I regularly take part in Google Hangouts, usually late at night, with an assortment of people from all over the world. Atheists, Christians, deists (well, one deist), you name it. But this weekend I realized after spending two days arguing with the same person that there are some people you just shouldn’t bother debating on a subject, or any subject.
We’ll just refer to this person as SS (not a Nazi reference or anything, it’s the initials of the nickname he uses). He believes in a lot of things, most of them utter nonsense. He’s a young earth creationists, but a very strange one. He thinks evolution does happen, kinda, but that our adaptations to our environment are neo-Lamarckian and that we, and everything else (including bacteria) evolve “consciously” — that we literally will ourselves to mutate and adapt, then pass those adaptations on. It’s really quite bizarre.
He’s also an advocate of alternative medicine of various types and absolutely convinced that the entire medical and scientific establishment is stupid, corrupt and engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up “natural” cures. Instead of taking antibiotics, we should just eat garlic and honey (garlic, he claims, is “one of the most powerful antibiotics we have”). And if you get cancer, you should just eat broccoli and the tumors will magically disappear. Arguing with him is absolutely futile because he lacks all intellectual integrity and because his beliefs are utterly immune to disproof.
There was a long conversation about cancer, for example. When he declared that cancer is easily reversible if you just eat broccoli and other things, he was asked to provide studies that show this. He then did a Google search and offered a small study (24 people) that showed that those with pre-cancerous lesions are less likely to develop full-blown cancer if they eat more broccoli. From that meager bit of information (information he didn’t even have when he made the original claim) he leapt to the fantastic conclusion that eating broccoli can “reverse” cancer, destroy tumors and make them magically disappear from your body.
He was asked a simple question: If this is true, why don’t oncologists accept it and tell their patients? The answers were predictable: “Because they’re stupid.” Oh, and “the entire scientific establishment is corrupt” and it refuses to do the studies to prove his position correct (despite the fact that he just tried to cite a study, which didn’t actually say what he thought it did — one of his hallmarks is that when he gives you a link to an article, it never says what he thinks or claims it does). And they make so much money off chemotherapy, which he thinks actually causes cancer, that they are engaged in a global conspiracy to hide these real “natural” remedies that rid the body of “toxins” (always unspecified, of course).
He was asked another simple question: What about oncologists who have loved ones — wives, husbands, children, parents — with cancer? Or have it themselves? Are they so “corrupt” that they would let them die in order to continue to hide the truth of these natural remedies from the world? He had no answer, of course. To claim that they would do so is obviously absurd, but in order to deal with the cognitive dissonance he is forced to change the subject.
At one point I said to him that the difference between us is that I’m open to being wrong. Show me the double-blind studies, the clinical trials, that find that cancer is reversible by eating broccoli and I’ll not only change my mind, I’ll do so gleefully. How great would that be in a world ravaged with cancer? Show me the actual studies that show that ingesting garlic or honey is more effective at killing bacterial infections and I’ll be thrilled because I eat enough garlic that I should never get sick. But he can’t. And the reason he can’t is, of course, because it’s all a conspiracy.
Arguing with such a person is futile. Their beliefs are impervious to reason. They have constructed a perfect cocoon of impenetrability around them, a mobius strip of logic turning back on itself eternally. The same is true of any conspiracy theorist, really. As a general rule, I’m a big advocate of using debate to change people’s minds. I know it works because I’ve changed my mind many times as a result of having debated a subject with someone. But it only works on some people. On someone like this, you’re beating your head against a brick wall. And the first rule of brick walls is this: The wall doesn’t feel a thing.