False Argument #22: The Unicorns, Leprechauns & Flying Spaghetti Monster Trope

I don't know why I didn't peg this one as a false argument much earlier.

You can often tell when there's an amateur skeptic lurking around some random debate, because at some point they're bound to upchuck their own particular version of the unoriginal and silly Unicorns, Leprechauns and Flying Spaghetti Monster (ULFSM) arguments made prevalent by the New Atheists among others. Dawkins did it with the Gospel and the Knights of the Round Table in TGD, and if you're at all into these types of debates, you've likely seen it go down for yourself:

"I've got legitimate reasons for what I believe," proclaims some reasonable believer.

"No you don't," quips a flippant atheist. "Do you have legitimate reasons to believe in Unicorns, Leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster?" (Hehehe I the atheist outsmarted you the God-dummy! is the usual subtext).

Just for fun, let's take a look at this idea that ULFSM are accurately comparable to God in an intellectually honest discussion of things.

Here's one fairly typical example from the real world:

In the same sense that I see no convincing evidence to budge me into the ‘null position’ in respect to alien abductions, crop circles, leprechauns or the Loch Ness Monster, I also see no evidence of an agent who can play fast and loose with natural laws the way I understand them…

…an imaginary being is an imaginary being, barring a quality of convincing evidence that I just haven’t seen yet. The existence of Jehovah and the existence of the FSM are qualitatively equal absurdities to me, the only difference being that one of them is taken seriously by a lot of people.

Really? Okay, first, I don't have a problem that this commenter is not convinced in his matters about God. Many people have that problem, and not all of them are atheists. My problem is with the idea that God and unicorns, leprechauns, and an actual monster made of spaghetti that flies can be put on equal evidentiary footing. Unless one is innocently or willfully ignorant, such seems patently absurd.

Here's another slightly modified version of the ULFSM fallacy offered in a thread on this blog:

I don't know if my mailman is secretly a lizard like from V or some other kind of alien that I'd need Roddy Piper's glasses to see in his true form, and yes, it's possible either thing could be true. Of course, what's there to warrant pursuing either of those possibilities?

It is beyond dispute that this person has a valid point. Unless we're sniffing or smoking ALOT of something crazy, what is there to warrant pursuing the Roddy Piper / V Alien Theory as a potential explanation? I agree – not much.

However, tell me how believing in something for which authentic bits of evidence are zero or effectively zero can be fairly compared to something for which authentic bits of cross-cultural circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to a degree that warrants further evaluation? Sure, there’s no conclusive, repeatable, testable evidence we can show someone to prove God, and same with ULFSM and the Roddy Piper / V Alien Theory. But picture a multi-column table with God on the left and ULFSM and the Roddy Piper / V Alien Theory on the right. The rows contain various criteria such as purported sightings, purported inspiration of texts, purported miracles, sightings across cultures, number of believers, etc. No matter how many legitimate criteria we add, ULFSM and the Roddy Piper / V Alien Theory are going to get mopped. They're going to have zero or near-zero in just about every single instance, possibly even in all instances.

On the other hand, God’s numbers are surely far greater in every conceivable category of legitimate evidence, except of course the kind usually demanded: repeatable, observable evidence that all unproven or unprovable ideas lack. Regardless, hundreds of thousands of people throughout all of recorded history have reported experiences with God, gods and/or what people refer to as "the supernatural." 

We have ancient structures that continue to defy natural explanations to this day. Am I saying that God built the Giza pyramid? No. Am I saying that since all traditional rational explanations behind the Giza pyramid fail, that this means God did it? No. Am I making a God of the Gaps argument for the pyramids? No. But I am saying that the available evidence constitutes sufficient preliminary justification for the idea that far greater powers than man possibly exist.

Do you really believe that Egyptian slaves and officials under Khufu designed, transported, cut and copper fastened to accuracy within 1/20 of a degree some 2.5 million stones weighing an average of 2.5 tons each with some weighing up to 100 in a mere few decades? Even if we take Manetho's conservative estimation of Khufu's reign – 65 years – that's still designing, cutting, transporting and copper fastening one 2.5-ton stone perfectly into place every 14 minutes and some odd seconds, working non-stop day and night. And this over two thousand years before Plutarch attributed the world's first pulleys to Archimedes.

Similarly, at least tens of thousands of people claim to have witnessed a miracle of some sort, and many others believe they have experienced an answered prayer. If we have sufficient reason to believe that phenomena consistent with the purported behavior of a particular source exist, per Hyman’s Categorical Imperative we now have grounds for preliminary hypotheses and further testing. Sure, many of these anecdotes can and will be reasonably excluded, and as many instances of God's alleged inaction could can be cited. Even so, we don't nearly have that luxury of even-handedness with ULFSM and the Roddy Piper / V Alien Theory, and by no means do all God or miracle stories evaporate under heat. Does that prove God? Of course not. Does that disprove ULFSM and the Roddy Piper / V Alien Theory? Of course not. But we are certainly more justified in leaving the NULL position in favor of God than ULFSM and the Roddy Piper / V Alien Theory, and to suggest otherwise in an ostensibly rational, educated discussion is a bunch of chutzpah, just another cheap rhetorical trick meant to sneak the superiority of one's ideas in through the back door and hope to catch everyone off-guard laughing.

Declaring ULFSM an equal competitor with God in the marketplace of potentially existing objects is tantamount to declaring Russell's Teapot an equal competitor with dark matter in the marketplace of potentially true astronomical facts. It's just plain pedestrian.

ULFSM and similar arguments are clearly the marks of amateurs. If they bother you, don't be intimidated by them or allow them to persist; denounce them. If you advance them, you're making skepticism and atheism appear naive and doing a huge disservice to everybody who argues about this stuff. When I see somebody make these types of arguments, it lends well to the idea that their oversight is motivated by flippancy and snootiness, or perhaps lack of a better argument.

I don't want to be identified with that. Would you?

29 Comments

  1. jim says:

    cl:
    Rather than take another turn around the track on the ‘you can’t disprove God’ clowncar, I thought I’d zoom in on your comment concerning the construction of the pyramids, for variety if nothing else…
    “…I am saying that the available evidence constitutes sufficient preliminary justification for the idea that far greater powers than man possibly exist.”
    Only if you have a predisposition to believe in magical carpenters. For the rest of us, natural explanations suffice quite nicely.
    “Do you really believe that Egyptian slaves and officials under Khufu designed, transported, cut and copper fastened to accuracy within 1/20 of a degree some 2.5 million stones weighing an average of 2.5 tons each with some weighing up to 100 in a mere few decades?”
    Here’s part of a Wiki summation concerning what Egyptologists believe about the Great pyramid at Giza; you know, the guys who make a living actually studying this stuff…
    “Egyptologists believe that the Great Pyramid was built by tens of thousands of skilled workers who camped near the pyramids and worked for a salary or as a form of paying taxes until the construction was completed. The worker’s cemeteries were discovered in 1990 by archaeologists Zahi Hawass and Mark Lehner. Verner posited that the labor was organized into a hierarchy, consisting of two gangs of 100,000 men, divided into five zaa or phyle of 20,000 men each, which may have been further divided according to the skills of the workers.”
    For further reading, go to:
    http://harvardmagazine.com/2003/07/who-built-the-pyramids.html
    http://www.eyelid.co.uk/pyramid3.htm
    http://www.nationalgeographic.com/pyramids/pyramids.html
    Here’s one directly addressing your seeming incredulity at the idea that so many men could move so many stones:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/explore/builders.html
    And of course, there’s LOTS more information out there, easily accessible over the internet and elsewhere.
    Now, given this information, not only am I willing to feel justified in leaving the ‘null position’ regarding ‘far greater powers than men’ being involved in ancient pyramid construction; I in fact am also justified in feeling nothing but scornful bemusement toward those who would deign to remain IN the null position (as opposed to moving into the negative concerning those ‘far greater powers’ involved in pyramid building, of course).
    However, your example and subsequent conclusion have revealed much about your naive and unjustified predisposition towards magical thinking. And as far as unicorns, leprechauns, FSM’s and the like being on an equal evidentiary footing with ‘god’ (you know, the one to whose description you won’t commit to for fear of being nailed to the wall), I’m afraid you keep getting evidence for stories mixed up with evidence for the claims the stories are making. Of course, we’ve been up that road more than once already, so I’ll leave it there for now.
    Oh! Here’s one more link…might be more up your alley-
    http://www.outerworlds.com/likeness/aliens/aliens.html
    B flat, C, A flat,(octave lower) A flat, E flat.
    Keep watching…the SKIES!!!

  2. Arthur says:

    I always thought that the point of smart-ass exercises like the Flying Spaghetti Monster was to illustrate the claim that generic spirituality is a big enough blanket to cover just about anything, and—the flip side—that the very specific tenets of, for example, Christianity aren’t supported by the Real World Out There any more than the Flying Spaghetti Monster is.
    So I’m not sure what you gain by pointing out that “people throughout all of recorded history have reported experiences with God, gods and/or what people refer to as the supernatural,'” or that “tens of thousands of people claim to have witnessed a miracle of some sort,” or anything of that general nature. Most apologists give every indication of believing very specific things; they do not, as a rule, seem genuinely committed to defending some sort of vaguely defined spirituality (much less multiple specific gods). I have to suspect that it’s just easier, sometimes, to argue in favor of being open-minded about spiritual stuff generally than it is to argue in favor of things that make a Christian different from a Jew (much less things that make Lutherans different from Episcopalians, or whatever).
    But if all you have is vaguely defined spirituality, then you already know what the FSM supporters will say: all that data is evidence of their wacky idea, not yours. The real question is as it always has been: “What supports your claim specifically, and does not also support anyone else’s?”

  3. Bobaloo says:

    It seems to me that your clarification is spot on, however I think it you are trying to do the same thing the ULFSM slinger does. If one wants to prove the existence of something they must present falsifiable evidence as they possess the burden of proof. However when one throws down the ULFSM card they commit one of the most common fallacies, which seems to be your original point. When the ULFSM card hits the table, the interlocutor is suddenly faced with a dilemma; (a) take the bait and move the argument into epistemic terms, -or- (b) consider the ULFSM for what its worth, per se, a fallacious attempt to trick you into taking the burden of proof as a general claim for the logic behind the problem. The problem, that any argument for things that are un-falsifiable (God, ULFSM, Aliens ect.) must be either inductive or it must be null. Null being the position that reason and evidence are not necessary or cogent in the formation of a belief in un-falsifiables. Alvin Plantiga hits a home run in his essay “A Defense Of Religious Exclusivism,” when he states that there is a certain level of irrationality that must be asserted in order to form a belief in un-falsifiables. He argues that any belief must be, in its entirety, faith based and irrational.
    Plantiga seems to illuminate the problems with reason and un-falsifiables by asserting that justification for believing these is simply that you have irrational faith in their existance. This is probably the strongest of all the theological arguments, at least from a logicians perspective. It seems to me that in any argument about religion, in order to be logically cogent, we must argue about un-falsifiables in un-scientific and irrational ways. This only empowers any claim that is faith based as its justification lies in itself. However we must be careful, faith based logic is a much touchier subject than epistemic logic and is easy to misconstrue.
    Despite my personal beliefs on this subject it is important to ensure that in any argument for or against the existence of God, Aliens and flying pasta monsters must be inductive, faith-based, and irrational however counterintuitive it may seem.

  4. cl says:

    It seems to me that your clarification is spot on…

    Well thank you.

    If one wants to prove the existence of something they must present falsifiable evidence as they possess the burden of proof.

    In a purely scientific or legal context this may be absolutely true. But falsifiable evidence is not the measure of all proof.

    The problem, that any argument for things that are un-falsifiable (God, ULFSM, Aliens ect.) must be either inductive or it must be null.

    Without digressing too far into definitions of falsifiability, I see this a bit differently. I don’t presuppose God, ULFSM or aliens are intrinsically unfalsifiable. Take aliens for example. Let’s say we accept the scant amount of physical evidence tied to abduction anecdotes. We can deduce something about aliens from that physical evidence. If alien craft really exist in underground bases we can certainly deduce facts about aliens. And any of these entities can also show up at any given time, too.

    Alvin Plantiga hits a home run in his essay “A Defense Of Religious Exclusivism,” when he states that there is a certain level of irrationality that must be asserted in order to form a belief in un-falsifiables. He argues that any belief must be, in its entirety, faith based and irrational.

    Although counterarguments certainly arise in my mind, I like those ideas, and although I consider myself a rational person, that also entails open-mindedness in my definition. I laugh at the traditional definition of rationalism, which to me is not so rational at all. Traditional rationalism actually teaches us to be biased towards the negative position in the matter of unfalsifiables, if they exist. The polar opposite of a passive and over-accepting mind, traditional rationalism when unchecked can encourage a closed-minded attitude.

    Plantiga seems to illuminate the problems with reason and un-falsifiables by asserting that justification for believing these is simply that you have irrational faith in their existance.

    See though, that also reads like a mere cowtowing to the folks who assert faith of any sort is irrational.

    It seems to me that in any argument about religion, in order to be logically cogent, we must argue about un-falsifiables in un-scientific and irrational ways. This only empowers any claim that is faith based as its justification lies in itself.

    My gut feeling is that most skeptics will disagree here. I tend to disagree here. The idea that a claim’s justification can lie in itself seems to me the first turn down the avenue of circular argumentation.

    …it is important to ensure that in any argument for or against the existence of God, Aliens and flying pasta monsters must be inductive, faith-based, and irrational however counterintuitive it may seem.

    I’m not convinced of that, as already touched on in my response to your third point. Although we can certainly agree that the nature of God, ULFSM and aliens lends better to inductive reasoning to deductive reasoning. But just as science is not entirely immune from inductive reasoning, nor is religion entirely immune from deductive reasoning.
    Either way, good comments.

  5. MS Quixote says:

    Hey cl,
    No luck thus far on G of the gs counter-terminology. You?
    Nice post & I agree, but I think it gets worse for he ULFSM than you’ve described. With the FSM, and Santa, as is also commonly claimed, we possess sufficient historical data to pinpoint the origins of these concepts. The contrast with a maximally great being is obvious.
    Moreover, with the full slate of ULFSM we have historical origins, in addition to recognizing that they are a almagamation of existing rational and natural components. I think Karla mentioned that “a unicorn is just a horse with a stick on its head.” Again, the contrast with God as commonly understood exposes the silliness of these type arguments.
    Russell’s teapot, on the other hand, is a sophisticated objection, but then, he was a sophisticated thinker. But there again, it is not at all clear what RT shares with ULFSM. RT attempts to shift burden of proof to the theist; the ULFSM is often deployed by what you term “amateur skeptics” to suggest that ULFSM and the concept of God are virtually the same, or that belief in either is identical.
    Bobaloo,
    I thoroughly enjoyed your comment, and if you are a skeptic, I wish more had your attitude. The great irony of this whole falsifiable/scientific/epistemologic strain to me is that theism is ultimately the provable and demonstrable hypothesis of the two. Granted, that makes atheism falsifiable, I suppose, but at what cost?
    I’m also not willing to concede the epistemic ground you seem to take for granted (cl grimaces), but you appear conversant with the arguments so we can probably leave it there. I don’t feel the need to argue with you, just really wanted to express how I felt better off for having read your post.

  6. Brad says:

    Bobaloo,
    “[Plantiga] argues that any belief must be, in its entirety, faith based and irrational.”
    In its entirety? How about relatively speaking: one belief is more rational than another due to better supporting reason and evidence? I mean, I can’t tell if I’m in the Matrix or not, but it’d be presumptuous to believe it, so all I believe is that this world exists and that it may or may not be supported by a metaphysically preceding medium. What I see is what I’ve got. (So to speak.)
    “This only empowers any claim that is faith based as its justification lies in itself.”
    Not sure what this means. Elaboration? Examples?

  7. Arthur says:

    The FSM is transparently ridiculous—that is an important part of its point—but it still constitutes a real epistemic challenge to the religious: what supports your claim specifically, and does not also support anyone else’s?
    If you believe in God in a specific sort of way—if, for example, you are a Christian, and not a Jew or a Muslim (for simplicity’s sake I’ll pretend that Christians today don’t disagree with each other)—then the challenge is obvious: provide an actual real-world reason for making that distinction. What, in other words, do you really, actually know about God?
    (And if it comes down to what other people have said about Him…this is exactly what Deacon Duncan is always going on about.)
    The challenge doesn’t go away if you believe in some sort of vague, non-specific spiritual something-or-other, or if you just want to keep an open mind. If you believe, for example, that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are equally valid, but you aren’t willing to grant validity to the FSM, then you’re claiming to be capable of the same epistemic judgement as the specific-something believers above. Where do you get your knowledge?
    (If, on the other hand, you are sincerely willing to include the FSM, then you look ridiculous. Nobody wants to do that. I’m pretty sure this is a design feature.)
    Remember, FSM supporters aren’t arguing against “a maximally great being”; they’re only claiming that we’ve all misunderstood the nature of that being until now (a claim with which Christians should be intimately familiar). And yes, they would have to answer these questions themselves, but only if they decided to take themselves seriously.

  8. MS Quixote says:

    “The inescapable fact is this: God does not show up in the real world, not visibly, not audibly, not tangibly, not for you, not for me, not for saint or for sinner or for seeker.”
    This statement is neither inescapable, nor fact. What it actually is, is an epistemic nightmare. How could the deacon possibly epistemically justify his belief that God does not reveal himself to others? He can’t, no more than he is able to justify to me what particular thought he experienced yesterday at 2:30 PM. His statement here seems to be the equivalent of “since God does not appear to me in the way that I demand in the real world, He must not appear to anyone.” It’s nothing more than unsupported dogma, not to mention the lumbering presupposition lurking behind the phrase “real world” among others.
    Arthur, I found you a bit more rational and open to episitemic considerations, not that I’m anything other than a guest here, though I’d be interested to hear exactly what you believe proper epistemic warrant to consist of, and how that system would itself be epistemically warranted. For myself as a Christian, as do millions of other Christians throughout time–I’ll ignore for a moment that non-Christians seem to disagree with each other–our direct experience with God appears sufficient on its own for epistemic warrant. But, personally, I’d add to that a ring of satisfactory arguments taken from reason for the existence of God, and God as revealed (by himself, not convinced that the deacon can substantiate his claim that God was not involved) through Scripture to mingle with my experience to provide warrant for belief.
    This is one reason de jure objections against faith like the deacon’s so often fall on deaf ears. It appears to be more a precedential consideration of the de facto matter being true or not.
    cl,
    Did “Illusions Writers Face, part II” never get written? I was looking for it and couldn’t find it…

  9. pboyfloyd says:

    You can often tell when there’s an amateur Christian lurking around some random debate, because at some point they’re bound to upchuck their own particular version of the unoriginal and silly, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” ( (Hehehe I the Christian outsmarted you the God-hater! is the usual subtext).
    Of course what s/he means is, “I’d be interested to hear exactly what you believe proper epistemic warrant to consist of, and how that system would itself be epistemically warranted.”
    or, “We believe that God said it, why shouldn’t that settle it?”
    How easy is it for a propagandist to use charged words to smear their opponent as simply a lurking amateur, upchucking silly and unoriginal arguments?
    Surely ‘pre-coating’ the argument as silly and unoriginal while painting the person using the argument as lurking and upchucking says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the validity of the argument itself.
    Essentially, they are saying that the idea of God is absurd with ‘flippancy and snootiness’ and you are rebutting this with a very flippant and snooty, “No it’s not!”
    Isn’t that right?

  10. MS Quixote says:

    “Isn’t that right?”
    I’ve seen it way too often, pboyfloyd (love the name), and it irritates me every time, despite which side does it. But you must have me confued with someone, or simply assumed something that’s not the case based on past experience.
    If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that I gave due respect to Russell’s teapot argument, and if you think I was being flippant with Arthur, I’m at loss to understand why you would think that. I dealt with his reference material head on, and asked a fair question in response.
    In the same vein as the comments, I’ll note the irony of your comment with respect to epistemic warrant. It’s evident you have none for your conclusion with regard to me. Generally speaking, however, I agree with your comment. Question is, if you’re aware of this, why are you doing it yourself?

  11. Arthur says:

    I’ll let Deacon Duncan explain his own self—this latest post goes back to his basics, actually. That said, I would just point out that his basic claim is pretty specific: the Bible provides us with a mass of detail sufficient to say that the God it describes isn’t real. And I’ve got to say that the posts from cl, as a rule, have been content to challenge him in very general terms, along the lines of “How can you claim to know what other people experience?” and “How can you claim to know what is and isn’t possible?”
    With regard to epistemic warrant…folks here, like folks pretty much everywhere, give every indication of believing in pretty fundamental epistemic principles—observation, plus inductive and deductive inference and some other stuff. I believe in those, too. The difference seems to be that some folks also believe in an additional principle—that the Bible, or parts of it at least, constitute the revealed word of the Creator—which seems to me to hamstring those fundamentals. If the Bible didn’t have the appearance of a heavily edited collection of ancient writings, whose authors contradict each other in various large and small ways, such a principle might seem a little less odd. As it is, I don’t see much to recommend Scripture.
    For that matter, if each Christian’s “direct experience with God” were to lead all Christians to agree (at the very least) on what constitutes right and wrong behavior, that might help too. It would give us something to observe, at least—those of us who aren’t privy to that direct experience. But in fact the history of Christianity, and its ramifying family tree of denominations, is characterized by disagreement, from Jesus forward. It’s a very human-looking project, to those of us who don’t already believe in the God Christians describe.

  12. pboyfloyd says:

    MSQuixote,
    No, I didn’t think that you were being flippant at all. My point was to cl about his propaganda technique.
    If you imagine that you have sufficient epistemic warrant that you are in personal contact with God, I recommend chlorpromazine.
    Scratch that. Gimme some of what you’re smokin’!

  13. cl says:

    Arthur,
    I’m glad we can agree that ULFSM are smart-ass exercises. That’s my most important point in this post.

    …generic spirituality is a big enough blanket to cover just about anything, and—the flip side—that the very specific tenets of, for example, Christianity aren’t supported by the Real World Out There any more than the Flying Spaghetti Monster is.

    I agree with you about the difficulties and arguable lack of utility in generic spirituality arguments, and it’s not so much that I’m gaining anything by raising the points you mention. The problem with those points is they allow the perception that a claim’s popularity somehow entails its correctness. By no means is that my argument, but the general idea has a kernel of truth. In any court case, witnesses are evidence. There is a real-world significance also in terms like scientific, historic, and legal consensus, for example. I propose that a thing called religious consensus exists, and could we accurately identify it, I wouldn’t expect it to be a point-by-point reflection of any one church’s particular doctrinal statement. However, when you allude to “the very specific tenets of Christianity” you raise another interesting point against ULFSM arguments – they have absolutely zero tenets at all save for the so-called epistemic challenge, and that’s indication of at least one thing: That no person in their right mind has ever considered FSM’ism a worthy idea or thought process, and while by no means is the popularity of an argument the measure of its truth, witnesses are tantamount to evidence. And although people can certainly be wrong about that in which they believe sincerely, there is something to say about the discrepancy in seriousness between these competing claims. I say this discrepancy is great enough to sustain charges of category error. Aren’t we most certainly warranted in rejecting an idea supported by absolutely or effectively zero bits of evidence, an idea so obviously false that it supports zero tenets other than this so-called epistemic challenge?
    As far as your closing question, before I could answer I would first have to ask – we can at least perfunctorily agree on some basic tenets of Christianity or generic spirituality – but what are the basic tenets of FSM’ism that I might also judge whose “wacky idea” the data better supports?
    Lastly, I completely agree with your distinction between arguing for ‘general spiritual principles or ideas’ vs. ‘evidence that any one religious idea is better than another.’ Although I think we can make some good preliminary arguments on the latter point, such is a whole different discussion.

  14. cl says:

    Hola Quixote,
    No luck yet re ~GOTG but the waters are stirring…

    With the FSM, and Santa, as is also commonly claimed, we possess sufficient historical data to pinpoint the origins of these concepts. The contrast with a maximally great being is obvious.

    Good point, and that means you’re right. It does get worse for ULFSM and Santa and all that. However, to be fair, we also possess sufficient historical data to pinpoint the origins of many specific religious ideas as well. But as you say, the case for general belief in a “maximally great being” is not so easily and directly traceable in time.
    I wholeheartedly agree Russell was a sophisticated thinker, but I lump that silly teapot in the same category as ULFSM arguments. I tend to think that ULFSM arguments also push the burden on the theist, as Arthur notes above in his closing paragraph. Most people would say the burden is always on the theist, because the theist is making the positive claim. And I had something to say about this which turned out to be long-winded enough to merit its own post, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.

  15. cl says:

    This only empowers any claim that is faith based as its justification lies in itself.

    I agreed with much of what Bobaloo had to say but I also had a red flag go up on that particular statement. I thought it at least opened the door to a justification of circular argumentation, but it could also be that I’m misunderstanding what Bobaloo meant. Could it be that the problem is possibly semantic or in the expression of the idea?
    At least one reasonable, non-circular interpretation I see for Bobaloo’s idea relates to the fact that the only way to truly prove the claims of faith is to experience them. IOW, if authentic, they prove themselves.

  16. cl says:

    Arthur,

    What supports your claim specifically, and does not also support anyone else’s?

    My first answer to this was actually not a complete answer. I said, “what are the basic tenets of FSM’ism that I might also judge whose “wacky idea” the data better supports?” I feel that is a valid response, and we would truly need to establish these tenets to even conduct a serious competition of ideas. Now, here’s one quick answer: How many people claim to have been healed miraculously by FSM? And you should factor into your response my immediate concession that not all miracle claims can be taken for granted. However, indeed some exist which cannot be merely handwaved away, and we can get into that another day.

    What, in other words, do you really, actually know about God?

    Before we could proceed here, I would need to know what you would accept as knowledge. And I’m not trying to be semantic to avoid the question, I’m being serious. As a brief example, would conclusions based on observations count?

    If you believe, for example, that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are equally valid, but you aren’t willing to grant validity to the FSM, then you’re claiming to be capable of the same epistemic judgement as the specific-something believers above.

    To me, the “epistemic judgment” you describe is merely the acceptance of one religious idea over another as the most palatable explanation. Picture our hypothetical table with rows and columns of various criteria such as purported sightings, purported inspiration of texts, purported miracles, sightings across cultures, number of believers, etc. Evidence and credibility are inversely proportional and we’re justified in accepting the idea with the most evidence.

    Remember, FSM supporters aren’t arguing against “a maximally great being”; they’re only claiming that we’ve all misunderstood the nature of that being until now (a claim with which Christians should be intimately familiar).

    You used the phrase “misunderstood the nature of that being until now” which implies that now the misunderstanding has been cleared up, and further invites the question – What is the proper understanding?
    It seems to me that although we agree ULFSM arguments are silly or smart-ass or whatever, are you maintaining that they only compete with specific religious claims? Because even if so, such still cannot absolve the discrepancy that I say justifies charges of category error. I might be willing to consider FSM if it had a creation story or if people described experiences that corroborated FSM’ism. But I don’t even know what FSM’ism is, and that’s my first indication that FSM’ism is clearly not even a valid competitor. FSM’ism is not even wearing the proper uniform that it might be allowed on the field.

  17. cl says:

    MS Quixote,

    This statement is neither inescapable, nor fact. What it actually is, is an epistemic nightmare. How could the deacon possibly epistemically justify his belief that God does not reveal himself to others? He can’t, no more than he is able to justify to me what particular thought he experienced yesterday at 2:30 PM. His statement here seems to be the equivalent of “since God does not appear to me in the way that I demand in the real world, He must not appear to anyone.” It’s nothing more than unsupported dogma, not to mention the lumbering presupposition lurking behind the phrase “real world” among others.

    This is one reason de jure objections against faith like the deacon’s so often fall on deaf ears.

    Exactly, and thank you. Now I don’t feel like such a total freak for making similar claims. And re Illusion part ii, it’s mostly done, I’ve just got to touch it up and post it. I’ve been too absorbed in all this philosophical and religious banter, which is really just testimony to the thoughtfulness of recent comments. But I’ll make it a point to dust it off soon, hopefully by the end of this week. Thanks for asking.

  18. cl says:

    Well, first off, I do like your strategy.

    How easy is it for a propagandist to use charged words to smear their opponent as simply a lurking amateur, upchucking silly and unoriginal arguments?

    I agree; that was the main reason for the post. ULFSM are certainly charged words, and when the skeptic breaks these unoriginal arguments out, they reveal nothing more than willingness to mistake category error and false dichotomy as logical
    cogency.

    Surely ‘pre-coating’ the argument as silly and unoriginal while painting the person using the argument as lurking and upchucking says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the validity of the argument itself.

    I’d say that’s correct. ULFSM arguments reveal their own invalidity just fine.

    Essentially, they are saying that the idea of God is absurd with ‘flippancy and snootiness’ and you are rebutting this with a very flippant and snooty, “No it’s not!” Isn’t that right?

    Perhaps a tad, but I’m not inventing Lasagne Trees and calling them worthwhile arguments, either.

    You can often tell when there’s an amateur Christian lurking around some random debate, because at some point they’re bound to upchuck their own particular version of the unoriginal and silly, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” ( (Hehehe I the Christian outsmarted you the God-hater! is the usual subtext).

    An equally fair caricaturization perhaps but personally, I’m more of the, “God said it? Well let’s see it…” type.

  19. cl says:

    Arthur,

    That said, I would just point out that [Deacon Duncan's] basic claim is pretty specific: the Bible provides us with a mass of detail sufficient to say that the God it describes isn’t real.

    I agree that such accurately represents DD’s claim.

    And I’ve got to say that the posts from cl, as a rule, have been content to challenge him in very general terms, along the lines of “How can you claim to know what other people experience?” and “How can you claim to know what is and isn’t possible?”

    And I also agree that I’ve been content to challenge DD in “very general terms,” specifically because DD’s is a “very general argument.” Blanket claims are generally very general, if I can continue to be silly but serious. Do you suppose that DD is the arbiter of all possibilities? I don’t know the guy that well.

    With regard to epistemic warrant…folks here, like folks pretty much everywhere, give every indication of believing in pretty fundamental epistemic principles—observation, plus inductive and deductive inference and some other stuff. I believe in those, too. The difference seems to be that some folks also believe in an additional principle—that the Bible, or parts of it at least, constitute the revealed word of the Creator—which seems to me to hamstring those fundamentals.

    I can respect that, but believing in the possibility of the divine and its revelation only hamstrings those fundamentals if we are completely blind and accept such with a passive mind. The Bible does advocate faith, but it does not advocate passivity of mind. One need not abandon the fundamental epistemic principles to justify belief in God.

    If the Bible didn’t have the appearance of a heavily edited collection of ancient writings, whose authors contradict each other in various large and small ways, such a principle might seem a little less odd. As it is, I don’t see much to recommend Scripture.

    Well, to each their own, but I see much to recommend in all world scriptures and contradictions aren’t always what they seem.

    But in fact the history of Christianity, and its ramifying family tree of denominations, is characterized by disagreement, from Jesus forward. It’s a very human-looking project, to those of us who don’t already believe in the God Christians describe.

    I agree, and I feel you make a valid point. But science, law, politics and many other things are also characterized by disagreement, and disagreement is never proof that one side is correct in any given matter. In fact, disagreement is usually strong evidence that at least some of what both sides are saying is true.
    And it is a very human-looking project. Religion is human-looking because religion is human, but religion does not preclude reality. If we’re talking about the Bible, I don’t suppose Jesus came to establish what we describe as religion, especially since Jesus condemned the religion of that time.

  20. cl says:

    MS Quixote,
    I think pboyfloyd was trying to give me a little of what he perceives as my own medicine. I think his comment was more for me (see below). pboyfloyd actually asks me what you ask rightfully asked him – pboyfloyd seems to think I replied to quipping flippancy with nothing but further quipping flippancy. I replied that I introduced the post with a little sarcasm, but I also justified my position logically instead of inventing Lasagne Trees.
    pboyfloyd and I had some quibbles and misunderstandings over on ER that might still be influencing tone and such, but I’m well past them and I have no problem with pboyfloyd.

  21. cl says:

    pboyfloyd,

    No, I didn’t think that you were being flippant at all. My point was to cl about his propaganda technique.

    That you accurately call my caricature a “propaganda technique” further underscores my point. ULFSM arguments are nothing more than propaganda techniques and that’s why I caricaturized them.

  22. MS Quixote says:

    “However, to be fair, we also possess sufficient historical data to pinpoint the origins of many specific religious ideas as well.”
    No question about it, cl, and I think they’re all fair game.
    “It’s a very human-looking project, to those of us who don’t already believe in the God Christians describe.”
    It is to us who do as well, Arthur, in many cases. Thanks for giving a snapshot for the epistemology question, because I can see now that I was responding to a somewhat different question than you were asking.
    “The difference seems to be that some folks also believe in an additional principle—that the Bible, or parts of it at least, constitute the revealed word of the Creator—which seems to me to hamstring those fundamentals.”
    I see this a lot as well; others, however, get there by reasoning within the principles you outlined. I realize arguing with Christians is like hitting a moving target, which I believe you alluded to further on in your post.
    “the Bible provides us with a mass of detail sufficient to say that the God it describes isn’t real.”
    His argument has a difficulty he’ll need to overcome. The Bible specifically and forwardly predicts that God will not appear in the manner in which the deacon predicts that he will or should. It’s a defeater that appears fatal to the argument, IMO.
    All in all, this turned out to be a fairly good and reasonable discussion. Very rare. Thanks.
    Well, there was this: “Scratch that. Gimme some of what you’re smokin’!” Floyd’s allright by me, cl. Never enough humor in these things to suit me.

  23. Arthur says:

    I feel slightly silly having to say this, but evidently no one else is going to say it.
    Why on earth do we need to know “whose ‘wacky idea’ the data better supports?” Why on earth would we try to “establish” the “tenets” of “FSMism”? What would be gained “if it had a creation story?” Or “if people described experiences that corroborated” it?
    No one takes the FSM to be some actual theological claim, offered up for actual evaluation. No FSM supporter is looking for a “serious competition of ideas.” No one believes in the FSM.The FSM is deliberately ridiculous. It’s a bumper sticker that says: “Your religious ideas are so wacky, somebody probably just made them up.”
    Yes, it’s flip and snooty. No, pointing this out doesn’t make the challenge go away.
    P.S. cl, you show no curiosity about why you don’t expect “any one church’s particular doctrinal statement” to be validated by a hypothetical “religious consensus.” Do you think that churches just invent their doctrinal statements out of nothing? Where do those doctrinal details come from, that you have so little faith in them?

  24. cl says:

    No one takes the FSM to be some actual theological claim, offered up for actual evaluation.

    I’m glad we can agree that there is a difference between an “FSM claim” and an “actual theological claim.” That right there further proves my point. And I’ve realized the FSM was intended to be ridiculous all along. But what’s that say about the people who use it if that’s the best they can muster?
    And what does make the challenge go away is when we realize that we’re talking about two totally different categories of claim. So when jim or PhillyChief or whoever else starts comparing religious beliefs to ULFSM arguments, they are comparing two totally different things.
    In any court trial, your average religious claims would be kicking ass on ULFSM. People will come forward and sincerely testify that God did this or that for them. And yes, as a skeptic you’re free to disbelieve them all. But that still doesn’t change the fact that not one person has likely even prayed to the FSM let alone got something interpretable as a response. So comparing ULFSM to God is like comparing ID to science.
    And I don’t expect the world religious consensus to accurately reflect any one churches doctrinal statement for what I thought was an obvious reason – because the world has a diversity of views on religion.

  25. Brad says:

    The Bible specifically and forwardly predicts that God will not appear in the manner in which the deacon predicts that he will or should.

    Hey, that sounds interesting. I don’t remember reading that anywhere.

  26. cl says:

    Brad,
    Although I hate to in any way speak for MS Quixote, I think what he might possibly have meant is that Deacon Duncan argues the Bible permits the idea that God’s current presence should be as our sun compared against the night stars, right now. The Bible does indeed say that one day, God will be with people and all that stuff, for example Revelation 21. But DD seems to think that we can hold it against the Bible that such an appearance from God has not yet happened, which is why I compared DD’s argument to a trilobyte faulting evolution because there were no humans in the Cambrian. There’s no contradiction between a claim and the real world if the claim is in the future.
    MS, if I’ve misunderstood your comment, I’ll apologize and willfully accept my lashings.

  27. Arthur says:

    I withdraw the claim about the challenge not going away. Clearly, for you, the challenge went away some time ago, and you’re no longer willing to commit any thought to it.
    I’m glad we agree, finally, that the FSM is ridiculous on purpose. I’ll take it! Now I can pretend that this discussion wasn’t a complete waste, and you can continue pretending that you don’t understand the FSM’s real importance.
    I’m glad, also, to see that you’ve overcome your misgivings about your own Argument from Relative Popularity (“a claim’s popularity somehow entails its correctness”). This, plus your unconditional embrace of the whole world’s “diversity of views on religion,” will allow the continued use of your courtroom-full-of-witnesses analogy to prove that God is more likely to exist than leprechauns are.
    Last but not least, I’m glad to have my confusion cleared up about the dizzying number of different churches in the Christian marketplace. Now I can rest assured that, no matter what church I walk into, the details of its doctrinal statement are wrong; and that the question of whether those details are made up or not just isn’t that important.

  28. cl says:

    Arthur,
    Please, let’s not go the jim route. I don’t want to clash with you. You’re starting to take a bit too much liberty in some of your statements here. Let’s keep this thing on course.
    1) You insult me by implying I’ve abandoned critical thought regarding ULFSM arguments. Such is not true.
    2) We’ve both known FSM was ridiculous, on purpose. The point of me asking for the tenets of FSM’ism and such was to further demonstrate this fact. So we were always in agreement on this point.
    3) I have explicitly stated here and elsewhere that an argument’s popularity does not entail it’s correctness, but a reasonable parsing of your third paragraph implies the opposite.
    4) You note “…the continued use of [my] courtroom-full-of-witnesses analogy to prove that God is more likely to exist than leprechauns are.” I don’t think God’s evidentiary advantages in our hypothetical table “prove” God, Arthur, and unless I’m misunderstanding you, not saying you did it on purpose but that’s an exaggeration of my point. God’s evidentiary advantages over ULFSM justify believers in leaving the NULL position. And I also agree that unsatisfied skeptics are justified to remain in the NULL position.

    Now I can rest assured that, no matter what church I walk into, the details of its doctrinal statement are wrong; and that the question of whether those details are made up or not just isn’t that important.

    The question is most certainly important, but if this is the conclusion you draw then so be it. It’s not what I think, and maybe again you either misunderstood what I said or just went too far with it. A reasonably paraphrase of my comments on religious consensus would be that no matter what church you walk into anywhere on Earth, the details of its doctrinal statement aren’t likely to be 100% right. Huge difference. Every organized religion must inevitably interpret reality through the eyes of their own culture.
    I understand what you describe as the challenge that FSM arguments present. We’ve always agreed FSM is ridiculous on purpose. You appear to have attributed the converse of my position to me re Argument from Relative Popularity. And are you really going to argue that propositions with no honest witnesses and no credible circumstantial evidence can be equally compared to the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
    ULFSM, Santa and their ilk exist in these arguments to illustrate the weakness of appeals to non-omniscience as defenses of God. Believers who don’t quite know how to respond adequately to atheists say stuff like, “Well you can’t possibly know that God doesn’t exist,” or “How do you know? God might exists…” but such are epistemological nightmares. I can’t possibly know that whatever the Branch Dividians believed in doesn’t exist, either.
    If our defense of God is an appeal to non-omniscience, we must allow a whole array of other possibilities and in this limited scope ULFSM arguments are justified. But this stupid ULFSM idea has evolved into more than that and high-school style debaters have overextended the arguments and played them out. Like a social security card, ULFSM now gets used in all sorts of contexts and defenses other than its original focus. When we’re having a discussion about what is and is not a miracle, to claim SMERF’s and FSM’s and the like must be permitted as equal causal competitors is a joke.

  29. Arthur says:

    I apologize for that outburst of sarcasm. It was a bad day. It was irresponsible of me even to be reading, much less responding.
    1) You insult me by implying I’ve abandoned critical thought regarding ULFSM arguments.
    I meant to imply that you weren’t taking the argument seriously. Deliberate disrespect aside (again, I’m sorry about that), I still feel like you’re not taking the argument seriously.
    2) We’ve both known FSM was ridiculous, on purpose. The point of me asking for the tenets of FSM’ism and such was to further demonstrate this fact.
    In point of fact, you’ve been speaking of the FSM all along as if its absurdity were inadvertent—an oversight committed by people who don’t really understand what they’re talking about. The “naïve” and “amateur” quality of ULFSM arguments is a prominent assertion in your original article, and “asking for the tenets of FSM’ism” just drives that perspective home: silly amateurs, they don’t even have a creation story. But “asking for the tenets” performs a couple of other not-mentioned functions as well:
    –it is a way to score some easy points for some abstracted version of God: “in any court trial, your average religious claim would be kicking ass on ULFSM.”
    –it is a way to avoid providing any particulars of your own: “before I could answer [the question of what support exists for my claims] I would first have to ask…what are the basic tenets of FSM’ism that I might also judge whose ‘wacky idea’ the data better supports?”
    (What do “average religious claims,” or their quantity, have to do with the truth or falsity of something, one might ask? And how can knowing more about the FSM’s claims provide support for your own? See Number Three.)
    3) I have explicitly stated here and elsewhere that an argument’s popularity does not entail its correctness, but a reasonable parsing of your third paragraph implies the opposite.
    You have indeed expressed reservations about your Relative Popularity Argument, but you have never stopped using it. How could you? It, plus the immaturity and intellectual dishonesty of FSM atheists, is the entire point of your original article (aside from that bit about the pyramids). It is presumably the source of your strange, unswerving conviction that, if something can be categorized as more ridiculous than God, then it constitutes evidence that God is a reasonable idea—or, as you put it in your Point Four, “God’s evidentiary advantages over ULFSM justify believers in leaving the NULL position.”
    (Just in case this is too bald a statement of belief, you grant that the other possibility is also acceptable: “And I also agree that unsatisfied skeptics are justified to remain in the NULL position.” I suppose the best kind of “evidentiary advantage” permits reasonable people to come to the conclusion of their choice.)
    The courtroom-full-of-witnesses analogy appears to be the basis for your Argument (its “kernel of truth,” as you say), but “witnesses are tantamount to evidence” only inasmuch as they agree on what they witnessed; and the more religious witnesses you lump together, the less they will agree on. You anticipate this lack of actual consensus yourself (“I wouldn’t expect it to be a point-by-point reflection of any one church’s particular doctrinal statement”) but this just confirms that what you want is the opposite of courtroom-type evidence: you don’t want people delimiting their experiences, delimiting details, delimiting common ground, maybe throwing the whole mess out if they can’t get anywhere. You just want every reference to “God, gods or…’the supernatural'” to count in your favor—if not as “proof” of anything, then at least as data sufficient “to sustain charges of category error” by amateur FSM enthusiasts.
    And what a curious anticipation, by the way! Why doesn’t it interest you, that—of the vast number of them in the world—none of those official doctrines should be validated by all that “circumstantial and anecdotal evidence”? What does it mean to say that no one is “likely to be 100% right”? It seems plausible that every existing religious denomination (that wasn’t created by a con artist) was created by people who sincerely believed that they had it 100% right. Most of them, in fact, probably thought they were correcting the specific mistakes of previous denominations. All of them, I’m sure, believed that God (or whatever) was showing them the way—in other words, they didn’t think they were just making stuff up.
    You dismiss them all out of hand, with no apparent hesitation, with some puzzlement even: isn’t it obvious? “The world has a diversity of views on religion.” I feel obligated to infer that not one of those views is more correct than any other, that they all count equally in your pretend “consensus,” and that no religious professional in the world can be trusted on spiritual matters (since they can’t tell the inspired parts of their doctrine from the made-up parts).
    “ULFSM, Santa, and their ilk exist…to illustrate the weakness of appeals to non-omniscience as defenses of God.”
    If this is the conclusion you draw then so be it. But if your fondness for that non-omniscience argument is your only interest in them, maybe that’s why you so consistently miss their point.

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