Atheist Trick – Contrived Proof


One of our own has offered a false proof in order to persuade everyone to conclude that “a reasonable atheist cannot argue for the death penalty”. Now that may be true, and you may even believe it’s true, but as rational and logic loving people who strive for objectivity and who condemn others, namely theists, for failing to live up to these standards, it’s all the more important to not simply accept this ridiculous argument because you like the conclusion it reaches. To do so would be intellectually dishonest and hypocritical. Likewise, you also can’t in good conscience simply ignore it, or in some way excuse the behavior because you sympathize with his goal. That’s classic ends justify the means thinking and is wrong. Once again, this is no different than religious moderates turning a blind eye to or somehow excusing acts of terrorism.

It might help to think of his argument as a card game. The definitions are the cards with which we are to play with, the premises are the rules by which we have to play and the conclusions are the results of playing the game. I said the argument was fractally wrong, and to show that, I will go through all parts of it and show how it’s wrong on multiple levels, and on layers within levels. I’ll apologize now for the length of this dissection…

Definitions

Definition 1: Murder. Now in any syllogism, you’re free to invent terms and give them your invented definition. However, it’s completely disingenuous to pick a pre-existing term that is not only universally known already but which resonates so strongly. Let’s visit Merriam Webster’s definition:
mur·der: 1: the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought
2 a: something very difficult or dangerous (the traffic was murder) b: something outrageous or blameworthy (getting away with murder)

So from step one he recklessly gives away the whole game. Through an appeal to emotion, he intends to prejudice you through the use of that word. How can you possibly consider “murder” in a positive context? The deck is stacked in the houses favor now, but that’s not the only card. We can skip self defense since, as something to cite to serve his motives which already has a preloaded positive connotation, he didn’t need to alter the definition.

Definition 3: Execution. Ah, here we have some cleverness. Once again, let’s return to Merriam Webster:
ex·e·cu·tion: 1: the act or process of executing : performance
2: a putting to death especially as a legal penalty
3: the process of enforcing a legal judgment (as against a debtor); also : a judicial writ directing such enforcement
4: the act or mode or result of performance
5archaic : effective or destructive action

Now at first you might think his definition is an acceptable paraphrasing, but look again, specifically at what’s absent. Do you see it? The word “legal”. Oh he says “performed by an official body, such as the government”, but is that the same? Look at any of an assortment of events over the last 7 years from our current Administration. Were they legal? As time goes on, more and more the answer keeps coming back as “no”. So once again we have an appeal to emotion, the sentiment that, in light of recent events, things carried out by the government are not necessarily legal and with most of you (I hope) generally equating legal with good, he’s deliberately steering you to think of execution as not legal, as not good. This becomes important later since he quickly ties murder and execution together.

Definition 4: Revenge. What I take issue with initially is “infliction of harm”. Let’s look at harm.
harm: n. 1. Injury; hurt; damage; detriment; misfortune.
2.That which causes injury, damage, or loss.
v. t. 1.To hurt; to injure; to damage; to wrong.

Look at what’s there – hurt, damage, WRONG. Well, how’s that for loading a definition? Now what’s a more conventional definition of revenge?
revenge n. 1 : a desire for revenge
2 : an act or instance of retaliating in order to get even
3 : an opportunity for getting satisfaction
t. v. 1 : to avenge (as oneself) usually by retaliating in kind or degree
2 : to inflict injury in return for

Try the free dictionary or encarta if you don’t like Merriam Webster. Try a thesauras and you get punitive, retaliative, retaliatory, retributive, retributory and many others which suggest the idea of retribution, of righting a wrong or imbalance, not an act of inflicting harm. Now in fairness I did find harm used in a 1913 edition of Webster’s. Now Ex may be long in the tooth, but I think even he has a more up to date dictionary lying around, and he certainly has access to the internet, so I can’t imagine this was an accident. Once again, another card is marked. Now the next few, since they serve his purpose as is, he didn’t need to alter but then you have a most devious marking of the last card.

Definition 7: “A reasonable person is an individual who does not rely on conclusions that can’t be drawn logically.” Well that sounds fine, doesn’t it? Well not quite. You see the thing about logic is it’s as good as what you put into it. It’s the old adage of garbage in, garbage out. Since I’m working to show you that Ex is essentially putting garbage in to his logic construct, then it goes to show that the result will be garbage out. So if that’s the case, would you still say that you can rely on a conclusion that’s drawn logically? Try these works of logic:

Premise 1: All mammals have fur.
Premise 2: Platypuses have fur.
Conclusion: Platypuses are mammals.

Premise 1: All birds lay eggs.
Premise 2: Platypuses lay eggs.
Conclusion: Platypuses are birds.

Conclusions are dictated by premises, so depending on what the premises recognize or ignore, the conclusions reached can differ from what’s actually true. This is garbage in, garbage out, and is the guideline for evaluating stage two:

Premises

If a premise is unacceptable, then whatever conclusion is reached, no matter if it’s logically valid, will not necessarily be true. Take for instance:
Premise 1: Women are not smart
Premise 2: Jill is a woman
Conclusion: Jill is not smart.

Now although the logic is valid, would you accept the truth of the conclusion? Of course not, since premise 1 is unacceptable. So by way of what a premise recognizes, ignores or whether it’s true or not, it can falsify the truth of the conclusion despite the conclusion being logically valid.

Premise 1: Murder is morally wrong.
Well that should be something everyone would go along with easily, but because of the definition he used or the actual word “murder”? Remember, he defined murder as willful killing of another human being. What of war? Alright, maybe you can call that self-defense (tell that to the Iraqis). Alright then, how about mercy killings? Is it morally wrong to be a Kevorkian? How about pulling the plug on someone in a hospital who has no hope of recovery? Still sure? Still think this premise is solid?

Premise 2 is probably acceptable to most, but then there’s:
Premise 3: Murder is “worst” when done with pre-meditation and malice aforethought. This is dubious, again because of the choice of “murder”. As in premise 1, is mercy killing the worst form of willful killing another human being because it was planned? Now the last part of the premise, “malice aforethought” is VERY important, and is yet another skewing of the game. Consulting Law.com’s dictionary:
malice aforethought: n. 1) the conscious intent to cause death or great bodily harm to another person before a person commits the crime.
TheFreeDictionary.com:
malice aforethought: n – (law) criminal intent; the thoughts and intentions behind a wrongful act (including knowledge that the act is illegal)
So he slides in this idea of criminality for the action which is important for premise 3 but really has a big effect on:

Premise 4: Executions are pre-meditated and performed with malice aforethought.
He’s just declared executions are criminal. Gosh, I wonder how this “proof” might conclude? Hmmmm

Premise 5: An incarcerated person is not actually perpetrating violence, nor does he or she pose an imminent threat.
This can easily be challenged. First, there’s the possibility of violence to another inmate, guard or anyone in the prison. Second, there’s the possibility of violence if the person escapes. Third, if the person has others not incarcerated willing to carry out his wishes, he can command acts of violence.

Premise 6: Revenge is a passionate act, driven by a primal urge, not reason.
I have to challenge this as an absolute. Although any notion of equality of retribution is conspicuously absent in his definition for revenge, it certainly doesn’t exclude it as a possibility. I would argue the adage “an eye for an eye” is not a primal urge and is in fact driven by reason for wouldn’t a primal response be to take far more in retribution that was initially lost? This too is revenge and therefore I see this premise flawed.

Premise 7 I’ll grant and Premise 8 is fine except for the deliberate tainting by the use of “cold and calculating” to describe how executions are carried out, for generally that phrase has negative connotations. Premises 9 and 10 are pretty straightforward.

Premise 11: There is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent on others from perpetrating crimes.
Well there are studies that say so, and then there are experts which dispute the studies. Likewise, experts are split on whether it is or isn’t a deterrent. One possibility that there isn’t solid evidence is, according to Lifeguard, “negative consequences of one’s behavior are only effective deterrents if the consequences are immediate and certain, which, in our legal system, they are not.”

Premises 12-14 are entertaining. I certainly agree with 12. 13 is one of those you immediately want to agree with but you can’t. First off, “bullshit” is vague and how it’s used is also vague. Is the idea that it’s inerrant and the word of a god bullshit? Yeah, probably. Is it bullshit that most of it wasn’t written by who it’s claimed to be written by? Yeah, probably. Does that encompass literarily? If so, I don’t think it’s bullshit. Is all the historical accounts bullshit? No. Are all the rules and advice bullshit? No. So 13 is far too vague. As for 14, “an eye for an eye” is not a biblical invention. No doubt it goes back to the formation of the Golden Rule and is seen in the Code of Hammurabi as Lex Talionis or “Law of Retaliation”.

Premise 15 seems fine and without researching the issue of the death penalty further, I guess we should let premise 16 stand.

Conclusions

So we’ve got our cards, we’ve got our rules, so now it’s time to play. I think it’s important to see not just where the plays are falsified by dubious or inaccurate definitions and premises, but also where they are logically invalid.

Conclusion 1, through omission of mercy killings, may not be true. Logically valid, but not necessarily true.

Conclusion 2
Now this one is going to take some time, and it should be noted that Ex has realized he needs to do a bit of editing to Definition 1 to make it work, but I find it still doesn’t, not just due to the definitions and premises but logically. After his edit, he explains it like this:
A = Murder
B = Execution
X = Willful Killing
Y = Morally Wrong

Definition 1: The willful killing of another human being is murder.
Definition 3: An execution is the willful killing of another human being, performed by the government of a civilized state.
Premise 1: Murder is morally wrong.
Conclusion: Execution is murder and therefore morally wrong

X -> A (from the new Definition 1)
B -> X (from Definition 3)
Therefore, B -> A.
A -> Y. (from Premise 1)
Therefore, B -> Y. (Which is Conclusion 2 in its rewritten form.)

I find step 3 is invalid. You cannot leap to the conclusion B -> A.
Let’s try changing just one of the variables:
A = murder
B = voluntary euthanasia
X = willful killing
Y = morally wrong

Definition 1: The willful killing of another human being is murder.
Definition 3: Voluntary euthanasia is the willful killing of another.
Premise 1: Murder is morally wrong
Conclusion: Voluntary euthanasia is murder and morally wrong

X -> A (Definition 1)
B -> X (from Definition 3)
Therefore, B -> A. (Voluntary euthanasia is murder)
A -> Y. (from Premise 1)
Therefore, B -> Y. (Voluntary euthanasia is morally wrong)

Now of course you could agree with this. After all, Y is open to opinion. Alright, try B = involuntary euthanasia. Wow, we just proved the Republicans were right and that pulling the plug on Shiavo was murder and morally wrong. Yikes! Let’s try some wholesale changes:
A = walking
B = running
X = human locomotion
Y = slow

Definition 1: Human locomotion is walking
Definition 3: Running is human locomotion
Premise 1: Walking is slow
Conclusion: Running is walking and therefore slow

X -> A (Definition 1)
B -> X (from Definition 3)
Therefore, B -> A. (Running is walking)
A -> Y. (from Premise 1)
Therefore, B -> Y. (Running is slow)

or

A = lying
B = acting
X = Pretending to be someone you’re not
Y = morally wrong

Definition 1: Pretending to be someone you’re not is lying
Definition 3: Acting is the process of pretending to be someone you’re not
Premise 1: Lying is morally wrong
Conclusion: Acting is lying and therefore morally wrong

X -> A (Definition 1)
B -> X (from Definition 3)
Therefore, B -> A. (Acting is lying)
A -> Y. (from Premise 1)
Therefore, B -> Y. (Acting is morally wrong)

I think this is flawed due to the leap from B -> A, and certainly flawed due to the potential variance in reader acceptance of Y. Furthermore, the conclusion’s truth is thrown into doubt due to the earlier challenges to the premises and definitions.

Failure of Conclusion 2 invalidates conclusions 3 and 15.

Conclusion 4 is unsound due to the successful challenge of premise 5.

Conclusion 5 is valid but possibly unsound due to challenges of definition 4 and premise 6

Conclusion 6 is valid and sound

Conclusion 7 is unsound because an implied but unstated premise necessary for the conclusion is false. The implied premise is that when a criminal pays for his crime, he’s paying the victim. The most glaring evidence of this is the common phrase of criminals “paying their debt to society”. Clearly the intent is not that the criminal’s punishment is a payment solely to the victim to compensate them in full for the crime perpetrated on them, but to society. It is society that sets laws and it’s society which decides the punishment or cost for violating them. Furthermore, if the implied premise were true, then no punishment could be administered, including incarceration.

Conclusion 8 is valid but possibly unsound due to the ambiguity of premise 13. If my opinion is that the bible is not the inerrant word of god, what better way to justify that opinion than to quote the bible itself, specifically its contradictions. How best to undermine the supposed authority of Leviticus 18:22 than to question why one doesn’t follow Leviticus 11:7-8 or 21:16-23?

Conclusion 9 is valid but possibly unsound due to challenge of premise 11 and possibly definition 7

Conclusion 10 is valid but possibly unsound due to challenge to definition 7 and possible falseness of conclusion 5

Conclusion 11 is unsound since conclusion 4 is unsound

Conclusion 12 is valid but possibly unsound due to possible untruth of conclusion 8

Conclusion 13 is unsound because conclusion 7 is unsound

Conclusion 14 is valid but possibly unsound due to challenge to premise 1

Conclusion 15 unsound because conclusion 2 is invalid and unsound

Conclusion 16 is not possible due to the results of conclusions 9-13 and 15.

Still awake? I know, I was tempted to doze off there several times too, but what kept me going was anger. Make no mistake, I take no pleasure in this disassembling of Ex’s proof. I felt compelled to do it because, once again, you can’t just magically turn a wrong into a right because you believe your intentions are good. That’s an example of fundamentalism 101, what we fight daily from the religious, and we most certainly can’t allow ourselves to behave like that. A proof is created to test a hypothesis or to make a deduction based on some known facts. It is not to be a twisted and contrived creation to “prove” your dogmatic beliefs. If your beliefs can’t be proven, than you must reevaluate your beliefs. Also, if you can’t honestly convince another of your beliefs, then dishonest methods are not then permissible.

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18 Responses to “Atheist Trick – Contrived Proof”

  1. PhillyChief – I hope you understand why I won’t address the proof itself herein.

    Nonetheless, I want to respond to this comment, re:
    If your beliefs can’t be proven, than you must reevaluate your beliefs

    Perhaps setting limits on that sentiment would not be inappropriate – ultimately, it seems humans lack access to epistemological verity and thus must inelucuctably fall back on our opinions, based on best evidence and reasoning.

    I freely acknowledge I have opinions which act functionally as beliefs, and which I cannot prove, and which I am guided by. Just saying.

  2. I hope you’ll excuse me for using your forum for this, but I want to make it clear that I personally am against the death penalty, yet I confess I don’t believe I could make a logical case for supporting my choice that did not apply to only to those who shared a number of my personal beliefs*.

    I guess I’d like to add that I, too, don’t think that (a) the degree of correspondence of the premises to the argument [as it stands] with the viewpoint of a general reader as self-evident is not as high as the author considers it to be, or (b) the inferences drawn are clear from the logic and the premises.

    * cf clarification above in previous comment.

  3. Argh.

    I leave to readers to unscramble my last comment, if they can.

    What I meant is that most will find the premises arguable. There.

  4. If your beliefs can’t be proven, that doesn’t mean you abandon them necessarily, but, as I said, you should continually reevaluate them. No sacred cows, if you will. This is a failing of dogmatic belief systems, the inability to question core beliefs.

    I think what’s honest is perhaps to say despite what you believe, that you may not be able to prove that belief, at least not to others or those outside your click. I think though that it’s worth striving for. I don’t know if I could make a proof of the size Ex created to try to prove my opinion, but I sure as hell know I’m not going to be deceptive doing so. Sure, no doubt premises I’d create would be challenged. The trick is try to make them universal, to make them sensible and agreeable to others. In Obama’s 2006 speech (the one Dobson got all fruitcakey about), he advised the religious that they need to phrase their beliefs in universally acceptable terms, that saying it’s what the bible says won’t cut it. Likewise, we need to find ways to make our opinions universally acceptable, but that doesn’t mean disguise them deceptively.

  5. I’m going through your post slowly, hoping to demonstrate how some tricks bounce around the Atheosphere pretty widely — including maybe even here, the home of logical scrupolosity.

    (Note: I’m not going to call them “atheist tricks” because they’re not relevant to atheism. And you should probably think long and hard about using that term, yourself. If you’ve caught me in any “tricks,” they weren’t specifically atheist ones. I doubt that you want to imply that they are.)

    Anyway, I’m just going to comment for now on some stuff at the beginning. Let’s look at your following two examples:

    Premise 1: All mammals have fur.
    Premise 2: Platypuses have fur.
    Conclusion: Platypuses are mammals.

    Premise 1: All birds lay eggs.
    Premise 2: Platypuses lay eggs.
    Conclusion: Platypuses are birds.

    You claim that those arguments, looked at together, illustrate “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” But you’re wrong. The arguments are invalid (yes, even the one that seems to be true) because in both cases, you’ve affirmed the consequent, which is a formal fallacy.

    Here’s how the logic could be fixed:

    Premise 1A: All furry animals are mammals.
    Premise 2A: Platypuses are furry.
    Conclusion A: Playtypuses are mammals.

    Premise 1B: All egg-laying animals are birds.
    Premise 2B: Platypuses lay eggs.
    Conclusion B: Platypuses are birds.

    Now, logically, those are both valid arguments. You might be able to show that one or the other or both arguments are not sound, by demonstrating that some of the premises are untrue.

    It would be a pretty simple matter in real life to find an egg-laying animal — a snake, say — that’s not a bird. So, you could actually demonstrate that Premise 1B is untrue, which makes the argument unsound. This demonstration finally gets around to your GIGO.

    In your post, though, you used a sneaky trick of employing a logical fallacy to support your contention. And you didn’t address the issue of having to demonstrate that a premise is false. That’s another sneaky trick on your part.

    Now, let’s talk briefly about definitions. We’ll start with the word “murder.” If you want to get technical, what is and isn’t “murder” varies from country to country and from state to state. Your cherry-picking of the definition in M-W’s dictionary merely demonstrates that my definition is not the same as the one in M-W. It doesn’t demonstrate that my definition is faulty or wrong in any way.

    Again, you’ve done the same kind of bogus cherry picking on “malice aforethought.” If I plan to rob someone, and then I do rob someone, I’ve done so with malice and with forethought = malice aforethought. That has nothing whatsoever to do with murder. Look up those words individually in your chosen reference, Merriam-Webster’s.

    But notice that in the case of “malice aforethought,” your chosen references were not Merriam-Webster’s.

    So, let’s see: Merriam-Webster’s is a good reference to use if and only if it contains a definition that suits Philly’s purposes better than an alternative definition.

    That’s another sneaky trick, right here in your own post.

    OK, I’ve already caught you in three sneaky tricks, and I haven’t even really begun.

    To avoid working through the rest of this post (although both of us do enjoy this kind of close analysis), I’d be happy to agree that everyone, from the dimmest theist to the sharpest atheist, employs rhetorical tricks — sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly.

    Further, although your own logic is sound more often than not, it isn’t always so. When you’re debating a theist, though, I do keep my mouth shut if and when I see sneaky tricks. But you do misrepresent yourself grossly when you pose as the Logic Police.

    That, by the way, was the point of my post, and that’s what I’m saying here.

    Despite your claim, you can’t defend the death penalty using logic only. And, despite my game, I can’t dismiss the death penalty using logic only. No one can do either of those things using logic only. Not in the real world, anyway.

  6. You really can’t say that your beliefs must be proven because proof only exists in mathematics. Supported by evidence and rational, logical arguments, yes. Proven? Of course not. Virtually nothing in science is “proven”, it’s just absurd, given the amount of objective evidence, to think that it’s wrong.

    My problem is that many people who have beliefs, religious or otherwise, simply assert that they are true without a shred of evidence or well-thought-out logical reasoning to support it.

    Even atheists do it, unfortunately.

  7. Jeez, Ex and Philly, you guys are going to hurt yourselves! All that logic….

  8. Affirming the consequent. Well that was a mistake. At least it was exemplary and not in any way a crucial point. I fully admit I goofed there.

    “If you want to get technical, what is and isn’t “murder” varies from country to country and from state to state. Your cherry-picking of the definition in M-W’s dictionary merely demonstrates that my definition is not the same as the one in M-W. It doesn’t demonstrate that my definition is faulty or wrong in any way.”

    I’m cherry picking? HA! How amusing. If you don’t like Merriam Webster, try the first page of results from Google to see if I went out of my way to cherry pick:
    Answers.com
    Wikipedia
    TheFreeDictionary.com
    The ‘Lectric Law Library (feel free to skip this if you want since it’s a law one)
    YourDictionary.com
    Now it seems you’re partial to that 1913 edition of Webster’s, but even there, if you don’t selectively crop the definition, you see the same idea of criminality:
    murder: 1. To kill with premediated malice; to kill (a human being)
    willfully, deliberately, and unlawfully.
    2. To destroy; to put an end to.
    3. To mutilate, spoil, or deform, as if with malice or
    cruelty; to mangle; as, to murder the king’s English.

    As for “malice aforethought”, once again I’m pulling the first thing off google. Yes, I see now how it could be perceived that I was looking for a definition which suited me. That was a mistake. I should have maintained consistency. Let me remedy that, and cite even more sources like I just did for murder to corroborate the definition and to dispel this notion of my cherry picking.

    Well now I know why MW didn’t come up in the Google search for “malice aforethought”, because it doesn’t have that phrase. Best I can do from that source is cite the words individually:
    malice: 1 : desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another
    2 : intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse
    aforethought: previously in mind : premeditated, deliberate

    Well that holds up the unlawful point I made with the definitions I did cite, as does these:
    Wikipedia
    YourDictionary.com
    I think since it’s not a common phrase and used almost exclusively as a legal term, there aren’t too many appearances of it in dictionaries, but to be completely fair I did find one listing which didn’t have the criminality included, and that’s The ‘Lectric Law Library but still, 1 out of 5 found? Now who’s cherry picking?

    As for your cheap shots at my supposed dishonest handling of others in debates, I welcome you or anyone to point them out when you think they occur. Good luck. As for the ridiculous charge that I set myself up as the “logic police”, it’s you who built me up in the post on your blog. I’ve never made such a claim and I’ve said online, in private and I believe on the podcast that I never had any formal logic training, nor had I even known the term “logical fallacy” more than a year or so ago. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t tell something wasn’t right. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t smell bullshit, and indeed I think most people can if they pay attention. When I deconstruct theist’s arguments on this blog, it’s not to toot my horn, but to help others see tricks and bullshit which they might miss or sense something’s is wrong but can’t put their finger on it. YOU, in that ridiculous “proof” of yours, set out to deliberately deceive and lead by the nose most people reading, banking on people’s lack of ability to see through the con. I only wish I was a formally trained logician because then I could REALLY hold your feet to the fire here, but as it is, as an amateur, self educated logic fan, I could only do so much, but I think even that was substantial, and I hope enough to warn others of such a work of bullshit that you whipped up.

  9. Cephus: You’re correct. I did mean what you said, “Supported by evidence and rational, logical arguments”. “Proven” was a poor choice on my part.

    Grumpy: Actually what hurts is seeing someone misuse logic in such a way to serve his own ends. That’s crap.

  10. Philly, if you haven’t figured it out yet, all of this (Ex’s post) stems from authoratative statements you have made that those who are always against the death penalty can be likened to theists who will cling to their supernatural beliefs regardless of any reason or rational argument to the contrary.

    Why don’t you try defending that point of view in an upcoming post? I’d love to hear it. By the way, while making such a declaration is not the equivalent of stating that you are the “logic police”, it certainly is an overstep (to say the least) in the areas of reason and rational discourse.

    Perhaps Ex erred in trying to tweak your perspective in the way he did. Certainly it took us far off of what I think is the real topic. Anyway, consider yourself now challenged on what that “real topic” should be. If you’d care to. Maybe you’d like to retract, since I have already commented to this point at Ex’s blog and I know that you read comments there after I did it – with dead silence resulting.

  11. What I’ve said in the past is some of you, and you know who you are, aren’t willing to question certain core beliefs. That is comparable to a theist’s thinking. What I’ve found to be ridiculous is the hardline, unquestioning, absolute of death penalty = wrong.

    Now all Ex’s proof showed to me is someone’s willingness to take that to such an extreme that they’d contrive some deceptive “proof” to justify rather than test one of their unquestionable core beliefs. Your initial response to that proof was to approve of it, which tells me you’re blinded by your own desire to see your belief win that you’d ignore what is dirty pool.

    Now if all of that was in jest and the proof was tongue in cheek, obviously I missed the joke. Still, joke or not, I’m willing to sit down and examine the death penalty issue as I am with any issue. I don’t know where such an examination will take me, but I’m willing to go there. Some of you are not. THAT has ben MY point. You’re not like theists for believing the death penalty is wrong, you’re like theists because you won’t question that. Before that stupid proof was made, Ex was throwing around words like “murder”. He NEVER intended to engage in a rational discussion or else he wouldn’t use such loaded language.

    “Logic police” was from Ex’s comment. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I also don’t know what you mean about retracting or comments you’ve made at Ex’s blog.

    This whole thing makes me ill.

  12. Philly:
    What I’ve said in the past is some of you, and you know who you are, aren’t willing to question certain core beliefs. That is comparable to a theist’s thinking.
    So are you saying that you have no absolute beliefs, or beliefs that you routinely treat as if they were absolute? Do you go through the world questioning and requestioning yourself every time you’re faced with having to make a moral judgment? Even if you’ve already made that judgment hundreds of times in the past, do you still reevaluate it every time it comes up? (e.g., “Hmmm, do I defend the death penalty today, in this particular case with this particular prisoner at this particular time of year in this particular state with this particular …?”) Depending on how you’ve arrived at your moral position in the first place, I think you can treat it as … let’s call it … a provisional absolute.

    When you wake up each morning, do you decide whether you’re going to be an atheist that day?

  13. I have no idea who “some of you” is. I’ll assume I’m one. I further have no idea how you know enough, from anything I’ve said about it, that I refuse to entertain the idea that I might be wrong.

    You say you are (unlike some of us) willing to be skeptical of your own intuitions. It doesn’t look to me like you’re even willing to be self-critical on whether I might be making good points here for you to consider.

    For instance, you said:

    THAT has been MY point. You’re not like theists for believing the death penalty is wrong, you’re like theists because you won’t question that.

    But how is that different from my complaint here and elsewhere:

    can be likened to theists who will cling to their supernatural beliefs regardless of any reason or rational argument to the contrary.

    Hopefully I was absolutely clear that I understood the context of the remark. My two complaints about it were:

    A. I am no more rigid in that point of view than you are about yours (and we both have arrived there at our own forms of reasoning)
    B. That by saying such about me you are taking a personal shot at me (I’m dumb about capital punishment the way theists are dumb about faith).

    Also, I know it was Ex’s comment about “logic police”. I also know that you vehemently denied it. So “what I’m talking about” is that while I agree it’s not exactly being the “logic police” it is still a move in that direction when you react to me saying I think the death penalty is always wrong by asserting that my position means I won’t examine my assumptions (like theists don’t examine theirs).

    You said: This whole thing makes me ill.

    No need for that, my friend. We’re just debating a couple of points.

  14. I have my set of beliefs which I’ve pieced together. The worth of some of those pieces, I’ll admit, I’ve scrutinized more than others, but ALL pieces I’m willing to reexamine at anytime and indeed I should make the time for greater scrutiny overall. Do I need to reexamine every piece each time before employing or relying on it? No, and the confidence of that “no” is directly proportional to the level of scrutiny I’ve given it before adding it to my set of beliefs. Of course any belief I rely on can be wrong. The best anyone can hope for, I think, is to go with what has the least chance of being wrong.

    “When you wake up each morning, do you decide whether you’re going to be an atheist that day?”

    No, but I accept I might be wrong. Do you?

    So Evo, my view of the death penalty is not written in stone, but I get the distinct impression yours and Ex’s is. That has been all along my objection. If you feel that’s not true, say so. If you accept that it is true, yet see nothing wrong with that and deny that that is in any way comparable to other dogmatic belief systems like theism, please explain to me how you make the distinction.

  15. EXTERMINATOR: “When you wake up each morning, do you decide whether you’re going to be an atheist that day?”

    PC: “No, but I accept I might be wrong. Do you?”

    Implying that you accept the possibility that a god of some sort or another might exist? Interesting. Not my main point, but still, interesting.

    I both agree and disagree with you. I agree that “Ex’s” logic is a bit flawed. I won’t rehash your arguments, but simply point out that the main problems lie in Definition three and Premise four. No real distinction is drawn between “murder” and “execution”. Ex is obviously against the death penalty, and his definitions convey this. Premise four is really more of a conclusion. So the deck is a little stacked here. If one were to follow these premises UNQUESTIONINGLY, one would have to conclude that the death penalty is immoral. But, as PC pointed out, there is much to question.

    What’s really at issue is simply: is there a moral difference between a person, with malice aforethought, taking the life of another out of selfish or criminal motives, and the government taking that same person’s life as the legal penalty for the crime?

    What I find a little strange here is the notion that all “atheists” are expected to think as a block on this issue, as though the only thing that matters to them or colors their world view is their common disbelief in a deity. It seems to me that you’re not giving yourselves a whole lot of credit here. The notion that all atheists (or all theists, for that matter) all think alike does a disservice to all who like to believe they can think for themselves.

    I’m not sure you can really dissect this issue using pure logic, as PC and Ex have tried to do, because there is an emotional element at play which is hard to dismiss. Obviously, if someone close you to was murdered, that will indeed color your perspective on this, regardless of your religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

    When I was younger, I was 100% in favor of the death penalty. As I get older, I’m less sure than before. There are three major problems I have with the death penalty:

    1. What if you fry the wrong guy? To me, this is the big one. There really is no answer to this question. If you execute the wrong person, there is no redress. Granted, thanks to improved forensic techniques, this happens less frequently, but it still happens.

    2. I’m not sure I want to give the government this much power. Generally, I’m a political conservative. I really do believe in the concept of small government. So how can I, with that viewpoint, condone giving the government the power of life and death over its citizens?

    3. Finally, it’s a moral issue, and I’m not sure if this can be broken down strictly by logic. If a society executes one of its own, hasn’t that society descended to the level of the murderer? I don’t claim to have a definitive answer for this, but I think it’s a question worth asking.

    On the other hand, some crimes simply scream out for the death penalty. Google Jeffrey Curley and you’ll see what I mean. While I suppose that on an intellectual level I am opposed to the death penalty, were the men who raped and murdered that little boy to get lethal injection (a more humane death than they inflicted on Jeffrey Curley, I would add) I really don’t think I would lose a whole lot of sleep over it.

    -smith

  16. …What if you fry the wrong guy? To me, this is the big one. There really is no answer to this question. If you execute the wrong person, there is no redress.

    Well, that’s true.

    On the other hand, no death penalty de-facto means long-term (maybe even lifelong) incarceration.

    Not being a Humanist, I don’t exclude utilitarian considerations (overall cost to the community in this case) when deciding the desirability of something.

    In this (well, I refer to the USA, we don’t have the death penalty here in Oz) case, I agree that it’s undesirable – society can easily bear the costs. But I can conceive of circumstances where my judgement would be otherwise.

    … I’m not sure I want to give the government this much power.

    It has it; I take you mean you wish it didn’t have that power? This is not the same thing.

    Finally, it’s a moral issue, and I’m not sure if this can be broken down strictly by logic(1). If a society executes one of its own, hasn’t that society descended to the level of the murderer?(2) I don’t claim to have a definitive answer for this, but I think it’s a question worth asking.

    1.I don’t see why not – but it would require a set of mutually-agreed definitions and premises between discussants.
    2.It entirely depends on how you define murder and its moral implications.

  17. John, to clarify, I’ll say I have to admit I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt it. ;)

    I should point out that Ex’s “proof” was just a big practical joke played on me, so take that in mind.

    As for the actual issue of the death penalty, I’d say I have no problem with it in principle, but in practice I do. The main thing for me is the disparity in representation between rich and poor. Someone facing the death penalty and relying on a public defender who has a mountain of cases to handle in addition to your own is in a pretty unfortunate position. Compare that to say OJ’s defense team. As far as killing the wrong guy, I’d say that becomes less and less an issue as time goes on. Those against the death penalty are quick to point out the dna tests which set several free in Texas who were on death row as proof that we can’t have a death penalty. Well what they forget is that same certainty that freed those men can also be used to positively identify the real criminals.

    As for not wanting to give that power to the state, I’d say the state already has it both in its police and its military which is armed to deliver lethal force. You may argue that the exercise of that force is self defense, but the moment you open the door to something being immoral except when X, it’s hard to keep it closed. Continuing with the moral aspect, I’d say that the death penalty is no less moral to subjecting someone to potentially decades of horror. Aside from the obvious dehumanization of simply being incarcerated for the rest of your life, there’s also the physical and psychological abuse one could suffer by the other inmates. I find subjecting a person to that being far more immoral than killing them. I think death would be merciful in comparison, and sometimes, like with Dahmer, they might just get that death sentence anyway.

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