Give up? The answer is C: Sean Hannity. Thankfully, despite the unbelievable precedent set by the first two panelists (ha!), we can be pretty safe to assume that Hannity knows why his face is scratchy every morning. As human beings, we tend to give people at least an ounce of credit as a general courtesy until they show us otherwise. But last week naturopath Eric Bakker forfeited his benefit of the doubt when he responded to the James Randi Educational Foundation’s million dollar challenge with what I can only imagine is a non sequitur(???). Upon meeting somebody for the first time, one of the thoughts running through your mind is probably not, “Does this guy understand cell division?”
Lately these less than creative “Oh yeah?!” arguments have left me wondering whether to invoke Poe’s Law or write it off as a desperate appeal to the god-of-the-gaps. Like Bill O’Reilly—who dared us to explain how the tides go in and out without a giant hand pushing them along—I can’t tell if Bakker is trolling, or if he is seriously asking. I’m want to go with trolling, because the alternative just tells me that this “doctor” clearly has never read a biology textbook.
How did we get to this point? How did we get to the day and age where alt-med practitioners and hot-headed talk show hosts are demanding that the audience, who can only wail and gnash their teeth at a deaf television screens, explain to them how something so well understood works? I imagine that long ago when Ogg told Sally, “There is a god! The sky is shouting at us! How do you explain that?” Sally could only throw her hands in the air and admit that she didn’t know. Also, she was a very careful time traveler.
But eventually we did figured it out, and as we began to learn more and more, the gaps got smaller. Now any 12 year old can spend a few minutes on Google and confidently explain how magnets work to christian rappers. It’s practically comical when somebody wildly denounces our understanding of quantum mechanics while typing on a computer full of transistors and lasers. The gaps are getting so tiny that the god of it can barely be distinguished from ignorance and confusion.
But that’s not the only hypothesis. On a recent Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, while talking about a quote from a religious pamphlet, Dr. Steven Novella came up with a startling insight—that skeptics and woo-woo just may not be speaking the same language (thanks to redditor tre11is for picking it out):
“Carl Sagan would want you to read this.” As if he’s our prophet—that’s how they think. That’s why when they go after evolution they’re going after Darwin, the “Prophet of Evolution”. Or when they try to build a case against evolution, for example, they do it quote by quote, not study by study, or evidence by evidence, but quote by quote. That’s how they think; that’s how they build their case. It’s all quotes and authority from the Bible, and based upon the authority and righteousness or whatever from their prophets. It’s funny that they reveal how they think when they engage with us. They use their own tactics, as if that’s going to be pursuasive to us—and then when we counter that, it’s like we’re talking past each other, because we’re talking logic and evidence.
So maybe all of this is a form of Poe’s Law, after all. Could it be that our understanding of Bill O’Reilly’s logic is a simple case of miscommunication? Do we just not “get” Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bakker? I imagine they think so. Though I’d hate to think there was a joke we were missing somewhere.
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