An article of faith
“I’m full of treasure for everyone!”
This quote, taken from Stefan Molyneux’s Podcast FDR 1019 (formerly FDR Premium 79) We Are Full of Treasure, is more descriptive of Molyneux than he knows.
But you’ll be surprised to find out why.
We’ll come back to that.
But first, let’s start with a few words about science and FDR. Clearly, science is one of the pillars of Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio.
The word is used to elevate the FDR “community” among the common horde. Members are encouraged to think of FDR as the home for rational thought, a place where logic overrides mythology, where truth—no matter how painful—is the Holy Chalice.
In Molyneux’s book Universally Preferable Behavior, a Rational Proof of Secular Ethics, the words “scientific method” are repeated nearly 40 times.
Even in his treatise on love and relationships, Real-Time Relationships (The Logic of Love), Molyneux has this to say about his approach to love, truth, philosophy, logic, psychology, etc:
A scientific theory is not “proven” because its author says so, but rather relative to the objective standard of the scientific method, which is to say relative to empirical reality. A compass measures “North,” not just me yelling the word “North!”
Science. It’s all science and logic. Those the FDR foundations.
And as far as I can tell, there’s only one tiny problem with all of that.
There are few better examples of a life led by faith and mythology than that of Stefan Molyneux. His works and theories, closely examined, reveal themselves to be dreadful examples of science. Tragically, the works that strive to pull the cloak of science over themselves most vigorously—those related to the science of psychology—are also the ones that have apparently done the most personal damage to Molyneux’s followers.
It can be easily shown, in my opinion, that the vast collection of podcasts, books, essays, and personal “convos” with Stefan Molyneux are in fact little more than a very eloquent man shouting the word “North!” while imagining he is holding a compass.
But before we focus specifically on psychology, let’s take a look at what another Molyneux observer has noted. In this video—Universally Preferable Behavior is not Science—by XOmniverse, the reason why UPB is of little interest to those who are educated in ethical theories is explained.
It should come as no surprise that it’s a problem with science.
Despite the continual emphasis on the scientific method within UPB, there’s a fundamental problem as XOmniverse points out:
1:11—Science, particularly the scientific method, is grounded in empirical observation and being able to make predictions, because the idea is you hypothesize something and then test it in objective reality. You test it empirically and see if the results are what you predicted. You cannot do that with a moral theory because you can’t predict whether you ought to do something. I’m not saying you can’t make that jump rationally but you can’t make it with the scientific method.
The Argument from Eloquence
The faith-based relationship between Molyneux and his True Believers appears to be based on their acceptance of what I’ll call the Argument from Eloquence.
In my ongoing series Is Freedomain Radio a Destructive Cult?, I took an in-depth look at Molyneux’s creation of his Web persona as a professorial voice of authority (Part 2: The three persuasions of Stefan Molyneux). The evidence seems to confirm overwhelmingly that while Molyneux’s followers view him as an unimpeachable authority on relationships, psychology, parenting, philosophy, ethics, religion, politics, and more, he has virtually neither training nor any practical background—university or otherwise—in these areas.
He just sounds like he does. Hence, the Argument from Eloquence.
Perhaps, in his mind, that is all that is necessary.
You see, there hasn’t been a time when Molyneux hasn’t just known the truth, experimentation and science be damned. You may be aware of the Master’s Degree that Molyneux proudly boasts about in his bio. In the following passage from one of his early essays, he reveals the truth about how he “earned” it:
I know that I am intelligent, logical, creative, and a good writer—a combination which is not as common as it should be. Yet as I laboured through my undergraduate degree and graduate studies, I was ignored in a manner that was chilling at the time, but in hindsight was entirely logical. It took me months to find a thesis adviser, who then gave me an ‘A’ without reading my thesis, mostly to stop me from pestering him. I would argue for particular positions in class, and over and over receive a shrug and ‘well, that’s just your opinion.’ I was aghast at the idea that modern academics was all opinion, but of course I shouldn’t have been.
If you were surprised to learn how Molyneux actually earned his degree, you may have overlooked the next sentence about Molyneux’s general behavior in class. I can only imagine what it must have been like, the young grad student arguing “over and over” for his lofty ideas, apparently with so little scholarly support that his professors dismissed him at first and finally began avoiding him altogether.
That image is germane to this article, which is about a man with a life-long habit of espousing the virtues of science and logic, except when it comes to examining his own lofty ideas.
Molyneux was frustrated in college because he came to believe (incorrectly) that “modern academics was all opinion.” But there is more to it than that. Molyneux produced no scientifically based refutations of those opinions. His scholarship and logic were apparently insufficient. He simply had other opinions and was disappointed that his professors didn’t like his opinions better.
Molyneux offers some insight into his scientific approach during college in this passage from
podcast #1039, “Intellectual Entrapment”:
31:23—What’s going to happen is, that when you start to submit papers, nobody’s going to accept the implicit premises in your argument—they’re going to ask you to spell them out. All right, so you’re not going to be given any free passes in terms of your assumptions. This is a mean and effective way of keeping anybody out of academics whose ideas you don’t like…is you just have to say, ‘well—I mean you say the government is necessary in this area because of the problem of the commons, but I don’t think you’ve established that beyond a shadow of a doubt?’
Right, and, of course if they like you, they’ll let that go and say ‘well, of course, that’s accepted by everyone.’ But if they don’t like you, they’ll say ‘well, you haven’t made that case.’ Right? And then when you try to make that case they’ll say ‘Oh, well, that’s a whole different article and this is too long and you haven’t made that case.’ So, you’re stuff will get bounced, right? Your stuff will get rejected.
Let’s examine at this passage closely.
In almost any academic environment, including the one Molyneux is describing, any number of current prevailing theories tend to dominate. Those theories achieved that status because the underlying premises have been rigorously vetted over time. The theories may oppose each other (contrary to Molyneux’s claim that all academicians are “toadies” who believe the same things). They may not be proven. They may one day be proven to be false. The important thing is that, right now, the arguments behind them—the premises themselves—are well understood. They do not need to be re-argued unless you have found a novel way to refute them or take them in an entirely new direction.
If you’ve been there, you understand it. For example, I’m familiar with several prevailing ideas within academia about what Shakespeare was “getting at” with Hamlet. They don’t all agree, but the scholarship behind each of them is strong enough to make them credible and therefore worthy of study. Outside that circle of prevailing theories lie some interesting, “creative” theories that could upset an apple cart or two, but don’t have quite enough scholarship behind them (yet) to make them serious contenders. And they really require that evidentiary support because they do threaten to blow up some conventional wisdom. And just beyond those ideas are some really fun fringe concepts that are amusing to toy with because they stretch your thinking and imagination. In truth, they are more a product of inspiration than scholarship and for now don’t have enough scholarly strength behind them to go anywhere.
In other words, academia is just like professional wrestling. There’s already a big guy or two in the ring and if your idea is planning to get in there with them, you’re going to have to bring it.
The truth is in here
But—based on his own words—you can see that Molyneux didn’t want to bring it, not in a scientific, reason-and-evidence sense. He already knew the truth. So instead, he tried to use the power of his eloquence to argue down his instructors “over and over” in class, to write and submit papers with premises he didn’t want to defend.
And in the end, when he was consistently rejected, he came up with the only explanation that made sense to him. Not that he wasn’t a careful scholar or that he needed a little more scientific rigor in his research.
No, the explanation Molyneux came up with made far more sense to him:
They didn’t like him.
In the same manner of “splitting,” which seems to define so much of Molyneux’s thinking, it was easier for Molyneux to believe that all of his professors and advisers were cronies in an academic environment that was all bad, believing theories that were all misguided. He perceived their annoying insistence on a discernible flow of logic to be their way of keeping him out of the system. Finally, they gave him an A on his Master’s Thesis just to get rid of him. Then, according to Molyneux, they dismissed him from further graduate study altogether.
Clearly, what dogged Molyneux from the beginning of his academic career to its premature end was his inability to support his grandiose ideas with acceptable premises, an inability he tried to cover up with eloquence.
To this day, Molyneux has refused to accept that inability and blames the establishment for his shortcomings. Today, Molyneux has replaced colleagues and peer review with a choir of people willing to believe him without question. This has only served to exacerbate the problem. The theories have grown more grandiose; the premises have become more illogical.
Where do we go next?
During this post, we took a brief detour from science to logic. The point is to demonstrate that—however Molyneux gets to his conclusions—he acts first and foremost on his faith in his own grasp of “the truth.” As XOmniverse points out, nothing in UPB has been or could be applied to the scientific method, no matter how many times Molyneux uses the phrase.
I’m going to stay on this tangent in Part 2 of this series, illustrating some of the issues I raised in this post by demonstrating the complete absence of logic in a more recent popular essay by Molyneux.
I’ll finish this series in Part 3 with a look at Molyneux’s destructive venture into a true science, psychology (and I’ll reveal the cryptic true meaning behind Molyneux’s “treasure for everyone!” quote).
By the end, the only possible conclusion will be that despite its claims to the contrary, Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio is a faith-based organization.
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