Open Letter to Matt

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brimstoneSalad
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Open Letter to Matt

Post by brimstoneSalad » Wed Nov 26, 2014 7:29 am

Let's do this?

Response to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mClv6S3BK60

What do we include, in terms of arguments and sources?

Humane Hominid, will you help on the evolutionary biology front?

brimstoneSalad wrote:Ouch, that was some serious ignorance on nutrition. Sounds like he buys into the conspiracy theory nuttery on paleo diets.

The way he discounts actual health authorities that understand the subject and the research, he might as well be a creationist, completely ignorant of evolution, claiming that evolution and every scientific body that supports it is false because there's no crocoduck.

We rely on experts, and the opinions of these experts because most of us don't have the time or education needed to understand the complex biochemical systems that make up human physiology, or the statistical models and research that proves causation between certain elements of diet and health.

Somebody needs to tell him he's being a fucking hypocrite for criticizing creationists for ignoring scientific consensus and touting their ignorance instead, while doing the same thing himself on something he's completely ignorant on because it suits him.
Either he cares about truth like he claims, or he doesn't. He can't have it both ways.
Volenta wrote: Well, it's not that hard to point out that because we evolved a particular way, we can't know something to be healthy. You actually have to study that through the use of science, and Dillahunty should know that. He's essentially rejecting science because it doesn't seem to fit with an intuition he already has.

Also, somebody other than I should probably write it, for obvious reasons ;) I'm not sure if I can be as polite in the face of such magnitude of stupidity (particularly from somebody who is supposed to be rational).

My suggestion on format:


Explain why expert opinions are important, because novices do not have the training, experience, or time to understand all of the data. Compare to evolution, and its complex and counter-intuitive nature to creationists.

Briefly look at rejection of those scientific consensus (of every major government and credible NGO, health, and science body), in terms of conspiracy theories, from the Cholesterol "Skeptics", to Evolution "Skeptics", and Climate change "Skeptics". and why none of these people are actually skeptics.

Directly compare Matt's claims to those of a Creationist trying to debunk proven facts of evolution by appealing to arguments that completely misunderstand the fundamental concepts involved in the discussion.

Finally, finish by saying we shouldn't even have to address his argument about "evolution", because the science should speak for itself -- if he actually cared about science enough to follow it even when it goes against his preconceptions. Explain that when there is an apparent conflict between two proven facts, that usually only indicates some degree of ignorance in the person observing that conflict, and not an actual contradiction.

And although he doesn't deserve the explanation to this apparent contradiction he has pointed out, because he should just accept scientific consensus since he doesn't have enough experience in nutrition OR evolutionary biology to make these kinds of observations, we should go ahead and explain it anyway.

To anthropomorphize in effort to explain, "Evolution" doesn't give a shit if you have a heart attack at 40, because by that time it's done with you. A diet of animal products will see you through reproduction, and that's all it had to promise to our ancestors; and that's clearly all it does for us. If you plan on living longer than that, you might want to actually look at the evidence in a modern context.

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Post by miniboes » Wed Nov 26, 2014 8:43 am

FULL FOLLOWUP LETTER

most recent change is marked blue

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Dear Matt,

From your response to our open letter it seems you have not taken it too well. This is a follow-up letter, in which we want to clarify some of our previous points and investigate why you responded in the way you did.

We had hoped your response would be more positive, since all of us consider you a great spokesman for atheism.
You were a Christian once, and were open-minded enough to set your irrational beliefs aside. That's all we expect here: we cannot stress enough that we are not trying to turn you vegetarian, we are only trying to correct your irrational beliefs about meat. Just as a new atheist can continue celebrating religious holidays, going to church, and saying grace, a person who recognizes that animal agriculture is an unethical practice and eating meat is not health promoting can nonetheless continue to support the practice and continue eating meat.
Not only have you seemed to completely write off the criticism of your irrational beliefs, worse, you deleted comments that called for a response or criticized your position.

Here are some of the comments you chose to delete:

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As in the case of the criticisms circulating in the past, your knee jerk reaction is to accuse the other party of lying.

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Flat out lying by implication? Really Matt?

I doubt anybody has ever accused you of being a linguist, but that makes no sense. Nobody can flat out do anything by implication.

Does that make YOU the liar, Matt? Are you so dead-set on accusing anybody who disagrees with you of being liars that you're happy to twist the truth yourself to do so? It really seems so.
But we're not going to accuse you of lying, because lying means conveying a deliberate untruth. Once you've stooped to calling somebody a liar, you've made quite a commitment to deny the possibility of an honest and rational discussion.

Giving you the benefit of the doubt, your fault is most likely Ignorance. And given your claims to be an open minded skeptic, we hope it's one you will be open to correcting.

It's not even clear if you watched the videos, or read the letter text, wherein we clearly stated WHY we used the old video -- because there's nothing else we could find. We Clearly stated that it may not be how you feel anymore.

https://theveganatheist.com/an-open-let ... illahunty/

If you were offended by a bit of honest criticism on a position you have refused to clarify, you need to suck it up. If you have such a problem with even discussing important and controversial issues like these in secular morality, or consider them so beneath you and not worth your time, then you have no business pretending to champion secular morality.

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Really Matt? Really? You may not realize it, but you sound like William Lane Craig. Are we just not famous enough to debate you, is that it? Do we not have whatever unspoken qualifications are required for your attention, Mr. Dillahunty?

Richard Dawkins might be able to say that and get away with it -- he is a very big fish in the atheist movement indeed -- and it's why he doesn't debate creationists at all, because he doesn't want to give their view point any attention. But you DO debate creationists. You even host a call-in TV show, and debate random callers. Your bar isn't set that high, Matt, don't pretend it is. You're just afraid of this particular discussion because you don't have the winning argument and you don't want to admit it.

In terms of fame, you just aren't that big of a deal. You're a popular advocate for atheism on some parts of the internet, but virtually unheard of in the vegan community. Most of the people who commented about it on the forum didn't even know who you were, so you're probably getting as much publicity from this as anybody else.

But there's a key point here you need to realize: anybody who has any kind of public discourse is doing it for attention of some kind, you included, either for personal attention as some do, or to bring attention to the issues as others do. Since all of the writers of this letter are anonymous, you can hardly claim it's for the former.

Although obviously we write letters, and TheVeganAtheist makes videos, to promote these issues, we're not picking on you just for personal attention as you seem to be suggesting -- that kind of claim is a pathetic and shameful way to dismiss criticism, and we suspect you know it to be so.

The real fact is that you've spent countless hours on criticizing other people's beliefs, but now it's the other way around, and you're less comfortable with the subject, so you make up absurd excuses to avoid the subject. Now it's not worth your time.

Somebody needs to be bringing up this discussion, and we're picking you precisely because you should be rational enough to engage on this topic. That is, if you would set aside whatever personal fears and insecurities are preventing you from doing so and instead causing you to lash out with accusations of lying and dismissing legitimate criticism.

For us it is hard to understand how someone such as yourself - a usually highly rational person - does not come to the same conclusions concerning secular ethics toward other sentient beings, or even toward our fellow human beings which the practice of animal agriculture also harms. You just have a huge blind spot.
In this, instead of being the reasonable and rational advocate for science based secular ethics you should be, when it comes to animal agriculture you are following the worst of those in the 'skeptic' community who buy into conspiracy theories against mainstream nutrition and the pseudoscience of paleo-nutrition peddled by quacks like Harriet Hall.
You're better than that, Matt, or at least you could be.

Our confusion with your inconsistency is similar to that you might feel wondering why intellectual X does not see the problems with the belief in a god, or why X buys into hard cultural moral relativism and considers the abominable practices of some Islamic fundamentalists no less ethical than progressive democratic society since 'it's all relative, and nobody is right'.

As far as we know, there is only one video on the internet where you express your views on animal ethics. The arguments you made in that segment are terrible, and blatantly irrational.
If we misunderstood you, you had the opportunity to correct yourself. That you did not correct yourself only suggests that you still hold these beliefs, and probably that you either didn't watch/read or didn't understand our letter.

Your first response to the letter was the following :

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"Bizarely misrepresenting a 7-year-old video and accusing me of dismissing scientific consensus while YOU are misrepresenting what the AHA actually says about meat (already posted 2 quick links) is rather strange."

The last time you extensively addressed the subject publicly (that we can find) was 7 years ago. Your views may or may not have evolved since then (although based on your response, it seems reasonable to assume they have not). Again, we clearly acknowledged in the video that it was old. If your views have changed, we would be glad to hear it. Clarify your position, or stop complaining that people are referencing old material -- this is not difficult.

We don't believe we misrepresented your comments at all. If you're going to level that kind of accusation, would you at least explain why you think the letter is dishonest, or how you think you have been misunderstood?
It gets hard to have a decent discussion if we accuse each other of not being honest rather than addressing the arguments made (or are you taking a page out of Sye Ten Bruggencate's playbook now?).
We could easily accuse you of lying, but giving you the benefit of the doubt in assuming that you are merely honestly mistaken due to some ignorance at least leaves the possibility to have a real discussion.

As to the AHA's position, you posted two links that you believed conflict with our position (and the scientific consensus in nutrition) on the healthfulness of meat. Two links to pages that you probably didn't even read. If you had, you would know that the AHA is only recommending chicken and lean meats (aside from their recommendations on fish) to be used in place of even less healthy meats, and still in limited amounts. They are the lesser of evils.

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The AHA recommends limiting these meats, but also recommends plant based replacements such as beans (which are not limited).

"Cholesterol and saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol and make heart disease worse. Chicken and fish have less saturated fat than most red meat."

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"Beans don't contain cholesterol, only animal products do."

The article correctly points out that cholesterol is only found in animal products, and even explicitly states that you can get all the nutrients you need without eating meat, including protein.

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Fish is another matter that we would be happy to discuss if you're interested in that, and is the ONLY animal product that the AHA actually recommends people eat other than as a less bad replacement for more harmful animal products.

"The unsaturated fats in fish, such as salmon, actually have health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and some plant sources, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease."

The AHA prescribes a limited amount of fish twice a week, of certain types, if you will read the recommendations, because this is the easiest recommendation to make and the most practical for many Americans to follow, both providing EPA and DHA (which improve heart health; there are also vegan sources of these), and displacing other meats in the diet (which a pill alone doesn't do).

If your position was "I believe eating certain kinds of fish in limited amounts twice a week is more healthful than not", you would have had a much stronger case. It would still be debatable, because there ARE vegetable sources of Omega-3 which are healthier than fish, but not a completely backwards position -- it ['pescatarian' nutrition] is closer to the degree of wrongness that is mere deism compared to the biblical literalist young earth creationism level of wrongness that your beliefs and rejection of science are comparable to.

That, however, was not your position, and it obviously does not represent your diet. Fish is not all meat, and depending on your dialect, may not even be called "meat" at all (the AHA occasionally makes this distinction in its literature of "fish" and "meat"). Certain kinds of fish meat may be a grey area which deserve more discussion, but tetrapod meat is unquestionably unhealthy.

All of this talk about fish, however, is irrelevant to your pseudoscientific claim (which is what we were criticizing) that meat must be healthy because we 'evolved' to eat it, since not only are you completely wrong on the science, but empirically the kinds of meat our ancestors ate most in the hunter-gatherer scenario are also the kinds of meat that are the most unhealthy.

The lipid hypothesis is the scientific consensus which you (along with a few Quacks in the 'skeptic' community we mentioned) seem to ignorantly reject with your broad assertions about the healthfulness of meat as in this quote from the segment:

"And see, I feel the exact opposite: I feel the health benefits of eating meat far outweight the benefits of not eating meat"
source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mClv6S3BK60 [8:45m]

Nobody sensible or remotely educated on nutrition would agree with that assertion, because the benefits of eating or not eating meat are dependent on what you would replace meat with. As we explained in the first video, the "health benefits" of eating meat only certainly outweigh the "health benefits" of starvation and malnutrition.

There are anorexics, who remove meat and replace it with nothing, and there are "junk food vegans", who remove meat from the diet and just eat potato chips or other junk to replace it. For these people, eating meat might be the healthier option.
We are talking about properly balanced vegan diets, rich in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, which are the reasonable alternatives to meat. The health benefits of eating more broccoli instead of meat are different from the health benefits of eating more potato chips instead of meat. You made nothing but a bald assertion praising meat as indiscriminately necessary for 'health benefits' regardless of context.

The unhealthfulness of meat (particularly red meat, but even chicken) is multifaceted and includes increased cancer risk, but the strongest relationship (that of heart disease) is predicted by the lipid hypothesis (actually, a pretty robust theory), which in turn is proved by the fact that lowering blood cholesterol reduces the risk of heart attacks. Cries of 'it's only a theory' shouldn't go far for anybody who respects science. Even direct studies of populations and diets (where controls can be reasonably established) confirm this trend.


The scientific consensus which you seem to ignorantly reject, along with a few Quacks in the 'skeptic' community we mentioned, is the lipid hypothesis (actually, a pretty robust theory) proved by the fact that lowering blood cholesterol reduces the risk of heart attacks.
NIH wrote: It has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that lowering definitely elevated blood cholesterol levels (specifically, blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol) will reduce the risk of heart attacks caused by coronary heart disease.

Cholesterol "skeptics" are no more rational skeptics than are climate change "skeptics" or "skeptics" of vaccines and other evidence based medicine.

The undeniable implication of this fact is, until or unless we find contradictory evidence (which we have not in over twenty years), that one should strive to lower the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat one consumes, as both of these substances are known to increase blood cholesterol (as well as change cholesterol profile in a harmful way). This is all clinically demonstrated.

The recommendations of the AHA are geared towards the standard american diet, which is rich in fat and red meat. In this diet, replacing red meat with 'lean' meat or fish achieves lower saturated fat intake compared to what it would be otherwise.
In the case of diet, the major things you need to look at when considering the impact of certain foods on health are both the opportunity cost (what could I eat instead of this that would be healthier?), and the displacement (by eating this, what less healthy foods might I be displacing?).

Chicken displaces red meat in the diet, and as such is healthier than red meat. Broccoli, if used to displace chicken, is far better still.
Under no reasonable circumstances in a modern developed country would replacing any part of a diverse diet of vegetables, beans, and whole grains with chicken be a good idea to make the diet more healthful. As we discussed at some length in the last letter, in third world countries where there may be reduced access to high quality plant food and supplements, this is a different matter.

If the AHA recommended people eat broccoli instead, how many people do you think would actually follow that advice?
The AHA recommends the most it thinks people will actually do. Again, if you read the article (or if you read the AHA's articles on plant based diets), you will see that they also recommend plant based substitutes, but they provide options since this is the best way to achieve compliance.

The AHA preaching vegan-only education would be about as effective as abstinence only education. Of course abstinence is better than condoms, it is hands-down the best method there is, just as is a properly planned and balanced vegan diet the best way to eat, but if people won't do it the advice is pointless, which is why educating people on condom use (or lean meat) as an option is the only way to effect practical change in public behavior and reduce unwanted pregnancy (and dietary mortality),

Keep in mind that the AHA cautions people to limit even chicken, and doesn't prescribe it as they do fish (which is done for very specific reasons).
We have discussed fish briefly, but again, if you're really interested in that we can discuss that more.

Pescetarians (people who eat vegetables and fish only), have a much stronger argument than the absurdity that is blindly advocating tetrapod meat consumption. It's not a watertight argument, but again, we believe that's another issue unrelated to your pseudoscientific assertion in the segment we quoted.

One final point to clarify is that we did not quote Richard Dawkins as proof that speciecism is wrong, we were not making an appeal to authority.
We quoted Dawkins to show an example of someone who is not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but acknowledges that he has no moral justification for consuming animal products. We quoted Dawkins to show that we are NOT trying to make you go vegan, and that (as Dawkins displays) we are only looking for intellectual honesty from you.

A smoker can recognize that smoking is harmful to health, and even that second hand smoke harms others and that it's a bad thing, without quitting smoking.
That's all we're looking for from you, and all we can expect from a rational person is intellectual honesty. Beyond that, the choices you make are up to you once you understand the facts of the matter.

You often say that you want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. Well Matt, your belief that meat is healthy is a false one that you need to shed if you want to be intellectually honest and avoid hypocrisy.

We would like to encourage you to watch the videos again, OR just read the letter itself (which the videos are based on). And do so, if you can, with an open mind, and a little skepticism of your own biases and preconceptions. No, we are not lying about anything.

https://theveganatheist.com/an-open-let ... illahunty/

Finally, to any readers or viewers, if you want to see a response by Matt, please Tweet him, e-mail him, or call in to the show.
For details, go to http://www.atheist-experience.com

If he knows there are more people who want to hear him clarify what he believes now, he's more likely to step down from his throne to grace us unworthy mortals with his reply.

And whether you want to see Matt reply or not, if you disagree with us or have any comments, feel free to debate with us on the Vegan Atheist forum.
Last edited by miniboes on Tue Jul 07, 2015 5:46 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Post by TheVeganAtheist » Wed Nov 26, 2014 9:15 am

This is interesting. I am planning to do a video debunking this video in the future.
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Post by Volenta » Wed Nov 26, 2014 11:57 am

Great initiative!
TheVeganAtheist wrote:This is interesting. I am planning to do a video debunking this video in the future.
The most important thing is that we can reach Dillahunty. You have quite some status now on YouTube, and we know from your other VS-videos that the subject you're attacking is reached.

So it would be an option to let TheVeganAtheist do it. Or we could do both, and also write the letter. What do you think?
brimstoneSalad wrote:Directly compare Matt's claims to those of a Creationist trying to debunk proven facts of evolution by appealing to arguments that completely misunderstand the fundamental concepts involved in the discussion.
I'm not sure you actually need the comparison with creationism for that.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Wed Nov 26, 2014 1:18 pm

Sounds great miniboes,

And VA, a video would be awesome.

I'd say doing both is a good idea.

Matt is easy to reach. The trick is in him finding time to respond; if we put more into it, and make the argument very strong, he should make it more of a priority to respond to it ASAP. The most probable thing is for him to forget to reply if it's not pressing... or maybe even ignore it, since they seem to like to change the topic and avoid this one.
Volenta wrote:I'm not sure you actually need the comparison with creationism for that.

Maybe. Although in terms of video, it would have a strong impact to find something with mirror symmetry.

Like put them side by side, Matt saying the scientific consensus on nutrition is wrong "because of evolution", and some creationist saying the scientific consensus on evolution is wrong "because of the second law of thermodynamics".

Both of them appealing ignorantly to some other science they have only passing familiarity with, to a perceived contradiction (which doesn't actually exist), to discount the expert opinion of every major expert body of scientists on the subject in the world along with irrefutable evidence which they conveniently ignore entirely in favor of their own preconceptions.

It would be even better to include a sound byte of Matt criticizing said creationists for the very thing, or explaining why expert opinions and evidence mean more than somebody's assumptions or intuition.

I think that would have a big impact, and would might strike enough of a chord to get a response. The theists would share it virally, anyway. It could teach a lot of people about nutrition if it went viral in that circle, and Matt would have to respond.

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Post by miniboes » Wed Nov 26, 2014 3:31 pm

Here is what I have so far. Feedback? Suggestions?

Could you guys help me out by sending some good sources for illustrating the scientific consensus on the health aspect?

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Dear Matt,

We are several atheists that happen to be vegan, although atheism and veganism are not necessarily connected for us they came from the same place; a critical evaluation of what many people take for granted. We very much appreciate you and your work for you are a very strong and rational voice in the atheist movement, one we deem very important to achieve a more rational society. We are very confused, however, on the position some great intellectuals yourself hold. One example is the position Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins hold. They recognize the consumption and use of meat and animal byproducts (leather, fur, dairy, eggs, etc.) is unethical, yet participate in it. You, as far as we are aware, do not agree and believe it is not wrong to do so. Even though atheism and veganism are completely different, we think morality based on well-being as you and Sam Harris would advocate necessarily leads to veganism. In this letter we would like to present our case as to why one should not consume animal products.

There are four main motives for veganism; ethics, the environment, the world food problem and health. In this letter we will touch mainly on the ethics and health, as the first is most compelling to us and the latter is a ground upon which many rebuttals to veganism are based. The other two aspects can be summarized quite briefly. Firstly, 51% of GHG emissions come from the meat and dairy industries[1], suggesting that skipping on meat and dairy might be the single most effective method of reducing your GHG footprint. Secondly, the use of animals for producing food is very ineffective; for the same amount of food much more water is used and many grains and soy beans are fed to animals rather than to people. To illustrate, 47% of soy and 60% of corn are used to feed animals[2] and more than 6 tons of rice could be produced for the water cost of one ton of beef[3].

The only source of what your opinion is on this matter and your reasons for refuting the claim that to consume and use animal products is unethical we could find is an episode of the Atheist Experience of quite a while ago (#583). Whilst we understand that your opinions may very well have changed, this is the only thing we have, thus we shall provide some rebuttals to the arguments you presented back then. We will start with the ethical argument.

The ethical argument for veganism is very simple; morality is based on the well-being of sentient beings, animals are sentient, their well-being is compromised by our use of them, therefore that use is unethical. Somewhere ate the end of your conversation with the vegan that called in you said "The people who claim that I have an ethical burden to not eat meat have a case to make." If your neighbor would torture a man, causing great suffering for said man, you would probably deem that action immoral until he presents his case. We view this issue the same way; the practice of consuming animal products causes suffering, therefore it is immoral until a good reason to do so is presented. The result is the default position of veganism.

A quick side-note; we are completely fine with the consumption of lab-produced meat, provided that no sentient beings suffer for more indirect reasons. We would still dis-recommend it, however, as meat has negative effects on health.

The main argument against veganism that you and Tracy presented appeared to be that it is natural for humans to consume meat; our close relatives do it and we evolved to do so. This is simply an appeal to nature fallacy; rape and cannibalism are perfectly natural, that does not justify the actions. Humans have a very high level of intelligence, allowing us to move away from our primal instinct and instead rationally evaluate the moral implication of an action. The argument that we evolved to eat meat, therefore it must be healthy is also fallacious. As Richard Dawkins touched on somewhere towards the end of The Selfish Gene, diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have no impact on evolution as long as they tend to occur after reproduction. So it happens that these diseases are not covered by evolution and the consumption of meat remains positive for our evolution. However, as our lifespan increases so does the occurrence of diet-related diseases, and to abstain from meat and dairy turns out not to be healthy. We certainly did not evolve to consume dairy either as demonstrated by the fact that over 90% of the population of Africa is lactose-intolerant[4]. The only natural consumption of dairy is mother's milk, after that the body stops producing the hormones that allow for lactose consumption.

Although you agree (at least, you did a couple of years ago) that the methods of obtaining meat, dairy and eggs are unethical you seem to be of the opinion that this does not make the act of consuming animal products inherently unethical. Although this might be true, the reality is that this is how the products are obtained and by consuming the products you support those methods. Having someone do work for you is not inherently unethical, but if we're talking about forced labor without any reward that includes abuse (slavery) this act can be considered unethical. Whether or not the act is inherently unethical is irrelevant to the actual ethical implications of the act.

You also mentioned that if we give animals the right to not be slaughtered and used for what comes out of their private parts it could be logical that more rights follow. We assume you are talking about rights that an animal has absolutely no use for, like the right to vote or the right to own property. In contrast to the right not to be property and not to be used, animals have no interest in having these rights and having these rights would not improve their well-being. It would make absolutely no sense to extend these rights to them, and to suggest this is a necessary consequence would be a slippery slope fallacy.

Meat, dairy and egg consumption has long been proven to cause CVD, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer and several other ugly diseases. A B12 supplemented plant-based diet does not seem to have any negative effects that are resolved with an omnivorous diet. For more information you could look up the works of Neal Barnard, T Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish. When the caller brought up the health aspect you responded by saying that "Health benefits of eating meat far outweight health benefits of not eating meat", we are really curious as to which health benefits you were talking about. The only refutation to the health benefits of a plant-based diet was another appeal to nature. There is huge scientific consensus on the negative effects of animal products and the positive effects of plant foods, to deny all that would be awfully similar to rejecting climate change or evolution.

Even if a vegan diet would not be significantly healthier than an omnivorous diet, if we can live a healthy life without consuming animal products then the moral way to go is that still. The negative affects a vegan diet could theoretically have are minuscule compared to the immense amount of suffering caused by the animal industry. We can live a perfectly healthy life without consuming animal products. To do so causes a tremendous reduction of suffering, therefore it is the position we advocate.

We hope we have given you a good insight on the vegan position,

With kind regards,

The members of TheVeganAtheist Forum

[1] Mackenzie, P. (2009). Livestock and Climate Change. Worldwatch Institute.
[2] Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. (2006). Below-cost feed crops: An indirect subsidy for industrial animal factories.
[3] Hoekstra, A. (2002). Virtual Water Trade. Delft: UNESCO-IHE.
[4] A.C. Bulhões, H.A.S. Goldani, F.S. Oliveira, U.S. Matte, R.B. Mazzuca1 and T.R. Silveira (2007). "Correlation between lactose absorption and the C/T-13910 and G/A-22018 mutations of the lactase-phlorizin hydrolase (LCT) gene in adult-type hypolactasia". Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research 40 (11): 1441–1446.
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Post by Volenta » Wed Nov 26, 2014 3:58 pm

Here are the other points he made I think we need to address:
- He's supporting speciesism, which has absolutely no basis at all. It isn't a hard concept to grasp, so it should be easy to explain to him why it is that we should give equal consideration to the similar interests. And we can explain why it is that humans are generally having this bias.
- He's saying that because a shark can attack him with the intention to kill, it gives him also a permission to kill. It's amazing how weak this argument is. Putting aside the fact that he's most likely consuming cows (read: herbivores), it has absolutely no value in an ethical discussion. It's some kind of naturalistic fallacy, but actually it's even worse because he hasn't thought the implications through.

I'm not sure we want to touch on this one, but it might help:
- He says he's on board with changing the current industry and that the practices can be done humanely, yet he isn't putting effort in avoiding non-humane animal products.

Miniboes, I'll soon respond to your sketch. I already spotted some things that can be improved.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Wed Nov 26, 2014 4:28 pm

Good start. I would just focus on and expand on these points only for the time being, though:
When the caller brought up the health aspect you responded by saying that "Health benefits of eating meat far outweight health benefits of not eating meat", we are really curious as to which health benefits you were talking about. The only refutation to the health benefits of a plant-based diet was another appeal to nature. There is huge scientific consensus on the negative effects of animal products and the positive effects of plant foods, to deny all that would be awfully similar to rejecting climate change or evolution.

Meat, dairy and egg consumption has long been proven to cause CVD, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer and several other ugly diseases. A B12 supplemented plant-based diet does not seem to have any negative effects that are resolved with an omnivorous diet. For more information you could look up the works of Neal Barnard, T Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish.

The argument that we evolved to eat meat, therefore it must be healthy is also fallacious. As Richard Dawkins touched on somewhere towards the end of The Selfish Gene, diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have no impact on evolution as long as they tend to occur after reproduction. So it happens that these diseases are not covered by evolution and the consumption of meat remains positive for our evolution. However, as our lifespan increases so does the occurrence of diet-related diseases, and to abstain from meat and dairy turns out not to be healthy. We certainly did not evolve to consume dairy either as demonstrated by the fact that over 90% of the population of Africa is lactose-intolerant[4]. The only natural consumption of dairy is mother's milk, after that the body stops producing the hormones that allow for lactose consumption.
Mentioning other stuff at the end could be useful (kind of a footnote, for further reading), but the bulk of the argument should be critical of that main fallacy Matt made, and not a general position paper (because he has probably heard those arguments before). In order to maximize the likelihood of him reading, understanding, and replying, it needs to be focused and very relevant to the things he said and believes in.

E.g. if he is critical of creationists for misusing science in ignorance to try to 'disprove' evolution, a charge of hypocricy on that count will get his attention. It just needs to be made nicely somehow, if possible. ;)

The biggest challenge is not making a good argument, but in getting that argument to resonate, and drawing attention to it so it can't be ignored. A merely good argument can be easily ignored, and yes, even Matt will do so as he clearly has done in the past.
The art of debate and persuasion is unfortunately more about psychology than facts. We have the facts, but that alone isn't enough (or Matt would already be vegan, he is not simply ignorant on the topic, but willfully ignorant and engaged in delusions thanks to his cognitive dissonance).

We also need to head off his most likely counter argument, which is the third world one which he partly addressed himself in that video, but will probably try to bring up to defend his claims. If we don't do that, he will brush the argument off and assume that his counter-argument addresses it.

That is, the claim he will make that meat is healthier than starving, but he isn't in the third world, and what is moral for him to do, if he is using the health excuse, is what is healthy for him to do in HIS environment, which can only be evaluated from the privileged first world position he occupies.

If the environment requires it, humans even eat each other, and it's both healthy and ethically permissible compared to starving where self-preservation is at issue. Take the realities of your actual environment out of the question, and substitute in any conceivable environment, and anything is morally permissible.

We should also probably bring up that vegans generally accept legitimate health reasons for using animal products (medications, etc.) that are accepted by science as necessary and useful to promoting or preserving health. And that freeganism is widely considered morally equivalent when practiced legitimately. The fact of exceptions doesn't invalidate the main point, and grey areas don't contaminate the entire issue, where the vast majority of meat consumption is black and white.

What we're dealing with, as to whether it is a grey area or a black and white one, is a question of whether eating animals is a win-lose scenario, in which case there could be some rational argument made on utilitarian grounds, or a lose-lose scenario, in which case there is no rational argument to be made.

His health argument is asserting a win-lose scenario, and he justifies his choices as having a personal health benefit to him -- but he does so against scientific consensus. And that's where the issue of hypocrisy comes in, because he supports scientific consensus only when it is convenient for him.

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Wed Nov 26, 2014 4:47 pm

Volenta wrote:Here are the other points he made I think we need to address:
- He's supporting speciesism, which has absolutely no basis at all. It isn't a hard concept to grasp, so it should be easy to explain to him why it is that we should give equal consideration to the similar interests. And we can explain why it is that humans are generally having this bias.
- He's saying that because a shark can attack him with the intention to kill, it gives him also a permission to kill. It's amazing how weak this argument is. Putting aside the fact that he's most likely consuming cows (read: herbivores), it has absolutely no value in an ethical discussion. It's some kind of naturalistic fallacy, but actually it's even worse because he hasn't thought the implications through.
I would only mention those briefly at the end, after the main argument. He's probably heard about speciesism before, so I'd keep that one really simple, and link it to his appeal to nature fallacy.

As to the shark one, it's probably most useful to make an analogy.

Saying it's OK for him to eat meat because he wouldn't judge a shark for eating him is just a poor attempt to deflect the idea that he's a hypocrite, but it doesn't address the morality of the situation at all. At best, that's like a rapist saying it's OK to rape other people because he wouldn't judge somebody for raping him. This is some weird relativistic Kantian nonsense. A thing does not become moral for you to do based on your claimed lack of judgement against others for doing it to you. It is at best a weak defense against a certain kind of hypocrisy, but it is not a moral justification. And it's a weak defense against hypocrisy, because:
1. It's not the same situation. A shark has neither has a sense of rational moral judgement, nor a choice in the matter. It would be the same kind of situation if he said he wouldn't judge another person for killing and eating him -- a person with a sense of conscience, and the choice and ability to not kill and eat him without suffering any great loss of well being. If you want to assume some irrational speciesism (arbitrarily requiring the eaten and eater to be across a species barrier for no good reason), then you'd have to make it an extraterrestrial being of some kind. And yet, I seem to remember Matt thinking YHWH's demands for human sacrifices were morally questionable.
2. It's a lie. He doesn't consider other people reasonable or ethical when they behave by those standards. Shouldn't he be on board with Muslims' rights to kill apostates, because they themselves wouldn't mind being killed for leaving Islam?
It's not "do unto others precisely the same things you'd want done to you regardless of context"; it's "Do unto others what you would want done unto you if you were in their shoes -- that is, how they want to be done by.'
In order to avoid hypocrisy on that point, he can't just not judge the shark, he can't judge ANYBODY who does to others any specific action they claim they wouldn't mind done to them; something that makes judging the evil actions of fundamentalists as the evil they are impossible, because they all consider them just and want to be held to the same standards themselves.

Looking at it, addressing the shark thing at more length is probably a good idea. Because that's a defense he may think is somehow valid.
Good catch Volenta!

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Post by Volenta » Wed Nov 26, 2014 5:22 pm

brimstoneSalad wrote:I would only mention those briefly at the end, after the main argument. He's probably heard about speciesism before, so I'd keep that one really simple, and link it to his appeal to nature fallacy.
I actually think this one is important. Without rebutting this one, everything goes. Maybe he heard of speciesism, but he doesn't understand it, otherwise he surely would agree (he might be confused like Sam Harris also is). It clearly shows that he doesn't understand it because of his point about extending human rights to non-human animals. He thinks it doesn't make sense, and that's probably because he's thinking about rights like the right to vote. From that it follows that he doesn't understand how rights should be ascribed (should also be noted that rights isn't really a thing in consequentialist ethics). So I think there need to be some clarification on what it actually is.

In the case of suffering, you can make a really good case about why it's so important to try to avoid it. Most people don't know that pain is mainly processed in ancient brain structures and not in the neocortex (which is big in humans), and thus the interest of avoiding pain should be taken (approximately) just as serious as to avoid pain in humans.

Carefully drawing the analogy with severely mentally disabled people could also help to make speciesism more clear.

Why do you think it's an appeal to natural fallacy by the way?
brimstoneSalad wrote:Looking at it, addressing the shark thing at more length is probably a good idea. Because that's a defense he may think is somehow valid.
Not only that, but I also got the impression that this is his main defense for continuing to eat animals. I don't think he's a meat eater because he thinks it's healthy to do so. That's more of a side note.

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