Is this just me?

Dear skeptical colleagues,

I am going to be blogging about something which has been getting on my nerves for a while now, and I want to know if something like this happens to most skeptics around non-skeptical fellows. I am constantly being talked to by my family as though I am not a skeptic, and am just an annoying contrarian who just disagrees with everything any body says. My most common response is, “That depends on what you say.”, and then I get a simple, “yes Jack.” as if to say that there is no hope and that they are going to just stop discussing it because he will just keep on denying. I find this very annoying, and I really do get the idea that they have no idea what I actually stand for in my life.

It’s not just my parents, and I have heard experiences from other people who are skeptics who just get addressed as closed-minded people who just argue for the sake of arguing. I am going to challenge that point.

It all flows from the point that Christopher Hitchens strived for his whole life, “It’s not what you think, but how you think.” I do not tell you that you are wrong so that you know that you are wrong and you can correct that mistake next time, I tell you how you are wrong.  I like to understand why some people tell me outrageous things, especially in lay people, because if they have arrived with some serious logical flaw, I like to correct their thought process.

For this reason it also follows that it is what you say to me that matters. I will not disagree with whatever anybody says to me. The skeptics I talk to on the internet and at school I will happily agree with almost everything they say, because I agree with their logic, their evidence and their conclusions. This is definitely a very un-contrarian thing to do. But when somebody says to me that if they look hard enough they can see the other side of the moon (true story), then I get angry and ask them “Why the hell are you saying that? What possible logic could lead you to the conclusion that you can see the other side of the moon? Do you understand the concept  of a sphere? What is going on in there?” (I don’t say that, I am a lot more calm (most of the time)).

The problem is that my family (the people I have to spend the most time with in my life) often say very stupid things, and I try to help them, but they just feel uninterested because it’s all sciencey and over their heads. Its annoying. Please contact me if you also have experiences like this, I want to hear how you deal with it.

I will leave you with a quote from Mikhail Bakhunin, “From the naturalistic point of view, all men are equal. There are only two exceptions to this rule of naturalistic equality: geniuses and idiots.” Mikhail Bakhunin, A Russian revolutionary of some note.

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Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

Yesterday I blogged about the logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, or post hoc, and how it is used, and why it is an illogical argument. Today I will be continuing the logical fallacy blitz with the fallacy known as an Ad Hominem attack. This is a common argument used by a lot of different groups, even including skeptics sometimes, so it is important to understand this fallacy to make sure you don’t use it someday when arguing with a conspiracy theorist or a UFOligist. It is also used in politics a lot, especially at the moment in Queensland where there is a political election coming up in a few days.

The most recent use of this argument is by the Labor party in the campaign for the up-coming election. Due to the fact that the Labor Party is fighting an extremely up-hill battle (the latest poll shows that they could win as little as 12 of 89 seats in parliament), they are resorting to attacking the politicians themselves rather than just putting forward good policies or proposed plans. The most common one is the ‘Campbell’s web’ advertisement, which attacks Campbell Newman (the leader of the LNP) and his personal finances not the policies he is proposing or the political view-point he argues for.It is a prime example of an ad hominem attack, because they are attacking the arguer, and not the arguments.

I also mentioned that skeptics fall into this trap often. This is one reason why it is important to know about logical fallacies. The first is that you can call your opponent bluff when he uses one, the second is that you can also question your own arguments with them, to make sure your logic is valid, os that you can correct them, and not the person you are arguing with.

Skeptics often use this logical fallacy when they are arguing with people such as UFOligists, conspiracy theorists and homeopaths. They often fall into saying things like “This is just stupid, how could you honestly believe that what you are saying is true, it is ridiculous!”, or something of the like. This is a logical fallacy. You cannot just simply disregard an argument because it is silly, it is a logical fallacy. However, it is not a logical fallacy to say “The notion of homeopathy is just outrageous, and here is why.” That is not a logical fallacy. If you explain your ad hominem attack with logically sound arguments, then it is not a logical fallacy, it is just good use of the arguing technique of ‘making the other person look like an idiot.’

Ad Hominem attacks are usually last gasp attempts to salvage some victories in the dieing moments of a debate when the fallacious arguer realizes that he is losing by a large margin.

That’s all for me today, I will leave you with a quote from Thomas H. Huxley, “Science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” Thomas H. Huxley, most often known of as Darwin’s bulldog and refiner of agnosticism.