Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins: conspiracy theorists extraordinaire

His explanation IS the evidence.

His explanation IS the evidence.

University writing students’ most frequent error in judgment is their assumption that for any given literary work, or any social or political problem, or any theory (about any subject) their explanation of the meaning is evidence that their explanation is correct. That is, the explanation itself is evidence for the truth of the explanation.

The so-called “History” channel on TV is replete with programs that make that exact error in judgment. Watch one of their programs such as “Ancient Aliens.” These programs are based on the writings and blatherings of a handful of “scholars” who believe their explanations for all manner of mysteries are, in fact, evidence for their explanations. Say, for example, they are studying an Egyptian monument that could not possibly have been built without enormous cranes and machinery even more powerful than we have today. Never fear, they have found a hieroglyph on a stone in the frieze of the structure in the shape of the nose cone of the US space shuttle, and that proves that aliens from outer space came here and constructed the monument. Why? Because they say so. Their explanation has become the evidence that their explanation is correct.

Or let’s come closer to home. Dallas is awash in programs and exhibits and all manner of memorabilia of the assassination of JFK fifty years ago next month (as it should be since the city never dealt with it when it happened–sweeping it under the rug and pretending it somehow did not happen here). The assassination has generated more conspiracy theories than any other event (save, perhaps, the events of September 11, 2001) in history.

All of the theories are, of course, based on someone’s explanation. Here’s a film by Zapruder. I see x, y, or z in it. Therefore, x, y, or z must be true. Or we know Kennedy’s brain was handled this way or that; therefore, he must have been shot from the front, not the back, because that’s the way I explain it, and my explanation is the evidence that my explanation is true.

I do not mean to imply that the explanations of such mysteries cannot be true (except for space aliens building Machu Picchu). The absurd explanation by some crackpot of an historical event may, with proper scientific investigation, turn out to be true. But it is the investigation, not the explanation by the crackpot, that eventually proves it to be true. Even then the crackpot has no cause to say, “I told you so.”

Recently I saw Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” which I watch whenever I have the opportunity. On the panel that night were The Rev. Al Sharpton, Valerie Plame, and Michael Moore. His guest “star” was Richard Dawkins. What a great time that promised to be! “Real Time” is one of the very few hours on TV that I consistently think is both intelligent and entertaining. Irreverent and stick-it-to-the-Tea-Baggers-and-all-they-stand-for.

I have noticed that conspiracy theorists consistently use the shouting match as their favorite means of communication. Just try to get a word in edgewise when someone is explaining that George W. Bush not only knew about but planned the attacks on September 11, 2011.

The only possible explanation for a father's anger is his religion.

The only possible explanation
for a father’s anger
is his religion.

I’m no TV host, and I have not written a bunch of best-selling books or movies, so I suppose I would be a little intimidated by Sharpton, Plame, and Moore. But even if I weren’t, I would not invite them to my home for a conversation and then shout them down every time they tried to make a point. I would think that would be something other than a discussion.

I would be wary of seeming to say that my explanation for whatever topic was under consideration was the evidence that my explanation was true.

Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher are so convinced that their explanation of the evils of Islam is the evidence for the evils of Islam that they cannot carry on a civil or fact-based discussion of Islamic beliefs.

On this subject they are crackpot conspiracy theorists. Their explanation is true no matter what evidence anyone can bring to bear on the discussion. The sadness is that they obviously have no idea what they are talking about.

. . . the same theory can be subsumed under mentally inconsistent background beliefs. . . [Such beliefs] can be separated from scientific explanations by changing the specifying assumptions. . . This conclusion applies to background beliefs at all levels of generality . . . [Even with such “liberals” as Maher and Dawkins] this conclusion includes the highest level of generality or ultimate beliefs (1).

Maher and Dawkins are convinced that 1) all religious belief is childish and dangerous (which may well be true), and 2) some Muslims are terrorists (which is obviously true), and 3) there can be no motivation for terrorism other than religion, which is absurd on the face of it—which is “changing the specifying assumptions.” That is to say, they have changed underlying assumptions about both religion and terrorism so any other explanation than their own is “childish” and “dangerous.” They believe their explanation of the evidence is evidence for their explanation that Islam is evil.

Evidence for the explanation is the explanation.

Evidence for the explanation is the explanation.

And they are so convinced of their explanation that they apparently cannot listen to any other idea, even direct evidence that their explanation is at the very least questionable.

Even an immensely important scientist and an articulate and intelligent liberal comedian can be conspiracy theorists. And deluded.
(1)  van der Meer, Jitse. “Background beliefs, ideology, and science.” Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith 65.2 (2013): 87-103.