – every society has an established morality, you might not agree with it, but it’s there. And that morality develops on the basis of what individuals and the group consider acceptable and practical. Biblical morality is no more than “a” moral framework, codified and heavily interpreted. I mention this last point since the morality exercised by the god of the bible is thoroughly reprehensible and wicked, and it is simply a matter of interpretation that his examples should not be followed by humans.

THE ARGUMENT FROM THE GOLDEN RULE – no morality is perfect in terms of having instant answers to every situational conundrum, hence the Sandra Bullock example is a clever attempt to apply selective bias. However, when considered in its entirety, the Golden Rule has been misapplied by Tyrone Day – in considering “what he would have done to him”, he is required to place himself in the same position as the wished-for recipient of his affections, Sandra Bullock, instead of from his own current point of view. This inability to employ empathy is a trait we’ve seen not only in tyronehmler but in many other believers on this forum. Empathy isn’t just a feeling – that’s sympathy – it’s a technique of perception that many are unable to exercise.

THE ARGUMENT FROM SUPERIOR MORALS - this is a red herring. The argument is not that atheists have superior morals at all, but rather that a theistic entity is not required in order to exercise good morals. Once seen this way, the Tyrone Day rebuttal falls away. I agree that it isn’t valid to point out that many atheists do in fact have lives more moral than those of many christians, since the converse is also true. However, what is especially odd in these comparisons is that christians fail to show that they, as a group and in their leaders, exercise a standard of morality that is consistently higher than that of non-believers. After all, with the creator of the entire universe providing a limitless source of grace to any believer that asks (but atheists never do), you’d kinda think that they’d do a heck of a lot better – but they clearly don’t.

In addition, once christians acknowledge that their position in God’s good graces doesn’t actually afford them any real-life advantage, the house of cards begins to teeter and fall. Prayer is invalidated by the data – christians die of exactly the same ailments as non-believers, they don’t live any longer and they commit the same crimes (we won’t go into the US prison data here that shows that most prison inmates, by a long margin, are christian).

THE IRRATIONALITY OF ATHEISM – strangely, the longest section of tyronehmler’s second tract is the most vague and pointless, except as a confused attempt to show that atheists need faith in order – wait for it - to NOT have faith in a god… not only does he employ several of the fallacies that he decries, but he fails to grasp the single most fundamental point of atheism – that when a non-believer gets out of bed in the morning, he sees no god and no trail that points to one. Despite often wondering about the existence of such an entity, he never encounters one while he makes coffee, brushes his teeth or travels to work. Even in the most poignant, numinous and sublime moments of his life, the atheist does not encounter one. He simply marvels at, wonders about and enjoys the sheer majesty and beauty of the universe and of living in a world teeming with life. If finding no evidence for the existence of an entity that is, according to believers, omnipresent and almost desperate to have a relationship with humans, is irrational, then there is no discussion to be had since the critic has clearly departed the realm of sensibility – which may be the case, given the length to which he will go to assert that his experiences of imaginary encounters are real.

As an article, tyronehmler’s plagiarized piece is lacking in substance – which he would have realized had he actually written it himself and thought it through instead of copying and pasting it.

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