Scams and Lies

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 6, 2011 in Ethics,Guest Post

The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory, so I rarely discuss the implications of desirism for everyday moral questions about global warming, free speech, politics, and so on. Today’s guest post applies desirism to one such everyday moral question. It is written by desirism’s first defender, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

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I would like to see us build an atheist culture that prides honesty, accuracy, and reason. The American Atheists does not seem to share those values, at least some of the time.

They have placed a billboard in Alabama that says of religion, “You know they’re all scams.”

Well, that’s false. It is a clearly recognized and proved falsehood that any person who values truth would reject.

A scam, just like a lie, requires that the perpetrator know that his claims are false and that he makes them anyway – motivated by a desire to con others into providing them with some benefit others would not provide if the speaker reported the truth.

The claim that the American Atheists put on this sign is not only false, it is a derogatory and bigoted falsehood. This statement – that all religious leaders are intentionally providing you with false information to con you out of political, social, and economic power – is structurally no different than a statement that says “All black people are lazy” or “All Jews are greedy.”

To add a touch of irony, the poster also says that the American Atheists have been “telling the truth in 1963″.

Furthermore, the reason that the American Atheists decided to present people with this false and bigoted accusation of all religious leaders is because it hopes to find people who will swallow the statement and provide the organization with greater economic, political, and social power.

Which, ironically, means that the billboard meets the moral definition of a scam. American Atheists is trying to con people into giving it political, economic, and social power feeding it false claims.

Blair Scott, the Alabama State director for American Atheists, tried to defend the sign on the grounds that it generates press.

Blair Scott is the Alabama State Director for American Atheists. He says, “If we had put up a billboard that said atheists dot org, you probably wouldn’t be sitting here. And nobody would be making comments about it.”

Scott’s claims suggest that American Atheists selected the wording to get the group’s name and message in the press.

This raises two questions:

  1. Does it make sense to understand this choice of words strictly in terms of seeking press, or is some other motivation involved?
  2. If it was, in fact, motivated by a desire to seek press, is it morally legitimate to do so by making morally objectionable statements comparable to “All black people are lazy” and “All Jews are greedy”?

We can question the first claim by showing that American Atheists generated a great deal of press in New York with a sign that said, “You know it is a myth.” The proposition, “It is a myth” is true and contains no bigoted overgeneralizations. Given this fact, we can ask, “Why did the American Atheists choose a false and discriminatory statement that generates press over a true statement that generates press?” The answer, “Because it generates press”, does not work.

The answer that works is that American Atheists had an interest in making hate-mongering bigoted statements themselves – because it values such statements, perhaps for their own sake.

However, even if it was generated by desire to motivate press reports, we can question the moral legitimacy of making bigoted statements just so that one can get one’s name (or organization’s name) in the press.

Another defense offered for the sign is that it was not meant for those who believed in God. It was meant for those who did, in fact, “know it is a scam”.

“The billboard says you know it’s a scam. Well, if you’re a religious person, you don’t know that so you’re not the intended audience. The intended audience of that billboard, the intended market is our fellow atheists and agnostics and free thinkers who are continuing the charade, continue to go to church, what we call closet atheists.”

However, let us just imagine somebody trying to use this argument in defense of a claim like, “You know that black people are lazy,” or “You know that Jews are greedy.”

The target can easily answer, “I’m not objecting to it on the assumption that it was directed to me. I am objecting to what it says about me to those people it was directed at. The message that this sign tells them amounts to hate-mongering bigotry. It is a call to them to hate people like me by making false and derogatory claims about me and others like me.”

That is legitimate ground for complaint.

I had no objection to the sign, “You know it is a myth.” I have strong objections to a sign that says, “You know it is a scam.” Those objections are based squarely on the fact that “scam” makes a moral statement about others, inviting hatred and condemnation that befits scammers, on people who are innocent of the accusation.

American Atheists should have seen the difference. It does not matter whether American Atheists saw the difference and ignored it, or failed to see a difference any morally sensible person would have seen. Neither option gets American Atheists off the moral hook.

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{ 92 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 4:57 am

I don’t see the distinction between the two statements at the end for they both are categorically accusing people of insincerity – the difference only being the degree of insincerity.

Having said that, I love Fyfe’s zeal for integrity in his stance against AA. By the way, why can’t they simply say “We know it’s a myth,” and be content with that?

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James Thompson January 6, 2011 at 5:03 am

You did change my mind about this. I was operating with a bit wider meaning of scam. If I gave money to a church and later found out that their doctrines were false and the uses of the money were not really charitable, I was still defining that as a scam.

I guess there are true believers.

What made my belief in Christianity collapse was finding out that anyone that had gone to Bible/divinity school had to know about historical and textual criticism. Why did I not ever hear about that in church? I felt scammed. I guess many pastors have rationalized all that away and still believe the text is inspired.

My initial view of this billboard was that it is true. But I think you are technically correct that a scam is intentional harm.

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Dan Brown January 6, 2011 at 5:42 am

Willfully maintained ignorance does not exempt “true” believers from responsibility for perpetuating the scam of religion.

I expect religious ‘leaders’ KNOW all the refuting facts which thinking, conscientious non-believers know so well. Suppressing and obscuring those facts is their stock and trade. Allowing oneself to be persuaded by these ‘leaders’ makes even the most devout believers accessories to the great crime against humanity that mysticism appears to be.

Belief in supernatural forces is a slow acting extinction event. It’s first victim is free thought and eventually humanity itself will fall prey to it. When we finally annihilate ourselves it will most certainly be because of these precepts.

They know. It’s a scam. They are all complicit. Perhaps not equally, but ALL.

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Duke York January 6, 2011 at 6:09 am

that all religious leaders are intentionally providing you with false information to con you out of political, social, and economic power

I think you’re taking a too-strict definition; some of the people perpetrating something could sincerely believe and (at least to me) it would still be a scam.

Look at Bernie Madoff. He knew he was running a pyramid scheme. Many of the people who invested with him, though, were sincere believers (as much at that phrase can be applied in economic contexts), recommending others to him right up to the end. When I say “Madoff was running a scam”, am I being bigoted against his dupes?

If Madoff had managed to continue his scheme past his death, leaving only dupes to run it (if such a thing were possible), would it cease being a scam because there were only sincere converts? What would it then become?

I think you might be engaging in too much black-and-white thinking. If I may suggest, we need to define scam based (at least in part) on return on investment or psychological manipulation of investors, rather than sincerity of the operators.

Duke

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Kevin January 6, 2011 at 6:32 am

As long as we’re not dealing with the legal definition of “scam”, I would use the term in a much more broader sense. I’m sure a con man could scam someone without ever making a false claim. Simply string them along with a series of questions, which makes the target make false assumptions (Matchstick Men anyone?). It’s already been mentioned that you can be sincere in recruiting new members for a pyramid scheme, which is hard not to call a scam. So, for everyday purposes, bad intentions and making false claims are not prerequisites for being a scam. The only reason intention is required for the legal definition is to satisfy mens rea, but I don’t see why we should hold to such a strict definition for a statement made on a billboard.

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 6:51 am

As billboards, they are in-line with the competition.

On top of that, American Atheists is doing a good job of turning an offense into media exposure that is worth much more.

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DoOrDoNot January 6, 2011 at 7:10 am

Duke and Kevin made a good point, that sincere people can be perpetuating the scam. However, that line of reasoning would only support a billboard that said “Religion is a scam” not “You know it is a scam,” because, in fact, believers may not know it. “Religion is a scam” is more consistent structurally with Duke’s “madoff is running a scam” than is “You know it is a scam.”

Dan Brown, of course there are religious leaders who practice a religion they don’t believe. But I’ve talked with enough religious leaders to know they aren’t all in that category. Especially when you consider less organized, more grass roots denominations where the religious leadership isn’t required or even encouraged to get higher education. The meaning of the Bible is considered self-evident. It’s often scary how little Biblical scholarship they have.

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Larkus January 6, 2011 at 7:32 am

I would only know, they’re all scams, if I would know, that all those religions/religious leaders are intentionally decieving me. But how would I know that? And how would the AA know about it?

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Patrick January 6, 2011 at 8:22 am

In vernacular, every day speech, people use words like “scam” or “lie” or “fraud” (or “bogus,” we all might remember that one) all the time to indicate deception without reference to intentionality. These words are used casually and imprecisely, and often mean nothing more than “something false which I consider to be blameworthy.”

We’ve seen this silly dispute dozens of times. “Bush lied,” versus “You can’t say that, maybe Bush made false statements while in a position and possessing a duty and having the information to know better!” “Chiropracty is bogus” versus, “You can’t know that, maybe chiropractors are foolish dupes who make large amounts of money off of treatments they aren’t aware are ineffective!” “Clinton lied,” versus “Actually, Clinton made factually true statements specifically calculated to maximize the chance of misinterpretation by his audience.”

I also suspect that your condemnation of the billboard is subject to the same criticism you’re launching at the billboard. For example, if the billboard’s “message” can be considered bigoted, without respect to the intentions behind it, then certainly a set of false statements underlying a system that garners money for their purveyors could be considered a scam without respect to the intentions behind it.

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Adito99 January 6, 2011 at 8:34 am

I don’t think either “you know it’s a scam” or “you know it’s a myth” are any different. A religious believer will not know either of these things and take it as an insult that anyone believes they do or should. These kinds of statements just create anger and further the divide between believers and non-believers. They won’t convert anyone. I think a better line would be something like “you have good reasons to doubt it.” At least this version will get people thinking a bit instead of immediately provoking dismissal.

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Garren January 6, 2011 at 9:33 am

I agree. True believers are not guilty of lying or scamming, even if they are wrong.

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 9:53 am

The point of “you know it’s a scam” and “you know it’s a myth” were highlighted by Silverman in his public discussions on the issue. It’s to get the people who are actually atheists but who practice a religion to acknowledge what they know is true. That it involves shock is actually the point; these folks need to be jarred out of their complacency so as to be honest with themselves if nobody else.

As a case in point, I concluded when I was a child that theism (but not religion) was false. There were no gods, but the religion itself may be necessary or useful. So, for 10 years I stayed with the religion and even thought highly of the leaders of various sects. Even after deciding that the religion aspect was not fruitful, I still held these leaders in high regard. For example, I went to Rome on a vacation and watched Pope John Paul II outside the columns of St. Peters. Conversely, I thought that Sinéad O’Connor ripping the Pope’s picture was crass and insulting. That she was a loon with nothing but bigoted hate towards a good person.

Wow. Was I wrong. The same Pope I looked admiringly towards was hiding decades of child rape and various other crimes. He was promoting deaths in Africa. Other religious leaders were complicit in the same crimes, or promoting bigotry against various groups outside their sect, or promoting ignorance about the facts of reality.

Here’s the point: I remembered Sinéad O’Connor act. I bet you that many borderline theists and complacent atheists who go along with Christianity will see these messages and to them these messages will ring true. As I’ve said before; You may not like what I said, but am I entirely wrong? In the case of the “you know it’s a myth” billboard, it’s an accurate statement. It is a myth, like Noah’s ark and the creation story. As for being a scam, what else would you call the televangelists, the mega church preachers, or the clearly immoral acts of people who promote their way as the only true morality. If that’s not a scam from end to end, it’s a deep misrepresentation and violation of trust.

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d January 6, 2011 at 11:29 am

American Atheists is an organization that indeed has some questionable foundations and practices. If anyone studies their history s/he’ll learn that their key founding figure, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, was not always the most honest person. In fact, she was kind of the atheist equivalent of a Kent Hovind in that she boasted that she had a Doctorate, which was in actuality from what would be called a “diploma mill,” and was involved in some seedy financial affairs. This would seem by some to fall under “scams and lies.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=gRjTjvQLvvoC&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=madalyn+murray+minnesota+philosophy&source=web&ots=cArXOnMe8C&sig=hqdjC1YN1t0E1gK6oZ3Tm4oR81w#PPA124,M1

Dan Barker’s Freedom From Religion Foundation doesn’t seem to get much better in terms of public discourse.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-march-8-2010/mail-mary

It seems that organizations such as these have to take part in “shenanigans” to get any attention.

Oh well.

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cl January 6, 2011 at 11:56 am

I define bigotry as, “the making of derogatory generalizations about all members of a group.”

Mike Gantt,

Having said that, I love Fyfe’s zeal for integrity in his stance against AA.

I do, too. I just wish it would extend to some of his own claims against creationists, Christians, and those who opposed the mosque at ground zero — to use three examples that spring immediately to mind.

In his post The New Atheists vs. The Appeasers, Alonzo defines the “Bigot’s Fallacy” thus:

…a fallacy in which the argument begins with claims about the objectionable behavior of this or that specific religious teaching or the wrongful acts of a specific religious person, then suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions about “religion” or “theists” in general. They use these arguments in the hopes that their audience is blind to the fact that the conclusions are entirely unjustified given the premises, so that they can sell their own prejudices to that audience.

Now, the glorious irony of Alonzo claiming that all who use this fallacy have ill motives aside — because honest error remains a viable option — this is EXACTLY what Alonzo has done on more than one occasion. For example, in his post Immorality and Young Earth Creationism, Alonzo writes:

Electing a young-earth creationist to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk…

…I say that what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming.

Of course, aside from being an overgeneralization about young earth creationists in general, the latter claim is also incoherent: a young earth creationist believes a proposition about the age of the earth, and a proposition, itself, is an abstract entity wholly incapable of contributing to death and maiming. But that’s besides my point. My point is that Alonzo often commits the very same “Bigot’s Fallacy” he lectures us about.

For another example, see his guest post Bigots On Parade, where, of all those in the anti-mosque protest at ground zero, Alonzo wrote:

I saw some pictures of a group of people gathered to protest the construction of a Muslim community center in New York near “Ground Zero.” From there, they then marched to “Ground Zero.” When I saw pictures of the march, the words that came to my mind were, “Bigots On Parade.”

Again, Alonzo commited the “Bigot’s Fallacy” but this time, while ironically attempting to condemn bigotry! Alonzo leaped to a conclusion about everyone in the protest in general. Where is Alonzo’s evidence for the claim that everyone in that protest was a bigot?

Luke is equally guilty:

Belief in a 6,000 year earth, like belief in a flat earth, is very good evidence that the believer lacks sufficient desires to investigate evidence about important matters seriously. [Luke Muehlhauser, comment 8-5-2010, New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!]

[the creationist] must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck. [Luke Muehlhauser, Creationism, Evil, and the Crocoduck]

…Creationism-belief requires morally negligent epistemic processes. [Luke Muehlhauser, comment 8-6-2010, New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!]

For a more recent example from Luke, see the title of this week’s post, This Is What It’s Like To Debate A Christian. Again, a derogatory overgeneralization about Christians in general.

All this under the pretense of rationalism, and promoting desires that tend to fulfill other desires! Utter hogwash, IMHO. I shudder to think that “arguments” like these lead anyone to atheism – or morality for that matter.

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Henry January 6, 2011 at 11:57 am

This sort of “believers are stupid” message is why I haven’t joined American Atheists, and only reluctantly joined the FFRF (which promotes a mixed bag of messages). You are right on, Luke, to call them out for putting out a billboard that can’t be logically supported.

The atheist movement often gets compared to the gay civil rights movement. Imagine if gay activists put up signs saying, “You KNOW that sex outside your gender is WRONG!” and tried to defend it with the same lame arguments!

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cl January 6, 2011 at 11:59 am

Dan Brown,

Congratulations to you for promoting bigotry by making derogatory generalizations about religious leaders in general. [/SARCASM]

Belief in supernatural forces is a slow acting extinction event. It’s first victim is free thought and eventually humanity itself will fall prey to it. When we finally annihilate ourselves it will most certainly be because of these precepts.

Take your anti-theist whining and false arguments somewhere else. If we finally annihilate ourselves, it will be because science – not religion – provided the means. Get your facts straight and quit promoting bigotry.

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Silas January 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

They have placed a billboard in Alabama that says of religion, “You know they’re all scams.”

WHAT?! That is a totally misinformed thing to say. They (AA) have not placed a billboard anywhere; a construction company is behind that. What a bigoted thing to say.

LOL.

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Alonzo Fyfe January 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Mike Gantt

I don’t see the distinction between the two statements at the end for they both are categorically accusing people of insincerity

Nope. The myth statement accuses people of error. The scam statement accuses people of malicious self-serving deception.

Dan Brown

Willfully maintained ignorance does not exempt “true” believers from responsibility for perpetuating the scam of religion.

I have given separate arguments on the moral culpability of “reckless believing” or “epistemic negligence” – which I compared to any other type of negligence. Specifically, a failure to secure beliefs that threaten the well-being of others is as culpable as failure to secure a load on a truck and creating a hazard for others.

But “scams” do not fit the the concept of “negligence”. Nobody can be sensibly accused of “negligent scamming.” Scams, unlike epistemic negligence, is intentional.

Duke York

If Madoff had managed to continue his scheme past his death, leaving only dupes to run it (if such a thing were possible), would it cease being a scam because there were only sincere converts? What would it then become?

It would become a mistaken practice. If a con-man sells snake-oil to the ill and dies, and followers who swear by the medicine continue to sell snake-oil thinking it helps, we do not call it a scam. We may say that it started as a scam, but its current practice is not labeled that way.

In fact, any number of current “home remedies,” “good luck charms”, and other superstitions may well have been started by people who lied for money. We do not call the current practices “scams”.

Kevin

The only reason intention is required for the legal definition is to satisfy mens rea, but I don’t see why we should hold to such a strict definition for a statement made on a billboard.

Because “communication” means the use of symbols that raise particular ideas in the minds of the receiver (listener or reader), and the ‘ideas’ that any competent English speaker would understand as being imparted by the word ‘scam’ in that billboard include “intentially inflicting harm.” Which counts as a maliciously false over-generalization.

Hermes

As billboards, they are in-line with the competition.

This is where the phrase, “Two wrongs do not make a right,” comes in. Would it be the case that if somebody were to break into my house and take my television then, as a result, it is morally permissible for me to break into your house and take your television?

Or if a black person breaks into my house and takes my television, that I may permissibly break into the house of any black man and take their television?

On top of that, American Atheists is doing a good job of turning an offense into media exposure that is worth much more.

So, you are arguing that it is morally permissible to make – and to be known as an organization that makes – derogatory false overgeneralizations (that is to say, to be bigoted hate-mongers) as long as it gets one’s name in the press?

Patrick

In vernacular, every day speech, people use words like “scam” or “lie” or “fraud” (or “bogus,” we all might remember that one) all the time to indicate deception without reference to intentionality. These words are used casually and imprecisely, and often mean nothing more than “something false which I consider to be blameworthy.”

Yep. I do that. It is known as using a term in its ‘inverted commas’ sense.

I have said that my computer has lied to me, even though my computer has no intention to deceive.

However, now let’s assume that then tell my co-workers that my boss lied. When I’m caught, I attempt to defend myself by saying, “I sometimes say that my computer lied even though it clearly has no intention to deceive.”

Anybody with sense would see through that defense as rhetorical trickery – unless I took particular pains to make sure that my audience was fully aware that, as when talking about my computer, I could not conceivably mean that my boss is guilty of intentionally deceiving people.

If the billboard’s “message” can be considered bigoted, without respect to the intentions behind it….

It can’t. In the article, I said if we have reason to believe that the American Atheists knew the claim to be false and used it anyway – either to manipulate the press or to gain other advantages – then the billboard itself is a scam.

OR

The American Atheists were not aware of the false implications in their attempt to communicate, in which case they are not guilty of scamming, but instead are guilty of adopting derogatory overgeneralizations that give them pleasure and comfort.

I did not confuse the moral crime of adopting and promoting derogatory overgeneralizations with moral crime of making misleading statements to manipulate others into giving one economic, political, or social power.

Adito

These kinds of statements just create anger and further the divide between believers and non-believers. They won’t convert anyone.

That’s not the subject of this posting. Let others worry about what ‘works’ and what ‘doesn’t work’. It may well be the case that derogatory over-generalizations aimed at promoting hatred of all members of particular groups (gays, blacks, illegal immigrants, the Irish, atheists, Jews) in fact are very effective. History suggests they are, in fact, very effective. That does not make their use morally permissible.

Hermes

The point of “you know it’s a scam” and “you know it’s a myth” were highlighted by Silverman in his public discussions on the issue. It’s to get the people who are actually atheists but who practice a religion to acknowledge what they know is true.

I addressed this point in my article.

If I posted a sign that says of Jews, “You know that they are all after your money,” or of homosexuals, “You know they are just seeking opportunities to rape children,” the claim that I was only addressing those who “know that Jews are all after your money” or “know that homosexuals are just seeking opportunities to rape children” cannot justify or defend my statement.

The fact is, “they are all scams” counts as just as much as a malicious overgeneralization as “they are all after your money” and “they are just seeking opportunities to rape children.”

As for being a scam, what else would you call the televangelists, the mega church preachers, or the clearly immoral acts of people who promote their way as the only true morality. If that’s not a scam from end to end, it’s a deep misrepresentation and violation of trust.

They are scams. However, the inferences from, “Some churches are scams” to “they are all scams” is as invalid as the inference from “Some cars are Fords” to “They are all Fords.”

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Mike Gantt January 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm

@Alonzo Fyfe

Thanks for the response. However, the myth statement – as written – does accuse people of insincerity and not mere error. Had it said “You believe a myth” it would have been accusing them of mere error. However, since it said “You know it is a myth” it accuses them of something more – professing a belief in something they do not believe in (for the only way you can believe a myth is to believe it is not a myth).

But, hey, this is all secondary. The main point is that you wrote with integrity and that’s behavior that more theists as well as atheists would do well to follow!

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Cafeeine January 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Working from the AA statement that the signs are addressed to atheists living ‘in secret’ and still practicing among the believers.

If I posted a sign that says of Jews, “You know that they are all after your money,” or of homosexuals, “You know they are just seeking opportunities to rape children,” the claim that I was only addressing those who “know that Jews are all after your money” or “know that homosexuals are just seeking opportunities to rape children” cannot justify or defend my statement.

There is an error here, I think in comparing an group on issue of ethnicity or sexual orientation to organized systems of dogma. The ad isn’t saying the religious are scam artists, its saying the religion is. One does not need to show that every follower of Mormonism is a scam artist to hold an opinion of Joseph Smith and the sect he founded. The same with Hubbard’s cult. Calling something a scam does not preclude honest agents from acting within it, if they bought the scam’s premise.

One can make a case that this is tantamount to calling the religious ‘scammed’ gullible, or “patsies”, and be offended from that inference on behalf of the believers. One would be accurate in doing so, even if I think its unwarranted, but that is a long way from your parallel between the ad and anti-semitic propaganda.

The billboards are calling for people who understand, that religious belief systems are scams to realize it.

Personally, I would have liked to see AA approach this from the same angle the ‘one less god’ phrase is used. “You realize that every religion but yours is a scam, and every other believer believes your religion is a scam as well. We agree with both statements” Something to that effect.

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cl January 6, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Alonzo,

It may well be the case that derogatory over-generalizations aimed at promoting hatred of all members of particular groups (gays, blacks, illegal immigrants, the Irish, atheists, Jews) in fact are very effective. History suggests they are, in fact, very effective. That does not make their use morally permissible.

What makes your use of derogatory over-generalizations against young-earth creationists and attendees of the anti-mosque protest morally permissible?

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Brian January 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Does English have a word for intentionally lying to promote something wrongly believed to be true?

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Cafeeine January 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Brian, I think the term you’re looking for is ‘pious fraud’

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Patrick January 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Alonso- Your response to me sucks.

Its hard to think of what else to say. Your analogy is terrible. It doesn’t address my point at all. And even if I adopt the (terrible) moral framework you’re using, it just proves me right and you wrong.

For what its worth, the second definition of “lie” from websters is, “to create a false or misleading impression.” Scam is defined as “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.” Deceptive is defined as “tending or having power to deceive.”

So even if I adopt your framework, I just end up concluding that your boss did lie, and that religion is a scam.

A better framework would be to ask how people commonly use words, what words are commonly intended and understood to mean, what impression the message in question conveys, why you think so, and whether you think that, given all these things, the message is a good or bad idea. But that would involve at least some empirical questions, and wouldn’t let you thunder and pound your soap box.

Oh, and for the record, “bogus” is defined as “not genuine.” So people who take your framework and use it for spurious litigation aren’t any better at this.

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woodchuck64 January 6, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Mike Gantt,

However, the myth statement – as written – does accuse people of insincerity and not mere error. Had it said “You believe a myth” it would have been accusing them of mere error. However, since it said “You know it is a myth” it accuses them of something more – professing a belief in something they do not believe in (for the only way you can believe a myth is to believe it is not a myth).

The way I read it, “You know it’s a myth” assumes that a certain portion of the population already suspect that religions are based on myth (the false kind) but haven’t taken steps to make that belief explicit in their lives; so, yes, it would be accusing certain people, correctly, of being insincere about their beliefs. People who do not believe religions are based on myth (again, the false sense of the word) would hopefully realize the sign was not aimed at them, much like I ignore Body Spray billboards (as should everyone).

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Kevin January 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I don’t have much to say that Patrick didn’t say. It would feel awkward for me to say to someone who just got financially taken advantage of that they didn’t get scammed because we don’t have insight into the intentions of the perpetrator. What other word would be more appropriate for such circumstances?

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Alonzo Fyfe January 6, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Brian

Does English have a word for intentionally lying to promote something wrongly believed to be true?

Yep. It’s called “Lying”.

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cl January 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm

d,

Salient comments.

Patrick,

This time, I agree with you [provided you're the same Patrick I've been disagreeing with around here]. Alonzo writes,

In the article, I said if we have reason to believe that the American Atheists knew the claim to be false and used it anyway – either to manipulate the press or to gain other advantages – then the billboard itself is a scam.

That statement seems softened, yet, rereading the article, I can find no such claim. Contrary, I did find,

…we can ask, “Why did the American Atheists choose a false and discriminatory statement that generates press over a true statement that generates press?” The answer, “Because it generates press”, does not work.

The answer that works is that American Atheists had an interest in making hate-mongering bigoted statements themselves – because it values such statements, perhaps for their own sake.

…which omits the if/then clause and appears much harder, doesn’t it? Notice how Alonzo just conjures up a motive and applies it – across the board – to all members of American Atheists. Where’s all that concern for accuracy? Where is Alonzo’s evidence for his claim? Why don’t more people ask for the evidence?

Besides, nobody here “knows” that religion is a myth or a scam. Many here believe one way or the other based on their experience and exposure to various arguments and evidences. That, I’m afraid, is as accurate as it can get.

But that would involve at least some empirical questions, and wouldn’t let you thunder and pound your soap box.

Very, very well-placed. I, for one, am sick and tired of hearing Alonzo pound his soapbox ad nauseum on topics ranging from pederasty to spectator sports to “trash” television, with next-to-nil empirical evidence to support his claims, all the while hypocritically condemning believers for the same.

Luke,

Don’t you think it’s about time you hold Alonzo to the same standard you claim we ought to hold believers to? Why do you apparently give Alonzo Fyfe a free pass to make claims without empirical evidence? Is that consistent with common sense? Why do you seem to have such an infatuation with this man? Not that I think you care, but I honestly believe your blog was a much better resource to (a)theism before you ponied up with Fyfe.

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Adito January 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm

” Let others worry about what ‘works’ and what ‘doesn’t work’. It may well be the case that derogatory over-generalizations aimed at promoting hatred of all members of particular groups in fact are very effective”

It’s still not clear to me how saying that you know that something is a myth is significantly different from saying that you know it’s a lie. A myth is, pretty much by definition, a false story and to believe that a myth is true is to believe something that’s false (a lie). In other words you can’t call something a myth without also calling it a lie so if “you know it’s a lie” is false then so is “you know it’s a myth.”

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Duke York January 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm

It would become a mistaken practice. If a con-man sells snake-oil to the ill and dies, and followers who swear by the medicine continue to sell snake-oil thinking it helps, we do not call it a scam. We may say that it started as a scam, but its current practice is not labeled that way.

Under this formulation, wouldn’t that mean we could never use the word “scam”? After all, the original con man will say that he believes the snake-oil to be genuine. Since we can’t read his mind and find out what he actually thinks about is product, it must always be “mistaken practice”, right?

It also seems that we need to give the same moral approbation to “mistaken practice” that we would to “scam” since (to our outsider’s eyes) they are identical, with either sincere or false declarations of belief on the part of the practitioners.

What if the billboard had said “You know it looks like a scam”?

Duke

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Brian January 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Yep. It’s called “Lying”.  (Quote)

That’s an inadequate answer. It’s like saying they English term for a rectangle with four equal sides is “rectangle”. The word “lying” doesn’t convey whether the conclusion being argued for is believed to be true, just that the premises are not or the argument is not believed valid.

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Alonzo, thanks for the response. I don’t disagree except to say that dirty politics or worse begets a strong reaction. Being nice didn’t help the homosexuals, and I applaud AA for being the bad guys so as to spread a broader message on TV and over the internet. The billboards were the ticket that got them that exposure, where if they posted something less controversial they would probably not had any impact.

People do have to be jostled out of their complacency. I did. I’m sure that many people here did some serious reconsideration of their views after the World Trade buildings were attacked. It is good to admit that even a little of what AA promotes in a few words on a billboard is correct; I mean, how sophisticated can you get in a dozen words or less?

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Thomas McGaffey January 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm

(A little “tongue in Cheek” here)

Maybe the sign should have said, “All believers, or purveyors, of religion are stupid”…

My personal definition of ‘Stupidity’ is: The personal insistence on keeping oneself in an ignorant state regarding any particular belief in order to promote or continue that belief.

(Well…maybe not so tongue in cheek)

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Jugglable January 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm

The increasing aggressiveness of the popular secularism scares me. It could have very bad consequences indeed.

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Dan January 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I guess it’s true that even in the atheist community, if someone gets “big”, becomes “mainstream” they are hated on. I have a few friends, and have read online from other atheists who hate Richard Dawkins. My friends give no reasons, the people online have weak arguments at best.

I guess it just comes with the territory of being well known that people will hate on you.

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Jugglable, really?

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Eric January 6, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Mike Gantt-
I don’t see the distinction between the two statements at the end for they both are categorically accusing people of insincerity – the difference only being the degree of insincerity.
Adito99 –
I don’t think either “you know it’s a scam” or “you know it’s a myth” are any different. A religious believer will not know either of these things and take it as an insult that anyone believes they do or should.

The first one doesn’t necessarily suggest insincerity. It is more a statement about the idea. The second is a statement about people and it therefore in a different category. If you want to focus on the word “You” then I can’t figure out who it’s aimed at. Does this person know its a myth but believes it’s true? What sense doe that make? I cannot think of any context where the sign is NECESSARILY accusing someone of anything malicious, dishonest, hateful, dangerous, etc… The only necessary message from the first sign, “you know it is a myth,” is a statement against an idea. The second statement, “you know it is a scam,” is saying something specific about a group of people (see below).
If we want a meaningful use of the word “bigotry” we don’t want it to apply to mere disagreement of ideas. Christians generally believe other religions are myths. Atheists just believe one religion more is a myth.

Duke York –
Look at Bernie Madoff. He knew he was running a pyramid scheme. Many of the people who invested with him, though, were sincere believers (as much at that phrase can be applied in economic contexts), recommending others to him right up to the end. When I say “Madoff was running a scam”, am I being bigoted against his dupes?

If Madoff had managed to continue his scheme past his death, leaving only dupes to run it (if such a thing were possible), would it cease being a scam because there were only sincere converts? What would it then become?

Hermes –
As for being a scam, what else would you call the televangelists, the mega church preachers, or the clearly immoral acts of people who promote their way as the only true morality. If that’s not a scam from end to end, it’s a deep misrepresentation and violation of trust.

On O’Reilley, David Silverstein said he was talking about church leaders in general, not just A church leader. So he is making a broad sweeping statement without the evidence to back it up. I don’t doubt there are scammers among church leaders, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say they ALL are scams without sufficient evidence.

@Alonzo and Luke
Will there ever be a response to the litany of claims leveled by cl?

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Hermes January 6, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Eric, good point. If the options are silence/obscurity or an accurate and fair statement, I’ll take Silverman’s imperfect comments over silence.

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John W. Loftus January 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm

As to whether credentialed Christians are lying or not, I wrote about this not long ago.

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/12/are-christian-apologists-liars-ignorant.html

And for whatever else it’s worth I applied to be the president of AA and was considered a “a very strong candidate.” But they hired from within. David was on the board when they hired him. He seems to have been a good choice and I wish him and AA all the best.

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Brian January 7, 2011 at 1:08 am

Brian, I think the term you’re looking for is ‘pious fraud’  

Thanks Cafeeine. That is exactly what we call people lying in service of their religions when they seek to help others. Not only couldn’t I think of that, I still can’t recall that we call the practice of being a pious fraud any particular thing or an institution comprised of pious frauds any particular thing (to distinguish it from other types of religions).

As far as I can tell, all major religions are led by pious frauds. The leaders and core members explicitly and implicitly lie all the time in service of something they believe is true. The liberal ones are most inclined to withhold their extensive knowledge of problems in their congregants’ beliefs and interpretations of the bible, and the conservative ones are most inlined to disregard truth outright when it interferes with evangelism.

In absence of a good descriptive word, a loosely fitting approximation like “scam” is probably not good enough to match my meaning, which assumes noble strategic motives underlying continuous religious tactical lying.

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ManaCostly January 7, 2011 at 3:37 am

Ooooooooh semantics!

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Alonzo Fyfe January 7, 2011 at 5:04 am

Hermes

Alonzo, thanks for the response. I don’t disagree except to say that dirty politics or worse begets a strong reaction. Being nice didn’t help the homosexuals, and I applaud AA for being the bad guys so as to spread a broader message on TV and over the internet.

I am not, nor have I ever been, and advocate of “being nice”.

My objection IS NOT that the claim on the billboard is not NICE My objection is that the claim on the billboard is not TRUE.

And one thing that I would like to see in the Atheist community is a respect for the practice of holding and making claims that are TRUE.

In particular, the claim on the billboard is a particular type of untruth – a derogatory overgeneralization. It is the type of statement that identifies those who make and defend it as a hate-mongering bigot, making moral accusations against whole groups of THEM that are substantially untrue when applied to a vast majority of individuals within that group.

Do not be nice. But please be accurate.

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Hermes January 7, 2011 at 6:47 am

Alonzo, got it. I agree in general but not in tone. With that in mind, I think AA did the right thing in the case of the second billboard and I support them for it.

As for the first billboard, though, it was completely accurate. Aggressive, yes, but accurate.

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Alonzo Fyfe January 7, 2011 at 6:55 am

Hermes

Alonzo, got it. I agree in general but not in tone. With that in mind, I think AA did the right thing in the case of the second billboard and I support them for it.

You support the use of a statement that is relevantly identical to a statement of the form (said of homosexuals) “You know they are just after an opportunity to rape your children,” because it is useful in generating press that gets an organization’s name in the paper.

Keep that in mind if ever you should see a billboard by a religious organization seeking to create controversy that puts up a sign with that statement.

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Hermes January 7, 2011 at 7:48 am

Alonzo, I write the following in a casual manner. Yes, I get what you are saying but I disagree.

“Keep that in mind if ever you should see a billboard by a religious organization seeking to create controversy that puts up a sign with that statement.”

As you are aware, they do that already. Yes, two wrongs don’t make a right. To draw on another phrase, how many cheeks do you have?

More importantly, do you have a better or even equally effective way of getting the ball rolling? You see how resistant theists are in general even to easily discoverable facts, even when the issue isn’t close to dealing with their deities existing or not.

Why not speak to the borderline religious that happen also to be atheists — as I was? The second billboard drops a seed of cognitive dissonance — like Sinéad O’Connor did for me. These religious or religious sympathetic atheists are the audience, as Silverman pointed out, not the theists.

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Steven January 7, 2011 at 11:12 am

Hm, interesting. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Suppose I start a religion for the purpose of earning money. I get some people who believe all the crap I believe. After I die, my teachings live on and some profits are still made. Because the religion was started with the intent of deception and the teachings are not true, even if it is offered by people who sincerely believe it is true, it is still a scam.

Given this, I think the second defense (of “closet atheists”) works IF the target audience believes that the religion started out in the form of a scam, say, to gain more power or wealth or what have you. Then the matter comes down to the legitimacy of said claim. If making dubious claims and taking them for granted is immoral, then so is religion, and if religion is immoral and presents itself as a source of morality, then said religion is a scam on a different level–a moral scam if you will. If not, then the sign isn’t offensive IF that’s the target audience.

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cl January 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Eric,

Will there ever be a response to the litany of claims leveled by cl?

Luke and Alonzo’s responses to me have devolved from thoughtful, to semi-thoughtful, to basically thoughtless, to outright name-calling, and, lastly, Luke has stated that he’s “finally given up on me.” As you can see, Alonzo has basically adopted the same strategy. This puts them in the perfect place. Now, they don’t need to address my claims. They can simply rest in the fact that they’ve denounced me as a troll and sophist. Is it rational? No. Is it professional? No. Is it honest? I don’t think so. But, does it work? I suppose each can answer for themselves.

Besides, I don’t really post for Luke and Alonzo anyways. I mainly post for the audience of rational people, and to provide trains of thought that tend to fall by the wayside in the hive mentality around here. Although, it’d be nice if they upheld their commitment to rationalism by actually engaging with tough questions instead of making derogatory remarks about some of those who make them. They do, after all, ostensibly promote sound scholarship and critical thinking.

Anyways, if you think I’ve erred in one or more of my claims — or if you think one or more of my claims have substance — I’m all ears. If not, happy 2011.

Jugglable,

The increasing aggressiveness of the popular secularism scares me. It could have very bad consequences indeed.

I agree. I’m reminded of past earnestness — even by Supreme Court Justices — for practices like eugenics, which undoubtedly have evolutionary and/or secular underpinnings. I can hear it now: “We have reasons for action to use lobotomy to extirpate religious thinking and create a secular society,” or some such nonsense.

Hermes,

I fail to see the import of the graph you link to. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be using Christianity’s “majority status” to imply that Jugglable’s concern over the increasing aggressiveness of the popular secularism is unwarranted. However, oppression correlates to distribution of power — which may or may not correlate to numbers — as even a brief look at any serfdom ought to illustrate.

Brian,

As far as I can tell, all major religions are led by pious frauds. The leaders and core members explicitly and implicitly lie all the time in service of something they believe is true.

How is this not a doorway to bigotry — if not bigotry outright?

Alonzo,

For what it’s worth, I’m on your side in your debate with Hermes. I don’t think the desire for press justifies promulgation of falsehoods.

And one thing that I would like to see in the Atheist community is a respect for the practice of holding and making claims that are TRUE. [to Hermes]

I agree. That’s why I think you and Luke ought to stop making claims that you emphatically do not know are true. For example, you could rephrase your oft-repeated claim that “there is no God” to something a bit more conservatively, accurately, and honestly stated, such as, “I don’t believe God exists.” None of us know whether the former is true or not. Contrary, the latter is true as stated. I think you would make a much better and lasting impression on thinkers of all varieties if you took your own advice here. It would also help if you culled the Bigot’s Fallacy from your own writings.

If not, you’re effectively promoting that which you condemn. From the desirist angle, is that what a person with good desires would do?

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Alonzo Fyfe January 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Steven

Suppose I start a religion for the purpose of earning money. I get some people who believe all the crap I believe. After I die, my teachings live on and some profits are still made. Because the religion was started with the intent of deception and the teachings are not true, even if it is offered by people who sincerely believe it is true, it is still a scam.

Suppose I sell you a painting that I claim to be a genuine Rembrandt, and you believe me, and you buy the painting. That is a scam.

Five years later, still believing you bought a genuine Rembrandt, you tried to sell it.
Is that a scam? Do you think that such a person can be legitimately accaused of fraud?

No. A person cannot unknowingly or accidently perpetrate a scam. The reason “scam” and “negligence” are mutually exclusive concepts is because “scam” is, by definition, intentional (the scammer has to be aware of the relevant facts that make it a scam), where negligence is, by definition, unintentional.

Furthermore, it is NOT the case that most religions are scams. Most religions are generated by a hypothesis that divine creatures exist and that we can influence their decisions the way we influence the decisions of other people. It is a primative idea, and mistaken, but it was not done by people who knew them to be false. It was done by people who said, “Maybe there is a God responsible for the weather and if we please the God we can get good crops.”

Or, at the very least, you cannot prove even a shred of evidence in support of the thesis that no religion has ever started as a result of such a hypothesis. Which makes the claim “they are all scams” an example of “making a dubious claim and taking it for granted.”

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Alonzo Fyfe January 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Hermes

Do you have a better or even equally effective way of getting the ball rolling?

First, I consider the practice of using deliberate falsehoods to score political points – and in particular deliberate falsehoods in the form of malicious overgeneralizations – to be more objectionable than the practices of many religions.

If the situation is as you seem to want to describe it – one where I must choose between challenging religion or challenging the use of malicious overgeneralizations (hate-mongering bigotry), and that there is no way to fight the former while staying clear of the latter – then I side with opposing hate-mongering bigotry over opposing religion.

Second, American Atheists have already used a long list of billboards that have generated press without making derogatory overgeneralizations. The statement, “You know that it is a myth” was one.

Third, let’s throw this question open to the general public.

Can any of you think of a billboard slogan that can be put up that is both true and likely to generate a great deal of press? Or do you agree that the only option open to atheists is to use deliberate falsehoods for political gain?

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Eric January 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm

cl –
I define bigotry as, “the making of derogatory generalizations about all members of a group.”

I think, before I respond to any of your claims, we may want to find a more useful definition of “bigotry”. Either that or you need to clarify some things. If we are not using a useful definition of the word “bigotry” then it can be very misleading to call a statement “bigoted” when potential readers who understand the negative connotations of the word may not agree that statement is negative. Or vise-versa… Remember that we are trying to communicate, so there is a definite need for standard definitions.

Take these statements:
“All child rapists are perverts”
or
“All KKK members are racist”
both of these would qualify as bigoted via your definition, but yet I doubt many people would think of them this way. The terms “pervert” and “racist” can both be considered derogatory. I would suggest that the terms “irrational” and “unjustified” may both (or either/or) be required as qualifiers.

On the other hand, take these statements:
“MOST black people are lazy”
or
“All but one fat person is lazy”
Because you have qualified your definition with the phrase “ALL members of a group,” neither of these statements are considered “bigoted” by your definition. But yet most people would consider them to be bigoted.

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Eric January 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Alonzo Fyfe –
First, I consider the practice of using deliberate falsehoods to score political points – and in particular deliberate falsehoods in the form of malicious overgeneralizations – to be more objectionable than the practices of many religions.

I’m assuming you are a fan of factcheck.org, politifact.com, snopes.com, and possibly truthorfiction.com. It’s amazing the kinda bull$#!^ politicians and the media get away with.

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Steven January 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Alonzo:

I don’t think your example addresses the point I made. I didn’t say that those who continued to teach my religion were scammers, but rather, the religion wasn’t any more legitimate because it was propagated by people who were convinced of its legitimacy. I’m saying the portrait itself is a scam.

Of course, I find the techniques used by this institution to be of a dubious nature and certainly unwarranted an disruptive, but I do think that, at least to some extent, the second defense does work, given some conditions.

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Steven January 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Alonzo:

Damn it, sorry, forgot a part (keep doing this). I thoroughly agree that the claim that saying that all religions are scams is VERY dubious and shouldn’t be propagated with as little evidence as there currently is to validate such a wild claim. However, as I did not, if making dubious claims without evidence is immoral, then so is religion and in a way, it does turn into a sort of scam if it presents itself as a source of morality. But again, that’s not an “if” I really believe in.

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cl January 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Eric,

My definition is secondary. I provided Alonzo’s definition of the Bigot’s Fallacy, then demonstrated — conclusively, IMO — how Alonzo commits the same fallacy.

“All child rapists are perverts”

or

“All KKK members are racist”

both of these would qualify as bigoted via your definition, but yet I doubt many people would think of them this way.

Most people I’ve encountered intuitively believe that racism and child-rape are wrong. I presume most of them would say that racism is an essential characteristic all KKK members, or that perversion is an essential characteristic of all child rapists. Contrary, willingness to blind oneself to the evidence is not an essential characteristic of all young-earth creationists, as Luke falsely claims. Neither is death and maiming necessarily entailed by belief in young-earth creationism, as Alonzo falsely claims.

“MOST black people are lazy”

or

“All but one fat person is lazy”

Because you have qualified your definition with the phrase “ALL members of a group,” neither of these statements are considered “bigoted” by your definition.

Fair enough. Then, perhaps we say something like, “derogatory generalizations about members of a group one has no knowledge of,” or something like that. Meaning, if you encounter ten creationists who exhibit willingness to blind themselves to evidence, the most you could say without incurring a charge of bigotry would be something like, “these ten creationists demonstrate a willingness to blind oneself to the evidence.” To extrapolate from there to a broader subset of creationists — or the entire set — would constitute bigotry.

Nonetheless, how about, the making of untrue, derogatory generalizations about members of a group one has no knowledge of? If that doesn’t work for you, then, feel free to modify or lead the way entirely. You provide a definition of bigotry, and I’ll reparse my claims accordingly. I wholeheartedly agree with you on the importance of definitions.

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Steven January 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Cl, no. Most people I’ve encountered have been taught that racism is wrong because it violates some abstract ideals of humanity and that child molestation is wrong for the same reason, and is reinforced by the evolutionary instinct to protect children. “Intuitively” there is no reason why racism would be viewed as wrong. It seems you attribute cultural lessons and instinct into what “intuition”, which doesn’t seem very “intuitive” to me, as both are the result of various complex interactions and not a person’s individual, controllable thoughts.

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Duke York January 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Can any of you think of a billboard slogan that can be put up that is both true and likely to generate a great deal of press?

I think “You know they’re run like scams” would work on both counts. First, it would stir the same level of controversy that “You know they’re scams did.”

Second, it removes the intentionality of the implicit accusation. By making it about actions and not belief, it becomes true. Even if the dupes (to return to your example of the “mistaken practice”) believe their snake-oil works, they’re still doing the same thing that the con-man did — selling a worthless product on the basis of people’s fear and ignorance. Even if it should turn out to be the case that Jesus did actually die for our sins, the Christian church is still being run like a scam because it accepts money and return nothing that has verifiable value.

Let me ask you a hypothetical: suppose you have a snake-oil salesman who is trying to rip people off, but actually manages to produce a working medicine through dumb luck. He goes out into the world, convinced that he’s duping the world, but is actually curing people. Is that a scam?

Duke

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Hermes January 7, 2011 at 8:24 pm

Alonzo, thanks for the perspective and feedback. I hope that quite a few people were able to gain from your insights as I have.

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Eric January 7, 2011 at 10:51 pm

cl –
Nonetheless, how about, the making of untrue, derogatory generalizations about members of a group one has no knowledge of? If that doesn’t work for you, then, feel free to modify or lead the way entirely. You provide a definition of bigotry, and I’ll reparse my claims accordingly. I wholeheartedly agree with you on the importance of definitions.

I don’t really agree. Just because you don’t know most members of the KKK doesn’t mean you cannot be justified in believing them to be racist. It may be the case there are members of the KKK who only joined because their parents joined and enjoy the community benefits, or they may not be explicitly racist but have fallen for the KKK conspiracy theories. In fact, I myself have never met any one member of the KKK and therefore cannot know for sure any individual one is racist. If you were to say that KKK members are racist, you would therefore be making a bigoted claim by your revised definition. However, chances are, if someone belongs to the KKK, they are probably racist. Because of this, I think there also needs to be the qualifier “unjustified and irrational” as opposed to “untrue”. If someone said “God hates blonds,” then we may be in a bind. We cannot tell if this is true. God may or may not exist and may or may not hate blonds. Of course, the great thing about replacing “untrue” with “unjustified and irrational,” is that you can potentially have a discussion over whether or not the person was rationally justified in making the remark. Justification can come in many forms and it ensures the accuser gives the statement adequate thought before instantly assuming it is bigoted.

My definition of a “bigotry” would be “a unjustified, irrational, and intentionally derogatory generalizations about a group of people”

Also, we need to allow for the occasional exceptions to the rule. So when someone does not explicitly say “All people of group X have derogatory quality Y” and instead say “People of group X have derogatory quality Y,” then we must assume they could understand there are exceptions to the rule. Although they may logically be the same, it is likely not intended to be the same by the person making the claim. It is lazy on their part to use this language, but laziness is not bigotry. So in the interest of avoiding a straw man on the part of the person crying “bigotry,” we must be mindful of this use of language.

I am making sure not to bring up specific claims of yours until we have an understanding over the use of the word “bigotry.”

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cl January 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

Eric,

I’m willing to continue the more general discussion on bigotry, but, as I said, I’m primarily interested in abiding by Alonzo’s definition of the Bigot’s Fallacy, since that is exactly what I claim Luke and Alonzo commit:

…a fallacy in which the argument begins with claims about the objectionable behavior of this or that specific religious teaching or the wrongful acts of a specific religious person, then suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions about “religion” or “theists” in general.

Now, let’s take just one of the statements I cited from Luke:

[the creationist] must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck. [Creationism, Evil, and the Crocoduck]

Luke began by making a claim about the [alleged] wrongful act of a specific creationist: Ray Comfort. Then, Luke suddenly and unjustifiably leaped to a conclusion about creationists in general: that they must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck.

Would you agree or disagree that Luke fulfilled both criteria of the Bigot’s Fallacy as defined by Alonzo Fyfe?

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Steven January 8, 2011 at 11:54 am

cl, the quote you have seems taken out of context. It sounds as if Luke is discussing the “professional” Creationists that go on TV and write books that they pass off as truth and make their living by spreading disinformation. People who claim to know all about evolution and why it is wrong, not your average, uninformed Creationist that never gave his beliefs any thoughts.

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Eric January 8, 2011 at 12:07 pm

cl –
I’m willing to continue the more general discussion on bigotry, but, as I said, I’m primarily interested in abiding by Alonzo’s definition of the Bigot’s Fallacy, since that is exactly what I claim Luke and Alonzo commit:

Also I would like to note that our definition of bigotry is not the only definition. For example, another definition would be:
“Opposing a liberty for an individual, shared by everyone else, because this person belongs to a specific group, without rational justification”
For example, it would not be bigoted to say a mentally retarded person cannot perform brain surgery, but it would be bigoted to say a Jew cannot own a business.
I just want to make sure we understand the previous definition is sufficient for bigotry but not necessary.

cl –
In his post The New Atheists vs. The Appeasers, Alonzo defines the “Bigot’s Fallacy” thus:

…a fallacy in which the argument begins with claims about the objectionable behavior of this or that specific religious teaching or the wrongful acts of a specific religious person, then suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions about “religion” or “theists” in general. They use these arguments in the hopes that their audience is blind to the fact that the conclusions are entirely unjustified given the premises, so that they can sell their own prejudices to that audience.

Notice the phrase “…suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions.” This clearly means the person did not attempt to justify their statements. Notice his last sentence. So anyone using a rational justification would not be committing the “bigots fallacy.”

cl –
Now, let’s take just one of the statements I cited from Luke:

[the creationist] must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck. [Creationism, Evil, and the Crocoduck]

Luke began by making a claim about the [alleged] wrongful act of a specific creationist: Ray Comfort. Then, Luke suddenly and unjustifiably leaped to a conclusion about creationists in general: that they must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck.

When did he leap to a conclusion about creationists in General? He said “the person” which means “the creationist” which is not the same as saying “all creationsists do this.” In fact, he later says:
“Unfortunately, we do have Creationists making such decisions.” Meaning that he did not assume all did it. So no, I do not think he committed the bigots fallacy here.

cl –
Now, the glorious irony of Alonzo claiming that all who use this fallacy have ill motives aside — because honest error remains a viable option — this is EXACTLY what Alonzo has done on more than one occasion. For example, in his post Immorality and Young Earth Creationism, Alonzo writes:

Electing a young-earth creationist to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk…

…I say that what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming.

Of course, aside from being an overgeneralization about young earth creationists in general, the latter claim is also incoherent: a young earth creationist believes a proposition about the age of the earth, and a proposition, itself, is an abstract entity wholly incapable of contributing to death and maiming. But that’s besides my point. My point is that Alonzo often commits the very same “Bigot’s Fallacy” he lectures us about.

I’m not sure how this is an example of the bigot’s fallacy. Keep in mind that Alonzo said the leap to people of a religion in general MUST BE UNJUSTIFIED. However, Alonzo clearly JUSTIFIES why he thinks creationists would have issues with elected office. He gives numerous specific examples of real world problems where the belief in a 6000 year old earth with no evolutionary past would likely create insurmountable problems including Agriculture, Climate Change, medicine, the science behind earthquakes, etc… You merely quoted the first and last line of the article and, as a result, missed the point entirely.

cl –
For another example, see his guest post Bigots On Parade, where, of all those in the anti-mosque protest at ground zero, Alonzo wrote:

I saw some pictures of a group of people gathered to protest the construction of a Muslim community center in New York near “Ground Zero.” From there, they then marched to “Ground Zero.” When I saw pictures of the march, the words that came to my mind were, “Bigots On Parade.”

Again, Alonzo commited the “Bigot’s Fallacy” but this time, while ironically attempting to condemn bigotry! Alonzo leaped to a conclusion about everyone in the protest in general. Where is Alonzo’s evidence for the claim that everyone in that protest was a bigot?

Once again, you failed to note the rest of the article where he justifies this assertion. So because this is justified, and once again, the focus of the article IS JUSTIFICATION, then this is not an example of the “bigot’s fallacy.” You ask Where is Alonzo’s evidence for the claim that everyone in that protest was a bigot?” In fact, it was THE ENTIRE PURPOSE of the article you cite. Also not what I said in the last post about “exceptions to the rule.”

cl –
Luke is equally guilty:

Belief in a 6,000 year earth, like belief in a flat earth, is very good evidence that the believer lacks sufficient desires to investigate evidence about important matters seriously. [Luke Muehlhauser, comment 8-5-2010, New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!]

And once again Luke Justifies his claims in the article, listing numerous pieces of evidence for this.

I haven’t watched the video but I think I have made my point already. I am honestly wondering if you understand the point of the “bigots fallacy” at all? You have consistently labeled comments as fallacies while ignoring the purpose of the fallacy. You also ignore clear counter evidence to your claim. I am still amazed by your line “Where is Alonzo’s evidence for the claim that everyone in that protest was a bigot?”

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Eric January 8, 2011 at 12:14 pm

@cl
If you want to claim that what Luke and Alonzo did were bigoted then have at it. However, I have hopefully shown that even a quick skim of the articles you mention show that they are clearly not guilty of “the bigots fallacy” as defined by Alonzo.

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cl January 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Woohoo! This one’s a doozy…

Steven,

cl, the quote you have seems taken out of context. It sounds as if Luke is discussing the “professional” Creationists that go on TV and write books that they pass off as truth and make their living by spreading disinformation.

If that’s the case, why single out creationists? Plenty of non-creationists do exactly this.

People who claim to know all about evolution and why it is wrong, not your average, uninformed Creationist that never gave his beliefs any thoughts.

Luke made no such distinction in the post. If that’s what he meant and he simply failed to express himself accurately, then, maybe Eric’s right: maybe he was just being lazy, and not committing the Bigot’s Fallacy. He can still clarify. If he wants to swallow laziness I’ll gladly retract the Bigot’s Fallacy on that particular comment.

Eric,

Notice the phrase “…suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions.” This clearly means the person did not attempt to justify their statements

Correct. I argue that Luke’s conclusion was both sudden, and unjustified. You appear to be arguing that mere attempt at justification is sufficient to exonerate one from charges of bigotry. Is that what you’re arguing? If so, it would open up a whole new can of worms. The AA – or Blair Scott, or whoever – would no longer be guilty of “bigoted falsehood,” because they attempted to justify their conclusion. Is that the road you want to travel?

He said “the person” which means “the creationist” which is not the same as saying “all creationsists do this.”

I read “the creationist” as “any creationist,” precisely because Luke made no distinction.

So no, I do not think he committed the bigots fallacy here.

I suppose we agree to disagree, then, unless you can persuade me that mere attempt at justification is sufficient to exonerate one from charges of bigotry.

I’m not sure how this is an example of the bigot’s fallacy. Keep in mind that Alonzo said the leap to people of a religion in general MUST BE UNJUSTIFIED. However, Alonzo clearly JUSTIFIES why he thinks creationists would have issues with elected office. He gives numerous specific examples of real world problems where the belief in a 6000 year old earth with no evolutionary past would likely create insurmountable problems including Agriculture, Climate Change, medicine, the science behind earthquakes, etc… You merely quoted the first and last line of the article and, as a result, missed the point entirely.

Not at all. In my own post, I quoted the full section. Further, Alonzo didn’t justify his claim. That some creationists do this cannot justify the broad, across-the-board claim against creationists in general.

Once again, you failed to note the rest of the article where he justifies this assertion.

Nonsense. I read the entire article, twice. That some people in the protest were probably bigoted doesn’t justify labeling all in the protest a bigot.

Also not what I said in the last post about “exceptions to the rule.”

I noted it the first time around. The problem is, Alonzo didn’t note it in the post. At least, not that I saw.

And once again Luke Justifies his claims in the article, listing numerous pieces of evidence for this.

And again, none of the evidence listed justifies extending the charge beyond the guilty.

I am honestly wondering if you understand the point of the “bigots fallacy” at all?

I think I understand it quite well, but feel free to articulate what you think I’ve missed. I understand the “unjustified” criterion. Justification is precisely what I’m disputing.

You also ignore clear counter evidence to your claim.

Well, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re alluding to, but, presuming you allude to the aforementioned “justifications,” that’s incorrect. I did not ignore them. I dispute the claim that either Luke or Alonzo justified extending the charge beyond the guilty.

Consider Patrick’s salient comment from that thread:

If you oppose the Cordoba House because of notions about an essential nature of Islamic belief and an essential nature of Islamic believers, and you reject the idea of actually looking at the ideology actually held by the actual people involved and actually looking at the character of the actual people involved…

…then you’re a bigot.

That’s the definition of “bigot.”

If you oppose the Cordoba House because you have specific problems with the specific ideology or people involved, then you’re not automatically a bigot.

Unlike Alonzo, Patrick actually got it correct and avoided the making of derogatory generalizations about the entire group of protesters.

Along similar lines, and presumably speaking to Alonzo, Welsh adds:

You used the emotionally charged word “bigot” and conflated all of those who are against the building of the mosque as bigots. You have not established that all positions opposing the community centre are bigoted.

…Welsh is correct. As Patrick implied, there are reasons one may have opposed the Cordoba House that would not reduce to bigotry. Yet, Alonzo didn’t explore that option before thundering from his soap box, did he?

I am still amazed by your line “Where is Alonzo’s evidence for the claim that everyone in that protest was a bigot?”

Why? Surely you don’t think it’s okay to prejudge everyone in the protest as a bigot without evidence, do you? In the post, Alonzo wrote,

Each person needs to be judged on the quality of his or her own actions.

…and I agree. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Alonzo did not do. In the thread, Alonzo wrote,

If one could demonstrate that all Muslims believed exactly the same thing and that this thing they all believed was worthy of condemnation, then one would have a reason to condemn all Muslims.

Similarly, if — and only if — Alonzo can demonstrate that all the protesters believed exactly the same thing, then — and only then — would Alonzo have justified showering condemnation on all protesters. So, I’m honestly quite befuddled that my request for justification amazes you.

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cl January 8, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Sorry, I just saw your latest comment:

However, I have hopefully shown that even a quick skim of the articles you mention show that they are clearly not guilty of “the bigots fallacy” as defined by Alonzo.

I think the “quick skim” might be part of the problem. In semi-thorough detail, I’ve expanded on each of my arguments – quite conclusively, IMO. So, if you wish to deny my claim, have at it, but you’ll have to do the work.

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Steven January 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Woohoo! This one’s a doozy…Steven,
If that’s the case, why single out creationists? Plenty of non-creationists do exactly this.
Luke made no such distinction in the post.

If that’s what he meant and he simply failed to express himself accurately, then, maybe Eric’s right: maybe he was just being lazy, and not committing the Bigot’s Fallacy. He can still clarify. If he wants to swallow laziness I’ll gladly retract the Bigot’s Fallacy on that particular comment.

1. I would think that the reason he only discussed Creationists is because the post was meant to criticize that particular ideology. Or because this site is dedicated to examining religious arguments and events, and, as such, all the other groups that mislead and misinform others (say, infomercials) are outside to scope of this website’s aims.

2. Like I said before, the quote you had seemed taken out of context and strongly implied he was talking about the sort of Creationists that mislead others. It’s not laziness on the part of Luke if it was implied (which was the impression I got) but rather, on your own part for failing to put Luke’s comments within context and trying to understand what he was saying, both of which are critical aspects of reading comprehension. Of course, I can be wrong since I don’t know the context, but that’s just the general impression I’m getting.

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Patrick January 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Ok, since I’ve been cited twice, I should probably jump in.

I do not think that all statements of the form,

“All Xes are Ys”

are automatically bigoted (or even false in certain senses) if all Xes are not in fact Ys.

The word “all” is not always used to mean “literally every single one.”

Remember, my thesis is that people’s words should be judged on the basis of what they actually mean, communicate, are reasonably understood to mean, have been interpreted by, were reasonably likely to be interpreted as meaning, etc, etc, etc. And that requires acknowledging how people actually speak, and doing our human best to figure out how people think and behave. And this is just how people speak.

Of course, some statements in the form “All Xes are Ys” are DEFINITELY bigoted and false statements, are intended as such, are understood as such, etc, etc. I just don’t think that the tools of analyzing propositional sentence structure are going to help much with this until you can put the human race under the knife and force them to speak in accordance with the rules of propositional logic.

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Eric January 8, 2011 at 6:31 pm

cl –
Correct. I argue that Luke’s conclusion was both sudden, and unjustified. You appear to be arguing that mere attempt at justification is sufficient to exonerate one from charges of bigotry. Is that what you’re arguing? If so, it would open up a whole new can of worms. The AA – or Blair Scott, or whoever – would no longer be guilty of “bigoted falsehood,” because they attempted to justify their conclusion. Is that the road you want to travel?

Here you seemed to have forgotten what we were debating. We were debating whether or not Luke and Alonzo are guilty of the “bigot’s fallacy,” not a “bigoted falsehood.” If these people actually attempted a logically coherent argument then they would not be guilty of “the bigot’s fallacy” even if it may be true they gave a “bigoted falsehood.” The point of your argument seemed to be to show the hypocrisy of Alonzo and Luke. Now you are moving the goalpost, from “bigot’s fallacy” to “bigoted falsehood.” Now if you want to say that Luke and Alonzo are guilty of a “bigoted falsehood,” you obviously need to address the points they made to show the fallacy they make. You attempted with Alonzo’s comment about the protesters for Park 41, but I will deal with those later.

cl –
I read “the creationist” as “any creationist,” precisely because Luke made no distinction.

Then you are constructing a straw man argument. I justified why I think it is likely Luke was not talking about “all creationists in general.” I also would like to point out that it was an “example” meaning that it does not necessarily apply to every creationist. If you want to rebut my points on this, please. Else admit you made a mistake. You may want to be more charitable with your interpretations.

cl –
I suppose we agree to disagree, then, unless you can persuade me that mere attempt at justification is sufficient to exonerate one from charges of bigotry.

Once again, we need to remember the difference between “the bigot’s fallacy,” and bigotry, which i already talked about.
However, seeing as how Alonzo is so dedicated to Ethics and philosophy, then at least one egregious fallacy in his justification will suffice to show he is guilty of the “bigot’s fallacy.” Seeing as how you absolutely ignored his justification, and instead acted as if the justification did not even exist, you may want to go through and point out any specific fallacies. I’m all ears.

cl –
Not at all. In my own post, I quoted the full section. Further, Alonzo didn’t justify his claim.

once again, your selected quotes:
” Electing a young-earth creationist to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk…”

” …I say that what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming.”
Where did you quote the full section? You merely quoted one the first and one of the last lines.

cl –
That some creationists do this cannot justify the broad, across-the-board claim against creationists in general.

I cannot make sense of this claim in light of the article. The article talks about problems that will almost certainly exist due to the belief in a 6000 year old earth without evolution.He justifies why this wont just apply to some Creationists (young earth), but almost all Creationists (young earth), especially the ones of the competence for elected office.

cl –
Nonsense. I read the entire article, twice. That some people in the protest were probably bigoted doesn’t justify labeling all in the protest a bigot.

Actually, his article justified why they would all probably be bigots based on the reason for the protest. Is there evidence of another reason people would be protesting other than for the reasons he justified as bigoted? If you were to see a Klan rally, you would assume they are almost certainly all bigots because the purpose of the rally is bigotry. Alonzo showed how the purpose of the protest of the “Ground Zero Mosque” was bigoted, so he was therefore justified in assuming the people marching were bigoted, just as you would be in the situation with the Klan rally.

cl –
I noted it the first time around. The problem is, Alonzo didn’t note it in the post. At least, not that I saw.

I am not sure there’s really a need to reiterate this point in the post. I’ve already showed how, in common speak, this is almost certainly going to be the case. There is a point where you should probably assume this in the interest of avoiding a straw man, as well as for charitable interpretation.

cl –
And again, none of the evidence listed justifies extending the charge beyond the guilty.

Please demonstrate this point by rebuttal to Luke’s points. I’m all ears.

cl –
I think I understand it quite well, but feel free to articulate what you think I’ve missed. I understand the “unjustified” criterion. Justification is precisely what I’m disputing.

I have already articulated what you missed already. The problem is that you spoke as if they had no justification at all. There was no leap. No, they did not write a book about their justification, but they did make their points and it was far from a “leap.” Also, once again, please show whats wrong with their justifications.

cl –
Well, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re alluding to, but, presuming you allude to the aforementioned “justifications,” that’s incorrect. I did not ignore them. I dispute the claim that either Luke or Alonzo justified extending the charge beyond the guilty.

cl -
Consider Patrick’s salient comment from that thread:

If you oppose the Cordoba House because of notions about an essential nature of Islamic belief and an essential nature of Islamic believers, and you reject the idea of actually looking at the ideology actually held by the actual people involved and actually looking at the character of the actual people involved…

…then you’re a bigot.

That’s the definition of “bigot.”

If you oppose the Cordoba House because you have specific problems with the specific ideology or people involved, then you’re not automatically a bigot.

Unlike Alonzo, Patrick actually got it correct and avoided the making of derogatory generalizations about the entire group of protesters.

Finally, you are attempting to address Alonzo’s justification, although I would like to avoid a copy/paste fest as most of the points given in the comments have already been rebutted by Alonzo or others. Actually, if you protest their right to build a house of worship because you oppose their ideology (although their may be rare exceptions to the rule), then that is bigotry, as I pointed out in my last post.
If you are justified in disagreeing with an idea or person and choose to protest that idea or person, then you are not necessarily a bigot.
If you oppose a right of theirs shared by everyone, specifically because you don’t like their ideas, then you are almost certainly a bigot (exceptions include justified beliefs that the right will have a demonstrable negative effect on your rights, others, etc…) .
Also, these people were not justifying their intolerance without fallacies. Alonzo didn’t automatically call them bigots. He justified his claim. And it wasn’t just an opposition to Islam. It was an opposition to the rights of Muslims to build a Mosque where they wanted BECAUSE of what other Muslims had done, without any reason to think these Muslims would do the same thing. That, as Alonzo justifies, is bigotry.

cl –
You used the emotionally charged word “bigot” and conflated all of those who are against the building of the mosque as bigots. You have not established that all positions opposing the community centre are bigoted.

…Welsh is correct. As Patrick implied, there are reasons one may have opposed the Cordoba House that would not reduce to bigotry. Yet, Alonzo didn’t explore that option before thundering from his soap box, did he?

There may have been reasons, but Alonzo’s article shows that, chances are, these people may have been at best exceptions to the rule.

cl –
I am still amazed by your line “Where is Alonzo’s evidence for the claim that everyone in that protest was a bigot?”

Why? Surely you don’t think it’s okay to prejudge everyone in the protest as a bigot without evidence, do you? In the post, Alonzo wrote,

Each person needs to be judged on the quality of his or her own actions.

…and I agree. Unfortunately, that is exactly what Alonzo did not do.

But Alonzo gave evidence and also showed how someone marching in the parade is almost certainly going to be guilty of what he calls a “bigot.” As I pointed out before, you don’t have to personally know any member of the KKK to assume they are almost certainly bigots.

cl –
In the thread, Alonzo wrote,

If one could demonstrate that all Muslims believed exactly the same thing and that this thing they all believed was worthy of condemnation, then one would have a reason to condemn all Muslims.

Similarly, if — and only if — Alonzo can demonstrate that all the protesters believed exactly the same thing, then — and only then — would Alonzo have justified showering condemnation on all protesters. So, I’m honestly quite befuddled that my request for justification amazes you.

But he did. If you are marching in a parade that opposes a Muslim’s right to build a mosque in a certain location because other Muslims performed an act of terror on that spot, then you almost certainly believe that. And Alonzo showed how this was bigoted. Do you have a reason for these people marching in the parade that is not bigoted (remember the definition we agreed upon)?
Although I am glad you are finally providing responses to Alonzo’s posts, I still think you need to initially point out that Alonzo did at least attempt to justify his claims and that you were not satisfied by his justifications as opposed to acting as if no justifications exist.

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Eric January 8, 2011 at 6:38 pm

cl –
I think the “quick skim” might be part of the problem. In semi-thorough detail, I’ve expanded on each of my arguments – quite conclusively, IMO. So, if you wish to deny my claim, have at it, but you’ll have to do the work.

I did not mean that I just did a “quick skim.” I just said that a quick skim was enough to show that your question, which suggested he did not even attempt to a justification but instead jumped to the conclusion, was easily answered. If this was not the intent, please correct your language as I suggested earlier. And the point was that you did not expand on any one argument in your original post.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Eric,

I’m glad you have the patience for all that, because I certainly don’t!

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cl January 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Steven,

It’s not laziness on the part of Luke if it was implied (which was the impression I got) but rather, on your own part for failing to put Luke’s comments within context and trying to understand what he was saying, both of which are critical aspects of reading comprehension.

I read people at face value, and try to avoid making assumptions. Luke should say exactly what he means, and that’s all there is to it.

That said, let’s say I actually agreed with you that Luke only had “the sort of Creationists that mislead others” in mind. What about the other two statements?

Belief in a 6,000 year earth, like belief in a flat earth, is very good evidence that the believer lacks sufficient desires to investigate evidence about important matters seriously. [Luke Muehlhauser, comment 8-5-2010, New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!]

…Creationism-belief requires morally negligent epistemic processes. [Luke Muehlhauser, comment 8-6-2010, New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!]

Are you going to claim that there, too, the context was only “the sort of Creationists that mislead others?”

Patrick,

I do not think that all statements of the form,

“All Xes are Ys”

are automatically bigoted (or even false in certain senses) if all Xes are not in fact Ys.

Neither do I.

Remember, my thesis is that people’s words should be judged on the basis of what they actually mean, communicate, are reasonably understood to mean, have been interpreted by, were reasonably likely to be interpreted as meaning, etc, etc, etc. And that requires acknowledging how people actually speak, and doing our human best to figure out how people think and behave. And this is just how people speak.

Certainly, but, couldn’t Blair Scott and the AA use this same defense to exonerate themselves from Alonzo’s charges?

Eric,

The point of your argument seemed to be to show the hypocrisy of Alonzo and Luke. Now you are moving the goalpost, from “bigot’s fallacy” to “bigoted falsehood.” Now if you want to say that Luke and Alonzo are guilty of a “bigoted falsehood,” you obviously need to address the points they made to show the fallacy they make.

Nonsense. I’ve not moved any goalpost. The point of my argument is to show the hypocrisy of Luke and Alonzo regarding the Bigot’s Fallacy. When I mentioned the “bigoted falsehood,” that was to discuss the implications of what you said for a different argument. Discussing two things in the same comment is not moving the goalpost.

Then you are constructing a straw man argument.

False. I criticized exactly what was said.

I justified why I think it is likely Luke was not talking about “all creationists in general.” I also would like to point out that it was an “example” meaning that it does not necessarily apply to every creationist. If you want to rebut my points on this, please. Else admit you made a mistake.

The person who makes a mistake is the person who fails to write accurately. You have to demonstrate that I’ve made a mistake. Simply asserting it won’t pass. I rebutted your points.

Seeing as how you absolutely ignored his justification, and instead acted as if the justification did not even exist, you may want to go through and point out any specific fallacies. I’m all ears.

You say you’re “all ears” but it’s as if you’re not even listening. I’ll try again: I did not “ignore” Alonzo’s “justification,” whatsoever. I pointed out the fallacy: sweeping generalization.

Where did you quote the full section? You merely quoted one the first and one of the last lines.

In my own post. Note a post is not a comment, though, I understand many use them interchangeably.

He justifies why this wont just apply to some Creationists (young earth), but almost all Creationists (young earth), especially the ones of the competence for elected office.

False. You have very low standards for justification, and you don’t even cite the “justification” you allude to. Cite it, and I’ll gladly show you why I disagree.

Is there evidence of another reason people would be protesting other than for the reasons he justified as bigoted?

Yes. I supplied one when I cited Welsh.

The problem is that you spoke as if they had no justification at all.

I spoke thus because they have no justification at all. They attempted a justification, but I do not agree that attempted justification can exonerate them of the charges.

Also, once again, please show whats wrong with their justifications.

How many more times are you going to ask me to repeat myself? That some creationists and anti-mosque protesters X does not mean all of them X.

There may have been reasons, but Alonzo’s article shows that, chances are, these people may have been at best exceptions to the rule.

Ah, yes… “chances are.” What a crock. You don’t get to just make stuff up. Besides, if those people were “exceptions to the rule,” then, to label everyone in the protest a “bigot” is to commit the Bigot’s Fallacy.

But Alonzo gave evidence and also showed how someone marching in the parade is almost certainly going to be guilty of what he calls a “bigot.”

Cite this “evidence” you allude to. I saw no such evidence. Rather, I saw Alonzo take one of several possible motives for protesting, then assume that all in the protest shared the motives. He did not heed his own advice of judging each person on his or her own actions.

But he did. If you are marching in a parade that opposes a Muslim’s right to build a mosque in a certain location because other Muslims performed an act of terror on that spot, then you almost certainly believe that.

No, he didn’t. Assumption is not justification. Opposing a Muslim’s right to build a mosque because other Muslims performed an act of terror is one of many possible reasons to protest the building of the mosque.

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Hermes January 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Luke, agreed.

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Eric January 9, 2011 at 12:08 am

cl –
Nonsense. I’ve not moved any goalpost. The point of my argument is to show the hypocrisy of Luke and Alonzo regarding the Bigot’s Fallacy. When I mentioned the “bigoted falsehood,” that was to discuss the implications of what you said for a different argument. Discussing two things in the same comment is not moving the goalpost.

But we were discussing the phrase “sudden and unjustified leap to conclusions.” That was part of the “bigots fallacy.” The part I was resopnding to was an area where responded to the blockquote:
“Notice the phrase “…suddenly and unjustifiably leaps to conclusions.” This clearly means the person did not attempt to justify their statements”
If you changed arguments then it was a poor job of transition. Either that or you wandered off point. The point of the bigot’s fallacy again is a jump to conclusions. An attempt to justify the assertion is not a jump. In the interest of argument, I did suggest that Alonzo and Luke would be guilty if their attempt has an egregious fallacy, although that would not technically be the “bigot’s fallacy” as Alonzo indicated.

cl –
Then you are constructing a straw man argument.

False. I criticized exactly what was said.

I justified why I think it is likely Luke was not talking about “all creationists in general.” I also would like to point out that it was an “example” meaning that it does not necessarily apply to every creationist. If you want to rebut my points on this, please. Else admit you made a mistake.

The person who makes a mistake is the person who fails to write accurately. You have to demonstrate that I’ve made a mistake. Simply asserting it won’t pass. I rebutted your points.

I was being kind before but seriously, I don’t think it could be any more painfully obvious that Luke was not saying “all creationists in general.” Are painfully obvious things over your head? At the very least “the creationist” and “all creationists in general” are not logically equivalent. The first assumes at least one creationist while the latter assumes all. Also, I gave reasons that backed up this obvious assumption and you have not responded to them.

cl –
Seeing as how you absolutely ignored his justification, and instead acted as if the justification did not even exist, you may want to go through and point out any specific fallacies. I’m all ears.

You say you’re “all ears” but it’s as if you’re not even listening. I’ll try again: I did not “ignore” Alonzo’s “justification,” whatsoever. I pointed out the fallacy: sweeping generalization.

I have responded to this already. Alonzo justified the generalization and I asked you to find any fallacy in his justification, which you still fail to do.


Where did you quote the full section? You merely quoted one the first and one of the last lines.

In my own post. Note a post is not a comment, though, I understand many use them interchangeably.

Then cite your post and give some quotes and show how these quotes refute what Alonzo says. In your original post, you failed to even communicate that Alonzo even attempted justification and even acted as if he did not. This is unbelievably misleading.

cl –
He justifies why this wont just apply to some Creationists (young earth), but almost all Creationists (young earth), especially the ones of the competence for elected office.

False. You have very low standards for justification, and you don’t even cite the “justification” you allude to. Cite it, and I’ll gladly show you why I disagree.

seeing as how I’m defending the article and have clearly sourced it, I’d assume you would have checked what was obviously justification. However, I will humor you:


The character trait I looked at is a willingness to blind oneself to evidence. The evidence for evolution and for the Earth being over 4 billion years old is so overwhelming that only a person with a morally irresponsible disposition to ignore evidence would not accept it. Assuming only that he has the mental faculties that would qualify him as a moral agent.

A person cannot contribute to making sound policy on a wide range of matters – some of them being matters of life and death – without an appreciation of the fact of evolution and of an earth that is over 10,000 years old.

He cannot make sound policy on environmental matters, for example, because an understanding of evolution is vital to the understanding of how living creatures interact with their environment. It is even crucial to understanding how humans interact with their environment and, to some degree, how they interact with each other.
Young earth creationists cannot be trusted to make good policy in matters of medicine or medical care. Humans are evolved beings. Our organs are the results of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Understanding human biology – a necessary component of understanding health issues – requires an understanding an evolved system.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and other natural disasters are currently understood as the results of plate tectonics, which we understand by seeing their effects on billions of years of geologic history. Young-earth creationists blind themselves to the very scientific truths that are being used to understand these phenomena, and thus prevent the death and destruction that they cause.

Agriculture and animal husbandry also depend on an understanding of evolution. We alter the composition of our crops and our herds of animals over time using the same mechanisms that nature uses to alter species over hundreds of millions of years. A person who blinds himself to facts about how natural selection works also has to be blinding himself to facts about how artificial selection works. The only differences between the two are the criteria being used to change plants and animals over time.

Young earth creationists will also ultimately be responsible for the widespread destruction of dozens of coastal cities due to sea-level rise. Their blindness to science made them perfect victims to the propaganda of oil companies who felt that feeding a few more dollars into their bank accounts was more important than preserving coastal cities from destruction. There is a strong correspondence between blinding oneself to the science of evolution and blinding oneself to the science of climate change.

Besides, the science of climate change is a science of what has happened to the Earth’s climate over the past 500,000 years in specific, and more generally over the billions of years that the Earth has existed. If somebody has already blinded himself to the facts of an earth that is over 10,000 years old, then he has blinded himself to the facts relevant to climate policy extracted from ice core samples and other evidence laid down hundreds of thousands to hundreds of millions of years ago.

These failures will lead to policies that will get some people killed and others maimed. They will contribute to the widespread destruction of whole cities in the centuries to come and they will promote sickness over health.

People who do not understand the real world in which we live cannot be trusted to make policy that actually works in the real world.

As you can see, Alonzo points out numerous examples of problems that would exist, and cause death and destruction, from a person who believes the earth is 6K years old and without evolutionary forces. For example:
Recently, Sen. Sylvia Allen claimed the earth is only 6,000 years old. She also claimed that because we have not gone extinct over this period, climate change could not possibly be occurring.

cl –
Is there evidence of another reason people would be protesting other than for the reasons he justified as bigoted?

Yes. I supplied one when I cited Welsh.

You wrote from Welsh:
“You used the emotionally charged word “bigot” and conflated all of those who are against the building of the mosque as bigots. You have not established that all positions opposing the community centre are bigoted. ”
Where is the example? I fail to see one. All it suggests is that there are examples without mentioning one. I am asking for an example so I can tell if its justified.

cl –
The problem is that you spoke as if they had no justification at all.

I spoke thus because they have no justification at all. They attempted a justification, but I do not agree that attempted justification can exonerate them of the charges.

Okay, I thought this was obvious but I will amend my quote “The problem is that you spoke as if they had not even attempted a justification at all.”

cl –
Also, once again, please show whats wrong with their justifications.

How many more times are you going to ask me to repeat myself? That some creationists and anti-mosque protesters X does not mean all of them X.

I will continue asking until you give me an answer that is not a strawman. I have said over and over that no honest interpretation of any of the articles can give you the assumption they were only talking about “some.” Do I need to break this down Barney style and quantify EACH statement like I did with the quote by Luke about “the creationist”? I have backed this up already and I’m sick of repeating myself.

cl –
There may have been reasons, but Alonzo’s article shows that, chances are, these people may have been at best exceptions to the rule.

Ah, yes… “chances are.” What a crock. You don’t get to just make stuff up.

I didn’t just make this stuff up. In fact I justified it:
“If you are marching in a parade that opposes a Muslim’s right to build a mosque in a certain location because other Muslims performed an act of terror on that spot, then you almost certainly believe that.”

cl –
Besides, if those people were “exceptions to the rule,” then, to label everyone in the protest a “bigot” is to commit the Bigot’s Fallacy.

It sounds like you are saying I can’t call a KKK rally “bigots on parade” because I don’t personally know every one of them is a bigot. I have already showed the problem with this multiple times and I talked about “exceptions to the rule” before we even began talking. You never seemed to have a problem with it. We can’t say “nazi’s are bigots” or “child rapists are perverts” because we don’t personally know every individual Nazi or child rapist.

cl –
Cite this “evidence” you allude to. I saw no such evidence.

Once again, I will humor you:

I can see no difference between this group of people gathering to protest this community center in New York and a group of white people gathering to protest the fact that a black family is trying to buy a lot and build a home in the neighborhood.

Imagine this: A black family has purchased a lot with plans to build a house there and move in. Two blocks away from the lot, a black man went on a shooting spree in the park, killing a dozen or so citizens. Now some people protest the black family who want to build a house two blocks from the site of the killing spree.

Are we to believe the protestors are not bigots? An undercurrent of bigotry is required to even think that this black family that wants to move into the neighborhood is somehow connected to that mass killing. In the absence of bigotry, nobody would link the two events.

To go so far as to accuse the black family of being “insensitive” for planning to build the house adds insult onto insult. This is nothing less than a command to the victims of bigotry to pay homage to that bigotry – to kneel before the altar of bigotry and say that it is far more important than a person’s right to be judged by his or her own actions.

No person has any obligation to give respect to such sensitivities of bigots.

If the Park51 protesters wish to avoid the charge of bigotry, then I would recommend that they do so by not being bigots. They can easily avoid the charge of bigotry by judging the construction of a Muslim community center 2 blocks from the World Trade Center the same way they would judge the construction of a YMCA. Of course, they would not protest the latter, so if they were not bigots they would not be protesting the former, either.
He Justified his reasons and responded well to criticisms.

cl –
Rather, I saw Alonzo take one of several possible motives for protesting, then assume that all in the protest shared the motives. He did not heed his own advice of judging each person on his or her own actions.

Once again, what other possible motives would these people have for taking part in a protest that opposes a Muslim’s right to build a mosque in a certain location because other Muslims performed an act of terror on that spot.

cl –
But he did. If you are marching in a parade that opposes a Muslim’s right to build a mosque in a certain location because other Muslims performed an act of terror on that spot, then you almost certainly believe that.

No, he didn’t. Assumption is not justification. Opposing a Muslim’s right to build a mosque because other Muslims performed an act of terror is one of many possible reasons to protest the building of the mosque.

Please name another possible reason. I would expect there to be many such protests to building mosques all over the US whenever one is built. Please give me examples of these. Else, one must wonder why the only such protest occurs when one is being built near “ground zero.”
Just to reiterate a note: “Actually, if you protest their right to build a house of worship because you oppose their ideology (although their may be rare exceptions to the rule), then that is bigotry.”

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hector@blogspace.org January 9, 2011 at 7:09 am

I guess that even the phrase “you have good reasons to doubt it.” has many of the above problems as well, because any given reader of the statement may indeed not feel they have any of those good reasons to doubt the veracity of it, even that weak as nuns-piss statement may cause offence.

Perhaps something like ‘We do not believe that gods are real beings, and we sure do enjoy ridiculing those who do!’ would be an unambiguous enough message for a billboard.

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Blair Scott January 9, 2011 at 8:59 am

The billboard says religions are scams. It does not say religious people are scammers.

But even so, there are sincere people out there who truly think they are psychics. Are you suggesting that the statement “You KNOW psychics are all SCAMS” is bigoted? Untrue?

Stop giving special treatment to religious nonsense. Stop being afraid to tell the truth about religion.

If find it rather funny that all of the armchair quarterbacks never actually contacted American Atheists and asked us what we meant and what our target audience was, etc.

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Hermes January 9, 2011 at 9:32 am

If find it rather funny that all of the armchair quarterbacks never actually contacted American Atheists and asked us what we meant and what our target audience was, etc.

Blair, I sent in a note of thanks to AA after listening to one of Dave Silverman’s talks about the adds and I received a polite reply back. I admit that I didn’t get it initially, but that after listening to the explanation it became clear that the adds were brilliant.

Let me again thank your organization in general and you personally for your efforts in support of a more secular and sane society.

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Steven January 9, 2011 at 11:23 am

Steven,
I read people at face value, and try to avoid making assumptions. Luke should say exactly what he means, and that’s all there is to it.

That said, let’s say I actually agreed with you that Luke only had “the sort of Creationists that mislead others” in mind. What about the other two statements?
Are you going to claim that there, too, the context was only “the sort of Creationists that mislead others?”

You seem to be asking for people to spend time saying every little tiny thing. Not only is that incredibly burdensome for the one making the article, it also becomes quickly redundant, unnecessary and boring for a person analyzing what is said as the REAL point gets weighed down by rather trivial matters; the only reason (assuming I’m correct about context) why Luke should have been more specific is if we were putting every word to trail trying to find a fault with his semantics rather than his points. And again, reading necessitates not taking everything at face value. That’s what connotation, context, tone, etc. are and why they’re vital parts of reading comprehension.

As for the other quotes…I’m not sure whether they’re in the same article and therefore same context or are taken from elsewhere, but it doesn’t really matter as I feel that neither prove that Luke is bigoted or committing the bigot’s fallacy, but rather, they necessitate slightly different responses.

Quote 1 (Taken from a different context): Nothing wrong with that quote. It just says that a Creationist for some reason or another fails to actually seek out the full evidence or even give the idea that maybe there is a valid reason for scientists to claim what they claim. If they leave their search at God or some Creationist book without fully searching the other side, then we can say that they didn’t really have the desire to get all the evidence. True, if someone doesn’t know that there is modern science and has lived under a rock, unknowing of evolution and only know Christianity then I suppose the quote doesn’t fully apply, but again, that scenario is just so extreme that Luke isn’t obliged to list exceptions because those are besides the main point. Problem? (couldn’t resist).

Quote 1 (Same Context): This quote also fully applies to those sort of Creationists.

Quote2 Note: I’ll admit I have no clear idea what Luke is saying here. All I know it has something to do with knowledge, and I have the suspicion it’s just a fancier way of saying what the other quote said, so unless I’m mistaken, it’s pretty much what the above part said.

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Alonzo Fyfe January 10, 2011 at 8:06 am

Blair Scott

The billboard says religions are scams. It does not say religious people are scammers.

That is as absurd as trying to claim, “We said that these people were murdered. We did not say that the people who killed them were murderers,”

or

“We said that these women were raped. We did not say that the people who did this were rapists.”

One implies the other.

In fact, one of the things that surprises me about the issue is that people come up with things in its defense that are as absurdly irrational as the defenses I see in favor of some religious beliefs.

It pretty much goes to show that atheists are as vulnerable to psychologically comforting fictions as theists and will not tolerate any amount of reasoned argument against those comforting beliefs.

But even so, there are sincere people out there who truly think they are psychics. Are you suggesting that the statement “You KNOW psychics are all SCAMS” is bigoted? Untrue?

Yes.

If a doctor prescribed treatment for an illness that did not work, would you call that a scam?

No.

If there were medical research that showed that the treatment did not work, but the doctor sincerely believed that it did work, is that a scam?

No. It is malpractice . . . but it is not a scam.

In order to get apply the charge of “scam” or “fraud” you have to demonstrate intent. You have to demonstrate that the doctor made statements he almost certainly knew to be false and was motivated to make these false statements by the prospect of economic, social, or political gain.

The statement of religion that “They all have intent to mislead” is simply false.

Stop giving special treatment to religious nonsense. Stop being afraid to tell the truth about religion.

Now, this is a red hering – another rhetorical trick common among those who try to defend religion. Divert the debate onto a different subject.

In my post you will not find anyplace where I argued in favor of giving religion special treatment. Nowhere did I argue that, “Using false and derogatory overgeneralizations is okay, except when you apply them to religion.”

I said that using false and derogatory overgeneralizations are wrong no matter who you apply them to. It is a principle that treats religion like everything else.

Besides, my objection is precisely that the claim, “All religions involve an intent to mislead” is FALSE.

It is a demand to RESPECT TRUTH and to refrain from making false statements simply because they can score political points.

If find it rather funny that all of the armchair quarterbacks never actually contacted American Atheists and asked us what we meant and what our target audience was, etc.

I addressed the “target audience” issue and showed that it doesn’t matter. A statement of the form, “You know that all homosexuals are after an opportunity to rape your children” may well have a “target audience” of those who believe this. But that does not matter. What matters is that what they are saying to that target audience is FALSE – and a particular type of falsehood that is a derogatory overgeneralization.

It also does not matter what you “meant”. You are free to invent your own private language in the halls of American Atheists where words mean whatever you want them to mean. But the meaning of a billboard posted in public is the meaning that it has to those who will read that billboard.

The plain English meaning of “scam” involves an intent to mislead.

Really, have you EVER heard anybody say, sincerely “Well, yes, I did scam you, but I didn’t mean to.” Talk of unintentional scamming is as bizarre as talk of round squares or married bachelors. It doesn’t happen among competent speakers of English.

Furthermore, you are embarrassing yourself and all atheists by insisting on holding on to this absurd falsehood in the face of all reasoned argument to the contrary. You are substantially demonstrating that when it comes to the irrational defense of psychologically comfortable beliefs, the American Atheists are just as good at this as any theist.

The statement on your billboard is FALSE.

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Patrick January 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

The verb form of “scam” is rarely used without referencing intentionality. The noun form is not.

But that comment probably won’t matter since clearly you are COMPLETELY out of your depth. And yes, I did notice you moving from a claim that a word objectively means one and only one thing to a claim that the plain English meaning of a word has only the meaning you are asserting.

Oh, and for what its worth, there are enough definitions of “rape” that both of the following statements can be true about the same act of intercourse:

1. She was raped.
2. He is not a rapist.

This is because a forced act of sexual penetration is often considered a rape, without regard to the intention of the person doing it, but whether someone has committed rape and/or is a rapist is almost always determined by intent.

Courses on rape law actually spend a great deal of time focusing on this discrepancy in how people think and speak. Recognizing the discrepancy was, for me, the key to getting through that portion of law school. Suddenly a bunch of legal theorists and commentators made so much more sense- they were approaching the question from different angles, and that meant that words didn’t always mean exactly the same thing from one writer to the next.

Anyways, sorry to keep infuriating you by pointing out that human social reality is more complex than you’d prefer.

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Duke York January 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

I realize I’ve made these points before, but I think they got lost in the rush. I’m interested in Alonso’s thoughts, so I want to bring them up again.

The plain English meaning of “scam” involves an intent to mislead.

Doesn’t this mean we can never correctly use the word “scam”? If it’s a going concern, then of course everyone involved will swear up and down they’re being honest, whether they are or not.

What if the billboard had read “All religions are run like scams.”?

What if a snake-oil salesman wanted to swindle people but, through dumb luck, managed to formulate a nostrum that actually worked? If I understand your view correctly, this would still be a scam, right.?

Duke

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Alonzo Fyfe January 10, 2011 at 11:19 am

Duke York

Doesn’t this mean we can never correctly use the word “scam”? If it’s a going concern, then of course everyone involved will swear up and down they’re being honest, whether they are or not.

It does not matter what the everyone involved will swear to. It matters what the fact is.

There are a great many moral crimes that require intent from lying to theft to murder. In each of these cases we can expect the agent to deny intent. But the question of whether a person lies, steals, scams, or murders depends on what the facts are, not on what the person claims.

And we do not have to rely on a person’s testimony. We can get enough evidence of a person’s behavior to draw the conclusion that the best explanation for his behavior includes intent. We do it all the time.

What if a snake-oil salesman wanted to swindle people but, through dumb luck, managed to formulate a nostrum that actually worked? If I understand your view correctly, this would still be a scam, right.?

What if I go into your house with the intention of robbing you of the money in your wallet. I find a wallet on the table. I open it, take all the money, and leave.

But, unknown to me, I lost my own wallet on the bus that morning. You found it and sat the wallet on your table, so the money I took was actually the money from my own wallet.

Am I guilty of theft?

You can debate these types of issues until the end of time.

Language is a tool – an invention. It is not very precise and it is easy to come up with an infinite set of examples in which the meaning of a term is fuzzy around the edges. That’s just the way language works.

The fact that many terms are fuzzy around the edges – that we will always have these types of questions – does not imply that no claim can ever be false or that all claims must be taken as true.

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Alonzo Fyfe January 10, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Patrick

And yes, I did notice you moving from a claim that a word objectively means one and only one thing to a claim that the plain English meaning of a word has only the meaning you are asserting.

I would like to see where you found me claiming that any word has an “objective” meaning.

The meaning of a term is the idea that one can reasonably expect that term to bring up in the mind of the expected audience given the context in which the term was used.

Ultimately, this is an empirical question.

In this context, can we reasonably expect the audience (people who drive down the road) to take it making a moral statement – one that attributes all religious leaders of wrongdoing? Is this accusing religious leaders of all religions of deliberate deception?

I hold that it does.

In fact, I hold that it is so obvious that the term “scam” entails intentionality in this context that disputing it requires the type of mental gymnastics we find in people trying to hold onto a literal interpretation of the Bible.

When somebody tries to deny it, my reasponse is “Really? You want to stand in front of me and actually claim something that is so obviously false? And you still want me to see you as defenders of truth and reason? C’mon – you can have one or the other. You can’t have both.”

I would go so far as to say that the attribution of intent is so obvious in this case that it would be remarkable that the American Atheists did not realize this when they put up the sign. However, they went with the sign anyway because they value getting their name in the paper more than they value truth.

Accordingly, all the arguments that I see to the contrary or rhetorical tricks whose primary purpose is to put up a verbal smoke screen.

Yet, in the end, this is still an empirical question.

Is it or is it not the case that this phrase in this context will be taken as an attribution of intentionaly on the part of the vast majority of the people in its intended audience?

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Patrick January 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I am glad to see that you recognize that this is ultimately an empirical question. I do not believe that the “vast majority” of the intended audience will take it as an attribution of intentionality. I believe they will take it in the legitimate, commonly used in the vernacular, and available in the dictionary meaning of a deceptive enterprise. I also do not believe that the statement as phrased will even make them consider the intentionality of all clergy everywhere. I suspect they will take it in the same way that I would take the phrase, “Scientology is a scam,” which I would not interpret as meaning that all scientologists or all scientologist leaders are intentionally trying to bilk you, but rather as an assertion that scientology, as an enterprise, will sell you false ideas and take your time, money, and energy.

And even if people DID think that intentionality was implied, which I doubt they will do, I also don’t think people will have any more trouble with this statement than they would with the statement, “Conservatives don’t really believe in controlling the national debt,” or the statement, “Mexican immigrants just want to make a decent living,” or the statement “Commenters on this blog are wise enough not to believe your nonsense,” or any other statement that refers to a group of people without including a caveat clause. As I’ve said before, most of us have been speaking this language since birth, and we know how its done.

They’ll probably still be ANGRY, mind you, because the audience is going to mostly be Christians. And much like the British Chiropractors attacking Simon Singh, or the Republicans defending George Bush, there will no doubt be efforts to do exactly what you’ve done here: select the least favorable possible meaning, and insist that it be interpreted in the most offensive possible way. But that’s not the same as actually demonstrating that what was said was actually false.

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Duke York January 10, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Ah! I’ve just realized where I have the disconnect with you. I’ve been reading the billboard as a description of how religions operate — taking money from people under threat and deception and returning little of value. You’ve been reading it as a statement of moral condemnation, that religious people are intentionally deceptive.

Would you object if the billboard had said “You know religions operate like scams”?

If you would object to it, how would you say, on a billboard, that religions would be scams if the people running them had fraudulent intent? It seems to me this is a true statement and one that is worthy to make.

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Alonzo Fyfe January 11, 2011 at 8:11 am

Patrick

They’ll probably still be ANGRY . . . there will no doubt be efforts to do exactly what you’ve done here: select the least favorable possible meaning, and insist that it be interpreted in the most offensive possible way. But that’s not the same as actually demonstrating that what was said was actually false.

As I see it, you have a method that prevents anything from being proved false – just change the meanings of the terms.

2 + 2 = 5. False? Nope, just change the definition of the terms and now it’s true.

Heck, I look up the definition online and all I get are definitions that describe it as a confidence game or an intent to defaud.

In all cases below, I have copied all instances of the term used at the site, not just the ones that favor my interpretation. None of them list a usage that fails to imply intention.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/scam

(1) A fraudulent business scheme; a swindle.

(2) To defraud; swindle.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/scam

1. a confidence game or other fraudulent scheme, esp. for making a quick profit; swindle.

2. to cheat or defraud with a scam.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scam

1: a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation

If it has a meaning that does not imply intention, I would expect to find evidence of it somewhere.

While dictionaries represent theories of the meanings of terms that are subject to mistake (being human contrivances), it is odd at best that not a one of them has theorized that a “scam” has a use that does not imply intention.

Nor does it make any sense to get on one’s high horse and claim that I had to put some effort to get to the most offensive interpretation possible when this is the only interpretation offered by the theories of meaning that we find.

Nor is it unreasonable to expect American Atheists to consult a dictionary to ask themselves what the term is likely to be taken to mean in English and, in discovering that all theories of the meaning of the term imply intention, deduce that people will take the term to imply intention.

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Patrick January 11, 2011 at 10:55 pm

“1: a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation ”

This does not imply intention. Deception does not always imply intent to deceive. That’s why we stick the word “willful” in front of it sometimes.

The English language has a few other foibles in it. For example, “Take care, Alonso’s argument is deceptive- it misleads not by what it includes, but by what it omits.” By reifying the argument slightly in a way that English commonly permits, the actor is no longer Alonso, its Alonso’s argument, making questions of intention moot.

As for whether I’m cheating by taking evidence of Christian anger at a billboard calling Christianity a scam as evidence of Christians not liking an insulting statement about Christianity (and perhaps searching for a public reason to advance rather than the private one they really feel) rather than evidence of Christians objecting to the assertion of intentionality in their false statements… well, not only do I think that’s kind of obvious, but as for whether I’m cheating by redefining evidence… L2Bayes. Write out the two hypotheses, and ask how the evidence relates to each. You’ll get what I’m saying.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 12, 2011 at 6:48 am

Ed Buckner of American Atheists has replied to some of these criticisms here.

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Alonzo Fyfe January 12, 2011 at 11:15 am

Luke Muehlhauser

Ed Buckner of American Atheists has replied to some of these criticisms here

Well, I suppose the relevant section for this debate can be found in the following.

After citing some definitions similar to those I cited above, Buckner writes:

Given such definitions, it is reasonable to argue that someone can be victimized by a scam even when the immediate agent for victimization is wholly unaware of the fraudulent nature of the transaction.

Here is another example of how an agent – even one who does not believe in God – can abandon reason when it comes into conflict with a psychologically comfortable belief.

I have not raised the objection that the sign says that the the immediate agent involved in selling religion is always aware of the fraudulent nature of the transaction. The sign still says that there is always an agent who knows that the claim is false who is, nonetheless, promoting these false claims for reasons of economic, political, and social gain.

And it can’t be sufficient to claim, “Well, I am certain that if I look hard enough I can find somebody who fraudulently represented the organization for personal gain.” If this were the standard for a scam, then every business and organization – including non-profit organizations – are scams. This standard would extend the meaning of the term “scam” so far so as to make it meaningless.

No. To be a scam, the dominant current motivation behind the project has to be an intent to defraud. Again, it’s simply not true.

Ultimately, the sign represents an instance where a desire to cause anger and get one’s name in the paper overwhelmed an interst in the truth. The efforts to defend the sign simply demonstrate that atheists are just as good as theists at comming up with rationalizations to try to salvage a psychologically comfortable proposition that is absurdly false.

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Anton Hill January 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Hey Luke,

Good post on the billboard. I almost entirely disagree with your assertions on the structure of the billboard message and the billboard message itself being false, and I find some of what you claimed to be ironically and easily demonstrably false considering what you claimed about American Atheists’ message, which you can read all about on my above-referenced site, but I’m glad you brought it up and I certainly think that your criticisms are worth discussion.

Best,

Anton.

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Eric January 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

@Anton
Actually Alonzo Fyfe wrote this

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Anton Hill January 16, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Eric and Luke,

Apologies around! I don’t know how I missed Eric’s point, but I did. And considering on my site, I criticized Luke for not reading closely enough, the pie is, in fact, in my face. Thanks for pointing this out!

Best,

Anton.

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Luke Muehlhauser January 16, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Anton,

A common mistake, trust me.

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Anton Hill January 16, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Luke,

Good to know. I still tore Fyfe’s logic a new one as it richly deserved.

So Alonzo, if you’re interested in my counter to your assertions, drop by atheistasshole.wordpress.com.

Best,

Anton.

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