Random musings on whatever subject strikes my fancy, published every other day.

Tag: logic

“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’.”

“The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God'” (Psalms 14:1) This is one of the Bible verses that the religious will quote as a supposed refutation of atheism. It tries to make a case for belief in God with what seems at first like logic. The statement is brought in to help construct the syllogism that:

  1. Only fools don’t believe in God
  2. You are (or at least want to be seen as) not a fool
  3. You should believe in God

Is it unfair at this point to bring up the multiple studies that show inverse correlation between education levels and religiosity of societies? It is? Aw, shoot. Yeah, yeah; correlation is not the same as causation. I get it. Still. 
Syllogisms can be powerful tools in logical reasoning but they are also very easy to use to construct fallacious arguments that only sound reasonable. In a syllogism, you have a series of statements where the first two must be true for the third to be true. Then you have to be very careful not to overtax the conclusion that’s supportable by those two and make your third statement too broad.

To show how this one works to trick us into the desired conclusion, let’s look at what it really says and what apologists try to torture it into saying. Here’s what we can correctly infer from the verse, if we take it at face value: At least one person who is a fool says there is no God. (He says this to himself because he knows how dangerous it is to declaim in Bronze Age Palestine; maybe he’s not such a fool after all.) If we think about it in terms of sets, it means that the intersection of the set of fools and the set of people who say there is no God is not empty. What it doesn’t mean is that the set of unbelievers is a subset of the set of fools; yet to support the argument, that is what the religious speaker has to imply. With the first statement of the syllogism shown false, the entire thing collapses. (Ironically, the actual plain meaning of the verse is almost certainly true. There has to be a fool somewhere who is also an unbeliever.)

This may be excusable; people who don’t think hard about the imprecise way common language expresses logical concepts really do have a tough time with this. The mistake may be an honest one, and we should assume good will as long as possible.

As atheists we will be challenged all the time by the religious, with arguments of approximately this level of quality. We need to be on our game.

One final note. The most famous cautionary example of why you need to be very careful with syllogisms,


  • Aristotle is an animal.
  • Cats are animals.
  • Aristotle is a cat.



means that I have an opportunity to rescue this logicians’ punching-bag by naming my next cat “Aristotle.”

This is #8 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.


“God still loves you.”

“God still loves you” is something atheists will hear from the religious toward the end of one of those conversations where the religious participant is starting to figure out there isn’t going to be a reconversion.  Not today, at any rate.

This is meant to create a nagging sense of obligation on the part of the atheist.   But let’s break it down logically and see what is really going on here.

This is the subject of the statement.  But the speaker already knows we don’t believe in it.  So by stating to us that God’s doing anything about us (even having an emotion about us is doing something), the religious speaker is dismissing our position as trivial and worthy of being ignored.


This is a sneaky little word.  By adding this to the sentence the speaker works in the implication that this is an ongoing situation, which means it was real before and continues to be real.  It’s like the proverbial encoding a presumption of an answer into the question, when the reporter asked, “Senator, are you still beating your wife?”Loves You

There’s apparently an entire mode of Christian worship that consists of encoding the information about God’s love for us into large signs and banners at football games, which all say “John 3:16“.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV)

This supposedly unconditional love starts growing conditions and caveats right there in that single verse.  “Whosoever believeth in him…?” That no longer includes me, and it also doesn’t include a heck of a lot of other people, including several billion who never heard of the whole concept.  So this God manages to love “the world” but not many of its inhabitants.  And what will become of them, since they aren’t admitted into this rather exclusive “everlasting life” club?

Rev 21:8 “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (KJV)

Funny kind of love, that.  In the context of Bronze Age Palestine, just so you know, “idolaters” are anyone with a different religion from you.  “Whoremongers” are anyone whose sexual taboos aren’t the same as yours or a superset of them.  And the “unbelieving”, well, that’s me.  So I think I can safely say the best thing for me to do is to turn away from this abusive kind of love.

This is #6 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.



“One day you will know the truth”

“One day you will know the truth.”  At the very least, this is somewhere between dismissive and insulting.  Obviously, the speaker is asserting that you do not yet know the truth.  Or Truth, more likely.  Truth about what?  This is often left vague.

Taken at face value, this could mean a nearly infinite number of things:

  • Why am I ticklish, yet unable to tickle myself?
  • What is that notch in my upper lip under my nose called?
  • Does Bill Nye wear clip-ons or real bow ties?
    • If the latter, does he tie them himself, or get help?
      • If he gets help, from whom?
Of course none of these is what a religious person has in mind when they repeat this chestnut to an atheist.  The truth in the believers’ minds is the truth and reality of their own religious position.  They are expressing a smug expectation that after healing whatever ails them, the atheist will return to the healthy position of belief.
It does raise a larger question of, how do we know what is true?  Without going too far into the immense philosophical field of epistemology, I will say that I believe that the highest-quality search for the true nature of the world is going on wherever the scientific method is being most carefully applied.  The safeguards of the scientific method to root out subjectivity and logical fallacy are simply ignored in the halls of theology, where personal experience governs as fact and dogma plays the role of theory.


This is #4 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.



“Eventually, God will reveal himself to you”

This is another of the useless things religious people (not only Christians) like to say to atheists.  And I don’t mean “useless” in the sarcastic, pejorative sense.  It’s simply without purpose.  There is no benefit anyone can gain from hearing it, no action anyone can take on it.

In absolutely every story I have heard of God revealing himself to someone, the experience described is absolutely compatible with two competing explanations: Divine Revelation, or mild hallucination.  OK, maybe not-so-mild in some of the more outlandish stories.  But often enough, the evidence of the godly is as scant as, “I had a warm happy feeling in my heart.”

A principle I follow in evaluating the world around me is, when two competing explanations satisfactorily fit the available evidence, choose the one that requires fewer unsupported assumptions.  This is my personal version of Occam’s Razor.  So when I hear these personal testimony stories I look at the evidence.  I will take the tellers at their word that they really did have a warm feeling, and accept that as a fact.  But their leap to explain that as a divine revelation leaves me standing still.  I’m always, in these cases, going to go with: “You arrived at an emotional state where you expected a warm feeling, and lo, you had a warm feeling.  That entire process is very easy to understand as taking place entirely between your ears.”

I do many things, and have many experiences that leave me with a warm feeling.  Not one of them has additional attributes that are only consistent with an omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being who wrote a really ambiguous book about how I should live and wants me to stone LGBTQ people but also gets really pissed if I eat crab cakes.

This #2 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.


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