|Creation Debate Issue #5: Personality and Other Irrelevance|
Creation Debate Issue #5: Personality and Other Irrelevance
Some fallacies are simply communication techniques that are used for purposes such as building trust, credibility, or rapport. They are only fallacies if they are used as the reason to believe a certain conclusion. There is nothing wrong with having a winning personality or having celebrity status. If people take this as proof of anything, then they are committing a fallacy. They are fooling themselves. Sometimes, talented and entertaining people learn to depend on their personalities rather than dealing with the facts. Some people are very skilled at using fallacies to persuade the masses.
Ken Ham began the debate by remarking about how people love his accent and just like to hear him talk. This was about the extent of it from Ken Ham's side. Ken Ham tended to stick to the debate topic in a reasonable way.
Bill Nye is a professional entertainer and comedian. He can't help that. It's not a fallacy that he is using, but we can commit fallacies if we take presentation style as proving anything--a very easy fallacy to commit. When you are approached by a really good salesperson, your guard naturally, and rightly, goes up. A great salesperson can get you to lower your guard. Bill Nye is a great salesperson. If we were to count his presentation as being a reason to believe what he is saying, then we would be caught in the logical fallacy of argument by personal charm, halo effect, and/or appeal to celebrity. When these techniques become a major theme, combining ad hominem fallacies and marginalizing/demonizing on the one side and appeals to authority, bandwagon. Unfortunately, that became a major theme of the debate from Bill Nye's side. He devoted more time and energy into this that perhaps any other argument.
Bill Nye used the logical fallacy of appeal to the common man a lot to make himself seem like plain folks. You will see this throughout his presentation. In addition, he looked for opportunities to tell short stories in which he was the science guy or he knew a science guy, which is the logical fallacy of appeal to false authority. At the same time, he worked very hard to make Ken Ham out to be aloof, a kind of leader of a small band of irrational outcasts. He accomplished this by simple mechanisms. One of these was repeatedly addressing Ken as "Mr. Ham." And Bill Nye's demeanor never changed when Ken Ham was talking. It was always an amazing scowl of disapproval. He changed the name of the debate to make it ad hominem (against the person) rather than debating the issues. He repeated referred to "Mr. Ham and his followers," "Mr. Ham's Creation Model," etc. In addition, Bill repeatedly implied that Ken was not using science or that Ken was basing everything on his own opinion. Bill did this rather than really addressing the issues. When Bill's innuendos were answered, Bill just ignored the answer and found ways to repeat the accusation. These techniques were well planned and well practiced throughout the debate.
When the discussion turns from the actual facts and the reasoning, and begins to focus on personalities, persons, and organizations, this is a form of ad hominem fallacy or genetic fallacy. It is a red herring and hasty generalization fallacy. While this is a fallacy of irrelevance, this debate was, to Bill Nye, a political situation. These tactics work in politics, and they worked with a lot of people in this debate. Irrationality works when it comes to influencing people. People rarely make decisions based on facts and logic. They make decisions based on emotion and then rationalize the decisions to themselves. A great salesperson knows this and uses it.
In addition, Bill used a tactic of marginalizing by using the phrase, "Ken Ham and his followers." Through the debate, Bill tried to imply that there were very few people who accept what God says about Creation through the Bible. By misrepresenting statistics in this way, Bill was trying to create this false impression to use a bandwagon fallacy. Bill used terms like "on the outside" repeatedly to convey the impression that the Creation Museum was some sort of group that is isolated from the "outside" world. Bill said, "These are constructs unique to Ken Ham. We don’t normally have these [historical science versus observational science] anywhere in the world except here.” and, "those same people embrace science [science defined as only those things that can be filtered to fit into the big-bang-billions-of-years-molecules-to-man story]. The exception is you, Mr. Ham, and that’s the problem for me. You want us [the entire population of the world other than Ken Ham] to take your word for what’s written in this ancient text to be more compelling than what we see around us." You don't have to understand much about logic to know that Bill is being irrational. Bill is asserting that Ken Ham is the only one in the world who believes what God says through the Bible. He is saying that we can somehow see that the Earth is billions of years old just by looking around, when, in Bill's own admission, this is assumed, not seen. Bill is trying to create an illusion of the whole world against Ken Ham.
Since Bill Nye used this bandwagon and marginalizing tactic throughout the debate while also maintaining that he is open-minded and open to new ideas--even Creation, the Flood, and God--it should be mentioned that every new discovery in science is held by the minority. Often, as was the case with the discovery that doctors washing their hands between patients, and as was the case with Galileo finding the Earth going around the Sun and spinning on its axis, there is resistance. It's human nature. A group-held paradigm is difficult to overcome. When the group-held paradigm is a religious view, the resistance is very strong. The big-bang-billions-of-years-molecules-to-man story is the only thing that gives Atheism any intellectual basis. It is a basic pillar of the Secular religions. When soft tissue and blood were both found recently in dinosaur bones that are supposed to be millions of years old, the facts were largely rejected until a far-fetched hypotheses could be made up to shoehorn the evidence into the big-bang-billions-of-years-molecules-to-man story.
Bill Nye also hammered home these fallacies using the argument of the reasonable man. He used straw man fallacies to create an absurd version of what the Bible says, and then he asked, "Is that reasonable?" Alternately, he stated that it was not reasonable. Of course, it is easy to knock down a straw man, since straw man arguments serve the purpose of creating something unreasonable and then showing that it is unreasonable. At the same time as Bill was repeatedly implying that Ken was not a reasonable man, he overtly stated that he, Bill, was a reasonable man. This is ad hominem and circular reasoning. It is equivalant to saying, "My thinking is right because my thinking is right." It is also the logical fallacy known as ipse dixit or the trust me fallacy. So, how did Bill do this? Examples: ". . . is that really reasonable?” ". . . which I think is pretty reasonable" "Is that reasonable?" "Is it reasonable that Noah . . ." ". . . this would be a reasonable place . . ." ". . . it’s reasonable to say . . ." ". . . Adolphe Quetele, who remarked first about the reasonable man. Is it reasonable that we have ice older by a hundred than you claim the Earth is? Of course that statement isn't reasonable, because it is a straw man and a framing fallacy. It is not reasonable to claim that the ice is that old? The claim is made based on arbitrary assumptions, and therefore it's unreasonable to claim that the ice is that old. ". . . That seems a much more reasonable explanation . . ." "So it’s reasonable to me that . . . ". . . I, as a reasonable man, . . ." ". . . it’s very reasonable perhaps to you that Noah had super powers . . ." ". . . to me it’s just not reasonable." "And it’s just not reasonable to me . . . " "It’s just not reasonable to me . . . " ". . . and isn’t it reasonable that . . ." ". . . evidence for me at least, as a reasonable man, is overwhelming . . ." Why do human beings become irrational?
Another tactic that Bill Nye used very effectively was that of intimidation. He is an excellent actor. Throughout the debate, he was able to portray a congruent character, acting out the role of the stern adult as if Ken Ham were the misbehaving child. Bill used extreme body language and facial expression when Ken Ham was speaking. This was designed to intimidate. Proof by intimidation is a logical fallacy. Anyone who has raised teenagers is probably familiar with this tactic when the teenager begins to act as if they were the ones with the experience and authority, scolding the parents and accusing.
The other ploy was appeal to authority. This included name dropping of scientists even if Bill Nye had only sat in on a lecture of a famous person. Ken Ham also brought up the names of several prominent scientists who are Creationists, but the intent was different. Bill Nye was making a case that people who believe what God says through the Bible cannot be good scientists. Ken Ham was bringing examples to show that what Ken was claiming was indeed was a false statement. Refuting a lie is quite different from a false appeal to authority. For Bill, there was no such logic. The name dropping was to show his status among the "real scientists." He mentioned "full disclosure, I’m on the Mt. St. Helens board" and ". . . that people in my business, especially at the planetary society . . ." This is done in interviews all the time to prove something about the person being interviewed, but Mr. Nye's associations are not the issue. It is irrational for Bill to make the argument, even by innuendo, that he has affiliations with politically powerful people within the scientific community; and therefore he is the authority in scientific matters, so we should just trust whatever he says.
One of the tactics that Bill Nye used was to ask multiple questions, every one having known and published answers, knowing that there would not be time to answer them all because of the debate time limitations. One of these questions was this repeated demand for predictions. This left Ken Ham with the only option of putting up a web page to answer these questions. Of course, the vast majority of debate viewers will never take time to read this web page, so it is a clever tactic. Predictability was probably the worst example of the way in which Bill Nye used this tactic known as tossing the elephant or throwing mud at the wall.
Last updated: Aug, 2014
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Creation Debate Issue #3: The Topic of the Debate
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Creation Debate Issue #5: Personality and Other Irrelevance
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