Is the Invisible Pink Unicorn a good or bad rhetorical tool?

I love reading what certain skeptics have to say about my writings. When they take notice (which is admittedly not as often as I would like) they usually discuss the content among themselves using the typical, pompous, condescending tone that was captured so well in the parody, The Freethinkers' Guide to Debating Christians on the Internet. I honestly think that they see themselves as positioned atop a mountain (I’ll call Mt. Skepticism for the same of brevity) looking down compassionately on us poor, ignorant, deluded Christians. They then speak to themselves about how sad it is that Christians cannot climb the heights to understand their deep, brilliant thoughts. Such was the case with some skeptical comments pointed out to me with respect to my latest post on How should a Christian respond to the Invisible Pink Unicorn?

On what appears to be a pretty typical atheist blog entitled The Ace of Clades, the author, a gentleman posting under the name of Aron Ra (possibly his real name, but being a skeptic about such things I won’t jump to that conclusion), recently posted an article entitled, Here come the loonies, in which he criticizes people criticizing him. In the comments, a commenter had read my piece on the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU, for short) and decided to comment on it from Mt. Skepticism. Commenter 1 wrote:

I stumbled through links onto this gem [referencing my Invisible Pink Unicorn, or IPU, article], which IMO demonstrates how so many of our counter-arguments just sail over the heads of these types.

“These types”? Nothing bigoted about that comment, is there? Oh, he must mean people who don’t share his faith in the religion of atheism. Anyway, a second commenter decided that it is safe to jump on board the bandwagon (which is, incidentally, the favorite tactic of skeptics on discussion boards). Commenter 2 added:

That gem is indeed special, though I would note that in the same way our counter-arguments sail over the heads of these types, so too do the obvious proofs (scientific!) of the existence of God.

Apparently. At least, that’s what one of the comments says.

I’ll forgo the inevitable troll of commenting on that site, but … yeah. The invisible pink unicorn and the flying spaghetti monster being flippant/satirical/an in-joke/and so forth.

The Christian should then point to the Invisible Pink Unicorn [PatrickG: Synonymous with FSM by author's admission] website and the quote that I have set forth above which represents an atheist admission that the IPU is nothing more than a parody of Christian arguments. The Christian can then point out that the skeptic who is defending the IPU is doing so as a rhetorical tactic, nothing more.

A rhetorical tactic is often used to convey a point. This individual has clearly missed said point, and no caterwauling that rhetoric (RHETORIC!) was used can obscure that.

Finally, one last individual (Commenter 3) jumps on the bandwagon:

Forgive me, if I am wrong, but historically, aren’t rhetorical forms, the accepted format for discourse? It’s like he’s saying, “The Christian can then point out that the skeptic who is defending the IPU is doing so, by defending the IPU.”

Four points arise out of these comments.

A.  Yes, Christians understand the point of the IPU

Naturally, according to the skeptics looking down with pity from Mt. Skepticism, Christians are too stupid to understand the high intellectual positions of the skeptics who employ the Invisible Pink Unicorn approach to atheistic apologetics. In the words of Commenter 1, the IPU argument simply “sails over their heads.”Well, allow me to attempt to disabuse them of that notion.

The IPU argument is designed to “place the Christian in the position the skeptic is normally forced to inhabit,” as well-stated by an anonymous commenter on the CADRE website. According to this argument, Christians are defending a non-existent being. In doing so, Christians employ arguments that could just as easily prove the existence of other mythical beings. The purpose of the IPU is to set up a new chimera which can be substituted for God in the same arguments advanced by Christians. This, it is argued, demonstrates to the thinking Christians (as if one actually existed) that the arguments for the non-existent being known as God are not really proving the existence of anything real. The argument believes that if Christians would simply see the brilliance of this particular stratagem, they would understand why their arguments for God don’t really prove that God exists because the same arguments can be used to prove the existence of the IPU.

In fact, the argument is an attempted variation on the reduction ad absurdum argument in logic which takes an argument and carries it to its logical and absurd extreme as a means of demonstrating that the argument is flawed.  

Do I have it?  That is the point of the IPU (and its equally non-existent sister, the FSM), right? Can we agree that the argument does not “sail over” my head?

Sorry, but the IPU doesn't do what the skeptics occupying Mt. Skepticism hope. And it doesn’t do it for the very reason that apparently these self-congratulatory skeptics missed in my earlier post. So, let me try it again so that even the pseudo-intelligensia can understand what I mean when I say that the argument is simply rhetoric.

B.  Rhetoric has two meanings

Commenters 2 and 3 both played dumb (at least, I expect that they were playing dumb) about my use of the term “rhetoric” by alluding to the fact that rhetoric is not a bad thing.  Commenter 2 stated, “A rhetorical tactic is often used to convey a point.” Commenter 3 added, “[B]ut historically, aren’t rhetorical forms, the accepted format for discourse?”

The answer to both comments is that they are correct. Rhetorical forms are historically a very important part of argumentation. In fact, the study of rhetoric (the art of persuasion) was considered one of the fundamental studies in ancient times. However, as with many other words, rhetoric has multiple meanings. Rhetoric also means empty argumentation as brilliantly defined by Nevill Coghill, Geoffrey Chaucer, Longmans, Green and Co, 1956, p.15 (as quoted on Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany): 

Rhetoric has come to mean a windy way of speech, marked by a pompous emptiness and insincerity, and trotted out as a trick on any occasion calling for solemn humbug.

Now I suppose it is possible that these two commenters were unaware that rhetoric had this second meaning. I suppose it is even possible (although much less likely) that they were totally unaware that words can actually have more than one meaning in the first place. One should not eliminate either possibility, so I will not accuse them of falsely dismissing my arguments by equivocation. Rather, I will simply say that when I refer to the IPU as rhetoric, I am referring to rhetoric in this second, uncomplimentary sense.

C. Many skeptics use the IPU dishonestly

In order to advance the IPU argument, many skeptics lie. At least my experience is that when skeptics use the IPU they will almost always lie to the Christian. They tell the Christian that they honestly believe that the IPU or the FSM actually exists knowing full well that it is a made up rhetorical device. Does this mean all skeptics lie? No, even though I have never run into a skeptic who employs the IPU without lying about it doesn't mean that they all lie. I cannot even say that most lie, although my personal experience is that the majority of the skeptics who use the IPU lie because the nature of the argument almost forces skeptics to lie.

Consider what the anonymous skeptic who argued in favor of the IPU on the CADRE blog said: the IPU argument is designed to “place the Christian in the position the skeptic is normally forced to inhabit.” If the skeptic does not adopt the position that the IPU is real, then the Christian is not put in the same position as the skeptic because the Christian obviously contends that God is real. So, I am rather certain that many skeptics (and probably most) who employs the IPU lie to do so.

But that’s the problem. The IPU by its nature introduces falsehood into the conversation. The skeptics on Mt. Skepticism may not (and apparently do not) realize it, but planting that seed of dishonesty into their argument makes them less credible when they do seek to tell the truth.  As Edward Murrow expressed, “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.” By using a falsehood in advancing their argument, skeptics lose credibility, believability and persuasiveness.

D. The IPU is insulting to Christian belief

Finally, the IPU (and even more so, the FSM) is insulting to Christians. It takes something that Christians strongly believe in – a great, glorious and loving creator – and equates him with some equine beast or an animated plate of pasta. If skeptics are hoping that the IPU will convince Christians, they would have been much better off to compare God to something more glorious than a invisible pink pony or a plate of boiled noodles. As it is, the argument turns most Christians off before it is even heard because it is obviously condescending. So, exactly, how does this silly argument advance the cause of skepticism? I don’t believe it does. My post was simply pointing out to the good Christians who encounter this argument what they might do to move the skeptic off arguing about fantasy and to deal in real arguments about real things.

That’s the point. I hope the skeptics occupying Mt. Skepticism don’t have this one go over their heads, too. 


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