Updated 10/19/2018 -- Regards for all the responses. Much appreciated. To address the point of fact that one cannot "prove" anything about reality:

Yes, I agree. This is the reason I now set my goals when engaging in this sort of heady discourse.

My first goal is to lead the subject through a series of agreements on basic reality, before we broach the issues of real science vs. pseudoscience.

Then, if the subject denies basic accepted scientific facts of life I choose to stop the conversation. For me personally, it is a waste of time/energy. They essentially do not qualify.


Mr. Pink practices a lifestyle of New Age religion/belief. He buys books about new age healing, reincarnation, magic powers, holy god men, etc. Although Mr. Pink doesn't outwardly proclaim his beliefs, he passively makes them known to anyone in his life and frequently drops false 'wisdom' (unsubstantiated claims embedded in cliches) peppered into his conversations.

Mr. Black denies all claims that cannot be proved by evidence.

Mr. Black then confronts Mr. Pink one day at lunch, claiming that all new age magic power b.s. is in-fact, nonsense. Mr. Black claims to know "real" reality and not Mr. Pink's "belief system dependent" reality and attempts to share knowledge with Mr. Pink.

Upon attempting to share this knowledge, Mr. Pink eyes glaze over and he clearly is not listening (evident by his body language and facial expression)... After Mr. Black explains the foundations of knowledge (empirical knowledge) Mr. Pink responds with a rather arrogant tone, and says "Why does it matter? Why are you so [obsessed, fixated, fascinated] with these people's beliefs?"

Mr. Black is perplexed, as he thought all human beings have an innate desire to know the truth. Even when Mr. Black presented documents, books, videos and other media to help Mr. Pink understand what knowledge is and how it can be tested, Mr. Pink flippantly ignores the information and goes back to his lifestyle of New Age belief-dependent-reality lifestyle.

What is this approach? How does one even deal with someone such as Mr. Pink?

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    Keep in mind that, outside of your own existence, you can't really "prove" anything at all, even that there is an outside reality. So there is no fundamental truth. It's all belief. – barrycarter Mar 28 at 18:48
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    Considering the discourse in the answers/comments, this question is probably better-suited for Interpersonal:SE, because it's more about how Mr Black handles interactions with Mr Pink. – thanby Mar 28 at 19:53
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    Relevant Wikipedia articles: cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, belief perseverance – JBentley Mar 29 at 9:10
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    @barrycarter Though solipsism is probably not a good belief system if the rest of the world actually does exist. – JAB Mar 29 at 15:04
  • This sounds like a hand-wave to me: rationalwiki.org/wiki/Handwave – Lee Mar 30 at 12:20

Technically speaking a fallacy is an invalid argument. In practice, what we would expect to see is two people starting from shared premises, and reaching contradictory conclusions, because (at least one) has made a logical error, or fallacy. But in this case, there are no shared premises.

This is actually Mr. Black's biggest strategic error. It happens quite often in real life and leads to fruitless and frustrating debates. What Mr. Black should have done is to start from premises that he knows Mr. Pink already accepts --authorities he cites, values he holds, beliefs he espouses, epigraphs he parrots --and to show EITHER that Mr. Pink's own premises are intrinsically self-contradictory, or that Mr. Pink's own premises themselves support the conclusion Mr. Black desires.

As it stands, Mr Black is demonstrating only that accepting his own premises lead to his own conclusion, to which Mr. Pink quite reasonably responds "why, how lovely for you." In point of fact, Mr. Black and Mr. Pink are symmetrically wedded to their own points of view, and unwilling to even consider the merits of the worldview of their opponents. They both assume their own monopoly on wisdom. The better and more effective debater is the one who starts from her opponent's starting place, not from the one who takes her own rightness as a given. It sounds like Mr. Pink has offered Mr. Black a wealth of material to work with. Taking that material seriously is not only the right logical strategy, it is also more likely to make Mr. Pink willing to engage with Mr. Black at a purely interpersonal level.

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    Maybe "arguer" or "persuader" would be a better word than "debator", since debators usually are not trying to sway their opponents, but rather some third party[s]. – RBarryYoung Mar 29 at 13:42
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    Keep in mind that, for most people, no amount of cognitive dissonance will make them change their mind about strong beliefs like religion. They may even agree that their beliefs are self-contradictory, but will still believe them. I think the problem here is with OP's claim that "all human beings have an innate desire to know the truth"- they don't. Most people just want to hear their own beliefs validated. Mr. Black will lead a much happier life if he just accepts this. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Mar 29 at 14:54

No fallacy, two people have stated their opinions

The whole issue resolves itself quickly with one small clarification (my addition in boldface)

Mr. Black then confronts Mr. Pink one day at lunch, claiming that it is his opinion that all new age magic power b.s. is in-fact, nonsense

Mr. Pink then asks in return:

"Why does it matter? Why are you so [obsessed, fixated, fascinated] with these people's beliefs?"

Mr. Pink has a point: Mr. Black sought discourse and wants to argue his opinion to Mr. Pink. Mr. Pink may want to ask Mr. Black motivation for seeking this discourse, and from that judge whether he is interested in participating in such a discourse.

Mr. Pink is also entirely within his rights to believe whatever he want — no matter what basis he has for it; even if that which he believes is wrong or not demonstrably true — and to reject other people's opinions about the matter.

In short:

  • Mr. Black has all the rights in the world to think Mr. Pink is wrong.
  • Mr. Pink has all the rights in the world to be wrong and to ignore Mr. Black opinion on the matter.

Hence, no fallacies... just two opinionated people stating their opinions.

Finally, you ask:

How does one even deal with someone such as Mr. Pink?

Why do you say that Mr. Pink needs "deal[ing] with"?

Obviously Mr. Black is annoyed by Mr. Pink — and this may cause unwanted friction in the workplace — but I would instead rather deal with Mr. Black to help him not be irked by Mr. Pink.

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    Thank you for your reply. I think you are probably right on the money. Allow me to make sure I understand: Two people have two different opinions. Opinion-1 can be proven with science and reason. Opinion-2 cannot be proven with any reason or science. They must both be respected because it's every human's right to be as wrong as they want to be, or as right as they want to be. Is this what you are saying? Basically, do humans really have the right to believe nonsense and we must all accept that as a fact of possible human behavior? Thanks again for your time/mental energy. – McMahon Mar 28 at 15:12
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    "They must both be respected". What do you mean by "be respected"? I will accept and defend a person's right to have an opinion. I will accept and defend a person's right to express an opinion. I will accept and defend a person's right to live their life in accordance with their opinion (all of these with some reservations and limitations, of course). But what do you mean when you say I have to "respect" their opinion? If you by "respect" mean "treat it as if it truthy" or "avoid to criticise it" or "not voice my opinion that their opinion is abject nonsense", then no, I do not. – MichaelK Mar 28 at 15:21
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    @McMahon When one person says "Ok, I do not wish to hear your opinion in the matter any more" and they still persist or when one party starts denigrating the other on front of a third party. – MichaelK Mar 28 at 15:29
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    @McMahon One last thing: while you have no obligation to not criticise the reasoning behind some other person's (nonsensical) opinion, you are most likely obliged - by the terms of your employment - to "foster and promote a good social working environment", or similar. Criticism of held beliefs may be detrimental to that. And the same goes for Mr. Pink and his incessant droning about nonsense. The correct course of action then is to seek a solution that both can accommodate, like "Not around me, ok comrade?". – MichaelK Mar 28 at 15:42
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    Unfortunately "science and reason" is not a formal system in which proofs can be made, but a set of heuristics for dealing with the world in a particular way conducive to the application of logic and predictive inference. Whether or not someone places a value on this is not something I've ever seen to be changed by a simple discussion. – Darren Ringer Mar 28 at 20:52

'Mr. Black denies all claims that cannot be proved by evidence.'

It's easy to rug-pull Mr Black if he makes this claim, as a previous answer shows. But he has no need to make this claim. It is unnecessary. All Mr Black need do, and would do in real life I should guess, is to argue against Mr Pink that by the standards of evidence they both use outside the New Age Religious views dispute, the New Age Religious views fail the test of plausibility.

If Mr Pink replies that his New Age Religious views are exempt from the usual standards of evidence, it's fair to ask him to justify this claim. After all it's a belief - about the exemption from the usual evidential standards of a particular set of his beliefs, his New Age Religious views - and is itself subject to the standards of evidence they both use outside the dispute.

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    This is a good point. Science is more about repeatable and unbiased observation then it is logic or mathematics. We cannot "truly prove" anything but we can choose to make decisions based on collective experience. – Pace Mar 28 at 21:52
  • @Pace, unless its theoretical science. – Jodrell Mar 29 at 11:49
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    Is this the same "new age" that I grew up hearing about that denies the existence of universal truth? – Joshua Mar 29 at 20:00

You can't really identify a logical fallacy unless someone makes a claim, and the only claim your question describes is this:

Mr. Black denies all claims that cannot be proved by evidence.

Mr. Black is committing the fallacy of over-generalisation. Because it is clear that there are some claims that must be 'accepted' without evidence.

Otherwise Mr. Black must deny all the axioms of mathematics and science. There is no evidence that x always equals x. There is no evidence that if a=b and b=c then a=c. These are Axioms that we take to be true without evidence.

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    Mathematical axioms do not have truth value outside of the mathematical system. An axiom is not a claim. – Acccumulation Mar 28 at 17:20
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    @Joshua That is completely circular. Physics is a mathematical model of the behavior material reality. To prove a mathematical axiom from the outcome of a model that is constructed out of mathematics is just nonsense. – jobermark Mar 28 at 18:46
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    @Joshua Yes, I am not an idiot. This still in no way supports the statement you made. Physics is still presumes math, even if physics motivated the evolution of the math. You cannot prove the axioms of math from physics. I would be circular. – jobermark Mar 28 at 19:34
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    @CortAmmon You cannot prove the apple fell, only that you observe the apple fall. But only for an instant. After that, you can only prove that you remember observing the apple falling. – immibis Mar 29 at 4:09
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    This same claim is also a contradiction (i.e. logically false). 'All claims not supported by evidence are false' must, itself, be false since it is a claim not supported by evidence. – the dark wanderer Mar 29 at 5:25

Ugh.

Let me rephrase the original post:

Mr. Brown practices a lifestyle of scientific empiricism. Although Mr. Brown doesn't outwardly proclaim his beliefs, he passively makes them known to anyone in his life and frequently drops amoral bits of wisdom.

Mr. White believes that the Bible is the one and literal truth.

Mr. White then confronts Mr. Brown one day at lunch, claiming that all modern science is in-fact, nonsense. Mr. White claims to know "real" reality and not Mr. Brown's "rationalist" reality and attempts to share several bible verses with Mr. Brown.

Upon attempting to share this knowledge, Mr. Brown's eyes glaze over and he clearly is not listening (evident by his body language and facial expression)... After Mr. White explains several scriptures, Mr. Brown responds with a rather arrogant tone, and says "Why does it matter? Why are you so obsessed with my lifestyle?"

Mr. White is perplexed, as he thought all human beings have an innate desire to know God. Even when Mr. White offered some pamphlets to help Mr. Brown understand what salvation is and how it can be gained, Mr. Brown flippantly ignores the information and goes back to his scientific-based lifestyle.

What is this approach? How does one even deal with someone such as Mr. Brown?

If that seems obnoxious to you, you now know how Mr. Pink feels about Mr. Black.

Ultimately, the only thing any of them differ on is the manner in which they chose their perspective on the world. Mr. Black and Mr. Brown prefer to view things from scientific empiricism, probably from the idea that such an approach gives a better perspective on predicting future results of actions. Mr. Pink doesn't view it that way; I'd hesitate to guess motives, but I'd imagine that his mode of thought gives him a comfort that cold empiricism doesn't. And the only way to say one is "better" than the other is to already have formed your own opinion on the way to judge belief systems - and then apply your beliefs as a way of judging them.

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    Good rephrasing to make the point clear, but I don't see the point of adding that Mr. Brown's bits of wisdom are "amoral". A better analogy would be "atheistic". End of nitpicking. – Pakk Mar 29 at 7:18
  • @Pakk science is usually regarded as amoral - i.e. having no means itself of determining the morality of an action. To science, there is no difference between phenomena that kill bacteria and phenomena that kill people; each is either a reproducible effect or not. – Pete Kirkham Mar 29 at 11:57
  • Plus, the 'false/unsubstantiated' was already a dismissive judgment call looking down on Pink's viewpoint from someone who agrees with Black. So I shot for a similar substitution that a devout proseletyzer would use to dismiss Brown's viewpoint - amoral seemed good. I tried to keep the tenor as close as possible. – Kevin Mar 29 at 12:30
  • I did not say that the "amoral" qualification was false, I only say there was no point in adding it. Mr. Pink's bits of wisdom could also be amoral. Additionally, Mr Black cares about the truth, so "false/unsubstantiated" is the worst characterization possible, and Mr. White cares about "knowing God", so "atheistic" is the worst characterization possible. The story does not tell if Mr. White cares about morals. But let me state again that this is nitpicking, and has little to do with the core of your argument which is fine. – Pakk Mar 29 at 13:21
  • Depends on what you mean by "amoral." Do you mean "ignoring morality in all decision making?" "Lacking any understanding of morality? "Existing outside the realm of morality?" – barbecue Mar 29 at 19:49

The problem is that both Mr. Pink and Mr. Black have made a commitment to a position. They made a choice and they are now going to rationalize their position to each other. That neither side can convince the other suggests that evidence and logic underdetermines a unique position. See the SEP’s Underdetermination of a Scientific Theory article for more on this: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-underdetermination/

One could create a similar example between market participants. On one side there are the bulls who think the market will go up. On the other there are the bears who think it will go down. And there may be people in the middle. They argue for their positions. They have rationalized their commitments. It is not that they aren’t using reason. They are using a lot of rational tools, but their reasoning is mainly present to convince themselves.

The same thing would be true for people with different political positions.

The main fallacy, if that word makes sense in this context, is to believe that one side should be able to convince the other using rational arguments. That is what Jonathan Haidt refers to as the “rationalist delusion”. See his book “The Righteous Mind” or for a quick introduction, his video “The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Psychology” for a quick introduction to moral foundation theory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kI1wQswRVaU

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    Awesome, thank you I will look into Haidt's work. I'd up-vote your response but my account is too new. Peace – McMahon Mar 28 at 15:35
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    @McMahon I did it for you. – Robert Benson Mar 28 at 19:11

Mr. Black denies all claims that cannot be proved by evidence.

In the nearby Q&A on "scientism", folks at StackExchange identify this kind of position with the word "scientism" and say that since scientism is not empirical truth, adherents to scientism proclaiming loyalty to empirical truth make a false claim.

That's because this policy doesn't result from evidence, but is taken for some other reason. Such a person may do well to acknowledge that in addition to scientific verification, the discipline of philosophy may help a person identify empirical truth, or at least help to justify this stance about evidence.

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    That's the point I was trying to make, empiricism is an axiom not a theory. We assume that science is correct because we assume that empiricism is true. So empiricism cannot, by definition, be proven by science without it being circular reasoning. – JeffUK Mar 29 at 8:07

This question reads as "How do you debate some one who refuses to engage in debates?"

The answer is: you don't.

Mr. Pink's response of "Why does it matter? Why are you so [obsessed, fixated, fascinated] with these people's beliefs?" is just a way of deflecting and saying that they don't want to talk about it.

You can't force some one to debate you.

I think the specific term you're looking for to describe this "strategy" is stonewalling.

Here's one definition:

[when a person] will steadfastly refuse to converse or hear rational communication in favor of self-protecting an irrational position

Other answers on here seem to be to busy preaching some form of relativism to allow for cases where this actually does happen, sometimes intentionally. I'm talking about instances where there is clear asymmetry in the respective positions (even if hard to verbalize, although that makes it rather suspect).

It's probably apparent that I don't think you can always legitimately argue a belief for both sides equally. In fact, if you can do so, I'd say you have zero knowledge. I'm aware that this is not universally accepted, but it's served me well.

Either way, it is useful to have this descriptor in your vocabulary.


As for dealing with such a person, I would personally not bother if I've tried and failed a couple of times and there is nothing serious at stake, only a personal itch to scratch.

Sometimes, it can just take too long, and rarely, it is impossible.

(see also: Lewis Carroll's What the Tortoise said to Achilles)


You can also read more here, which is where I picked the definition from. This article gets a tad dramatic, but is informative in its own way.

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