God and the Tooth Fairy

Wonderist
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God and the Tooth Fairy

I enjoyed writing my reply to the following blog so much that I wanted to save it here in case the guy deletes my comment:

Quote:

God and the Tooth Fairy

Central to the 'argumentation' of New Atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is the claim that belief in God is no different than belief in the Tooth Fairy. The logic here is so sophmoric (and so embarrassing to clear-thinking atheists) that it seems silly to have to address it. But we live in a culture in which edgy sound bites and nonsense that panders to our self-centeredness seem to trump reason every time. So I guess it would be worthwhile to spell out what's wrong with this popular claim, for the sake of the few out there who still care about truth.

The central informal logical fallacy being committed here is the faulty analogy.* When one argues by analogy, he points to similarities between two things, and then argues that on the basis of those similarities, we ought to draw the same conclusion about the one that we have already drawn about the other.

There are ways in which, claim Dawkins and Hitchens, belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy are quite similar. And since we all realize that belief in the Tooth Fairy is silly, we ought to come to realize that belief in God is also silly.

Such an argument is deemed faulty (and fallacious) when the similarities between the two things are insignificant and unimportant relative to their differences. And such is clearly the case here.

What similarities are there between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy?

Well, first of all, there's the word 'belief.' But that can't be argued as a similarity, since that word apllies to everything we might discuss. That is, atheism shares the same thing, in that it is belief in no God.

To put it another way, every truth claim (every statement) is the expression of belief. And knowledge is a particular kind of belief, namely justified, true belief. And where no one ever argues that belief in the Tooth Fairy is either true or justified, there are millions throughout human history who have argued persuasively that belief in God is both justified and true. (Indeed, it is much more difficult to make a case for atheism as justified or true, and that is partly why that belief has always been a minority belief.)

Second, both God and the Tooth Fairy can't be seen. But here again, this similarity seems rather trivial. We take as justified, true belief, a host of beliefs about things that can't be seen. Scientists claim knowledge of such things as protons and electrons, quarks (and even Higgs' boson), and dark matter, none of which can be seen. So invisiblity is not a worthwhile criterion for accepting or rejecting the existence of something.

Perhaps what Dawkins and Hitchens have in mind is that both God and the Tooth Fairy are immaterial. But this is unsatisfactory as well. There exist a great number of things that are likewise immaterial, things such as thoughts, emotions, memories, desires, and yes, even minds and souls. And if the claim is made that these things do not exist or are in fact (somehow) material, that claim itself involves circular reasoning
(the conclusion can only be reached by first denying even the possibility of the existence of immaterial things, that is, by first adopting a naturalistic, materialistic worldview).

The list of possible, significant similarities (between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy) has dwindled to nearly nil. There remains one other possibility.

Perhaps the similarity that would make this analogy meaningful is that neither the existence of God nor the existence of the Tooth Fairy can be proved. Unfortunately, this idea also has a number of problems. In fact, so many are the problems with this claim, that they warrant a separate post.

For now, though, we have seen that there is no meaningful and significant similarity between belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy (with the possible exception of the idea--to be addressed next--that the existence of each is similarly unprovable). It remains to examine the important and significant differences between the two things. We'll address those in the second post following, and will see that Dawkins' and Hitchens' claim here is a glaring and absurd example of the fallacy of the faulty analogy.


* It's also, of course, a straw-man argument, in which the God being argued against is not (as the claimants imply) the God of the Bible but a gross mischaracterization of that God, one that is easy to knock down.

My reply:

Quote:

Anonymous Wonderist said...

"The central informal logical fallacy being committed here is the faulty analogy.

There are ways in which, claim Dawkins and Hitchens, belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy are quite similar. And since we all realize that belief in the Tooth Fairy is silly, we ought to come to realize that belief in God is also silly."

The central informal logical fallacy being committed here is the 'missing the point' fallacy.

Dawkins' and Hitchens' reason for comparing God to the Tooth Fairy is, claims Gerhardt, that "belief in God and belief in the Tooth Fairy are quite similar. And since we all realize that belief in the Tooth Fairy is silly, we ought to come to realize that belief in God is also silly."

But really the comparison is about the nature of evidence and how we justify claims of knowledge, not about any supposed superficial similarities between two non-existent entities. The similarity is in their equal lacking of evidence. I.e. zero good evidence for the Tooth Fairy is the same as zero good evidence for God. 0 = 0.

The point is this: The reason we don't believe in the Tooth Fairy is not because it is silly, but because we don't have any good evidence that such a thing exists. Likewise, by the same reasoning process, the reason we don't believe in God is not because it is silly, but because we don't have any good evidence that such a thing exists.

Also, it's not because we can't see them. We can't see electrons either, but we *do* have evidence of the existence of electrons, as anyone who's taken highs-chool physics or chemistry knows. There is no such evidence for either God or the Tooth Fairy.

Also, it's not because they are immaterial. Gravity is immaterial too, but we *do* have evidence of the existence of gravity, as anyone who's taken high-school physics (or even simply heard the story of Newton and the apple) knows. There is no such evidence for either God or the Tooth Fairy.

If you don't like the Tooth Fairy, because it offends your delicate sensitivities, then simply replace the Tooth Fairy with any other god of any other religion. The Christian rejects all these other gods because there is no good evidence that such gods exist. The Christian is an atheist to thousands of other gods. We simply believe in one less god than Christians do.

"When you understand why you dismiss all other gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." - Stephen Roberts

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BobSpence
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Love it!  

Love it! 

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology


Wonderist
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The guy replied, continuing

The guy replied, continuing to miss the point, and finished with:

Quote:
By the way, I've studied a bit of logic and have never come across the 'missing the point' fallacy. Did you make that up?

 Poor guy. I almost feel sorry for him.

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REVLyle
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Just a question . . .

Did you really quit believing in the tooth fairy because you thought it was silly?

OR . . .  was the reason you quit believing was that you asked the question and your parents confessed . . . therefore proving that there was no tooth fairy. 

What you are suggesting is that without any questioning, you, along with all children just quit believing because there is no proof, and yet; I believe you are incorrect in that.  Kids stop believing because, they wonder, ask questions, and then parents prove to them that the tooth fairy is made up and they, the parents, were actually what they thought was the tooth fairy.

BUT, what if the parents were not the tooth fairy and yet money continued to show up each time the child lost a tooth.  The child questioned and the sought answers, and and there were writings on the tooth fairy.  These writings contained people's accounts of the fairy and personal testimony of what the fairy did.  AND many  . . . many . . . logical and educated people believed in the fairy . . . would it be wrong then for the kids to continue believing in the fairy.

You are patting yourself on the back for saying . . . Belief in the tooth fairy is silly, therefore; belief in God is silly.  It certainly is not an apples to apples comparison. 

So . . . if you could just. . . I don't know . . . walk on water, rise from the dead, or even just turn some water into wine, then I could leave my belief and I would know it was all made up . . . and those things recorded in scripture and miracles I have read about and even witnessed - I would now know . . . people just did them.  I would really appreciate it.

SOOOOOO, if there was proof there was no God - LIKE THERE IS PROOF THERE IS NO FAIRY, then people would not believe.  BUT OF COURSE . . . it is not your responsibility to prove there is no God, I have to prove that He exists . . . YES, YES, I am aware of your stance on this issue.

Your logic is not so logical

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.


BobSpence
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The OP was NOT saying he

The OP was NOT saying he quit believing in the TF "because he thought it was silly":

Quote:

The point is this: The reason we don't believe in the Tooth Fairy is not because it is silly, but because we don't have any good evidence that such a thing exists. Likewise, by the same reasoning process, the reason we don't belief in God is not because it is silly, but because we don't have any good evidence that such a thing exists.

So thank you Rev for demonstrating your lack of reading comprehension.

Believe in God is silly, of course, but that is not the argument.

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology


butterbattle
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REVLyle wrote:OR . . .  was

REVLyle wrote:
OR . . .  was the reason you quit believing was that you asked the question and your parents confessed . . . therefore proving that there was no tooth fairy.

I thought the OP was pretty clear. Not enough evidence and, sometimes, evidence against the claim.  

Quote:
Kids stop believing because, they wonder, ask questions, and then parents prove to them that the tooth fairy is made up and they, the parents, were actually what they thought was the tooth fairy.

Um, yeah, then there's no longer any evidence that the tooth fairy exists. 

Quote:
BUT, what if the parents were not the tooth fairy and yet money continued to show up each time the child lost a tooth.

That would be evidence........

Quote:
The child questioned and the sought answers, and and there were writings on the tooth fairy.  These writings contained people's accounts of the fairy and personal testimony of what the fairy did.  AND many  . . . many . . . logical and educated people believed in the fairy . . . would it be wrong then for the kids to continue believing in the fairy.

That's also evidence, but the tooth disappearing and money showing up every night is stronger evidence than all of these things put together. You also have to consider, are the writings real, reliable testimonies? Are there many educated people who don't believe in the tooth fairy?

Quote:
You are patting yourself on the back for saying . . . Belief in the tooth fairy is silly, therefore; belief in God is silly.  It certainly is not an apples to apples comparison.

Ah, I believe this was called the "missing the point" fallacy.

Quote:
So . . . if you could just. . . I don't know . . . walk on water, rise from the dead, or even just turn some water into wine, then I could leave my belief and I would know it was all made up . . . and those things recorded in scripture and miracles I have read about and even witnessed - I would now know . . . people just did them.

Well, how do you know anyone did them?

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


Atheistextremist
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Right Reverend Doctor

REVLyle wrote:

The child questioned and the sought answers, and there were writings on the tooth fairy.  These writings contained people's accounts of the fairy and personal testimony of what the fairy did.  AND many  . . . many . . . logical and educated people believed in the fairy . . . would it be wrong then for the kids to continue believing in the fairy.


I like your use of the word 'fairy' in this post - somehow it meshes with the mutual non-evidence in a pleasing and appropriate way. Does your faith really swing on turning water in wine? Walking on water? Raising the dead?

Mate, how about a fucking useful miracle like standing the pyramids at Giza upside down on their points for the rest of time? Now there's a miracle we could believe in. This crap you mention is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck