Whenever I debate religion with anyone (happens frequently), an argument that frequently comes up is the “No True Scotsman” argument.
A simple rendition from Wikipedia–
Teacher: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.
Student: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!
Teacher: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.
When used in the context of religion, the argument sounds more like this-
Believer: All religious people do good.
Non-believer: There are many bad things committed by religious people.
Believer: Well, all true believers do good.
Basically, the No True Scotsman argument (henceforth referred to as NTS) is a tautology which attempts to exclude all forms of evidence brought forth by any opponents of the view. It essentially says “my evidence is the only valid evidence (if there is any)”.
Arguments like this can look irrefutable at face value, but the key to refuting them is basically to ask two questions-
1) What makes a person a true Scotsman, and is it justified?”
2) Is the existence of such a Scotsman significant and common, or is he just an exception to the general rule?
The general rule of thumb that I follow is this- “if an argument seems irrefutable, then it probably isn’t making any significant claim”. I hope this post helps in the elusive hunt for the “true Scotsman”. 😉