Argumentum ad religionem

A colleague and I saw "Religulous" last night.  It was entertaining, primarily for its combination of crazy characters (one of them was my Latin teacher).  As far as the general argument goes, it seems to me that it's not so much an argument against religion, as an argument against the incoherent and self-contradictory beliefs of many poorly educated religious believers.  This fact makes the argument an ad hominem, but not the fallacious kind.  That is to say, his argument was directed at certain people, but it didn't really do much to address any very serious arguments.  Thoughts anyone?

4 thoughts on “Argumentum ad religionem”

  1. Konking the heads of religous doofuses together like coconuts is easy business. It doesn’t show that religion (or the beliefs they espouse) is false… it only shows that these people are stupid.  Doing that in an entertaining and potentially educational way does serve a purpose — it at least gives the stupid a good shaming.  And there are other examples of this pattern, consider Plato’s Euthyphro, where Socrates utterly confounds a similarly stupid (and avaricious) religious fanatic.  The lesson: there are patterns to stupidity as there are to good reasoning — we need to be on the lookout for those, too.
    That said, I think it’s hasty to infer that because the cognitively impaired proponents of a view get refuted easily that the view is wrong.  For example, take widespread attitude that democracy is just — there are scads of ridiculous accounts of why this is so (e.g., the President’s bald statement that Freedom is a gift from God), but the quality of the view doesn’t fall with the stupidity of its regular and even most prominent defenders.  

  2. That’s funny. I just saw the movie last night too with a colleague (I get to call my classmates colleagues). I pretty much agree with the ad hominem characterization, in one sense. However, I think that the film also tried to show that the practice of religion itself on a large scale leads to dangerous consequences, whether or not the main tenets of the religion are true. In practice, people use religion, often in direct contradiction to the actual teachings of the religion, to incite hate and violence. So, the ad hominem attack is based on the fact that religions facilitate immorality by serving as a shield for irrational or immoral behavior, and therefore the argument is in fact against religion itself. So, whether a religion is right or wrong factually is irrelevant when considering the deleterious consequences of practicing the religion.

    After a while, Maher’s idiot bashing did get a little tiresome, and the bombastic finale of the film didn’t help the case. But the main point, that religion as a tool can do great harm in the world, seems to hold up.

  3. Seriously, are you all really objecting that Mahr didn’t walk us through the Celestial Teapot?

  4. I’m not objecting anything of the sort.  My proposal is that Maher’s movie, like Plato’s Euthyphro, targets particular patterns of stupidity in religious fanatics.  So the standard for evaluation can’t be so strict: Maher isn’t out to refute p, but to refute a large subset of the people who hold that p.  With some, you don’t even have to get as far as the celestial teapot (or any other old saw in phil rel) to show that they don’t know what they’re talking about.  
    Take, for example, Mahr simply turning the “what if you’re wrong?” question back on the fanatics.  The Jesus guy is toatally flummoxed by it.  Now, that’s not a refutation of Christianity, but it certainly shows that there’s a pattern of insufficient reflection, even when people do things that look very much like reasoning.
    Jem, I think, extended this point in saying that there are consequences of these patterns.
    So, Dagon, you’re right that we’re noting that Maher didn’t break out the teapot (or any of the other trusty arguments), but that’s for the sake of pointing out that his purpose wasn’t to totally refute religious views.

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