What’s the difference between a donkey and a UFO?

I recently came across another piece of inane blather from a self-styled paranormal “expert.” And it’s just too good to pass up.

This blog, Bad Thinking, is dedicated to exposing the logical fallacies and poor arguments used by the promoters of, and believers in, woo generally. I’ll not name the “expert” in question, but some people might take an educated guess – it’s more guff about UFOs, after all.

Like a lot of fallacies, this falls into an area of overlap, so to speak. And a lot of fallacies do. This could be called a category error, or it might be called a false analogy. It also comes under the heading of the appeal to popularity and, in the context of the original article, the appeal to authority. It’s one of those errors of reasoning that doesn’t fit neatly into one specific slot, but it’s an error of reasoning, nonetheless. But it’s also an exemplary example of how to fit so many fallacies into so few words.

First of all, I will give the relevant quote from the newspaper column I found it in. Here we go:

If 1,000 independent witnesses tell me they’ve seen a donkey running down the middle of King Street, odd though that may be, I’d be pretty tempted to believe them.

Why? Because the idea so many people would independently decide to tell such a fib without any apparent motivation is far more difficult to swallow than the idea of a donkey running down the street.

DonkeyThat’s from an article promoting the idea that UFOs and their alien pilots are here, but that it’s all being covered up by governments around the world, and we should all believe it because, well, you know, why demand evidence when other people say they’ve seen it – just believe what you’re told: lots and lots of people say so; what more do you need? And this author makes a living from writing about what other people say. Yeah, right…

Here’s a brief analysis of this published piece of certifiable bad thinking:

The fact is that

  • 1: There is no doubt that donkeys are real.
  • 2: There is plenty of justifiable doubt about the existence of aliens and their space ships visiting this planet.
  • 3: Unproven claims of UFOs are entirely different from claims about established facts (they are in different categories).

It wouldn’t take a thousand witnesses to convince me that they had seen a donkey running down the middle of my local High Street. Even if it seems unlikely, I would probably reserve judgement until I got some further confirmation (a report in the local newspaper, say) but I wouldn’t be too worried about it. After all, there are news reports from time to time about escaped animals causing havoc, so the idea of a donkey causing inconvenience to some local shoppers would be unusual, but not totally implausible, and certainly not impossible.

It wouldn’t even matter if just one person told me he had seen it himself, even if he just happened to be a pathological liar who had fabricated the whole story just to wind me up. That would not alter the fact that donkeys are real, and that no one disputes their existence.

UnicornWould the author of the article believe what he was told if a thousand people informed him that they had seen not a donkey, but a unicorn running down his local high street? Like UFOs, no one has presented compelling evidence – and especially not proof – of the existence of these mythical creatures, so believing an uncorroborated report of what is certainly an extraordinary claim would be irrational.

The same goes for UFOs. These alleged alien spacecraft are not proven to exist, however many former astronauts and military personnel claim to have had access to aliens and their technology. Many of these people are making a handsome living from their books, articles, public speaking engagements, television appearances and so on. But not one of them has provided testable and confirmable evidence of any of their claims.

Has NASA been exploiting alien technology since the so-called alien flying saucer crash in Roswell in 1947, as many conspiracy “theorists” assert? You might want to believe it, but I would point out that rockets are still using chemical propulsion to get into orbit, not anti-gravity devices. Has transportation been revolutionised by teleportation technology, or are we still using cars, trains and planes? Can anyone prove that the truly massive structures being designed and built nowadays are being put together using the same alien technology that some would have you believe was the only way that the ancient Egyptian pyramids could have been built? Is humanity so stupid that we can’t do anything ourselves on a big scale unless someone else from light years away just provides it for us?

To put it plainly:

  • The number of people who make a claim is irrelevant to the claim’s veracity (that’s the appeal to popularity).
  • The status of those people is also irrelevant, even if they are former military personnel or astronauts (that is the appeal to authority).
  • Claiming a link between things that have no connection is a category error, and also quite often an argument by false analogy.
  • Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; hearsay just won’t do if you want to be taken seriously.

The author of the article obviously thinks that claims about donkeys (which exist) are equivalent to claims about aliens (for which there is no evidence to show). He is wrong. Maybe he believes in flying horses and talking ants. Who knows?

Pegasus 

So the difference between a donkey and a UFO is simple: one of them really does exist; the other has as much evidence available for its existence as there is for unicorns, i.e., none at all.

Belief without evidence is called faith, and it is also bad thinking.

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5 responses to “What’s the difference between a donkey and a UFO?

  1. Mike Hallowell

    “I recently came across another piece of inane blather from a self-styled paranormal “expert.” And it’s just too good to pass up.”

    How strange. I recently came across another piece of inaccurate and obnoxious blather from someone who thought he knew all about Islam, and that was too good to pass up, to.

    “This blog, Bad Thinking, is dedicated to exposing the logical fallacies and poor arguments used by the promoters of, and believers in, woo generally.”
    Do you believe that people who pontificate on matters of religion and faith should also be held to the same standard?

    “I’ll not name the “expert” in question…”

    Strange, it’s never stopped you before. I’ll refrain from actually naming the self-styled critic of religion, too, as I think he should have the guts to name himself. I’ll identify him, though; its you.

    “But it’s also an exemplary example of how to fit so many fallacies into so few words.”

    Would you like me to post again and state the number of inaccurate statements you made about Islam in so few words?

    Here’s a brief analysis of your critique of Islam.

    The fact is that

    • 1: There is no doubt that Islam is real.

    • 2: There is no doubt that you don’t know the first thing about it, have made a host of completely inaccurate assertions about it, and yet refuse to admit it and apologise.

    • 3: Unproven claims about Islam are entirely different from established facts (they are in different categories).

    “Would the author of the article believe what he was told if a thousand people informed him that they had seen not a donkey, but a unicorn running down his local high street?”

    Would the author of this blog believe something about Islam that was true, even if a thousand Muslims told him that what he’d previously asserted was completely wrong?

    No one has presented compelling evidence – and especially not proof – of the truthfulness of your grossly inaccurate assertions. They are fabricated, uncorroborated reports and definitely extraordinary and irrational.

    “But not one of them has provided testable and confirmable evidence of any of their claims.”

    Can you provide any evidence that any of your claims about Islam are true? Or are they simply fabrications?

    “Is humanity so stupid that we can’t do anything ourselves on a big scale unless someone else from light years away just provides it for us?”

    Now you’re just being silly, and you know I never said that.

    “The number of people who make a claim is irrelevant to the claim’s veracity (that’s the appeal to popularity).”

    Ah! Now I understand how you can think yourself such an expert on Islam! If I tell you that the 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe know you’re wrong, I’m just appealing to popularity, right?

    “The status of those people is also irrelevant, even if they are former military personnel or astronauts. (that is the appeal to authority).”

    Now it’s clearer still. You can spout bucketfuls of crap about Islam, and if Islamic scholars point out your errors it doesn’t mean anything, as its nothing more than appeal to authority!

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; hearsay just won’t do if you want to be taken seriously.”

    Okay. Then let’s put it to the test. You made numerous extraordinary claims about Islam. You say, “Hearsay just won’t do if you want to be taken seriously”, so, be consistent and provide evidence that your claims about Islam are correct. If you can’t, then no one needs to take you seriously. Not that I’m suggesting that anyone does anyway, of course, considering what I read.

    The author of this blog obviously thinks that his claims about Islam are equivalent to his claims about science. He is wrong. Maybe he believes that Imams can issue orders and that Muslims aren’t allowed to disagree with their scholars, who knows?

    “Belief without evidence is called faith, and it is also bad thinking.”

    So…seeing as many of your beliefs about Islam are completely devoid of evidence to support them, all you’re left with is some sort of “faith” in your own understanding and perception. And that’s also bad thinking.

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  2. Mike Hallowell

    Pardon the errata. I’ve spotted them.

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  3. Mike, the post was NOT about Islam. Your response is off-topic but I have published it anyway, and my responses are below in square brackets.

    By all means reply to any of my posts, but I have to insist that you respond to the subject of those posts, not what you imagine they are about. In future posts, any off-topic comments you make will simply not be published. Going on past experience, I am sure you will interpret that as bullying censorship, but it is actually good housekeeping for the sake of keeping my blog interesting, rather than allowing it to be hijacked for your own personal agenda. Here we go:

    “I recently came across another piece of inane blather from a self-styled paranormal “expert.” And it’s just too good to pass up.”

    How strange. I recently came across another piece of inaccurate and obnoxious blather from someone who thought he knew all about Islam, and that was too good to pass up, to. [Not in this post, you didn’t.]

    “This blog, Bad Thinking, is dedicated to exposing the logical fallacies and poor arguments used by the promoters of, and believers in, woo generally.”
    Do you believe that people who pontificate on matters of religion and faith should also be held to the same standard? [Yes, and I think you in particular should be held to the same standard. Study this blog more closely and you might be able to learn how to do that.]

    “I’ll not name the “expert” in question…”

    Strange, it’s never stopped you before. I’ll refrain from actually naming the self-styled critic of religion, too, as I think he should have the guts to name himself. I’ll identify him, though; its you.

    “But it’s also an exemplary example of how to fit so many fallacies into so few words.”

    Would you like me to post again and state the number of inaccurate statements you made about Islam in so few words? [If this post had been about Islam, I would have said, yes. But it wasn’t; you’re off topic.]

    Here’s a brief analysis of your critique of Islam. [The post was not a critique of Islam; in fact, Islam was not mentioned, nor were you mentioned, either by your Christian name or your Muslim name (that you have not revealed to your readers of the Shields Gazette, and to whom you have not explained that what you write for them now is from a strictly Islamic-compliant viewpoint.]

    The fact is that

    • 1: There is no doubt that Islam is real. [Islam as a religion is real; whether it is true is another matter.]

    • 2: There is no doubt that you don’t know the first thing about it, have made a host of completely inaccurate assertions about it, and yet refuse to admit it and apologise. [Mike, you are a recent convert to Islam – a “newbie,” as it were; you don’t have the lifelong training and undoubted full time dedication that those Muslims I regard as Islamic scholars have had. Your enthusiasm exceeds your ability to portray your religion in a positive light. You are a poor apologist for Islam. But why are you talking about Islam? My post wasn’t about that.]

    • 3: Unproven claims about Islam are entirely different from established facts (they are in different categories). [Muslim claims about Islam include things from flying horses and talking ants to the very existence of a deity. None of those things are established facts. Some actual facts about Islam include stoning, beheading, amputations, polygamy, child brides, honour killings, etc., none of which should happen in a civilised society, although I’m pretty sure you will want to point out to me that it depends on context, or whatever. However, the post was nothing to do with Islam.]

    “Would the author of the article believe what he was told if a thousand people informed him that they had seen not a donkey, but a unicorn running down his local high street?”

    Would the author of this blog believe something about Islam that was true, even if a thousand Muslims told him that what he’d previously asserted was completely wrong? [What have I asserted about Islam in this post that is wrong? It was about poor reasoning, not Islam.]

    No one has presented compelling evidence – and especially not proof – of the truthfulness of your grossly inaccurate assertions. They are fabricated, uncorroborated reports and definitely extraordinary and irrational. [What assertions are you talking about? The post was not about Islam, by the way. It wasn’t mentioned.]

    “But not one of them has provided testable and confirmable evidence of any of their claims.”

    Can you provide any evidence that any of your claims about Islam are true? Or are they simply fabrications? [Again, what claims are you talking about? The post was still not about Islam.]

    “Is humanity so stupid that we can’t do anything ourselves on a big scale unless someone else from light years away just provides it for us?”

    Now you’re just being silly, and you know I never said that. [I didn’t say that you had. Some people do, however, promote the idea that so-called “Ancient Aliens” provided the science and technology necessary to build the pyramids, for example. You claimed in a recent Gazette article that it was a “fact” that time-travelling hunters shot a Neanderthal dead with a modern firearm – you certainly said that:

    http://www.shieldsgazette.com/opinion/columnists/wraithscape/was-neanderthal-shot-by-a-time-traveller-1-6786186

    You concluded that article with these words: “We don’t know who, we don’t know why and we don’t know how – but it happened.” Did it? Did it really? Has your tuppence-ha’penny article in an obscure provincial newspaper been picked up by the scientific community who are now backing your observational insight into an area science has been unaware of? Or did you just recycle a long-debunked piece of nonsense for the sake of making a few quid from gullible dimwits in a newspaper that will print anything if it attracts a few extra readers? At least that piece of nonsense must be within Islamic ideas.]

    “The number of people who make a claim is irrelevant to the claim’s veracity (that’s the appeal to popularity).”

    Ah! Now I understand how you can think yourself such an expert on Islam! If I tell you that the 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe know you’re wrong, I’m just appealing to popularity, right? [I have not claimed to be an expert on Islam, and my post was not about it. But, yes, you are making the appeal to popularity; those 1.6 billion Muslims you mention might believe I am wrong about anything I might have to say about Islam, but they don’t “know” I am wrong. Muslims across the world are killing each other because they can’t agree on their interpretation of Islam. It’s not a unified religion. There are about 5.4 billion non-Muslims who think your religion is false, but that does not mean they are right – or that you are wrong. The appeal to popularity is classified as a fallacy of irrelevance. Keep that in mind the next time you try to bolster one of your claims by saying that there are lots of people who make a particular claim.]

    “The status of those people is also irrelevant, even if they are former military personnel or astronauts. (that is the appeal to authority).”

    Now it’s clearer still. You can spout bucketfuls of crap about Islam, and if Islamic scholars point out your errors it doesn’t mean anything, as its nothing more than appeal to authority! [The post still wasn’t about Islam, but in any case, Islamic scholars disagree with each other about many things, and as you must know, different sects of Islam are busy right now trying to wipe each other out because each thinks the other fellow hasn’t got his theology straight. I explained the fallacy of the appeal to authority in a previous post; I suggest you read it:

    https://badthinking.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/the-appeal-to-authority-not-so-authoritative/%5D

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; hearsay just won’t do if you want to be taken seriously.”

    Okay. Then let’s put it to the test. You made numerous extraordinary claims about Islam. You say, “Hearsay just won’t do if you want to be taken seriously”, so, be consistent and provide evidence that your claims about Islam are correct. If you can’t, then no one needs to take you seriously. Not that I’m suggesting that anyone does anyway, of course, considering what I read. [At least you take me seriously enough to go on about your religion in a post in which it was not featured. Yet again, Mike, the post was not about Islam; it wasn’t mentioned, and anyway, you are not troubling yourself to list any religious claims you think I have made in that post. Vague assertions aren’t acceptable.]

    The author of this blog obviously thinks that his claims about Islam are equivalent to his claims about science. He is wrong. Maybe he believes that Imams can issue orders and that Muslims aren’t allowed to disagree with their scholars, who knows? [Yes, maybe Muslims just ignore the edicts issued by their Imams. Apparently it is against Islam for children to build snowmen; that was a fatwa issued by an Imam, but maybe the Muslim who asked whether it was OK for his kids to have fun in the snow just ignored it. Who knows? Here’s a link to that story;

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/12/us-odd-saudi-snow-idUSKBN0KL15N20150112%5D

    [Oh, and the post was definitely not about Islam.]

    “Belief without evidence is called faith, and it is also bad thinking.”

    So…seeing as many of your beliefs about Islam are completely devoid of evidence to support them, all you’re left with is some sort of “faith” in your own understanding and perception. And that’s also bad thinking. [No. Islam (which was not the subject of the post), like all other religions, makes the initial claim or claims. I’m a sceptic, so I want evidence. I don’t have “beliefs” about Islam, I have questions that need compelling answers before I could possibly accept it – even tentatively. You are making assumptions (including the assumption that my post was about your new religion, even though it was about something else entirely)].

    [If you want to make further comments on this thread, then you will have to restrict yourself to answering the content of the post. For example, if you think what I say about a logical fallacy like the appeal to popularity is wrong, then you should explain why it is wrong. By proving that, you will be able to reverse millennia of careful thought by some of the greatest minds in history, and also prove that every logic text book ever written is wrong. Or should we just see which of us can get the most people on board to support us?]

    [Mike, if you choose to comment on this thread again, please keep your comments to the point of the post. I will read only as far as any mention of religion in general, or Islam in particular, at which point I will stop reading and just hit the delete button. If and when I write a post about Islam, that will be the time for you to comment about it.]

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  4. This is just a Muslim Troll with an Islamic axe to grind & you were dumb enough to feed him. Don’t feed the troll in future & he’ll symbolically starve ok…? FYI, despite your scepticism (also ironically based on faith) I do believe in ghosts & UFO’s ( but know there’s an equally logical scientific explanation behind their enigmatic existence) but only because I’ve seen both with my own eyes, & not because of what I’ve been told to believe without the evidence of seeing it myself. But I do agree extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence & in order to prove the famous statement that not all crows are black you need just a single white crow….

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  5. Darren, thanks for your comment.

    You believe in ghosts and UFOs – fair enough; now you need only provide the relevant white crow (as it were) that will prove their existence.

    Like

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