“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!

Analysis

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.

Reductio ad Absurdum Isn’t Straw

Reductio ab Absurdum is a criticism of a position which shows that it is false by demonstrating that absurd conclusions follow from it. A Straw Man is a fake position that sounds like someone’s real position which is constructed by an opponent because it’s easier to disprove than the person’s real position. (It is often the case that the straw man is accidentally constructed because the attacker has never understood his opponents real position.) These two are often confused for each other, which is a bit odd, and I think that a big part of the explanation for why is Kantian epistemology. (I wrote about Kant’s substitute for knowledge here, and this blog post won’t make much sense unless you read that first.)

The relevant part of Kantian epistemology is that each of the several contradictory universal theories held by a person are held only in the areas of life in which the person believes that they produce correct results. In all other aspects of life, the universal theory is ignored. To continue with the example of neck-down darwinism, survival of the fittest is not even considered in the realm of politics, and all men being created equal is not even considered in the realm of science. Each theory has its proper domain, not in the sense of the domain where it makes claims, but rather the domain where its claims are heeded. This is the key ingredient in reductio ad absurdum being called a straw man.

Suppose Fred and James are arguing, and James holds a Kantian epistemology while Fred does not. Fred points out that James’ materialism implies that no action is any more moral than another, because no human action creates or destroys matter. James says that this is a straw man, because he never said that. Yet Fred never claimed that James said that, he claimed that James would have to say that if he were being consistent with what he (James) did say. Why is James so convinced that his is a straw man?

It’s because morality is not someplace that James applies materialism. To James’ mind, showing that one of his universal theories has implications is not enough to prove that James believes those implications. Instead, it must be shown that James actually believes that the universal theory should be applied to that part of life. James see’s Frank’s reductio argument as a straw man because James does not believe his universal theory (materialism) should be applied to this part of life (morality), and so its implications in that area of life are in no way his position.

It’s difficult to know what to make of James’ contention that this is a straw man of his position. In a sense he’s right, because that implication of materialism is not his position. But that’s because materialism is not in fact his position, despite the fact that he has claimed it to be. In fact, he doesn’t actually have a position. His claim believe that truth is unknowable and so the best we can do is refining our theories as we can “test” them against evidence is basically a methodological form of blank skepticism. It makes no positive claims of any kind, other than the self-evidently true ones about what at the moment appears to be the memory of previous experiences, and as such attributing any positive claim to it is mistaken. This is an utter failure of rational thinking, but that’s really the only criticism which can be leveled against it. By claiming to no more knowledge of the world than is possessed by a worm, it cannot be proven wrong about anything. The real problem is that the people who claim to believe this are essentially committing the moral crime of stolen valor. Just as a deserter pretending to be a decorated war hero is reprehensible, so is a putative earthworm who still wants to be treated like a man. Such skeptics would be consistent enough if they didn’t complain about being treated like worms, but they do. They rely on the fact that we don’t believe them to live a much better life than they are entitled to according to their philosophy of the world. In argument, they are essentially taking advantage of good manners, because if we were to take their words seriously, the only correct response amounts to, though it is possible to state it less bluntly, “shut your mouth among your betters, dog”.