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Escape hatch

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House: You like messing with people. That's why you're here now. Now maybe you think that your batteries are powered by God, maybe you don't. Either way, you enjoy what you do.
Boyd: Yes. I like helping people. I get a rush when I see the look on their faces when they realize their burdens are gone.
House: Hmm… but you make sure you're in the next state by the time the endorphins wear off and the arthritis comes back.
Boyd: That doesn't happen.
House: Oh, you do extensive follow-up studies?
Boyd: God told me.
House: That's not fair. We were having fun; it's hard to keep sniping rationally when you throw a bomb like that in there.
—"House vs. God", House, Season 2 Episode 19.[1]

An escape hatch is, as the name suggests, a quick and immediate exit for woo-pushers and bullshitters. It is a way for someone to evade the burden of proof, say "gotcha", and leave the argument with a nice smug grin on their face (or sometimes a "Whew, got out of that one!" look). The arguments are often unfalsifiable, circular, or just downright weird – but the overall intention is to attempt to declare victory with a point that is unanswerable.

It should be recognized that in the quote above, the character of Gregory House represents the position of medical materialism.[2] The true religious believer does not simply invoke an article of religious faith to win an argument. They actually believe it.


Escape hatch arguments can take a few different forms: claiming unfalsifiable statements as scientific truths or the setting of ridiculous conditions that cannot be fulfilled.[3] Often, the escape hatch is followed by something along the lines of "I bet you can't answer that!", which may indeed be the case, particularly if the statement is not even wrong.

Common other examples involve "science doesn't know everything" or perhaps "but you can't prove anything" (a form of pyrrhonism). This can immediately end an argument because, at least on a superficial level, these arguments are completely true. While this sort of escape can lead to a good, smug grin on the woo-meister's face, it doesn't actually back up their assertions at all. Specifically, an escape hatch is more a way of shutting off criticism, rather than proving a claim outright with sheer brilliance (as much as the user may think otherwise!).

More specific examples can add additional complexities to a woo explanation in order to make it appear that skeptical views are actually straw man arguments. The practice of homeopathy, for example, doesn't just dilute the remedy, but strikes it in a practice called succussion. If a skeptic performs the succussion process in any way that might only be minutely different,[4] it opens an escape hatch for advocates who will claim that it is a misrepresentation. Even if you followed succussion instructions to the letter, it might be claimed that it doesn't work when the one doing it doesn't believe in it, or somesuch.

Another example is that if you really have faith, you can achieve what you want and even move mountains; when the mountains remain unmoved, the escape hatch is that you did not have enough faith. You can also see this in law of attraction proponents, where if the desired result is not achieved, the proponents will say that you didn't concentrate "enough". Perhaps the most vicious form of this comes from faith healing, where if someone isn't cured by chance God, they may be told they didn't pray hard enough, or pray right, or just didn't have enough faith.

"Pre-escape hatch"[edit]

In both alternative medicine and cold reading, and oh so often with people claiming psychic powers like Uri Geller, it is quite common for the escape hatch to be given in advance. It usually includes a form of the expression "{sometimes|{let's} see if} it works for {you|me}. If it doesn't work, that's fine". Or holding out their hands toward the audience, closing their eyes, and saying "I'm feeling a lot of negativity/skepticism from the audience tonight, so this may not work."

Conspiracy theories[edit]

With conspiracy theories, one particularly idiotic (but very common) response is to claim that anyone arguing against the existence of a conspiracy is just part of the conspiracy. This is a radical and desperate response, but has been seen often enough. For example, Phil Plait's debunking of the Planet X conspiracy led to accusations that he was paid by NASA to write that stuff, and that he lived in a luxurious office because of it.[5] Needless to say that this is a difficult accusation to disprove, particularly to a proper tinfoil hat wearer, who will see such attempts as yet more evidence that the skeptic is "in on" the conspiracy.


See the main article on this topic: Creationist escape hatch

A common escape hatch argument in theology is to move God, somehow, "beyond science" or "beyond time" or "outside of logic". This is used to counter the proposition by several atheist writers, particularly those who would be identified as part of the New Atheism movement, to frame the existence of God as a testable statement (e.g., the "God Hypothesis"). As a result, there are various methods that have been used to try and prove or disprove the existence of a higher power. These range from testing the power of prayer (which invariably fails[note 1] when tested fairly and rigorously) to testing the validity of miracles. In principle, an interventionist god should indeed be observable in the real world through this sort of mechanism. However, using the escape hatch argument, tests that show a negative result often come under fire from theologians for being a little too "sciencey", often along the lines that "God will not be tested". (Really, if that were the case, you'd think He'd have given slammingly wrong results and then appeared to those involved, wrathfully proclaiming that testing Him is a no-no, rather than staying hands-off and leaving it to his flunkies to explain why the test didn't come out.)

This is indeed effective at quashing dissent from scientific arguments, as science is powerless to detect something declared as "outside science" or "unknowable". The problem faced by theologians when using this argument is that they have admitted to a non-interventionist god, whose existence is moot.[note 2] The argument will usually contradict other theological doctrines – religions still happily describe and attribute characteristics to their god, despite it being rendered unknowable by this theological escape hatch. Religious leaders claim the ability to interpret the actions and wishes of their god with high accuracy whenever they want their followers to do something, but when confronted with inconvenient evidence, the being in question suddenly starts moving in mysterious ways that can't possibly be understood by mere humans. This is similar to the doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria, but is a very uneven way of applying this principle.

See also[edit]


  1. Note that this doesn't mean you never have good results when praying, but that the results aren't any better than chance, that is, when no one is praying. Or they may show some slight improvement, but not beyond the bounds of statistical probability or the placebo effect. (And even the latter has been shown to occasionally backfire when prayer is involved.)
  2. See The Dragon in My Garage for an analogy.


  1. House Transcripts: House MD - 2.19 House vs. God Clinic Duty.
  3. Field Guide to Critical Thinking This defines two major escape hatch techniques in its first section: the "undeclared claim" and "multiple out."
  4. If Homeopathy works, I'll drink my own piss – Various YouTube comments mention that the beaker isn't tapped enough times for it to 'potentise' properly.
  5. Bad Astronomy – Planet X in a nutshell