Monday, April 25, 2011

This video clearly wasn't meant for my viewing

This video clearly wasn't made for my benefit, but a loved one forwarded it to me and we got a good chuckle out of it. What entertained us the most was the opening narration--and by "entertained" I mean I found it cringe-worthy to the extent that I just had to laugh before I pulled the rest of my hair out.

Bald Me.

The video illustrates some classic examples of specious arguments and logical fallacies, and because the narration includes the word "history" I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to respond to my loyal reader.[1]

Read my analysis of the narration below the fold, and let me know what you think, but be forewarned: it's about religion . . .

    We have often asserted, and we affirm it yet again, that no fact in history is better attested than the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It must not be denied by any who are willing to pay the slightest respect to the testimony of their fellow men that Jesus, who died upon the cross, and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea did, literally, rise again from the dead.
Here's what makes me cringe about this, admittedly run-of-the-mill, Christian statement:
    ** no fact in history is better attested: There are at least four significant problems with this statement.
      1) To attest to something means "to give proof or evidence of" but also merely "to bear witness to; certify; declare to be correct, true, or genuine." That is, to attest to something doesn't necessarily mean that it's true, just that people claim that it's true.
      2) Let's take the narrator's side for a second and approach the Jesus Christ resurrection story as if it literally happened. From this point of view, does the narrator mean that no other event in history had been witnessed by more people? If so, then the narrator is clearly wrong, as more people witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and more people witnessed Super Bowl XLV than lived in all of Judea at the time.[2]
      3) This statement appears to be a variant of an appeal to authority, in that the discipline of history is called upon to buttress the argument, but the narrator obviously has no clear understanding of the discipline of history.
      4) This statement is also a logical fallacy in that it is an argumentum ad populum, or appeal to the majority. Just because many people believe something doesn't make it true.
    ** It must not be denied: The imperative tone of this statement seems to me a kind of appeal to fear.
    ** by any who are willing to pay the slightest respect to the testimony of their fellow men: This statement, in combination with the above, seems to be a mixture of an appeal to emotion and an appeal to the majority. The insinuation here is that a person is not "good" if they don't fall in line with the beliefs of other people.
    ** Jesus . . . did, literally, rise again from the dead: Well, only Christians believe this. In and of itself, the fact that only Christians believe this doesn't necessarily mean that it's true or not true. Based upon the flimsy foundation of the preceding narration, however, there's no solid evidence to support this proposition. Also, choosing only Christian-approved evidence to support the claims is a fallacy of incomplete evidence -- that is, what about the other billions of people on the planet who view the resurrection myth from different points of view and with different evidentiary bases? Further, this conclusion is a variant of the Begging the question (or petitio principii) fallacy, in that the proposition being argued is implied in the premise.
I could go on.

As I wrote above, this video certainly wasn't for me. Contrary to how it might seem, I do, more often than not, ignore these kinds of contentious specious & fallacious statements, but every now and then I appreciate the opportunity to expose their constituent errors and omissions, if only for my own sake.

In the end, my contention is that using our evolved pre-frontal cortices to their fullest can be a rewarding and positive thing. After all, this part of our brains is one of the few things that separates us from the other animals!

[1] By "reader" I mean me.

[2] Demographers: Correct me if I'm wrong.



  1. Oh, James. You obviously missed the point, which isn't surprising when it comes to religion. The narrator wasn't attempting to claim historical fact, but was instead trying to whip up faith frenzy, as the Baptists are often wont to do. You're only arguing with yourself on this one because the Baptists could give a flip about your historical analysis. Not that you directed this argument at them anyway. It would be interesting to get their reaction, though, especially since many of them believe the Earth was created only 6000 years ago according to Biblical analysis :)

  2. hehehehe . . .

    Yeah, I realize they don't give a flip about my perspective or the perspectives of other people who strive to live in the fact-based universe.

    As I wrote above, I have few illusions that many more people besides myself read the posts on this blog. On posts like these, I find it valuable for my own sake to articulate the errors of logic inherent in whatever statements I'm referring to.

    However, evidence continues to mount that many people simply are not convinced by fact, or by logic (i.e., the birthers, 9-11 conspiracy people, libertarians generally, etc.).

  3. Who the heck are the birthers? That is the second time in ten minutes I've heard that term

  4. Birthers: People who continue to argue, in spite of evidence to the contrary, that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the U.S. because he was not born in the U.S. and, thus, is ineligible to be president; people who don't believe that Obama's Hawaiian birth certificates are real.

    Birtherism is a way for many Obama opponents to claim that their underlying opposition does not, in fact, reflect a deeper motivation in racism. (I did not originate this interpretation, but it seems quite plausible to me.)