That’s Like, Just Your Opinion, Man

Opinion Schminion

Yellow is my favourite colour. The episode of The Walking Dead last night was the worst one ever. These are subjective opinions. All we can ever do is agree to differ if we cannot persuade each other to change our minds. It would be almost trivial to get into a heated debate about such things and, though it’s fun to hash it out about, say, your favourite football team, it’s not something that can ever be definitively settled.

Scary Monsters - Super Freaks

There is a scary monster in my closet. This is a factual claim. It is not an opinion. Whether or not it is scary is subjective, sure, but there is a factual claim that is begging the question. Is there ANY sort of monster in the closet?

If I attempt to test that claim and find no monster, only to be told it is invisible and intangible, we now have an unfalsifiable claim. It has not now become a matter of opinion, just because the person who pretended to know there was a monster in the closet moved the goalposts in this way.

So whether or not the monster is scary simply continues to beg the question as we cannot test the claim. The claim is worthless without evidence - it is not a matter of opinion.

Continuing to disbelieve the claim is an entirely reasonable position to take. I do not need to prove there is no invisible intangible scary monster. The person who makes the claim and expects to be believed because he pretends to know something he clearly cannot know, is being ridiculous, and if that person becomes angry with me for not believing him, that person can get lost. I have expressed no opinion whatever - I have merely asked the claimant to meet his burden of proof.

Someone who says that that there is a loving god similarly is pretending to know something they don't know. It is an unfalsifiable claim. Expecting someone who does not believe you to prove you false is a ridiculous position to take. Asserting that the unbeliever is merely having a difference of opinion with you is laughable.

Because whether or not god is loving or capricious or vengeful or whatever still begs the question "Is there a god?" And the claimant needs to demonstrate that, or we cannot have a meaningful conversation on what you are pretending to know, which includes its opinion on what I should do with my sex life, for example.

Arguing from ignorance

The argument from ignorance can effectively be defined as follows:

The argument from ignorance is, at heart, an Enthymeme, a syllogism with an unstated premise:

  1. I don't understand how x could have happened.
  2. Anything I don't understand is caused by God.
  3. Therefore, God caused x.

This is a common apologetic ploy. We see the apologist try to assert that all ideas about the true nature of the universe are just matters of opinion simply because we do not know everything. In this rather fallacious ploy, the standard of proof laid at the door of rational inquiry or science is that you must be able to prove beyond any doubt that the universe is just so or came into being just so or it is only an opinion. Should any theory admit of the slightest doubt, it is asserted, this is purely the subjective opinion of the claimant (i.e. science). The amount of evidence for the theory seems incidental.  Indeed, the more evidence there is merely points to the supreme design of the universe (or something). At some point there will be something we do not know - and therein lies the god, prime moving away and waiting 13.7 billion years to tell a bunch of desert tribesmen what to do with their foreskins.

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Then we move on to the idea that because it’s all a matter of opinion we should agree to differ and the god idea gets equal rights in the battle for serious consideration. Of course at this point we get the usual leap to the god of the individual’s preferred religion while begging the question of the slightest shred of evidence - a colossal double standard. This is often bulldozed through without the slightest heed being paid to if the audience for the apologetic has made any concession to this artificial levelling of the playing field.

The gap in our knowledge has yet again been exploited in a tiresome god of the gaps argument.

Standing your ground

You are now likely to be treated to a great deal of playing the victim - that he is prepared to respect your unbelief so why can you not respect his beliefs? Again this rides roughshod over the begging of the question that this god is even plausible, never mind exists.

It is not rude to stand your ground at this point and, if the discussion goes round and round in circles, to completely disengage.

Matter of Fact

To reiterate: whether or not there is a god or any kind of supernatural element to the universe is a matter of fact, not opinion. Do not let people get away with this ridiculous hidden shirking of the burden of proof and diminishing of the value of evidence and reason. If someone is putting forward a candidate for truth and you disagree, you are not being rude in calling that person out, no matter what the claim, and disbelieving them. Not one tiny bit. So don’t let them tell you that you are being discourteous. Stand and fight if you feel the need! Above all, remember - they have the burden of proof! You do not have to provide a single piece of evidence to the contrary. If they say there is a god they are making a claim about the nature of the universe and putting forward a candidate for the truth. If they say god thinks this or god thinks that then they are begging the question: “Is there a god?” They most definitely are not just expressing an opinion.

References:

  1. God of the gaps
  2. Iron Chariots Wiki
  3. Dictionary.com

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