The Handbook: Knowing What a Claim Looks Like.

The Handbook: Knowing What a Claim Looks Like. December 31, 2014

There is a book.

The book details everything people need to know.

Everything.

But especially it tells us about The Place.

It tells us where The Place is. Who gets to go there. Who the owner decides to invite. Where they will stay when they arrive. What they will do when they’ve gotten there.

It tells us of the vast battle between the two opposing sides. It tells us about how The Place was rocked once–and will be again–by a vast confrontation, but how one special person came along who will help turn the tide of evil and make The Place safe again. It tells us about how human he was, but how supernaturally gifted–and how loved.

It tells us everything we need to know about what values the owner of The Place possesses, and what this owner wants to see in those invited to The Place.

It tells us everything.

Some people who read this book yearn for The Place with all their hearts. They talk to friends about it. Share the book, share its secrets, share its well-loved instructions, share its meaning. They write about it. Talk about it. Love it. Live it. Want it. Breathe it.

Sometimes they think–they hope–they dream–that in some half-imagined fever they might visit there, or be invited there to live in The Place and carry on the work of its owner. And by the way, I’m not just using hyperbole. I’ve personally met people who ache for this Place and who can’t talk about much else besides it!

Yes, I’m talking about Hogwarts.

The Hogwarts replica. Or... IS IT? ("Universal-Islands-of-Adventure-Harry-Potter-Castle-9182" by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)Email the author:  David R. TribbleAlso see my personal gallery at Google Picasa - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
The Hogwarts replica. Or… IS IT? (“Universal-Islands-of-Adventure-Harry-Potter-Castle-9182” by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)Email the author: David R. TribbleAlso see my personal gallery at Google PicasaOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

There’s a reason why so many Christians hate and loathe (and fear) the Harry Potter books.

That reason is the same reason why so many Christians don’t want to teach their kids about Santa.

It’s competition.

Santa and Harry Potter are too much like the Bible’s myths and fairy tales, too much like its obviously fantastical characters, too much like its obvious unreality. A child who figures out that that those two myths aren’t true may well start drawing some educated conclusions about all the other myths that were taught.

And that child would be right to do so.

When people like Ken Ham say ridiculous things like “There is a book,” we need to stop those folks right there.

The book’s story is the claim.

The book’s story is not the evidence for its own claim.

You can’t use the book to prove the book is true.

Often when Christians engage with us ex-believers, they’ll recite Bible verses at us as if those verses were magic spells. One can sort of see why. There’s supposed to be supernatural power in the Bible; its verses are thought to be a sort of sword and shield–sometimes you’ll even see that idea taken literally, as in this almost-impossible-to-read kids’ T-shirt. Even people who say that they don’t believe the Bible is a supernaturally-powerful book are thought to be affected on some level by the reciting of Bible verses. And an ex-Christian who was once steeped in its lore and convinced of its supernatural power may well get influenced by these recitations.

Disqus regulars probably remember a recent Christian floating around the atheist/skeptic-o-sphere who seemed curiously unable to communicate with any other commenters except through the non-stop quoting of Bible verses. It can be a little weird to deal with someone who genuinely doesn’t seem to understand that the Bible’s verses really only impact someone who thinks its verses are or might be magical. So much for vain repetitions, hmm? It seriously starts reminding one of Shakespug from Get Fuzzy in how some of these Christians can shoehorn in these verses in an effort to “plant a seed” that will maybe sprout some other day. He did it because he really thought that these Bible verses demonstrated the reality of the Bible’s various claims–and because he clearly thought that reciting those verses would have an effect on those reading them. Because he had no other way to demonstrate the validity of his ideas, he settled for that half-assed, logically fallacious way. It was literally all he had.

In this respect he was much like the rest of his brethren, just a little more obvious about it.

Christians have no credible, objective support for their beliefs. I’ll just spoiler this whole thing for everybody right now. There is not even one single good reason to think that Christianity’s various claims are objectively true. We’ll be talking about those specific claims soon-ish. For now, just be thinking about why Christians tend not to realize that the Bible is not, itself, evidence for the Bible’s claims. If denied the use of the Bible to demonstrate the truth of the Bible’s claims, they tend to flounder and have no idea what to do with themselves–and I suspect the reason for their total loss of composure is that there really isn’t any way to do it without the Bible.

When the Bible says that its god exists, then that is one of its claims–just as the Harry Potter books tell readers that Hogwarts exists. It falls to those who think a book’s claim is true (and the job of the person writing it, though admittedly in a fiction work the claim is usually temporarily accepted for the story’s sake as long as it’s coherent within the book’s universe; as far as I know, the author of the Harry Potter books isn’t interested in making people literally believe her story is objectively real) to bring forth good support for this idea if they want others to buy into the claim as well. But “good evidence” will not be found in the selfsame book that made the claim.

Christians, however, believe that the Bible is actually its own evidence as well as its claim. The thinking goes like this: The Bible is the inspired word of God. We know this because it says that it is and also we believe that it is infallible. That means that the Bible cannot tell a lie. Therefore, the Bible is the inspired word of God, just as it says.

This sort of reasoning is called “circular reasoning” and it’s the first fallacy we’re tackling because it’s one of the most important–and the most common we encounter in Christianity.

It’s not hard to wonder if Christians would think that way if they had any evidence at all except for this false evidence. Either way, congratulations to them: they’ve just proven that not only is every single religion in the world true, but that every single fictional story in the world is completely real as well.

Hinduism’s holy books assert that its gods are real, so obviously those gods are all real. Zeus? Real. The myths say he exists, after all. Hogwarts? It exists. The Harry Potter books say that it does, so obviously it totally must. Gotham City? Totally. Look at how long it’s been depicted in Batman comic books, movies, and cartoons! The ponies of Equestria? Obviously they’re real for the same reason Gotham City is.

Or we can step back and say to the Harry Potter fan, Show me this Hogwarts building. Not the one in the theme park, either; the real one. Show me magic. Show me wizards and wands and flying cars and moving staircases. Show me Hagrid and moving portraits and centaurs, sentient owls and banker gnomes.

Show me, and I will believe. But I will not believe in something just because a book says that thing exists.

If I read a book about biology and it claims that evolution is a real thing, then there are a lot of ways I can verify that claim. If a book tells me that this-or-that war ended on such-and-so a date, there are ways to figure out if that’s true. Usually non-fiction books cite their sources; their authors take pains to share how readers can verify the book’s claims. That’s why real historians, for example, kinda sniff at popular histories, especially those written by disreputable pseudo-historians like David Barton (that’s a very neat link debunking him, btw)–they don’t cite their sources very often or provide a lot of documentation for their assertions, and often what they do cite is erroneous, indicating a clear hope that their audience won’t actually double-check anything. I don’t have to take any book’s word for anything; I know how to think, so if I see a claim that looks kind of outlandish, I can go look it up one way or the other. But Christians, long immersed in a culture that tells them what to think rather than how to think, will not notice either a lack of citations or a dishonest misuse of citations.

But what citations could we have for the Bible’s various claims? What real-world evidence is there for anything Christians claim about their deity, the history of the universe and world, the supernatural promises their god makes, or what will happen in our future?

Nothing at all.

Let’s go back to the thinking: The Bible is the inspired word of God. We know this because it says that it is and also we believe that it is infallible. That means that the Bible cannot tell a lie. Therefore, the Bible is the inspired word of God, just as it says.

When we encounter someone using circular reasoning like this, we need to stop them at the “we know this because” end of it. That is not actually how we know anything about objective reality. To verify the validity of a book, we do not actually rely on the book itself to demonstrate that claim. It’d be like me writing a book that says this:

Captain Cassidy is a Space Princess from the Wild Planet of Intoxicated Nurses. Everything she writes is totally true, completely and utterly. You know this claim is true because she just wrote that it’s true, and she never lies. Therefore, Captain Cassidy is a Space Princess from the Wild Planet of Intoxicated Nurses.

Besides making my search-term results look a hell of a lot more entertaining for the next few months, is there any reason to believe anything in that quote I just wrote?

If I go around telling people that I’m a Space Princess (rather than my usual claim which is that I am THE BOOGIE-WOOGIE BUGLE BOY OF COMPANY B, obviously) and back up my claim by brandishing the book that repeats my claim, are people likely to believe it? No, obviously not. I could have sixty books that all repeated that claim, but if I can’t produce, oh I don’t know, an alien cap-ship with my name on its side, I probably won’t get a lot of invitations to visit the White House.

I know that Christians themselves, so steeped in a culture that uses the Bible to prove the truth of the Bible, will have a lot of trouble with this idea, but I don’t expect what I’m discussing now to make a lot of sense to someone who is coming at reality from a whole different paradigm. But if we, as ex-Christians, keep the focus on using reality to prove the Bible (or disprove it, as is so often the case), then if nothing else we’ll avoid getting into a hilariously convoluted argument full of “the original Greek and Hebrew” and big words like “immutable.”

Don’t get sidetracked. Arguing the truth of the Bible using the Bible is exactly like using the Harry Potter books to argue the truth of Hogwarts. Nobody should have to know a damned thing about the Bible’s deepest, darkest, most arcane inner workings to evaluate its claims. Stick to the claims, and stick to how those claims play out in reality.

That’s how we do it in Reality-Land. Reality-Land might not be as glamorous as The Place, but it’s where we live and make our homes. It’s where we keep our stuff. It behooves us to learn about how it works so we can make the most of our short time here.

We’re going to look at how to tell if something’s really support for a claim, next, by examining my claim to extraterrestrial nobility–and I hope you’ll join me! Happy New Year, too!

(Disclaimer: I read up to about Book 4 or 5 like ten or twelve years ago and remember about as much about the Potterverse as current Christians tend to know about their own Bible. Pardon me if I got a few things wrong.)

"Oh, women are people ... after all, how can you enslave non-people?"

HumanGate: Al Mohler’s Dishonest Game
"Vacancies in those jobs are scarce since, obviously, people stay until retirement. And with all ..."

HumanGate: Al Mohler’s Dishonest Game
"Loyalty to a company used to be automatically rewarded, so the incentives to job hop ..."

HumanGate: Al Mohler’s Dishonest Game
"Michael's department, "Revenue Audit Non-Gaming"."

HumanGate: Al Mohler’s Dishonest Game

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment