Posts Tagged “argumentum ad populum”

Antonin Scalia 2010By 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.

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Plan9SaucerShadowIn 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 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: Wikimedia Commons.

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Glenn Beck's Christmas Road ShowNo surprise, here, folks. Glenn Beck is still as much of a raging ignoramus as he ever has been. He doesn’t believe in evolution (again, no surprise!) because it hasn’t been proven to him. Unfortunately his view of what constitutes “proof” of evolution, demonstrates his ignorance about it and his failure to comprehend what it really is. According to the Atlantic’s Wire blog, Beckie-boy recently babbled (WebCite cached article):

Fox News host Glenn Beck has denounced the theory of evolution, saying that he knows it is false because he has never seen “a half-monkey, half-person.” Beck coming out against evolution is hardly surprising, but his not-so-persuasive scientific analysis has drawn the usual round of mockery and revulsion. Scientists say that our closest living ancestors are not monkeys but apes, with which we share a common ancestor.

In addition to failing to understand what the science of evolution is and what it really says, Beckie-boy also falls headlong into the trap of a common fallacy:

[Beck said,] “How many people believe in evolution in this country? I’d like to see. I mean, I don’t know why it’s unreasonable to say this.”

For the record, Glenn, it is, in fact, very “unreasonable” — not to mention illogical and irrational — to use popular belief to bolster a claim. This is a fallacy that’s known by many names: appeal to the many, appeal to consensus, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to the masses, the democratic fallacy, appeal to popularity, the fallacy of the many, or — more formally — argumentum ad populum.

The fallacy here lies in equating popular belief and perception, with veracity. They are, however, not the same, and this is demonstrable. Consider, for example, that at one time, the vast majority of humanity, if not all of humanity, believed the Earth was at the center of a universe only a few thousand miles in diameter, inside of which the sun and everything else revolved around it. We have, however, discovered this is not the case: The Earth is not the center of the universe; instead, the Earth revolves primarily around the sun, however, the sun itself is part of a galaxy and revolves within it; that galaxy is part of a galactic cluster, which in turn is part of a supercluster; and the universe in which we live is vastly larger than just a few thousand miles.

In case anyone needs an even better understanding of the illogic and failure of argumentum ad populum, look here, here, and here, and here.

Put as simply as possible, veracity is not up for a popular vote, as Beck seems to think it is. The truth doesn’t care what anyone thinks of it, not even what millions or billions of people think of it. The truth is, quite simply, what it is. It’s there for us to discover … if we only will look for it.

But Beckie-boy doesn’t want us to look for the truth! He just wants us to settle for what “seems to be” and what satisfies the most people emotionally. Sorry, Glenn, but since humanity is collectively stupid, the last thing I’m going to do is use popular polling data to decide whether something is true or not.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith blog & Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: The Rocketeer.

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Rick Warren — about whom I’ve blogged many times, the fundamentalist preacher who built a megachurch in southern California, and created the lucrative “Purpose-Driven” publishing empire — just revealed his complete ignorance of freethought and atheism. According to the Raw Story:

Not believing in a Supreme Being takes more faith than believing in one, according to Pastor Rick Warren. “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” Warren told Fox News anchors Steve Doocy and Martha MacCallum Monday.

Warren puts forth arguments against atheism which are so old and tired that he has little rational excuse for trotting them out yet again. I’ll go over them one by one:

“You know, Steve, if I’m walking down a mountain and I see rock out of place and I go ‘that’s an accident.’ If I’m walking down a mountain — on the trail — and I find a Rolex that’s evidence of design,” he explained. “It actually takes more faith not to believe in God than to believe in God.”

This is known as William Paley’s “watchmaker analogy,” a teleological argument, which is fallacious, and for several reasons. One of those failures is that it’s based solely on a subjective determination of what must have been “made.” Subjectivity can never be construed as objective veracity. Another failure is, one can know a watch is only human-made because one can walk into a factory and see them being designed and crafted. When it comes to the Universe, however, it is not possible to watch an “intelligent designer” (or deity) manufacture a new universe. (At least, no one has yet done so … and I don’t expect it ever will happen.) So, Rick, strike one!

While Warren scoffs at atheists, he seemed to respect every other belief system. “The are 600 million Buddhists in the world. There are 800 million Hindus. There are one and a half billion Muslims and there are 2.3 billion Christians. The actual number of secularists in the world is actually quite small outside of Europe and Manhattan,” said Warren.

Warren’s appeal to numbers … i.e. there are billions of “believers” but nowhere near as many non-believers, ergo, believers must be correct … is fallacious. This fallacy goes by many names; formally as argumentum ad populum, and less formally as the appeal to popularity, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to consensus, democratic fallacy, appeal to the majority, etc. It fails, because reality and veracity are not up for a vote. That many people believe something does not automatically make it true. At one time nearly all human beings thought the Earth was at the center of a universe only a few thousand miles across; we have, however, found this is not so. If one followed Warren’s reasoning, we’d have dismissed Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo as mindless cranks and would still think we were at the center of the universe. So, Rick, strike two!

Bashing on atheists isn’t new for the pastor who has also compared gay marriage to pedophilia.

Warren is wrong here, folks. Gay marriage has nothing to do with pedophilia. It can’t … because marriage (of any kind) is a partnership between adults capable of entering into a contract; while pedophilia is an adult having sex with a minor. The two are completely and totally unrelated — and by definition. So, Rick, strike three — you’re out!

But wait, there’s more!

In April of 2007, Warren told Newsweek that he “never met an atheist who wasn’t angry” and that “far more people have been killed through atheists than through all the religious wars put together.”

While it is true that 20th century massacres and atrocities have killed more people than anything prior, and not all of them were done for religious reasons, keep in mind that these were political regimes, not religious ones.

The medieval Church which orchestrated the Inquisitions, was primarily a religious organization. The wars in the Middle East known collectively as the Crusades, had at least some religious motivation. The invasions of Europe and the Middle East by central Asians, under Genghis Khan and then under Timur the Lame — in their time the single most devastating conflicts in all of history, which were not exceeded until the 20th century — were partly motivated by religion: In Genghis Khan’s case, because his Mongol gods of heaven told him he would be a mighty ruler, and in Timur’s, because he wanted to spread Sunni Islam in places which were, in his day, primarily Shi’ite.

As for people like Hitler, who orchestrated the Holocaust, it hardly seems possible for him to have repressed and then slaughtered so many Jews, if not for centuries of Christian-inspired anti-Semitism. One can, therefore, also chalk up the atrocities of the Third Reich — at least partly — to religion.

Not to mention the fact that, while Warren condemns — and dismisses — atheists as “angry,” I definitely see a lot of sanctimonious anger on the part of lots of religious folk, too. Including himself! So, Rick, not only have you struck out, you whiffed an extra time!

If anyone isn’t clear, by now, what kind of bellicose, sanctimonious, ignorant creep Rick Warren is … well, you now have your evidence. He’s also proven himself a hypocrite by dismissing atheists as “angry” without acknowledging the religious are often just as angry, if not moreso. (Note to Rick: Your own Jesus specifically, clearly, explicitly, and unambiguously ordered you, as his follower, never to be hypocritical. So I’d be careful if I were you.)

Hat tip: iReligion Forum at Delphi Forums.

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This year’s edition of the “war on Christmas” trope continues. This time the complaint is about something that isn’t actually new and isn’t directly connected to Christmas. Rather, it’s about atheist billboards … you know, the ones that have been going up around the US and (in the form of bus advertising, in Europe) for the past few years? Another such campaign is running, and it’s irking Christian religionists, as mentioned in a story in the New York Times (with WebCite cached version):

An unusual holiday message began appearing this week in the nation’s capital on the sides of buses and trains.

“No god? … No problem!” reads the advertisement featuring the smiling faces of people wearing Santa Claus hats. “Be good for goodness’ sake.”

Apparently it’s not acceptable for these to go up around Christmas-time:

“It is the ultimate Grinch to suggest there is no God during a holiday where millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious law firm, and dean of Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va. “It is insensitive and mean.”

What Staver wants, then, is to have personal, calendrical approval over atheist billboards; they can only go up at times of the year when Christians won’t perceive them as “mean.” Would he like … following the same line of reasoning … for atheist groups to have personal, calendrical approval over Christian signs? Somehow I doubt it.

Note the gratuitous — yet still fallacious — argumentum ad populum in his comments. “Millions of people celebrate Christmas,” he’s saying — and I paraphrase here — “so knock off the atheist billboards!” Sorry Mr Staver, but the wishes of “millions,” or even “billions,” of people, are not relevant here. They just aren’t. Millions, if not billions, of people through the ages also believed the earth was at the center of the universe — but that turned out not to be true.

What’s really going on here is that religionists have had their way for nearly all of human history. Now that they’re confronted by people who are not religious, who will not become religious, and who are openly expressing their lack of religion, these religionists just cannot handle it. They’re too immature to accept the existence — and openness — of the non-religious. Unfortunately for Mr Staver and the rest of his co-religionists, the time has come for them to finally grow up … perhaps for the first time in their lives.

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