Eppur si muove

Things I Think About, by Peter Bowditch

I go trolling

Over a period of a week I found myself in several discussions on Facebook, many of them in forums with “Skeptic” in the title, where people expressed strong opinions about the sort of foods humans must eat, the stupidity of religion and its adherents, the dangers of genetically modified foods, the compulsion of people making bizarre claims to tell their critics to “do the research”,  the plausibility of invented currencies, the worthlessness of philosophy, and the use of the term “ad hominem”. I decided to put on my trolling hat and nailed these theses to the door of the group with the most offenders. Then I sat back and waited.


I’m going to be a bit busy today, so to give you all something to talk about I’ll just make these statements:

  1. There is absolutely no reason not to eat meat or drink milk other than personal preference or diagnosed medical condition.
  2. Not all people with religious beliefs are fools and there is no need to be rude to all of them.
  3. Philosophy is the foundation of science and the scientific method and is as relevant today as it was in Greece in the long distant past.
  4. Anyone with a basic grasp of arithmetic can see why scams like MLM and Bitcoin are scams.
  5. You cannot prove the non-existence of something by assertion. “There is no god” is not a refutation of theological arguments. (Thomas Aquinas might have been wrong, but he was smarter than any of us.)
  6. We have been eating foods with foreign genes in them for a long time without harm. Triticale wheat contains the genes of two different grass species, durum has four, and spelt has six.
  7. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable response to a question.
  8. Making a claim and then demanding that others do their own research to prove that you are right is a form of running away, towing the goalposts behind you.
  9. If someone tells obvious lies or makes illogical statements, calling them a liar or pointing out the logic failures is not ad hominem.
  10. Not all atheists are skeptics and not all skeptics are atheists. Many from both groups have no interest at all in the other one.

As could reasonably be predicted, numbers 1, 4, 5, 6, and 9 generated the most comments.

The vegans, soy drinkers, gluten and dairy “intolerant”, and animal rights activists were out in force, totally ignoring the words “personal preference” in my statement. I responded that I live in the gluten intolerance capital of the world and I don’t believe that all the people demanding special treatment actually have coeliac disease. This picture shows a vegetarian meal at one of my local restaurants which is offered with a gluten-free option. I couldn’t help myself so I ordered extra gluten, which is probably why I got two slices of toast.

The arguments then went on to describe the horrors of battery farming, live cattle exports, and the relative protein productivities of various forms of land use, none of which have anything to do with diet choices.

The reference to arithmetic in Point 4 was totally ignored, and I was told that senior banking officials can’t comment on Bitcoin because as bankers they don’t understand finance, you can buy things with Bitcoins so what does it matter that the promoters tell you that it will replace all currencies, that the reason that almost everyone fails to get rich in pyramid schemes is because they don’t work hard enough or do what they are told, and the fact that if I joined Amway in January and did what I was told I would have more than the population of the USA in my downline by Christmas isn’t a case of someone promising the unachievable. And what has arithmetic got to do with multiplication, division and geometric progression anyway?

What everyone can achieve in Amway if they
work hard and duplicate properly
Month Added to downline People in downline
January 5 5
February 25 30
March 125 155
April 625 780
May 3,125 3,905
June 15,625 19,530
July 78,125 97,655
August 390,625 488,280
September 1,953,125 2,441,405
October 9,765,625 12,207,030
November 48,828,125 61,035,155
December 244,140,625 305,175,780

The comments about Point 5 were wonderful. Everybody missed the point of what I said and concentrated on the examples instead. I was told that no atheist ever attempted to prove that God doesn’t exist and was then given arguments for why God doesn’t exist. When I provided a reference to a book by a physicist with the words “God does not exist” in the title I was told that I didn’t understand and that wasn’t what the book said. The best, however, were the comments saying that it is obvious that Aquinas was not smarter than today’s Facebook commentators because he was wrong about something 750 years ago, and the thing he was wrong about and which is known today is that there is no god.

I thought the GMO statement would generate more heat, but discussion was rather mild. Perhaps I should have mentioned Monsanto, because that word usually triggers a flood of venom and nonsense.

Point 9 descended into a discussion of semantics (which I would have mentioned anyway if I had gone beyond ten statements). There was argument over what constituted a lie and at what point in a discussion ad hominem applied or became an insult. Opinions ranged from ad hominem being almost anything said about the opposing party or the value of their arguments at any stage of the discussion (which makes it meaningless) to trying to specify a limited set of words and phrases (which is too restrictive). I think someone said that facts were relative anyway, but my eyes had glazed over and that might have been in another thread. I did think of asking if, when someone had been corrected on facts but continued to spout untruths, it would be ad hominem to say “You keep lying because you are an idiot”, but that could have caused a meltdown as the two ends of the spectrum were folded in on themselves. It was generally agreed, however, that there are people who are so stupid that they can’t absorb facts, but there was some dispute of what to call it if this was pointed out to anyone.

All in all a successful day’s trolling. Nobody got hurt (except in the feelings), and I only had to follow one thread for a couple of days instead of having to jump all over the place to see illogical, emotive arguments used in place of rational discussion.

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One thought on “I go trolling

  • Guy Chapman says:

    Glutenbollocks is disproportionately annoying to me, as an honest-to-god coeliac. Self-diagnosed intolerances are the very foundation of nutritional quackery, and no good skeptic should subscribe to such nonsense. I know I am gluten intolerant because I have the tTGA tests and jejeunal biopsy to prove it, you don’t become gluten intolerant by reading “wheat belly” or any other miracle diet book. You could be diagnosed as intolerant (not coeliac) through a series of exclusion tests under the guidance of a registered dietician, but if that person is a “nutritionist” not a dietician then you *will* be wasting your money (note: this is the UK perspective, where dieticians are regulated and trained, and nutritionists can buy their degrees from Clayton, as Gillian McKeith and Robert O. Young did).

    But I am conflicted: the glutenbollocks industry undermines the real problems of coeliac, but it does mean that gluten free options are widely available. The downside is that many of those providing gluten free are themselves ignorant of what coeliac really means, and the self-diagnosed intolerant are happy to be fobbed off, so you can end up with “gluten free” options that actually contain gluten, because the cook thinks that making a sausage and tomato soup with potato instead of wheat flour as thickener makes it gluten free.