The No Goalposts Fallacy

It’s kind of like the moving the goalposts fallacy, but not. It happens frequently when discussing God with atheists.

The most obvious example is with regard for evidence on the existence of God. Atheists will sometimes say they so no evidence for God, and the theist can easily respond with many empirical and philosophical evidences. On hearing this, atheists will often move the goal posts by saying there may be some evidence for God, but there isn’t enough evidence.

Carl Sagan is often invoked here, saying, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” There are a few problems with this:
1 – Extraordinary evidence is undefined. Indeed, in reality there is no amount of evidence sufficient for many of these atheists. This is the No Goalposts fallacy. Sometimes the goalposts never move, they simply didn’t exist to begin with.
2 – There are already rational standards of evidence required. One rational standard is that any statement must be more likely than it’s negation to be true in expectation.
3 – Another standard, a la Pascal, is that the expected value of a statement needs to be higher than the expected value of alternatives.

While asking for evidence is a common case of seeing the No Goalposts fallacy, I recently ran into another version on Reddit. It takes the form “God doesn’t make X clear enough in the Bible,” or “God doesn’t talk about X enough in the Bible.” The object here is not that God isn’t clear at all, or that he doesn’t talk about X at all, but that he doesn’t do it enough. Again, the amount required by the critic becomes variable, but it often turns out that no amount is sufficient. Separately, there is the whole concern about how a critic can justify the need for God to be clear or talk about X in the first place, but that it a different counter-criticism.

Relatedly, talking about anything (in the Bible or in general) tends to exclude or dilute talking about other things, so it is not sufficient for the atheist-critic to simply say “X is good therefore God should talk about X.” They must show that talking about X for Y duration is more valuable than the effect of excluding Z from the fixed space of the Bible, or the alternative of diluting W, all other information in the Bible, by growing the size of the Bible to include X without excluding any Z. Any such value-making will ultimately run into a moral justification problem, and God is typically the best moral source anyway, so it would not be expected for the atheist’s value judgments to be preferred to those already implicit in the actual Bible.

Related articles:
1 – August 2017, Defending Iterative Christianity
2 – June 2017, An Approach to Reading the Bible: Moderate Literalism and Methodological Plausibility
3 – November 2014, Benefits of Cognitive Dissonance

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