“You’re Wrong, Fatty!”

In Conservapedia on November 8, 2011 at 11:42 pm

One of the first things I noticed when I first started surfing Conservapedia was an incredibly obvious reliance on ad hominem attacks. Honestly, it’s slightly disturbing that on a supposedly educational site, the article on “Atheism and Obesity” is much longer and far more in depth than the articles on the triangular trade and African slave trade (which are extremely disturbing in and of themselves, but I’ll save that for another time). As it turns out, obesity is something which is apparently very well documented with regard to anything conservative Christians don’t like (see: Homosexuality and Obesity, Lesbianism and Obesity, Evolutionists who have had problems with being overweight and/or obese).

Ignoring the fact that this is, of course, little more than an ad hominem attack, it also relies almost entirely on data from the U.S., and ignores a basic rule of statistics: correlation does not equal causation. What’s more, some of the claims aren’t supported by data, or the contributors use data from studies not actually related to obesity (such as a Gallup poll which states that the nonreligious are 85% more likely to be smokers; note the Gallup poll had nothing to do with obesity whatsoever) and much of what they present as “evidence” of the obesity problems in these groups are a series of pictures which show overweight atheists or homosexuals or “evolutionists”. There is an obvious flaw to this method. Allow me to demonstrate:

Rush Limbaugh

Chris Christie

The above pictures show conservatives who appear to be overweight. Therefore, conservatism leads to obesity.

Likewise, I can do this for atheists:

Sam Harris

Atheist Youtuber ZOMGItsCriss

Terry Pratchett

Judging by these pictures, all atheists are fit, and 50% of male atheists are bearded.

I can do this for homosexuals as well:

Neil Patrick Harris

Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi

Ian McKellen

Judging by these pictures, 100% of homosexuals are fit. And 25% of homosexuals are wizards.

By now I think you see the problem. But in case you don’t, I’ll go ahead and spell it out: making a generalized judgement on the physical characteristics of a particular demographic group that numbers in the millions (or over a billion, in the case of irreligion) based on a small number of selectively chosen photographs is quite possibly the worst argument a person can present. It’s about as reliable as saying all white people are gingers because you saw a picture of the Weasleys.

Now, this use of pictures might be permissible, and just viewed as giving examples of what an obese atheist/homosexual/whatever looks like, if the contributors had stats to back up their claims. However, the only time stats are used in the article on atheism and obesity, the studies refer to general “unhealthy behaviors”, with one of the examples of said unhealthy behaviors being smoking. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but lat time I checked, smoking cigarettes is not the definition of obesity. What’s more, the Conservapedia contributors only use stats from the United States. If they were to use stats from most European countries, they would find that the trend of “unhealthy” atheists does not hold true. Take Sweden, for instance. Sweden is one of the least religious countries in the world, with only 17 percent of its people considering religion to be an important part of their lives (US News & World Report). Now, if the hypothesis posed by Conservapedia is correct, and less religion does lead to a greater degree of obesity, we would expect Sweden’s obesity rate to be extremely high. However, this is not the case; Sweden’s obesity rate is only 9 percent (Cycling Central), much lower than the obesity rate in the United States, which is 33.8 percent (Center for Disease Control). This is especially interesting when we consider the fact that the United States is one of the most religious (if not the most religious) nation in the industrialized world, with 83 percent of Americans claiming adherence to a religious denomination of some kind (Wikipedia). What is even more interesting is that, when we look at particular states, we find that the states which tend to be more religious and more conservative, such as Texas and Alabama (Wikipedia; Conservapedia) also tend to have the highest rates of obesity (Center for Disease Control). So yeah. When we bring actual statistics into this, Conservapedia’s claim that less religion leads to more obesity is demonstrably false.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the claim that atheists and homosexuals in the United States tend to be obese is true. Honestly, that wouldn’t surprise me. But it wouldn’t be because the atheists and homosexuals are more prone to gluttony and self-destruction, as Conservapedia’s contributors seem to believe. Rather, the answer is actually part of Conservapedia’s article on the subject, and they are either too stupid to connect the dots, or they are just being, well…deliberately ignorant. In the article, they correctly mention that “many people overeat in response to negative emotions such as depression, anger, anxiety and boredom” (Atheism and Obesity, paragraph 7). They also mention “that individuals who reject Christianity in Western cultures have lower self-esteem than the Christian population” (Atheism and Obesity), and while this is only partially true (people who reject Christianity in the United States tend to have lower self-esteem; again, the trend does not hold up in Europe), it does give us an important link, which Conservapedia contributors conveniently ignore. People sometimes overeat in response to depression. Atheists and homosexuals in the United States tend to suffer from higher levels of depression than other demographic groups do. Therefore, atheism and homosexuality make people fat!

Wait, no. That doesn’t make sense.

First, you’re forgetting a very basic rule of statistics: correlation does not equal causation. However, this seems like a bit of a cop-out, doesn’t it? Why don’t I provide a better explanation for why rates of obesity, depression, and suicide are higher among American populations of atheists and homosexuals, relative to other demographic groups?

Well, hypothetical commentator, if you’ll be quiet for a moment, I’ll get to that.

The reason American atheists and homosexuals may have higher rates of obesity is that they are also suffering from higher rates of depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety which is brought on by the fact that they are a homosexual, or atheist, or both, living in the cultural environment of the United States of America.

Why would this make atheists and homosexuals depressed? Well, if you didn’t know already, some people in the United States are assholes who like to say demeaning and dehumanizing things about both groups, and you don’t need to be a psychologist to recognize that when a person is treated as though they are less than human, they are at much higher risk for depression. I can tell you from experience, being irreligious in an area which is extremely religious (Texas) can be tough. I went out of my way to hide my personal beliefs (or lack thereof) from others all the way into high school, at times even going so far as to tell people that I was a Christian to avoid confrontation and poor treatment from those around me. Since coming out openly, I have had a number of “good Christians” harass me about my beliefs, and, on one occasion, threaten me with physical violence. Of course, I’ve managed to reach the point that I don’t really care about the opinions of a few hateful people, and my family has been accepting of it, so I can’t say I’ve had any real struggles with depression over this issue. However, people who are raised in a more religious setting (the recent Damon Fowler incident being a good example) can have a much more difficult time coming out, as their community will openly treat them like shit. Even parents and entire families have been known to cut ties completely with relatives who come out as either homosexual or irreligious. This type of behavior is extremely common in the United States, especially in the Bible Belt. And if you don’t see how this is a perfect recipe for depression and other psychological disorders (which, in turn, can lead to obesity), you really need to get your head checked.

Conservapedia’s use of obesity as an argument against homosexuality and atheism is baseless. There is no reason to believe that obesity is caused by being a part of either demographic group, and it essentially amounts to little more than an ad hominem attack on groups whose behavior and beliefs are not to the liking of Conservapedia’s contributors. Hopefully I have made that abundantly clear.

  1. I find it hilarious to see such claims made by religious sites and an insult to human intelligence that they expect people to believe such absurd ideas. Stats can be used to prove anything. For example, it’s common knowledge that a high salt intake is linked to hypertension but there have been studies which show no such link too, Now, obviously there was either some fault in the methodology on the study or their sample base or their calculations, but I could, in theory, pick up some such study and claim that salt and hypertension have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. You could possibly link any two things in the world like this!

    • Agreed. That’s what makes things like this funny, but at the same time, incredibly sad. Especially when you think about the fact that people actually believe this crap, despite all the faulty reasoning…

  2. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

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