Posts Tagged “fallacy”
By now most of my regular readers have heard about Antonin Scalia’s New York Magazine interview. The main news out of it has been that Scalia believes Satan is a “real person.” I hadn’t commented on it, since I don’t find it very remarkable that a famous Christianist believes the Devil is real. I mean, seriously … that’s news to anyone? Come on! I initially regarded that interview as a “water is wet” or “sky is blue” story, unworthy of attention.
With that said, I recently noticed something he said which, after consideration, I find noteworthy. At least, I think the significance of it needs to be pointed out, if for no other reason than that to show that almost anyone can fall into illogic, if s/he isn’t careful — and that large amounts of irrationality and illogic can be expressed within one short statement.
The important part comes in page 4 of the article (WebCite cached version):
[Interviewer Jennifer Senior:] Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
[Justice Antonin Scalia:] You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
First, note the sanctimony of Scalia’s response. Sanctimony is the religionist’s stock-in-trade. How dare Ms Senior question belief in the Devil? Scalia’s outrage is palpable. But it also doesn’t mean anything — to anyone.
Next, Scalia cites as evidence of Satan’s existence, that “most of [America] believes in the Devil.” This is a fallacy known formally as argumentum ad populum, and by other names, such as appeal to consensus, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to popularity, the democratic fallacy, appeal to the masses, etc. The error here should be obvious and summed up in this short statement: Veracity is not up for a vote. People — even many of them! — can be, and often are, very wrong sometimes. Just because something is widely believed, doesn’t make it true. For most of history, nearly all of humanity was utterly convinced the earth was at the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, planets and stars all revolving around it. It turns out, that’s not true at all!
Another piece of evidence Scalia cites as proof that Satan is a real person, is that ‘Jesus Christ believed in the Devil.” Sorry, but this isn’t going to fly, because the reports we have of what Jesus did and didn’t believe come only from the gospels, which Scalia also cites, themselves, as evidence of Satan’s existence. The problem there, of course, is that this just means some late-first-century Christians who wrote those books, believed in the Devil. It’s not actually objective or verifiable evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.”
Third, Scalia lambastes his interviewer for being “so removed from mainstream America that” she’d dare imply belief in the Devil as “a real person” is a bad thing. This is his attempt to discredit his interviewer by saying she’s an elitist; and this, too, has been a common Religious Right tactic. Folks on the Right love to rage and fume about “the Elite” (aka “the Bicoastal Elite,” the “Mass Media Elite,” etc.) and how horrible they are for being insolent enough not to think, act and talk in ways unlike all the folks they call “normal Americans” (aka Flyover Country, the Deep South, the Bible Belt, etc.). The cold fact is that Justice Scalia is, himself, a bona fide card-carrying member of the country’s “elite:” He’s university-educated; a professional, no less (i.e. a lawyer and judge); and he’s one of just 9 people who comprise one of the most powerful bodies in the US. Scalia is one of the last people who ought ever to accuse anyone else of being out of touch with America!
After these little tidbits of illogic and irrationality, Scalia swerves back to the old argumentum ad populum, citing the beliefs of “most of mankind” and of people “more intelligent than” himself or his interviewer, as evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.” Unfortunately, as I’ve already explained, this is fallacious. What’s more, for Scalia to repeat a fallacy, in the (obvious) hope it will reinforce what he’s saying, is itself a fallacy, called argumentum ad nauseam, or argument by repetition. Saying something that’s not true more than once, can never make it suddenly, magically become true. Nonetheless, fierce religionists like Scalia love to think the universe works that way. They repeat tired old canards like, “Evolution is ‘just’ a theory,” and “It takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer,” and so on. They truly think that repeating these things without cessation will make them so. But it can never work, any more than saying “2 + 2 = 5″ endlessly can never make that equation mathematically valid. It just can’t.
Once again, Justice Scalia has provided me with evidence that anyone, at any time, can engage in fallacious thinking, and probably not even be aware of it. It’s something we must all be on guard against, at all times.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Tags: antonin scalia
, appeal to elitism
, argumentum ad nauseam
, argumentum ad nauseam fallacy
, argumentum ad populum
, argumentum ad populum fallacy
, supreme court
In a move that’s sure to enrage, rather than calm, paranoid extraterrestrial conspiracy-mongers, Universe Today reports that the White House has denied that our planet has been visited by E.T.s (WebCite cached article):
The White House has responded to two petitions asking the US government to formally acknowledge that aliens have visited Earth and to disclose to any intentional withholding of government interactions with extraterrestrial beings. “The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race,” said Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, on the WhiteHouse.gov website [cached]. “In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”
5,387 people had signed the petition for immediately disclosing the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race.
These petitions are predicated on the usual kind of logic that E.T.ers love to employ: Subjective, anecdotal evidence, not to mention the fallacy of argumentum ad populum:
“Hundreds of military and government agency witnesses have come forward with testimony confirming this extraterrestrial presence,” the second petition states. “Opinion polls now indicate more than 50% of the American people believe there is an extraterrestrial presence and more than 80% believe the government is not telling the truth about this phenomenon. The people have a right to know. The people can handle the truth.”
Unfortunately for these folks, neither personal testimonies nor public-opinion polls constitute objective, verifiable evidence of anything other than that people are willing to believe in crazy notions. That people think we’ve been visited by extraterrestrials, doesn’t mean we actually have been.
Photo credit: Markusram.
Tags: appeal to consensus
, appeal to the masses
, argumentum ad populum
, argumentum ad populum fallacy
, bandwagon fallacy
, democratic fallacy
, office of science & technology policy
, phil larson
, white house
, white house office of science & technology policy
2 Comments »
As though a divided, contentious Congress in a divided, contentious Washington has nothing better to do with its time than satisfy wingnuts, cranks and freaks, a University professor in Missouri thinks Congress should hold hearings looking into UFOs. AOL News reports on this demand (WebCite cached article):
Do you think the House or Senate will have any extra time to discuss UFOs? While it sometimes might seem as though our lawmakers are from outer space, this hasn’t stopped one college professor from urging Congress to take a serious look at unidentified flying objects.
Citing findings from a 12-year-old groundbreaking French UFO study, University of Missouri-Columbia psychologist and adjunct professor of peace studies Bill Wickersham has issued a call for congressional leaders to boldly go where their predecessors wouldn’t.
The report Wickersham cited is called COMETA, and it was released in 1999. Since then it’s proven a favorite “proof” of a US-government cover-up of extraterrestrial visits in the ufology community. Pretty much everyone else has ignored it as much-less-than-compelling “proof” of anything.
Ufonauts love to trot out that the committee that produced COMETA was made up of fairly eminent French engineers and former high-ranking military officers. While this sounds impressive, it unfortunately does not grant them any veracity; to assume it does, is to stumble on the fallacy of the appeal to authority. That COMETA could not explain some 5% of UFO reports collected by the French government, does not mean that they can only be explained by extraterrestrials. That in itself is another fallacy, the argument from incredulity, aka “the divine fallacy” (since the agent called upon to explain any given mystery is often God). In addition, the assumption that there must be one — and only one! — explanation for those mysterious 5% of UFO reports, is itself invalid. In fact, we have no way to know how many explanations there may be for them! It’s possible there are 2 different explanations for them, or 20, or even that each and every one has its own, unique explanation. That the folks who drafted COMETA could not think of any, is — quite frankly — unimpressive. And it hardly proves anything.
Photo credit: dimland.
, appeal to authority
, argument from ignorance
, bill wickersham
, divine fallacy
, flying saucers
, little green men
, university of missouri-columbia
Strangely, after the antivax movement has been demonstrated to be pseudomedicine, and after a number of outlets have formally retracted their prior involvement in it, CBS News has decided to weigh in on the putative link between childhood vaccinations and autism, and has gone over to the side of the quacks, cranks, pseudoscientists and sanctimonious mommies (WebCite cached article):
For all those who’ve declared the autism-vaccine debate over – a new scientific review begs to differ. It considers a host of peer-reviewed, published theories that show possible connections between vaccines and autism.
The article in the Journal of Immunotoxicology is entitled “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes–A review.”
CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson, this article’s author, uses a fallacious appeal to authority in order to grant this study greater weight and credibility:
The author is Helen Ratajczak, surprisingly herself a former senior scientist at a pharmaceutical firm.
Here, Atkisson implies that, since the author worked for a pharma company — thus, one would she’d support the use of vaccines — then if she’s decided otherwise, why, the evidence must be incredibly compelling, no? Unfortunately that’s not how these things work.
Attkisson further implies that no one has been scientifically reviewing the supposed link between vaccines and autism (“Ratajczak did what nobody else apparently has bothered to do …”) but that is absolutely not true. Of course other people have reviewed the matter! Atkisson also mischaracterizes the study as Ratajczak’s own original work, but it’s not … it’s merely her review of other people’s studies. (That, of course, does not in itself invalidate what she says, but it does mean that Atkisson is making the study seem to be something other than it truly is.)
Another way Atkisson tried to grant greater authority to this study, is by implying that the CDC … which has consistently said there is no connection between vaccines and autism … was stunned speechless by it:
We wanted to see if the CDC wished to challenge Ratajczak’s review, since many government officials and scientists have implied that theories linking vaccines to autism have been disproven, and Ratajczak states that research shows otherwise. CDC officials told us that “comprehensive review by CDC…would take quite a bit of time.”
All in all, I must give CBS News and Sharyl Attkisson credit. They certainly crafted a marvelous piece of yellow journalism. They must be so proud!
Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
, appeal to authority
, autism vaccine connection
, bad journalism
, cbs news
, childhood vaccinations
, childhood vaccines
, helen ratajczak
, journalism fail
, mass media
, sharyl atkisson
, vaccine autism connection
, yellow journalism
3 Comments »
According to Franklin Graham, son of the world-famous preacher Billy Graham, the Obama administration is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and has saturated the US government with its vile Islam-loving and Christian-hating agents. We know this is true, because … well, he says so, and because his media outlet of choice, Newsmax, is reporting it (WebCite cached article):
The Muslim Brotherhood, with the complicity of the Obama administration, has infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels and is influencing American policy that leaves the world’s Christians in grave danger, warns internationally known evangelist Franklin Graham.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active here in our country,” Graham tells Newsmax. “We have these people advising our military and State Department. We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries.
Note that this isn’t really a new allegation; the American Family Association made a similar claim about a year ago — about the US military — after the Pentagon disinvited the younger Graham from its National Day of Prayer event.
Graham’s “evidence” for this, is the following:
A new report from the Roman Catholic aid agency Aid to the Church in Need supports Graham’s contention that the persecution of Christians worldwide has worsened exponentially in the past few years.
According to the report, Christians face increased suffering in 22 countries around the world, with Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Nigeria being among the worst countries to be a Christian in today.
Even if this report were true, it still does not prove that Barack Obama has allowed a cabal of Muslim Brotherhood adherents to infiltrate the US government and ceded control to them. What I can say is that Christians are guilty of no small amount of persecution, themselves, so Graham hardly has the “moral high ground” to stand on.
Generally speaking, I find paranoid conspiracy theories like this one amusing … if only because so many people buy into them, in spite of such little evidence that they’re true. In some cases the lack of evidence is, perversely, viewed as being evidence itself; i.e. “If this conspiracy existed, of course, they’d make sure no evidence of it was available, so a lack of evidence is precisely what we’d expect!” The illogic of this just shows how abysmally ignorant people are. It’s as though they walked around with neon signs that say “Idiot”!
Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum at Delphi Forums.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
, american family association
, barack obama
, christian persecution
, franklin graham
, islam conspiracy
, islamic conspiracy
, muslim brotherhood
, muslim brothers
, muslim conspiracy
, obama administration
, paranoid conspiracy theorist
, paranoid conspiracy theorists
, paranoid conspiracy theory
, president barack obama
, president obama
, us government
6 Comments »
No sooner had I blogged about a report of a military chaplain declaring that a soldier’s rape is “God’s will” and that she could get over it by worshipping the deity who ordered it to happen to her, I read about an outspoken Religious Rightist giving her (yes, her!) stamp of approval on the sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan during a post-revolution celebration in Cairo (WebCite cached article). Here’s what the ferocious religiofascist Debbie Schlussel had to say about it (cached article):
As I’ve noted before, it bothers me not a lick when mainstream media reporters who keep telling us Muslims and Islam are peaceful get a taste of just how “peaceful” Muslims and Islam really are. In fact, it kinda warms my heart. Still, it’s also a great reminder of just how “civilized” these “people” (or, as I like to call them in Arabic, “Bahai’im” [Animals]) are
To Schlussel, this attack on Logan is acceptable, because of what’s been dished out to her:
Hey, sounds like the threats I get from American Muslims on a regular basis. Now you know what it’s like, Lara.
Of course, death threats that are made but never carried out are a far cry from an actual physical attack. But Schlussel just conflates it all into the same thing and — using “two wrongs make a right” thinking — says it’s great that Logan was attacked.
In an update to her post, Schlussel simultaneously claims moral rectitude and that she never expressed approval of the attack:
The reaction of the left to this article is funny in its predictability. Sooo damn predictable. Of course I don’t support “sexual assault” or violence against Lara Logan, and I said that nowhere here.
Schlussel must be right, you see, because she’s been widely criticized. (In the religious mind, criticism is equated with persecution which in turn is equated with veracity.) She also claims not to have supported sexual assault, but her support for the attack was clearly implied in what she originally wrote, which included (emphasis mine):
… it bothers me not a lick when mainstream media reporters who keep telling us Muslims and Islam are peaceful get a taste of just how “peaceful” Muslims and Islam really are …
Schlussel clearly stated that she was “not bothered” by the attack. Thus, her attempt to backpedal, by saying she never stated that she supports sexual assault, fails miserably.
Way to go, Ms Schlussel. Thank you for displaying your (total lack of) character. Please, by all means … keep it up! I couldn’t possibly ask for any better confirmation of the moral abyss which is the Religious Right.
Hat tip: Romenesko blog.
Photo credit: Village Voice.
, debbie schlussel
, lara logan
, religious right
, sexual assault
, two wrongs make a right
, two wrongs make a right fallacy
1 Comment »
The blogosphere has raged over the past few days over the remarks of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s comments about abortion. Naturally, he’s against it — even when the mother’s life is in danger — which follows his Catholic religion’s teaching that women’s lives are forfeit the moment they become pregnant. His remarks that have sparked controversy came in an interview with CNS News, where he said the following, as Huff reports (WebCite cached article):
A conservative Republican from Pennsylvania, Santorum has signaled he’s mulling a run for the White House in the next election cycle. During the interview, he voiced his staunchly pro-life stance, as well as his belief that when life begins “is not a debatable issue,” before going on to criticize the president.
“The question is, and this is what Barack Obama didn’t want to answer — is that human life a person under the constitution?” he said. “And Barack Obama says no. Well if that human life is not a person then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say ‘now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.’”
Video of his remarks is courtesy of Youtube:
The buzz that’s erupted around the Internet is that “Santorum is a racist!” Well, I’m no fan of Santorum. He’s a ferocious Christofascist who probably has not had an original thought in his head for the last 3 or 4 decades; he’s only capable of continuously spewing religious and ideological doctrine told to him by others. So don’t think I’m defending him … I’m not. But really, I’m not sure this is evidence he’s a “racist.”
His comments are actually an indirect, implied version of the fallacious reductio ad Hitlerum, a reprehensible propaganda device I’ve blogged about on many occasions already. Now, Dear Reader, if you’re the critical thinker I hope you are, you must be wondering where I got that from … and you’d be 100% right to ask how I could draw such an inference. So here goes.
Santorum’s remark suggests that abortion is used to control the population of “undesirables” or as a tool of discrimination. This is, basically, eugenics. As such, this alludes to the Third Reich and its various policies intended to eliminate “degenerates” and — supposedly — improve the “Aryan race.”
I concede that Santorum never mentioned Hitler or the Nazis, however, the Religious Right frequently states explicitly that abortion choice equates with eugenics, which equates with Hitler. Here is one example of what Santorum is alluding to, and here’s another, and here’s yet another.
There is no way that Santorum’s intended audience would have failed to recognize his reference.
Isn’t it time for this kind of baseless, fallacious, personal demonization of others to stop? It’s childish at best, and disingenuous at worst. I don’t care for the reductio ad Hitlerum when the Left uses it, and find it still less appropriate for the Right — which prides itself on having upstanding morals — to engage in it.
Here’s my personal rule when it comes to this propaganda device, paraphrased from a saying used by the character Salvor Hardin in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation: “The reductio ad Hitlerum is the last resort of the intellectually bankrupt.”
My final note is that people like Rick Santorum — who would like to turn the US into a Christianized fascist regime — are hypocritical to accuse their ideological opponents of being Nazis. Of course, no Religious Rightist ever fails to disobey Jesus’ own explicit, clear injunction against being hypocritical … but hey, what can you expect from irrational militant religionists like Santorum?
Photo credit: Austin Cline / Atheism/Agnosticism at About.Com.
, adolf hitler
, appeal to hitler
, appeal to nazis
, barack obama
, christian right
, cns news
, nazi party
, reductio ad hitlerum
, religious right
, rick santorum
, third reich
1 Comment »