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Darwinian Debating Device # 12: Selective Hyperskepticism, closed-mindedness (and “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”)

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Perhaps the most deep-rooted Darwinist debate tactic is hyperskepticism.

While I have done a briefing note on this, I like HeKS’ nice summary raised a little while back, in an Oct 9th 2014  remark that deserves to be headlined:

Normal skepticism is generally equitable and a good thing. It applies a reasonably consistent demand for warrant across the board before some claim of fact or some argument is accepted. It prevents one from being credulous, but allows one to believe what is reasonable to believe once one has received a reasonable amount of supporting evidence and/or argumentation. There’s obviously some subjectivity here in terms of what one person considers to be a sufficient or reasonable amount of evidence or argumentation vs another, but the typical idea is that one is willing to believe if they’ve received sufficient evidence to bring about Moral Certainty rather than requiring Absolute Certainty. In other words, enough to warrant action or acceptance by a person who is not heavily biased.

Conversely, hyper-skepticism (which is certainly not a term we made up … just google it) is virtually never equitable. Rather it is highly selective. Selective Hyper-Skepticism results when one requires a much higher degree of warrant in order to accept things that they prefer weren’t true.  It most often comes up when worldview issues are at stake.  It’s the application of a double-standard where one demands sufficient evidence to support absolute certainty (which is generally impossible) on certain facts they’d rather not have to believe, but they are willing to accept a much more lax standard of evidence and argumentation on matters of a very similar profile that don’t threaten their worldview. It also happens that someone demonstrating hyper-skepticism on these types of worldview issues often displays hyper-credulity towards arguments and evidence on the matter that is consistent with their own worldview. This isn’t really an accident, because the hyper-skepticism applied on one side of the equation often leaves the person grasping for any contrary evidence or argument at all on the other side of the equation, no matter how implausible or unsubstantiated.

This fallacy is so toxic, that the so-called skeptic movement (roughly, new or gnu atheists) is being forced to acknowledge it in the context of the notorious elevator-gate scandal.

As the Freethought blogger using the handle Lousy Canuck noted:

[W]hen the bugs crawling out from under the rock that had been overturned . . .  by Rebecca Watson continued unabated, and pretty much everyone was shocked that that many creepie-crawlies resided in our vaunted skeptical community, I wrote a series of posts on the whole ordeal called The Problem with Privilege. One of those posts dealt with the rampant and repeated demands for evidence regarding the incident that Rebecca had called creepy — as though recounting a story and saying “guys, don’t do that, it’s creepy” was some kind of misandrist clarion call . . . . these trolls, being part of the skeptical community (apparently), used our strengths against us by attacking the claim on its merits, since the claim “I was tipsy in an elevator at 4am and a guy followed me in and asked me to his room” doesn’t meet the high standards of evidence we use in the skeptical community when it comes to extraordinary claims. Never mind that it was a perfectly ordinary claim about someone’s experience with a slightly-offputting person that did not result in any physical harm. Specifically, I characterized this compulsion as hyper-skepticism, along the same lines as 9/11 truthers, birthers, and other conspiracy theorists.

We’re now seeing the exact same tactic being used again in the wake of a conflagration that Jen McCreight accidentally set off when she casually mentioned at the Women In Secularism CFI conference that female speakers occasionally warn one another of potentially creepy male speakers.

Since Stephanie called for real harassment policies to be implemented, and over half a dozen conventions started putting a very good template policy into place in response, real progress has been made on the issue. Progress involving building infrastructure that ameliorates the problem and provides harassment victims with real support. People have come forward with their specific complaints about harassment that had not been reported immediately, supporting the need for these infrastructures — and the hyper-skeptics replied in droves, “but where’s your evidence!?” . . .

This brings out the double-problem of selective hyperskepticism and linked evidentialism, in a context where those who commonly use such tactics to object to design arguments, history, ethics, logic and worldviews issues they do not like, can hardly duck and pretend to the high ground.

So, let us note the pivotal points:

1 –> The skeptics are here forced to acknowledge or at least imply the relevance of rights claims, thus the compelling force of OUGHT (and so also, this points to a foundational reality that is an IS that grounds ought).

2 –> Already, this points to how there is only one serious candidate to be an IS capable of bearing the weight of OUGHT, given the IS-OUGHT gap and the need to move beyond the amoral nihilism of might and manipulation make ‘right’:

The inherently good Creator God who is a maximally great, necessary being, the root and sustainer of reality who has created us in his image and endowed us with rights.

3–> That is already a serious challenge to a priori, Lewontinian evolutionary materialist secularism and associated agendas, the view is unworkable in a community as blind chance and mechanical necessity acting on matter and energy in space and time are utterly unable to provide grounding fro OUGHT beyond might and manipulation make ‘right’ . . . which is exactly the problem here as might easily leads to abuses.

4 –> Next, we see the trotting out of the evidential double-standard principle popularised by Sagan:

extraordinary [–> Empirical, factual] claims require extraordinary [–> adequate] evidence.

5 –> Nope, instead all factual or empirical claims require reasonable and adequate warrant, so there are no double-standards between what we close our minds to while patting ourselves on the back, and what we swallow without reasonable assessment because it fits what we wish is so.

6 –> And, we need to address the linked problem of the fallacy of the closed mind also, for which I have to note from my briefing note on selective hyperskepticism as it has been very hard to find a reasonable discussion of this serious problem online:

CLOSED-MINDEDNESS*:  Stubbornly irrational, question-begging resistance to correction and/or alternative views. (Cf. a typical turnabout accusation on this, here.)

This fallacy manifests itself in a habitual pattern of thought, feelings and argument that is:

(a) question-beggingly committed to and/or

(b) indoctrinated into thinking in the circle of a particular view or position and/or

(c) blindly adherent to “the consensus” or vision and school of thought or paradigm of a particular set of authorities. [NB*: This last includes today’s new Magisterium: “Science.”]

As a result,

(d) the victim of closed-mindedness becomes unwarrantedly (i.e. fallaciously and often abusively) resistant to new or alternative ideas, information or correction.

(NB: Cf. discussions on belief, knowledge, warrant and justification here, here [an excellent introductory lecture note], here, here, here, here and here [technical].) 

That is, it is not a matter of mere disagreement that is at stake here, but of 

(e) stubborn and objectively unjustified refusal to be corrected or to entertain or fairly discuss on the merits ideas or points of view outside of a favoured circle of thought.

In extreme cases,

(f) the closed minded person who has access to power or influence may engage in the willfully deceptive (and even demonic) practice of actively suppressing the inconvenient truth that s/he knows or should know.

(By contrast, a properly educated person is open-minded but critically aware: s/he is aware of the possibility and prevalence of error, and so (i) habitually investigates and then (ii) accurately, objectively and fairly describes major alternative views, fact claims and lines of argument on a topic, (iii) comparing them on congruence to his/her real-world experience and that of others s/he knows and respects, general factual correctness, logical coherence and degree of explanatory power; thus (iv) holds a personal view that results from such a process of comparative difficulties, while (v) recognising and respecting that on major matters of debate or controversy, different people will hold different views.)

7 –> Here is Harvard Law School professor and founding father of the modern anglophone theory of evidence, Simon Greenleaf, in opening remarks for his classic Treatise on Evidence:

Evidence, in legal acceptation, includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved . . . None but mathematical truth is susceptible of that high degree of evidence, called demonstration, which excludes all possibility of error [–> Greenleaf wrote almost 100 years before Godel], and which, therefore, may reasonably be required in support of every mathematical deduction.

Matters of fact are proved by moral evidence alone; by which is meant, not only that kind of evidence which is employed on subjects connected with moral conduct, but all the evidence which is not obtained either from intuition, or from demonstration. In the ordinary affairs of life, we do not require demonstrative evidence, because it is not consistent with the nature of the subject, and to insist upon it would be unreasonable and absurd. 

The most that can be affirmed of such things, is, that there is no reasonable doubt concerning them.

The true question, therefore, in trials of fact, is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but, whether there is sufficient probability of its truth; that is, whether the facts are shown by competent and satisfactory evidence. Things established by competent and satisfactory evidence are said to be proved.

By competent evidence, is meant that which the very-nature of the thing to be proved requires, as the fit and appropriate proof in the particular case, such as the production of a writing, where its contents are the subject of inquiry. By satisfactory evidence, which is sometimes called sufficient evidence, is intended that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond reasonable doubt.

The circumstances which will amount to this degree of proof can never be previously defined; the only legal test of which they are susceptible, is their sufficiency to satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man; and so to convince him, that he would venture to act upon that conviction, in matters of the highest concern and importance to his own interest. [A Treatise on Evidence, Vol I, 11th edn. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1888) ch 1., sections 1 and 2. Shorter paragraphs added.]

8 –> As a capital and longstanding example on matters of origins science, we need to pay careful heed to what Lewontin and the US National Science Teachers Association Board have stated. For that, let me simply clip from post no 8 in this series on refusal to acknowledge FSCO/I. Let us hear eminent Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin, in that well-known NYRB review of Sagan’s last book in Jan 1997, again:

. . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must first get an incorrect view out . . .   the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [[–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . .

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[–> a major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute[[–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door

[From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997. Bold emphasis and notes added.  In case this is likely to be dismissed as “quote-mining” — tantamount to an accusation of lying, kindly cf the fuller cite, notes and links as I have linked in introducing this cite.]


And in case that is seen as unrepresentative and idiosyncratic, here is the official position of the US National Science Teachers Association Board, in 2000:

The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts . . . .

Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. [[–> Note the imposition of a priori evolutionary materialism right into the definition of science, twisting science into ideology and education into indoctrination; where also NSTA and NAS threatened the parents and students of Kansas with ostracism for failing to toe this line, across the 2000’s] Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work . . . .

Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations [[–> That ideological definition again] and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements [[–> A strawman tactic and red herring also, as the material issue is the contrast between nature and art on empirically reliable signs, as has been put on the table since Plato in The Laws, Bk X 2350 years ago]  in the production of scientific knowledge. [[NSTA, Board of Directors, July 2000. Emphases and notes  added.]

9 –> In recent days, ES has provided us a key case in point, by refusing to acknowledge the evidence before his/her eyes on the patent difference FSCO/I makes, between a pile of sand and a sand castle on a beach, again as seen in DDD No 8:

The different words “drop” versus “water” or “sand particle” versus “heap” do not entail or imply a distinct substance or essence. The difference is merely verbal, incidental, inconsequential, only a matter of scale or degree, whereas the essential substance is the same. Therefore, when I say that the sand particle and the heap are essentially the same thing, and you reply that I am selectively hyperskeptical, then you will have gone overboard.

This is precisely the difference I see in your two images. There is no essential difference. The “obvious” difference of the shapes is a matter of degree, not of kind – both are heaps and both have shapes, and one heap can smoothly be re-shaped into the other. It’s analogous to a single body of water that assumes different shapes in different vessels – a huge difference in shapes of water, but no difference in the quality of water.

Of course I agree there’s a quantitative or incidental difference, but this is all I can say. If you say design implies a designer, then this applies equally to both heaps . . .

10 –> Of course, this is the same tactic used to try to o verturn BA’s recent comparison of two strings, so I took time to highlight instead a pile of “dirt that could by no means be assigned to human action, the dome at the Soufriere Hills Volcano a few miles South of where I sit as I write:

Soufriere Hills Volcano dome, Montserrat, at night
Soufriere Hills Volcano dome, Montserrat, at night

. . . vs what is a close match to the sand castle put forth previously:

A sand castle
A sand castle

11 –> After a day or so, ES has not responded, but that may be just a matter of overlooking. In any case, the selective hyperskepticism is patent, as there were always natural dirt piles around, so at most a minor correction would have been enough, to go on to address the main issue. (And BTW, that majoring on minor defects is a case of a strawman tactic.)

Clearly, it is time for fresh thinking. END

4 Replies to “Darwinian Debating Device # 12: Selective Hyperskepticism, closed-mindedness (and “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”)

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Headlining HeKS on selective hyperskepticism (also, attn ES), with elevator-gate coming up, and some linked issues of the closed mind and evidentialism. Time for fresh thinking. KF

    PS: and yes, fallacies often come in mutually reinforcing clusters so arguments and notions err for multiple, interacting reasons.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    Nice addition to the series KF. Thanks.

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    “Perhaps the most deep-rooted Darwinist debate tactic is hyperskepticism.”

    Almost certainly.

    God cannot be true. Ergo Intelligent Design cannot be true.

    But if Darwinism is true, there’s no reason for hyper-skepticism.

    Go figure.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Because of regrettable well-poisoning abusive tactics used in his response at his blog, I responded as linked to Prof Moran here at UD and at his blog. It is to be noted that VJT has addressed the strawmannised version of the case on irreducible complexity used by Prof Moran, in the OP for the same thread at UD. KF

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