Sunday, 15 April 2012

"These arguments have been refuted before!"

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I want to ask you a question. Have you heard it all before? When we're discussing an issue on which you're an expert and I'm a layman, your answer will probably be "yes". There's probably nothing I can say that you haven't heard before.

DarkMatter2525's most recent YouTube video is called "Creationists' First Time on the Internet". He raises all of the common creationist arguments in an attempt to dissuade creationists that are new to the YouTube scene from making them. The video is entertaining and funny as always, but the central premise is a hopeless endeavour. Let me explain.

I've been on the receiving end of such comments myself. When I made my video, "Taxation Is Not Theft", a few libertarians and anarchists remarked that "all of these arguments have been debunked before". So why did I make the video? It's simple. I've never seen arguments of the type I've made. I'm not saying they haven't been made, just that I haven't personally seen them. The arguments I've seen are "if taxation is theft, property is theft", and "it's an emotional statement that's useless if the position isn't practical". I didn't make those ones specifically because they had been made before. I made the ones I did because I haven't personally seen them before. Therein lies the problem.

I'm not an expert on any issue. I've been making videos on the internet and posting blog posts for nearly 4 years but I'm always seeing new arguments and new content. To an actual expert, though, they're probably not new. Everyone has different levels of knowledge about the issues, regardless of their position. If, for example, a creationist has just set up an account on YouTube, and, for the sake of argument, this isn't a hardcore evangelist who has no intention of changing their mind because they're in some way invested in their position, they are not likely to have seen any of these arguments before. DarkMatter's video, while it is a collection of the common creationist arguments, does not refute them, it only raises them. If a creationist of the sort I described sees the video and doesn't understand why it is a bad argument, and can't find any videos or posts on the internet addressing them, they are likely to investigate themselves by posting a video making the argument. At this point, they will open themselves up to the full wrath and fury of the atheist and secular communities on the internet.

Now, DarkMatter made the point that the internet is "saturated" by the answers to these arguments, implying that there is no excuse for not being able to find such answers. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Think about it. When you make a video that a substantial number of people are going to disagree with as I have done with my most recent videos, and you're not satisfied with the response, you're not going to change your mind. If you have answers to their criticisms, you're not going to think your argument is any weaker and so you're likely to keep making it. It could be that we don't fully understand the criticisms, and it could be that the criticisms genuinely are inadequate. Some degree of emotional investment in a particular issue or in simply not wanting to admit you're wrong if it is the case could be aiding the fog that obscures your understanding of the criticisms. It would be unwise to underestimate how powerful these emotional investments are. It's easy to overlook all of this when you're a relative veteran of the scene, when you've heard all the arguments and know their ins and outs.

As long as people who know nothing beyond what they've been indoctrinated with arrive on the YouTube scene, they will continue to make these arguments. And let me stress again, I'm not talking about the Ray Comforts, Kent Hovinds and VenomFangXs. I'm talking about teenagers who live in the deep South and have been taught all their life, possibly even homeschooled to prevent access to anything that conflicts with that family's religious dogma, that there is a God, it created everything 6000 years ago, and that atheists are absolutely the worst degraded abominations of humanity. It's only their fault in their lacking of the superhuman mental strength needed to overcome such dogma. Of course, everyone is different. Some retain their curiosity, either due to their genetics or their environment, and the dogma is stronger in some places than it is in others, but to not be aware of this when we deal with them, as I've witnessed many many times, is to take action against them which will most likely be interpreted by them as a confirmation of everything they were taught to believe. When we ridicule them, we confirm the dogmatic stereotype of atheists, and we potentially lose any interest they could have had in understanding us better.

But this isn't restricted to religion and creationism. This is true regarding every issue. You're unlikely to come across the sheer magnitude and strength of the dogma found around religion, but to some degree, we are emotionally invested in some of our positions. When it comes to fundamentally moral issues such as statism vs anarchism, abortion or euthanasia, there is simply no right answer. Your particular moral views are likely to determine your position, regardless of the facts and arguments surrounding them. The facts and arguments only serve to grant the greatest possible logical strength to your position, but 2 experts who know all the ins and outs of the position could still have differing views based on their views on morality.

The moral of the story is this. People are going to make arguments you've heard before. They'll do it either because they haven't heard them before, or because they have, but they haven't been convinced yet. They might make an argument you haven't heard before, so it's not only inappropriate, but untrue to write them off as having been refuted. Either way, this is done far too often on the internet. Playing the game of internet debate requires patience and repetition. Can you stomach it?


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