Video: Please Stop the Anecdotes

Full transcript after the jump, thanks to Marilove!


Last year this time, I made a few videos addressing the most common emails I receive, mostly about my Blasphemy Challenge video, which was just a thirty second long clip of me saying I don’t believe in a Christian god.  Kind of silly but for some reason it’s the most watched video on my channel I think, and has inspired the most ridiculous responses.

So, one video in particular, I address the problem of anecdotes.  So many people write in hoping to convince me that their god is real by using anecdotes.

And I said look, it doesn’t work, here’s why: I can offer an anecdote in response, and nobody’s made any progress, no one has learned anything.

And in response to that, illusionistdave wrote:

It is logical that when my doctor said I had the worst case of staph and pneumonia in my blood he’d ever seen and that I might [sic] night  live through the night much less the week that I should have died, and yet I did not and survived without ANY permanent damage. I’m not saying God did it, I’m saying you can’t always rely on logic.

Ok Dave, you see, what you just wrote, that’s an anecdote.  You posted that right below the video where I say please don’t send me any anecdotes, because they don’t work.  And, in particular, it’s a really bad anecdote.  You’re trying to prove you shouldn’t rely on logic?

I mean, if you were going to tell an anecdote on that, it should be something like:  It would be logical not to point a gun at my head and pull the trigger, in a game of Russian Roulette, but I’ve decided to do it anyway, and I pulled the trigger, and the bullet just barely missed my brain, and doctors performed surgery and saved my life, and at the same time they opened up my brain, and saw that there was a tumor was there.  If I hadn’t shot my head then they might not have found the tumor, and therefore I’ve saved my own life, thanks to ignoring logic.

Now THAT! that would be a good anecdote against logic.  That would be — well, not convincing, I wouldn’t say it would be convincing, because it would still be pretty stupid.  But it would at least be a little closer to something that might be a little convincing.

But to say you almost died from a staph infection but you didn’t … I mean, you got lucky.  There, that’s my explanation.  You go lucky, like a lot of people.  And it’s not even like you eschewed logic in order to survive.  You just sat there.  You just sat there and lived.  Being illogical didn’t help you live.  It just helped you post a ridiculous, stupid anecdote to my video.

So please, please people, learn from Dave and don’t post stupid anecdotes anymore.  It’s not convincing and I’m just going to make fun of you.

Dave also wrote:

Also you jump to WAY too many conclusions about what Christians believe. Ever think it’s the general message one should pay attention to? That we need to abide by the golden rule, which is found in all major relgions with a little bit of different wording?  Think about that.

Rebecca:  Okay. I’ve thought about it.  Great. The video didn’t have anything to do with that.  I was addressing specific emails from people trying to save my soul.  They weren’t e-mailing me about “the general message” — whatever that is.  To them the general message is that I’m evil and going to hell, and that freaks them out.

The Golden Rule?  It’s got its problems, it doesn’t really make sense.  Technically I don’t want to be treated the way you want to be treated.  Because for all I know, you like to incorporate, I don’t know, rabbits and large cucumbers into your sex life.  Not that there is anything wrong with that per se, but it’s not really my thing so I’d prefer it if you didn’t help me out with that.

But I get your point, the message about loving and all that.  I mean, that’s a great message, and if you ignore 90% of what’s in the bible, which is mostly just begatting and destruction and murder, then yeah, it’s a wonderful message.  And I wish more people would give up dogma and give up their religion and just get down with the whole lovin’ everybody.  Be a humanist.  Being a humanist is cool:  That means you like humans.  You gotta like humans, and they are a good thing to believe in.  Even if the evidence isn’t all there, even if it feels sometimes like most humans are posting stupid messages to your YouTube page, you can still have faith that they’ll be a little smarter next time, and will learn to think for themselves.

In fact, a new research study just came out, showing that a record number of people in the United States consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or just don’t ascribe to any religion at all.  25%!  One out of four.  That’s mega-cool.  I really hope more people that continue that trend.  And it is something that appears to be rising, because I think it was something like 16% for baby boomers, and less than 20% for generation X.  25% of people born after 1980 aren’t religious.  Awesome!

So Dave, the point you were trying to make failed miserably, but good try.  No … what am I saying.  Dave, it was a terrible try.  Try harder next time.  Thanks.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. Well, I used to be nearsighted and need to wear glasses but now I don’t! Because God cured me! How do you explain that, huh? Huh?

    In completely unrelated news, I also just got new contact lenses.

  2. It always irks me when religious people ascribe the cure to their medical ailment to their deity rather than to the physician. If your god had something to do with it wouldn’t it be better to avoid all the pain and suffering by not being sick in the first place? The most mundane things are called miracles now a days.

  3. Ha ha! Russian roulette/tumor story made me laugh a lot.

    Humans are good sometimes (earthquake rescue) but bad sometimes (corrupt govt leaves nation in poverty resulting in low standard housing which collapses in earthquakes), but I’m not sure on which side the balance falls. I’m tempted to say ‘bad’. Also tempted to use an anecdote (eek): relief suppliers in Haiti were restricting distribution to women because men weren’t using it for its intended purpose.

    Conclusion: the problem is men. I am no longer a humanist, I am a womanist.

  4. Your Russian Roulette example is more an anecdote against common sense than logic. Here’s an anecdote against logic: “Yesterday, I found that p is not p.”

    (I know we use “logic” to mean “common sense” in the vernacular. Your video and the example is great. This isn’t pedantic criticism from someone with borderline Aspergers. Just a joke. Carry on!)

  5. @Niatiegala: And if it was god who cured them, why are they getting medical treatment at all?


    P.S. That was almost fun to transcribe — Rebecca is hilarious and super easy to follow. Everyone should take a cue from her when doing videos. I think the 6 min video took all of 15 minutes, which is unusual. And that includes breaks for sips of wine ;)

  6. @Niatiegala:

    Well, yeah. And why did god let so many millions of people suffer and die from smallpox back in the day, but now he saves everyone from smallpox? After all that has happened in the 20th century, have we proven ourselves to be so much more deserving than the people of the preceding 59 centuries?

  7. Your problem is that you’re trying to use actual logic on people who don’t understand logic, which is why they keep trying to use bad logic and don’t get why you don’t see the light.

    Here, let me at least put a pillow between your head and the wall…we like your brain and don’t want you cracking it open to find tumors while trying to beat out teh stoopid of others.

  8. Anecdotal evidence is a long winded way of saying “I am correct, and I don’t respect your ability to make up your own mind”

    example: “I was once an atheist like you, but then I saw God and he spoke to me personally. Now I am a believer”.

    Translation: “I required incredible first hand evidence of God in order to alter my beliefs, but I expect you to be convinced by mere words”

  9. I worked with a geneticist who taught “Bodurtha’s Platinum Rule”: treat others as you’d like to be treated, but understand and adjust when they want to be treated differently.

    And a few things about Dave: 1) pneumonia by definition is not in your blood. 2) if Dave doesn’t understand the basics of his condition, I cannot assume that he understood his true prognosis. 3) it’s no surprise Dave has trouble understanding why logic is useful- he has yet to use it.

  10. Oh Rebecca, don’t reply to youtube comments, it’s like arguing with senile pensioners on crack. It’s frustrating, fruitless and in the end, they still always go away believing in chemtrails and bigfoot.

  11. It’s amusing to me that my own Blasphemy Challenge video still, occasionally, gets comments. Someone out there is still watching those things, three or so years later. Mine’s over 3k views, which (for a nobody like me) is ridiculous.

  12. I wonder if the doctor publish a paper of this extraordinary case.
    Some people don’t understand that if a doctor tells you something like “you could have died” it means there was a possibility you could.
    And a doctor is not right just because he is a doctor.

  13. You’re welcome! I really don’t mind. I’m trying to think of a way to get others involved, so we can work to transcribe other skeptic-related videos. I’d like to start by transcribing the archives of Rebecca’s YouTube vidoes, probably by starting with the ones that this particular video references, and then go through the most viewed, at the very least.

    Podcasts are much, much more difficult to transcribe — they tend to be longer and with a lot more conversation, which isn’t as easy to transcribe as “speaches” are, which this video basically is. So for now, I’d like to stick with the videos, and go from there.

  14. Faith and belief will always trump logic, rational argument and evidence if you have faith and believe. To have come to a position of belief despite doubt and evidence to the contrary, is seen as a strength and a testament to the quality of your faith in the Christian religion. This is not a reasonable or rational position and will always preclude a fair hearing of alternative views unless the religious person is willing to admit they may be wrong or that they’re willing to alter their views if faced with compelling evidence or argument to the contrary. Absent this willingness anecdotes will suffice for most Christians as they did for me for way to many years.

  15. You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.

    Do you get emails from people telling you you’re evil? If you do, we could compare notes. We get lots of those at work (NSS). It seems that the more ardent someone is, the worse their grasp of basic English.

  16. Hmm hehe! I have a annecdote! XD

    I used to be catholic and used to be very sick as a kid. Don’t ask me why, can’t explain this at all, but when I was sick (I have crohns disease) and I was told that surgery was possible to help me get my life back on track, instead of saying kudos Doctors and thank you very much, I was like: it’s God’s will! It’s a miracle. God sent me these doctors to “cure” me cause he promised me he would heal me (as per an ex-nun). -sigh- I know, pretty silly, huh?

    In my defense though, I at least was just a kid when this happened. But I’d like to know what cognition are in place to make people think like that.

  17. I’d just like to note that in illusionistdave’s anecdote it sounds like the doctor commenting he has the worst case of staph he’d ever seen was also an anecdote.


  18. That we need to abide by the golden rule, which is found in all major relgions with a little bit of different wording? Think about that.

    I thought about it and remembered that the concept of “hey, it’s pretty keen to not be complete assholes to each other” is also in a number of philosophies that happen to be devoid of religious claptrap.

    Normally it’s best to not feed the trolls, but sometimes I’ll admit it can be fun, too!

  19. Also; I’d like to point out that Jesus lifted his entire philosophy wholesale from Xenophon of Athens and Hillel the Elder. As well as a cadre of other philosophers that came before him.

    I like how all of Jesus’ divinely inspired wisdom had been put forth hundreds of years before he was born.

  20. (Thank you, thank you, marilove, for the transcription! Now I see what all the excitement is about over these videos. Cool. I may be the only deaf person around here, but the transcriptions are also useful for people who hear just fine.)

    To illusionistdave: The thing about people “defying” statistics, like you did when you survived when in all probability you should not have, is that rare events are not miraculous, they are inevitable. There are always outliers, and it is perfectly logical.

  21. 25%? That is mega cool!!! First love the shirt, and I hate to post an anecdote, but I will. I also once had a really bad staph infection and also got better, I was watching Futurama alot while I was sick, perhaps Matt Groening is truly the second comming of Jesus. (Which is totally different from the second cumming of Jesus)

  22. I thought that the example anecdote was hilarious, because something similar actually happened to someone I knew IRL: I used to play softball, and one of my teammates’ parents was hit in the head by a foul ball. Just in case, she had a MRI done, and they found a brain tumor. So getting hit in the head saved her life!
    Goddidit! Hallelujah!

  23. @slightlymadscience: …the concept of “hey, it’s pretty keen to not be complete assholes to each other” is also in a number of philosophies that happen to be devoid of religious claptrap.

    Indeed, Bilantedism clearly states that we should be excellent to each other.

  24. The Golden Rule? It’s got its problems, it doesn’t really make sense. Technically I don’t want to be treated the way you want to be treated.

    I agree with this, only someone who has preferences that are modal or near modal could think this was a great rule to live by. I find small talk annoying, I like to just dive into the subject of my conversation. If I treated others as I wished to be treated I would come across as an asshole (or perhaps in fairness a bigger asshole).
    However, I think the Golden Rule can be rescued by following the Second-Order Golden Rule:

    Have regard to the preferences of others to the same extent you wish others to have regard for your preferences.

  25. The flip side of ‘God cured me’ is that my mum, whose health has been bad for a long time, thinks that God is either punishing or testing her. Yes, really. Sad.

  26. Rebecca said…a record number of people …That’s mega-cool. I really hope more people that continue that trend.

    Considering the large size of some of the religious families, I think they might win out just on reproductive success alone.

  27. @Skeptic_On_A_Mac:
    I believe Rebecca has said (I think in the car interview) that her mom us super religious, I know my mom is Catholic, and my dad is Christian, I’m Athiest. I find that many fellow heathens grew up and raised as religious. Just because religious people breed more, doesn’t mean more religious people.

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