Posts Tagged 'Logic'

Logos and Ethos: Justifying Lunacy

moon cheeseWhat if your best friend swore to you that the moon was made of cheese? You’d probably tell him politely that such a belief seemed highly unlikely. But what if he told you that his cheese belief meant alot to him, and he found your inability to share it offensive and saddening? What if he told you that if you valued him at all as a friend, you too would believe in a cheesy moon?

The Greeks referred to “the topics of rational argument or the arguments themselves” as logos. On the other hand, “the character or disposition of a person or group” was refered to as ethos. Instead of using arguments based on logos (precursor to the modern word “logic”) to convince you the moon is made of cheese, your friend is making a plea from his own ethos. This is also a technique that religions and belief systems have used for centuries to promote themselves.

Is the moon made of cheese? By any reasonable standard, we can say that it is not – but there are a few unreasonable standards kicking around too. Humans have walked on the moon and brought back rocks. And if the moon really were made of cheese, its orbit of the earth would be longer, and besides, that lunar buggy wouldn’t have had such good traction. These are logical reasons to believe the moon is made of rock-like material and not cheese.

It makes sense to use logic to decide whether or not objects have certain physical properties; your friend may want you to believe the moon is made of cheese, but his assertion has nothing to do with the physical realities of the moon, and you have no good reason to assume that his emotions relate in any way to the moon’s geological makeup. He probably was a bad friend anyway.

The assertion that a god exists is a statement of physical reality. Most people think their god is not a physical entity, but in order for him to exist he must manifest in our universe in some way. Apologists for the existence of a god often point to unusual events and offer them as evidence of the actions of a god. But these actions invariably have more plausible explanations that don’t involve a god at all. By any logical standard, a god is either immaterial and completely passive in this universe, or he doesn’t exist at all.

However, many people use an emotion-based standard to determine whether or not a god exists. “When I believe in a god, I feel happy. Other people I see are happy because they believe in a god. If I stop believing in a god, my friends and family will become unhappy. Therefore, a god exists.” Some religions, such as many forms of Christianity, claim that their God is love. Since love exists, their God must exist too.

Atheists and other secularists are generally not swayed by this reasoning. This is not to say they can’t use emotion-based reasoning where it is appropriate: in choosing friends, business partners, or lovers. They may also have strong emotional reactions to things they perceive as beautiful, such as a sunset, or ugly, such as a Jonas Brothers concert. But they recognize that using emotional reasons to justify belief in physical realities is not a good thing to do. Otherwise, we’d have all kinds of cheesy beliefs.


I’m starting this blog as an outlet for my thoughts on religion, it successes, shortfalls, and how I get along without it. As an atheist and secularist, I often get accused of only believing in “cold logic”, to which I respond, “What’s so cold about it?" Just because I think critically where where religious people don’t doesn’t make me cold, immoral or unfeeling. I’m not anti-religious per se, though I feel some religious practices do get a free ride where they shouldn’t. The main reason I’m an atheist is that I think a life lived on secular priciples is a better way to live. In reading this, you’ll probably see plenty of ideas you’ve heard before, and hopefully a few you haven’t. With any luck, you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and we’ll both be better off.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism
(image: happy human)

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