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Atheist fallacies (anthropological)

Atheist accounts as regards religion often start in this way: “In the darkness of the African veldt, interspersed with only lightning, primitive man huddled together against the predators outside his small cave—it was a harsh and cruel world, a world that made little sense to primitive man; and so he turned, with great relief, to the medicine man to allay his fears…”

There then follows an account as regards different primitive religions from around the world and, by analogy, it is said that, say, the Catholic Mass bears a resemblance in its “primitive smells and noises” to a witchdoctor in Papua New Guinea—the implication is that, therefore, religion is not true.

The argument is fallacious. All the atheist has done is provide a narrative description of what he asserts to be the evolution of religion—he then claims that because, say, a Catholic Mass has some relation in functional terms to the gyrations of a primitive witchdoctor that it is, therefore, not true.

The assumed premise is that the primitive witchdoctor is engaged in a false activity—but that is never argued, it is merely taken for granted. The argument’s force lies in saying “because X is like Y and Y looks ridiculous and is obviously false then X is not true”. This does not follow.

Consider, for example, if I showed you a film of a primitive village assembly passing judgement on a criminal and then I showed you a video of a modern court—and then I said, “As you can see, the modern court is just the same in principle as this primitive ritual—and that’s why courts are a waste of time, we shouldn’t punish criminals at all; it’s just a primitive superstition.” You’d think I was stupid—but atheists pull this trick via the “anthropological fallacy” all the time.

In fact, all I would have shown is that man attempts to devise systems to punish criminals, the ways he goes about it, even in very different societies, have certain similarities—a court in an advanced industrial society looks very different to the headman’s assembly in a village hut in a jungle, yet there are obvious similarities. However, that observation offers nothing to substantiate a point made by, perhaps, an anarchist that there should be no courts or punishment at all.

It works, in part, because people are already not very religious, so are easier to convince in this way than if I argued that we should abolish criminal courts in this way—but it also works because it’s an appeal to evolution, and evolution is known to be a high-status belief (in fact, people are trained by the education system to think in an evolutionary way).

The argument actually contains a further fallacy in that it assumes that what is more modern is superior to what is primitive—perhaps, for example, shamans are better at curing illnesses than a Catholic priest?

It is only modernism that assumes that what is later, what is more “evolved”, is more sophisticated—per Guénon and Evola, the Traditional view was that primitive tribes are the devolved remnants of higher lost civilisations, not building blocks that can be considered the “roots” for modern religions.

As is often the case, the argument’s force relies on your unstated assumptions—and in modernity our unstated assumption is that we move from lower to higher, from ape to man, and that what is later is more sophisticated and better, so that we can learn about what exists now if we examine “the primitive roots”.

Basically, when this information is presented there is no argument—it’s just a history, a purported evolutionary development (in fact, mostly by analogy—there is no actual cause-and-effect connection between a Mass and a witchdoctor’s rituals; although it is made to seem so). And this evolutionary narrative is presented in emotive language so that modern religion is seen as “primitive, stupid, ignorant”. Yet the connection is an illusion—it’s just a narrative presented in emotive language.


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