Respectful Insolence

Worst argument ever?

The host of next week’s Skeptics’ Circle asks: What’s the worst argument you can think of?

I think it’s as good a question to close 2006 up with as any, and certainly there have been a lot of really bad arguments used during the last year. Perhaps if we air some of them, we can be inoculated against their return in 2007. Certainly near the top of the list has to be the argument by many pseudoscientists that “all sides deserve to be heard” about issues like evolution/creationism or certain forms of alternative medicine, like the exceedingly ridiculous pseudoscientific treatment known as homeopathy. Science is not a democracy; it is based on observation, experimentation, and reproducibility. In a strictly literal sense, it is true that “all viewpoints should be heard,” but the way this canard is used by cranks is to imply a false equivalence between their pseudoscience and real science, as if creationism is a scientific viewpoint on par with evolution or homeopathy is a treatment on par with evidence-based medicine when such is not the case. In reality, such pseudoscience should only be considered long enough to determine whether it is the least bit scientifically plausible or not. If, as in the case of, for example, creationism or homeopathy, it fails even the most minimal standards of science, then no further consideration of it need be given until advocates can produce evidence of its validity.

Comments

  1. #1 Roy
    December 31, 2006

    Far and away the winner, yes. Okay, what about place and show?

  2. #2 Infophile
    December 31, 2006

    Taken from a ridiculous troll who makes his home at http://pharyngulatopics.blogspot.com/:

    How is evolution more demeaning than believing we can trace our inbred lineage back to dirt and a rib?

    Well, for starters, our lineage comes from the spirit of God. We are composed of body, soul, and spirit. Dirt did not breed and produced man. God used material matter and changed it into a human being. This is called special creation.

    Secondly, even if your thesis were accurate at least it is verifiable. When one dies, he returns to dirt. I have yet to hear of one dieing and returning to a monkey.

    You can see the full context here, though the context does nothing to make his argument look better.

  3. #3 wolfwalker
    December 31, 2006

    I have a nominee: the Discovery Institute’s attempt to discredit the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision because Judge Jones cut-and-pasted material from the plaintiffs’ proposed findings into his actual decision.

  4. #4 writerdddd
    December 31, 2006

    >When one dies, he returns to dirt. I have yet to hear of one dieing and returning to a monkey<

    Hahhahha. If this doesn’t win for the worst agument ever, I think it should get an honorable mention for being the funniest! Hey, I got an idea. Let’s start a new religion where you turn into a monkey in the afterlife!

  5. #5 Ginger Yellow
    December 31, 2006

    Well, to be consistent, I should nominate this argument by John West of the Discovery Institute:

    Conservatives who are discomfited by the continuing debate over Darwin’s theory need to understand that it is not about to go away. It is not going away, because the accumulating discoveries of science undercut rather than confirm the claims of neo-Darwinism. It is not going away, because Darwinism fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of human nature and the universe.

    As I said on Pharyngula at the time:

    This has to be the worst argument against evolution I’ve ever heard. You can have lots of fun with it though:
    It is not going away, because heliocentrism fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of human nature and the universe.
    It is not going away, because neurobiology fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of human nature.
    It is not going away, because electromagnetic theory fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of the universe.
    It is not going away, because relativity fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of time.
    It is not going away, because quantum mechanics fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of the universe.
    It is not going away, because Teflon fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of frying pans.
    It is not going away, because sushi fundamentally challenges the traditional Western understanding of how to eat fish.

  6. #6 Skeptico
    December 31, 2006

    One of the most hilariously stupid creationist arguments is the one that says the banana is “the atheist’s nightmare” – perfectly designed for the human hand. It’s hilarious because (as Zachary Moore wrote in Goosing the Antithesis ), the banana is a product of selective breeding by humans. Wild bananas (the ones supposedly “designed” by God), are mainly small and inedible.

  7. #7 Julie Stahlhut
    December 31, 2006

    I have yet to hear of one dieing and returning to a monkey.

    Okay, so when a monkey dies, what does it return to?

  8. #8 Magnus Malmborn
    December 31, 2006

    Argumentum ad banana is good, but I think pygmies + dwarves tops it.

  9. #9 Joseph Hertzlinger
    December 31, 2006

    … as if creationism is a scientific viewpoint on par with evolution or homeopathy is a treatment on par with evidence-based medicine …

    I think that’s almost right. I think creationism is on a par with homeopathy.

  10. #10 Joseph Hertzlinger
    January 1, 2007

    My nominee for worst argument comes from a KKK slogan:

    “The only reason you are white today is because your ancestors believed and practiced segregation.”

  11. #11 Brian X
    January 1, 2007

    Joseph H:

    And banging black girls on the side doesn’t count for anything, right?

    And the banana argument is up there — shows astonishing ignorance of the subject matter. Although I’m also a fan of arguments like the trilemma, where the flaw is not in the logic itself but the premises. And of course then there’s the Christian apologist argument about prophets: you can only know a true prophet by whether their predictions come true.

    Even back when I was a nice devout Catholic boy taking Bible class in a heavily evangelical high school (in a roundabout way, a good part of the reason I’m an agnostic and a flaming liberal now), that argument made my brain hurt.

  12. #12 Dave S.
    January 1, 2007

    Just about any argument containing the words “Hitler” or “Nazi”.

    “If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?” Yes I know its been done to death, but the classics just never get old.

  13. #13 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    January 1, 2007

    Well then, there’s the ‘argument from incoherence’, as exemplified in January 2006 by South Carolina governor Mark Sanford:


    In his Sunday statement, for example, the governor said, “The idea of there being a, you know, a little mud hole and two mosquitoes get together and the next thing you know you have a human being is completely at odds with, you know, one of the laws of thermodynamics.”

  14. #14 Ahistoricality
    January 1, 2007

    My favorite bad arguments are historical analogies (anecdotal evidence, in scientific terms) which boil down to “it worked once, so it’ll work again (even if things are different)”

  15. #15 Orac
    January 1, 2007

    I’d be remiss, of course, if while on the topic of bad historical analogies I didn’t mention one of the all-time worst such arguments, namely argumentum ad Naziium.

    And let’s not forget a particularly pernicious form of this historical fallacy, namely the “Neville Chamberlain” gambit.

  16. #16 Nes
    January 1, 2007

    Infophile: Interesting that WoMI totally ignored my comment, except for one line about DNA, isn’t it? I guess he couldn’t handle, as he would put it, the “devastating” truth.

  17. #17 James
    January 1, 2007

    How about the Chewbacca Defence?

  18. #18 Nes
    January 1, 2007

    Forgot to mention, I second Infophile’s suggestion for worst argument ever.

  19. #19 Lucas McCarty
    January 1, 2007

    Actually, the Chewbacca Defence is a perfectly valid and non-fallacious means of making a logical arguement. I looked it up.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chewbacca_Defence

    Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, Chef’s attorney would certainly want you to believe that his client wrote “Stinky Britches” ten years ago. And they make a good case. Hell, I almost felt pity myself! But, ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!

    Why would a Wookiee, an eight-foot tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of two-foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I’m a lawyer defending a major record company, and I’m talkin’ about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re in that jury room deliberatin’ and conjugatin’ the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.

  20. #20 Michael Saelim
    January 2, 2007

    Actually, many of the arguments you cite should be nominated for “best argument ever.” After all, people are falling for it, aren’t they? :(

    I’m going to go back to my corner and cry about the state of the world now.

  21. #21 Calli Arcale
    January 2, 2007

    An oldie but a goodie, is of course this one:

    “They laughed at Galileo!”

    Implied, of course, is “and they’re laughing at me, ergo, I am as smart as Galileo and am also right.” The weirdest thing is that some people will give this and nothing else as their reason for supporting a particular woo-meister.

  22. #22 radar pangaean
    January 3, 2007

    I made a post at my own blog a while back in which i stated that i wish that our schools would “teach the controversy” regarding the evolution vs creationism issue. But my take on ‘teaching the controversy’ would not please very many creationists.

    If i were the teacher in that classroom, i would use the supposed ‘controversy’ there as a good example of the use of the scientific method vs the use of the “this is what i believe and i will ignore anything which contradicts it” method.

    Personally, i’d prefer to see the next generation trained in how to see though specious reasoning. Just a thought :-).

    This is m first visit here. Looks interesting. I plan to return. Happy New Year to you all.