A Non-Exhaustive List Of Traditional, And Novel, Theists’ Tacit Concessions. Or: Godwin’s Law For Religious Debates

Godwin’s Law is a well known internet maxim that, essentially, states that the longer an online debate goes on, the more likely it is that someone will compare someone/something to Hitler/the Nazis.  And that, of course, once you reach that point, the debate is functionally over. Theists have numerous gambits that serve the same debate-ending function, without even the redeeming fact that Nazis actually existed and could validly be used for comparison if the comparison was apt. All of the arguments below reflect not just basic logical/factual errors, but a total and complete abrogation of any and all reasonable epistemic standards.

Attempting to have an honest, productive debate with someone who uses these gambits is a bit like trying to conduct financial transactions with someone who keeps trying to pay with Monopoly money.

fractal wrong

The “Look At The Trees/Look Out The Window, Therefore, God” Concession: this gambit functionally concedes a debate by trying to claim that the universe itself, in its entirety, is evidence for the existence of a deity. While this (fallacious) argument can be extended with the ontological/teleological arguments, in its raw form, it is a full and complete departure from standards of evidence, due to a total and complete lack of specificity.  Even a First-Cause-No-Infinite-Regression-And-No-Backsiez presupposition, does not point to anything more than some sort of general causal factor; going from a vague deistic description, to an actual personal god, is sophistry.

As is, I hope, readily apparent, this gambit functionally concedes the debate, because it tacitly admits that there is no objective evidence that points to one specific conclusion and that, instead, one simply has to choose which claim to ascribe to the universe.   “Look out your windows at the trees, therefore, Yahweh” is no stronger than “look out your windows at the trees, therefore, pixies”.

As for the argument that, since reality exists at all, that your claim must be right?  It is, in point of fact, a confession that your argument began with presuppositionism, and never got past it. “If reality exists, there is a god. Reality exists, therefore, god” is as far as this argument can possibly go. And since “reality existing” is redundant to the point of tautology, the argument’s form can be reduced to “reality and god exist” and, by eliminating redundancy, simply to “god exists”.

It isn’t a true logical argument – it’s simply an unevinced claim masquerading as a substantiated conclusion.

The “You’re Not Infallible, Therefore, God” Concession: This gambit starts from the problem of induction, and runs right into God of the Gaps. Our inability to achieve perfect certainty in this world does not, in fact, mean that we need to throw up our hands and declare that your opinions are as valuable as someone else’s facts.   Just because we don’t have perfect certainty does not mean that we can’t have confidence intervals. No, I can not be sure that my car doesn’t turn into a talking unicorn when I’m not looking at it, but that doesn’t mean that a claim like that should be given the same weight as someone saying that my car will just remain a nice, ordinary car.

If your argument can only be supported by denying the that there should be any standards for what we call knowledge itself, then you must, perforce, be arguing for an ignorance-based argument.

The “Brain In A Jar, Therefore, God” Concession: This is, perhaps, a subset of the Infallibility gambit, but it takes a slightly different form; this gambit goes beyond the Infallibility gambit in order to argue not just that we can’t achieve perfect certainty, but that we should radically doubt even the fact that we’re experiencing reality, at all.  Instead of trying to pick at the edges of confidence intervals, as the Infallibility gambit does, this approach attempts to utterly annihilate objective reality itself.  And while we cannot accurately speak on the truth value of such solipsistic arguments, we can speak to their utility.

In the context of objective reality, the Brain in a Jar gambit is completely lacking in utility. Accepting it as true, actively hinders survival precisely to the degree that someone accepts it as true. That dynamic doesn’t make it a concession, it simply evinces the fact that such conclusions are utterly useless at best and harmful at worst.   What makes it a tacit concession in a debate, is that someone needs to completely abandon the idea of knowledge, in toto; in order to carry this position, a theist argues that because we can’t know anything, we know there’s a god. In order to carry this position, a theist has to argue that any wild claim is just as good as any other, because the entire world may be an illusion anyways.

A good rule of thumb: if your argument only begins to become plausible once you say that anything that you dream up might really exist, you’ve abandoned reason and are engaging in a rousing game of Let’s Make Believe and tacitly admitting that you can only make your case by completely destroying the concept of knowledge, itself.

The “I Have Had Mystic Personal Experiences, Therefore, God” Concession: This gambit tacitly concedes the debate since it admits, on the face of it, that there’s no objective component to these ‘revelations’. Saying things like “I have been shown things in my personal life that prove to me that a god exists” is functionally equivalent to saying “I prefer chocolate to vanilla”. It is not functionally equivalent to saying “carbon has six protons.”

Arguing objective factual claims on the basis of subjective experience, not only tacitly concedes that you have no objective evidence, it also abandons any and all standards for determining the truth value of a claim – even if it wasn’t an hallucination, was your experience evidence of aliens, angels, demons, the Loa, Ahura Mazda, the Demiurge, or something else? A debater who retreats to the Mystical Experiences gambit is explicitly endorsing a system that makes it impossible to tell the difference between an hallucination (and/or misinterpretation) and reality, and then asking you to take their word that their claims are true. But not, ya know, all of those other epistemicly equal claimed gods, demons, monsters, etc, etc, etc.

The “You Can’t Falsify An Unfalsifiable Claim, Therefore, God” Concession a.k.a. The “Prove God Doesn’t Exist” Concession: When someone uses this gambit, they concede the debate by tacitly admitting that they can’t actually support their claim, and all they can do is to try to make their opponent jump through enough hoops, and engage in enough digressions, that the debate can be shifted to another topic. Shifting the Burden of Proof like this is fairly standard among theists; it’s a tacit concession  because it simultaneously admits that the debater using it can’t actually substantiate their own claim, and reveals that the person making the claim simply doesn’t comprehend epistemology.  It is, in short, evidence that the person using it, is most likely unable to participate in a debate on the level of competent debaters.

Imagine if a friend told you that they went to visit Japan, and you ask to see pictures. Upon hearing that, they demand that you supply proof that they weren’t in Japan. If it’s likely that they went to Japan, you might consider them to be emotionally unbalanced. But if you had reasons to doubt that they’d been to Japan, you might consider them to be evasive, dishonest, and deliberately withholding evidence because their claims of evidence were mere pretense.

And that’s if the claim that’s being made, is falsifiable in the first place. If someone made a claim like “a tiny invisible green elf is floating above my head, but he’ll phase out of reality if you try to interact with him”, and then demanded that you prove them wrong, you’d probably go from thinking that they were merely emotionally unbalanced, to thinking that they were out of their mind.

(At this point, I would humbly suggest that if an argument requires you to adopt the thought-patterns of a lunatic, it might not in fact be a great argument).


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