Since our first article we have had a policy of allowing any and all kinds of ideas to be offered up to (and from) our readers in our comments, which we like to think of as a kind of laissez faire marketplace of ideas. We have not made any moves to edit anyone’s comments, and we don’t intend to (except our own, and then only for the sake of clarification–the one genuine mistake I ever had pointed out by an opponent in a debate, for example, was left as a strikeout followed by the correction). We follow (so far) a strict no-banning policy as well: you don’t have to worry about ever getting “disfellowshiped” from Armstrong Delusion (again, so far), nor will your dissent ever be censored. We don’t even moderate our comments, except for a spam filter.
Why are we so open?
Ah, this is where things get a little diabolical. You see, the reason we follow such an “open door” policy is because we love and respect our readers so much that we don’t think they need to be “protected” from stupid ideas. Instead, we think they should be given a chance to see those stupid ideas refuted in print and, like the specimens of some twisted idiocy collector, preserved for the world to benefit from.
This policy, of course, makes the organic development of an adversarial environment more or less inevitable, at least with respect to certain controversial subjects. One of those subjects, for some reason, has to do with the fact that most of the contributors to Armstrong Delusion happen to be atheists–and, get this, they aren’t ashamed of it! I know, right? How dare they!
Well, the past few days has seen a preponderance of comments from a particular anti-atheist polemicist by the name of Michael Maynard (henceforth, May-tard). This fellow (who is obviously not the brightest bulb in the box) has fallen into a rut of using invalid arguments that often sound convincing on the surface (a tactic known as sophistry). He has engaged in sophistry to such a great degree and in such classic form, in fact, that I have decided to feature him as a case study in this, the illustrious return of Friday Fallacy.
As you know, a normal installment of Friday Fallacy (when one appears) focuses on a particular logical fallacy. In this case, though, we will be covering a bit more ground in that regard. This is because an instance of sophistry typically involves the use of several different fallacies together, and our friend May-tard happens to be a typical kind of sophist. Which brings us to an explanation of what sophistry is.
Just What Do You Mean, Sophistry?
Like many words, the meaning of sophistry has evolved over time. When it was first coined by the Ancient Greeks, it merely meant something like, “the teaching of wisdom for profit,” and it quickly became a pejorative term used by critics of the sophists, such as “Plato”, who considered them to be deceptive. From this use in the dialogues of Socrates we derive the modern sense of the word, which is, essentially, “to argue deceptively”.
Most people who engage in sophistry are not aware of what they are doing. In actual fact, most people who engage in sophistry are not even aware of the concept of sophistry or what the word means (May-tard, for example, thought sophist was equivalent to lawyer). Sadly, sophistry–like Hyperspace in Star Wars–is one of those things you don’t have to understand to use.
In everyday debates (“arguments”, for you lay people), the participants are usually not trained in the skills they are called on by their circumstances to employ. As such, they don’t really know an invalid argument when they use one–or when they are “defeated” by one. But invalid arguments are often deceptively persuasive for reasons that have nothing to do with their logical validity, and thus they are attractive to those who need a persuasive argument.
These kinds of amateur “debates” usually progress in a kind of illogical haze, with each opponent attempting to outmaneuver the other by brute emotional and/or rhetorical force, until both are left bewildered, wondering just exactly what was being said and both now plagued by a nagging suspicion that they might be wrong, but without any good reason for thinking so. This illuminates both the problem with sophistry and the necessity of an education in logic: while logic delineates a clear course to valid conclusions, marked out by reasonable principles we can all agree on, sophistry confuses us and manipulates our emotions in the service of falsehoods. It could be argued that sophistry is the default debate style for the ape that dropped down from the trees and lost its fur.
A Sophist’s Bag of Tricks
Some of the most common and perfidious sophist tactics were put on display by May-tard in the recent “debate” over–well, it’s hard to tell what exactly was being debated, since it was started by a sophist. You can view it in the comments here, if you have the stomach for it (but don’t miss the article if you haven’t read it yet!). It suffices to say that May-tard has something against atheists. What this is he didn’t make clear, since, after all, his purpose was not clarity of understanding but rather the casting of aspersions. One of the best ways to do this, of course, is to…
This is done at the beginning of a debate and involves intimating to your audience just what you think of your opponent(s), hoping to engender an emotional reaction against the opposing position even before it is presented. May-tard can be seen doing this several times in his first spewing forth of vitriol, when it became clear that the gauntlet had been thrown down and a debate was about to begin. For example, here
If you take offense at every little adjective maybe you need to take up MMA or enlist in the military where they let you blow away innocent people with big bullets in really big guns(or a blunt instrument if no one is watching)
he insinuates that his target is not only easily offended but has violent tendencies and may wish to shoot innocent people and/or bludgeon them to death. Surely, anyone like that is not a reliable source for wisdom and truth. He goes on:
I think you just ain’t got a life and are looking for something that can make you look “Cool and Hip.” All the other frats were closed for rushes so you fell in here. With your on line thesaurus.
Here May-tard imagines that my atheism is derived from a desire to fit in (reminiscent of his referring to me as a “spineless pretender” a sentence earlier), based on nothing but his desire to cast aspersions and, indeed, apropos of nothing whatsoever. Remember that the purpose of poisoning the well is not to make an argument, but to make your opponent look unsavory in the eyes of your audience so that they will develop an emotional resistance to the arguments your opponents will make later on. One more example from May-tard:
Now everyone, except me, knows that shooting a big bulging bodacious belligerent bird is the true sign of one who is really in the drivers seat. I remember the quick quip, “is that your age or I.Q.?” AAAAAhhhhhaaaahahahahah…
See what he did there? He’s referring, of course, to my profile picture, which features me flipping off people like him (really the intended target was Flurry, et al.–I uploaded this the day after the original editors of A.D. were officially excommunicated from PCG). Now everyone, except me, knows that anyone who sticks up his middle finger is surely of low I.Q. and not capable of forming a logical argument. Why should you listen to anything he has to say. He’s belligerent after all! It will not be lost on anyone with a lick of common sense that belligerence has jack shit to do with intelligence–or at the very least, one should be aware that an argument should be judged on the merits of the argument itself and not on the belligerence (or even intelligence) of the one delivering it. But scruples like that just get in the way of poisoning the well, so May-tard could ignore them. Also, it seems he hasn’t yet discovered LOL. Come on, May-tard, only grandmas still type out the onomatopoeia. And then there’s this nonsense:
You obviously do believe and love the Armstrong way, at least the philosophy…the end justifies the means and obfuscate along the way.
This poison in my well begs the question: do I believe that the end justifies the means (what end and what means?) or that one should obfuscate along the way (what the hell is he referring to here–is he claiming that I engage in obfuscation? Where?)? It doesn’t matter to the sophist, though! All that matters is that I be made to look unsavory–and what better way to do this on an anti-Armstrongist blog than to identify me with Armstrongism itself?
There are several more instances of poisoning the well here, but we will move on to another dirty trick he employed, that of
This Latin phrase means, “does not follow,” referring to a conclusion that does not follow logically from the proposed premise. Here is an example from May-tard:
You link off of anti-Armstrong blogs and websites. Just like Gearaldean, parasitic.
To condense his “logic” here, we could rephrase this, “a blog has links; therefore it is parasitic.” Furthermore (since one fallacy wasn’t enough, he had to nest them), “a blog has links; therefore it is ‘Gearaldean’ (I can only assume this is his fancy word for Gerald Flurry-like).” Now, most blogs I know of include links (for example, May-tard’s own blog links to us at the end of this astute sociological treatise on how Armstrongism effects us kids). According to May-tard this makes them all equivalent to parasites and, as such, similar to a particular cult leader named Gerald Flurry. Am I the only one who thinks it would be difficult to find a better example of a conclusion that does not follow logically from the given premise? The purpose here, of course, is to invoke guilt by association, another logical fallacy (even if I were like Flurry it would have no bearing on the validity of any argument I was about to make–except an emotional bearing, which is exactly the kind of deceptive manipulation May-tard was after).
May-tard’s non-sequiturs abound, but let’s not dwell on them when there are so many other fallacies to expose. Like
This seems to be May-tard’s favorite tactic. By asking all the questions he did, one might mistakenly think he was being very Socratic (not so!–he claims his Ancient Greek muse is Plato, because he likes facts…or something–which tells me May-tard doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about). In actual fact the questions he asks are embedded with presuppositions that not all parties subscribe to, which is why we don’t answer them directly. To do so would be to grant our implicit agreement to those presuppositions. Instead, we tried to explain that those presuppositions are flawed. But that was no impediment to May-tard’s continued use of them, no sir! He’s a sophist in a hurry, he is! Behold, two loaded questions for the price of one:
Are you just pissed off in general terms? Why not tell me the ten ways atheism has enriched your life, maybe I’ll join. OK eight…well then how about three..OK then, one?
No, May-tard, I’m not pissed off at all. I’m annoyed in a way you will never understand. As for the benefits of “joining” atheism, this is the presupposition: that atheism is something one joins, that it is a philosophy, a belief system, granting its members spiritual enrichment. If we answer that atheism does not do these things because it is not supposed to, the response is
Then the ways it has enriched your life is Zero?
implying, of course, that atheism is worthless, an empty and meaningless philosophy–and that atheists, by extension, are value-less people who will likely knife you in the back to get ahead. Yet if we answer that atheism provides us with spiritual sustenance of the kind May-tard apparently requires, we are then making false statements and allowing this fool to muddy the waters of the debate. See, not only are the questions loaded with false presuppositions, but they are an illogical appeal to consequences. As I explained to no effect during the debate,
Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not a club or a movement. It is not a lifestyle or a worldview or an ideology. It is merely a position on a specific claim. That’s it. It is identical in form to not believing in fairies. You don’t believe in fairies, do you? Can I join that club? What are the benefits? Sell me on a-fairy-ism, won’t you? Are you starting to get it yet?
The other point you need to have hammered into your brick-like skull is that the consequences of a claim have no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the claim in question. Let me repeat that: the consequences of a claim have no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the claim in question. We are atheists because we don’t believe theism is a true claim. That’s the fucking definition of atheism. So all this nonsense about what atheism “has to offer” is about as absurd as asking, “What will it benefit me to splork a plip?” You’re asking a question about apples that can only be applied to oranges.
Also, I’m quite aware (through my long association with the debating tactics of theists) that what you are doing is trying to discredit atheism by insinuating that it leads to a life of misery and meaninglessness. Now that we know what atheism is, we can see that this sophistic and time-dishonored tactic is logically invalid. It is known as argumentum ad consequentium, or appeal to consequences. A proper understanding of logic will tell you what I’ve already made clear: the consequences of a claim have no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the claim in question. And the truth value of theism is exactly, precisely–and exclusively–what atheism is about.
Now, go read some books if you want to know more about what kinds of philosophies atheists are most likely to go in for (you could start with humanism, as it is the most obvious one). It isn’t our job to educate you (unless you’d like to pay us the market value for such a service).
Of course, May-tard the sophist ignored this detailed explanation and went on asking his loaded question, as though he were some kind of rhetorical champion being very clever. And this brings us to the last tactic I will describe:
Ignore Your Opponent’s Strongest Arguments (or All of Them, If You Can Get Away With It)–And Recycle Your Broken Ones.
Unlike rampaging bears, a strong argument is less likely to destroy you if you ignore it than if you do the brave thing and take it head on. This is why sophists don’t make good bear fighters. That is to say, sophists are doing their job if they look like spineless cowards, which is exactly what they are.
Ignoring arguments is the best way to make them go away. No one who is sane is going to scroll back through the debate to see if you got your balls (or ovaries) ripped out without response 5,389 comments ago. So, the successful sophist just pretends like it never happened. Like May-tard did, he or she will just talk about something else for a while and, before you know it, they’ll be recycling that lame argument that already got refuted way back there…but–shhh!–who’s counting anyway? Nobody, we hope. Amirite?
So, be on the lookout, fearless reader. Sophists are everywhere, blogging, trolling blogs, campaigning for political office, trying to get you to buy sump pumps, writing for The Trumpet. You never know when you will run into one of them and their specious debate tactics. But now you are a little more prepared to recognize them for what they are, thanks in large part to a small man we like to call May-tard. Thanks for playing, May-tard!