Argumentum ad Populum and Religion

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Nima at Economics Junkie (whom I respect for his insight into our economy, but not so much his opinion on other things) has apparently discovered a logical flaw in my reasoning. I admire him for at the very least looking into my claims.

If you’re going to base your religious belief solely on the witness of others, you are going to build your house on the sand. How often does this point need to be made? The only sure foundation is Christ Himself, the living God who was resurrected and conquered all sin and death in this world, and all the consequences of sin and death.

Now, when it comes to witnesses of events, there is only so much evidence in the world to be found. If there was a car accident at 5th and Main, then only those people who were at 5th and Main at the time would have a chance of identifying what happened due to their proximity in time and space, and even then, only a few were likely looking at the right spot when it happened. We must, of necessity, trust the reports of those who actually saw what happened at the time it happened, even though the details may likely be slightly different or even if they testify to something extraordinary. If we want to prove that something else happened at the time, we’re going to have to prove that the people reporting the incident are not of sound mind or were not able to witness the event as they claimed.

The difference between that and argumentum ad populum, a particularly common logical fallacy, is that one is placing your entire faculty and reason in the hands of some group of people, while the other is building, to the best of your ability, an accurate representation of historical events and the state of the universe as it is today.

As I said earlier, multiple witnesses are not a perfect witness, and we rely on them not because they are 100% accurate and reliable, but because it is the best we got. In the world of Physics, countless students repeat experiments countless times. I remember particularly interesting experiments I actually performed including the Millikan Oil Drop Experiment that measures the unit charge of all matter.

(Interesting side note, the charge of the electron has steadily changed over time. Some people believe this is due to the fact that the original experiments were actually more error-prone than thought, and subsequent experiments did not question them and were biased towards the original experiments. So much for repeated experiments and witnesses in science itself!)

Now, back on the topic of religion. You cannot build your faith on the shaky foundation of the witnesses of others. We are not told, as believers in Christ, to believe the Bible above Christ. We are not told, anywhere, to trust in our bishops or pastors or priests above our own spiritual connection with Christ. We are told to believe in Christ, and follow Him. If you believe the Bible, and if you believe your religious teacher, then you must believe their teaching to believe in Christ.

If you want to build a sincere religion, you will do so by first finding Christ for yourself. Start with the Bible as your guide, and whatever religious leader of whatever denomination you happen to associate with. Start by learning as much as you can about who Christ was and what he is supposed to mean in your life. Then, trusting in his instruction to “ask”, kneel in humble prayer before your Maker and “ask”. The promise is, “ask and you shall receive”, repeated many different times in many different ways.

When Christ reveals himself and his love to you, you will no longer rely on the Bible and your religious leaders and teachers for the truth, but have a connection with the Source itself.

That, my friends, is a logical basis for religion, the only logical and reasonable one. When your religious reasoning starts with, “I know, for myself, that Christ lives, because I talked with Him and he with me”, then all the reasoning to the contrary is null.

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10 Responses to “Argumentum ad Populum and Religion”

  1. Robert Says:

    Sorry to say, you’ve merely abandoned one fallacy for another. Now you’re committing the fallacy of begging the question.

    You’ve assumed, but not demonstrated, that:

    1) Christ Jesus is the foundation of sincere religion.
    2) We can trust what the Bible says.
    3) The warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you pray to Christ Jesus is him “revealing” himself to you.

    Your last sentence is especially egregious: “When your religious reasoning starts with, “I know, for myself, that Christ lives, because I talked with Him and he with me”, then all the reasoning to the contrary is null.”

    No kidding?

    When your religious reasoning starts with, “I know, for myself, that Allah lives, and Muhammed (PBUH), is his prophet, because I talked with Allah and He with me,” then is it any surprise that all the reasoning to the contrary is null too?

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      Do you know any Muslims claiming personal revelation? As far as I know, only Mohamed received revelation from God through Gabriel. If someone from the Islam faith were to claim that they were receiving messages from God/Allah, I don’t think they would be received well.

      I assure you, it is not just a “warm, fuzzy feeling”. This kind of experience is something that must be experienced on an individual level. There is no logical or reasonable explanation for this except for what it claims to be. Trust me, people have tried to label Joseph Smith and those associated with the LDS religion with all sorts of mental illnesses or as outright frauds and liars, but the charges have no basis in objective observations.

      • Robert Says:

        Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear on my point. It’s not the specifics of the religious reasoning, but the fact you take it as a given in the first place that’s the logical blooper.

        Since you ignored the charge of begging the question, I assume you concede it.

        There is no logical or reasonable explanation for this except for what it claims to be.

        Given the similarity of experience among individuals of conflicting and contradictory religious backgrounds, it seems you have no basis for this claim. What’s more, the same experience can be induced with drugs, which substantiates it as having a natural origin and contradicts your claim of it as having no other logical or reasonable explanation. Are you really claiming that the particular mystical experience you and others of your religion have is bona-fide, while everyone elses’ is fake?

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      I’ve addressed the difference between argumentum ad populum and bearing witness to observed events elsewhere. I don’t know why it’s difficult to understand how argumentum ad populum is different than reading through reports of what people have seen and observed in their experiments.

      The problem you are facing is that these things—the fact that Jesus Christ is the foundation of not only religion, but the entire existence of the universe and logic and reason itself–is because you do not accept that fact. I understand that.

      You know, for yourself, that the foundation of logic and reason is not found in logic and reason. The origin of the universe, the ultimate cause of it cannot be found in the universe. These are simply philosophical things that anyone can identify. There cannot be a logical explanation for the foundation of logic itself, nor can there be a natural (meaning, of the universe) explanation for the universe. That would lead to circular reasoning, something depending on itself as an assumption, and is an exercise in futility.

      Yes, there are a lot of conflicting claims. How do you, Robert, sort that out? Do you simply trust what Jonathan of Mohamed or whomever says?

      What if there were conflicting claims about gravity—one group claiming it is 9.8m/s and another group claiming it is 6m/s. What do you do when you need a good number to use for your calculations?

      Why is religion any different? Shouldn’t all religions have a test that you can subject their faith to? Isn’t the rule of thumb, “I’ll pick the religion that is best for me”, and then you proceed forward observing what effects the religion has on you as you practice it? What is unreasonable about testing the claims of the religions of the world?

      The test, the experiment I propose is a very, very simple experiment. It doesn’t require any upfront costs and a small investment of time and attention. It does, however, require that you be willing to live by the answers you obtain with your whole heart for your whole life, otherwise whatever revelation and knowledge you receive would be to your damnation (meaning, a stop of progress—the original meaning of the word.)

      Once you perform the test, and you find an answer, you don’t have to pay attention to what anyone else in the world says. You have got your answer, just like if you went out and carefully measured gravity for yourself. With that answer, if you trust it more than you trust the others, you can do whatever you need to do.

      I would think that for something so important as religion, because religion is the very foundation of logic and reason and the universe itself, and a small change in religious beliefs can dramatically change the course of action you choose in life, I would think that everyone would consider this question as the most pressing and important question in their lives. Is there a God? Does He expect me to do certain things? What happens if I choose to follow God, and what will happen if I choose to go my own way? Is it worth sacrificing X for God, or am I better off keeping X and losing God?

      Why not test the various religions out there so that you can arrive at an explanation of logic and reason itself?

  2. Robert Says:

    It’s not clear why you discuss argumentum ad populum when I’ve already stated twice your blunder is begging the question. You continue to commit this fallacy with the statement “the fact that Jesus Christ is the foundation of not only religion, but the entire existence of the universe and logic and reason itself”.

    When you illogically presuppose this “fact”, as you have, what need is there for any test? Any test you devise that assumes the conclusion is circular and invalid. Again, you’re simply begging the question.

    The test, the experiment I propose is a very, very simple experiment.

    Please tell us what this test is. And remember, if the test assumes what it attempts to prove, it’s invalid.

    You know, for yourself, that the foundation of logic and reason is not found in logic and reason. The origin of the universe, the ultimate cause of it cannot be found in the universe. These are simply philosophical things that anyone can identify. There cannot be a logical explanation for the foundation of logic itself, nor can there be a natural (meaning, of the universe) explanation for the universe.

    These are all false claims which a little research can show. But even assuming they’re true, they don’t logically lead to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is the foundation. The foundation could very well be Allah, Zeus, Mazda, or a bajillion other gods/beings/deities. Your claims work equally well for any of them.

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      You’re missing the point. You can’t prove logic with logic. If you’re somehow able to do so, I’d be interested, along with everyone else. Logic is, ultimately, not logical.

      if the test assumes what it attempts to prove, it’s invalid.

      So, when I test whether objects would fall to the earth, I have to assume for a moment that it doesn’t?

      Or does performing the experiment first require that you have a hope that the experiment might show what you want it to show, whether one way or the other, and you have a belief that performing the test will give you valuable insight, and the faith that leads to action on those beliefs?

      Your claims work equally well for any of them.

      OK, name ONE other religion that petitions the believer to question his faith and simply supplicate his deity for knowledge of the deity’s existence. “Ask, and ye shall receive” isn’t universally accepted by all religions. I have only found one religion that says, outright, “Do not believe because we tell you, but believe because you have received a distinct answer to your prayers, and then live the rest of your life following that same voice that answered your prayers.”

  3. tensor Says:

    What if there were conflicting claims about gravity—one group claiming it is 9.8m/s and another group claiming it is 6m/s. What do you do when you need a good number to use for your calculations?

    You perform a series of experiments yourself. If the topic is a bit more complex that that, you rely on the peer-review process.

    (BTW, it’s m/s/s or meters per second squared. Acceleration increases speed; the latter can be measured in m/s.)

    …the fact that Jesus Christ is the foundation of not only religion, but the entire existence of the universe and logic and reason itself…

    Euclid, Socrates, Plato, Isoceles, Pythagoras, Xeno, and a host of other Greek logicians were hard at work for centuries before Jesus even existed. You do know that a later event cannot influence an earlier event, at least on the non-quantum level, right?

    Meanwhile, I’ll leave you two to fight this one out amongst yourselves:

    Once you perform the test, and you find an answer, you don’t have to pay attention to what anyone else in the world says.

    Interesting side note, the charge of the electron has steadily changed over time. Some people believe this is due to the fact that the original experiments were actually more error-prone than thought, and subsequent experiments did not question them and were biased towards the original experiments. So much for repeated experiments and witnesses in science itself!

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      If the topic is a bit more complex that that, you rely on the peer-review process.

      The peer-review process is hardly perfect. It’s simply marginally better than having crackpots write their own papers.

      Euclid, Socrates, Plato, Isoceles, Pythagoras, Xeno, and a host of other Greek logicians were hard at work for centuries before Jesus even existed.

      I am having a hard time understanding you with this one. Jesus created the universe. He is the Firstborn. How can Euclid, Socrates, Plato, Isosceles, Pythagora, Xeno exist before their Creator?

      You have to realize that it’s quite apparent, according to written history, that all of mankind comes from Noah, who taught his children religion. The Greeks didn’t invent religion, and they didn’t invent logic.

      You do know that a later event cannot influence an earlier event, at least on the non-quantum level, right?

      No, I don’t know that. What is your proof? You’re assuming the universe behaves the way you think it behaves, when there is a lot of evidence that it doesn’t necessarily have to.

      What about the interest property of anti-matter that suggests they actually exist backwards in time, forming closed loops?

      Are all prophets really, really, really good guessers? Or is it possible that they saw exactly what they claimed to see—the past, present, or future? Why don’t we simply ask God, the author of the universe, and see what he has to say about it?

  4. demo kid Says:

    Once you perform the test, and you find an answer, you don’t have to pay attention to what anyone else in the world says. You have got your answer, just like if you went out and carefully measured gravity for yourself. With that answer, if you trust it more than you trust the others, you can do whatever you need to do.

    Therefore, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Judaism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Wicca and Christianity are all exactly the same. A person could “test” those faiths and come up with the same answer about their “truth”, since “truth” — as you’ve clearly stated — is a matter of opinion.

    I would think that Agnosticism would then be the most logical personal choice because of this, in fact! If knowledge about the metaphysical is subjective and dependent on personal inspiration, there is no way to determine the “correct” path with objective evidence logically.

    And to use the fact that we cannot “explain” the foundations of logic and reason as “proof” that a Christian ethos is correct is faulty. As I’ve stated many, many times before, you cannot set up an experiment where you say that God (any God) does not exist in a container, so that you can test the laws of logic and reason within and outside of that container. It’s the unique problem of believing in an omnipotent and omniscient deity. You can certainly talk about experiments in prayer, but there is no clear testable effect of the metaphysical above the physiological, psychological and environmental effects.

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      since “truth” — as you’ve clearly stated — is a matter of opinion

      I don’t recall saying it was a matter of opinion. I DO recall saying that truth can be discovered, but it isn’t discovered through argumentum ad populum but by thinking and testing reality for yourself.

      I would think that Agnosticism would then be the most logical personal choice because of this

      So, If I pray to God, and say, “Do you exist? And which course of life should I follow?” And he responds, “Yes, I exist, and you should love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” then I should draw from that conclusion that we can’t tell God exists?

      Do you even think about what you say or do you just type the first things that come into your mind?

      And to use the fact that we cannot “explain” the foundations of logic and reason as “proof” that a Christian ethos is correct is faulty.

      I never said that, but don’t let that bother you.

      Once again: The only proof that God exists is God, and the only proof that Christianity is true is Christ. That’s all there is to it.

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