My dad did it again. He lured me into his bizzaro world of politics. This time it was his conviction that President Obama isn't a natural born citizen. I'd already looked into this one because, unlike him, if this were true or had some basis in fact I'd actually like to know it. The link in the title is to a Salon article that addresses the claims of the birthers. The refutation is pretty simple since none of their claims have any evidence to support them.
So, why do my father and uncle and a pretty significant percentage of the U.S. population belief such stuff? The only conclusion I can come to is that they want to believe it. From there it is pretty easy to convince them using false premises, circular logic, strawman arguments, and other logical fallacies and outright fabrications.
Trying to use reason with these people is much like trying to rationally discuss religion with the converted. They have already reached their conclusions and even when confronted with contradicting facts they filter them and twist them through the lense of their world view and are able to dismiss them.
Take for example their assertion that Obama doesn't have a birth certificate. This falls under the category of a straw man argument. While it is true, it doesn't matter because he has a certificate of live birth. Twist it and turn it however you want the existence of a birth certificate doesn't matter because in the state of Hawaii a certificate of live birth is all that is required to prove birth in Hawaii. You can also claim that his was a forgery or was originally falsified in some way, but without proof you're still out of luck because the officials in Hawaii have repeatedly stated that he has a valid certificate. You'd think that would be the end of it, but it is completely unpersuasive to people like my father.
He brought up the "fact" that Obama had traveled to Pakistan on an Indonesian passport when he was 20. The implication here (which proves to be false) is that if he had an Indonesian passport then he must have previously renounced his U.S. citizenship. I've heard this claim so much that I figured that there must be some basis in fact but I should have known better. This little tidbit is an inference based on a false premise. The false premise is that U.S. citizens weren't allowed to travel to Pakistan at that time. Therefore, he must have traveled there using a passport from another nation such as the U.K. or Indonesia. This becomes "proof" and a "fact" to the birthers despite the fact that U.S. citizens were freely traveling to Pakistan at the time and the actual fact that there was no such travel restriction.
Part of the problem here is that people trust the sources of such things and figure that if they say it then they've checked the fact. They trust the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world to tell them the truth.
How many times do you have to show that wack jobs like the birthers are idiots that are so desperate to prove an extremely unlikely point before you just dismiss having further discussions with them? Unfortunately, I still have to interact with my father and I'm intellectually honest so I continue to research some of his more precious beliefs on the off chance that he may have come across something. I just wish he was capable of doing the same.
One point I'd like to make is that it's not just religion and Mormonism that inspires irrational belief in the extraordinary. Politics is also fertile ground for self deception. Despite the temptation to demonize the religious it is important to realize that the enemy is irrationality, fanaticism, and close mindedness no matter where it is found.