There are many different ways to make biased arguments. One way to do this is by engaging in logical fallacies. Only rarely are logical fallacies employed intentionally, but they do indicate poorly constructed arguments. It is easier to make a bad argument with logical fallacies than it is to make a good argument. Some of these arguments seem so convincing that you don’t know what to do with them. You might even be convinced by them, despite being almost completely invalid.
In this video YouTuber “NateTalksToYou” does a video review of Dennis Prager’s ‘PragerU’ video where Prager claims that “If there is no God, Murder Isn’t Wrong.” The video is instructive because it shows exactly how one can use narrative control (e.g. a fancy presentation), while simultaneously employing numerous logical fallacies, to promote an agenda. Since many online arguments employ similar tactics, it is instructive. It also reminds us that just because an argument appears convincing doesn’t mean it is even remotely close to being correct.
First let’s highlight a part of Prager’s argument:
Prager: Do you believe that good and evil exist? The answer to this question separates Judeo-Christian values from secular values. Let me offer the clearest possible example. Murder. Is murder wrong? Is it evil? Nearly everyone would answer yes. But now I will pose a much harder question. How do you know? I’m sure you think murder is wrong, but how do you know? … The fact is you can’t … without God there are no moral facts. In a secular world there can only be opinions about morality. They may be personal opinions, or society’s opinions. But only opinions. Every atheist philosopher I have read or debated on this subject has acknowledged that if there is no God, there is no objective morality.
Before the video even starts, Nate engages in the first logical fallacy, an ad hominem, by using the title “Dennis Prager Is An Idiot.”
In answer to the question “Do you believe that good and evil exist?”, Nate replies at 0:20, “I believe they exist as a concept.” This is the logical fallacy of conflation leading to the logical fallacy of a strawman. Instead of honestly answering the question “No” (like this YouTuber) , Nate attempts to change the definition from one of independent existence to that of mental conception. By conflating the concept of good and evil with its existence, he can then argue against it more easily (the strawman argument). As we will see, this error is repeated numerous times throughout the video.
At 0:49, Nate states “In most cases, yeah….But if you murder someone as an act of self defense because they’re attacking you, then I think it’s OK.” Killing in self defense is not murder. This is, again, the logical fallacy of conflation (or implicit equivocation of murder and killing). The definition of murder is unlawful killing, not any killing. But Prager is not making the argument that all killing is wrong. Nate makes repeats this mistake as well, including later when he discusses killing in the biblical account.
In response to the “How do you know?” question, Nate responds at 1:31 with “That’s a trick question, because you can’t know. It’s an opinion…. I can’t say it’s true objectively.” Finally he admits what he should have admitted in the first place: that he doesn’t believe good and evil exist. And it’s not a trick question, just a matter of framing the argument, as was clearly stated. The only trick here is the conflation of terms leading to the strawman argument.
He then uses the anecdotal fallacy of Ted Bundy as if that isolated (or extreme) anecdote (a mass murderer) was compelling proof that murder is an opinion. At 1:47, he repeats the equivocation of murder and killing as additional proof that it is an opinion. He then uses a Jain monk, another anecdote, as further proof.
Notice that the argument is flawed from the initial conflation at the beginning. Prager never said that you couldn’t hold an opinion of a different definition of murder, that is, murder certainly is a concept. In fact, he explicitly stated that all Non-Judeo-Christian secular definitions of murder are opinion. This is, ironically, exactly what Nate is defending when he argues that his secular definition of murder is an opinion.
At 2:15 Nate states “This is where the video really goes downhill. Here’s the part where Prager argues that thinking about these things for yourself is bad. You need God to think for you.”. Prager says “There are scientific facts, but without God, there are no moral facts”. Nate then protests that you don’t get moral facts, you get opinions from various holy books from various religions: “No, with God you get a book of opinions. In fact1, you get numerous books with varying opinions in each of them.” This is another fallacy: begging the question. Nate is asserting that God does not exist so holy books are just opinion so moral facts are really just moral opinions.2 But Prager argues that God’s existence and moral facts go together and agrees that the rest are just moral opinions. The question isn’t whether morality is fact or opinion, but whether or not any religion is true (God exists).
It’s a bad argument anyway. Prager, in arguing that objective morality must be rooted in God, is making a common philosophical argument. Atheist philosophers often willingly acknowledge this point. Nate also spends his time stating that without God morality is not objective. What Nate wants to assert is that religion is false and God does not exist, but you can’t get there with the argument presented. Notice, again, that the initial conflation (whether good and evil exist independently vs. conceptually) is leading to the faulty strawman argument as Nate discusses the concept of morality rather than the argument being presented by Prager.
At 2:41 Nate engages in the tu quoque fallacy by demanding that Prager consider the question in reverse: “If God is real, how do you know that the moral values of your religion are right and the moral values of, say, Zoroastrianism or Sikhism, are wrong? What is stopping someone from those religions from making the same argument you’re making, but in favor of their morals instead?” The first question is a red-herring and the second a non-sequitur. In order for religions to debate the details of moral facts, they must already have agreed that God exists, so it’s not the same argument when reversed. The argument “Without God there are no moral facts. In a secular world there can only be opinions about morality” is true without respect to religious affiliation. Other religions may disagree on moral facts, but that doesn’t change the original argument.
At 3:03 Nate repeats the notion that disagreements on morals is important. That is, does disagreement within Christianity itself invalidate the argument? No. This is still a red-herring argument. Whether or not every person in every religion has a different set of morals would not change the fact that morals must be an opinion if one is an atheist and that the only way that it could be anything else is if God exists. Nate badly wants Prager to be discussing which variety of religion holds to the correct set of morality, but that’s not what the video is about, nor is it the argument Prager is making. Prager is saying morality comes from God. Prager lists Judeo-Christian values because they are “predicated on the existence of a God of morality.”
At 3:48 Nate runs through a few alleged biblical atrocities that are attributed to God claiming that God is a murderer, hypocritical, and blood-thirsty. Then he puts words in Prager’s mouth and sets up a strawman to claim that God’s morality is moral relativism.
At the 5:27 mark Nate asks why an atheist would accept Prager’s God as the source of morality if he can’t even prove his God is real in the first place? This is very similar to the argument from silence: Nate is putting the burden of proof onto Prager to defend an an argument (the existence of God) that isn’t even being discussed. Prager is only claiming that if you believe that murder is morally wrong as an objectively fact, then you must believe in a God that declares murder to be wrong.
The atheist belief that murder is not objectively wrong, that it is only an opinion, is exactly what makes atheism so difficult to accept. That is why the burden of proof lies with atheism on this argument: it is so difficult to accept that murder isn’t objectively wrong that it would require proof that God did not exist for many to accept this. And not just murder, but rape, theft, and many other morals. Prager’s video is not about those atheists who believe that God does not exist and that morals are not objective.
Around a dozen (give or take a few) fallacies have been made by the middle of the video. Nate goes on to cite Godwin’s law as a smear, even though the Nazi reference was used in an appropriate argument on the topic under discussion: murder. It isn’t that objections can’t be raised to Prager’s points, but that Nate is more concerned with mocking sarcasm (“Oh yeah, it couldn’t possibly be…”) and completely dismissing Prager’s points without any serious refutation.
There were a handful of other fallacies, errors, and objections made that I won’t cover here due to length issues. Nate did accuse Prager of “Fearmongering, Contradictions, Fallacies, and Revisionist History.” That last one was especially amusing when I fact checked Nate’s historical statements, but you can do that for yourself.
It is very hard to take any argument seriously when it is riddled with fallacies. Any potentially valid points are swallowed up by those paying attention. These arguments do appeal to those who are predisposed to believe them without critical thought. This is why bias is so insidious. Dishonest arguments lead to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is ultimately a type of false superiority. And you can’t watch videos like this, full of mocking, derision, and arguments of assertion, without coming away with the distinct sense that the author has a clear sense of superiority.
There is irony in that towards the end of the video (at the 10:09 mark), after a stunning level of fallacies so far, Nate appeals to ‘critical thinking’. For what its worth, critical thinking is exactly what you should be doing.
1 Is it Nate’s opinion that religious statements are ‘in fact’ opinions? Or is this one of a number of possible logical fallacies? Or is this just a complete lack of an argument?
2 Nate didn’t explicitly state that religions are false, but this was obviously implied: The reason he stated that moral statements of religions are opinions must be because the religions are false. If a religion was true, it wouldn’t be opinion.