Thursday, October 27, 2016

Skeptical About Skepticism

At Shadow to Light, Mikey has outdone himself.  Turned a news story about the zealotry of Christian Trump supporters into a full-blown conspiracy theory about hoaxers trying to make the Christians look bad.  And he does this in the name of skepticism.  It seems that the story, after appearing in a number of news outlets, was repeated by Hermant Mehta, at his blog, The Friendly Atheist.  What's the problem with that?  According to Mikey, Mehta should have been more skeptical about the story, because he didn't raise the question of its being a hoax.  No, what he did was to report it pretty much the way the initial news reports did, without embellishing the facts with speculation about what might really have happened.

First, the story.  A waitress in South Carolina reportedly received a "tip" from a pair of customers in the form of a note written on a napkin, instead of money.  The note expressed their Christian belief that she should be at home taking care of her babies, rather than looking for handouts in a restaurant.  It also expressed the desire to "make America great again", which is Trump's campaign slogan.  A friend of the waitress posted a picture of the napkin on social media, and then the waitress told her story to a local TV news station (WYYF, Greenville).

Mikey has made no less than three posts on this topic, because he smells a rat.  He starts with this one, where he complains that Mehta never raised the possibility of this being a hoax.  Mikey presents three possibilities, the first two of which are hoax theories, and last which is the idea that it was written by Christians, just as it purports to be.  Then he claims:
There is no evidence that indicates #3 is the correct explanation.
Well, no evidence except for the note itself, and the news stories about it.  Just as importantly, there is no evidence that this story is a hoax.  But let's not let that little fact get in the way of Mikey and his conspiracy theories.  For the record, I agree that it is worthwhile taking a skeptical attitude.  But that means examining the evidence, and following where it leads.  If there was evidence of a hoax, I would have to agree with Mikey, but I don't see any.  What I see is a number of news reports that all say the same thing.  That doesn't mean there is no hoax, but let's let the available evidence tell the story, not Mikey's conspiracy theories.

Next, Mikey makes a post about atheists' commitment to evidence.  He actually calls them hypocrites for NOT following the evidence.
So while the atheist activists sell themselves as people who champion reason and evidence, the truth, as we can see from this example, is that lots and lots of atheists jump to conclusions and cling to beliefs without the slightest regard for the evidence.  Such hypocrisy.
Jumping to conclusions?  Uh, right.  And what is his basis for this statement?  It seems that he read the comments to Mehta's post, where there were questions raided.  Like this:
Have you ever written on a napkin? It’s not easy. ...
and this:
This story is so over the top. Sounds more like a troll. Where is proof this actually happened?
Mikey didn't like the responses to those comments, so he thinks he is justified in saying that atheists are hypocrites for not jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon, which I'll note again, is not supported by anything more than speculation.

Finally, in his third post on this topic, Mikey presents his own case for the conspiracy theory, based mainly on the handwriting and grammar of the note.  It goes something like this:  The handwriting is neat and readable, so it must have been done with care and attention to detail.  But the grammar and spelling errors are inconsistent with that, so it was obviously contrived to make the writer look stupid.  Mikey even points out a place where he believes a mistake was intentionally inserted:
The first “you’re” has a space between the u and the r with the apostrophe right in the middle.  The second “you’re” has no such space and thus the apostrophe is placed above the r. 
It looks like the second mistaken “you’re” was made as a purposeful afterthought.
So Mikey's expert handwriting analysis has provided all the "evidence" we need to infer that this whole thing is a hoax. 

In addition to that, he points out several logical inconsistencies in the note, such as the fact that the waitress is working for her money, not looking for a handout.  And the fact that the couple who left the note are eating at a restaurant, and not at home where the wife can cook and take care of the kids.  So the implication here is that no genuine Christian Trump supporter would be so logically inconsistent as this note indicates.  It has to be a hoax.

Sorry, Mikey, but I'm skeptical of your skepticism of skeptics.  If and when I see real evidence of a hoax, then I'll pay attention to it.  But in the meantime, all I see is a pathetic attempt on the part of a Christian apologist and Trump supporter to deny any culpability and/or stupidity on the part of his fellow Christian Trump supporters.  It might actually be the case that his conspiracy theories are true, but I don't see the evidence for it (his handwriting analysis and speculation notwithstanding).  I would also call to his attention the fact that the stereotype of the stupid Trump follower exists for a reason.  If someone wants to show how stupid they are, they don't need to invent a hoax.  All they have to do is point out their actual statements.  Take these interviews of Trump supporters, for example.


  1. For something like this, I follow Hume: "A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence." And Sagan: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

    Is the story as reported 'extraordinary'? Not to my mind. The events could easily have happened, so I do not need extraordinary evidence. Conversely, there is a minimal amount of evidence that the events did occur: the napkin, and the testimony of the waitress. So, I would readily accept the story a face value, but would not be all that surprised if it was a hoax. However, even if the story is not true that would not change the fact that many of Trump supporters do belong in that "basket of deplorables".

    1. Not extraordinary at all, to my mind. There really are some characters who are all-in for Trump. I know one of those "deplorables" who fits the bill to a tee. He believes everything Trump says, and he takes great umbrage at that remark by Clinton. I keep thinking, if the shoe fits, wear it.

      As for Mikey, calling skeptics hypocrites for not buying his speculative theory seems a little over the top to me.