August 16, 2022

Scooby does denial

Someone pointed me to a video where an apologist was criticizing skeptics for being apologists in denial. Of course there can be no examples of this in reality, so he took his from cartoons. He was talking about Fred from a Scooby Doo cartoon where they visit an island populated by ghosts and zombies which turn out to be real.

In this still from the video, Fred refuses to admit that a zombie is real, and tries to remove the undead pirate’s mask.

I often say that apologists try to project their own faults onto those who will not share them. This video was a demonstration of that. The apologist warned about excessive skepticism, imagining that this would prevent people from accepting evidence of the supernatural. He complained that some skeptics were in denial: that they would dismiss good evidence as bad evidence, or say that it wasn’t really evidence at all. Other comments implied that the evidence he’s talking about might only be unexplained miracles. Otherwise what evidence could he or any other apologist ever possibly have? Logical fallacies of one type or another are all I’ve ever heard presented.

He complained that skeptics explain why God is unfalsifiable, without admitting that apologists say he is too. God can neither be indicated nor vindicated by any means, but that’s because believers have no evidence and won’t accept any evidence to the contrary. This is what the video accuses skeptics of doing. It would be the tu quoque fallacy, except that skeptics are not also doing what apologists alone are doing. This would be God’s fault, if he existed, because then he could make himself as repeatedly and demonstrably evident as Gandalf’s magic, Jedi psionics, or Spock’s mind-meld. We wouldn’t need faith if such a thing were really real. What would it take to prove that a god exists? Easy, show that it can be demonstrated repeatedly. But having absolutely no good reason why we should believe something like that in lieu of evidence and despite all the logical impossibilities of that assertion, what does it take to get a believer to admit the fact that there isn’t even a reason to believe it? That is up to the believer, but the answer that many have given is “nothing”. Remember that all the leading creationist organizations have posted statements of faith admitting one way or another that they will never accept any evidence that they’re wrong.

This video’s presenter made several important and welcome admissions about his own unskeptical thinking, traits that are also common to all believers. But he casually assumed that these apply to everyone, skeptics included, and his allegations do not apply to me.

Even when we can respond critically, beliefs usually don’t start off as hypotheses that we carefully evaluate before we grant our ascent. We just absorb them from the people around, the books we read, the movies we watch. And the set of beliefs we end up with effects how we react to new ideas. If someone presents me with an idea that thoroughly contradicts some of my core beliefs, it’s more difficult to take the idea seriously, whether there is good evidence for it or not. Because adopting it would require such a massive change in what I already believe. For another person, presented with the same idea and the same evidence, the idea will be much more believable as long as it coheres better with what the person already believes.
Cartoons can teach us important lessons. The lesson to take from Scooby Doo on Zombie Island is is that, while we tend to think that all our beliefs are based on evidence, there’s clearly more at work here than just evidence. Because people react very differently to the same evidence. We adopt many of our beliefs long before we develop the ability to think about them critically. So there is more to our beliefs than mere evidence. Our receptivity is influenced by what is already within us, both factors we’re aware of and factors we’re not aware of. This is why some people look at the evidence for a hypothesis and regard it as conclusive proof. While others look at the same evidence and say that it’s no evidence at all.

I’m guessing that by “hypothesis”, he’s probably talking about evolution. That’s a Theory, not a hypothesis. In a sense, we could think of a theory as being what a hypothesis becomes once it has been vindicated and effectively proven: atomic theory, relativity, cell theory, and the germ theory of disease being examples of this. Otherwise a scientific theory is a field of study or body of knowledge which includes all the facts, hypotheses and natural laws pertaining to and explaining a particular subject or phenomenon. Apologists like to reduce evolution to a hypothesis so that they can create an illusion of false equivalence, without noticing that there hasn’t been a hypothesis for anything supernatural since Louis Pasteur. They misrepresent that too, confusing abiogenesis with spontaneous generation. But that is a topic for another time. In any case, if that’s what he means, then it is a fight he’d best not start with me.

I can guess where he’s going when he pretends that we’re both looking at the same evidence. We’re not. That doesn’t even make sense. Change his use of the word “evidence” to mere facts, and I wouldn’t have such a problem with these paragraphs. No, that’s still not appropriate, because he’s not necessarily just talking about facts either. He’s also talking about unsupported claims. So change his use of “evidence” to claims and then I would agree with him. Except that he said “good” evidence. That means that there he’s using the word the same way that I would all the time. I’m sorry, but evidence always trumps whatever I might have rather believed.

If I were in a cartoon, I wouldn’t have the problem that Fred does. Gods, ghosts, and zombies can exist in cartoons. I’ve had dreams where ghosts and zombies appear, and I always feel like a hypocrite in those dreams. “Why do I keep saying supernatural things aren’t real when here I am fighting them?” Then I wake up and understand why, when I realize that I can’t fly anymore either.

Most amusingly, the video apologists criticized the cartoon character, Fred for always coming up with some excuse to deny reality. That is indeed a rich irony coming from an apologist, because that’s all apologetics is or does. So I posted the following as comment on his video:

As I understand it, a fact is a point of data which is either not in dispute or is indisputable in that it is objectively verifiable.
Evidence is a body of facts which are positively indicative of, or exclusively concordant with only one available conclusion over any other. If the same fact is simultaneously concordant with two different mutually exclusive conclusions at the same time, then it is just a fact. It doesn’t become evidence until it indicates one or contradicts the other. Historians provide the only instance where evidence can be good or bad, strong or weak -because they’re largely limited to interpretations of texts.
Outside of mathematics, where the word “proof” doesn’t really apply in a scientific sense, I use the legal sense: where proof is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence.
Given this understanding, there is no proof of God, because there is no evidence of God, because there is not one fact which indicates a god, and quite a lot of them to contradict that idea. The fact that gods and zombies are both impossible is secondary to the absence of any reason to indicate that either might exist anyway. In science, positive claims require positive evidence and what is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence. There is only what is supported and what is not supported, and whatever is not supported does not warrant serious consideration. It is dishonest to assert as fact that which is not evidently true, yet that’s what all religions do. Faith is the most dishonest position it is possible to have, because it is an unreasonable assertion of conviction assumed without reason and defended against all reason. Any belief which requires faith should be rejected for that reason. But apologetics is merely the practice of making up defensive excuses to justify an empty assertion or to rationalize and otherwise dismiss any and all evidence or arguments which stand against it.

So I find this video a bit ironic in its use of psychological projection. You’re painting Fred as an apologist.


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