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Logical Fallacies

I've been able to compile a list of fallacies atheists use in arguments. These are all fallacies that an atheist has used in debate with me at one time or another.

Argumentum ad antiquitatem (the argument to antiquity or tradition)

This is the argument that something is right or acceptable because of tradition or history. This is an extremely popular fallacy in debate with atheists; for example, "Atheism has been around a lot longer then Christianity or belief in gods. Atheism is the default position." or "Every great civilization in history has eventually evolved away from belief in gods."

Argumentum ad hominem (argument directed at the person)

This is the error of attacking the person who has stated an idea, rather than the idea itself. The most obvious example of this fallacy is someone attacks the character of the person with the opposing point of view (e.g, "Christians are nothing more than bigots!"). These are pretty easy to spot so most people don't make that mistake.

A more typical manifestation of argumentum ad hominem is attacking a source of information -- for example, responding to a quotation from Bill Clinton on the subject of his non-profit organization, "We all know Clinton was a liar and a cheat, so why should we believe anything he says or does?"

Example in Atheism: "Christianity can't be right about the topic of god because most Christians are closed minded and rude." or "People who believe in gods are deceived and are just following the traditions of what they were taught growing up."

Argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument to ignorance)

This is the fallacy of arguing that something is true just because it hasn't been proved false. For example, an atheist will say "It is true that there are no gods because no one has proved that there is a god." This is the aspect of burden of proof. Atheists are notorious for arguing that believers in god have the sole burden of proof and they use that argument to remain atheists. For example, "Christians have the burden of proof to prove that their god exists. Until they prove it I will remain an atheist." Obviously this is a thinking error. The burden of proof is a shared burden. Atheists have as much responsibility to prove their position as Christians (or other believers) do.

Another aspect of argumentum ad ignorantiam is requiring unnecessary or impossible proof. For example, "I will believe there is a god when he/she shows up at my house and performs a miracle." or "Unless god shows himself and walks on water so that I can see it happen I refuse to believe in a god."

Argumentum ad nauseam (argument to the point of disgust; i.e., by repetition)

This is the fallacy of trying to prove something by repeating it over and over again and expectation that the repetition alone will substitute for real arguments. Repetition doesn't make something more true or false.

Example in Atheism: "There is no god... There is no godů Like I told you before, there is no god."

Argumentum ad populum (argument or appeal to the public)

This is the fallacy of trying to prove something by arguing that the majority of popular opinion agrees with you. For an example, "There are now more atheists then theists and deists combined." Just because it's popular opinion doesn't mean it's correct.

Begging the question

This fallacy is similar to the circular reasoning fallacy. It happens when what you are trying to prove is already assumed. Atheists are notorious for making this fallacy. An over simplified example is, "there is no god because there is no god." But that doesn't tell us WHY atheists believe there is no god.

Another example is the argument atheists often use about lack of belief. They will often argue that "Atheism isn't belief. Atheism is the lack of belief." This is nothing more than a play on words. It's not a valid argument and it begs the question of what is the difference between not believing and having lack of belief and what does "lack of belief" mean to the individual. "Lack of belief" is a pretty subjective phrase.

Dicto simpliciter (sweeping generalization)

This is the fallacy of making a sweeping statement and expecting it to be true of every specific case -- in other words, stereotyping. Example: "The majority of believers in god are religious folks, therefore, the concept of god is a completely religious idea and we all know how harmful religion can be." The problem is that the sweeping statement may be true (The majority of believers in god are religious folks), but it is not necessarily true for every member of the group in question (there are some people who believe in a god who aren't religious and there are some who are religious who don't believe in a god).

Cum hoc or Post hoc ergo propter hoc (with this, therefore because of this)

A person making this fallacy will confuse correlation for causation. In other words, just because two things occur simultaneously doesn't necessarily mean that one must be a cause of the other. A popular example of this fallacy is the argument that "The political left has great economic policies; just look at how well the economy does while liberals are in office!" It may just be a coincidence or the economic improvements may be the result of a lag in time (e.g., the current economy's health is determined by the actions of previous presidents), or the two things may be unconnected to each other, but related to a common cause (e.g., an increase in taxes upset a lot of voters causing them to elect a new president just before the economy began to benefit from the increase in taxes).

Example in atheism: "God doesn't exist because there is evil and pain in the world. It is taught that god is beneficent. Therefore, because evil exists god must not exist." The obvious question here is can a god and 'evil in the world' co-exist? The answer is "of course". There could be a thousand reasons for why a god and evil exist simultaneously.

Naturalistic fallacy

This is the fallacy of trying to form a values conclusions (what is right or good) from statements of fact alone. This is invalid because any logical inference from facts will be another statement of fact, not a statement of value. If you wish to reach conclusions about values, then you must include amongst your assumptions (or axioms, or premises) a statement of value. Once you have an axiomatic statement of value, then you may use it in conjunction with statements of fact to reach value-laden conclusions.

For example, someone might argue that the premise, "Science has concluded that naturalistic causes are solely responsible for the origins of life. You should therefore believe that a god does not exist." This reasoning is invalid, however, because the former statement is a statement of fact, while the latter is a statement of value. The conclusion that "you should not believe a god exists", is not a valid conclusion from the premise.

Non Sequitur ("It does not follow")

This is the simple fallacy of forming a conclusion about something that does not strictly follow from the premises or that may have another explanation. For example, atheists will often argue that scientific study has proved that there are naturalistic causes of the universe, therefore god doesn't exist. The problem is that there are many explanations of this phenomenon. The scientists who assert this could be biased or god could have created the universe to appear to have originated from natural processes or god could have created the naturalistic processes that have in turn created the world. Just because there are naturalistic explanations for the origins of life doesn't negate the existence of a god.

One-Sided Assessment

This is a fallacy committed by many atheists when they ignore arguments of evidence from religion since it isn't science. Many atheists will argue that they will only consider the scientific evidence since it is science that tells us that there is no causal agent at work in the formation of the universe and since science tells us that there is no need for a god. Some atheists will take this one step further and refuse to believe even the science unless the science is performed by non religious scientists. For example, "If you can't repeat it in the laboratory, I'm not going to believe it. You can't prove god exists in the laboratory so I'm remaining an atheist."

Red herring

This is the fallacy of bringing irrelevant facts or ideas to an argument in order to distract from the topic at hand. It could be simple illogic or a purposeful diversionary tactic. For example, "You say that there is a god but look at the way Christians portray Jesus Christ. Jesus is portrayed as a Caucasian male. We all know that the Bible puts Jesus in the Middle East. How can Christians portray a white male when he was Middle Eastern? This makes me question the sincerity of their belief in god." Another example (one of my favorites) "If atheism is a belief then bald is a hair color." While that may be a clever tongue-in-cheek comment, it's far from a valid argument. Hair color and the debate about god are unrelated and the hair color comment only serves to distract from the issue at hand.

Slippery slope

This fallacy is an argument that says adopting one idea or belief will lead to a series of ideas or beliefs, without showing a causal connection between the two ideas or beliefs. A popular example in atheism is when atheists argue in favor of there being no gods because believing in gods will lead to atheism of other gods. For example, I observed an atheist using this fallacy in debate with a Christian. She stated, "I don't believe in the Christian god for the same reason you (the Christian) don't believe in the Buddhist god." This is the fallacy of slippery slope argumentation because there is no causal connection shown between the two beliefs.

Straw man

This fallacy occurs when a debater sets up a related but often extreme version or easier position of somebody's argument, rather than the actual argument made. It would be equal to putting words into somebody's mouth by saying they've made arguments they haven't actually made. An example in Atheism is the argument that belief in god leads to murder. "Just look at the terrorism done in the name of the Muslim god! Belief in god often leads to terrorism so I remain an atheist." It's important to remember that the major issue with this fallacy is that the opponents view has been distorted or somehow built up in a way that makes it easier to knock down.

Tu quoque ("you too")

This is the fallacy of defending an error in one's reasoning by pointing out that one's opponent has made the same error. An error is still an error, regardless of how many people make it. For example, "People who believe in a god are attacking atheists by accusing us of moral ineptitude, but just look at the Jim Bakers of the world."

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