Faith or Unsupported Beliefs: How to Argue Against Them

  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jun 25, 2010 4:43 AM GMT
    A thread was started recently in the mental health forums asking for advice on how to persuade someone out of religious belief. A very common reply was to say that it is pointless, that you can not argue against someone who plays the faith card or someone who has beliefs that are absurd or that totally lack an evidential basis. The conversation is just over, there is no ground on which to even have an argument, you can do nothing to reach a meeting of minds or obtain any mutual understanding.

    I do not think this is necessarily true. So here I will attempt to explain and offer a mode of conversation that I find very helpful. It may only go a small way towards convincing someone of your view but I think it is a good strategy to get someone to understand where you are coming from, to put them into your cast of mind.

    The Back Door

    The strategy I refer to is simply this. Rather than approach the argument directly by telling the person why you do not believe what they do, ask them about similar kinds of beliefs that they do not believe in. Get them to tell you why they do not believe in those similar beliefs. The reasons for their rejection of those beliefs and your reasons for rejecting of his or her beliefs are likely to be very similar if not, in fact, identical.

    Here are two examples where I compare these two approaches. I find the indirect one to get me much further most of the time.

    "Faith"

    Take faith as an example. Someone tells you they believe in a specific religion. When you ask them why they believe or what evidence they have they simply reply by saying that they have "faith"(whatever that may be). Now there are two approaches you can take. You can be direct and tell them that you reject "faith" as a good reason to believe anything, that faith is insufficient to justify any belief, that it is merely an excuse to believe something for which there is insufficient evidence.

    But instead you can quickly put them into your own frame of mind by bringing up another religious claim and getting them to tell you why they do not believe in it. It does not matter much which claim it is, as long as it is quite different from theirs; if they are a Christian bring up Islam or Hinduism. Ask them if they believe having faith in those religions is sufficient to justify the claim that they are true.

    What usually happens at this point is they abandon faith as their primary or sole reason for belief and they point out other differences, perhaps the miracles of the bible or the fulfillment of prophecy or personal experiences of some sort as evidence that makes Christianity true but not the religions you brought up. But in every case you can take the same indirect approach since holy books, prophecy claims, and personal experience are commonly present in most religions which they do not believe in. In each case get them to tell you why they reject the equivalent claims of other religions rather than telling them why you reject the specific claim of theirs.

    An Unsupported Belief: Energy Healing

    Let's take another example. Suppose Bob believes very strongly in some bogus alternative medicine. Let's say he believes in Reiki, which is a form of energy healing. Bob tells you how it's done: a practitioner waves their hands over you while imagining your "life energy field". The practitioner then removes any blockages in the energy field (the cause of all disease) by miming motions as if he is picking up the energy out of the "aura" that surrounds your body and then dropping it off to the side.

    You're astonished. Why does Bob believe this works? It's clearly just magical thinking. "Oh, don't be such a skeptic", Bob tells you, it's nothing of the sort. He then shows you a few websites where medical doctors and PhDs espouse the virtue of this non-invasive medical practice. He shows you books written by scientists that explain how the mystical energy field has been scientifically proven! These books use all sorts of scientific sounding words too, like quantum and vibrations and resonance. Impressively, these books cite a couple of studies that "prove" Reiki works! Best of all he says, he can show you websites with hundreds of testimonials .

    Again there are two approaches. You could tell him that no, actually, there is no good scientific evidence for Reiki or any form of energy healing. You could also tell him that the basis for the practice - the so called life energy field - has never been demonstrated to exist. Furthermore you could add that those studies are extremely poor in quality and small in sample size and they were not properly controlled or peer reviewed. Lastly you could tell him that the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data, and however many testimonials someone has they does not add up to any good scientific evidence.

    But instead, you could run few a through similar beliefs and see which ones he does not believe in, or, better yet, beliefs which he finds to be ridiculous. It may turn out for instance that he does not believe in the power of crystals to facilitate healing. Bob laughs at the idea of crystal healing power. That's just like pyramid power or believing in curses and spells, he says; it's just superstition, not science.

    But you tell Bob to hold his horses. You then show him exactly what he showed you in support of Reiki, only now in support of crystal healing. Show him the websites and endless testimonials, the so called scientific experts and the scientific-sounding explanations of the mechanisms behind how they work.

    Bob now knows what it is like to be you with respect to his own belief of Reiki since it is exactly what it is like to be him with respect to crystal healing. From this kind of an understanding a much more meaningful discussion tends to occur (at least in my experience) than if you take the direct approach.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 6:03 AM GMT
    We believe in many things outside religion by faith. None of us are experts in EVERYTHING. If you say something like, "Scientists say..." you are still practicing faith. Scientists have been wrong many times.

    Faith, when applied to religion, might be subject to ridicule, but faith is a necessary part of survival. None of us believe in everything based on evidence alone because none of us know enough to do so.

    The argument that others have proven scientific concepts to be true doesn't hold water. Einstein wasn't well received when he proposed some of his new ideas. Similarly, he didn't take the quantum model very well when it was introduced. Most people don't know the evidence that causes us to accept them today. They just take it on faith that scientists know what they are talking about. In the future, when something we believe today is proven wrong, the people of the future will, in large majority, believe that their scientists know what they're talking about.

    Anyway, if someone firmly holds a belief, it is almost impossible to dislodge it, no matter how ridiculous or inconsistent it is. They need to come to that point themselves over time and that rarely happens.

    What works so much better is tolerance. Instead of a missionary zeal to change other people's minds (which is something some Christians are guilty of) it is better to accept people as they are. I'll happily share why I believe as I do, but I stop short of trying to change minds. I won't succeed and I'll more likely make the person more sure of his own beliefs.

    The more likely result is anger. Look at how many Christian missionaries have been arrested, tortured, even executed. None of this will happen to you, but you will face anger. That's not conducive to discussion.

    I get along with all kinds of people because I don't try to impose my beliefs on them. I have very strong beliefs and the people around me know what they are. I get along with most people because I'm confident enough in my beliefs not to be threatened by someone who believes differently. I can happily discuss what I think and why and not grow emotional.

    I suspect you'll read my post (if you even get to this line) and walk away with your mind unchanged. Hopefully what I've done here is show you why your tactic doesn't work very often. Don't try to change minds. Instead, show others how you think (without being a pest) and both you and they will come away from the experience better. Down the road you will find that you may have changed a few minds and, more importantly, you will also find that some of your own views change.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 6:57 AM GMT
    The OP´s combination of evangelistic fervour, dogmatism and dismissal of things that do not fit in his paradigm are worthy of James Dobson.
  • Webster666

    Posts: 9217

    Jun 25, 2010 6:59 AM GMT
    You might as well save your breath.
    It's impossible to argue against faith because there is no scientific basis for faith. Therefore, there's nothing concrete that you can point to to prove that the person is wrong.

    "The bible says..."
    Even though this is extremely selective reasoning, these people still have faith that individual passages that they decide to pull from the bible are the absolute truth, and, for them, nothing you say can change that.

    And, even though they claim that every word in the bible is the word of god, and the truth, they conveniently choose to ignore the passages with which they disagree.

    "Religious" leaders (and their chosen religion) thrive on spreading lies and hatred and guilt.

    Regardless of how many "religious" leaders are caught with their pants down, or how many are found guilty of pedophilia, etc., the cult, in order to survive, has to hide these contradictions of what they teach. And, if they ARE found out, all they have to do is admit to a moment of weakness, ask for forgiveness, and go on their merry way.

    What about separation of church and state ?
    What about the laws which say that a church can lose its tax exempt status if it mixes religion and politics ?
    How do religions get away with direct influence of political elections ?

    California's Proposition 8 (banning gay marriage) would not have passed if not for the huge amounts of money that the mormon church poured into the campaign.

    But, if any politician dared enforce those laws, the politician knows that the religion would apply a sufficient amount of their considerable wealth to assure that politician's defeat at the polls.

    Pretty hypocritical, isn't it ?

  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jun 25, 2010 7:07 AM GMT
    Lostboy saidThe OP´s combination of evangelistic fervour, dogmatism and dismissal of things that do not fit in his paradigm are worthy of James Dobson.


    There is nothing evangelical or dogmatic here. But i will certainly dismiss anything for which there is insufficient evidence. Guilty as charged there. The comparison to Dobson is very far off the mark.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 7:17 AM GMT
    Its always personal experience... I knew a guy whom the medical doctors said they had to operate his hip but he would not walk again... he goes to an acupuncturist and presto, he's fine... Cant use arguments to dissuade me or anyone we know that he wasnt saved by the acupuncture
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 7:19 AM GMT
    Incidentally, the reason why people believe in religions is because it gives them examples of what good people will do with their lives to help others... Mozes saved his people, Jesus cured, Mohammed was known to be a good man, Buddha promised relief from life's eternal suffering etc.... I know for a fact that religions dont work for me because they make me feel worse... but I can understand how somebody else is made to feel better by it... so why should I try and change that? Dont we all have the right to be happy?
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 7:20 AM GMT
    Lostboy saidThe OP´s combination of evangelistic fervour, dogmatism and dismissal of things that do not fit in his paradigm are worthy of James Dobson.


    A childish, incorrect ad hominem attack. Grow up.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jun 25, 2010 7:22 AM GMT

    @Dakota gent

    Thanks for the length reply. However most of what you wrote doesnt really have anything directly to do with what i was saying.

    I am simply describing a way of arguing with someone who believes something one finds unsupported. I was only using faith and energy healing as examples. But the method of argument can work for any side of any argument, providing a comparable example exists.

    For instance, as you did, one can argue for faith or argue that everyone bases beliefs on faith by giving examples of areas where you believe that to be true. In your case you believe science is based on faith. It's the same kind of strategy.

    That said, I do disagree with your position. And even though it is not directly the point of my post, i'll be happy to take it up with you. But you are going to have to start by letting me know what you mean by faith, at the very least. The operational definition of faith i always use is belief without sufficient evidence. I do not believe that there is any faith in science whatsoever. But to have an argument about that we're going to have to start with a few basic definitions to get us going.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jun 25, 2010 7:27 AM GMT
    amar_m saidIts always personal experience... I knew a guy whom the medical doctors said they had to operate his hip but he would not walk again... he goes to an acupuncturist and presto, he's fine... Cant use arguments to dissuade me or anyone we know that he wasnt saved by the acupuncture


    Of course I can, and I in fact have convinved people exactly what's wrong with their post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. But you are right in so far as most people are fairly closed minded and will not accept any argument or evidence to be sufficient to prove them wrong. Sadly you admit to be among them.

    Keep in mind I am not claiming that if you argue in a particualr way that you will convince everyone (or even anyone) of whatever position it is you are espousing. I am only offering a description of a mode of argument that, at least in my experience, has resulted in more fruitful discussion and mutual understanding.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 7:29 AM GMT
    Delivis said
    amar_m saidIts always personal experience... I knew a guy whom the medical doctors said they had to operate his hip but he would not walk again... he goes to an acupuncturist and presto, he's fine... Cant use arguments to dissuade me or anyone we know that he wasnt saved by the acupuncture


    Of course I can, and I in fact have convinved people exactly what's wrong with their post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. But you are right in so far as most people are fairly closed minded and will not accept any argument or evidence to be sufficient to prove them wrong. Sadly you admit to be among them.

    Keep in mind I am not claiming that if you argue in a particualr way that you will convince everyone (or even anyone) of whatever position it is you are espousing. I am only offering a description of a mode of argument that, at least in my experience, has resulted in more fruitful discussion and mutual understanding.


    LOL, sorry that was ridiculous to claim somebody to be closed minded if you have decided for yourself that I am wrong to believe in acupuncture
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 7:34 AM GMT
    Anyways Im sorry, but I really dont think this is an arguable position... when I jump, I fall back down....I call a duck a duck because it quacks, walks and swims, and flies like one..... I went to the acupuncturist, i got better or didnt ... in fact, I ve been to an acupuncturist once in which case it DIDNT help.... but I went to a doctor after, and it didnt help either....

    Its a case by case situation always... oyu cant argue with generalisations about belief systems, because these things go through personal experience

    Incidentally, i have made exactly the same arguments against believers that I am making here towards you "belief": it is personal and not generalisable... You will see the world the way you want to see it

    As long as you dont take over my country, I am fine with that
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jun 25, 2010 7:35 AM GMT
    amar_m saidIncidentally, the reason why people believe in religions is because it gives them examples of what good people will do with their lives to help others... Mozes saved his people, Jesus cured, Mohammed was known to be a good man, Buddha promised relief from life's eternal suffering etc.... I know for a fact that religions dont work for me because they make me feel worse... but I can understand how somebody else is made to feel better by it... so why should I try and change that? Dont we all have the right to be happy?


    Not really anything to do with my topic, but what the heck.

    1. That is one of many motivations for religious belief that some people to find important. It is far from the sole impetus for religious beliefs. In fact anyone who I would consider to be a more serious religious believer does not treat is merely as a feel-good drug. Even if it makes them feel terrible they consider is to be a duty that they would not give up for a dose of better feelings.

    2. Truth matters to me. I do not really relate to those for whom it does not. I could believe that I have won the lottery and it would make me very happy to believe this. The relief, the freedom, the excitement at all of the possibilities would be wonderful. The actions that this belief would lead me to would be disastrous. And that is because the belief is false. Not all false beliefs have entirely bad consequences, but suffice to say that not every belief that would make you feel good should be believed.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 7:38 AM GMT
    Incidentally, look up the etymology of the words "experiment" and "experience" then tell me how science can possibly be objective...

    Look up how much of statistical analysis and scientific conclusions are based on the belief system of the scientist... and how the scientist's expected results come out statistically more often

    Look up how a particle exists in a quantum state, only to become defined by an observer, and then explain to me how we can be living in a universe that exists independently of our own observations

  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 7:40 AM GMT
    Delivis said
    amar_m saidIncidentally, the reason why people believe in religions is because it gives them examples of what good people will do with their lives to help others... Mozes saved his people, Jesus cured, Mohammed was known to be a good man, Buddha promised relief from life's eternal suffering etc.... I know for a fact that religions dont work for me because they make me feel worse... but I can understand how somebody else is made to feel better by it... so why should I try and change that? Dont we all have the right to be happy?


    Not really anything to do with my topic, but what the heck.

    1. That is one of many motivations for religious belief that some people to find important. It is far from the sole impetus for religious beliefs. In fact anyone who I would consider to be a more serious religious believer does not treat is merely as a feel-good drug. Even if it makes them feel terrible they consider is to be a duty that they would not give up for a dose of better feelings.

    2. Truth matters to me. I do not really relate to those for whom it does not. I could believe that I have won the lottery and it would make me very happy to believe this. The relief, the freedom, the excitement at all of the possibilities would be wonderful. The actions that this belief would lead me to would be disastrous. And that is because the belief is false. Not all false beliefs have entirely bad consequences, but suffice to say that not every
    belief that would make you feel good should be believed.



    Good, common sense, I like it.. it works for me
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 8:07 AM GMT
    why the eternal search for common ground? why can you both not accept that in this one fundamental idea you both differ and accept that? instead of just search for something you will not find.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    Jun 25, 2010 8:10 AM GMT
    amar_m said
    Delivis said
    amar_m saidIts always personal experience... I knew a guy whom the medical doctors said they had to operate his hip but he would not walk again... he goes to an acupuncturist and presto, he's fine... Cant use arguments to dissuade me or anyone we know that he wasnt saved by the acupuncture


    Of course I can, and I in fact have convinved people exactly what's wrong with their post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. But you are right in so far as most people are fairly closed minded and will not accept any argument or evidence to be sufficient to prove them wrong. Sadly you admit to be among them.

    Keep in mind I am not claiming that if you argue in a particualr way that you will convince everyone (or even anyone) of whatever position it is you are espousing. I am only offering a description of a mode of argument that, at least in my experience, has resulted in more fruitful discussion and mutual understanding.


    LOL, sorry that was ridiculous to claim somebody to be closed minded if you have decided for yourself that I am wrong to believe in acupuncture


    Actually i never claimed you are wrong to believe in accupuncture. I claimed that the reason you cited for this belief is wrong. It is a fallacy. The fallacy is a common one and it has a name: post hoc ergo propter hoc. I could make a post about it if you like, but you can just google it as well.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 8:41 AM GMT
    lilTanker saidwhy the eternal search for common ground? why can you both not accept that in this one fundamental idea you both differ and accept that? instead of just search for something you will not find.


    HAHA, were not really searching for common ground, just exchanging opinions icon_smile.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 8:44 AM GMT
    Post hoc is not always a fallacy though... thats the thing... If I beat you over the head with a stick, your head will hurt.....
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 9:17 AM GMT
    Logics is fallable, indeed

    But I think the OP is aware of that... I could be wrong though, but its the main thing in philosophy, logic is usually the first explored and the first to be discarded as a manner of gaining wisdom

    Rather it is a tool you use to get your work done, to plan how to build a house... it can be used for practical purposes, but its cant explain the whole truth in the end....

    OTOH, you dont need to philosophise about a shoe to be able to build one
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 9:57 AM GMT
    MuchMoreThanMuscle: “What is curious to me is why the OP spends so much time trying to disprove people's spirituality? The OP cannot even have a respectful conversation about his own belief system (which is disbelief). He makes generalizations by grouping "alternative" beliefs as bogus.”

    Delivis grouped alternative therapies into an equivalence partitioning based on their evidentiary support. It’s a reasonable grouping, and if it’s your only evidence he was disrespectful, then you’re sadly mistaken.


    MuchMoreThanMuscle: “You also believe that science is the answer to believe in anything to be credible. This is a "bogus" misconception. Just because science has not gotten around to proving something does not mean it is not valid. Funding for experiments takes a lot of money and time. Scientific funding is normally done as a way to create some sort of future gain. For example, if this daily use of this medication demonstrates suppression of certain symptoms then the scientific study can conclude that this medication works. The medication is mass produced and money is to be made. Bringing it back to belief systems, if science can prove that religion has validity what can science gain from this? Nothing really. No profit can be made so there really is no motivation for science to prove that spiritual beliefs are valid.”

    There is so much scientific research that occurs in areas where nobody has any expectation that they will make money that I can scarcely believe you wrote this passage. And frankly, if a research team were to prove religion is true, that team’s members would likely win a Nobel, which comes with a hefty award, and moreover their sponsoring university would gain enormous prestige. So yes, there would be things to gain.

    As for your broader epistemological claim, your first two sentences say that science is not necessary to ascribe credibility to something. There are obviously domains where that claim is true – I don’t need science per se to believe that my mother is politically conservative, although contrary to your implicit claim, I do need some empirical support. Your stance, here and in other threads, seems to be that you can view as “credible” some empirical claims absent empirical support. You’re free to do so, but you can’t turn around and complain when people point out that you have no reason to do so, nor can you complain when people assess the evidence to conclude that an empirical claim that had some limited support really expressed the placebo effect or otherwise turned out to be false. If you really had confidence in your claims even absent strong supporting evidence, then Delivis’s posts wouldn’t have made you so upset, since he is addressing evidentiary support.


    MuchMoreThanMuscle: “To the OP. I am glad you have your college level logic class under your belt. It has given you your own sense of power and the ability to sustain an argument by textbook example. Although defining terms like post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning, and once you did with me using the phrase ad hominem is a classic example off some young college kid who just learned how to "label" other people's arguments; you will find that adults do not actually use these terms in their argument. The only time you will hear them is in a Critical Thinking or Logic course.

    Oh and incidentally, I also took this course this Spring.”


    If you think adults do not use those terms, then I can only conclude you have had little to no exposure to the university or to the law. Also, your use of the term “valid” suggests the course you took was likely not a logic course.


    MuchMoreThanMuscle: “I can think of better ways to invest my energy than to try and disprove people.”

    There is more than a little irony there.


    amar_m: “Logics is fallable, indeed

    But I think the OP is aware of that... I could be wrong though, but its the main thing in philosophy, logic is usually the first explored and the first to be discarded as a manner of gaining wisdom”


    It depends on the philosophical school. Logic is the backbone of analytical philosophy, but the rival continentalist philosophy usually discards it. (edit: Come to think of it, I'm not sure it's accurate to say that continentalist philosophers "explore" logic, although they do consider and dismiss it.)
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 11:24 AM GMT
    "evidence" "logic" and "empirical" all terms wielded here without little knowledge of their true meaning... they are terms humans invented to describe how they see the world, not the way the world is... that, cannot be described by anyone, not by religions, not by science, by noone, it can only be observed, so thats what Id rather do than analyse my observations
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 11:39 AM GMT
    Wel yeah, science cant explain who caused the big bang icon_smile.gif

    Nonetheless, I understand why one would rather have science than religion, as religions often condemn people, claiming to know the "will" of the creator, which to me is utter bullsh-t

    Sorry to be rude there...
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 12:05 PM GMT
    amar_m saidIts always personal experience... I knew a guy whom the medical doctors said they had to operate his hip but he would not walk again... he goes to an acupuncturist and presto, he's fine... Cant use arguments to dissuade me or anyone we know that he wasnt saved by the acupuncture

    What has acupuncture got to do with this topic?
  • Posted by a hidden member.
    Log in to view his profile

    Jun 25, 2010 12:46 PM GMT
    MuchMoreThanMuscle said[The OP] makes generalizations by grouping "alternative" beliefs as bogus.

    I believe his logical approach was to compare beliefs that are incompatible with each other. If one group of people believes one set of things, and another group believes a different set of things, and those religious beliefs are mutually contradictory, which is the correct one?

    They both can't be correct at the same time. And what is the basis for believing that you are in the fortunate group that has the "right" answers, versus the group with the "wrong" answers? In matters of religion, lacking scientifically recognized proofs, it boils down to having "faith" but what does that mean?

    Catholic nuns would tell us as children that Faith was a gift from God that allowed us to believe and accept things we couldn't understand or prove. Well, what a great cop-out that is! You could sell any proposition under cover of that universal escape clause.

    Using a belief system like that, I'd still be expecting Santa Claus to come down the chimney, waiting for Peter Pan to come through my bedroom window and teach me how to fly, praying to a Nazarene carpenter who raised a guy from the dead before performing the same trick on himself, or following the teachings of a Middle Eastern merchant who got a mountain to come to him.