Patrick Tomlinson Tries to Lie About Abortion

Yes, everyone’s talking about this stupid thread from Patrick Tomlinson:

Most people are talking about how it’s a terrible argument, but in some sense this misses the point. This is the argument, if we set it out in syllogistic form:

 1. A hypothetical situation in which you can only save 1 5 year old or 1000 viable human embryos
2. a human child is worth more than a thousand embryos
∴ no one believes that life begins at conception

None of it has any logical connection to any other part of it, so analyzing it as an argument is, while possibly helpful to people who’ve never studied logic and therefore mistake this for some kind of argument, beside the point. This isn’t an argument, it’s pure rhetoric. So let’s look at it as rhetoric.

The first thing to pay attention to in rhetoric is: to whom is this directed. You might be tempted to say that it’s directed at pro-life people, but that’s only hypothetical. If you pay attention, he’s actually addressing pro-abortion people. You can see that clearly in this later tweet in the thread:

He hasn’t changed who he’s talking to, and is unequivocally talking to fellow pro-abortion people. Rhetoric has two main uses (simplifying, obviously):

  1. To demoralize your opponent
  2. To encourage those on your side

And you can tell which object a piece of rhetoric has by the audience to whom it’s address. In this case, he’s trying to bolster the morale of his own side. Why, particularly? Because they are being swayed by the obvious fact that abortion is murder, so he is attempting to counter-act the obvious feeling that their position is unnatural.

His strategy is to then create a narrative in which the pro-abortion people are acting naturally and the anti-abortion people are acting unnaturally. Hence the wildly implausible story he creates which does exactly that, at least if you don’t look too closely. It’s not actually a great story for this purpose and hence this tweet:

He’s got to explicitly tell you that there’s a right answer, because it’s not obviously true. This is a classical rhetorical trick, by the way—state the non-obvious as if it’s just saying the obvious because someone has to.

You can see this in just how much he stacks the deck on his side: In one corner of the room he’s got a crying child. In the other corner of the room you spot a frozen container labeled “1000 viable Human Embryos”. The guy is a sci-fi author and has a decent enough sense of pacing and word-craft to gloss over how absurd this is. Who, looking for a 5 year old child, would take the time to read things inside of the frost-free glass-fronted freezer the fertility clinic presumably bought second-hand when a local grocery store went out of business? No one would, but this implausibility is relevant to the feeling produced. Whatever is inside of this grocery store freezer in a room with a crying child does not register to us as important.

And there are further issues he glosses over to get the desired effect. He never specifies that the box actually has so much as a single embryo inside of it.  The very fact that it’s a box inside of a grocery store freezer with a cartoon-sized label on it suggests that the box is incorrectly labeled. We have no knowledge that it in fact remained frozen and the embryos are still viable. By contrast, we know instantly that a 5 year old child is in fact a living 5 year old child.

There’s the even further problem that in our current legal environment, those human lives will almost guaranteedly die regardless of what the hypothetical rescuer does, even apart from the difficulty of getting them to another freezer quickly enough. The child still has legal protections apart from what men like Mr. Tomlinson would likely do if they had the power to change the law to permit infanticide up until the age of legal adulthood.

This is how extremely far he has to stack the deck in order to try to get his desired result. Consider how easily one could present the same scenario—as far as principles go—to produce the opposite effect. Here’s one example:

You’re in a fertility clinic and hear screaming behind a door. You burst it open and see in one corner an ugly man wearing a t-shirt that says “registered sex offender”. He’s screaming racist obscenities about how much he hates black people and that it should be a black Jew being burned to death in this fertility clinic, not someone as important as him. In the other corner there’s a man with a t-shirt that says “all men are brothers” crouching next to a small portable freezer and he shouts, “This freezer contains the frozen embryo of my only child. My leg is broken and I’m pinned beneath this fallen girder and I can’t save her. Please take it to safety so my wife can carry it to term as we planned and my child can live and know that her daddy loves her!”

OK, in this scenario there are 999 fewer human embryos being weighed against the one, but the point stands. It evokes a far different emotional response than the original, though obviously the principles being compared—in so far as there are any—are identical. And this is why Mr. Tomlinson insists on his scenario being exactly the way it is:

An argument can be put in any words that accurately represent the ideas involved, but a magic spell must be said with every syllable pronounced correctly in order to have any effect.

But again, don’t forget that the object of Mr. Tomlinson’s rhetoric is only ostensibly to convince anti-abortion people to become pro-abortion. It’s really directed at pro-abortion people to make them feel like their position is not as anti-natural as it in fact is. That’s why he spends two and a half tweets layout out his hypothetical and five and a half tweets talking about how powerful this hypothetical is to utterly smash the anti-abortion position. The actual hypothetical is of only very minor importance; what really matters to his rhetoric is that he has an invincible weapon which has stood the test of time (ten years!) and slain many opponents.

I will note in passing that Mr. Tomlinson’s tirade may have a slight demoralizing effect on anti-abortion people who read it, but if it does this is not because of any sort of assailing of their position, but rather that hearing the enemy rally himself and raise his moral is in itself demoralizing. Hence the prevalence in the ancient world (where sound had a longer range than weapons) of war chants, hakas, and the like, and in the modern world of psy-ops like radio broadcasts and air-dropping pamphlets. This isn’t an argument, it is men dancing to show their enemy that they’re fierce and united. But this is just one guy, if granted retweeted many times, and it does raise the question of whether “the lady doth protest too much”. He may be doing this merely to gain fame or do due his part, but he may well also see how the intellectual poverty of his side oppressing the spirit of his fellows and seek to raise them because they need raising. Coaches often give pep talks about how the obviously losing team can still win the game before they go on to lose in the second half of the match.

On a related note, Mr. Tomlinson is a science fiction author. Given that he has demonstrated that he is willing to use his talents as a wordsmith to lie for the cause of evil, it would be very imprudent to read anything else he’s written. To read any of his fiction is to gamble that his willingness to abuse his talents in the service of evil didn’t come up by some strange turn of events. This seems at best a very poor gamble. In short, to read a man’s fiction is to trust him, and it is a very poor policy to trust a manifest liar.

The God of the Gaps?

I’ve seen all sorts of numerous accusations about how I’m trying to prove “the God of the Gaps“.  (For those who don’t know the God of the Gaps is roughly the idea that you can identify God in those parts of nature which don’t work, i.e. in the gaps in our scientific knowledge.) I find this accusation hurled at me especially often if I’m discussing anything involving wonder at the natural world.  It’s often followed by assurances that atheists have a sense of wonder, though one is forced to wonder what it might consist of in the face of the unshakable conviction that we understand everything.

Anyway, I’ve been wondering where on earth the idea of the God of the Gaps came from, anyway. It feels like the sort of thing you might get from a Christian fundamentalist, though even they usually aren’t this obtuse. Oddly, Wikipedia isn’t much help. In the Origins of the Term section of the article on it, it says:

The concept, although not the exact wording, goes back to Henry Drummond, a 19th-century evangelist lecturer, from his Lowell Lectures on The Ascent of Man. He chastises those Christians who point to the things that science can not yet explain—”gaps which they will fill up with God”—and urges them to embrace all nature as God’s, as the work of “an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology.”[2][3]

In 1933, Ernest Barnes, the Bishop of Birmingham, used the phrase in a discussion of general relativity’s implication of a Big Bang:

Must we then postulate Divine intervention? Are we to bring in God to create the first current of Laplace’s nebula or to let off the cosmic firework of Lemaître’s imagination? I confess an unwillingness to bring God in this way upon the scene. The circumstances with thus seem to demand his presence are too remote and too obscure to afford me any true satisfaction. Men have thought to find God at the special creation of their own species, or active when mind or life first appeared on earth. They have made him God of the gaps in human knowledge. To me the God of the trigger is as little satisfying as the God of the gaps. It is because throughout the physical Universe I find thought and plan and power that behind it I see God as the creator.[4]

During World War II the German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed the concept in similar terms in letters he wrote while in a Nazi prison.[5] Bonhoeffer wrote, for example:

how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.

All of its citations are Christians who are saying that this is a stupid idea (there are more, I’ve cut for brevity). And of course it is; the God of the Gaps basically postulates that God is incompetent and didn’t make a creation which actually works and has to be constantly patched up. I’m really wondering why on earth atheists are so obsessed with it, since it’s something serious Christians criticize heartily.

There are a few explanations which spring to mind or were suggested by friends:

  1. The atheists believe in a God of the Gaps, only they call it Science. (i.e. the mis-understanding of science commonly called scientism).
  2. They really want Christians to propose an idea they can beat up by some method other than denying  that human reason can reach truth.
  3. The sort of people who tend to become either atheists or fundamentalist Christians use this argument if they become fundamentalist Christians. As a result, non-fundamentalists never see it but atheists do since they’re almost the only people who regularly interact with fundies.

I’d be curious in hearing other explanations, if anyone has any to offer.

Freedom Or Not

An interesting discussion of the limits of and problems attendant to, freedom.


Hands breaking ropes

I wonder about how humanity goes about policing itself. Not only because I’m a lawyer and incentives, motivations, and systems in general fascinate me, but because human beings themselves are a never-ending source of wonder and amusement.

There’s one school of thought that says “Legalize all the things; people are going to do them anyway. Let them be adults!” The countervailing force is more restrictive that says “Ban all the things; people can’t be trusted!” Me, I’m generally against, banning things, but I do have a strong belief that people need limits.

“Prohibition of anything will lead to unintended consequences, and likely worse problems!”

Perhaps. This was the case with alcohol–prohibition was a failure that helped give power to organized crime. But it’s folly and flat-out wrong to think that organized crime wasn’t there, wasn’t dangerous, and wasn’t strong before America’s experiment in banning alcohol. (Have you read Gangs…

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No Anxiety

The Frank Friar released an interesting podcast today.

He mentioned the difficulty he was having saying several masses which involve a lot of standing and walking, and that he didn’t want to appear weak by limping, but reminded himself that if this is carrying his cross and following Jesus, then he would do so. He called it his vanity—and certainly he knows himself, so I wouldn’t presume to say he’s wrong—but I can’t help but wonder if there’s at least an element of not wanting to let down the people who look up to priests to see the strength of Christ, which would not be vanity but a concern for the weakness of the congregation. Something to think about for those of us in the pews, anyway—do we sometimes let ourselves confuse the man with his office?

Be that as it may, it reminded me of my own minor struggle, which I mention not because it’s important but just because it’s a trivial and therefore potentially relatable example of the same sort of thing. Last night after the children were asleep (I have three young ones) I was getting ready to record a video when my almost-two-year-old started crying. So up I trudged from my office to see what was wrong, and she wouldn’t go back to sleep so I carried her around in the dark, her head resting on my shoulder, so she’d feel secure enough to go back to sleep (she declined the offer of a bedtime snack). And as I was thinking about how frustrating it was that I was about to record and instead here I was having to put her to sleep again, it occurred to me that at least I wasn’t partway through and so didn’t have any lost work, and then it occurred to me that in fact I didn’t have lost work because clearly at the moment caring for my daughter was the work God had for me to do.

It’s very easy to let ourselves forget that when we make plans they are guesses as to the work God has given us to do; it seems to me that part of how to live without anxiety is to remind ourselves as often as we can remember that our plans are nothing more than guesses, and when we receive more certain information as to what God has given us to do, it should not be cause for regret but cause for contentment, like when a parent turns on a night light for a child.

This does mean rather a large project of changing how we think of plans during the planning stages, of course. Something I learned in partner dancing (Lindy Hop) is that the problem usually starts several steps before you actually notice it.

The Theory of Unbelievable Stupidity

I’m going to start my explanation of the theory of unbelievable stupidity with an example. In a video of mine which was called The Dishonesty of Defining Atheism as a Lack of Belief, I took issue with the approach many internet atheists say should be the standard human approach of believing nothing until one is spoon-fed enough evidence to finally be won over. Of course many people misunderstand this to mean I’m in favor of people believing whatever they’re told, when all I’m suggesting is that people should actually try to find out what’s true rather than being as passive as possible. To try to convey that, at one point in the video I said:

In fact, scientific discovery is entirely predicated on the idea that you shouldn’t discount things until you’ve ruled them out. It’s also the entire reason you should control your experiments. You can’t just assume that other variables besides the one you’re studying had no effect on the outcome of your experiment unless somebody proves it to you, you’re supposed to assume that other variables do affect the outcome until you’ve proven that they don’t. This principle is literally backwards from good science.

I recently got this rather stupid response:

You have never taken a class is science, specifically experimentation, have you? In an experiment, you DO assume nothing special is going on, and then try to disprove it.

There is the tiny kernel of an idea inside of this idiocy, which I think is a good place to start in unpacking it. The idea he’s grasping at is related to the concept of the “null hypothesis” in statistical testing. In science, one sees it often used in drug trials, but there are other places too. The basic idea is to run an experiment and see how often some effect occurs, and then to ask how explainable it is by pure chance if there is no underlying causality in the experiment. This clearly has nothing whatever to do with not controlling one’s experiments because the default assumption is that confounding variables don’t confound.

Two questions arise:

  1. Why did this guy think something this irrelevant was relevant?
  2. Why does this seem so incredibly stupid?

Rather than answer these questions directly, I’m going to introduce the Theory of Unbelievable Stupidity, instead. So, here goes: People in the modern west are raised from a very young age in a standardized school system which needs to graduate everyone regardless of ability. Because it needs to pretend that it’s teaching students things rather than just running them through a fancy day-care, the general contract drawn up between teachers and students is: “I’ll teach you how to pretend to know the material if you agree to pretend to know it on the test.”

Now, you may think that this is a tad cynical, but if you do, I challenge you to talk to high school students or college students and ask them about the things which they (in theory) learned prior to the most recent test. In general, you’ll find that they don’t know any of it. How, then, did they manage to all pass the tests? The tests in school are designed to be easily fakable with a combination of a little bit of disconnected knowledge and a fair amount of knowing how to make knowledge seem like understanding.

The problem is that while the easily forgotten knowledge fades fairly rapidly, the habit of faking understanding persists. If you look at the example above, consider the first sentence: “you have never taken a class in science, specifically experimentation, have you?” The first part of it uses more words than is necessary. It would mean the same thing to say, “You never took” as “You have never taken”, but the latter sounds like what a college professor would say. Then look at the bolded section; it clarifies what he’s talking about with the word “specifically”. Again, this has an erudite feel to it. Specificity is an academic pursuit. And again at the end there’s “have you” which matches the “have never” in the beginning. This means exactly the same thing as, “You never took a science class about experimentation, did you?”

There is a further aspect of it talking about taking a class rather than merely having an experience. Discussing classes suggests college, since after all who doesn’t take high school science classes? This lends the further suggestion that the comment comes from a college-educated person. Hence, by implication, it comes from a place of education an authority.

The second sentence is less egregious, but there is an over-use of commas which is a sign of erudition—educated people are, I think, more likely to over-use commas than to under-use them, in cases where they don’t get it correct. Further, it says, “and then try to disprove it” rather than, say, “and then prove it isn’t”.

All of these things come together to suggest a well educated man who is making a carefully considered critique. And if that were the case, he should immediately burn his degrees and repent in their ashes because this critique is so far from sensible. Just to list a few problems with it:

  1. You don’t need to take a class in science to know how to experiment. Libraries are filled with books talking about it. (For example, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman has some very trenchant observations about experimentation.) Of course, he might being running this in only one direction—had you taken such a class you’d definitely have known, etc. in which case it’s not useful even as an insult-by-comparison.
  2. There is no such thing as a class in “scientific experimentation” since the nature of experimentation varies with the subject matter. The way that you determine the charge of an electron is radically different from how you determine whether a drug is safe and effective which is again radically different from how you try to figure out what PRM1 does in the human body. Let’s not even get started on astronomy.
  3. Statistical testing using a null hypothesis is relevant only to certain types of testing like drug trials. It would have no meaning in performing an oil-drop experiment to measure the charge of an electron to “assume nothing special is going on and then try to disprove it”. Nothing is either proved or disproved in taking measurements.
  4. In one of the great natural experiments of all time, that proved General Relativity, the position of mercury was accurately predicted during an eclipse. No one assumed GR was false and then tried to disprove its falsity, they made a prediction based on it (which is, technically, assuming it to be true) and then checked to see if observations matched.
  5. Even in drug trials you don’t actually assume that the drug has no effect. They’re quite careful with dosing in drug trials, which would be quite unnecessary if they were assuming the drug was completely ineffective.
  6. Also in drug trails they don’t assume that the drug is perfectly safe and then have to prove some sort of danger; a fair amount of experimentation is necessary to prove the drug safe before clinical trials are even allowed to begin.

The list could go on, but it’s long enough for my present purpose. A man as educated as the signals suggest should have known all this. The result is that he must either be extraordinarily stupid if he knew all this but couldn’t put it together, or he must be simply dishonest, knowing it but not caring in order to make a rhetorical point.

The theory of unbelievable stupidity states that it’s much more likely that the guy doesn’t know any of this and merely sounds educated because of the schooling he received in his youth which taught him how to sound educated.

I recommend looking out for this. In my experience, it makes dealing with such people vastly less frustrating.

Most Atheists Are Religious

If one spends much time amongst online atheists, one is likely to come across the definition of atheism as:

A lack of belief in God or gods.

I like to point out that two of the gods commonly worshiped in the ancient world were the sun and the moon. The response to this I get is usually some version of saying that atheists believe in the sun and moon, just not that they have an intellect or will.

I usually don’t pursue this any further because it is obvious that the original definition is not really what’s meant, but it is actually a topic worth considering why it is that the atheists don’t worship the sun and the moon.

After all, it’s not like the ancients actually thought that the sun was literally the wheels on a chariot—all you have to do is look at the sun and you’ll notice no chariot that’s even bigger than it, nor a man significantly taller than the wheel above it. You would see those things if they were literally there. Of course much of what’s misunderstood by modern atheists is that the poets of the ancient world were not the scientists of the ancient world, but the comic book writers of the ancient world (and TV writers, etc). They weren’t trying to explain the world, they were trying to tell cool stories. This explains why they followed the rule of cool so often. I guarantee you that in Hesiod’s Theogeny when he said that the sky bedded with the earth to produce the titans, the ancient Greeks did think that this was a history of a giant air penis thrusting into the earth.

But leaving aside whether the ancients who weren’t poets actually thought that the sun was intelligent, they did certainly think that the sun was very powerful. Because it obviously was. The sun is responsible for life on the surface of the earth, and not infrequently for death on the surface of the earth. The sun is enormous and powerful and we depend on it. Why shouldn’t an atheist worship it?

And here we get to one of the really interesting things about atheists which the noisy minority often called the new atheists tends to completely miss. Most atheists do worship something. For a great many of them, it’s humanity, or society, or science, or the state; but whatever is the object of their worship, they are clearly religious about it. They are generally not organized in their religious observance, so it’s easy to miss as no rituals have yet been codified, but it only takes a few minutes of watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey to recognize that you’re watching an atheist’s televised sunday worship service. Marxists are of course notorious for worshiping the state; so much so that even new atheists accuse them of it—if, granted, in order to get around admitting the many atrocities these atheist regimes committed.

Much has been commented on how the New Atheists weren’t really all that new, but in fact they did bring one new thing to the table: they don’t understand human nature even a little bit. They actually thought that most human beings can exist without religious observance. In consequence, it never occurred to them that it might be a good idea to formalize it, so that good—or at least harmless—ideas crowd out the bad ideas. Worshiping the sun and the stars has its dangers, but they’re very small compared to worshiping the state. The New Atheist movement was doomed from its inception because it really was the absurd attempt to get rid of religion. You can’t get rid of religion. You can only pick what religion will predominate. If you take away God, men will worship gods, and if you take away even the gods, men will worship far worse things.

The Problem with Consent

It is very popular for secular people to attempt to base morality on consent. That is, anything is moral to which all relevant parties have consented, and immoral if they haven’t.

Obviously there are a bunch of caveats to both, in the form of cases where consent must be violated for the good of the person (e.g. children, the elderly, etc), and cases where the people are deemed unable to consent (e.g. children, drunks, etc). These do give the lie to the idea that morality is based upon consent since there can’t be exceptions to the foundation of a principle. Obviously these exceptions tell of a deeper foundation for morality which is some conception of the good of a human being which is independent of the human being’s wishes. But if we set this insurmountable objection to the side for the moment, there is a further problem with basing morality on consent: no one can actually give consent.

In modern cant what I mean is that no one can give informed consent, but informed consent is a redundancy. Consent which is not informed is not consent. This is because consent, as a verb, is a transitive verb. I.e. it takes a direct object. You cannot consent in a vacuum. You must consent to something. But in order to consent to it, you must know what it is. It doesn’t mean anything to consent to something, you know not what. What is the content of the consent?

There are generally two ways to try to get around this: the partially correct way and the completely dishonest way.

The completely dishonest way is to arbitrarily terminate the consequences of an action at what is foreseeable. This is attractive to the intellectually lazy, but it makes as much sense as saying that a person can consent to another sawing off the tree branch upon which the first is sitting, but that consent doesn’t extend to the subsequent falling down because they didn’t realize that would happen. The cases where this happens are of course less obvious than this one, but no different in principle.

The partially correct way is to say that a person can consent to classes of action which have some discernible characteristic. Thus for example a person who is having sex in order to produce a child is consenting to becoming a parent, even though they have no idea what sort of child they will receive. The problem is that this depends on the ability to know the outline of the class of action being consented to. And this comes back to the fundamental problem with consequentialism—only God can be a consequentialist.

There are only two ways to know the outlines to a class of action:

  1. To be omniscient
  2. To receive summary information from someone who is omniscient

Being finite beings, option @1 is closed to us, so the only possible way to achieve consent is option #2. Option #2 is, however, closed to the secular people who are trying to base morality upon consent.

This is, in short, the problem with basing morality upon consent. The only people who might possibly want to, can’t. Those who can, have no reason to try.

The Orville

I caught the first half of the first episode of The Orville the other day. It was about what I expected from the trailer. That is to say: amusing, but not likely to be great.

I also suspect that the costumers, set decorators, etc. were all lawyers trying to get into their respective fields in show businesses because their instructions seemed to be: “make this as close to Star Trek as possible without getting sued”. And as has been observed, the comedy feels glued on the side. And not with epoxy, either, but more like Elmer’s that someone forgot to clamp.

There are several reasons I don’t expect The Orville, despite being pretty and light fun, to be worth investing time in.

First: Seth MacFarlane is an outspoken atheist. I’m sorry to say it, but at the end of the day the atheist worldview doesn’t admit of any rationally consistent stories to tell. Creatures with neither free will nor prescriptive natures can’t really be the protagonists of stories, and where good and bad are just feelings, it’s hard to come up with a reason to care about what fictional people fictionally feel about things that aren’t really happening.

Second: The comedy seems generally willing to sacrifice characters for laughs. In complete comedies this can work, such as in 30 Rock. 30 Rock didn’t have characters, it had what might be called loci of jokes. The complete lack of consistent characters made the sacrificing of characters for jokes tolerable. The Orville wants to be a drama as well as a comedy, so I think that the willingness to sacrifice characters for jokes will play out very badly, unless the predictions of the comedy being dropped altogether turn out to be correct.

Third: There isn’t much of an attempt at consistency in the characters even in the dramatic elements. I’m told that the third episode of The Orville involves a plot where the member of the all-male species gives birth to a female and wants corrective surgery for her. The problem is, to begin with, it doesn’t mean anything to say that a species is all male. Male only has meaning in reference to female, and vice versa. It would be like saying that it’s a species where all of its members are above average. What’s meant is that they all look like human males. But so what?

(I should note that in a science fiction context it would be possible to have an all male species if you were to invoke cloning, such that it was a species with females but the females died off and so the species only persists through cloning. That is not at all what was described here.)

Fourth: the hyper-intelligent science officer males an imply/infer error. I used to think that this was only a trope to allow the writers to show that a character isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and some other character is. The typical setup involves someone saying, “are you inferring that I stole money from the account?” and someone else says, “No, he’s implying it. You’re inferring it.” Or words to that effect. But this case seems to be a genuine imply/infer error. The captain asks the member of the hyper-intelligent species if they’re as racist as they’re reputed to be, and he responds something to the effect, “If you’re inferring that we regard other species as very far below us, that is correct”. He wasn’t inferring it, he was implying it. This is not auspicious for how the writing of the hyper-intelligent science officer will go. Granted, it could be a subtle tell that the species is not in fact hyper-intelligent and only think that they are, but I’ve heard this isn’t the case and the so-far-beyond-us-we’re-like-pet-gerbils-to-them aspect is played straight.

I don’t want to be this cynical about modern television, but as a Scottish chief engineer once said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Breaking the Magician’s Code

Last night I watched an episode of Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed. It’s notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the direction the narrator received must have been, “Bored! You’ve never been so bored! Just read your lines like you don’t care about anything!”

The basic premise is contained in the title. Someone who went by the stage name “The Masked Magician” revealed how to do a number of very old magic tricks. But the approach is very curious: they don’t approach this with any sort of excitement or awe, but rather a sort of bored annoyance.

Now, the thing I find very interesting about that is the timing. Breaking the Code was released from 1997-1998. That precedes the emergence of the New Atheism by around 8 years, but of course the New Atheism would be better called the Warmed Over Atheism, and the market for the books which would come to define the New Atheism was forming over this time period.

I’m not asserting any sort of causal link between the two, but I do see a similarity of attitude. In particular, Breaking the Code was dismissive and very reductionist. It took an air of superiority, though to what was unclear. And more importantly, it presented tricks as if there was only one way of doing them, without variations. Yet I myself have seen plenty of variations which the explanation given did not cover, and I don’t watch much magic. I’m not, of course, claiming that there are real magicians practicing for entertainment—among other things, if a man had the power to levitate people, I don’t think he would be all that interested in being a stage magician. But I do think that there may be clever tricks involved in some stage magic, while the attitude taken by Breaking the Code is that magic is all really dumb, simple stuff. And that faith—that whatever has happened, it must be trivial—is very familiar from dealing with atheists.

“Skeptics” Are Amazing

This post will require a little backstory. The “short short” version  is that a friend of mine appeared in silhouette on a video of mine explaining why he wouldn’t be joining me in doing a response video to Deconverted Man’s video about me, and Deconverted Man &co thought I was faking my friend’s existence. (Skip down to “Analysis” after Deconverted Man’s video if you don’t want to see the specifics.) Here’s the video, if you’re curious:

A few of Deconverted Man’s followers (or people I believe to be his followers) showed up in the comments of that video, claiming that my friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) is really just me. This one from “Show-Me-Skeptic”:

I’m pretty sure the shadow man is the channel host. I find it inhumanly disgusting that the whole reason the “friend” chickened out is that Deconverted Man has a slight speech impediment. One that the “friend” says indicates special needs. Then the host goes on to completely straw man DM’s response, and flat out LIES about “12 valid proofs for god.” The host is too cowardly to face DM, and has to resort to gutter apologetics to cower out of a real debate.

(As a side-note, my friend mentioned several reasons that Deconverted Man reminds him of the special-needs people he used to work with and Deconverted Man’s speech impediment was not one of them.) “Username” said:

Missing The Mark You realize we can all tell your “friend” is you right? The way you take a breath and smack your lips is very distinct and noticible

Finally, “William McIntyre” said:

you went through a lot of trouble to hide in the dark so no one can see you and used a voice changer so that no one can know your voice and for what? No one cares if you lied about haveing a friend.

Actually that last one might have been posted after Deconverted Man’s video. Which said, in response to my friend’s portion of the video (in the person of a puppet):

This is deconverted man’s friend and I don’t wanna do this video either, because having both of us in the same room at the same time would be hard. We’re different people though, totally. Just trust me on this.

Btw, If you want to view Deconverted Man’s video, here it is:

And in the comments to this video “Hector Defendi” added:

Finally… His friend is Him . There is NO friend. He threw on a wig, and turned off the lights! (I have Photoshop) What a fucking LIAR!


There’s something deeply impressive about these “skeptics” leaping to such a strange conclusion in the face of evidence to the contrary. I re-watched the portion where my friend spoke and not only do we sound very different, we look very different in outline. He’s got long, flowing hair while my hair is quite short. Yes, this is funny that they’ve spun what one might call a “conspiracy of one” theory, but I think it’s actually quite psychologically interesting, because presumably this same sort of “thinking” gets applied to their rejection of faith.

As backstory, this friend of mine is an old college friend. We’ve known each other for over 15 years. He was a groomsman at my wedding. Unfortunately we live in different states and since I have small children while he has none, he tends to visit me approximately once a year, though that hasn’t worked out every year. And that’s what happened. Originally I only meant to push off the response to Deconverted Man’s video by a few months because it would have been a lot of fun to make fun of Deconverted Man’s recycled atheist tropes together. Then my friend saw Deconverted Man’s debate challenge and his really weird response video (filmed from the nose up) and said he thought Deconverted Man had a developmental disability like autism. I disagreed, saying (as I believed and still believe) that it’s just an odd shtick. But since I couldn’t prove my point, I actually went to Deconverted Man in the comments of either his video or mine—I forget—and asked him to confirm that he is not autistic. He refused to confirm or deny it, and said that we shouldn’t give him any special consideration. Finally my friend visited a few weeks ago, and I tried to talk him into doing the video but he opted out, giving the explanation above.

Deconverted Man was never told the specifics of how long I’ve known my friend, but he certainly knew about me trying to get him (Deconverted Man) to confirm that he is in fact neurotypical and that (I said) my friend pulled out because (in part) he (Deconverted Man) wouldn’t confirm that.

Given all this, Deconverted Man’s explanation for my friend’s explanation in my video is that I made up my friend to somehow justify why it took me so long to put out a video in which I said that Deconverted Man’s video missed the point of mine but had the minorly redeeming feature that he did understand how to use reason in a very minor case (buying clothes) and should work on building that up into being more generally reasonable. Oh, and that he completely misunderstands what special pleading is.

This paints a very curious picture of his view of human psychology as well as his approach to interpreting evidence. My story is out of the ordinary, but unusual things happen all the time and moreover people do often have friends and plans do often fall through. Furthermore, eventually making a response to a video after a year could more easily be explained by just saying, “OK, I’ve put this off long time, time to finally get it done so I can forget about it.”

If any sort of explanation was needed at all. My YouTube channel is hardly about current events; I did a video on the Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and Science’s recruiting video If You Are One of Us, Be One of Us when that video was more than a year old. Actually, it’s a fun video if you want to watch it:

Anyway, there was no sensible reason for me to pretend to have a friend, and furthermore you can hear his voice clearly and it sounds very different from mine. Yet these skeptics come up with the idea that I’m disguising my voice and wearing a wig in order to put on a rather strange and pointless pantomime. I don’t think it should be a shock that they reject the historical evidence for Christianity, but I do think that this gives some psychological insight into how they go about rejecting it.