The Problem with Talking to Dimwits

Out of pity for some atheists who regularly show up in the comments to my videos, I’m working on a response video about the rest of Logicked’s video about my conversation with Rob from Deflating Atheism. If you’re not familiar, in that conversation, this exchange happened:

Me: “There are a lot of interesting things to say about atheism precisely because at the end of the day one values atheists. They’re human beings. They’re worthwhile. And therefore their lives actually matter.”

Rob: “Which is very easy to lose sight of when you’re in a position like I am and you’re constantly debating them and you see them almost as cockroaches that need to be stamped out. [I laughed.] Quite honestly, no, I mean, I feel like I’m a bad Christian because I feel no agape love for these people. I consider them pests. Quite honestly.”

Which Logicked took to be about genocide. Literally. Here’s a tweet he posted:

Hey nice job chuckling at the genocidal sentiment. Genocide is funny lol atheists are subhuman filth who must be destroyed 😃

And I eventually made this reply in which I explained in excruciating detail how Rob wasn’t joking about genocide:

So as I said, I’m taking pity on some atheists in my comments section and making a video about the rest of his video, which frankly was only marginally better and that only if you are counting the stupidity to be slightly hidden.

And here’s the problem I’m facing: it is really hard to explain something to a dimwit. If a man is merely unintelligent it’s not so bad if he respects you because he will tell you when he doesn’t understand and ask for clarification. But if that’s not the case he will assume everyplace he doesn’t understand you is your fault and it’s because you’re stupid. That would be the end of the problem if I was trying to address Logicked, but I’m not. Among other things, he has a financial interest in not understanding me (he makes $2200/video on patreon).

But if somebody thinks that Logicked’s rather stupid response wasn’t stupid, it means that they were taken in by his self-serving oversimplifications. And the problem when trying to help such a person out (assuming that they really are asking in good faith what I make of his response) is that his simple narratives will be massively tempting in the face of a more complex explanation I can give.

Worse, explaining how what Logicked said is irrelevant is not directly addressing it, i.e. it isn’t directly showing how it’s wrong, and so it will always feel like not addressing Logicked. But except for factual errors, it is impossible to directly address an argument. This comes from the fact that a fallacy doesn’t not guarantee that an argument is wrong. Consider the following argument, which is overly simplistic merely for the sake of making the illustration simple:

p → p
∴ p

Is that modus ponens or the fallacy of affirming the consequent? It’s both. But the conclusion follows from the premises, so it is a valid argument. That is the only requirement of a valid argument; the only requirement to be an invalid argument is that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. But the only way to show that is not to show that there exists a way in which the conclusion doesn’t follow (necessarily) from the premises, one must show that there is no way in which the conclusion follows (necessarily) from the premises. And the only practical way of doing that is to show how the premises can be true and the conclusion false. Which means ignoring the argument and showing the conclusion. Which means ignoring the argument.

In other words, a good counter-argument necessarily has a rhetorical weakness. When an audience is intelligent enough to remember both the original argument and the counter-argument and to relate the one to the other, this will not be a great weakness. Where the audience can’t hold these things in their head at the same time, they will always be left with the feeling that the original argument wasn’t addressed, and so may be valid after all.

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