Dear Eric Hovind

Uploaded by C0nc0rdance on 12.04.2012

Dear Eric Hovind:
I recently viewed your discussion with Thunderf00t at the Reason Rally in Washington, DC. I wanted
to take a few minutes to clarify some issues raised and see if I can't help to shed a little
light on some confusing issues. At the end of this video, I'd like to offer some suggestions
on how you can better achieve your goal of representing your religious views honestly.
They key point on which you and Thunderf00t seemed to disagree was a very important question
of whether reality exists independent of the observer. This is something philosophers all
the way from Plato to the modern day have been exploring. I'm not a philosopher by training
or profession, but I think I can give you a short introduction to a few interesting
thought experiments in what is called global skepticism, the position that we can never
know if an independent reality exists.
I'm going to start with some soft examples from movies and TV that you might already
be familiar with.
1. The Truman Show Starring Jim Carrey as Truman, this movie
came out in 1998. It told the story of a man who was born on the set of a reality TV show,
growing up under the camera's eye, completely unaware that his every choice, his every word
was being broadcast to a TV audience. The small island town he lives in is actually
a TV set built in a giant dome. All his friends, his family, his coworkers are actors. Everyone
is aware of how artificial this reality is except Truman. He believes all the experiences
he has to be genuine, never knowing, until the movie's climax, that he's the star of
a TV show. He completely believes the experience of his senses, his genuine interactions with
the people around him, but in reality he's been completely fooled.
So here's the challenge. How can you be sure that YOU aren't on the Eric Hovind Show? What
if your belief in God is just the result of the director of your particular show trying
to incorporate some comedy elements for the audience's amusement? Remember that you can't
trust your own senses because they are being actively deceived by people acting behind
the scenes.
2. Star Trek Holodecks I don't know if you like science fiction as
much as I do, Eric, but I recall when I first watched Star Trek The Next Generation that
the Holodeck was one of the things that most captured my imagination. It creates a realistic
holographic representation of anything it's programmed for. The regular rules of physics
can be suspended. Cause and effect could be altered, history or fiction created at will.
People in the Holodeck are unable to tell it from the "real world" until the door to
the "other reality" is opened and the worlds can even be populated with holographic beings
with apparent thoughts and feelings of their own.
Now how do you know you aren't in a Holodeck right now, either as a quote "real person"
who doesn't know it's a hologram, or as in one episode, a hologram yourself, convinced
of the reality of the simulation you exist in. Are there any tests that you could perform
from within the simulation that would reveal that it was not truly an ultimate or objective
3. The Matrix This doesn't seem like your kind of movie,
Eric, but it's a very strict illustration of the much older thought experiment called
the "brain in a vat" scenario. The entire human race are plugged into a shared virtual
reality, feeding sensory data directly to our brains so that we are essentially living
in a world that does not exist, interacting with other quote REAL humans but our senses
are lying to us all the time about things as fundamental as our name, our age, and whether
we are walking or laying down.
The Matrix is the consensual hallucination that the human race experiences.
Eric, the question of whether the universe exists is not so simple as most people think.
Your questions presume that we can only have reason and logic if reality exists independently.
That's not necessarily true. A Matrix-like illusion could be created where 2+2 equals
5, every single time. Your brain looks at two fingers on one hand, two fingers on the
other, but when putting them into one view, they suddenly become 5. You would not consider
this to be unusual because your brain would be conditioned to accept these altered laws
of mathematics. You could just as easily have a universe where 2+2 could be any number from
3 to 9, depending on the time of day or the color of the objects.
When you say 2+2 equals 4, you're drawing on deductive and inductive rules that work
on your perception of reality. Your perception could be wrong, though, and there's no easy
solution to this problem of global skepticism.
You might also be familiar with Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". In it two prisoners are imprisoned
from birth in such a way that they can't move their arms, legs, or even move their heads
to the side. Behind them people are carrying figures that block light from a fire, producing
the shadows that are the only things the prisoners can observe. The prisoners mistake the shadows
on the cave wall for the real things themselves, and their limited experience gives them no
way to know that outside the cave is an entire world of real things. Yet they become very
excited when one of them can predict which shadow will pass on the wall next... their
reason appears to work, to be predictive, within the constraints of the logic of the
shadow world.
So, in light of these classic and not-so-classic examples, I hope you'll agree that your belief
in an objective, independent reality is not based on any true knowledge.
Thunderf00t's points were mostly about the provisional nature of knowledge, and this
is a key concept in the philosophy of science. I can't tell you that the law of conservation
of mass is true or false, real or unreal. I accept it provisionally as appearing to
be predictive and being useful to my imperfect perception. Most of scientific knowledge about
the natural world is considered to be provisional, and we only value it insofar as it provides
useful explanations or predictions.
If the reality we experience is the result of a mad scientist's experiment where we are
all brains in a jar, hooked up to electrodes, science and reason still has some utility.
It's not describing ultimate reality, mind you, but it can explain the simulations we
experience and sometimes predict them like our prisoners in the allegory of the cave.
Thunderf00t's point was that inserting the assumption of a ghost that never lies, your
religious belief, is not much different thaninserting the assumption of a universe where the laws
of logic are simply a fact of our universe. One assumption or the other has the same effect,
giving us permission to trust our senses whether they are actually correct or not. He called
these basal assumptions. Basal meaning that all our other claims to knowledge rely on
assuming that either there is a ghost that never lies or that the universe is actually
out there and we can understand it. Neither position is to be preferred, so far as I can
If you doubt what I'm saying, play along in the Matrix scenario... the Matrix is programmed
to make you believe false sensory feeds, and also to feed you a propensity to believe that
it all needs a supernatural explanation. What about your argument proves that you aren't
a brain in a vat?
I think that's enough on the epistemology of global skepticism. Next, I'd like to address
your tactics.
I think you're using what I would call a rhetorical gotcha argument. A classic example of this
from politics is the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?" where you will only accept
the answer "yes or no". Either answer makes your opponent look bad, but it's not a very
honest tactic.
The general principle is the magician's choice "heads I win, tails you lose". It forces your
opponent into a position where he is duped into a false dichotomy that results in a loss
either way.
This isn't good argumentation... in fact, it makes you look like your argument is so
weak that you must resort to entrapping people into gotchas that they can't legitimately
escape. The problem with these, and the reason you failed to get a planned response from
Thunderf00t, is that smart people see the manipulation, the dishonesty, underneath them
and refuse to play along. Thunderf00t did the right thing in not giving a thoughtless
yes or no answer to the question. It became obvious that when Thunder pushed back you
hadn't really put any thought into the deeper philosophical issues behind your casual questions.
I don't think this tactic is in the best tradition of witnessing for your beliefs. If you can't
represent your faith with honesty, then you make the arguments against you even stronger.
Most non-believers in the English speaking world live, work, and spend every day surrounded
by Christians. Many of us are former believers, some of us have read the Bible cover to cover,
or studied philosophy and theology. A lot of us are pretty good at argumentation and
reason. The chances are that your dishonest, clumsy argument does more harm than good.
I'll show you exactly how it feels to be on the other end of a rhetorical gotcha and this
will be my last question to you, Eric, please answer "yes or no":
"Do you feel any guilt for profiting from the sale of DVDs to the gullible?"
Thanks for watching.