Thursday, September 24, 2009

How to Look Like a Fool...

Does the following fictional discussion seem like a satisfying argument to you?

A: Did you know that the Garden of Eden is on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver?

Z: Uh... I'm pretty sure that's not true.

A: Sure it is. There's a really nice garden there.

Z: Are you sure you don't mean Sun Yat Sen Garden?

A: Well, that's what they call it now.

Z: That's not the Garden of Eden.

A: Sure it is. It's beautiful.

Z: Riiight... That is a statement of opinion, not one of fact.

A: It says in the bible that the Garden of Eden was the most beautiful place on earth. Sun Yat Sen Garden is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

Z: Wow, your standards are low... but just because you haven't seen something more beautiful doesn't mean that it's the MOST beautiful...

A: Yah okay - nice talking - gotta go now – bye.

Two weeks later, Z runs into A at a coffee shop, talking to their mutual friend Y:

A: Oh hi! I was just telling Y about what we were saying about the Garden of Eden being just down in Chinatown, over there...

Z: Actually, I thought I shot that argument down pretty conclusively.

A: So, as I was saying Y, the Garden of Eden the bible says Eden is the most beautiful place on earth and everyone who has ever been to Sun Yat Sen Garden agrees that it's totally serenely gorgeous...

Z: ...I beg to differ...

A: So there you go. The bible says the Garden of Eden is in downtown Vancouver.

Z: Seriously? That is the most ridiculous non-sequitur cum argument ad populi I may have ever heard. That's a patently absurd argument and you know it.

A: Yah okay - nice talking - gotta go now – bye.

Another two weeks pass and Z gets a phone call from X, another mutual friend of Z's 'friend' A:

X: Hey... I'm just sitting here with A...

Z: Sigh... uh-huh...

X: And he told me about how Sun Yat Sen Garden is actually the Garden of Eden...

Z: He told you that did he?

X: Amazing, huh? He said it says' so, right in the bible.

Z: Can you put him on the phone please?

X: Sure thing. ...Hey A!...

A: ...Hey, buddy...

Z: Alright... let me be clear. I am just about positive that the bible – let alone Genesis – does not say that the Garden of Eden is the most beautiful place on earth. If you know I am wrong, then by all means, show me chapter and verse, and I'll move on to different refutations of your bullshit theory – and trust me, I'm full of them – but you are still using the same argument that I have debunked using nothing more than the power of my awesome mind. Now if you can find me a legitimate translation of the bible that says that the Garden of Eden was the most beautiful place on earth, then I will deal with that evidence on its own terms, but as of now you have done nothing to refute my argument except to restate your fucking stupid premise about what the bible says.

A: Well it strongly implies it.

Z: That is moving the goal posts.

A: Yah okay - nice talking - gotta go now – bye.

Two weeks further down the road, Z runs into B – a friend of Z's acquaintance, A:

B: Hey Z! I just had lunch with A...

Z: Ahhh - shit.

B: He told me how you said –

Z: He said.

B: - that according to the bible, down near Main and Hastings is –

Z: The god damn Garden of Eden.

B: Yeah! Amazing theory...

Z: Yah okay - nice talking - gotta go now – bye.

One of the most pernicious and intellectually bankrupt tactics used by all walks of the credulous is to simply ignore the arguments put forth by critical thinkers.

Creationists do it. Anti-vaxers do it. Even educated theorists of conspiracies do it.

In many cases I think they honestly don't know how totally fucking asinine it is. Perhaps I'm selling their intellect short, but the alternative is that they are doing it wilfully – and that is reprehensible.

I am perfectly willing to have an argument with you if you are willing to actually address what I say directly. I'm willing to be proven wrong. Being proven wrong doesn't make me look like a fool, it makes me stronger, 'cause now I have better knowledge. Perhaps I'll go away and staircase wisdom will illuminate a flaw in your argument that I hadn't previously noticed – but I shall address that directly next time we discuss the matter. What I won't do is go back to my previous line of argument unless the flaw has undermined your refutation – but even then I won't do it without stating the reasoning that your argument was invalid. This could potentially get extremely recursive, but sooner or later we will come to a point where one side or the other will have distilled their position to a point where it cannot be effectively argued against further with any intellectual integrity.

The collective efforts of scientists and critical thinkers have argued many issues to a point where the opposition has two choices:

  1. Back down and admit they are wrong.
  2. Plug their ears, metaphorically shot "nyah nyah nyah I'm not listening to you!" and keep on using some old thoroughly debunked argument

Now, I may jokingly call myself an 'asshole' – but really, who in the second example is the asshole?

The opponents of skeptics regularly turn to this. They have to, 'cause logic, facts and apparently decorum are not on their side.

It's intellectually dishonest; it's lazy; and it makes them look like fools.


  1. I ran into exactly this scenario the other night. I'm doing an Alpha course right now - 10 weeks of Christian indoctrination plus free beer. Turns out I like free beer that much.

    Each week has a different topic. Last week was "Who was Jesus?" and they offered up some pretty lame evidence. We may not have thoroughly dismantled their arguments (in their minds, at least) but I feel like we did a pretty good job of showing that their arguments were incomplete at best. This week's topic was "Why did Jesus die?" and the first thing they said was, almost verbatim, "OK, we all agreed last week that Jesus lived, performed miracles, and was in fact the living manifestation of God himself. Taking that as a given, let's move on."

    I have not the words.

  2. You are doing...mwh... wh...wha-hut?

    That's awesome. I am so looking forward to hearing the tale - Tuesday, I assume?

    I am less Atheist than all-around critical thinker, but that has the potential for serious heroic mention in my book.