The Stupidest Arguments I Have Ever Heard

I should be preparing for my defense, but honestly, I feel like I would be ready to go right now if I had to do so, and endlessly rehashing the same information is hurting my brain. So instead, I’m going to fill-out a meme which I have just thought-up. This meme is quite simple actually: List the five most inane, illogical and all-around stupid arguments with which anyone has ever seriously tried to persuade you, and explain why they are stupid.

Mine, in no particular order:

  1.  “We don’t need to worry about running out of fuel, because energy can never be created or destroyed.” This was used on me by a global warming denialist on the Internet. It is stupid because, while it is true that the first law of thermodynamics says that energy can never be created or destroyed, the second law of thermodynamics says that the total amount of useful energy in the universe can only ever go down. Quite simply, there are different forms of energy, some of which are immensely useful and can easily be harnessed (i.e, the energy stored in atomic bonds in petroleum) and some of which are mostly useless and very difficult to harness (i.e, random motion of atoms in the atmosphere). When you burn fuel, you are not destroying the energy, true, but you are taking it from a useful form and converting it into a useless form. That energy that’s realeased from the gasoline in your car does not magically go back into the ground and turn back into oil.
  2. Oscar Wilde’s misogynistic view of women was due to his homosexuality.” This was said to me by a girl in my high school literature class, and you could tell that she thought that she was conducting absolutely brilliant literary analysis. Yes, because if you prefer to have sex with men, it can only be because you hate women. A few years later in my Art History class, I heard a similar argument as to why Michelangelo rarely depicted women in his art. Of course, it couldn’t have anything to do with the relative scarcity of female models due to religious taboos in 16th century Italy, or anything like that.
  3. Human Life evolving just by chance is about as likely as a tornado going through a junkyard and building a perfect trailer.” This was said to me, in a private moment, by my Grade Six teacher. Even then I knew it was inane, because of course a trailer is a machine with a well-defined purpose, and therefore, necessarily, has very specific parts arranged in a very specific configuration to serve this purpose. Humans, however, have no obvious predefined purpose; therefore the end result of billions of years of evolution could look like anything, and any individual form you came-up with would be terribly improbable as measured against the space of other possible end results, but there would be nothing particularly special about that (I didn’t say anything, of course, because I didn’t realize that I was allowed to publicly disagree with teachers). Besides of which (and I didn’t know this part at the time), evolution is not a purely random process; it’s not directed either, mind you, but the rule, in general, is that genetic material which is better at reproducing itself is selected for. Thus, the idea that life grows in complexity over time is not terribly surprising, given that every living thing is trapped in an arms race.
  4. [[Ideology]] is the most logical political system ever concieved; therefore, you should embrace it.” This one was first used on me by an Internet Libertarian (who, you may have noticed, are inordinately fond of sprinkling words like ‘logic’ and ‘reason’ throughout all of their talking points), but I have since heard it used by Communists and Fascists, and really it works for all ideologies. The problem of course, is that, while an ideology does need to be logically coherent, logical coherence is not a sufficient condition for a given belief to be true. So your theory, as it’s written out on paper, has no internal contradictions? Well, that’s wonderful! But if neither its assumptions, nor its predictions, bear any relation whatsoever to the facts of the real world, then it’s still fucking useless! This is why philosophers distinguish between “validity,” “soundness,” and “truth.”
  5. “Energy can never be created or destroyed, therefore the soul can survive death and ghosts exist.” (as told to me by many, many paranormal believers). WHAT IS IT WITH PEOPLE AND CONSERVATION OF ENERGY!?! The key here, as in point one, is that energy can change form. Even if we accept that souls are made of energy (or exist, for that matter), how do we know that they’re not converted into, say, fat in the bodies of the very worms who are eating your brain after you die?

About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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8 Responses to The Stupidest Arguments I Have Ever Heard

  1. Rob F says:

    This isn’t one someone used to try to persuade me, but it’s still too good to pass up.
    The worst “You Can’t Believe Someone Said This” argument I’ve ever seen is this one from Fundies Say the Darndest Things, which I first found out about (TW) at Shakesville:

    One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn’t possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy.</b. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it. [Capitalization original, emphasis added]

  2. Lindsay says:

    Number three is actually a famous one, although I’ve heard it with “Boeing 747” in place of “trailer.”

    Apparently Fred Hoyle is the original source, although RationalWiki says he was speaking about abiogenesis, not evolution.

  3. Violetta says:

    The most immediate stupid argument that I can recall right now is one regularly used by New Agers. It usually goes like this:

    1) New Ager tells me about some New Age ritual/belief, which he states is grounded on a mélange of pseudo-scientific misinformation (usually involving “Quantum Physics” or Molecular Biology), and tells me that “it’s proven science”.
    2) I proceed to explain how many of the premises that this person has been told to be “proven science” are actually just mere speculation based on a few misinterpreted or misunderstood scientific facts.
    3) New Ager replies that modern science doesn’t know everything, that there are many unknown mechanisms that remain veiled by our technological limitations and supernatural processes that we cannot grasp due to our limited perception. Puzzlingly, he remains oblivious to the fact that by expressing that, he just demolished the validity of his initial explanation.

    I know it sounds strange, but the New Agers that I’ve encountered seem to be trapped in this strange dichotomy where they rely on “scientific” bases to give their beliefs a sense of verisimilitude, while at the same time dismiss modern scientific knowledge as incomplete, artifact-ridden and occluded to “higher levels” of enlightenment.

    I really enjoyed reading this blogpost of yours! And good luck with your defense, although at this point, after so many thesis revisions, reading papers, and presentation rehearsals (plus being asked the same questions over and after oral presentations of your work) I’m sure you don’t need it.

    • As I understand it, the essential fact about New Agers (and all other “True Believers” for that matter, including fundamentalists, conspiracy theorists and denialists) is that they take a ‘top-down’ approach to knowledge. What I mean by this is that the scientific/rationalist worldview holds that beliefs should emerge from evidence and logical argumentation. True Believers, on the other hand, select their beliefs first and then try to justify them with rational-sounding arguments. Thus, it doesn’t really matter how much you undercut these arguments, because they’re not acually the bases of the belief in the first place.

      “And good luck with your defense, although at this point, after so many thesis revisions, reading papers, and presentation rehearsals (plus being asked the same questions over and after oral presentations of your work) I’m sure you don’t need it.”

      I hope not. We’ll see.

  4. I like #2. Also about Michelangelo – yes, it likely had something to do with scarcity of female models, but there’s also something to be said for his potential preferences, isn’t there? It is possible to simply prefer depicting or looking at a particular sex or gender or age or whatever. If a woman prefers photographing babies, does that mean she hates adults? If a man prefers depicting women is he automatically feminist and/or misandrist? Maybe Michelangelo preferred looking at men or preferred not looking at prostitutes. People are silly and tend to extrapolate too far when it comes to literary analysis and art history.

  5. Great post. I’ll have to think back on all the nonsense I’ve heard over the years and get back to you. I have a sort of new-ager living with me right now. We don’t talk about that stuff anymore. I think it was my reaction to the contrails/chemtrails thing.

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