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Person A: HIV is a disease created by the illuminati 2000 to eliminate 50% of the world population and in 2017 a scientist find a cure to HIV and the illuminati killed him

Person B: that doesn't really hold up because we have evidence from 2015 that the world population is growing. the illuminati probably monitor their plan and saw that it was a failure why will they try to save a plan that already fail

Person A: the illuminati are smart they maybe fake those data too like that no one will notice their plan.Am not saying it true am just saying it possible

The part where i need help "the illuminati are smart they maybe fake those data too like that no one will notice their plan. Am not saying it true am just saying it possible"

All of this is just a hypothetical situation. I want to know how to reply when conspiracy theorists claim that the data that I use to shake their idea are also part of the conspiracy

  • There is no way to convince them... But "the illuminati" do not exist. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Apr 14 '19 at 17:27
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA lol – vorpal professor Apr 14 '19 at 17:33
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    If people are impervious to arguments and warp everything into their conspiracy theory the best reply is to walk away. Or, if the argument is in front of an audience, to take it to a point of absurdity:"Well, it is also possible that the illuminati helped Hitler come to power, and promoted fossil fuels to induce global warming, for the same purpose. Hypothetically". – Conifold Apr 14 '19 at 23:49
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    Define "Illuminati." There's no question that there are powerful people and organizations who manipulate the political system (e.g. the Bilderbergs, corporate think tanks, etc.). The precise identity of the most powerful isn't clear, and people call them many different things. "Illuminati" could thus have a specific meaning that renders the idea absurd, but some people may simply use Illuminati as a term for the people at the top of the heap. – David Blomstrom Apr 16 '19 at 10:57
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    Unfortunately your Person A is using a subverting tactic, that is: their insistence that "the Illuminati are smart... " etc. are not a factual argument (else they could name "them"), rather it is designed to subvert any factual evidence Person B may provide. Bottom line is Person A isn't interested in finding truth, only pushing their own agenda; it is therefore pointless to attempt meaningful discourse with them. – christo183 Apr 16 '19 at 12:32
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Where is Person A coming from?

Person A is an extreme skeptic and a conspiracy theorist.

Barkun proposes 3 classifications of conspiracy theory:

  • Event Conspiracy Theory: These refer to individual, well-defined events.
  • Systemic Conspiracy Theory: These are broader, involving control of an area, or a wider project.
  • Superconspiracy Theory: This type links multiple conspiracies together into one all encompassing theory that can be used to explain just about everything about the way the world is.

Person A believes in both event and systemic theories (that HIV was man made, that data is faked) and has developed these into one superconspiracy theory (that the illuminati controls absolutely everything, so nothing at all can be trusted).

Understanding the extent to which Person A's rationality has been compromised, the extreme extent of the challenge is clear. You have to convince Person A that their entire worldview is built on sand. Their worldview has influenced not just their opinions on reality, but their opinions on rationality and science - refusal to accept evidence is a rejection of science.

How to Challenge Person A

When Person B says "we have evidence", they make a valid point, but they aren't approaching Person A in a way that will change Person A's mind. To change somebody's mind, you must not only present the argument that is logically and empirically valid and true. You must also present the argument that is convincing and believable to the individual you are arguing with.

I have thought of the following approaches, tailored to Person A, that I think stand a chance of convincing a deep conspiracy theorist to abandon their beliefs.

Approaches:

  • The Burden of Proof: You might have heard the phrase 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence', called the Sagan Standard. Many would argue that the burden of proof rests with Person A, because Person A is making outlandish claims that would have systemic consequences if true. You need not be aggressive when asking for proof from Person A. Invite Person A to elaborate on their beliefs and to provide evidence. It is more than likely that they will trip themselves up if required to speak at length about such an outlandish conspiracy theory.
  • Disagreement Exists Everywhere: Person A believes that truth is one set of claims fed to us by one malevolent source. Give Person A examples of the variety of think tanks, newspapers, and authors who are all providing different information. We don't live in an authoritarian world where a single version of the truth is fed from the top. We have access to multiple resources, many of which contradict each other, from which to derive our opinions. The plurality of opinion is a form of proof that we have access to information not controlled by the 'illuminati'.
  • The Scientific Method: The disregard that Person A shows for evidence demonstrates that Person A does not understand how evidence informs truth. Person A does not understand the scientific method. Scientific theories arise from a collection of supporting evidence that, together, reinforce a certain world view. In science, evidence is not blindly accepted - we weigh it up against other evidence, there are thresholds that must be met. Explain the scientific method to Person A, then explain the evidence you have against the Illuminati and how your evidence combines into a solid piece of proof.
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  • "If one omnipotent source of truth were manipulating all of our facts, why do major politicians constantly and publicly disagree with each other? If the Illuminati existed, the major world leaders would be in complete consensus, because they'd all have one aim." That's utterly absurd. You need to do some research on "controlled opposition." It is perfectly possible for people on the same team to pretend to be on different sides. Witness the term Demopublican, which was coined long ago. – David Blomstrom Apr 16 '19 at 10:48
  • Edited my answer to rephrase my second suggestion to better reflect the point I was trying to make. The part that the above commenter had issue with wasn't reflective of what I was trying to say. – user38268 Apr 16 '19 at 11:00
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Person A suggests that some conspiracy theorists are fabricating evidence.

When you ask how you should reply, you're suggesting that you think that's a ridiculous claim. In fact, you're the one who's being ridiculous.

Whether or not the particular conspiracy theory you cite in your example is credible is irrelevant. The fact is, conspiracies are very commonplace, and people fabricate evidence all the time.

In fact, your question could be described as a conspiratorial tactic itself: Are you asking a "loaded question" in an attempt to ridicule conspiracy theorists? That happens all the time, too.

Imagine some people having an intelligent discussion about 9/11 when a critic mentions space aliens or flat earthers, which are so far off the chart they scarcely qualify as conspiracy theory.

Another popular tactic is to trot out "THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD," as if conspiracy theorists don't have a clue about science.

Perhaps someone can give us an example of how science can be used to disprove the existence of the "Illuminati." If you don't think there are powerful people who manipulate the political system, then you don't have a clue about politics. There's a reason corporate entities like Microsoft and Boeing don't pay their fair share of taxes while ordinary people are typically overtaxed.

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  • I believe it's possible to believe that "powerful people manipulate political systems" without exhibiting warped, conspiratorial thinking patterns (jumping to conclusions, ignoring contrary evidence, etc). Your answer seems to imply that nobody who thinks in this warped way exists. I think the author was trying to ask how to deal with someone who is an illogical conspiracy theorist, rather than just somebody who has rationally chosen to believe a conspiracy. – user38268 Apr 16 '19 at 11:09
  • Maybe they should edit their question: "What do I say to an IRRATIONAL conspiracy theorist"? It would help if they further demonstrated something irrational that person said. Complaints about "ignoring contrary evidence" don't mean much without a good understanding of the evidence in question. The same charge can be thrown at anti-conspiracy critics - like why do they ignore the fact that an airliner that supposedly crashed into the Pentagon wasn't photographed? That's a pretty damning piece of evidence. – David Blomstrom Apr 16 '19 at 11:19
  • P.S. I'm aware of the lone, incredibly crappy photo of an airliner, a frisbee or something or other. – David Blomstrom Apr 16 '19 at 11:20
  • Yes, irrational would be a good addition to the Q. Understanding that this is the Philosophy SE, I’d presume the Q asker is more concerned about the general principles of argumentation than any specific examples that could be given. Q could be completely rephrased to reflect this, but I’ll leave that to the Q asker. – user38268 Apr 16 '19 at 11:25
  • Good answer. Even labeling someone a "conspiracy theorist" is an ad hominem attack that should be viewed as a fallacious argument since it is easily deceptive. I was going to answer this, but I think your answer says everything I would say. – Frank Hubeny Apr 16 '19 at 17:42
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Sometimes nothing will convince the other person in a debate

There are some people who are so invested in an idea that they will deny or explain away anything contrary to that belief. This is often characterized by impossibly high standards for evidence to the contrary, and extraordinarily low standards for evidence, as long as it supports that idea. They may even casually fling out mutually exclusive explanations, hoping that something will "stick" and support their pre-determined truth. When you encounter this, it's often best to change the subject or exit the conversation altogether.

Interestingly, you can find this same attitude in some subset of people on both sides of contentious debates. Atheists and religionists, for example. My wife was once engaged by someone who asserted the Bible was false - because "everybody agrees that the Garden of Eden was in [such and such a place], and apples don't grow there." When it was pointed out to the woman that the Bible never said "the fruit" was an apple, she said that wasn't actually the point. And if the point was merely the idea that the Bible is false, and not that it was false because [reason X], then that makes perfect sense.

(Preemptively - I'm not interested in defending the truth of the Bible; I'm just pointing out that the above specifically was a terrible argument against it.)

This is not to say that everyone who resists a claim of evidence is automatically logic-free and irrational; sometimes even a well-documented fact, in isolation, is not enough to counterbalance a collected weight of evidence on a murky topic with apparently contradictory information, about which people can reasonably disagree (think questions about macroeconomic systems, for example). But don't imagine there's anything useful to say to debate someone who's made it obvious they aren't interested in being reasonable.

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I've argued with several people about global warming and they gave similar claims. Something to the effect of: Overwhelming consensus among scientists is due to corruption, political bias, not wanting to rock the boat and be ostracized, etc. My response is always something like: "Look, you disagree with an almost unanimous consensus among experts. Explain to me, in scientific terms, the arguments they claim support this consensus. If you disagree with a consensus among experts and cannot even explain the scientific arguments they are giving, you are almost definitely being irrational."

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  • Brings to mind the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian obstetrician in the 1840's. He told doctors to scrub their hands before delivering babies to avoid infecting and killing the mothers. The entire scientific community arrayed against him. After all, he could explain no mechanism for his claim. His family committed him to an institution, where he was beaten to death by the guards. 20 years later the germ theory of disease was discovered and he was proven right. You'd be among the "rational" people denying what turned out to be true. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis – user4894 Feb 7 at 23:21
  • I mean, sure, experts can definitely be wrong, but opting for layman positions as a result of this seems like a bad policy, right? I think this summarizes the argument you're making pretty well: youtu.be/uRNO1LFQBWI – Allen More Feb 10 at 23:27
  • Don't have patience for a blind video link today but you offered a characterization of conspiracy theories and I gave a counterexample. Galileo, Newton, and Einstein would be others. If your criterion is scientific consensus you can't tell a breakthrough from crankery. Perhaps you could tighten your idea so it more reflects what you mean to say. – user4894 Feb 10 at 23:33
  • I highly recommend the video. I guess i thought it was implied that expert opinions are more likely to track reality than layman opinions. It's definitely possible for a layman to give a better argument than experts, but if that argument is just: "they're conspiring" and they can't even describe the expert argument, we shouldn't consider them to be credible. Again, they could be correct, but it would be coincidental. It's like looking at your watch that's stuck on 5pm but it also happens to be 5pm. You should still throw out the watch. – Allen More Feb 10 at 23:53
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At least for Scientific claims, you can point out that all scientific claims are ultimately based on the results of experiments that you could theoretically do yourself. The speed of light isn't constant because Michaelson and Morely said so, it's constant because if you build the device they described (or any other device to measure it) in your garage, you'll get exactly the same result. The Earth isn't round because smart people think it is--it's round because there's nothing but your own money, time, and inclination stopping you from going up 20 miles in a balloon and seeing for yourself, or doing any number of other experiments. Time dilation due to relativity isn't just because Einstein said so--if you built your own GPS satellite and didn't account for it in the math, you'd be 7 miles off. I've never seen an electron, but I build electronic devices for a living--if I chose to believe they didn't exist, or that they behave differently than science says they do, my gadgets don't work.

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