The Skeptic's Tools - Baloney Watch

The Skeptic's Tools or what to do if you want to be a baloney detector

(Thanks Carl Sagan!)
Listen to the facts. Be careful that you are listening when you are told what the supposed facts are. Know what is being claimed. Be careful that you are not dealing with what you think is being claimed.
Now you are clear so you can now check if they are really the facts or likely to be.
Look for independent confirmation if it is available. For example, if Tony says his lucky charm always works and makes him win all the time, get somebody to confirm this who does not stand to gain from confirming. Getting Tony's wife to confirm it is not an independent witness unless she is now as good as a stranger to him.
Something that has independent confirmation will always be the strongest. It deserves the most attention.
Here are common errors of thinking:
Arguments from authority.
An authority applying logic or maths to get a result does not mean they have got it right. Evidence overrides all authority. Reality is what has the final say, not any human being.
Ad hominem.
When one disagrees with the argument, one attacks the one making the argument and not the argument. For example, "I don't believe that adultery is wrong for the pope condemns it and he is dodgy".
Arguments from unwanted or bad consequences.
Jesus Christ must be the Son of God for without belief in him we will have no morals. Even if we need to believe in Jesus as the Son of God to be moral it does not follow that he really was the son of God.
Arguments from ignorance.
For example, nobody has disproved the existence of God therefore God exists. That does not follow. It is not an argument for it suggests its opposite, "Nobody has disproved atheism therefore there is no God." It eliminates itself and you may as well say nothing as use it.
The mystery or "We do not understand" excuse.
Christians cannot explain why God makes horrific diseases and they tell us to trust in him saying it's a mystery. Religion says God asks us to trust in him without knowing for sure if he exists. That is fair enough it seems. But proving God does not mean we cannot prove that evil and the love of God can fit. Love and evil can be shown to fit but that would not mean there is a God but only that God is possible. We don't even have that proof. If you can prove God's existence or his love or both then it is no longer an excuse. But if you cannot then it is just an excuse. It is trying to defend what deserves only vehement condemnation.
Assuming the answer.
This is a lie for you pretending you have not already made up your mind when you have. You amount to arguing, "X is true for I say so and I have the superior knowledge."
For example, we must honour God by believing in his miracles. But we can honour God without believing in miracles. A wife can honour her husband without knowing or believing that he once donated a kidney to a friend.
For example, we must be against contraception for it will make it easier to be adulterous. Perhaps it won't make any difference.
Observational selectiveness.
E.g., when you see the faults in everybody else's religion but only the good points in your own.
Statistics of small numbers.
For example, 1/20 of the world is Catholic but that cannot be right for I have met no Catholics.
Misunderstanding of the nature of statistics.
Statistics for example may show that a large number of people claim to have had an experience of the love of God. But how reliable is that information? God is a very vague term and many of them are just talking about a warm feeling. Leading questions may be used to get people to give you the answer you want.
Saying that atheists who are attracted to children will abuse them as you ignore the fact that your priests who are attracted that way may do it too.
That is "It does not follow" in Latin. The Bible says that God will triumph over the world for all power is his. God might have all power but if he has given us free will he might not get our consent to take over the world and he may respect that. This logical error is the basis of the entire Christian faith.
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc - y happened. Then x happened after it. Therefore y caused x.
John has the flu apparently. He takes elderberry wine and in a half an hour he is better. Therefore the wine cured John. This conclusion is not necessarily correct. Another one, "Abortion is sinful and harmful for the woman who has one. Most women have depression and feel suicidal afterwards." Even if most women felt that way the real cause might be society judging them.
Meaningless question.
What happens when a force that cannot be resisted meets an immobile entity or object? This question is meaningless for it contradicts itself. "God is the reason when nothing becomes something" is even worse. If that is not a meaningless question then nothing is.
Excluded middle
means you take the two extremes and forget about the possibilities in the middle. For example, Jesus said that whoever does not lift up his cross cannot be his disciple and whoever does is his disciple. What about people who partly take the cross? You can be a part-disciple! It is common to hear today that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. That is another example. No problem is completely bad.
Short term versus long term.
This is a kind of excluded middle fallacy. E.g., "It is important that we give the Church loads of money so that it can save souls from Hell with its message and its sacraments. Putting more money into the hospitals is not an option for better to be sick and dying than to be a sinner in danger of Hell."
The fallacy in this is that you don't have to deprive the hospital for the Church. What about compromise? Maybe you can give all the money to the Church and it will be a waste if people do not respond to its message and accept salvation.
Slippery slope argument.
For example, if the nation becomes atheist, it will legalise abortion and infanticide for atheists have no morals.
For example, if you legalise condoms people will see their partners as objects for their gratification rather than persons.
For example, if you accept gay people you will be implying that promiscuity is acceptable and you will be encouraging it. That assumes that all promiscuity is bad. It assumes all or most gay people are promiscuous. They are not - there are people in the closet who never had sex.
The pope says that promoting condoms increases HIV contraction. This overlooks the fact that it is not that simple. It's not just about condoms. It's about culture - maybe those who are saying they are using the condemns for the most part are not using them at all or not very often. It's about how condoms are used. For example, what if a lot of men are using the same condom over and over again. What if the men are sneakily removing the condoms without the partner's knowledge. The pope has been told all this time and time again but doesn't have the integrity to stop using the slippery slop arguments. He values the sound of his voice more than human life. You don't engage in that amount of grave dishonesty in such a serious matter if you care about the people.
Confusion of correlation and causation.
For example, your star sign is Libra and that is why you are so well-balanced.
For example, "I went to the shrine and felt great peace. The presence of God at the shrine did this."
The confusion of correlation and causation is the prime reason why people are deluded by religion.
"Catholic theologians are very intelligent. They are also devoted Catholics. Therefore Catholicism is an intelligent religion." This overlooks the fact that intelligent people can and do find intelligent ways to delude themselves or rationalise away the proofs that their religion is absurd.
is not reasoning. It is the twisting and perversion of reasoning. An example is, when the Christian says there is no error in the Bible. Then somebody shows him an error. He might say, "The error was not in the original text then. That translation is mistaken." Catholics say, "My little boy is so bad and now I know that original sin exists". But a child being awkward and difficult does not mean he or she had a sin at birth. Also, a child cannot sin seriously no matter how bad his or her behaviour is.
Straw-man argument.
This is making a position or argument look stupid to make it easier to refute it or attack it. Atheists, say chance made all things. Religion says that is completely stupid. But you can be an atheist and believe in intelligent design. And we know luck might bring forces together in such a way that something like a computer program appears and organises the cosmos.
Also, nature is about what works.
Imagine a shapeless asteroid. As undesigned as it appears, it works in its own way. A lot of design is just in our heads. Things coming together force patterns to appear.
Jesus himself used the straw man approach in the Bible. The Jews supposedly said that his power to cast out demons and cure those tormented by them came from Satan. Jesus said that was absurd for Satan wouldn't cast out his own servants for then he would have no kingdom. But Satan doesn't need to decree possessions to have a kingdom! Indeed seeing possessed people would put people off serving him! Jesus' answer was so silly and defensive and absurd that it would only have been confirmation to himself and the Jews that something satanic was indeed going on with Jesus' alleged powers! Worse, the demons Jesus dealt with come across as totally stupid and irrational so Satan can cast out Satan if he is a fool. The Jews were clearly saying that and Jesus tried to demonise them into silence.
Christians say that whoever says nobody is bad enough to go to Hell forever is unaware of the malice of sin. That is an attempt to make the critic of the doctrine seem to be a fool. It is they who are malicious. A truly good person will not believe anybody can suffer everlasting torment for sin in Hell unless the person sees Hell. They will be so compassionate and fair that they will not believe it unless they are forced to be the evidence.
Suppressed evidence.
This is when you are not told the whole story. For example, Christians tell you Jesus rose from the dead. They do not tell you that a missing body is not enough to show that the person rose. What about Jesus appearing after his death? They do not tell you that apparitions do lie or err a lot. Maybe it was an entity pretending to be Jesus. Protestants certainly tend to ignore the apparitions of Mary in the Roman Church and the Roman Church itself ignores most of the reported apparitions.
The Jesus story and the Mormon story look impressive until you do a check and find out that such unusual stuff was far from being weird in their day. Messiahs and prophets were rife and with the right formula or right advertising some of them were going to make a long-term impact. You won't be told that Jesus as a wonder-worker had no independent corroboration while figures like Simon Magus and others actually did!
For example, the pope says having sex while using contraception so that there will be no baby is sinful and unloving. Yet he allows sex based on the safe period while intending that no baby will result. The half truth is that he is not admitting than the real reason for being against contraception is his own sexual hang-ups. He wants to make sex misery for his flock.
Most people who enrol their children into Catholic Church membership have not thought correctly about what they are doing and the Church has kept the nastier facts from them.
Weasel words.
That is when a spade is not called a spade. For example, war might be called something else to make it seem more acceptable as an option. Politicians are masters of weasel words. A top example from that other master if manipulation, the Catholic Church is, homosexuality is a disorder but we are not saying homosexuals are disordered. That is like saying blindness is a disorder but the blind eye is not disordered. Oddly in Catholicism, the person living with a person of the same sex in a sexual relationship which is committed and loving is considered to be more twisted than one who is just sleeping around with same gender partners. Why? For the "disorder" that you validate and think is good is considered to be the worst one.
Roman Catholics define sin not as an act but as a sign of having a bad character. Sin is an act that only shows what you are. Dogs bark. Then they tell you to love the bad character and hate the sin meaning the bad character. Totally impossible for to hate one is to hate the other for they are one and the same! The Catholic Church is really urging people to be intolerant not of sin but of what their religion tells them is sin and also to hate the sinner but to conceal that hate well. It is only a waste of time the Catholic Church bringing in child protection rules for the rot is in the theology with its double-speak and hypocrisy.
Mistaking excuses for reasons and reasons for excuses.
The believer in the Christian God thinks that though there is no full explanation for why God allows so much suffering to happen, this is a reason to believe. The implication is that it is kinder to encourage the person in horrific agony to feel God is with them and supports them no matter how much it looks like he is not. So sometimes support is not helping for help is not possible and support then is just being there. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PERSON!! THIS IS ABOUT VINDICATING GOD!! If it is bad enough GOD OR ANYBODY BEING THERE WILL MEAN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! For some, it may add to their agony for they are trying to feel they should appreciate this presence when they cannot. It is too extreme to tell somebody who feels they are on their own and when they can only think of how terrible their plight is that God is there. If that is not attempted gaslighting then nothing is. If that is you trying to condition yourself that you will always feel God is there then shame on you.
The notion that Jesus, faith, prayer and sacraments make up medicine for the harmful and rebellious side of human nature blames the patient if these do not work. It prevents anybody seeing if the emperor has no clothes.
The woman rebuffs a man who likes her. Then he turns against her and says she's a cow. People will argue that he is against her because she rejected him. But that implies she caused his reaction. She did not. He did. He is against her not because she rejected him but because he is vindictive. Be warned that religionists are saying that if you reject God and faith the fault is in you not God and your blindness is horrendous. If they are talking nonsense then they are blaming you for what they say about you.
Emotional reasoning.
I feel uncomfortable around John therefore he is a bad person - maybe I feel that way for a reason and it's a warning from God or some sixth sense. I feel peace when I pray therefore God exists. I believe in the Catholic Church because I was brought up Catholic. People who use emotional reasoning are guilty of mistaking their feelings for beliefs. Beliefs are in the head. You can believe that God exists even if you feel that he does not. Feeling God exists does not mean you believe in him. Indeed if all you can do is have a feeling, that is a sign you do not really believe at all.
Everything happens for a reason may sound like a lovely principle but it does untold harm. It is like alcohol where your fun with it is somebody else's destruction.
Using the tools for spotting baloney means you are respecting your own intelligence and improving your potential. You are protecting yourself. You are not letting yourself become a stumbling block to others that misleads them. You will have less to fear. Using the tools is not a dry intellectual activity. It is warm and liberating. If you want the world to be a better place let the tools shine in your life and heart and in your speech.
Much of this has been paraphrased from The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan, Headline Books, London, 1997

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