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3 comments | Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A few months ago a friend emailed me a clever collection of terms he previously retrieved from a message board called “The Believer’s Dictionary.” The list of terms and descriptions are both amusing and sobering. The dictionary provides an overwhelming sense of familiarity when conversing with skeptics. Anyone who has spent a diminutive amount of time dialoging with petulant internet atheologians will immediately appreciate The Believer's Dictionary. I tried to track down the source of this with no avail. I have a suspicion it’s from a Muslim message board due to some specific annotations; however, I am unsure. Regardless, the material is a *must* read! If anyone knows the source, or is able to track it down, please let me know—I would like to provide a link to the original source if I can.


I enjoy reading from The Skeptic’s Dictionary: it’s a useful resource for learning about common nonsense (for example, who first spoke of the imaginary “gray men” aliens, these having been similar to the aliens on an episode of The Outer Limits which had recently aired). All the same, though, I have some bones to pick—more with trendy pseudo-intellectual sorts of skeptics in general than with the Dictionary itself, so I thought I’d list them here as my own dictionary about the common pitfalls of skepticism. So far I have twenty-four entries; with time I may add more. So without further ado, here is The Believer’s Dictionary!

“Ancient = stupid” fallacy: The skeptics’ own version of Erich von Daniken’s famous arguments in favor of the existence UFOs. The absurd misinterpretations and reinterpretations of myths coming invariably from art (poetry, murals, songs, statues, etc.)—which is by definition a nonliteral medium—as being necessarily entirely literal when regarding ancient religions even though modern art is not the same way. This is used as fodder for stereotypes about religion as a universally mythical thing that always ends up getting “explained” by science. (See also THE OL’ SWITCHEROO.) This results in the very most insulting false depictions of ancient people as being dumber than modern people (not more unlearned: dumber)—somehow capable of believing, for example, that lightning is literally the scepter of a god even though it looks nothing remotely like a scepter and sometimes strikes in more than one place at once, or that a chariot literally pulls the sun even though one can never be seen.

Atheist’s catch-22: The tendency of many atheists to adhere to a stereotype about atheists in response to that same stereotype. This stereotype is that they’re all morally wretched: they get so angry about this that they resort to crude, childish, spiteful attitudes in response, often to the point of mockery (a massively popular hallmark of skepticism), and in doing so become morally wretched, and as such by attacking the stereotype they end up feeding it.

“Break it, don’t buy it” fallacy: The specific type of ad hominem attack countless millions of skeptics use as a reason to reject religion, that the atrocities, terrorism, crusades, etc. caused by breaking the rules of numerous religions somehow discredits the value or believability of the religions themselves. (You’d think that if anything, that would indicate the opposite.) This makes about as much sense as rejecting the Bill of Rights because of the Patriot Act that defies them in the name of the same country.

Coincidence-clustering bifurcation: The double standard many skeptics hold wherein if something extraordinary happens once or twice then it’s just a fluke, whereas if extraordinary things happens frequently then it’s due to the mathematical principle known as clustering. In other words, nothing can ever convince these skeptics since every possible situation is seen through its own respective presumption. They’ve left no way for anything ever to convince them that they’re wrong. When believers do this it’s called closed-minded blind faith; when skeptics do the same thing here it’s just seeing things scientifically. How about that? See also SCARBOROUGH EFFECT.

Consciousness: To the average non-soulist, somehow the same thing as the soul or equivalent to it in some way. They see consciousness as defining our being ourselves, our being “in there”, so to speak. For some strange reason it never occurs to them that people are themselves, fully “in there”, when dreaming, and we dream while we’re unconscious. Therefore the self and consciousness can’t be the same thing entirely—when we dream we’d be having a self while having no self. See also SELF.

The Ever-shifting Burden of Proof: The mysteriously changeful criterion for who should have the burden of proof in any discussion between skeptics and believers (for example, over the issue of God’s existence)—now it’s the person *introducing* the claim who has the burden of proof, now the person with the *extraordinary* claim, now the person with the *positive* claim—whatever is most convenient for the skeptic at the particular moment.

Freethinker: An irreligious atheist—after all, we open-minded people all know that no one who disagrees with you can possibly be capable of thinking freely.

God: To a skeptic, the word “God” means “whatever particular theory of what God happens to be like (not who He is) according to the prevailing, orthodox, mainstream ideas where the skeptic lives”. This is why “incompatible properties” arguments for God’s nonexistence never involve merely the basic denotation of “creator and ruler of the universe” that you’ll find in any dictionary (usually in those exact words), and also why so many atheists (many of them intelligent people with English as a first language) claim to disbelieve in God because the word doesn’t really mean anything.

Great Lie of Skepticism: “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Few die hard skeptics who ever say this and then see what seems to be a ghost/angel/whatever are likely to actually change their mind like they more or less promised they would. They’ll just keep on denying, saying that they were hallucinating, dreaming, having their senses play tricks on them, etc. Now of course they may very well be completely correct about that, but my point is not the accuracy or inaccuracy of such a conclusion but the dishonest, closed-minded double standard involved.

Identity crisis: The confusion materialists (in the philosophical sense of the word “materialism”) always make between what something is made of, or how it works, and what it *is*. Without this confusion, materialism probably wouldn’t even be a possible belief.

“Knowledge is power” fallacy: Perhaps the single most irrational argument in the history of human beings, the idea that God either doesn’t exist or isn’t good because He knows what’s going to happen before it happens and therefore nobody is free to do anything else. Why should foreknowledge of another person’s choice (assuming that God goes from one moment to the next along with us in the first place, which is improbable) cancel its being a choice at all? Foreknowledge does not equal causation. We know that the people around us are going to die someday: that does not make us murderers. If we went back in time and watched Lincoln give the Gettysburg address, it would not qualify us as his speechwriters. We all know that the sun will rise tomorrow: that does not mean we’re making it happen. How do intelligent people ever fall into this nonsense?! But then there I go, sounding like a skeptic.

“Lack of belief”: An almost comically nonsensical and incoherent phrase used by many atheists as a redefinition of atheism for their own convenient purposes. Flies in the face of every English dictionary ever printed in the history of planet earth. Is never explained precisely, but apparently refers to nonbelief as opposed to disbelief. For example, the atheists ask, wouldn’t someone who’s never heard of God be an atheist? The answer is clearly and undeniably “no”, since the official definition of “atheism”, used universally by all but these select few atheists (even by most other atheists, from what I understand) is someone who has heard of God and disbelieves in Him. “So what do you call people who have never heard of God?” the label-obsessed people ask? Call me crazy, but how about “people who have never heard of God”?

Mind-reading contradiction: The idea that skeptics hold who profess disbelieve in mind-reading yet nevertheless are themselves capable of reading the minds of believers, knowing impossibly all the supposedly psychological reasons for our belief even if they don’t know us at all. The way I see it: either mind-reading is possible, or it isn’t. If it is, I see no reason why prejudiced pseudo-Freudian skeptics should have a monopoly on it.

Mythicism: The disbelief that Jesus (P) never existed, invariably based on the supposed lack of definitive historical evidence for his existence. The problem here is that history up until the invention of recording devices in the nineteenth century is a huge heap of guesswork for modern people, and so very little of it (if anything) can really be known with a tenth the surety everyone blindly assumes exists. Were the mythicists consistent with their logic, they would disbelieve not only in the existence of Jesus (P) but also about half of the people they ever heard about in history class from grade school through college.

Obsolete: In reference to arguments for God’s existence, this means “rebutted at any time by any disbeliever at any point in history, however poorly, illogically or incompletely”. You can imagine how angry the skeptics would get if we believers flipped it around and said the same thing in reference to their own arguments.

The Old Switcheroo: Replacing the ancient meaningless labels like “the action of spirits” which once “explained” why the universe works the way it is with more modern meaningless labels like “the forces of nature” and saying that we’ve now “explained” what people previously thought was something else. One may as well take something people once “explained” by dubbing it ickywicky and “explain” it by calling it glooberflek instead.

Organized religion: Bizarre redundancy used with enormous frequency by skeptics despite the fact that, just by definition, there could never possibly be any such thing as a disorganized religion.

Razor reverence: Blind, more or less religious faith in Occam’s Razor, a general rule that works best as a last resort rather than what many skeptics think it is, which is a near-absolute rule almost along the lines of a law of nature. One more excuse for not having to accept the complexity of life, perhaps: people of all stripes seem to have a problem with that.

Religion: As skeptics define it: “Whatever religion is the prevailing one where the skeptic speaking lives, because of course no other religions exist in the world”. Western skeptical writers judge all religions by Christianity; those in Islamic countries regard Islam as if its beliefs are the same as all religious beliefs; and so on. Prime examples of this nonsense are H.P. Lovecraft’s charge that his problem with “religion” is the idea of a God of everything caring enough about a cosmic flyspeck to send His only son to redeem it (for as we all know, every religion throughout history has taught just that) and Richard Carrier by his own confession declaring, “Yep, I’m an atheist,” after finishing the Bible (for as we all know, it’s impossible to believe in God without believing in the Bible).

Santa lag: The feeling of weariness and vague nausea a theist gets after approximately the 9,000th time hearing an atheist who thinks he’s real cute compare the existence of God to the existence of Santa Claus—an analogy that’s as inaccurate as it is insulting, since Santa Claus is a deliberate lie which the people teaching it never believe in.

Scarborough Effect: Believing that God/the afterlife/ghosts/entrail reading/whatever aren’t real because there is no scientific evidence for their existence. Since these things are by definition supernatural and therefore outside what science can detect, what this attitude boils down to is, “Because there is no scientific evidence for its existence, we disbelieve in this thing that could never yield scientific evidence even if it were to exist since it is supposed to be outside the parameters of science.” One may as well conclude that Mexico City doesn’t exist because one can’t find it anywhere in Australia. I named this principle after the song “Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?” in which a series of impossible-to-meet criteria are given as the only way for the narrator of the song to be persuaded of something. See also COINCIDENCE-CLUSTERING BIFURCATION.

Scarecrow Syndrome: The stereotype many skeptics hold that no other reasons (even incorrect ones) for religious belief of any kind, or even belief in the existence of God, are possible except intuitive or emotional ones. Apparently we believers are incapable even of false logic; nothing could ever motivate us but our hearts. Similar to the belief many Bible-bangers have that no one can reject Christianity for any reason except some wicked, selfish desire as opposed to disagreement that the religion’s doctrines appear to be true or even believable. I named this principle so not only because of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz who had a heart but no brain, but also because the syndrome I’m speaking of here is a form of “straw man” argument. See also MIND-READING CONTRADICTION.

Self: To most non-soulists, the same thing as self-awareness. Since when does someone have to be aware of something in order for it to exist?? See also CONSCIOUSNESS.

Superstition: To a skeptic, any belief in anything whatsoever that’s supernatural or paranormal, however ill fitting a label “superstition” may be to the belief in question even from a disbelieving point of view for anyone who knows what the word “superstition” means.

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