The good Christians over at the ‘Stand to Reason’ blog have accused me and my book (I Am Christ: The Crucifixion – Painful Truths) of committing the self-exclusion fallacy, or constituting a self-refuting statement. This post is to refute their allegation and shed some light on the way in which I perceive the world around me, a world most would agree, is as yet unknowable in its entirety.
What is a Self-Exclusion Fallacy?
The people at the ‘Stand to Reason’ blog give some good examples of what constitutes a self-exclusion fallacy, but essentially, a self-exclusion fallacy involves a statement which excludes or denies itself.
Here are some examples:
- There are no absolute truths (But for this statement)
- Knowledge is impossible for humans to acquire (But for this statement, which is attempting to present itself as knowledge)
- Words have no validity (But for these ones)
According to Alan Schlemon:
“…the major mistake with this author’s view is that it is self-refuting; it contradicts itself. In other words, this author’s view can’t satisfy its own criteria.”
Alan then goes on to present his reasoning:
“Here’s how his (Michael Sherlock’s) view is self-refuting. Listen carefully to what his claim is, he says this, quote;
‘The trouble with religions like Christianity is that they spread with the belief that the missionary has the correct belief and all others should conform with their belief,’ end quote. In other words, you can’t go around thinking your views are correct and true for everyone and so consequently you shouldn’t go around and try to get others to conform to your view. Okay, so let’s see, does this author follow his own advice? Does this author have a belief that he thinks is correct? Well, yes! What is his belief? It says it right here, he says, ‘beliefs are just personal road maps to reality and therefore you shouldn’t try to convince others of them, end quote. Now, does he want to spread that belief and have other’s conform to it? Yes; how do I know? He’s written a book on it and he’s selling it on Amazon.com, the largest online retailer in the world!”
Alan finishes by saying:
“So he criticises Christians for having a belief that they think is true for everyone and then trying to spread it and get others to conform to it…he calls them egocentric for doing such a thing, but at the same time he has his own belief which he also thinks is correct, wants to spread it to others so others conform to it and this he believes is an action of humility…this is just self-refuting, it’s self-contradictory.”
Where to begin?
The central argument in this “refutation” is as follows;
Michael is saying that our beliefs are just beliefs, but this is a self-contradicting statement, as he is presenting this statement as his belief and thus, the statement denies itself or fails to fulfil its own criteria.
I see where Alan is coming from, as mistaken as he is; however it appears he has neither read my book nor even quoted from the entire interview. If he had quoted from later in the interview with Adam Kokesh, he would have been forced to relay the following:
(Interviewer) Adam Kokesh: So would you describe yourself as an agnostic, in powerfully not caring (knowing) whether a god/gods exist?
Me: No. Labels are really hard, because once you ascribe to a label then you have to conform with all of those little things that go along with that label and I might change tomorrow, I might change in ten minutes, so I like to keep my options open and I think that’s what being a freethinker is, it’s about keeping your options open.
Adam Kokesh: It would seem that you have eliminated some options. Is that fair to say, at least?
Me: Not necessarily, I’m still really enjoying reading works by Christian apologists, fundamentalist apologists and using my imagination to say, what if they’re right? What if these guys, whose beliefs are so at odds with my own, what if they’re the ones who are right? I love to think like that because it keeps myself challenged.
Perhaps if they had taken the time to read even the preface of my book, they would have also read the following:
‘…belief could be argued to be a natural and healthy function of the mind. It is a cognitive phenomenon that is almost impossible to escape from entirely. Everyone, no matter how open- minded, possesses some kind of belief or another.’
And should their condemnation have been founded upon just a little bit more investigation, as the wise Einstein once pointed out, “condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance,” then, just maybe, they would have gleaned that I have included myself in this concept of the personal roadmap to reality and that I am only slightly freer from the bondage of belief than Christian apologists, who twist and turn frantically to produce rationalizations for an ultimately irrational religion. Perhaps, just perhaps, had they read my book, the source and subject of this “refutation,” they may have seen me cite Robert A. Wilson, who quipped; “belief is the death of intelligence” and then surely, not wishing myself to be viewed as unintelligent, would want the reader to know that although substantiated with scholarship from the fields of social psychology, psychology, neuroscience and philosophy, the presentation of such ideas was not an attempt to present beliefs of my own, but ideas for the reader to ponder over, particularly the Christian reader, whose roadmap is lined with unicorns, zombies and a “divine” David Blaine.
They may have even come to understand that the title of my book, ‘I Am Christ’ is not only about highlighting the fact that we all have beliefs (myself included), but also it is underlining a very old idea enunciated by the Socratic philosopher Aristotle, who once said;
“Men create gods in their own image, not only with regard to their form but with regard to their mode of life.”
In other words, I, the human being, am the creator of the gods and am therefore Christ, Yahweh, Hercules, Allah, etc…
Further, if they took the time to read the subject of their refutation (my book), they would have learned that it is divided into three parts. The first part deals with an investigation into belief and dips into the various academic wells of psychology, social psychology and neuroscience, as well as philosophy, to a lesser extent. The reason I begin the book with a discussion on the various psychological and neurological mechanisms associated with belief and how we defend irrational beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary; how the brain is hardwired to conflate emotional wants with perceived reality and how our ego’s defense mechanisms distort reality to accommodate such fantasies as the dead rising, ghosts impregnating virgins, magic spells that turn water into wine and other such fantastic fictions, is to set the stage for the final two parts of the book, which are in substance, a look at the very flimsy nature of the foundations of the Christian religion, i.e., the unreliability of the Gospels and the lack of credible historical evidence for an earthly Jesus, let alone the magical Aesclepius-like demiurge described in the aforementioned legendary/mythical biographies.
Alan also employs what I have referred to in the past as the ‘apologist’s mirror.’ Notice he says:
“So he criticizes Christians for having a belief that they think is true for everyone and then trying to spread it and get others to conform to it…he calls them egocentric for doing such a thing, but at the same time he has his own belief which he also thinks is correct…”
Both Christian and Muslim apologists often employ the ‘apologist’s mirror’ in an attempt to balance an otherwise unbalanced playing field in a debate. “You have beliefs too.” Yes, this is true. However, with regards to the subject of our discussion, I am merely presenting ideas, ideas that are not rooted in the false certitudes of irrational ancient superstition, based on hearsay and incredible tales and that do not even have ordinary evidence to substantiate their extraordinary claims, but ideas that are supported by thorough scholarship, research, scientific investigation and clear headed inquiry.
Finally, I would like to address the following assertion made by Alan:
“Now, does he want to spread that belief and have others conform to it? Yes; how do I know? He’s written a book on it and he’s selling it on Amazon.com, the largest online retailer in the world!”
Again, these aren’t my beliefs, they are ideas supported by a wealth of academia, unlike the marvellous tales from the Bible. You see, I try not to believe or categorically disbelieve anything, but I enjoy weighing ideas and alleged facts on a scale of possibilities and probabilities. The most absurd ideas go on the very end of the possibilities portion of my scale (least possible) and the most credible and substantiated ones go on the end of the probabilities portion of my scale (most probable) and I adjust when new evidence causes me to re-evaluate my scale. The good thing about this approach is that it prevents me from becoming stuck in a cognitive paradigm that leads to an egocentric worldview; my religion, my god, my beliefs, my, my, my, me, me, me. I realise that the ideas I possess at present are just those, ideas, and that they should always be subject to re-evaluation, for they are not sacred, they are human ideas and in so being, they are fallible constructs of fallible minds, like God-belief, for example.
Do I want others to conform to my ideas, as Alan suggests? No, I don’t. That would be depressing and a burden I would not wish to bear. I want to present ideas that may or may not be useful to some, ideas that challenge and can be challenged, changed, adapted, refuted, and improved upon. I want to relay to readers what I have learnt and what I have learnt thus far, is that I know very little, but will continue to strive to learn, grow and adapt as evidence and rational reason require, for the truth, whatever that may be, is my master and one cannot serve both their beliefs and the truth at the same time, for they will either hate the one and love the other, or hold to the one only to forsake the other and I would hate to forsake truth for its inferior cousin, belief.
To sum up:
My book looks at the Christian belief system by firstly addressing the way in which such beliefs have been shielded by rampant egocentrism, ego defense mechanisms and certain neurological circumstances, as well as sociological realities, i.e., tradition. Following this, my book launches into a polemic against the credibility of an in-credible religion. Does this qualify as a self-refuting fallacy? No. It constitutes an investigation into an absurd religion, a religion that has, for the majority of its history (as demonstrated in the 2nd volume in the I Am Christ Trilogy), imprisoned the innocent, tortured the just, killed and disenfranchised the righteous and has, by its rotten fruits, demonstrated its malignant, irrational and ultimately mortal nature.
Thanks for reading.
Kind and warm regards
Here is the link to Stand to Reason’s Refutation: http://www.str.org/blog/challenge-your-beliefs-are-just-beliefs#.UsNzlbSMAfU