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The education of Vox Day Part 1- The Straw Man fallacy

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on April 8, 2009

I love me a good old intellectual fight, and at times I am shown to be wrong, at which point I must humbly apologize. Luckily that is not the case with Vox Day’s reply to my last entry. The fact remains that Vox refuses to address my challenge, instead he’s chosen to accuse me of committing the Straw Man fallacy. Moi? Impossible. So in order to perform a public service to anyone who may be reading this entry, and as a personal favor to Vox, let us go over the Straw Man Logical Fallacy, and see if I did, in fact commit it. I would like to concentrate on part of his reply here and hopefully the second part on a later entry.

Straw Man Fallacy

Wikipedia gives a pretty good summary of what the Straw Man fallacy is.

The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern:

1. Person A has position X.

2. Person B ignores X and instead presents position Y.
Y is a distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:

  1. Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position and then refuting it, thus giving the appearance that the opponent’s actual position has been refuted.[1]
  2. Quoting an opponent’s words out of context — i.e. choosing quotations which are intentionally misrepresentative of the opponent’s actual intentions (see contextomy and quote mining).[2]
  3. Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then refuting that person’s arguments – thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.[1]
  4. Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
  5. Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

3. Person B attacks position Y, concluding that X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious, because attacking a distorted version of a position fails to constitute an attack on the actual position.

If my logic follows the path above, then I have committed the Straw Man Fallacy and I must retract my original argument. Let us examine if that is the case:

Step 1 – Person A has position X. That would be Vox’s position. Here is the full paragraph from his first entry (emphasis added):

Baggini’s efforts are well-placed, but one thing he misses in his essay is that the New Atheists, having seen their “error theory” repeatedly blown away and shown for the logical and empirical nonsense that it is, are in the process of shifting to what can be described as the “compartmental” theory. This hasn’t yet made its way down to the run-of-the-mill internet atheists, whose primary form of “debate” still consists of calling people stupid despite the fact that all of the available evidence demonstrates rather conclusively that the objects of their ridicule are, as a point of fact, rather more intelligent than the atheist himself.

Step 2 – Person B ignores X and instead presents position Y. That would be my interpretation of the above paragraph.

Here is what I said on my first entry (emphasis added):

First, I would like to see what evidence he is referring to when he says that “all of the available evidence demonstrates rather conclusively that the objects of their ridicule are, as a point of fact, rather more intelligent”, because I suspect he’s using a very unorthodox definition of evidence here.  Second, I consider myself to be one of those ” run-of-the-mill internet atheists” they are referring to here, and while I have done my fair share of calling stupid people out, I think, and hope, I’ve only done it when they actually said or did something stupid, not solely because they believe in God. I don’t think that believing in God makes people stupid. It makes them wrong and misguided, but not stupid. Nevertheless that is not the point I want to concentrate on in this entry.

Ok, so far so good; I only called him out on the claim he made. This in no way can be interpreted as falling under any of the 5 sub-categories on Step 2 of the Straw Man Fallacy.

Then on my second entry I wrote the following:

First, Mr. Vox wants to take a shot at my challenge of his claim that they (religious) are more intelligent than us (atheists). While it is quite ridiculous to make that statement for any group in relation to any other group, nevertheless he clearly means to say that religious people are smarter than the atheists. Here is the original statement from his first entry:

The bold part is what he’s latching on to claim that I committed the Straw Man. It is clear, I think, that what I said does not fall under categories 2-5. Anyone wants more details why, I’d be happy to explain, but I think it is self evident. So that leaves Category 1-Misrepresentation of the other person’s position. What is Vox’s position that started this whole thing?  It was his original statement that “This hasn’t yet made its way down to the run-of-the-mill internet atheists, whose primary form of “debate” still consists of calling people stupid despite the fact that all of the available evidence demonstrates rather conclusively that the objects of their ridicule are, as a point of fact, rather more intelligent than the atheist himself.”

Now who are the run-of-the-mill-atheists he’s referring to? Well it would be people like me, Atheist Revolution, The Friendly Atheist, The Atheist Blogger, Unreasonable Faith, Rodibidably, etc. etc. Who are the objects of our ridicule? Anyone and everyone who did anything ridiculous in the name of their religions, such as the Pope saying condoms make AIDS worse, the faithful parents that let their children die because they rely on prayer, the person that blows up buildings in the name of his God, the pilot that lets the plane crash because he was too busy praying rather than trying to actually do something, etc. etc. etc. Those people dear Vox are the main objects of our ridicule, they are in fact religious people of all pins and stripes, and sometimes stubborn refusal to face reality is also ridiculed, statements that amount to “I know it does not make any sense, but I still want to believe it”, which come to think of it covers a large portion of the believers that I have known anyway.

In a nutshell Vox, internet atheist bloggers are criticizing religion, religious people and their religion inspired behavior. It is untrue that we are ridiculing them all the time, but I will assume that you’re also including critiques under the term “ridicule”. So it seems to me that I am not misinterpreting anything in claiming that your words mean that “the atheists are less intelligent than the object of their ridicule (the religious)” or vice-versa that the religious are more intelligent than the atheists. If anything your statement was ambiguous so that it left open the possibility of it being interpreted that way. I can’t see how you can deny that my interpretation is valid. It may not have been what you meant to say, but, in that case, you ought to be more careful how you word thing, and you should simply clarify what you meant to say and re-word your statement so that it is not ambiguous. If you did not mean to say that , please let us know. Either way, you can’t say that I was the one to commit a fallacy.

Ok, so we don’t need to go to Step 3, because without Step 2 you can’t go to #3. So I think this conclusively handles Vox’s pathetic statement:

Read it again, o valiant black knight of atheism. The fact that I have repeatedly explained, both in TIA and on this blog, why atheists are more intelligent on average than theists, is sufficient to demolish your attempt to construct this demonstrable strawman.

Ok, if I’m gonna be a a knight, I think I ought to be referred to as a knight in shinning armor! Second I have not read TIA and I have not read everything you’ve ever written (and you haven’t read everything I’ve written either, so I guess we’ll call that a draw). I made it clear that what I was criticizing was what you said in that first entry, the portion that I keep going to over and over, the run-of-the-mill atheist sentence. You are now engaging in what is known as Moving the Goal Post, trying to say that what I am trying to deconstruct is your body of work, when in fact I am taking exception with that one statement, in that specific entry, so let’s not start jumping around from one topic to the other.

But if your body of work does in fact make it clear that you think that “atheists are more intelligent on average than theists” how can you explain your statement? How is it that you think that atheist are on average smarter than theists, but then turn around that the internet atheists are less intelligent than the theists? Do you think there’s something wrong with those of us who speak up on the internet? I don’t know, and since I don’t want to be accused of a Straw Man Fallacy, I think I’ll let you handle that one.

PS: By the way Vox is still dancing around the first challenge.  Maybe third time is the charm: Vox Day, can you or can you not provide us with the evidence that you so boldly proclaim “demonstrates rather conclusively that the objects of their ridicule are, as a point of fact, rather more intelligent than the atheist himself.“? Where is the evidence? You say you’ve seen it! Show it! Point us to it! Give us links! If not, don’t you think you should not use the word “evidence” and replace it with “it is my opinion”?

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  1. […] Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day put an intriguing blog post on The education of Vox Day Part 1- The Straw Man fallacyHere’s a quick excerptI love me a good old intellectual fight, and at times I am shown to be wrong, at which point I must humbly apologize. Luckily that is not the case with Vox Day’s reply to my last entry . The fact remains that Vox refuses to address my challenge, instead he’s chosen to accuse me of committing the Straw Man fallacy. Moi? Impossible. So in order to perform a public service to anyone who may be reading this entry, and as a personal favor to Vox, let us go over the Straw Man Logical Fallacy, and s […]

  2. Brian Westley said, on April 8, 2009 at 6:45 PM

    Vox Day is a complete idiot. Don’t even waste time or typing on him.

    • Skepdude said, on April 9, 2009 at 9:52 AM

      It’s good exercise, keeps me sharp!

  3. Beelzebub said, on April 9, 2009 at 7:12 AM

    I’ll just continue to reiterate my belief that both believer and non-believer can be intelligent. I don’t get very incensed over logical error, although I agree it’s very prevalent. People willingly use ad hominem and there’s actually little evidence to suggest that it’s of great detriment to argument. After all, it’s fair game in politics, probably with good reason. If you impugn a person’s character, who’s to say that’s not a reasonable way to indict their argument? I say Charles Manson isn’t able to make a good argument regarding human justice because of what he’s done. Who’s to say I’m wrong? For that matter, who’s to say a presented straw man descriptor doesn’t more accurately reflect the true nature of a given rhetorical point? And who’s to say that an appeal to authority isn’t a valid way to argue? In other words, perhaps these catalogs of logical fallacies are a little overrated and overblown.

    The future atheist/theist wars are going to move to the meta-logical plane, counterfactual argument, and so on. The rather simplistic paradigm of deductive reasoning based on shaky premise will be jettisoned for a more sophisticated series of “what if” hypotheticals. This has been the favored domain for theologists for centuries and it’s obviously something they’re impressed with. For instance, one of the most powerful arguments against theism of any stripe is the existence of alternative explanation — and this doesn’t necessarily entail the “straw man” (ahem) Occam’s razor argument. It’s just too damn easy to imagine that religions developed as primitive warrior god worship, morphed into tools for political and social control and them entrenched ecclesiasticism. It has nothing to do with simplicity, in fact, quite the opposite. The simple answer is that religion is true!, the realistic and believable answer is that it’s universally a socio-political epiphenomenon. In spite of the complexity of this answer, it has one extraordinarily believable advantage: No God Required! Naturalism is known; supernaturalism is conjecture. Why reason from conjecture when there are perfectly good explanations rooted in the natural world? Theists think the naturalistic explanations fail. Why? My preliminary theory is that there are implications to the naturalistic explanations that they find distasteful or intolerable. So is that a valid mode of truth-seeking? Argument through personal distaste.

    The real mystery is why people don’t accept the eminently plausible alternatives. The only answer that makes any sense at all is that they do in fact see them, but choose to ignore them. I mean, these people are not idiots. Given the choice between talking snake and quaint mythology, they can make the right choice. Yet they fail to. Why?

  4. Julia said, on April 10, 2009 at 6:08 AM

    Thank GOD that atheists never use STRAW MAN arguments!

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Skepdude said, on April 10, 2009 at 11:54 AM

      Who ever said that “atheists never use Straw Man” arguments? Where are you getting that from?


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