February 24, 2009
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?