this is exactly how not to argue a point

September 14, 2012

futuristic hong kong

Sometimes people do mean things to me. Very mean things, like making me read passages by pontificators who have the intellectual depth of the shallow end of the kiddy pool. In this case, I’m talking about Dinesh D’Souza, the pundit who went off the deep end in arguing that showers of missiles from killer drones across the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa in a campaign to kill those deemed a threat to the United States and its allies were signs of a president who is trying to curtail America so he can avenge the colonization of Kenya. Of course this is prime Tea Party territory so I am using the term "went off the deep end" from a different perspective, you know, the one that has trouble seeing a global drone war as a sign of limiting the nation’s reach, and his political wingnuttery isn’t going to be the focus of this post. Instead I want to use a chapter in his opus on Christianity and its supposed superiority to science and skepticism as an example of how not to make and defend a point. Listen, I had to suffer through it and I don’t like to suffer in silence or alone. And besides, you can use this as ammo in a debate so there’s an upside.

When opining why those who live in religious nations have more children on average than those who live in more secular states, he dances and dances around the point he wants to make, but he basically posits that atheists don’t love their children as much as the faithful, which is why the birth rate is lower for them. You see, according to him, the faithful love children as gifts from God while atheists, primed to think about humans as just animate flesh, see them as more of a needy burden necessary for the continuation of the species. Aside from being mindlessly insulting and obviously pulled out of someone’s lower descending colon, it’s not even a new argument. He all but plagiarizes Bill Donohue’s foaming-at-the-mouth declarations on the subject, wrapping name-calling in the typical eloquence with which pseudointellectuals like to lard their talking points. And just to make the insult even dumber, he acknowledges all the reasons why birth rates are falling all over the world with modern medicine and education, and counters them by saying… that they’re not enough to explain the discrepancies he brings up. Oh my dear sweet FSM. He’s not only a twit, he’s also a lazy twit. He’s done the same exact thing when looking for an afterlife!

This is like you making a claim that you were abducted by a UFO, patiently listening as to why it would be extremely improbable for you to be abducted by alien life forms, then responding with "yes, of course this is improbable, but as I was saying, when I was abducted by the Greys…" as if nothing was just said to counter your assertions. How does this guy become and president of a college? How does he have publishing deal? How much can you fail upwards? If he really is one of the key faces of conservative intellectualism as he’s been praised many times over, I can only weep for conservative intellectuals who are now being mentioned in the same breath with an ad hominem slinging slacker who cannot be bothered to defend his points with anything other than arguments by assertion. Hitchens made his share of conservative treatises and though I had an extremely hard time agreeing with a lot of the points he made, he did have solid reasoning for the opinions he held and I wanted to find out why he thought what he thought. You could see a logic behind his conclusions, which is something to be praised and respected.

When someone hands me a book by D’Souza, they’re giving me a tome of overwrought insults and clichés that are not even defended by their author with anything beyond his typical smug self-confidence. As with S.E. Cupp, there’s nothing to debate because the very argument is just utter garbage built on strawmen and hatred for those with different views. So when I was given a chapter of his to read following a conversation about why human populations should drop over the next several decades and asked for my opinion, I said that I was insulted and that there are much, much better books out there on the question of population growth, books that don’t just wave off facts and take a chapter to verbally defecate on those who don’t think alike when they could’ve accomplished that feat in a few sentences. And added that I would like to send my very sincere condolences to the students of the college where this intellectual zero is a president by virtue of having a good vocabulary in which to veil his vapid musings…

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  • HikerTom

    I don’t think Mr. D’Souza is actually trying to convince you or I of his views (that would require rational arguments), but is trying to give a segment of the population that already have a similar worldview some reinforcement. It seems his popularity stems from telling people what they already believe or already much inclined to believe which makes them feel good about themselves (someone thinks the same things they do and he has written a book or made a movie so it must be ‘right’ therefore I am right, so I am good). As I am not a psychology expert I wish someone with that job would comment on this phenomena. It also seems that once you become emotionally invested in a point of view that you will not go looking for material that actually contradicts that view because it would make you feel bad (IMHO that is quite the opposite of the view of good science where we look for evidence pro and con). So anyway with this in mind don’t go looking for Mr. D
    Souza and to read this blog and say oops [and smack forehead], what was I thinking!

  • venqax

    Just for the sake of argument (the good kind), what would be the case stated that atheists value children as much as the religiious do? Assuming that for the religious (or at least some religions) children would have all the inherent value an atheist might acknowledge (species perpetuation? More?) plus the added value of being given by the divine. Whether any added value would result in different behavior is, of course, a separate question.

    I am not in any way “agreeing” with D’Souza, haven’t read him, not inclined to for various reasons.

    @Hiker Tom: You are right to be wary of confirmation bias, but that is by no means limited to polemicists nor is it something scientists don’t fall victim to as well. The post here on “how not to research sex, race, and culture” has examples of that on both sides of the issue of race-dependent traits. .

  • Greg Fish

    Just for the sake of argument (the good kind), what would be the case stated that atheists value children as much as the religiious do?

    Children are a wonder of nature, a collection of cells that organized form the bottom up to build a new, conscious, thinking being that has the potential to change the world. So aside form just carrying the genes of your generation and triggering your natural instinct to protect them, they’re also fascinating to watch as they learn and grow.

  • Thehaymarketbomber

    Dinesh D’Souza is the best argument I can think of for more restrictive immigration requirements.

  • venqax

    Ok, but religious people would say that too. So, all the inherent value an atheist might acknowledge (species perpetuation? More?) plus the added value of being given by the divine.

    I agree that children are every bit as fascinating as a tropical aquarium or a puppy. Until they’re about 13 or so…..:)

  • Greg Fish

    Ok, but religious people would say that too. So, all the inherent value an atheist might acknowledge plus the added value of being given by the divine.

    I don’t think adding an imaginary friend for adults into the mix is an objective attribute we could use to measure how much someone loves his or her children. The whole idea of saying “this person loves her kids more than that person” is inherently low and offensive.

  • venqax

    Low and offensive, maybe, but irrelevant to whether or not it’s true. This is all about science, right? Not feelings. “Objective value” has absolutely nothing to do with love– of children or anything else. The whole essence of it is subjective. It makes no difference at all where the value comes from, imaginary or granite. The only relevance to the question is whether it is felt. Even if you could quantify love in units of affectons, you would have the distinct possibility that religious people would produce more of them than their non-religious counterparts do because something about religious belief influences that. So the question remains.

  • Paul451

    ” “Objective value” has absolutely nothing to do with love”

    Humans are social animals, therefore social rewards have objective value to us. You are doing what believers like D’Souza do, equating positive emotional and social needs and rewards with religion, thus falsely equating atheism with a loss of those emotional and social needs.

  • Greg Fish

    Even if you could quantify love in units of affectons…

    Do that first and then maybe you’ll have an argument that doesn’t mimic D’Souza’s.

  • venqax

    If THAT is D’Souza’s argument, then he must be on to something after all! LOL. Though I don’t see a whole book in it, AND I wouldn’t try to quantify love…though I’d think a physical scientist would jump at the chance to quantify anything. Talk about a challenge! You are ok with offensiveness stopping science?

    Paul451: It is given that religion serves some needs– positive or not is another issue. It isnt’ a given that those needs are only social. But, regardless, if those needs are met by something else in atheists’ construction, what is it? They should have an answer for that. And probably do…? Or are their needs somehow significantly different from religious peoples’? THAT would be interesting. Given the power and prevalance of religion, we could be seeinga speciation event !