Monday, January 17, 2011

The Straw god

I get a daily 'Word-of-the-Day' email. Mostly it's pretty good but occasionally the author goes on rants about religion. Today's email included this: "As long as we do our work honestly and not hurt others, what does it matter if we believe in some invisible superman in the sky, who happens to have such a fragile ego so as to condemn people for not believing in him, no matter how good they might be?"

He has a point, in a certain way. If you define God as an "invisible superman in the sky, who happens to have such a fragile ego so as to condemn people for not believing in him, no matter how good they might be" well then of course it makes sense not to believe in Him. I wouldn't blame you in the slightest. However, to say that about God and then to attack that view is to commit a Straw Man logical fallacy. (A Straw Man fallacy is where one constructs an idea different from what they are actually arguing against, attacks the different, artificial idea and then continues as if they had defeated the actual idea.)

This comes about in two ways, I think. The first way is that the arguer is well intentioned but has, through no fault of their own, been exposed to wrong information. When they argue they don't know they're committing a Straw Man fallacy. The second way is when the arguer already has a preconceived notion and then gravitates toward information and viewpoints that support what they already believe and thus their commission of the Straw Man is somewhat more willful (though not entirely willful since they are still operating from a false foundation). When they claim to be open-minded it often becomes biased toward what they already wanted to believe or not believe.

The solution is to actually learn, first about yourself and then about your topic, religion in this case. You have to learn about yourself that way you can understand they way you think, to know if you have any biases or preconceived ideas. Having these isn't necessarily bad and you don't have to purge yourselves of them but you must know about them so that you can better understand how you will receive certain information and experiences. Once you know about yourself then you can go on to figure out what you believe relative to provided information. Only then does the process make sense.

In summary, my criticism is less about his specific atheism (that's the strong impression he gives at least) and more directed at the way he has arrived at it. His approach will never yield truth because he isn't really seeking truth.


  1. Perhaps you read a different book. The bible that most Catholics believe in condemns those who do not believe in god/Jesus to hell.

    Imagine a kind, honest atheist and a child-raping believer. According to the bible the latter is going to heaven, the former to hell.

  2. Anonymous,
    I'm not really sure the meaning of your comment since I never said anything one way or another about morality or the salvation of this particular person.

    Yes, I said that he seems to have presupposed the view he supports and that I was more concerned about his arrival at his conclusion than the conclusion itself but I never said it was perfectly alright to be amoral which, from your comment, I am forced to presume you think I said.

    If you check back here, please clarify.



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