No True Scotsman – February 10, 2018

Owen here…

One of the things Rex and I encounter with disappointing frequency is the No True Scotsman fallacy. As former Christians who are now atheists and advocates for freethought, it is sometimes difficult for believers to accept that we were ever Christians to begin with. The argument usually goes something like: “No true Christian could ever fall away, so you couldn’t have really believed.” I’ve always tried to take this reply in stride. It’s not worth being offended about because it doesn’t really diminish me at all personally, and from the point of view to my counter-party it makes sense that some kind of rationalization would be necessary to help that person confront the difficult reality right in front of them: it is possible to be a true believer and then walk away. When you unpack that, even just a little, what you find is a person who’s intellect is already struggling with the idea that disbelief is even possible. There is cognitive dissonance there, right under the surface. The saddest thing of all is that this would have been an argument I might have used many years ago back in my Christian days if I had encountered a former Christian. There are several takeaways, I think. First, anytime you have a conversation with someone where you have taken ownership of non-belief, please don’t ever be offended at the responses you receive. Try to understand the interaction from the perspective of the person saying this to you. This is a potentially painful and personally challenging situation for that person. Second, when you see a flawed argument like this, point out (gently and politely) to the person that the argument they’re using is actually a common and well understood logical fallacy that actually has a name. Explain to them why its a fallacy (it’s circular – the premise and the conclusion are the same). And finally, remember that you’re a representative of freethought, and the behavior you model might stay in that persons mind forever. You’re planting a seed into the mind of a person who may never have encountered a non-believer before. You never really know how that seed may germinate.

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