Misunderstood arguments

If I had to narrow the Internet down to two things (not including cats and porn), it would be that 1) no one in the history of time has apparently ever had a valid analogy (at least in the eyes of an opponent) and 2) people misunderstand arguments all the time. I want to focus on the second thing.

Often someone will put forth an argument that focuses on factor x, but the objection will inevitably be on factor y. There’s something about being able to see through one’s bias to the frickin’ point that people can’t seem to do. For instance, I recall a philosophy course I once took where the professor used abortion access as an example for one thing or another. The point, as anyone ought to be able to tell, was access. In this instance, abortion wasn’t the focus. Yet, another student predictably tried to make the issue about the rightness or wrongness of abortion. It took no fewer than 3 times for the professor to get the student back on track. And he wasn’t a dumb kid, either.

This is what we often see on the Internet. Even when an issue is explained with utter clarity, a person’s bias just will not allow for a fair understanding. It’s practically willful ignorance; it’s actually amazingly frustrating. Here are just 3 issues I’ve noticed in my debating/discussion days online:

1. Circumcision protects against HIV transmission between heterosexual couples. The usual objection to this is on ethical grounds. This is an invalid objection. The science is the science. You don’t have to like it, but you don’t get to deny it because it’s inconvenient for your ethical stance.

2. Spanking is an unethical practice. The usual objection to this is that people don’t want to raise brats. This is an invalid objection. Aside from the fact that spanked and unspanked children turn out about the same (thus making the objection a troll objection in the first place), the argument is an ethical one. (This is the reverse of the circumcision argument.) Spanking could result in ideal citizens that make the world a better place, but that doesn’t make it right. Disagree that spanking is unethical if you want, but do so by arguing ethics, not efficacy.

3. Talking to the police will not benefit you. The usual objection is that most police aren’t bad people. This is an invalid objection. The reason talking to the police is a bad idea is because anything you say can and will be used against you in court, even if you’re innocent. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the best of police or the worst of police. This is about how the justice system works, not any individuals within the system. Indeed, don’t talk to any city, county, state, or federal investigators. That includes street cops, detectives, district attorneys, Congress, or any other person working in an official capacity for the justice system. Your freedom cannot be benefited from talking to the police more than it will from keeping quiet.

Hitchens-Blair debate

There is a YouTube channel devoted specifically to the recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair. I’ve yet to watch it, but I find both men to be quite intelligent. (Update: I have watched it.) Hitchens’ intelligence is crashingly obvious; I’ve never seen him lose a debate point. And I absolutely love how he will routinely bend over backwards to grant as much as possible to his opponent just so he can point out that he still has the point won. Anyone who saw that awful creationist movie with Ben Stein should be familiar with this tactic: In the Richard Dawkins interview, Dawkins granted that it’s possible that we could have been designed by aliens, but even if that were so, we would still need to appeal to evolution in order to explain their existence. Stein, unsurprisingly, takes the dishonest route of claiming that Richard Dawkins is only against intelligent design when it involves a god. This was rather expected since the creators of the movie lied to every biologist involved, not to mention the fundamental dishonesty behind creationism intelligent design. But I digress. Blair’s intelligence is clear enough, but I think perhaps some of my perception of it comes from the contrast of it with Dubya’s lack of smarts.

Anyway. Watch the debate. (Skip the first video if you just want to get to the meat of the debate.)

Re: Dembski-Hitchens debate

I’m currently watching the Dembski-Hitchens debate now that it’s back up. I’m embarrassed. And in two ways. First, you know that feeling you get when you watch someone doing something incredibly awkward and you actually feel embarrassed for that person? That’s how I feel about Dembski right now. He keeps repeating the same creationist canards. They have all been addressed. He needs to find something new (and maybe something factually true? I’m not sure if that touches on any of his personal interests, though). And second, I’m embarrassed that I had some initial surprise when he started going over all this garbage. I should have known better.

Update: Holy crap. I can’t believe he just implied that for something to be vestigial that it must be useless.

Update: Most of Dembski’s end is just a series of personal attacks on Hitchens.

Obnoxious as hell

I just got through watching a debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox. It’s well worth watching. Lennox comes across as one of the more convincing Christians, and that’s primarily due to his style of rhetoric. “And so I would like to suggest” is usually his lead from the set-up of his argument into his conclusion/main points. He does it well. Of course, when all seems lost for the atheist position, Dawkins always fires back with an argument that completely defeats whatever falsehood it is that Lennox convincingly said. Watch it.

But I’m not making a post to merely encourage people to watch a debate. I want to point out a specific part. In this part, Lennox obnoxiously says “hmm” over and over. He does it several times between the 3 and 4 minute marks.

In this context, “hmm” is used somewhat in the sense that “really” is used when someone is being sarcastic.

1. Obama was elected president.
2. Really? Thanks, Captain Obvious.

But there’s a little more to it than that. It isn’t that Lennox is saying that what Dawkins is stating is obvious. He’s saying that it’s obvious that Dawkins’ statement supports Lennox’s position. Let me clarify.

The two are discussing the different between faith and evidence. Lennox asks Dawkins how he knows his wife loves him (or how anyone knows someone else romantically loves them). Dawkins then goes on to explain that there are any number of little signs that constitute real evidence. He’s right. “A catch in the voice” or a “look in the eye” aren’t issues of faith. Those are indications of love when given in the proper context. But all throughout this Lennox keeps saying “hmm”, “hmm”, “hmm”, as if Dawkins is describing faith. In the end, it appears Lennox was playing a silly game of semantics and Dawkins recognizes this. But that isn’t what irks me. It’s that I’ve had personal experience with believers using their sarcastic, condescending, arrogant, obnoxious method. It’s as if once an atheist starts to speak of love or sympathy or any other soft, so to speak, emotion, Christians think they’ve won the point. I don’t get it. If anything, the total capacity of love for humanity from an atheist is higher than the total capacity of love for humanity is from a Christian. Afterall, the atheist’s love can be totally focused upon humanity. It isn’t distracted by the faux sense of love a believer feels for his god.

Karl W. Giberson

Every once in awhile, a scientist will come out and say science and religion can co-exist. There will be some press coverage because of the obvious tensions between evidence-based thought and willy-nilly faith. So it comes as no surprise that physicist Karl Giberson is receiving some attention for his recent claim and book that says evolution and God can co-exist. (I presume the man has a longer history in the creationism-evolution issue than what LiveScience seems to suggest, but he evidently has yet to make a big splash.)

Obviously, he thinks one can be a Christian and accept evolution, but these two sets of knowledge “don’t make as much contact with each other as people think,” he said. Many fundamentalists “elevate Genesis beyond what is appropriate.”

Fundamentalists’ spin on the creation story in Genesis “robs it of everything that is interesting,” he said. Instead, readers should recall that the Bible repeats the refrain that God found what he made “good” and looks at the world as good.

It is true that bastardizing such a great piece of literature to literally mean something which is utterly absurd is a crying shame, but that doesn’t suddenly make evolution and religion, especially Christianity, compatible in any meaningful way. At best, perhaps the particular Christian god fully guided the process of evolution, making it mimic precisely what would be expected without any sort of foolish guidance, but that’s a rather superfluous compatibility. What’s more, that can comply to most any concept of a god that humans have had in the past 10,000 or more years. It’s a very non-cromulent way of thinking.

“It makes the world so much more interesting,” Giberson said. “The mystery of God’s existence is a more satisfying mystery than the mystery of how can all this arise out of a particle.”

Despite being a rather subjective claim, it seems difficult to fathom how anyone can honestly believe such a thing. First of all, it’s unclear how a mystery can be “satisfying”. It can be interesting and exciting and all that. Most of the good ones are. But satisfying? It’s when we solve the mystery or at least a piece of it that satisfaction becomes present. And, of course, the only way we can do that for most of the big questions is through the best way of knowing – science.

But what is your evidence, Shermer said, for belief in God?

“I was raised believing in God, so for me, the onus would be on someone to stop me from believing,” Giberson said, adding that “there is a certain momentum that is already there.”

This reminds me quite a bit of the silliness of George Smith. Apparently, an objective look at two sides is out of the question. It is the job of the non-believer to dismantle the long-term indoctrination of the believer. I almost don’t want to explicate on why this is so damn wrong. But I will.

Blind, stupid faith offers nothing of worth to a discussion. Once that argument is presented, any debate falls to shreds because faith is specifically belief without – or even despite the lack of – evidence. Perhaps an argument as to why faith is a bad way of knowing (indeed, it seeks to avoid a knowledge of anything) can be presented, but then one is simply dealing with a stubborn child. Perhaps it is that the onus is to lower one’s self to explaining why faith informs us of nothing.