Theist Trick: Of Wind And Abstract Thought

So another fun trick which theists get much mileage from is talking about things like wind or abstract thought. A favorite is love. They’ll ask, “prove to me love exists” or wind or abstract thought of some kind. It’s a devious little game to try to convince you or whoever is observing the exchange that there are clear flaws to reason and science. They’ll mock you by saying, “if you can’t even prove to me wind or love exist, how can you say you’re equipped to disprove the existence of god?” It’s clever, but like all of their “arguments” it’s just a trick. The trick is by asking you to prove something that’s not defined. In fact, it’s even more clever because they actively try to get you to prove the name or label of something instead of the thing itself.

Here’s how it plays out for them:
1. Ask for the label of a thing to be proved
2. Dismiss proofs for the thing as not proving the label
3. Continue to present label as the thing
4. At inevitable failure of your opponent, declare his or her reasoning limited
5. After trumpeting limits of reason, declare opponent incapable of commenting on god via reason

Very clever, no? You spin your wheels trying to prove an abstract and when you’re mired in the mud they do their superior dance. So what do you do? Well you can simply expose the trick or you can deny the theist his necessary tools by first asking for a definition of the thing they want proven. This immediately destroys the trick, because the trick is based on the confusion of label and thing. If you force a definition, you can easily prove the thing. If they define love as the expressions between two people you just present examples of two people loving one another. If they say wind is what you feel blowing then you talk about currents and the movement of air molecules. For thought, it’s simply functions of the brain. Now with this, depending on just how dishonest they are, they may insist that we don’t know how the brain creates specific thoughts and that would be correct but that’s hardly something to hang their hat on. I’d simply say that although it may be a long time coming before we fully map the functions of the brain, we learn more everyday so enjoy the spot while you can because eventually you’ll have to find a new place for your hat.

You can also apply this counter to when they speak of their god. Insist on them defining their god. Don’t allow them to wave their god label around without saying what it refers to. Once they do that, then you can systematically challenge it’s existence or any claim they make of it. This is something I recently did with our lovable little theist scamp Iggy. Pushed for a definition, he offered the following:
He is a God that is outside the system He created yet works also within the system. He is beyond physical yet created physics.

So now we have something to sink our teeth into.

He is a God that is outside the system He created
Unverified assertions:
1. He created this “system”
2. There’s an “outside” to this system

yet works also within the system

Then there would be evidence of such work which we can examine for understanding and verifying him, so as soon as you provide that we can continue

He is beyond physical

Once again, naked assertion and building into the definition means by which you can’t say squat about him which is inherently disingenuous.

yet created physics

Once again, naked, unverified assertion.

If you can get them to define their god, inevitably it will be full of nonsense that they can’t defend unless they point to their holy books which is just circular reasoning at it’s best. What happens is they both resort to unsupportable claims and assign attributes deliberately impossible to disprove thinking this then is proof that the scientific method is inadequate. This is an embarrassing last resort, and one that you almost have to pity them for trying… almost. Carl Sagan created a wonderful example of this kind of nonsense with his The Dragon In My Garage. If you never read it, do so now and remember it the next time you hear theists definitions and assertions about their god and tell me what’s different? Nothing. Nothing is different.

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10 Responses to “Theist Trick: Of Wind And Abstract Thought”

  1. Thanks for another another addition to your catalog of theist tricks. I hope you’ll keep them coming.

  2. I agree with the Chaplain. Thanks on the heads up. Oddly, I had just posted along a similar vein (nowhere near as eloquent, of course, or as verbose (are you paid by the word?)). Great minds think alike, eh? Thanks for the complement.

  3. I actually hope I won’t have to write more of these, but that’s probably wishful thinking.

    Eloquent? Now you’re just blowing smoke up my ass, or should I say wind? ;)

  4. Lovely. I often try to help people with whom I debate differentiate between the transrational and the unfalsifiable (and the axiomatic). For example, it’s axiomatic to me that I exist. It is transrational to love. God is unfalsifiable.

    Sometimes people are just genuinely confused. Of course, I give people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know why I do that…

  5. I’m confused already with your big smartsy words. :)

    You and I get “unfalsifiable”. Believers usually don’t. What they hear is “you can’t deny god” and walk away thinking not that you’ve just blown up their claim but rather affirmed it. Case in point, that same Iggy, when shown that his definition of god is merely designed to be unprovable and therefore disingenuous, instead saw that as proof the scientific method is limited and lacking. Bottomline, we have to dumb down both our vocabulary and our arguments to have any hope of getting through to at least the audience. There may be no hope for the actually believer we’re engaged with.

  6. Philly: that would be the smoke from a Sancho Panza madura which I have been saving for a sunny day. Damn. I’m in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Well, I’ll smoke it eventually.

  7. Philly:

    I have to admit, when I first see your avatar in a lengthy, convoluted comment thread debating the existence of god, I just start cracking up, because I know things are about to get good.

    It’s a shame you have to go through all this trouble, because the obvious response is something along the lines that EVERYONE experiences things like wind. As for love, some do and some don’t. Some think they have, but actually haven’t. We mistake love for something else. Kind of like god in some ways?

    Another great post, my fine feathered friend…

  8. Since I’m the only one around here using their own name, I shouldn’t be hiding behind an avatar but instead put my mug out there. Now HOW it goes out, well, I can have some fun with that. If others have fun with my choice, great. If you have even more fun with what I write, that’s great, too.

    The point of course to these nonsense arguments is they want to try and come up with a way to make their silly beliefs credible. If they can’t be credible on their own, then the next best thing is to shoot down the credibility of the opposition. So no, we can’t be as complacent as you describe and that’s ok. Nothing wrong with being exacting in our speech. It’s at least good exercise for the mind and frankly, we SHOULD win these arguments because our minds are in better shape and their arguments are silly. :)

  9. “E” for excellence rating. Claim it! Your blog is grand.

  10. Thank you

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