One of the most aggravating logical fallacies I see Christians use is the circular argument. That means that the argument’s premise must be assumed to be true to get to the conclusion, which is similarly assumed to be true, and the conclusion then links you straight to the premise again. Neither the premise nor the conclusion is actually demonstrated to be true; both must be assumed to be truthful and accurate for the argument to work. Many Christians love this one and use it constantly as a prop for their religious faith–and a bludgeon for outsiders.
A while ago I was fooling around on YouTube when I noticed a video that was labelled “Can you still be an Atheist after watching this?” (All sic, of course.) It was a lot like the others of its ilk–daring “atheists” (scare quotes because what they mean is “non-Christians,” but the most toxic sorts of Christian have trouble separating those two boogeymen and often conflate the two) like we’re twelve years old and dressed in onesies at a slumber party to watch the video. OH NOES, NOT A DARE! I CAN’T TURN DOWN A DARE! WHATEVER WILL THE OTHER GIRLS THINK OF ME? Of course the host of the video was implying that anybody who viewed this video would quickly realize that Christianity is totally, totally true and valid.
What the hey, it wasn’t a long video, and as I’ve mentioned I think of myself as open-minded, so I watched the video. I’ve got nothing to fear from the truth. In it, some Good Ole Preacherboys in suits up on a church stage discuss why they think the Bible is true. It had that painfully earnest look and swelling music of a Christian video, but I watched. I was willing to at least entertain their idea, though I was also wondering what logical fallacy they’d pull out of their rumps to explain exactly why their religion was bulletproof.
I wasn’t that worried. Let’s face facts: Christianity’s had 2000 years to come up with something really compelling that isn’t a logical fallacy or a play upon a cognitive bias; it’s doubtful that a pair of redneck evangelicals waving and thumping Bibles (which Suit 1 did often to bolster his arguments, incidentally, in gestures that seemed to me to be magical in nature, like he was trying hard to cloak himself in the book’s magic powers) aren’t going to be the Magic Christians who discover how to explain the Bible’s numerous errors and inconsistencies just right to a disbelieving world. But again, I’d at least hear them out.
The video started with the words “Overwhelming evidence for Christ!” Well, that’s not a depressing setup. As I’ve mentioned, objective, credible evidence for Jesus’ existence simply doesn’t exist, much less “overwhelming” evidence, any more than it exists for any of the Bible’s other historical and scientific claims. As hilarious as it is to watch Christians try so hard to produce this evidence they think is so plentiful, it’s also painful–remember, I once thought that way too, only to see just how pathetically nonexistent that evidence is. It is, again, a cruel setup, a cruel dilemma that way too many Christian leaders push at believers, telling them that either they parrot nonsense or else go with reality and thereby deny their god. It’s sickening to me to see believer after believer confronted with this awful choice.
Suddenly the video cuts to a Dawkins debate. A very unloving-sounding Christian belligerently demands of Dawkins what he’d think of someone who’d met the “living Christ,” going on at length about his feelings about his god. I’m not sure why he felt the need to keep talking about all these “real” attributes he gave to his god, but Dawkins, of course, responds that he thinks the human mind is capable of all sorts of hallucinations. He makes a point he’s made many times before, that people of all religions are very certain of their gods’ reality, which to him is a mark against religion in general. The Christian, very clearly stung by that reply, insists that he simply couldn’t ever stake his life on hallucinations but that he instead has staked his life on the reality of his Christian faith. Dawkins replies that while the fellow seems very sincere and that his sincerity can’t be doubted, there just isn’t anything compelling about that belief to make him, Dawkins, think it’s anything but another hallucination that the human mind is so good at conjuring.
Remember, people don’t want to think they’re doing something stupid or crazy. People who think of themselves as rational naturally want to believe that they chose their religion as part of a rational decision-making process. They want to think they have a very good reason for believing as they do, and they will clutch at absolutely any straw to make their beliefs look sensible and rational. (The reverse of this position is that anybody who disagrees is being insensible and irrational, of course.) If someone’s rational, then by definition everything he or she does is rational. QED. Oh wait, except that’s not true. Okay. Let’s move on.
I’m not sure why the creator of this video put the Dawkins scene into it. Like much of the Old Testament, this insertion does much to slow down the general gist of the video’s argument. Check out this link–scroll down to the part about Genesis 15:16 for an example of what I’m talking about. Dawkins’ coherent, logical argument absolutely smashes and demolishes his Christian questioner’s case, putting him into the context of every believer in every religion ever, but for some reason the creator of this video doesn’t recognize the damage done here. I genuinely do not understand what about that clip made the creator of this video want to include it; the Christian comes off looking like a controlling, delusional jackass and Dawkins comes out looking, if anything, better than he normally does.
Either way, now finally, 2 minutes into the 7-minute-long video, we finally cut to a scene obviously occurring in a church. Our two good ole boys are up on the stage talking about “history.” Suit 1 is brandishing a Bible, which he pumps in the air and caresses constantly. Suit 2 is declaring that “anybody can claim” that he’s a god and that he’s heard all sorts of people make this claim, but that the real clincher is whether or not evidence can be produced to support that claim. YAY! He gets it! I’m thinking. Then he follows it up with more nonsense about what he views as “evidence,” showing he really doesn’t understand the difference between “evidence” and “hearsay.” Not-yay, he doesn’t get it at all.
To sum it up, their argument was the following: that Jesus had claimed he was the son of God in the Bible. And they knew Jesus had made this claim because the Bible said he’d made this claim. And obviously Jesus didn’t lie, so the claim had to be true. And the Bible recounted the claim, and the Bible never lies, so obviously we can trust the recounting of the story. The Bible said he’d died on the cross, so obviously he had, because the Bible’s true. The Bible said he’d risen, so obviously he had, because the Bible never lies. And he’d appeared to hundreds of people, which we know because the Bible tells us he did. Suit 2 appealed to authority briefly by mentioning a medical article about crucifixion, but again, takes it for granted that the Crucifixion actually occurred–because the Bible said it had. They went on and on and on like that.
The suits kept insisting that “history” had shown us all of these things, which tells me just how much history they actually know, which would be “none.” They knew all these pieces of “evidence” were true because they were recounted in the Bible. And the Bible obviously never lies, so anything it says is the truth. And we know this because the Bible is always true.
Suit 2 touches upon “early records” without mentioning that not a single one of those “early records” was actually contemporaneous with Jesus’ supposed lifetime. No early history writers actually wrote anything about Christianity or Jesus until the Gospels got written. We don’t even have evidence that Christians existed until later on in the 1st century. Suit 2 misstates history again by insisting that these nonexistent early writers were firm eyewitnesses and that they are “reliable historical data.” They are not. Our memories can’t even keep events straight seconds after something occurs–we’re sure not going to be reliable witnesses to events decades–even centuries–after those events occurred. Again, it demonstrates his faith in his source material more than it demonstrates that material’s veracity or trustworthiness. He jumped to a quick appeal to numbers by mentioning the “explosion” of believers once Christianity had gotten rolling, a fallacy we’ll talk about at some point soon, but overall his entire argument is “well look, the Bible says this, and we know the Bible’s true so this stuff is true too.”
Never once did either suit actually introduce independent corroboration for the Bible’s myths. They can’t, because such corroboration doesn’t exist. But I kept wondering if they were just hoping if they used their circular argument often enough that they’d magically make it valid. I’ve noticed that people who are wrong tend to think if they just repeat themselves enough, they’ll magically become right. We’re seeing that attitude with the modern Jesus–er, Republican Party these days–the problem isn’t their perfect, pristine, awesome message, but with how they’re communicating that message; if they just package it just right and repeat it often enough, the dumb women and minorities in this country will finally get it through their thick skulls and embrace the GOP!
I watched the video with my eyes rolling so hard they about left their sockets. This was the big awesome argument they thought was so perfect and bulletproof? This was the best they could do? This was the very best they could muster in defense of their religion? This was the video someone thought was impossible for non-believers to watch and remain non-believers?
To those Christians reading who see nothing wrong with this video, please listen up:
Using the Bible to prove the Bible’s words are true is like using the Harry Potter books to prove that Hogwarts is real. You can’t use the Bible to prove any story out of the Bible. It doesn’t work that way. It’s not compelling to anybody except those who already believe. Of course the Suits were saying this horse-puckey in a church–nobody else would put up with those sorts of incoherent arguments except their style of toxic Christians, who are trained from birth to accept and embrace irrational arguments in lieu of actual evidence for their claims.
What’s terrible is that the person who uploaded this video really, truly thinks that a circular argument has validity. This person genuinely believes this video makes a bulletproof case for his or her religion. Of every other thing about this video, that fact has to be the most pathetic thing about it. This is the best this person thinks Christianity can do. This is the best argument Christianity can muster.
Worse yet, I’ve got a funny feeling that when people reject this argument as downright insulting to non-believers’ intelligence, this person is going to think that we’re just being stubborn or refusing to accept the “truth” being offered.
I’ve just got no words for that kind of delusional thinking.
When someone isn’t persuaded that the Bible’s always true or that it’d never lie to anybody, then this supposedly bulletproof circular argument falls apart completely. So Jesus claimed he was the son of a god? Okay, who says he did? The only way we know this claim is because it’s found in a series of short books written decades if not centuries later by people who were hardly agenda-free and unbiased. So Jesus was seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses? How do we know? The only account given is in the Bible itself, which cannot be trusted as unbiased and accurate history. Where else can we find these eyewitness accounts? Who else at the time was writing about them and what they saw? Why don’t we find these stories about Jesus’ life, miracles, and death anywhere else, given that we know there were over a dozen men in Jerusalem whose job it was to write down important events?
The Christians who use circular arguments are counting on their listeners not to ask these questions. Even more than that, they’re counting on the sheep not to question their premises and conclusions but to accept them on blind faith. And maybe their crowd can do that, but I can’t. Not anymore.
Circular arguments fail, and the fact that so many Christians cling to this logical fallacy like they do is a mark against the validity of their style of religion.
We’re going to be talking more about other logical fallacies and cognitive biases in honor of Texas’ attempt to ban critical thinking skills being taught to kids. My goodness, they’re sure terrified of what’ll happen if kids get exposed to good reasoning skills! Makes you wonder what they’re scared the kids will learn and see, doesn’t it? Why, it’s almost as if their religion couldn’t survive except by keeping its adherents ignorant… Either way, I sure didn’t learn any of this stuff in school, and I see way too many adult Christians falling prey to logical fallacies now not to say something about it. I do hope you’ll join me. Enjoy your week and see you next time!