In the continuing series to help apologists improve their arguments comes one that has been around as long as I have.
Note religions which promote men over women (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism) almost never make the claim a person became an atheist because of a lack of a strong mother figure in the home. God places men over their families, so if a child becomes an atheist, it is the failure of the father.
Many preachers and imams will claim that people become atheists because of a lack of a strong father figure in the home. Of note, this argument of a "lack of a strong father figure" is used to explain away many things, not just atheism: crime (especially amongst minority populations), teen pregnancy, poverty, &c. The argument seeks to ignore the position in favour of a view that the atheist's family is flawed or broken (and therefore the atheist is flawed or broken).
This argument fails for several reasons, depending on why the apologist makes the assertion.
- Argument from Ignorance: The apologist has heard this before, and without checking to see if it is true, repeats it.
- Argumentum ad Hominem: The apologist is making an attack on the person (the atheist) rather than his or her position (a lack of belief in gods).
- Poisoning the Well: The argument is not directed at the atheist, but instead draws a third party into accepting an ad hominem attack. This is frequently used in churches and mosques to strawman atheists to worshippers. (The objective is two-fold: to show why atheists are flawed, and to show families what will happen to their children if a strong father-figure doesn't carry out his religious duties with his children. It also provides pressure for a mother to apply to a father. This argument is reinforced by the Bible and the Qur'an, that strong father figures are necessary to raise children as devout).
- Cherry-picking: Examples are given of atheists who did not have strong father figures, while ignoring those who did, including very devout fathers.
- Argumentum ad Consequentium (appeal to consequences): If there is no strong father figure, then a child will become an atheist. (This is a fallacy because it assumes being an atheist is a bad thing in addition to the unfounded assertion you need strong father figures to have devout children.)
- Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (Literally "After this, therefore because of this". Conclusion based on coincidence with a prior action), or Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (spurious correlation):
- He is an atheist
- His father left home just before he became an atheist,
- His father leaving home caused him to become an atheist.
This sort of reasoning is also used to explain atheists in the context of disease or misfortune – he became an atheist because he developed cancer or lost his house – which then asserts that's why he became an atheist. Those might be true in individual cases, but most certainly are not in all cases. To defeat that sort of reasoning only requires presenting an atheist who does not meet those conditions.
People can grow up without a father figure in the home at all and still turn out strictly devout (most of the people in my generation of my family), or have a strong father figure and reject the premises of religious faith as not supported by evidence (they fail to meet their burden of proof). The overwhelming majority of atheists in this country came to that conclusion as adults who were devout Christians but later found faith or scriptures lacking.
The argument that an atheist necessarily had a lack of a strong father figure can be smuggled in with almost any sort of informal fallacy. The particular fallacy employed doesn't really matter; what matters is evidence for the assertions.
To a religious person, arriving at the conclusion that there is no evidence to support belief in any god is a direct assault on their religious faith; as noted in previous entries, that means their faith is not required to be a good or moral person. That leads to the next fail I will write about:
Shunning, or the power of a loving god requires me to cast you out