Don't Be a Dick, Part 2: links

By Phil Plait | August 18, 2010 7:00 am

[Note: please first watch the video of my TAM 8 talk. This’ll make more sense that way.]

After my "Don’t Be a Dick" talk at TAM 8 — and even during it, thanks to Twitter — people were talking about it. I found a lot of the people were grossly misinterpreting what I was saying, and that was coming from people who weren’t actually at the talk, but felt they could still render an opinion on it. Most of that elicited a wry chuckle from me.

But there have been strong opinions on both sides, agreeing and disagreeing with me. And sometimes both of course; issues like this rarely are so cut and dried. I thought it might help to put all the posts I found in a list so you can check them out yourselves. I’ll note: I disagree in large part with the ones who disagree with me — even some I respect. That’s not too surprising, of course. Some make legitimate points here and there, but overall I still think my message is best in general when dealing with a believer. I’ve made brief notes after some of them if I think it’s necessary.

Those Who Agree:

Ooblick
Atlanta Skeptics
Woo Fighters
Thoughts from Kansas
Geo-geek
Preliator pro Causa
Everyday Atheist
YouTube video with a Winnipeg skeptic
Billtannica
Geo-geek again
Bad Engineering
Atheist Ethicist
Rather Friendly Skeptic
Dang Blog
Almost Diamonds (again)
Music, Medicine and the Mind
– My friend Daniel Loxton’s Skepticblog post — highly recommended!
– I want to make a special note of what Barbara Drescher said at ICBS Everywhere:

I spoke to several people who admitted to fleeting thoughts that they had prompted this speech somehow and I could not help feeling this way myself. That is testimony to the timeliness of it.

This captures something important: a lot of folks saw themselves in my talk. I made it general, not referring to any particular incident (except the ongoing New Atheist vs. Accommodation argument), so perhaps like pareidolia people saw a pattern in it they recognized. I am fascinated that people who disagreed with me read far more into what I said than was there (for example, many thought I was throwing major skeptics under the bus, which I emphatically and categorically did not do).


Those Who Disagree:

Ashley F Miller
This Hollow Earth: I’ll note that the basis of this article — that I was attacking PZ specifically — is incorrect. I don’t think my talk was vague, either. I was saying pretty much what I meant: don’t be a dick (which the author agrees with). Keep your goal in mind, and try to be as polite as you can about it. I had literally hundreds of people come up to me after the talk and thank me for broaching the subject and saying what I did, so as far as I can tell, the majority of people at TAM understood just what I meant.

Almost Diamonds
Angry Atheist Geek
Atheist Climber
Nerdista
Uncredible Hallq
Atheist Experience: The author of this one says I don’t give specific examples, and therefore because he hasn’t seen the insults they don’t exist… and then accuses me of a strawman argument! I find that funny; finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy. The author also says I set up a false dichotomy and call people who don’t agree with me dicks… all without the benefit of having heard my talk. I talk specifically about people who are insulting and demeaning, and talk at length about passion and not backing down. Yet he seems to think I am calling for everyone to not be passionate. I’m not. I’m calling for them not to be dicks. As far as appealing to emotion… hello! It’s an emotional issue. That’s the point. Note that my appeal to emotion was logical because it sets up my premise that being a dick doesn’t help. Again, I don’t tell people to simply back down from a fight. I just don’t think we need to insult our opponent.


Those Who Are Neutral:

Natural Biologist (not neutral, but both agrees and disagrees)
Friendly Atheist
Dilution of Fact


I urge you to read what these other folks have said. You may disagree with me, or them, or you might agree, but either way, I’m glad a conversation has started. Also, if there are more links, feel free to add them in the comments.

[Note: There is one more part of this saga coming up soon, about the talk’s aftermath.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Skepticism
MORE ABOUT: TAM8

Comments (234)

  1. I agreed with you months before you gave your talk.

  2. Eidolon

    If Ba finds it trivially easy to find specifcc examples, then perhaps he can relieve some of the accidental humor by citing some. Wry chuckle indeed. Makes BA sound like a smug ass. Had to actually BE there to understand. Horsecrap.

  3. Eidolon (#2): Tell me: how can people have been able to critically analyze what I was saying, as I was saying it, when they weren’t even there?

    But thanks for showing exactly why I had to make this speech.

  4. Eidolon

    Phil: Since you put forth a video of that speech, would that not serve as a fair sampling of your viewpoint? Wry chuckle indeed.

  5. BigBob

    > because he hasn’t seen the insults they don’t exist… and then accuses me
    > of a strawman argument!

    Yep, it’s laughable. So all those of us who’ve witnessed the ‘dick’ phenomenon, as I have many times, are deluded. Please.
    I actually think some of this dispute is a throwback to the early days of ‘debate’ on the net when winning the debate was more important than arriving at the truth. It became a serious hobby for some consuming many happy solitary hours. Some of us never grew out of it.

    BigBob

  6. I really like Alonzo Fyfe’s (Atheist Ethicist) take on it, which I think is perhaps a little more nuanced than simply “disagrees”.

  7. Listrade

    C’mon Phil, you posted the video and in huge credit links to different sides on the issue and you’ve said you wanted a debate or discussion, so let’s be reasonable about this and discuss. Or if it was only for those in attendance to comment then why bother making a series of posts about it?

    Eildon has a point that in all these issues about people being dicks we still don’t have the examples. From your first post, it’s unclear what exactly what being a dick is, we know you don’t include humour or the approach of Penn and Teller, but not exactly what consitutes dickish behaviour.

    You say that PZ isn’t targeted by your speech, but you don’t tell us who or what is. Just stand up and tell us the cases of dickery you’re talking about, these easy to find examples. As it stands it is vague and the likes of PZ are going to be included (largely because Mooney includes him in his attacks on New Atheism).

  8. Amy J

    Phil- Do you have the text of your speech online somewhere? Tends to be easier to digest that way. (Also easier to read while at work, rather than get caught on YouTube…) =) Thanks!

  9. Somite

    Please include the very well written and articulated EvolutionBlog:

    “Let me also suggest that it is never a good argument to complain about someone’s tone by saying something like, “You’re not going to convince anyone!” That is a lazy argument used exclusively by people more interested in seeming above it all than in actually engaging the issues. Incivility is a tool in the arsenal. It is very good for calling attention to an issue and to a point of view. If the incivility is backed up by a good argument it can be very powerful.”

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2010/08/its_never_really_about_civilit.php

  10. dave

    I find that funny; finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy.

    Then can you post some? Because I still don’t know what you’re talking about.

    You seem to be making the same mistake some managers make – talking generally about behavior that’s not appropriate without being specific about what behavior and who is doing it. The employees, or in this case skeptics, who you weren’t directing your speech to wonder if you’re talking about something they’re doing, while the ones who really were the target are confident you couldn’t be talking about them because they’re never wrong.

    So please, seriously, give us some examples.

  11. Jim Craig

    Phil, you were absolutely spot on with this talk and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I did a lecture on debating fundies for our atheist group and one of the first points I made was that the first person who shouts, swears or resorts to name calling has surrendered his position. A person can’t construct a logical argument if he fails to behave in a logical manner.

    For over twelve years, I have been teaching astronomy in the “Buckle of the Bible Belt” and if I had taken the low road of disparagement and invective every time I faced opposition, they’d have eaten me alive by now. My victories are small but numerous. I’m still a small island in a sea of willful ignorance but I’m gaining ground.

    Eidolon (#2), please listen to the whole talk and read Phil’s explanations before passing judgment on this talk. You’ll find that he was talking about people who weren’t there yet were passing judgment on the talk before it was publicly available. In that case, you actually DID need to be there. So before you point the finger and call someone a smug ass, look how many of your fingers are pointing back at you.

  12. Good try, Phil.

    Religion looks for evidence to back up preconceived answers; science looks for the answers that arise from questions. Skepticism and big-A Atheism have, in many ways, become religion, because anyone who questions their tactics or beliefs is labeled a heretic.

    I am a died-in-the wool-scientist (physicist by training) and small-a atheist. By nature, I am a skeptic, willing to question anyone who claims absolute knowledge of complex topics. But I refuse to support or identify with big-A “Atheism”, because it is rude, dogmatic, and counter-productive.

    “Atheists” have become what they claim to hate most — intractable, inflexible, and faith-based, refusing to even consider rational arguments against deeply-held beliefs. The reactions to James Randi’s skepticism of AGW and your own talk have only reinforced my distaste for professional “skepticism.”

    If you can’t ask reasonable questions, it isn’t science.

  13. Watoosh

    Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience did actually raise an important point, even if he did mischaracterize your speech a little bit, so I’ll press it further: where ARE these people who shout at others and call them idiots? And no, you don’t get to slink away by just saying “Oh, they’re out there, just go and have a look”! Give us real examples of prominent skeptics with lousy conversational skills. And even if there are such people out there(I’m sure there are), are they a multitude and are they the root of the problem, or are they in fact a small minority and are the obstacles with reaching out to non-skeptics more nuanced?

    Where exactly lies the line between dick and non-dick?

    Your overall point is extremely easy to agree with, but therein lies the problem: shouting and insulting is so obviously harmful that I don’t see the point in stressing it further. What I would have liked to see instead is more thoughts about what kinds of tactics skeptics should use in different situations, and whether some dickish moves have their place in the skeptic’s arsenal. People respond to different stimuli, and converting people is a long process more akin to planting seeds than fixing a machine. Some people have lived in a bubble for so long that they’ve never heard what science has to say about their pet beliefs, and a raw shock-‘n-awe treatment (being a dick), while perceived as hostile at first, may in fact kickstart a long journey of introspection and skeptical inquiry. There’s also a lot to be said about your audience: if you’re having a face to face conversation with an obtuse person who you really want to convert, then it’s best to tread carefully, but if you’re for example having a public debate with someone in front of an audience(many of whom might be fence-sitters), it’s best to cut out the pussyfooting and expose the flaws in the opponents reasoning without any hesitation or feigned respect. IMO in this case your choice of words can sometimes even be dickish (“For godsakes, it’s absolutely idiotic for A to assert that X when you have mountains of evidence that not-X!”) if your audience doesn’t sympathize with your opponent.

    That’s what I think Matt meant when he talked about you presenting a strawman. We all have our conversational shortcomings and frustrations and we lack patience every once in a while and it’s something to pay attention to, but if someone who calls herself a skeptic doesn’t already know how counterproductive shouting and ad hominems are, they’re obviously ignorant brain-damaged morons who should go get a f***ing education!

  14. dave

    Scott Robert Ladd Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Good try, Phil.

    Religion looks for evidence to back up preconceived answers; science looks for the answers that arise from questions. Skepticism and big-A Atheism have, in many ways, become religion, because anyone who questions their tactics or beliefs is labeled a heretic.

    I am a died-in-the wool-scientist (physicist by training) and small-a atheist. By nature, I am a skeptic, willing to question anyone who claims absolute knowledge of complex topics. But I refuse to support or identify with big-A “Atheism”, because it is rude, dogmatic, and counter-productive.

    Got any examples?

    The only singular example I can think of a “New” atheist being rude was PZ Myers’s desecration of the communion wafer. And while it was rude and calculated to be offensive, it was also very effective in showing how wacky and dangerous religious beliefs can be.

  15. dave

    8. Amy J Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Phil- Do you have the text of your speech online somewhere? Tends to be easier to digest that way. (Also easier to read while at work, rather than get caught on YouTube…) =) Thanks!

    Agreed. Also faster. I don’t have the patience to sit through a video; I’d much rather just read a transcript.

  16. Phil – You’re saying “don’t be a dick”, and like Watoosh says, that’s extremely easy to agree with. So easy, in fact, that people you would consider to be dicks are going to say, “I agree, people shouldn’t be dicks! Good thing I’m not one!” and go on dicking around town.

    So to speak.

  17. Jason

    It isn’t hard to find examples of this kind of behavior, especially online. I personally see it all the time just browsing around internet forums. Half the debates on skepticism and peoples beliefs turn into simple insult-throwing arguments very quickly. Many of the people who are trying to change the opinion of the so-called “believer” quickly abandon any real valid means of achieving that goal, and the snide, insulting comments start to come out. I’m not even sure if they realize what they are doing, but it sure comes across to me that they are completely ruining any change of winning that debate.

    Loved your talk Phil…wish I could have been there to see it in person.

  18. Bob

    “Being a dick, the last refuge of the passionless”

  19. Stephen

    Some good points Phil. I completely understand what happens when arguing with a believer, I just end up getting “stonewalled” by them due to frustation. The anecdote about the girl at the end does show another workable way to approch such an argument. Will try it out in future. Keep up the good work lad!

  20. Phil, I’d categorize my take (at Almost Diamonds) as both agree and disagree rather than as disagreement. There’s a follow-up post coming on some of the other responses as well that outlines better how I agree with you.

  21. DJ Mark M

    I’ve already said on twitter that this video really made me rethink my own approach. I too have been guilty of shouting at, denigrating & patronising those who have made claims that I know to be silly.
    I’ve been smug in my own knowledge of the science behind certain events and then consequently belittling the people who don’t have this knowledge and who make spurious claims.

    But Phil’s dead right. What did this achieve? Did it educate them or change their minds. Of course not! If my intention was to pass on my knowledge or change their perceptions then it was an utter failure.

    This talk has really opened my eyes to the way I’m approaching this with others. It will be difficult because it’s human nature to get angry, but that anger needs to be channelled into factual, rational (and sometimes even passionate) debate.

  22. Stephanie (20): I’d say your essay disagrees with my basic premise more than it agrees, though it does both. :) I didn’t want to make simple categories like “agree” and “disagree”, but also didn’t want to have a whole passel of categories either. That’s why I put the caveat in at the top of the post saying some articles do both.

    But please let me know when you write the followup. I’ll be happy to add it here.

  23. Cheyenne

    Good speech.

    Minor squabble- “Eidolon (#2): Tell me: how can people have been able to critically analyze what I was saying, as I was saying it, when they weren’t even there?”- Wait, what? You provide the video, ask people to watch it, then say that because they weren’t there they can’t “critically analyze” it?

  24. Erasmussimo

    I’d like to offer a different way of thinking about this problem (although I can’t be certain that somebody else hasn’t already offered this line of thinking). Instead of analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of various tactics, I’d like to take the very indirect approach of examining the motivations of the advocates. In particular, I’d like to make the uncomfortable observation that a heavy-handed approach to such disagreements can be motivated by anger or tribalism. This doesn’t mean that all users of the heavy-handed approach are motivated by anger or tribalism, but we can be certain that some users of the heavy-handed approach are motivated by anger or tribalism.

    Indeed, we can see plenty of examples of anger and tribalism in some of the arguments. The anger shows up in comments disparaging the education, intelligence, or integrity of those with whom they disagree. The tribalism shows up in references to persons or groups of persons rather than arguments themselves.

    One would hope that advocates of any position would desire to purge their arguments of any element that compromises the integrity of those arguments, and I think we can all agree that anger and tribalism are emotional reactions, not intellectual reactions. As such, they cannot in any fashion contribute to the quality of the discussion; they can serve only to diminish the rationalism of the argument and reduce it to an emotional destruction derby rather than a productive discussion.

    An argument sometimes offered against this line of thinking is that the advocates of religion are themselves motivated by emotional rather than rational considerations, and therefore the use of emotional tactics is justified. This kind of argument has been used many times before:

    “Communists don’t permit free speech in their countries, so they shouldn’t enjoy it here.”
    “Muslims can build a mosque here when they permit churches and synagogues in Arabia.”
    “The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia so we are justified in invading Vietnam.”
    “Terrorists use inhuman methods so we are justified in using inhuman methods on them.”
    “Doctors who perform abortions are murderers, so we are justified in murdering them.”

    As you can see, the invalidity of these arguments is obvious when you’re not an advocate in the controversy.

    I ask each proponent of heavy-handed tactics to seriously consider the degree to which their advocacy is founded upon anger or tribalism, and to prevent these shameful motivations from intruding into their thinking. Only a coldly rational approach is capable of accomplishing one’s objectives.

  25. I feel that this problem is somewhat constructed by the accomodation/dont be a dick camp, of course if its directed towards commenter #56 or whatever on some random blog calling a creationist a retard, then sure, but obviously that just wont make sense. It’s the internet and people will say whatever, and you cant really do anything either way. It may be general in theme as the BA says, but it has to criticize some of the more influencial, leading forces of no-nonsense skeptics like PZ.

    And lets take PZ’s methods as an example, (with the intent of illustrating the larger, general “problem”) PZ has a habit of quoting creationists etc with the infamous “kook mode” quote, complete with a Gumby backdrop. It may be a dickish move, and he usually follows up by calling the article/book or whatever inane, stupid or worse, which I suppose increases the dickyness. But lets consider a post like that on say Ray Comfort or whatever, it sure as hell wont change Ray Comforts mind, and here me and BA agree, but heres the crucial point: You will never change Rays mind, he’s made it up, and every day he probably thinks hes more right. But thats just it NOTHING will change his mind. EVER. never. hes a kook, and he probably always will be. Being polite wouldnt help either.

    The message, however, isnt for people like Comfort, they are for the thousands who are exposed to his garbage, and who are perpetually misinformed by him and his ilk, they are the targets. When people like Comfort,Hovind,Dembski and all these other loons talk about evolution and science, they simply dont know what they are talking about, and we can refer to people like PZ who do, who studies this stuff on a daily basis, and who do know what they are talking about. And this sort of outreach will ultimately help people who are exposed to creationist nonsense: Here is a trained biologist calling their nonsense nonsense. And like Phil says, No one statement will ever convert a hardcore creationist, but having people telling it like it is is not damaging the cause, and ultimately every debunking and every pair of rolling eyes are just drops in a endless torrent of misinforming garbage, but at least its out there, and people are persuaded gradually, by bits here and there, some polite, some not-so-polite.

    Well thats my 2 cents anyways.

  26. dave

    17. Jason Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 8:32 am

    It isn’t hard to find examples of this kind of behavior, especially online. I personally see it all the time just browsing around internet forums.

    I don’t think many people are convinced by much of anything on internet forums.

    Also, a “debate” only works when both sides are operating in good faith. Many believers are, but their leaders are not.

  27. Ken

    I dont think Phil is going to spill the beans on some of the details … my wild guess is that he’s going to write a new book about it.

    Perhaps he’s generating viral early interest in ‘Bad Dick’ or ‘Dicks from the Skies’ hehe

    … at least if Phil wrote such a book it’s obvious from this talk that it wouldnt be full of direct personal attacks of ‘the dicks’ purely for book selling controversy, and rampant self-destructing sock puppetry, the way Mooney’s book was.

    Oooops, I guess I’m a dick! :)

  28. dave

    24. Erasmussimo Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 8:47 am

    I’d like to offer a different way of thinking about this problem (although I can’t be certain that somebody else hasn’t already offered this line of thinking). Instead of analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of various tactics, I’d like to take the very indirect approach of examining the motivations of the advocates. In particular, I’d like to make the uncomfortable observation that a heavy-handed approach to such disagreements can be motivated by anger or tribalism. This doesn’t mean that all users of the heavy-handed approach are motivated by anger or tribalism, but we can be certain that some users of the heavy-handed approach are motivated by anger or tribalism.

    I agree with this, and I see it in myself sometimes. I was brought up in an environment where it was nearly universally accepted that everyone should strive to become as educated as possible and where people were expected to inform themselves. When I first encountered people who weren’t raised in an environment like that, and didn’t see why that was a problem, my initial reactions were shock, anger, pity, and contempt. I did, though, realize that it’s not their fault they were raised in an environment that didn’t value education and critical thinking.

    24. Erasmussimo Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 8:47 am

    One would hope that advocates of any position would desire to purge their arguments of any element that compromises the integrity of those arguments, and I think we can all agree that anger and tribalism are emotional reactions, not intellectual reactions. As such, they cannot in any fashion contribute to the quality of the discussion.

    That doesn’t follow at all. Emotional reactions can certainly contribute to the quality of discussions. I’m not a fan of tribalism, but anger is a very useful and important emotion that seems to be getting a bad rap lately.

  29. Benji

    The dicks are those who lose sense of perspective, forget that they’re just as fallible as everybody else, and think their little beliefs are untouchable, and most importantly, that people that think like them cannot be dicks. The first thing they wanna know is their interlocutor’s belief, so they can prepare to deny the speech before even to hear it. They’re not thinkers, they are warriors, and they follow guidelines.

    PZ is sometimes being a dick on his blog, though less in interviews. Far from the worst, though.
    Pat Condell is an utter dick, as a lot of people who “follow” him.
    Thunderfoot has been kind of a dick for a while.
    The people of Atheist Experience are often being dicks, though not always.
    Finally, all the people that are ready for lapidation whenever somebody questions global warming don’t help their cause, and if right, they’re still dicks.
    Etc.

    And I’ve been a dick in the manner of every of those in my short life : I know I was because it was utterly counterproductive.

  30. “The author of this one says I don’t give specific examples, and therefore because he hasn’t seen the insults they don’t exist”

    Actually, what I said was: “First of all, who is Phil talking about? This seems a bit quixotic and exaggerated to me. Where are these people who scream in your face on behalf of skepticism? Where are these people whose primary tactic is to yell at someone and call them a retard? Since Phil didn’t provide any examples to support the claim, we can only guess.”

    That isn’t an assertion that the problem doesn’t exist, it was a legitimate objection. I even specifically mentioned that I felt it was exaggerated – which clearly means I’m not saying that the insults don’t exist, I’m saying that I haven’t seen evidence to support your implication that this is a serious and escalating problem.

    You failed to provide examples, leaving us to guess. What I said was accurate…but instead of addressing it, you misrepresent it, so you can shrug it off committing yet another straw man right here.

    “… and then accuses me of a strawman argument!”

    Which, ironically, you’ve just done – again.

    “I find that funny; finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy.”

    Then please provide them. This is the same sort of reply we get from the woo-clan. They claim something is true (vitriol is on the rise) and when someone asks for specific examples, they misrepresent the comment, laugh at it and claim that the evidence is all around you (or similar).

    I’m legitimately trying to figure out the specifics of the problem here and find out why some people don’t see this.

    “The author also says I set up a false dichotomy and call people who don’t agree with me dicks… all without the benefit of having heard my talk.”

    I had read the transcript and now I’ve watched it.

    It is, in fact, a false dichotomy to present the options as “warrior” or “diplomat” to the exclusion of other options and combinations. That was my charge and it stands. Why not honestly address that charge instead of hand-waving about the fact that I hadn’t yet heard the talk. I quoted the transcript for this charge, it was accurate and my response stands…unanswered.

    And again, what I wrote was: “And maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t Phil basically calling those who disagree with him, “dicks”? Granted, he’s being very polite about it, but that seems to be what he’s doing.”

    I was pointing out the potential irony. Your entire point was to object to the unnecessary name-calling which makes it harder to sell something that is already difficult to sell. My reason for pointing this out was that it’s ironic that you couldn’t even do this in your own talk.

    “As far as appealing to emotion… hello! It’s an emotional issue. That’s the point. Note that my appeal to emotion was logical because it sets up my premise that being a dick doesn’t help.”

    No, sir. I was pointing out the fallacy of making an emotional appeal. It doesn’t become “logical” simply because it sets up your premise. Setting up (flawed) premises is the entire point for using emotional appeals and it’s the reason that it’s often noted as a fallacy – because it’s insufficient to the task, epistemologically, yet remains convincing because humans respond to emotional appeals.

    At least you provided a link so that people have the opportunity to read what I actually wrote.

    You and I actually agree on the bulk of this (which I noted in my response) and it’s distressing that your response to legitimate and accurate objections and questions is to misrepresent what I’ve said and scoff.

    The irony runs pretty thick on this one.

  31. Watoosh

    To Scott Robert Ladd:

    It seems you’re conflating dogmaticism with being assertive. People didn’t object to Randi’s AGW quip because he was being honestly inquisitive (I’m sure he was), but because he was wrong. Nothing in science is ever 100% settled, but if we give credence to anyone who questions the current paradigm without good grounds to do so, we’d get nowhere. The same goes with Phil’s speech: people didn’t question it because it shook their core beliefs, but because they saw flaws with it (real or imagined, not important here).

    The point of scientific progress is to present evidence to the contrary, not simply opening your mouth. The point of skepticism is to be confrontational and direct even among ourselves. The point of the big tent is not to respect our different opinions, but work together in spite of them and challenge ourselves.

    We’ve all heard this “those dogmatic and rude Atheists” trope thousands of times, and while you may think you’re being noble and meek, in reality you’re just being smug. You’re attacking an imaginary creature; if you actually mapped your beliefs and attitudes to science, you’d probably find yourself squarely in the same spot as those you criticize. I’m always open to new ideas but I won’t accept them unless there’s evidence for them, and if that makes me unbearably inflexible, then I’m proud to be inflexible. Enjoy your lonely high ground.

    http://xkcd.com/774/

  32. dave

    Phil, part of the problem (and this isn’t your fault) is that your talk came only a couple years after the Mooney-Kirshenbaum “civility” nonsense. Mooney is on record as saying Richard Dawkins is uncivil, which is patently ridiculous. I think your point would be better accepted if you were to distance yourself from the Mooney-Kirshenbaum definition of what it means to be a dick. It’s not your fault that they poisoned the well for you, but unfortunately you have to deal with it.

    Also, provide some examples so we know what behavior you’re talking about.

  33. Listrade

    @BicycleRepairMan,

    Good post. And this is part of the “trivially easy to find” examples that aren’t provided, naturally people think of the likes of PZ as the dicks referred to.

    People seriously seem to be making accusations of dickish behaviour based on the internet blogs and forums? I can honestly say we can discount the forums of any site anywhere ever as a judgement of society. It doesn’t pass the test. Each forum is full of the smug, the rude, the moderate, the bigots, the liberal, the conservative and yet I go the pub and it is just people having the craic. All discussing many of the same things, but in a totally different way. It just isn’t representative of how people are in direct company and we shouldn’t make that judgement. Sheesh, what next: What Would 4chan Do T-shirts?

    And Blogs? Well take PZ (or here for that matter) and what are the most “dickish” posts? They’re always reactions to statements, articles, posts, policies made in the public domain. They aren’t just random attacks, they are reactions to public declarations. In all cases, declarations that deserve the derision they got. And that goes for here and all the other sceptical sources, it’s not as if PZ is getting hold of Church pamphlets asking for donations to repair the roof and laying into all the dear old grannies.

    But we’re not told what is being a dick, we’re not told who is being a dick.

  34. I find it odd that so many are asking for specific examples of dickishness. I see it every day. Not only in atheist/religious debates, but almost every type of human interaction. Unfortunately, I saw a lot of myself in what Phil said. To me, it’s just a reminder to use reason.

    Thanks, Phil.

  35. Timmy

    I think the entire nature of debate is flawed. When we set ourselves up to “win” or “lose” an argument, then truth gets put in second place. I think a lot of you dicks just like to win and not actually teach anyone.

  36. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    For the purpose of a quick analysis I’m going to assume the argument and its strengths is summed up in part 1 post.

    being a dick not only usually doesn’t work

    As I noted there, in the context of religion especially, people mistake criticism of subject as criticism of person. To argue that criticism has to stop at any one point is therefore a slippery-slope argument, in the context.

    And it is born out by statistics on science and education that criticism of religion (say) is indeed effective when impassioned, without artificial limits on debate. Or minority movements like suffragettes and gays.

    the basis of the talk was due to the degradation in tone I’ve been seeing lately (and I’m not at all alone in seeing it),

    This is purely anecdotal. And for example the Mooney debacle (a fake dick event promoted as example of harm) shows how unreliable unsubstantiated handwaving is.

    In fact, while there is no data either way, the likewise unsubstantiated argument that this slippery-slope have easily (or at all) identifiable and practical limits was originally invented way before the unsubstantiated new discussion about current “tone” (see – slippery-slope!).

    It is therefore possible that someone has put the cart before the horse in this case. Maybe it is the lack of actual data, as exemplified by Mooney’s mistake, that moves them should that be the case.

    It doesn’t matter though, because we would need data on all of the above. And despite research in how to make debate et cetera it seems lacking.

    [IIRC there _was_ one paper that was interesting the last few weeks.

    Basically is showed from observation that a controversial subject was best made over by a strong argument by first making it no matter what, then describe who you are and why you take your position. Say, like New Atheism, which is foremost a message on an issue.

    It is when your argument is weak, that one should first tell position, then discuss. Say, like New Accommodationism, which is foremost a positional statement on an issue.

    I can’t find it now, though. Please handle info with care until I do.]

    We _do_ have data that says atheism, say, is trending to be more common and/or professed. Maybe the public like the current “tone”.

  37. dave

    33. Listrade Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 9:08 am

    People seriously seem to be making accusations of dickish behaviour based on the internet blogs and forums? I can honestly say we can discount the forums of any site anywhere ever as a judgement of society.

    Agreed 100%

  38. Matt W

    I can’t say anything better than #25, so here’s an anecdote or two:

    I watched the video yesterday and later on that night I noticed the bookmark my girlfriend had in her copy of The Subtle Knife, sequel to The Golden Compass. The bookmark said:

    The teacher said to the students, “Come to the edge.” They replied, “We might fall.”
    The teacher said again, “Come to the edge.” And they responded, “It’s too high.”
    “Come to the edge” the teacher demanded. And they came and the teacher pushed them, and they flew.

    One of the immediate thoughts I had after watching the video was, “What would Carl Sagan do?”

    When I remember the Cosmos TV series, I remember Sagan as the best teacher I never had. I remember the child-like excitement in his eyes and the joy that a scientist has in their heart when contemplating the Universe. He talked fairly about thorny issues. He talked about woo (including religion) and the people that believe in it but he never assaulted the viewer, he only asked that they come to the edge.

    We are in what’s labeled a culture war, maybe there have always been culture wars. I’ve used that term before but I think I should stop. Like Phil said, we aren’t fighting a war. At least, that’s not our goal as skeptics. I don’t want to put up a strawman but some of our opponents might have goals such as silencing us or even physically harming us. Our goals should not be theirs. We’re not trying to knock people down, we’re trying to get them to stand up on their own.

  39. Watoosh

    Timmy: “I think a lot of you dicks just like to win and not actually teach anyone.”

    “You dicks”? Has someone in this thread been a dick or are you speaking in general (in which case what’s with the 2nd person pronoun)?

    What you’re engaging in is precisely what BA did: presenting such a trivially true point of view yet with little to no grounds in reality that it’s practically a strawman. If there are people who act like this, then present some common lines of debating such that we can identify them as actually being prevalent in our personal engagements, or show us prominent people who are undoubtedly dicks. “You dicks” is simply unadulterated arrogance, especially with the added irony of you not making a complete case yet implicitly claiming higher ground.

  40. @Jim Craig:

    Eidolon (#2), please listen to the whole talk and read Phil’s explanations before passing judgment on this talk. You’ll find that he was talking about people who weren’t there yet were passing judgment on the talk before it was publicly available. In that case, you actually DID need to be there. So before you point the finger and call someone a smug ass, look how many of your fingers are pointing back at you.

    Well, let me tell you how it worked for me. I heard a lot of the blowback, including from people who had actually been there to hear it in person, but refrained from evaluating the talk itself. I did, however, evaluate the basic premise, including wondering what exactly Phil was referring to. I posted about the subject long before Phil’s talk.

    After viewing the talk in its entirety, I have to say it did absolutely nothing for answering the questions I had. Phil’s two examples were extreme and hardly typical of the forums I see, and I fully understand Dillahunty’s (Atheist Experience) straw man argument, and agree with it – Phil posited a scenario that hardly exists. The best information that came about was when Phil clarified what he didn’t mean in the last post, and a little in the comments. For a half-hour talk, it’s a shame he couldn’t include his definitions a bit better.

    The fact that he’s dodging specific examples now isn’t boding well – he’s learning from his pal Mooney. There are other indications that he’s falling into the accommodationist mindset.

    And at this point, you’ve now classified me as a Phil-hater. So I will delightfully tell you that I have been a supporter and avid reader of Phil’s blog for years, and usually agree with his standpoints. This one has left me quite cold, in that he’s starting to play games that we’ve been seeing from the other side.

    I’m fine with being civil, and think it’s good advice. I’m just wondering why he thinks its such a huge issue – skeptics on the whole tend to be much, much more civil than the people they routinely have to answer. I also have to wonder how much he’s conflating commenters on any particular blog post with active skeptics themselves (e.g., the originators of the posts, and ones that maintain their own blogs.) I hardly think it’s applicable to assign the qualities of fly-by-night, brief comments to advocates for critical thinking.

    I’m waiting to see if some of the people who may be involved are not actually advocates themselves – in other words, not actually trying to convince anybody. This is the web, people vent. People also have their own personalities, and I’m happy to say mine is not Phil’s, nor will it ever be.

    So yeah, I’m going to have issues with the talk. Overall message? Fine, really, but perhaps overreactive. Examples? Not forthcoming, which should be extremely easy to find given the premise that he had to actually create a talk about it in the first place. It’s also a great opportunity to demonstrate how to do it right, in the face of opposition – in this case, the other bloggers he’s targeting, and their followers.

  41. dave

    I’m just wondering why he thinks its such a huge issue – skeptics on the whole tend to be much, much more civil than the people they routinely have to answer

    That’s my biggest problem with the talk. It’s like declaring opposition to torturing kittens. Sure, we can all agree that we shouldn’t torture kittens, but unless there are people actually advocating the torture of kittens, why bring it up?

    Wait, I’m sorry, I meant “harsh interrogation” of kittens.

  42. Erasmussimo

    Dave #28 writes:

    “Emotional reactions can certainly contribute to the quality of discussions. I’m not a fan of tribalism, but anger is a very useful and important emotion that seems to be getting a bad rap lately.”

    There is truth in your statement; I’d like to specify that truth more precisely. I agree that anger can certainly motivate a person to strive harder and as such is very useful in many endeavors. But its value is strictly *internal* to its host; it’s external value is more questionable. It could be useful if it succeeds in intimidating its target. However, I have never seen anybody intimidated by argument on the Internet; usually such intimidation is accomplished by a sense of physical threat. Therefore, the ideal application of anger would be strictly internal: you can get angry at the idiots, but you don’t show any of that anger. Internally, you’re mad as hell; externally, you’re the voice of sweet reason.

    Let me expand on another point that has often been made: we’ll never convince our interlocutors. The value of Internet discussion is not to convince your opponent, nor should it be to gratify your anger; the value lies in convincing the lurkers. And the most effective means of convincing bystanders of the merits of your position is to radiate calm rationalism. You’re not there to fight; you’re there to explain. This effect is so powerful that you can convince bystanders even when you’re in the wrong! If you are calm, confident, and courteous, and your opponent is a raving dick, then most lurkers will gravitate towards your position.

    However, I do urge people to avoid the gladiatorial sites where advocates of both sides gather to pummel each other and cheer on their heroes. Those places are a waste of time and an abuse of electrons. Instead, prowl sites that might have some attraction for fence-sitters. That’s where you can make a difference.

  43. Watoosh

    To Benji:

    If PZ and the folks at the Atheist Experience are dicks, then that’s unfortunately a testament to the power of being a dick. These people get emails and calls regularly from people who say they’ve been instrumental in turning them into critical thinkers and atheists. The reason for this is that they have an audience, and the ignoramuses who call them or send email aren’t the ones they’re trying to convert. When Matt Dillahunty goes on a passionate, direct and even dickish rant with someone who just doesn’t get it, it often resonates with a theist listener who’s curious about religious issues and has never heard the common sense argument before. Hearing the creationist being ripped a new one can be effective because the listener isn’t the one being directly humiliated, and thus has a lesser incentive to be overly defensive.

    Like I wrote in an earlier comment, different people and different circumstances call for different measures, and being a dick (depending on the definition, of course) can be one of them.

  44. Your speech made clear and common sense. You emphasize a very similar context for cooperative and compassionate community that my book, Life After Faith, lifts out. We need to show that Science and wisdom are not separate but essential partners in seeking truth responsibly. Your approach is both enlightening and appreciated.

  45. Cameron

    “What do we want to accomplish?” was one of Phil’s main points, and his answer seems to be that we want to court people over to our side, using reasoned argument and civil debate. Great, I can’t disagree with that. There’s a place for the diplomats, and the diplomats are (mostly ) doing good work.

    But there’s a place for dicks too. I would like to live in a world where dyed-in-the-wool followers of Ray Comfort or Kent Hovind are going to be persuaded by reasoned debate, but that world doesn’t exist and never will. I’ll settle for a world where it’s *embarrassing* to be known as a follower of the nutjobs. People way out on the thin edge of fundamentalist lunacy *should* be embarrassed to hold the views they do, and to think the way they do. And that social environment isn’t being created by the atheist debaters who pretend to respect their opponents’ positions, it’s created by the dicks.

  46. JerryP

    You folks who are digging into Phil’s comments looking for specific examples of dickery are kind of missing the point, IMHO. I think Phil’s argument that civility and patience will win over the crowd in the long term are spot on. Let me frame this in an example so perhaps you can understand my perspective as a former Catholic who is now agnostic.

    You see, I don’t feel comfortable stating unequivocally that a higher guiding power doesn’t exist, and that opinion is based on what science has taught me. I’ve made the leap in understanding that religion is man-made and a method of controlling the masses, but I can’t let go of the possibility that there’s a higher purpose to our natural laws. My opinion is well thought out, is based on logic and what science has taught me to this point. But as we constantly learn new things, as research overturns old theories, it’s fair to say that perhaps we simply haven’t evolved enough for our tiny brains to perceive the truth of our existence. Should this exclude me from participating in science blogs? I personally agree that young-earth creationists are deluded, but rather than call them ignorant, it would be best to acknowledge that their faith guides their decisions and move on. As simple minded as those beliefs may be, you have to educate those people on their own level. Like Phil’s final anecdote in his speech, starting with a small thread of truth, a friendly nuance goes a long way towards acceptance.

    Now, hardcore Atheists would counter by arguing, almost surgically, that my logic is flawed, and give several opinions why. And I say ‘opinions’ because despite anyones’ convictions, nobody on either side can say that they know what the truth of our existance is for certain. However, the fact that I’m not swayed, and still have faith in things that I can’t explain, doesn’t make me ignorant, or unworthy of an opinion. Yet, in many of these anonymous online forums where opinions are all over the map, there’s a certain arrogance leveled at people like myself who aren’t full-on Atheists. You guys want to know what dickery is? Phil stated it very clearly, and people like me who refuse to state that we have all the answers experience the incivility and dickery all the time. I can understand frustration with ignorant people – spend 20 minutes at the DMV – but that doesn’t entitle anyone to lord their superior intellect over someone else. I, for one, am not the argumentative type, and despise the pedantic attitudes when people declare “strawman” or “ad hominems” in their retorts. Excuse me for not being a philosophy major or captain of a debate team. Perhaps if someone needs to explain to you that acting like a an arrogant know-it-all is dickery, then maybe you’re the ignorant ones.

  47. dave

    Erasmussimo Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Let me expand on another point that has often been made: we’ll never convince our interlocutors. The value of Internet discussion is not to convince your opponent, nor should it be to gratify your anger; the value lies in convincing the lurkers. And the most effective means of convincing bystanders of the merits of your position is to radiate calm rationalism.

    Do you have evidence for this? This has not been my experience. It seems to be true for some bystanders in some situations on some issues, but I see no reason to believe it’s universally true.

    Erasmussimo Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 9:50 am
    If you are calm, confident, and courteous, and your opponent is a raving dick, then most lurkers will gravitate towards your position.

    I wish that were true, but in my experience it is not always the case.

  48. Tefter

    No offense, Phil, but your words “finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy” sound VERY much like that famous Atheist Experience caller who, when asked to produce evidence for his god, said “The evidence is all around you”.
    This is a great disappointment, Phil :(

    AND – Where are the names? Names! Names! Names!

  49. dave

    Jerry P says:

    You see, I don’t feel comfortable stating unequivocally that a higher guiding power doesn’t exist, and that opinion is based on what science has taught me. I’ve made the leap in understanding that religion is man-made and a method of controlling the masses, but I can’t let go of the possibility that there’s a higher purpose to our natural laws. My opinion is well thought out, is based on logic and what science has taught me to this point. But as we constantly learn new things, as research overturns old theories, it’s fair to say that perhaps we simply haven’t evolved enough for our tiny brains to perceive the truth of our existence.

    However, the fact that I’m not swayed, and still have faith in things that I can’t explain, doesn’t make me ignorant, or unworthy of an opinion.

    Wait, which is it? Do you think there’s a possibility that there’s a higher power, or do you have faith that there is? Those two positions contradict each other.

    And has anyone really said you’re not entitled to an opinion because of either of these? Or have they just explained why your opinion isn’t supported by the evidence? The former is being a dick, the latter isn’t.

    I, for one, am not the argumentative type, and despise the pedantic attitudes when people declare “strawman” or “ad hominems” in their retorts. Excuse me for not being a philosophy major or captain of a debate team.

    That’s not a pedantic attitude, that’s discussing the issues. Guess what, I wasn’t a philosophy major or on the debate team either, but somehow I managed to learn what the terms “strawman” and “ad hominem” mean. Funny thing about learning – you can do it your whole life.

  50. alfaniner

    Phil, aren’t you glad right about now that your name isn’t “Richard”? :)

    (Yes, I know the talk wasn’t targeted at anyone specifically, and the meme is borrowed from Wil Wheaton. I thought I should mention this here for those who did not watch the video.)

  51. I found it funny how so many people though it was ABOUT ME. For one thing, you weren’t targeting “famous” or “well known” skeptics. You were talking to every person in the audience. PZ’s very funny blog post about how people called him after your speech to inform him of your “attack” was hilarious, since no one at TAM that I talked with said “wow, you mean PZ right?” (there were many others mentioned though! Other rather more well known skeptics). I thought “hey get in line! He means ALL of us!” It’s not just about 2 or 3 skeptics. It’s about all of us, in our day to day interactions.

    I think, one thing that makes people attracted to some groups (and in this case the group I am thinking of is the Duggar family of “19 Kids and Counting” 19 kids is a “group”) is that they seem happy. Centered. Sure that their choices are right, and sure enough that they don’t have to be pushy…as if trying to convince themselves as well as others.

    I know with my alien abductee work, that simply being a friend and listening (and listening and listening) means eventually they will listen to me. People complain, “well, do they ever change their minds?” Yes! But they have to THINK about it first. For some of these people, thinking and rationally examining something is new! Give them some time to get the hang of it! In a way, I like it when someone I work with takes months to change their mind. It means, THEY changed their mind, not that I changed their mind.

  52. The Mutt

    Of course, Dalton said it best: “I want you to be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.”

  53. Another way to be a dick. And, no, I’m not pointing this at anyone in particular either.

    http://xkcd.com/774/

  54. oh and if you need examples of “don’t be a dick” go to say TAM or another skeptic meeting. In the bar the “and then I TOLD HER no way was I going to pray to her IMAGINARY friend in the sky, and I said I was going to lead a prayer to the FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER! My sister is such an idiot and her kids are going to hear the truth from me, Thanksgiving or not!”

    I had to laugh! Because when I pointed out that maybe just declining to pray, or remaining silent, would have been nicer…and his chance of being the “educating uncle” the kids need in their lives (actually his sister turned out to be a non church goer who is an accountant, but she just likes to bow her head before Thanksgiving dinner) was not exactly going to be welcome. It was very funny. But, choose your battles dude!

    It was all “top THAT” at the Del Mar. Hilarious, but in the end, no one was doing more than verbal masterbation. We skeptics are a very clever group, but perhaps not all of us are as socially adept in life as we would like.

  55. Jason A.

    Cameron #45:

    But there’s a place for dicks too. I would like to live in a world where dyed-in-the-wool followers of Ray Comfort or Kent Hovind are going to be persuaded by reasoned debate, but that world doesn’t exist and never will. I’ll settle for a world where it’s *embarrassing* to be known as a follower of the nutjobs. People way out on the thin edge of fundamentalist lunacy *should* be embarrassed to hold the views they do, and to think the way they do.

    Right on.

    And that social environment isn’t being created by the atheist debaters who pretend to respect their opponents’ positions, it’s created by the dicks.

    Worse, the ones who insist on treating patently ridiculous positions like the Ray Comfort with respect are promoting the idea that those views are worthy of respect, and therefore belong in the debate. The fundies are kicking their butts with Overton Window strategies.

    People need to stop confusing tolerance with respect. Respect – earned, not given. Respect that is freely given doesn’t mean much.

  56. dave

    and then I TOLD HER no way was I going to pray to her IMAGINARY friend in the sky, and I said I was going to lead a prayer to the FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER!

    See, I don’t consider that being a dick.

  57. Watoosh

    JerryP: “You folks who are digging into Phil’s comments looking for specific examples of dickery are kind of missing the point, IMHO. I think Phil’s argument that civility and patience will win over the crowd in the long term are spot on. ”

    1. It’s actually a valid point, because unless some examples are provided, Phil’s denouncement of shouting and insulting others is utterly trivial. Seriously, who would disagree with the statement “Don’t yell insults at others”? This is actually an important topic, and we should find the line between abrasive and frank and discuss whether being a dick can sometimes be an effective tool, but Phil undermines his case by building an easy strawman.

    2. You are not the Universe. Many people have been converted with civility and patience, and it’s probably the best tool in dealing face to face with someone, but other methods can work with other people. If you have all the facts on your side, you can spice your arguments with snarky comments and emotional appeals as well – the point isn’t to make a quick conversion (which is unlikely to happen), but to plant seeds of doubt in people’s heads and get them on a path to truth. While I wasn’t a hardcore believer, I for one am now embarrassed to ever have fallen for such hokum as witchcraft, psychism or ghosts, precisely because I’ve seen skeptics deal with frauds like John Edward and the Ghost Hunters with a hard hand.

    It isn’t “You know, I sincerely respect your beliefs, but you should also consider that…” that turns some people over, it’s sometimes “Oh Christ, don’t tell me you fall for this bulls**t! Here’s the list of things that are wrong with it: …” (The second approach works better by proxy; that is, if you have an audience with believers and you embarrass other believers on stage, TV etc., the believer in the audience can safely consider her or his beliefs without getting defensive and humiliated)

  58. dave

    I would like to state for the record that I am opposed to nun-beating.

    I don’t have any specific examples of skeptics beating nuns, but you all know what I’m talking about.

  59. Listrade

    I’m sorry but this notion that the atheist community and it’s celebrities is in the business of turning anyone over to any side is nonsense. That, to me, is being a dick.

    So this idea of it being the goal then forget it because that’s not what it or scepticism is about. The goal is to stop the spread of anti-science, stuff that is harmful.

  60. Richard Wolford

    Sorry Phil, but this whole “kid-gloves” approach is nonsense. You do realize that the religious right are doing all they can to control our behavior through laws which are inspired by their beliefs, yes? You need look no further than Proposition 8 in California and the impact the Mormon church had with its passing. If you think you can have a nice, civil discourse with the bastions of irrationality, you are sadly deluded. They are irrational, they are misguided, and they think they are absolutely just in doing whatever it takes to bring jeebus or whomever back into the classroom, into government, etc etc etc. Wake up and take a stand. The only thing to do when logic and reason fail is ridicule; point and laugh at the idiots. Stop all of the damn tone-policing and eggshell walking around these hacks and call a spade a spade.

  61. dave

    Listrade Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    I’m sorry but this notion that the atheist community and it’s celebrities is in the business of turning anyone over to any side is nonsense. That, to me, is being a dick.

    So this idea of it being the goal then forget it because that’s not what it or scepticism is about. The goal is to stop the spread of anti-science, stuff that is harmful

    And you do that by encouraging critical thinking. That’s my goal.

  62. Erasmussimo

    Watoosh #43 writes:

    “When Matt Dillahunty goes on a passionate, direct and even dickish rant with someone who just doesn’t get it, it often resonates with a theist listener who’s curious about religious issues and has never heard the common sense argument before.”

    and Dave #47 challenges my claim that fence-sitters are more effectively influenced by calm reasoning than angry rants. I must confess, I can offer no evidence in support of my claim; I doubt that there is any evidence on this question either pro or con. I have only my own assessment of human nature to support my claim. If you assess people differently — that is, if you believe that people can be convinced by watching someone verbally punch up somebody else — then I cannot gainsay your assessment. However, I will ask you several questions about your assessment:

    1. Are you really sure that this assessment is not in any wise affected by the *desire* to convince people by smashing somebody else in an argument? Ofttimes our desires affect our conclusions.

    2. Suppose that you were watching an argument between two people on some issue for which you are yourself a fence-sitter. Suppose that one advocate is obnoxious and angry while the other advocate is courteous and calm. Do you really think that the anger would be more convincing to you than the cold rationalism?

    These are purely rhetorical questions; I ask them only for you to ask yourself, not as a challenge to answer to me.

  63. grung0r

    finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy

    As others have pointed out, why not just do the trivially easy and clear this whole thing up? After all, asserting something does not make it so. If you are having trouble finding some of these trivially easy examples, perhaps you should ask your old friend Chris Mooney. I believe he’s got one he calls Exhibit A.

  64. I think Phil doesn’t want to name names because he thinks that would be being a “dick.”

    But it wouldn’t be. You don’t give a speech like that without having specific persons/instances in mind. Just in terms of speech-making, it’s a far more effective speech if Phil just goes ahead and says “Here are some examples of what I’m talking about; here’s what NOT to do…” To not cite those examples, especially after people who are not-exactly-opposed to the speech have asked for them, is to be purposely oblique. Phil says that finding these examples is “trivially easy.” I’m sure it is. But he’s still playing a guessing-game, and I still don’t know to whom or what he was referring. This is a tad obnoxious because he clearly has these examples in his head, but just doesn’t want to divulge. I mean, is there anyone who thinks that such coy ambiguity was a strength of the speech?

  65. Watoosh

    Listrade: “I’m sorry but this notion that the atheist community and it’s celebrities is in the business of turning anyone over to any side is nonsense. That, to me, is being a dick.

    So this idea of it being the goal then forget it because that’s not what it or scepticism is about. The goal is to stop the spread of anti-science, stuff that is harmful.”

    And what, if I may inquire, is the best way to stop the spread of anti-science? Do you want to fight the battle against woo with a tiny army, or would you rather grow the army so that we would have more publicity? Or would you rather, like Phil and I would, live in a world where the vast majority of people are critical thinkers and the school institution instills a sense of skepticism and a healthy respect for science into children so that all strains of creationism and anti-vax would die before they got a chance to spread at all?

    I am an “evangelical humanist and skeptic” because I actually consider it a moral imperative. I don’t try to convert people with force because that approach usually doesn’t work, but I never feign respect at viewpoints that are factually incorrect either. My idea of trying to convert others is to have discussions and debates with people who are willing to listen. If convincing other people of the superiority of the scientific method against other methods of inquiry (ooh, aren’t I a rude and dogmatic skeptic here!) isn’t your idea of a good skeptical cause, then we’re essentially fighting a neverending and futile battle.

  66. To me, dickishness that ought to go comes not in the form of saying “Oh Christ, don’t tell me you fall for this bulls**t” (useful when deployed judiciously), but in the casually dismissive terms toward religion, such as “godbots” (and worse than that, but that goes without saying). But really, I don’t see much of that going on in public dialogue with believers—if it is indeed trivial to find examples, I must not be reading the right message boards, and I would appreciate being pointed towards it.

    I do think there’s a helpful form of accommodation: While we should never accommodate bad ideas, it can be helpful to accommodate old labels that represent bad ideas—labels that, as Phil said, people’s self-identities are wrapped up in and are reluctant to leave behind—if they can be made to represent good ones. That means letting people retain the word and label “religion” and the cultural connotations—the traditions, the community and fellowship it gives them—even if what it means is a “religion-lite”, unassociated with the theology of the Abrahamic gods of the Old Testament and the resurrection.

    Lambasting this sort of religion (which many people I know practice) by association with old religion is throwing a roadblock in our path. Actually, we ought to welcome religious people seeking to redefine what religion means. If religion does away with the superstitions, then isn’t that victory?*

    If you hold on to labels, then the “dinosaurs” died out. But if you understand “dinosaurs” to mean living, breathing animals—beings who hatched, fought for survival, mated, and died—then you see that they never died out; they simply adapted to new forms and evolved into birds. Both statements are correct, but one is built on a deeper understanding of the processes involved.

    If we hold on to the label of “religion” as the easy way to define the terms of battle, to set the teams of Us vs. Them, we’re putting an unnecessary obstacle for our would-be converts along the path to reason. But if we consider “religion” to mean a cultural movement of people—living, breathing, people who are, under the right circumstances, capable of thinking for themselves—than we can still achieve our goals without wiping out the label of “religion”. We can allow religion to redefine itself, and not get in the way.

    * Of course, there a subset of atheists here who seek to go further and for whose aims this limited form of accommodationism is not helpful, either. Perhaps I should say that, while a skeptic, I am ok with people filling in the areas of physics where we don’t yet have a crane with spirituality, as long as it doesn’t poison preexisting knowledge:
    For example, Roger Ebert:

    I was asked at lunch today who or what I worshipped. The question was asked sincerely, and in the same spirit I responded that I worshipped whatever there might be outside knowledge. I worship the void. The mystery. And the ability of our human minds to perceive an unanswerable mystery. To reduce such a thing to simplistic names is an insult to it, and to our intelligence.

    This is the kind of thing I’m completely cool with. When confronted with the unknown, some people will devote their lives to figuring it out, and others will romanticize it (and some will go further than Ebert and put labels, including “religion” on it). I think Dawkins et al. would dispute that there is such a thing as an unanswerable mystery—to accept that would be to give up, a moral abdication of the extension of reason in the pursuit of truth (although perhaps I am misrepresenting him). I realize that is a form of accommodation that many here are not willing to accept—and that’s fine with me! I do think, however, that denying the limited form of accommodationism I outlined above is not necessary for the skeptical movement.

  67. With regards to public dialogue from prominent skeptics, I think Becca Stareyes nailed it back in the comments (#3) on the first post—it happens when we vent at each other, but the openness of the internet propels it into the public dialogue, and therefore we ought to be more mindful.

    But just to toss out a concrete example of (IMO) dickishness that doesn’t come from the public sphere, take Pamela Gay’s story of the professor who asked “How do you believe the universe will end” on a test and gave people who answered with the second coming of Christ zero points. It’s completely his right to grade that way, and perhaps, he even thought, his academic duty. But not tossing out the question was, in my mind, a dick move—within his rights, and something I might even do instinctually, but bad for the movement in general, and terribly alienating to those who received zero credit; doubly a shame since they were clearly inquisitive enough to sign up for the class in the first place.

  68. Watoosh

    Erasmussimo: “1. Are you really sure that this assessment is not in any wise affected by the *desire* to convince people by smashing somebody else in an argument? Ofttimes our desires affect our conclusions.”

    That’s very much possible.

    “2. Suppose that you were watching an argument between two people on some issue for which you are yourself a fence-sitter. Suppose that one advocate is obnoxious and angry while the other advocate is courteous and calm. Do you really think that the anger would be more convincing to you than the cold rationalism?”

    Depends on the issue and the person. Right now I like to consider myself an unbiased skeptic who’ll listen to reason, but that may not be the case any more for me than for someone who regularly falls for logical fallacies and doesn’t understand the scientific method. If the listener is prone to emotional appeals, the more emotionally compelling debater (even if he employs some anger in his arguments) may well convince the listener. However, I’ve also seen many instances where a Christian apologetic has tried his best to come across as nice and accommodating, yet his arguments are piss-poor and people will notice that. It’s not a simple case of being an angry dick or not, the spectrum is a lot wider. I don’t think anyone would advocate pure vitriol as the key, it’s the subtle instances that matter.

    Likewise if the issue happens to be some long since debunked creationist talking point, I don’t see the reason for suppressing your frustration as long as you make a valid argument while you’re at it. The reason for this is that the fence-sitter in the audience will not only hear the argument, he’ll also pick up on the implicit fact that these kind of nonsense arguments really aren’t something that ought to be credited.

    (I know I didn’t really answer your question directly, but that’s because there’s so much ground to be covered here and I don’t think anger vs. rationality is a true dichotomy. I hope you understand where I’m coming from, anyway.)

    While the main point of Phil’s speech is on solid ground (“Consider your goals and overall try to be nice”), I’m still interested in whether approaches that initially come across as hostile can still be effective. I may be wrong here and I may be speaking anecdotally but I think sometimes that is the case.

  69. Hey! I’m Nerdista! I’ve changed I swear! I’m a nice convert now! I’ve seen a difference in how people respond to me since I’ve become more polite. Snarky is funny and snarky worked for me in terms of making me become skeptical, but I realize I’m in the minority and people as a whole just respond better to civility. I’m a reluctant Nice. It may be my instinct to be kind of sarcastic and make fun of people but I’ve seen the way people respond and it’s not the response I was looking for. So, I’ve adapted. I’m trying to be more fun and positive, but I do my allow myself the occasional breakdown. Moderation, people.

  70. Benji

    @Benji

    You should not have given names, my dear. Even though that’s what people want, doing so you’re just being a dick, and counterproductive. On the other, Phil has it all right, and letting people think and their solitude, not being harassed. You should have known, dear self, because it is the way you are.

    Sincerely.

    Benji

  71. erikthebassist

    Where’s the data? Why are a bunch of Skeptics arguing a point when there’s no data on either side? Do we know for a fact which approach is best in the big picture? No, we don’t, so let’s stop pretending we do shall we?

    Each situation is different, each advocate has an approach that suits them best. The Wisemans, Plaits and Savage’s of the world do an awesome job of combining skepticism with neat science, and so are much better at attracting the crowd that finds the harsh rhetoric of the PZs and Dawkins too much to bear.

    The Hitchens and Harris approach gets eyeballs though and so it serves it’s purpose as well. All of these approaches are pathways in to the movement. If we don’t get someone’s attention one way, we’ll get it another. There is no one tried and true method for getting the message across. This is a silly argument.

    For the record, I for the most part avoid the comments section of most atheist and skeptical blogs for the very reason that one misstep and you open yourself up to unnecessary flaming. I don’t need the abuse, I restrict my dialog to reasonable people who are actually interested in possibly hearing an opposing POV thank you, but that’s just a personal preference and not my prescription for how the movement in general should proceed, to each their own.

  72. grung0r

    Mark Z:

    Just to toss out a concrete example of (IMO) dickishness

    There in lies the problem. That is, as you admit, your opinion. My opinion is that it’s not. If anyone was being dickish, in fact, it was the Christians who disingenuously answered that they believed the universe would END with the second coming of Jesus. That answer is simply nonsensical. No Christians think that. They think it will the dawning of new world and whatnot. They don’t think that Jesus will arrive and then universe will blink out of existence. They answered that way to get a rise out of their Professor, or possibly to get credit for giving a religious answer in a science class. None of them did it because it was their honest opinion. And that, in my opinion, is dickish.

    You are, of course free to disagree. The point is though, that unless we know what Phil had in mind, then his speech is pure fluff. I’m sure we all agree that calling little creationist girls retards and then punching them in the face would constitute dickery, but that’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is other people’s perceptions of dickery, and that is a much finer line. I want to know the line Phil had in mind. Thus far, he’s refused to say what it is.

  73. Aaron

    I agree with the people asking for examples. I know you want to avoid name calling but there’s a ton of stuff at the margins and it’s hard to have a discussion about being a dick without having a good definition of what being a dick is.

  74. dave

    erikthebassist Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Each situation is different, each advocate has an approach that suits them best. The Wisemans, Plaits and Savage’s of the world do an awesome job of combining skepticism with neat science, and so are much better at attracting the crowd that finds the harsh rhetoric of the PZs and Dawkins too much to bear.

    This is exactly what I complained about above. When has Dawkins ever used harsh rhetoric? I have never read or heard anything from him that was not the epitome of level-headed civility. And yet, he gets accused of harsh rhetoric. This is why specific examples are important.

  75. @grungor (72)
    I’d disagree with your interpretation, and a couple of your assertions—first and foremost, that “No Christians think that.” I was once a Christian, but I knew nothing of the dawning of the new world of which you speak. Their answer would have made perfect sense to me. Even Christians aren’t always up on Christian theology…

    I’d also disagree that they gave their answer disingenuously, although isn’t a matter of opinion—either they did or they didn’t. All we have to question is the veracity of Pamela’s account, so feel free to question it—although it rings true for me (bold is mine):

    This was an Astonomy 101 class for humanities majors. They had been studying the cosmology chapter of the book, and the final question on the exam – a throw away question with no right answer meant to get easy points – was, “How do you believe the universe will end?”

    [. . .]

    Had that Professor simply acknowledged that it was a poorly worded question with no right answer, those two girls could have gone on to continue enjoying astronomy. Instead, I ended up with them upset and angry in my office*2,3 telling me that they couldn’t even look at their astronomy book without getting mad.

    I can definitely see people I took Astro 101 with—college freshmen, perhaps in an atmosphere of intellectual rigor for the first time in their lives—upset for receiving zero credit on a throwaway question if they went into the classroom under the not-uncommon assumption that their religious beliefs would be treated with respect. To say they should know better before entering a science classroom is missing the point—it’s college, and that’s the time where many people learn that for the first time. Perhaps that’s a damning indictment of public schools; nevertheless, the professor was presented with a dickish way to teach that, and a non-dickish way. I think it’s unfortunate he chose the former.

    My point is not to fill in Phil’s speech with what he has in mind—I’m just giving my own interpretation of what constitutes dickishness as my contribution to the discussion.

  76. dave

    I sort of agree with Mark Z on that example. If – and this is a big if – the question was actually worded as “believe”, then it shouldn’t even have been on the test.

    However, marking it wrong does not show disrespect to their religious beliefs. It comes across as dickish, but telling someone their beliefs do not line up with reality is NOT disrespectful. Some believers like to pretend it is, and all con artists pretend it is because it’s an effective defense of their cons.

    It’s very important that we don’t enable this con artists’ technique under the guise of civility. That behavior is what destroyed the Democrats as an opposition party from 2000-2006 and what has made them ineffective as a majority party from 2007-present. When your opponents get offended at respectful criticism, it’s a technique to deflect your criticism. If your response is to stop criticizing them then you have failed.

  77. Dawkins, not use harsh rhetoric? Islam in all forms, including the moderate, is the number one “Threat” to the UK? OK, recent articles in the Atlantic and other blogs about how many atheists are also right wing in their foreign policy and immigration policy, are kinda signs it’s been noticed. I mean it’s not “harsh” if you agree…

  78. oh and just because ONE group is dickish.. for instance SOME Islamics, SOME Christians, SOME Jews, SOME flat earthers….

    two wrongs don’t make a right. It doesnt’ matter if other poeple are dicks, that doesn’t make it less dickish when we are.

    I teach preschool. I hear “BUT TOMMY DOES IT!” all the time. We’re the intelligent ones.

  79. dave

    When did Dawkins say that? And no, I don’t consider that harsh. Inaccurate, but not harsh.

  80. dave

    But being a dick is, I believe, the most effective response to dickish dishonesty.

    Was Judge Jones a dick when he described the “breathtaking inanity” displayed by some of the defendants in the Dover trial?

    two wrongs don’t make a right.

    That presumes being a dick is wrong. I would vehemently disagree with that. Sometimes being a dick is the right thing to do.

  81. My mother’s simple words of advice, “be polite,” have almost always worked wonders for me. I qualify that because there are always curmudgeons out there who would rather have a snark-fest (if not a full-blown donnybrook) than a congenial debate. Then again, I seldom engage in debates because I’ve really never been able to convince anyone to change their minds about anything, excepting in the realms of food and drink.

  82. grung0r

    Mark Z:

    Their answer would have made perfect sense to me. Even Christians aren’t always up on Christian theology…

    If they don’t know Christian theology, then why did they make a theological link between Jesus and the end of the universe? Why would that even occur to them? Unless they were just tossing out “jesus” as an awsner to anything they could possibly cram it into, in which case my point still stands. Disingenuous.

    Had that Professor simply acknowledged that it was a poorly worded question with no right answer

    What Pamela misses here is that because something has no right awnser dosen’t mean it has no wrong awnser. Presumably “Jhgwsjfggkb shkghsfgkjdfhagadf bsdjfdj ff 743knx” would also have gotten a 0, and no one would have disagreed. “Jesus’s Second coming will result in the end of the universe” is similarity nonsensical.

    they went into the classroom under the not-uncommon assumption that their religious beliefs would be treated with respect.

    And respect is accepting absurd, nonsensical theological answers on a astronomy exam? Not in my book.

    My point is not to fill in Phil’s speech with what he has in mind—I’m just giving my own interpretation of what constitutes dickishness as my contribution to the discussion.

    That’s fine. But the very fact that you are the one who has to do it says to me that Phil’s speech was dangerously lacking in substance.

  83. erikthebassist

    @dave – Do you not recognize the stark difference in the general approach of Dawkin’s vs say a Richard Wiseman or Adam Savage?

    Dawkins goes straight for the heart of theism, he gives the religious no quarter, no opportunity maintain both belief and dignity. I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m a fan, I’m just asking if you see the difference?

    Wiseman seeks to attract believers and slip facts about psychology and skepticism in to an overall entertaining discussion about science, optical illusions, human perception, etc…

    These are very different approaches, and one of them is considerably “harsher” in it’s rhetoric than the other. It’s true that a bold statement of the facts of science is often very offensive to some, which is why he has the reputation for being strident. It’s not that he’s a dick, it’s that he has no desire to coddle believers or slowly win them over. It’s a brute force attack.

    My guess since Phil isn’t saying, is that he isn’t really talking about Dawkins, or PZ, or Randi. My guess is that his message was for us, the foot soldiers if you will, the every day folk who are posting links to our Facebook pages and having water cooler conversations. We’re the one’s that need the introspection. I don’t think any visit to a heavily trafficked comment section of an atheist/skeptic blog can leave with you with any other conclusion.

    It’s down right nasty on some of these forums, not a very welcoming environment for the curious or confused. But rather than complain about it, I’d suggest promoting some of the communities where this is NOT the case if he believes it’s the way to move forward.

  84. RobinSV

    “…finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy.”

    Well, finding examples of what I consider dickishness is trivially easy, but that doesn’t help me understand what you consider to be dickish. With out examples, or at least hypotheticals, how am I supposed to know if your concerns are right, wrong, understated, overstated or simple the rantings of someone with an oversensitive dickmeter? (did I just write ‘oversensitive dickmeter’?!)

    One thing that’s always bothered me about the ‘don’t be a dick/you’re not helping’ crowd is their constant use of phrases like: Our Goal, The Movement, The Cause. Did I miss the the Great Atheist Convention where the Skeptic Manifesto was drafted? And shouldn’t I at least get a chance to vote on its ratification before you (or anyone else) appropriates my speech to your cause?

    Frankly, I’ve grown weary of the: ‘not all religious people are creationist and would be on our side if we were nice to them’ kind of argument. True, the Catholic Church, for example, officially accepts evolution. But it’s also rabidly homophobic, and no amount of accepting evolution is going to put them on ‘my’ side. (Perhaps I’m the queen you’re willing to sacrifice in your metaphorical game of chess?*)

    While I agree that convincing people to accept evolution or to reject some psudo-science nonsense are worthy goals, it doesn’t mean that these are my only, or even primary, goals. And sometimes ‘dickish’ behaviour is not only appropriate, but necessary, to achieving these goals. Do you think we would have advanced as far as we have on civil rights, gay right or women’s rights if we had restricted ourselves to trying convert the bigots with polite conversation over cups of tea? (Curious how the more vocal proponents of the ‘don’t be dicks’ meme tend to be straight, white males)
    You may think it’s wrong to march out like warriors ready to do battle because ‘this isn’t a war’, but for some of us (and not by our choosing) it is:


    http://www.bilerico.com/2010/07/nom_bus_rolls_into_indianapolis.php

    The person who made that poster isn’t someone I want to convert or win over, it’s someone I want, and need, to defend myself against. And if that means being a dick, then I’m going to be a dick.

    (*Yes, I know that’s not the kind of sacrifice you were getting at, but I couldn’t resist the pun.)

  85. dave

    erikthebassist Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    @dave – Do you not recognize the stark difference in the general approach of Dawkin’s vs say a Richard Wiseman or Adam Savage?

    Dawkins goes straight for the heart of theism, he gives the religious no quarter, no opportunity maintain both belief and dignity.

    No, he doesn’t. He says religious claims aren’t true and religion is bad for society. That’s not “harsh”, it’s direct. Being direct isn’t being harsh.

    Yes, he uses a different approach than Savage and Wiseman, a more direct approach, but there’s nothing harsh about it.

    My guess since Phil isn’t saying, is that he isn’t really talking about Dawkins, or PZ, or Randi. My guess is that his message was for us, the foot soldiers if you will, the every day folk who are posting links to our Facebook pages and having water cooler conversations. We’re the one’s that need the introspection. I don’t think any visit to a heavily trafficked comment section of an atheist/skeptic blog can leave with you with any other conclusion.

    But on what basis does he claim that we need that introspection? A comment section of an atheist/skeptic blog is NOT a water cooler conversation or a Facebook status. It is a conversation among people who are already skeptics or atheists. Talking about believers is entirely different from talking with believers.

  86. There are MANY examples of people in skepticism being dickish. For some great examples go to the JREF boards and look at the bigfoot threads. There’s a topic where some people rationally argue details and others break out their junk and start swinging it.

    Hit the Patterson-Gimlin thread, an epic string of exchanges if ever there was one. It’s all over the Internet, but there is a really easy place to start.

    Also, there’s some great info on Bigfoot and skepticism in there too. And some very funny, friendly people. BUT you’ll note that the JREF has to monitor those threads very closely because Bigfoot IS SERIOUS STUFF.

  87. Carl Acheson
  88. erikthebassist

    @dave – “Harshness” is a subjective judgement. What’s harsh to me, may not be harsh to you. The point is, he doesn’t pull any punches, and some people can’t handle that. Again, I’m not saying that’s wrong. My original point was that there is room for both approaches, but again, I don’t think this is at all what Phil was talking about. Maybe I’m wrong, it’s just a hunch.

    But on what basis does he claim that we need that introspection? A comment section of an atheist/skeptic blog is NOT a water cooler conversation or a Facebook status. It is a conversation among people who are already skeptics or atheists. Talking about believers is entirely different from talking with believers.

    This is seems to be an arbitrary distinction to me. I’m not sure what difference it makes, can you please elaborate?

  89. dave

    By calling a direct approach harsh, you are playing right into the hands of those who don’t want their beliefs to be critically examined.

  90. dave

    But on what basis does he claim that we need that introspection? A comment section of an atheist/skeptic blog is NOT a water cooler conversation or a Facebook status. It is a conversation among people who are already skeptics or atheists. Talking about believers is entirely different from talking with believers.

    This is seems to be an arbitrary distinction to me. I’m not sure what difference it makes, can you please elaborate?

    Let’s imagine three people, Joe, Moe, and Flo.

    In Situation 1, Joe approaches Moe and says “Moe, you’re a jerk.”

    In Situation 2, Joe approaches Flo and says “That Moe is a jerk.”

    See the difference?

  91. grung0r

    Let’s imagine three people, Joe, Moe, and Flo.
    In Situation 1, Joe approaches Moe and says “Moe, you’re a jerk.”
    In Situation 2, Joe approaches Flo and says “That Moe is a jerk.”

    That is a truly great analogy of the systemic fault in the accommodationist position.

  92. erikthebassist

    Let’s imagine three people, Joe, Moe, and Flo.
    In Situation 1, Joe approaches Moe and says “Moe, you’re a jerk.”
    In Situation 2, Joe approaches Flo and says “That Moe is a jerk.”
    See the difference?

    No, actually, I don’t. The end result is the same, Joe thinks Moe is a jerk, and everyone knows it. The question is, is Moe really a jerk or is Joe the jerk? That’s all a matter of context. I think Phil’s point is that while Moe may indeed be a jerk, the way to stop Moe from being a jerk isn’t necessarily to be a jerk back to him. Maybe, just maybe, Moe can be made to be a reformed Jerk with at least some attempt at compassionate rehab, or that maybe by letting Moe continue to be a jerk on his own, his jerkedness will become self evident to those that matter, the non-jerks on the sidelines who are wondering what all the fuss is about?

    I’m not defending Phil, although I think I’m starting to sound like I am. Like I said, if indeed his message was meant for us underlings, maybe HIS approach should be to start promoting the communities where civility rules and leave the rough and tumble communities to themselves instead of complaining about them.

  93. @grungor
    Do you mean “nonsensical” in the general sense that all religious beliefs don’t make any, or “nonsensical” in that it doesn’t match the Christian belief system? Clearly, it was their personal belief and defined Christianity for them.

    I mean, I never read the Bible, except for parts of Revelation, and those only because I thought the apocalypse was kinda cool. (At around this stage in my childhood, disaster movies were coming out all the time, and I thought Armageddon was pretty cool, too.) I had Luther’s Small Catechism on my bookshelf, but I never read that, either; I got most of my (extremely limited) theology from reading Left Behind. But if you asked me or you if I were Christian, we both would have said yes.

    It’s an interesting point, though, because it shows how asymmetric the term “religion” or “Christianity” can be for believers vs. non-believers. For believers, Christianity can mean whatever they want it to mean, because it’s part of their self-identity. That’s part of our challenge—different Christians (or people of any faith) believe different things and hold them dearly. It puts us at a rhetorical disadvantage—atheism/skepticism, while by no means rigid or lacking for different interpretations, is much more coherent than the radically divergent set of philosophies that fly under the banner “Christian”, and an easier target to hit. We don’t get their defense of, “But that’s not MY Christianity!” But, IMO, we kind of have to live with it, since lumping all Christians together and making blanket statements is such a turnoff to moderates we might otherwise be converting. Tough luck, but that’s our lot in life.

    And respect is accepting absurd, nonsensical theological answers on a astronomy exam? Not in my book.
    I agree completely. I think I should have said, “that their religious beliefs would be treated with scientific regard” or some similar formulation. I meant “respect/scientific regard for religious beliefs” in a derogative way. None should be given to them in a science class—but neither should a test in a science class ask you what you believe. And (sadly,) some freshman don’t understand yet that religious beliefs don’t have scientific merit. In this case, when you’re dealing with people who simply don’t know, this is kind of a perfect example of how you can get your point across in a dickish or non-dickish way, and how the dickish way in this case was, I suspect, counterproductive.

  94. dave

    erikthebassist Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Let’s imagine three people, Joe, Moe, and Flo.
    In Situation 1, Joe approaches Moe and says “Moe, you’re a jerk.”
    In Situation 2, Joe approaches Flo and says “That Moe is a jerk.”
    See the difference?

    No, actually, I don’t. The end result is the same, Joe thinks Moe is a jerk, and everyone knows it.

    No, the end result isn’t the same at all. In Situation 2, Joe only knows Moe thinks he’s a jerk if he goes out looking for that information. In Situation 1, Joe knows Moe thinks he’s a jerk because Moe told him that to his face. Joe can’t escape Moe’s opinion in Situation 1. In Situation 2, he has to go looking for it.

  95. dave

    Mark Z. Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    @grungor
    Do you mean “nonsensical” in the general sense in that all religious beliefs don’t make sense, or “nonsensical” in that it doesn’t match the Christian belief system? Clearly, it was their personal belief and defined Christianity for them.

    Then how can the professor possibly anticipate what their beliefs are and what might offend them?

    We don’t get their defense of, “But that’s not MY Christianity!” But, IMO, we kind of have to live with it, since lumping all Christians together and making blanket statements is such a turnoff to moderates we might otherwise be converting

    True – but that is 100% the moderates’ fault. It would be like me calling myself a Marxist, and then getting offended when people assumed I agreed with most of Marx’s economic theory.

  96. Hmmm… am I right in thinking that most of the people who disagree with Phil are concerned with religious arguments rather than skepticism in general? Or is that just the go-to example for the efficacy of approach?

    How do skeptics measure their effectiveness? Is it in “# of people who self-identify as skeptics” or is it in “# of bogus offers and scams thwarted?”

    Or do we measure it at all?

  97. Kip

    > I really like Alonzo Fyfe’s (Atheist Ethicist) take on it, which I think is perhaps a little more nuanced than simply “disagrees”.

    I agree. Having been a long–time reader of Fyfe’s, my guess is that he would probably almost always agree with “not being a dick” (in the way that Phil narrowly defines the term), but would not agree with “not being a dick” (in the way that Phil gives examples for a broad usage of the term) in specific instances where it is warranted (e.g. to condemn someone’s bad desires that are leading them to not value true beliefs). I think Phil should read (or re–read) Fyfe’s post: http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2010/08/phil-plaits-dont-be-dick-speech.html

  98. @dave

    Then how can the professor possibly anticipate what their beliefs are and what might offend them?

    I’m not sure what you mean; they wrote down their beliefs on the test as their answers. If you’re talking about the professor’s approach to writing the test in the first place, no one’s saying the question offended them—if the question offended anything, it was science for including the word “believe”. It’s just how he handled the response to it after he read their tests.

    True – but that is 100% the moderates’ fault. It would be like me calling myself a Marxist, and then getting offended when people assumed I agreed with most of Marx’s economic theory.

    I disagree. Marxist theory is a coherent philosophy written by one guy, Marx. You can’t say the same of Christianity.

  99. Jack

    I responded to one of the negatives. It had points that were true, but not necessarily for the best. The advice is old news. It’s in our culture: do unto other, catch more flies, etc. It’s in the most popular self-help books, like How to Win Friends… .

    There is certainly something good about being a dick in an argument. It’s cathartic. It feels good. People on the sidelines cheer you on. But ultimately, you don’t make any progress in your argument. Was that something you were trying to do in the first place? Even if, as some of the negative reviews point out, your objective is not to convince your opponent but your audience, you fail by being a jerk. The people cheering on the sidelines–they may feel good, but they already agree with you. Those on the fence, though, stopped listening to the logic in your argument the moment you became a dick. It’s been said before that nothing makes someone defend their viewpoint like arguing with it. Some civility and humility can prevent that from happening. Arguments are emotional, like it or not. Logic is important, but it’s secondary in determining the outcome.

  100. Mark Z. — The original Marxian theory was written by two guys, Mr. Marx and Mr. Engels, with the latter doing most of the actual writing. As for it being coherent, I’ll have to pass on that one.

  101. @Mike from Tribeca
    You caught me! You’re right, and that was definitely a dick move on my part. I tried to make a strong response by tossing his words back at him. Sorry dave! No disrespect intended.

    By the way, Ebert is my favorite film critic, too—and one of my favorite writers, period.

  102. grung0r

    Mark Z:
    I meant “respect/scientific regard for religious beliefs” in a derogative way. None should be given to them in a science class—but neither should a test in a science class ask you what you believe.

    Fair enough. I agree that is was a very poorly phrased question.

    Do you mean “nonsensical” in the general sense that all religious beliefs don’t make any, or “nonsensical” in that it doesn’t match the Christian belief system?

    Neither. It’s nonsensical because they were using the term “the end of the universe” to mean “not the end of the universe”, and this of course, is definitionaly nonsense.

    In this case, when you’re dealing with people who simply don’t know, this is kind of a perfect example of how you can get your point across in a dickish or non-dickish way, and how the dickish way in this case was, I suspect, counterproductive.

    I understand that you, having been a Christian, understand what the students who awsnered in this way were getting at. Having not been one myself, I honestly and truly don’t. You may disagree with my assesment of this story, but I would have done the same thing as this proffessor in the same circumstance, and I wouldn’t for a second thought I was being a dick. If someone later accused me of such a thing, I would give the same answer I gave above. They simply didn’t answer the question.

    This is the whole problem with Phil’s speech. As this discussion has made clear, people can and do define dicketry honestly and yet quite differently from one another. Unless Phil comes up with some examples that I can assess to see if my and others potential dicketry can even be adequately divined, I will continue to fail to see how his speech was any different then “don’t beat puppies to death with flaming baseball bats”.

  103. No prob, Mark Z. Can’t we all just get along? ;-)

  104. Brice Gilbert

    If being a dick is when you are talking to someone you barely know and hearing that they believe in God and saying “You are crazy!” then yes that is a dick. If it’s posting a video on the internet of some guy claiming we should be in a dictatorship (Catholic Monarchy) and calling him crazy I have no problem with that. Actually debating or discussing with someone requires less of a quick dismissal (even if in your head you know it’s all BS), but it doesn’t mean you can’t at some point say the belief is silly or they are ignorant towards the facts (someone who denies evolution for example). Plus in the case of someone like Richard Dawkins who gives talks. He doesn’t debate so I see no issue with him giving his opinion on why those beliefs are wrong AND silly.

    The only time I see examples of real dicks is in real life with people who aren’t in the public eye. People at work who instantly make fun of a Mormon for example (to his face even).

  105. @grungor

    this of course, is definitionaly nonsense.

    Ah, I see what you’re saying. By way of explanation (not justification!) I would say that the end of days as I understood it was 1) the Rapture, 2) Seven years of disaster movies on earth, 3) Jesus comes and judges everyone before the universe ends (which is why their answer made “sense” to my former me), 4) Then we get carted away to heaven or hell. There are some giant black headless horses in there somewhere, maybe. Clearly, I was a bit fuzzy on the details…

    …I wouldn’t for a second thought I was being a dick.

    Fair enough. Thanks for explaining your viewpoint, and I’m glad I understand it now. I agree, the dick/non-dick dichotomy is maybe less than useful as an absolute scale. I’m glad it’s prompted the discussion it has, though.

    To elaborate, I guess, to atone for my dickishness, I do think Christianity, and the theological beliefs held by self-identified Christians are quantifiably more diverse and incoherent than the economic beliefs held by, say, Marxists. I don’t think I can lay blame on moderates or anyone for that—that’s just the way it is. I don’t have any peer-reviewed data, admittedly; that’s just based off of my anecdotal observations—for example, I don’t see vicious splits in Marxism over economic issues in the way that, say, Christian denominations are breaking off and away from support for gay marriage.

    Furthermore, because Marxism, etc. doesn’t promise your personal, eternal salvation (or threaten eternal damnation), my sense is that people’s identities are less wrapped up in it—and people are more willing to relinquish the label and relabel themselves than Christians are to relinquish the label “Christian”. Indeed, I grew up being taught that the only requirement to be a Christian was that you believed that Jesus died for your sins, which is a pretty broad definition and not easy to get away from.

    If you had brought up the dawning of the new world to me as teenager, I would have said “That’s not my Christianity.” If you had told me that then I wasn’t a Christian, or ought to not call myself one, my reaction would be to identify as a Christian even more, to make up for the crazy ones—to take Christianity back, so to speak. And indeed, that’s what I did, for many years.

    I don’t really have a point to make—just that I think we all agree it’s always best to know your audience, and that this discussion shows that discussion is good for that.

    @Mike
    Yeah, let’s all get along! Drinks at my place? ;)

  106. dave

    doctoratlantis Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Hmmm… am I right in thinking that most of the people who disagree with Phil are concerned with religious arguments rather than skepticism in general? Or is that just the go-to example for the efficacy of approach?

    How do skeptics measure their effectiveness? Is it in “# of people who self-identify as skeptics” or is it in “# of bogus offers and scams thwarted?”

    I’d measure it # of people who were presented with a scam but did not fall for it because of critical thinking. To me, a world where Sylvia Browne is allowed to offer “psychic” readings but nobody buys tickets is much preferable than a world where Sylvia Browne is not allowed to offer “psychic” readings.

  107. Mark Z. — From my reading of the gospels, Jesus simply shows up all over the world (Giambattista Vico presented a scientific basis for how that’s supposed to happen), vanquishes evil (essentially meaning the Romans), and thus begins a thousand or so years of a heavenly kingdom on earth. From what I understand, the present Pentecostal belief in a Michael Bay-like rapturing up to the sky has only been around since the start of the twentieth century (way too late to help Mr. Vico, who died in 1744). After decades of studying my native Catholicism, I still don’t know what they think about the end of the world, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it has something to do with obedience to authority.

    Oh, and drinks at any place!

  108. dave

    Mark Z. Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I disagree. Marxist theory is a coherent philosophy written by one guy, Marx. You can’t say the same of Christianity.

    Sure you can. Christian doctrine was written by a few people, primarily Paul of Tarsus, and was monolithic on most issues for centuries. And, like Marxism, it’s named after one person.

    It’s only in the last few hundred years, after they were no longer legally allowed to kill “heretics”, that much variation has existed in Christianity. The differences in doctrine between the Arian and Catholic Christianity and between Catholic and Orthodox are very minor. Even the differences between Catholicism and the various Protestant denominations were pretty small until the Methodists and Baptists showed up. And even then, they all agreed that the God of the Old Testament was real, incarnated as Jesus, and and this god was intimately involved in an afterlife that they all also all agree on. . Your example of differences on gay marriage is an extremely recent development.

    Some “moderate” Christians have abandoned the divinity of Christ, but that’s a radical departure from what Christians believed for 1800 years. For them to still call themselves Christians is bound to cause confusion in outsiders and even among their own community. To use your dinosaur example, it’s like calling a barn swallow a Tyrannasaurus Rex. Sure, they’re very distant cousins, but they have very little in common.

  109. I am a big fan of Phil Plait and this blog, but I am totally with Matt Dillahunty on that issue. It seems to me that Phil Plait is confusing the respect every person deserves (which is a right) with the respect to the ideas they express (which has to be earned).

    I remember many posts where Phil has been a total dick with anti-vaxxers. I won’t grant any example, since it’s trivially easy to find them ;-)

  110. Mark T.

    If you have not seen the video then please do so. Now. Really.

    Then comment.

    I happen to agree with every word. Well said and about time.

    If you need examples of people being dicks in these types of arguments then I’m forced to think you’ve never surfed the web.

  111. Jessica

    Dale McGowan at parentingbeyondbelief.com said wonderful things about this talk, so put him firmly in the “agree” column.

  112. mikekoz68

    Re: Atheist Experience Talk about a strawman! Matt Dilahunty does not in fact say since you didn’t list any of the insulting criticisms they don’t exist, what he say was he thought this claim was exaggerated and just asked for examples(which we are still waiting for)of these insults.
    I suggest you read the AE blog (then read it again) and then post a reply/apology

  113. grung0r

    Jesus comes and judges everyone before the universe ends (which is why their answer made “sense” to my former me), 4) Then we get carted away to heaven or hell

    I see. You(and presumably the students in question) were defining heaven and hell as outside the universe. I had no idea. I assumed the location of heaven and hell in relation to the universe was just a mystery. I’ve read a fair bit of theology, but I can’t enter the mind of a believer, especially the ones(most of them in western society as far as I can tell)who’s beliefs are based on feelings and vague notions.

    I think we can all agree it’s always best to know your audience, and that this discussion shows that discussion is good for that.

    I absolutely agree that one should know one’s audience. But Phil’s speech(and accomadationism as a whole) seems to argue that one should forgo one’s audience if it what one has to say will hurt that audiences feelings or challenge their beliefs. I’m not okay with that.

  114. Steve in Dublin

    This is getting to be like one of those contests we had when we were kids where the first person to blink loses. C’mon, people. There has to be a real dick out there somewhere. Could you please barge in here and settle this once and for all?

  115. grung0r

    Mark T:

    If you need examples of people being dicks in these types of arguments then I’m forced to think you’ve never surfed the web.

    And I’m forced to think you are unaware of the larger issue that this speech steps in. It’s not that anyone denies that dicks exist(The metaphorical ones! although I’m pretty confident in my beliefs about the literal ones too)but instead it is what kind of behavior Phil is defining as Dicketry exactly. Is he talking about screaming at people and punching them in the face? or is he, for instance, talking about writing a book review that mentions a logical failing you felt the book contained? We won’t know until Phil provides some examples.

  116. Hi Phil, thanks for linking to my article.

    However I must say I don’t disagree with you as such, I was merely stating that we need people who are willing to go the extra mile and “be a dick” in order to break through the barriers that believers can throw up. I tend to be much more like you, not “being a dick’ when dealing with people whose opinions I disagree with, but that says more about my temperament than anything else.

    Cheers mate

    Atheist Climber

  117. @ 117 grungor

    Exactly right. That is the issue here.

    Hypothetically, imagine I were to leave the following remark on this comment thread:

    “I’m sick and tired of people out there making silly arguments on this comment thread. You all know who I mean, and you all know who I’m talking about…”

    How would folks respond to that? My bet would be that most subsequent commenters would say something like, “Umm, no, actually we have no clue to whom you are referring, or even what constitutes ‘silly’ in your—obviously subjective—construction. Could you please specify?”

    Now imagine my reply to that was: “Oh, come on! The evidence is all around you. Have you not read this comment thread? It’s trivially easy to see what I’m talking about, so why do you need me to specify? What are you people, dense or something?”

    Now here’s the key question:

    Does that strike you as reasonable? And, would it not have made everyone’s life easier had I just been specific in the first place and not behaved as though everyone possessed the ability to read my mind? Would it be the fault of everyone on this comment thread for not intuitively knowing what I meant, or would it be my fault for being unfairly cryptic?

    This has, in essence, been Phil’s attitude toward a fairly reasonable critique of his speech.

    Phil’s a cool person. I wish he’d have just said “point taken” or “fair enough” rather than suggest that it’s somehow our fault for not being psychic. Asking for a couple specific examples is not at all out of line, and it is churlish to rebuff those making such requests.

  118. A critical thinker should follow the principle of reciprocity in civil discourse. If you insult someone with a differing opinion you are violating this principle and are not, by definition, being a critical thinker.

    Rude violations of this principle on the part of many skeptics is why I consider myself to be a critical thinker but not part of the “skeptical movement” per se. I know many other critical thinkers who also eschew the “skeptical movement” for the same reason.

    Nicely done, Phil. Great video.

  119. Brian Too

    The weakness of asking Phil for specific examples, is that they are specific and that was not Phil’s point. Phil was saying that an identifiable class of behaviour is counterproductive. Not that “so-and-so said such-and-such in X forum on date YY-MM-DD and should be reprimanded for their behaviour”. It’s not about the specifics, it’s about a stereotyped behaviour.

    OK, but specifically what is wrong with giving specifics?

    1). They tend to castigate one person when many have behaved that way;
    2). The person being singled out is going to get defensive. And what is the first defense? “You singled me out”. It’s true and it also sidetracks the debate unproductively;
    3). There is potential grounds for a liable suit in getting specific;
    4). This blog, the video, they have mass reach. You aren’t talking to a small group of 20 people, you’re reaching thousands or millions. Size matters (in this context);
    5). Phil talked about his own history and how, by not encountering dick-like behaviour, that gave him the emotional space to change his mind as he was not being attacked;
    6). We all know what dickish behaviour is. If we don’t Phil was quite clear. Being a dick is shorthand for offensive behaviour. Phil is appealing for it to stop because it drives our opponents away and causes them to dismiss our arguments. With dickish behaviour we may win the battle and still lose the war.

  120. grung0r

    Andy:
    Phil’s a cool person. I wish he’d have just said “point taken” or “fair enough” rather than suggest that it’s somehow our fault for not being psychic

    I too am a big Fan of Phil’s. But not in this case. Phil hasn’t given any examples because the cryptic nature of what constitutes “being a dick” is a feature, not a bug. Phil hopes that you will project your personal definition of “being a dick”(PZ, Pat Condell, Adolph Hitler) onto his speech’s nebulous “being a dick” phrase. We can then all pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that “those dicks sure are dickey. Good thing I’m not one of them”. After all, how could you be, seeing as how you just defined being a dick as someone with whom you dislike and disagree.

    This is all well and good, Just a little circle jerk to make us feel good about ourselves. The problem comes when The tone/civility/accommodationist arguments come up again(as they are wont to do in the skeptical community). When Phil, or perhaps his Very Good Friend Chris Mooney come out and declare someone to be a dick, then we all fall in line. We already decided during Phil’s speech that we aren’t dicks. If Phil says that this person is being a dick, then we couldn’t possibly agree with the person who has now been defined as such. It’s designed to make us not think for ourselves.

  121. I actually think pointing the finger at people specifically at this point would be counterproductive. The point is not to accuse and publicly shame a few miscreants; that makes it far too easy for someone to be like, “I’m not Dude X, therefore I am okay.” The point it not to attack a skeptic, prominent or otherwise. I think it actually works nicely rhetorically to NOT name names, because that forces people to wonder “Is it me? Am I the dick here?” And that sort of self examination is far more useful.

  122. Actually now Phil @badastronomer, after watching your video, I realise I don’t disagree with you. Your points are correct, and in my post I do actually state things much the way you do. But I do back it up by saying that it depends on the situation. I think I both agree with you and disagree with you. I think I should have been included in the “neutral” or “both ways” camp.

    Anyway, it was a great talk Phil, thank you for that.

  123. Shaun

    “I found a lot of the people were grossly misinterpreting what I was saying, and that was coming from people who weren’t actually at the talk, but felt they could still render an opinion on it. Most of that elicited a wry chuckle from me. ”

    That is smug and more than a little dickish. Do you see no irony in this?

    What this and much other comment from the accomodationist arena tells us is that it is okay to be dicks towards those broadly in your camp who you dislike, or whos methods you disapprove of, but towards those you actually oppose you must be nice/patronising.

    This is not very noble.

  124. Adam_Y

    “The message, however, isnt for people like Comfort, they are for the thousands who are exposed to his garbage, and who are perpetually misinformed by him and his ilk, they are the targets. When people like Comfort,Hovind,Dembski and all these other loons talk about evolution and science, they simply dont know what they are talking about, and we can refer to people like PZ who do, who studies this stuff on a daily basis, and who do know what they are talking about. And this sort of outreach will ultimately help people who are exposed to creationist nonsense: Here is a trained biologist calling their nonsense nonsense. And like Phil says, No one statement will ever convert a hardcore creationist, but having people telling it like it is is not damaging the cause, and ultimately every debunking and every pair of rolling eyes are just drops in a endless torrent of misinforming garbage, but at least its out there, and people are persuaded gradually, by bits here and there, some polite, some not-so-polite.”

    I would never refer anyone to PZ Meyers for the main reason what my mother hates about me sometimes. He basically is a firebrand and that rarely if ever changes anyone’s opinions on a subject. I usually have more success actually acting nice and well calm to interact with the fence sitters.

    “That is smug and more than a little dickish. Do you see no irony in this?”

    No because it its right in the stupid camp to actually comment on something you didn’t hear or pay attention to. I mean come freaking you posted this right after apparently someone who didn’t watch the speech watched it and realized he actually agreed with Phil.

  125. grung0r

    Adam_Y Says:
    Ooo gee… How about PZ Meyers?

    Notice that just like I said above, there was no introspection on Adam’s part. He just defined “being a dick” as someone he didn’t like. The other.

    This is why that Phil’s speech needed examples, and why he didn’t have any. He wanted to elicit such a reaction.

  126. Adam_Y

    “Notice that just like I said above, there was no introspection on Adam’s part. He just defined “being a dick” as someone he didn’t like. The other.”

    Wow I found someone being a dick. I like PZ Meyers. I’m just not naive enough to accept that his level of discourse PZ utilizes really contributes anything to fence sitters.

  127. erikthebassist

    I think PZ responded, kind of

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/hes_talking_about_you.php

    “Don’t you realize that mockery and rudeness and crude dismissal of his proposal is a very dickish thing to do?”

  128. I find these constant requests for examples to be highly disingenuous. I’m supposed to believe that no one has ever read the comment section of a YouTube creationist video? Seriously guys, give it up.

  129. grung0r

    Adam Y;
    wow I found someone being a dick. I like PZ Meyers.

    The comment I quoted from contained various invectives towards him, and thus I made an assumption(which can only make one an ass, not a dick) you didn’t like him. I can no longer show these, as that comment no longer seems to exist, so I will withdraw the statement.

    I will note however, that you win the grand prize of the first commenter in this thread to accuse another commenter of being a dick. Clearly, Phil’s speech has caused deep introspection on your part, and you are now ready to go back out into the world and accuse others of dickery. Perhaps you could start with H8uall66’s suggestion and go and use your new dick divining rod in the comment section of a YouTube creationist video to let them all know what dicks they are. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.

  130. James

    Umm, so you anti-dickites are using the comment sections of YouTube, newspapers, blogs, and the like as evidence for your position? Weak-sauce.

    If you think the semi-anonymous rantings of trolls, troglodytes, and poes are representative of actual discourse between real people, you need to get out more.

  131. Nic

    I can see the point, but we (as a “movement”) are in the vast minority and I think, at this point, we do still have to be warriors. You don’t get to the peaceful, diplomatic approach until you are on the precipice of some sort of turning point. If blacks in America or Indians in their own country chose peaceful dissent before its time, they both would’ve failed. MLK and Ghandi came along at the right time and used the correct methods for those specific times. I don’t think skeptics are yet at that MLK/Ghandi point. I think we’re still in the PETA days of shock and awe and getting the point across with blunt force. When the time comes for peaceful discussion (when the opposition grants us enough credence to at least pseudo-listen), then we’ll be charmers. Then, we’ll win hearts and minds. But it’s too early now.

  132. You know, I thought my blog post was sort of neutral, though leaning heavily towards Phil’s side on the issue. But Dangblog is listed in the “disagree” category. I covered both sides of the debate, pointed to merits on both sides, but ended with this:

    “You be the judge, but err on the side of non-aggression, because as I said in another post, we’re building a civilization here, right? That’s the whole point of this rational-thinking stuff—building a society worthy of being called civilized.”

  133. @Mike from Tribeca,
    Thanks for the primer! 1000 years of heaven on earth? Gosh, that sounds a lot more optimistic than the Left Behind series. Oh, and I’ll bring the movies!

    @dave

    It’s only in the last few hundred years…that much variation has existed in Christianity.

    But that’s my point—much variation does exist today in Christianity, and we ought to account for that when we challenge it instead of prepping to fight the doctrines that don’t hold much sway over the way people practice Christianity in practical terms. Furthermore, I would expand on that to say that Christianity’s incoherence doesn’t just include widely disparate doctrines, but also the huge variety of social and cultural functions that it takes on for some people. Christianity to some can be less about doctrines and more about potluck dinners in the church basement, handbell choir rehearsal, playing Halo in the side room (at one point, it was all of these things to me!), and that general sense of community. It’s a hard sell to make someone give up the afterlife, but giving up those social aspects isn’t always easy, either.

    Some “moderate” Christians have abandoned the divinity of Christ, but that’s a radical departure from what Christians believed for 1800 years. For them to still call themselves Christians is bound to cause confusion in outsiders and even among their own community. To use your dinosaur example, it’s like calling a barn swallow a Tyrannasaurus Rex. Sure, they’re very distant cousins, but they have very little in common.

    Point taken on the dinosaur example. I agree, it would help us all out if the moderate movement was willing to change their name to something other than Christian so they stop confusing the rest of us. However, I’m still not convinced it’s worth waiting around for them to actually do it…

    First off, if it causes confusion among their own community, then that’s fantastic! That’s exactly the sort of subversive element inside Christianity that we ought to be encouraging! Let the believers fight it out amongst themselves so we don’t have to! In the end, maybe they’ll break away, anyway. ;)

    But as for it causing confusion among outsiders, while it’s true it’s confusing to us, it’s also confusing to them if we attack them for beliefs they do not hold. Oftentimes, these people usually see themselves as more Christian than the fundamentalist wing because they’re following it the right way. They’re not just defining a word, they’re upholding the tradition that that word represents (the “real” tradition—to their thinking—having grown out of those unenlightened superstitions). Even worse, because of the asymmetry of conditions, that confusion may manifest itself as offense—offense at being taken for a fool, offense at being pigeonholed into a movement. Even though the offense was innocently given, it doesn’t help our cause.

    Is this a fair fight? No. But insisting that they play by our terms is kinda like the Redcoats asking the Minutemen to please come out from behind the trees so they can get a clear shot. You can insist on it, but it’s not going to do you any good. We’re the ones trying to convert them, so we kinda have to play by their terms, initially.

    But furthermore, I think this is self-defeating. One can still argue that the segment of the population who chooses to define Christianity as a moderate form is a minority and ought to heed the conventions of the majority. But if we are succeeding in fighting for reason, then that minority is likely to grow, and then by insisting on the old definition, we’re boxing them out and keeping them away, putting an emotional obstacle between them and joining us.

    Of course, not every Christian, or even every moderate Christian falls into this category, where they are driven to maintain and redefine Christianity. Many moderate Christians can be driven to the skeptic movement through guilt by association with the extremists—many people have testified to that in this thread. And I don’t consider this a question of dickishness; I just think the unintended consequences of driving away this category of moderates is a problem. Maybe it’s less of a problem than I think.

  134. David

    those christians who are in it for the community and potluck dinners are not coming to skeptic sites and debating skeptics and i really doubt skeptics are out there being dicks to them at the church picnic. As for the whole we need to play by their rules thing, no thanks. We tried that, didn’t work out so well. As for wanting examples being disingenuous, how about this, is it the commenters being dicks? the bloggers? scientists? science journals? The trolls on youtube, reddit and fark? everyone? Is it you? Don’t name names just give us a general. What behavior is dickish? is it like porn you can’t define it but you know it when you see it?

  135. Listrade

    I think we’re getting there at last. The examples of being a dick so far are:

    1. Internet forums
    2. Personal Blogs
    3. Personal Blog comments sections
    4. Opinion pieces for newspapers/magazines
    5. Opinion piece comments sections
    6. Youtube.

    Now go out and sit in a bar, cafe or any public place where a discourse is taking place and listen. Make a note of how people behave and act when discussing issues face-to-face. File that under “real world”.

    Go home, look at the above 1-6, see all the comments and file that under “not even remotely coming close to evidence of how people behave or engage”.

    But well done. Create a myth of dickery, have all your old pals assumed to be part of that group by refusing to come up with examples. Ignore the fact that how they react to harmful tripe on their own personal blogs is not the same as how they would engage with someone away from their blog. Ignore the fact that their blogs do not have this sudden evangelical manifesto of converting all of faith to atheism and are not written with the unconverted in mind. Ignore all that. I mean it’s kind of important that they, like you, write their blogs for those interested in that subject and as a source of information/rebuttal on anti-science, but ignore it anyway and pretend there are hoards of moderates dithering over whether the Earth is 3000 years old or 4 Billion. “If only they’d be nice to me, then I could make my mind up. I know as a moderate I’ve had to ignore all the nasty stuff in the bible in the first place, effectively meaning I only actually believe about 10% of it…but they’re such jerks.” Ignore that.

    Ignore too that we’re only applying this to those of faith, it’s still fine to be a dick to all other beliefs, just not faith (well proper faiths anyway, you voodoo peeps and scientologists are still fair game). I know that’s kind of hypocritical, but we can ignore that too because it doesn’t sit right with the being a dick theory.

    So overall: ignore that as far as we can tell, dicks only exist on a few websites. Ignore that we’re only forbidding dickery against those of faith (and only really the Abrahamic faiths at that). Ignore that we’ve suddenly made up a goal (that happens to be the thing the fundamentalists were warning their followers of and we all denied) of converting everyone and that yes religion is a special case after all that deserves more protection.

    On that basis, I wholeheartedly concur.

  136. Perhaps I am just missing some important piece of the puzzle. Phil begins his speech by saying that he has noticed a disturbing trend of people being rude on the blogs and bulletin boards he reads online. Yes, I understand that he is not mentioning any specific blogs or bulletin boards, and I can see how that may be vexing to his audience, but I also understand that he may not want to single anyone out. What I am having trouble understanding is why people making comments here seem to want real world examples of people being rude to believers when Phil is so clearly talking about online activity.

  137. Dr_Cy_Coe

    For me one of the attractions of the concept of skepticism is its individuality:
    Think for yourself. Dare to be critical. Don’t accept someone else’s convictions without spending thought on it yourself.

    What I’m observing here in this discussion is that there seems to be a need for a common consensus on ‘foreign’ policy.
    I’m of the opinion that being skeptic doesn’t require an edict on external attitude. To me the ‘Don’t be a dick’ argument is starting the bear the hallmarks of Doctrine and its discussion seems to me to head towards a schism of Skepticism.
    Is this First Council of BAB, AD 2010?

    I exaggerate above so please don’t explode, but one of the reasons why I hesitate to let myself be labelled (a Skeptic or at all) is that labels come, or invariably will at some point, with baggage. Baggage attached by others, which I don’t wish to carry as I don’t feel it applies to who I am.

    George Carlin: “I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate a group of people with a common purpose, because pretty soon they have little hats, and armbands, and fight songs, and a list of people they’re going to visit at 3AM”

  138. Watoosh

    Dr_Cy_Coe:

    The reason why religious doctrines are considered bad is because they aren’t grounded in reason and they aren’t allowed to be questioned. “Don’t be a dick” isn’t a doctrine if it’s true and is open for discussion. Do you think anyone’s going to be excommunicated from the Church of Skepticism or burned at the stake for questioning that “command”?

    Personally I see nothing wrong with getting together with a common goal. Yes, that’s how religions operate, but that’s also why they’re successful, and we definitely need to harness some of successful methods to further our cause. If a desert tribe in 2000 B.C had figured out that the world can be studied with something called the scientific method, which requires free expression and open inquiry, and that no arbitrary rules of conduct or incantations are needed as long as we use our common sense, we wouldn’t need skeptic debates or meetings because that “religion” would be sufficient.

    There are good things about religions, and the social atmosphere and common guidelines are a couple of them. As long as we remain mindful about it, we can safely set some “rules of conduct”, and as long as those rules are grounded in reason, we should be able to defend them and stick with them. Truth has nothing to fear from inquiry, remember?

    There’s something to be said about baggage as well. Skepticism has a big tent, and anyone who’s willing to fight homeopathy is welcomed by skeptics in that regard, despite their other, possibly kooky beliefs. However, that’s not the same thing as accommodating or respecting those beliefs – if you say something stupid (“you” meaning anyone in general), expect other skeptics to flail you alive (metaphorically) for it. Skeptics can and ought to have heated debates about politics, economy and conversational methods, because what is the value of science if not knowing the truth? As Phil Plait said, there are a million ways to be wrong but only one way to be right, and this includes all claims about existence (though not necessarily normative claims). Therefore even a statement such as “All other things being equal, using conversational method X will influence person A’s beliefs more positively than method Y” has a true/false answer. Even though our understanding of human psychology is waaaay fuzzier and more convoluted than my example, these questions still have answers, and as skeptics we should be interested in them, not just handwave them away as matters of opinion.

  139. Listrade

    @ h8uall66 # 137

    Examples would be nice for a number of reasons:

    1. Context and scale
    Under what circumstances are they acting like dicks? Is it provoked, is it justified?

    Context also as to where it is occurring. Is it generally blogs, comments sections or forums that are really only read by a small number of people anyway. Is it only a handful of people acting like dicks or is it everyone? See without the context, it’s hard to know whether this whole dick problem actually is such a big issue.

    2. Scope
    The thing I can’t get without the examples is what framing and accommodating applies to. As I see it we are only talking about religion, nothing else. It’s only the moderate religious folks who get the special treatment and no other belief. Why? I mean, I can frame certain aspects of engineering for children as I know they don’t have the knowledge to talk about the more complex stuff, but how do I frame stuff for those who are just refusing to take on board a specific aspect of science because of a belief, not because of capability? But again, why just religion? Some examples would help me understand if it is just religion that gets the non-dick approach.

    3. To protect the non-dicks.
    Immediately it was presumed that Phil was talking about certain individuals (the same ones Mooney wrote about), well is Phil talking about them or not? The problem is that because Phil isn’t clear people are going ahead and talking about these people anyway.

    4. To help assess the original proposition
    Books and a speech are now out there saying there’s all these dicks going around, but is there? The best Mooney could do was promulgate a complete lie. So Phil dedicates a key note speech to the concept but without giving the context. And we’re all left hanging. I have my own proposition that it’d be great if you all didn’t stick your cat in the blender (and I hate cats, but I’ve noticed a growing trend on the internet for normalisation of cat abuse). How can you disagree with that? What are you a cat murderer?

    The other point is that if this is just online stuff, then why did the speech ask about people having fingers stuck in their faces or people shouting at them? Umm, emoticons and caps lock don’t really equate to physical abuse.

    We’ve a whole manifesto now being created behind a proposition that has still yet to be confirmed as being a real problem. But it’s selling books now so it must be true. At worst it might involve a few hypersensitive souls turned off by blunt language or the usual internet trolling. Well I’m sorry, but if you haven’t copped on or can’t deal with the fact that you may be offended by the internet or that *gasp* your ideas and beliefs may be challenged on the internet, then time to cancel the broadband subscription.

    But we don’t know if it’s even that. We don’t know whether 80% of the undecided are helped by the blunt nature and it is just 20% who are turned off or if it even is a factor at all. We don’t know because we get a generic casting of sceptics being dicks, everyone’s tarred with the same brush and none of those making the accusation (which in turn means their friends get tarred) have the decency to give a few examples of what they mean so we can discuss it. No, it’s easier to make the all encompassing accusation, and dismiss anyone who asks any questions (at least Phil doesn’t ban or censor comments).

  140. Listrade:

    I think we’re getting there at last. The examples of being a dick so far are:

    1. Internet forums
    2. Personal Blogs
    3. Personal Blog comments sections
    4. Opinion pieces for newspapers/magazines
    5. Opinion piece comments sections
    6. Youtube.

    Now go out and sit in a bar, cafe or any public place where a discourse is taking place and listen. Make a note of how people behave and act when discussing issues face-to-face. File that under “real world”.

    Go home, look at the above 1-6, see all the comments and file that under “not even remotely coming close to evidence of how people behave or engage”.

    Considering how much time people spend online, in what way is online communication not representative of how we engage each other?

  141. Mr. Plait, you put me (Alonzo Fyfe: Atheist Ethicist) in the “disagree” camp.

    I suspect that this implies that you disagree with something that I wrote. I would like to know what it is.

    Nothing in your speech tells me where you might disagree with what I have written. I did not contradict any of the claims that you made in your speech. I stated explicitly that they are true and relevant when the goal involves changing beliefs.

    However, I presented the option of a second goal – the goal of altering desires – and argued that praise and condemnation are the legitimate tools for this kind of project, and that this project is sometimes useful. We praise virtue in order to reinforceme it, and condemn vice in order to promote aversions to it.

    As I said, I cannot go to your speech to determine where you disagree with those claims, because your speech concerns changing beliefs and are true and relevant for that project. So, if you disagree with me on the project of affecting desires (promoting virtue and inhibiting vices), I would like to know which of my claims you think are false and your reasons for believing that.

  142. It’s probably too late in the thread, but I’ll answer critics who demand examples of big-A Atheists being dicks — from today’s news:

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/08/18/utah.highway.crosses/index.html?hpt=Sbin

    Incidents like this aren’t hard to find.

    Does banning these crosses educate anyone? No.

    Does it save taxpayers money to ban these crosses? Not really. The crosses were placed and maintained by a private group.

    Is anyone likely to be coerced into religion by these crosses? No.

    It’s not as if such incidents are rare; big-A atheists often find useless ways to harass Christians. Time, effort, and money would be more effectively spent on working toward real change in society; banning roadside memorials is simply MEAN (or a sign of severe insecurity or vindictiveness.)

  143. grung0r

    All in all, through 140 some odd comments, we have gotten no closer to divining what Phil meant by ‘dick’. Some have suggested he meant Youtube commenters or internet trolls. Scott Robert Ladd (146) thinks it’s dickitery to sue to protect the establishment clause. Others think that it is so self-evident as to not justify an explanation, and that anyone that asks for one is, well…being a dick. Personally, as I said above, I think Phil failed to cite examples because he wants us to project whatever our own definition of ‘dick’ is onto his speech. Then we can sleep soundly in the knowledge that ‘no, we aren’t dicks, it’s those other dudes’. I have seen nothing yet to prove me wrong.

  144. Alonzo Fyfe (145) and Dan Green (136): I looked again at your posts and agree with you, so I moved them. The thing is, I was trying to be as non-biased as I could be, so if people disagreed with the premise or had arguments against what I said, I put them in the disagree pile. I didn’t want to have a “Agree, with caveats” category or a “mildly disagree” category because I didn’t want to have too many subheadings. Maybe I should take out the categories altogether…

    Sorry about that, and thanks for letting me know.

  145. Listrade

    MikeTheInfidel

    Last time I checked, 28% of the world had internet access. So even if a percentage of those do spend a lot of time on the internet, it isn’t by any stretch representative of how we communicate.

    It is a form of communication, not the only form of communication. While it may be for some, or at least their main means of communication, it is hardly representative of everyone the “we” you reference. I for one, and many I know, use the internet but don’t include as representative of how they engage.

    As I said, go to any bar or public area where people are discussing everything from sport to politics and see what goes on. That’s still our main means of engagement and discussion: face-to-face. The internet is not representative of that.

    I see the internet as having a whole set of caveats behind hit before you use it. One being it isn’t by and large for the easily offended. Take opinions expressed by all those with their own personal blogs with a pinch of salt. So dicks acting up on the internet? Ever was, ever will be.

    If there are examples of this stretching into actual life away from the computer, then yes I’m interested and I want to hear more.

  146. Dr_Cy_Coe

    @Watoosh:
    It is this type of phrasing that tingles my spider-sense – ‘conversion’, ‘mission’, ‘to further *our* cause’, ‘anyone who’s willing to fight’. I find the definition of a skeptic to align nicely with my personal image, but I don’t need the baggage of taking on a cause to fight anyone, least of all on their very personal philosophy.
    Can I be labelled a skeptic without taking on a mission to convert people who subscribe to a religion?
    When this discussion is resolved, can I be labelled a skeptic if I were to (not) restrict myself to civilized conversation in debating non-skeptics?
    As an individual I find that baggage introduced by others is restricting and could require me to change my labels constantly.

    And if I were to accept this conversion / combat mission, then I would like to establish myself what would be the best way to go at it. This will very likely vary a lot based on my proto-convert. To comment on your point that “All other things being equal, using conversational method X will influence person A’s beliefs more positively than method Y” has a true/false answer: I accept that this is true (that the answer is binary). Is that the basis of the discussion though? I don’t think so. Person A isn’t really one specific individual. If you replace ‘person A’ with ‘person A, where A is any member of set B’ then I don’t assign much value to a true/false answer as the variation within set B can be assumed to be large.

    ‘there are a million ways to be wrong but only one way to be right’
    I don’t fully subscribe to this notion. To ‘be right’ implies an absolute. The scientific method involves assuming something isn’t right and this something can be improved upon. The resulting improvement is just that, an improvement. It very likely still isn’t absolutely right. We can have an idea that matches best with reality and a method that is best at doing so. We should strive to improve both. An example of this is the recently discussed magnetar.
    By my own logic, it is possible I have misunderstood your paraphrasing of Phil’s words.

  147. My full response to Phil’s critics:

    http://bit.ly/9lm22v

  148. @grungor (147):

    The Utah case does not defend the establishment cause. The government does not PREVENT anyone — even Atheists — from making roadside memorials; it merely allows one group to do so. And it is certainly a case of “dickery”, in that winning the case does not open minds, inform, or otherwise advance the “cause” of Atheism. It simply pisses people off to no good end.

    Why not do something proactive and positive, and ask the Utah State government to allow atheists to put up memorials? You don;t even need to put any up — just see if the state will refuse you the same right granted to a Christian group. If they don’t give you an equal right, THEN a lawsuit would have some value.

  149. Red

    So do we know that not being a dick is the best way to accomplish our goals? I don’t think we do, and given the paltriness of successes so far, I’m led to believe that being ‘nice’ is only occasionally the correct approach.

    If we’re really concerned with reason and rationality, shouldn’t we be willing to embrace whatever methods will best produce the results we desire, even if we find those methods to be distasteful? Also, shouldn’t we, as people who value reason, be critically examining our efforts and their success rates? I get the feeling that even skeptics use whatever methods are most congruous with their personal preferences and then seek out evidence to confirm their feelings. That, of course, is not rational.

  150. @Red (153)

    Do you have any evidence that being a dick is effective?

  151. grung0r

    Scott:

    The Utah case does not defend the establishment cause.

    It appears that the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals disagrees with that assertion.

  152. @grungor (155)

    Courts have been wrong before, and decisions get over-turned…. after all, courts have, at times, upheld racial restrictions on voting and the right of government to violate various constitutional rights.

    I assume that you always agree with every court decision?

  153. I agree, don’t be a dick, etc.

    However, when it becomes politicized like this, when there is created an “us,” some of “us” are always going to become a “them.” In this case, the atheists are going to be the dicks. That’s because atheists as a subgroup excludes people on principle, and oh my god how rude. Therefore, as a subset of skeptics, the atheists are the baddies (look at the comments right here saying that atheists are exclusionary and dogmatic, sigh) and theists, as a subset of skeptics, are the victims of that; poor theistic skeptics, religion shouldn’t be subject to skepticism, lets weed out the baddies.

    So maybe it’s more comfortable to allow myself, as an atheist, to be a scapegoat in this, no matter how polite or vitriolic I am at any given time. I’m not much of a fighter or diplomat. I just like being who I am. I’m not comfortable with the seeking of scapegoats, and so I’m not comfortable with the seeking out of dicks. It’s fine to say “lets all try to not be dicks,” but I’m not comfortable with the idea of weeding out the dicks in “our” Movement Tent. It just doesn’t seem very Skeptic-Like. It just is, unfortunately, very human, and very like movements. I wish I could stay away from the tent-flap, but I’m in whether I like it or not. Just don’t expect me to help seek political power for any movement, as I happen to have other tents that aren’t very popular in the Skeptic campground, even though they’re right next door.

    Count me out.

  154. Listrade

    Scott Robert Ladd #155

    And you disagree with every court case on the basis of a few bad ones?

    The court agreed it was the state endorsing a specific religion. Note, the crosses remain, they Atheists haven’t gone in with bulldozers and pulled them down. It’s just likely that no more crosses will be approved or that the memorials are no longer crosses.

  155. Thank you for the video and the blog. As a Christian I know that we need to learn better ways to communicate and relate to others, especially those who do not agree with us.

    It seems to me that most people are skeptics of one kind of another, thus it is unfair and unwise to class all believers are nonsceptics. Certainly I am a skeptic when it comes to the paranormal, flying saucers, alien visits, while I do believe that ecologyn and climate change are real, evn though some scientists do not or do not take it seriously.

    I would like to give you this idea to think about. Ther greatest divide in world view in the world today is not skepticism or nit, but Modernism vs Postmodernism. Modernism is based on old absolutist Newtonian science and traditional absolutist philosophy, as well as traditional religious ideas. Since it is based on a world view which has worked well in the past, it is hard for humans, who are basically change avoiding, to change to a new and apparently irrational postmodern view.

    The Postmodern view is the reverse of the Modern. It is based on the scientific revolution created by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Where Moderns see absolutes, Postmoderns see relativism. Where Modernists see absolute values, Postmodernist see relativistic values. Where Modernists see a quest for Truth, Postmodernists see the need to deny the reality of Truth.

    Now both sides have merit. Newton was not completely wrong, while relativity is right. However they both have serious problems. As I said Modernism is based on outdated science and tands to promote legalism which is bad theology and philosophy. Postmodernism is based on a misinterpretation of Einstein.

    Under the old system, things were real, while relationships were not. According to Einstein relationships are real, while things are less so. Things are real in that they embody relationshps. Unfortunatly this idea is not a part of Postmodern relativism, which says that nothing is “real” because all is relative, thus maintaining the same cosmological values as the old philosophy.

    Thus both sides are at stalemate, because both are right and both are wrong.
    If you are interested in my approach to solving this dilemma, please see my book, DARWIN’S MYTH: Malthus, Ecology, and the Meaning of Life. Do not worry. I am not skeptical about evolution as a natural process, just Darwin’s formulation of how this happens based on Malthus. I think that working out this problem can resolve the Modern – Postmodern problem if people are willing to give it a try.

  156. @Listrade (157)

    I do not automatically agree or disagree with court decisions. I attempt to rationally analyze them based on who is being harmed or protected.

    I am against decisions that limit a woman’s right to control her own body; I also am against decisions that create furor without useful effect. How is society made better by the decision of the court in the Utah case?

    Also, isn’t banning religious symbology an endorsement of big-A Atheist beliefs? The establishment cause is about preventing government from IMPOSING a religion; it does not require government to BAN religion.

    How do roadside memorials to fallen police officers impose religion on you?

  157. Red

    Scott, about the same amount of evidence that being a dick isn’t effective, which is roughly equal to the amount of evidence that being ‘nice’ is effective.

    Of course, that’s my real point. We don’t have any definitive answers on what best accomplishes our goals. In fact, we don’t have any definitive goals. Instead of everybody arguing their opinions, why don’t we, as people of science, start acting scientifically and get some real freaking answers? For all our claims of rationality, we have been decidedly irrational when it comes to figuring out the best ways to combat magical thinking in the world.

    Maybe being ‘nice’ is the most effective method. But no one can say for sure because there is no hard data to support it. I think we’re all smart enough to figure out a way to get some conclusive answers here.

  158. grung0r

    Scott:
    I assume that you always agree with every court decision?

    I see. Disagreeing with someone = that someone “being a dick”

    The establishment cause is about preventing government from IMPOSING a religion; it does not require government to BAN religion.

    No, it requires government to not ESTABLISH religion. The consensus is that this includes endorsement of one religion over another, which is what Christian crosses tend to do,

    My point throughout this entire thread has been that Phil failed to define his terms. He gave a nebulous definition and told us not to do engage in that nebulous definition’s behavior. That you are able to define this particular lawsuit as an example of “being a dick”(per Phil’s speeches’ definition) despite the fact that the group that filed the lawsuit, one of the highest courts in the land, and I’m guessing the vast majority of this blogs readership think otherwise speaks directly to his speeches’ failure to do anything other then fellate the people who projected their political enemies positions onto the definition of “being a dick”.

  159. Jack Mitcham

    I’ve been in sales for the past 7 years, and I can say that being nice is FAR more effective at convincing people than being a dick.

  160. TonyInBatavia

    grung0r, re: your final paragraph in comment #162, you could not have summarized it more nicely for me. Thanks.

    This whole “don’t be a dick” meme was at first interesting but has now lost my interest. Until I have some concrete examples and non-examples to see, analyze, dissect, ponder and discuss, I’ll have to assume that Phil was just employing a provocative (if somewhat dickish) way to say something that’s already evident to three year olds. His ambiguity furthers no cause but has had the effect of someone hitting a wasp’s nest. If Phil legitimately tries to address the questions that Matt Dillahunty poses in #30 rather than blowing them off, I might re-engage. Until then, I feel like this has been a pointless exercise.

  161. Jack Mitcham

    I haven’t read all 160+ comments here, but how’s this for an example?

    Compare the title of Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” to Carl Sagan’s “The Varieties of Scientific Experience, A Personal View of the Search for God”

    In Sagan’s book, he does a good job at POLITELY dismantling the arguments for a god. I haven’t had a chance to read Dawkins’ book yet (it’s on my list), but the very title suggests that believers are delusional.

  162. @Red (161)

    We agree on general principle. Anecdotal evidence suggests that being “nice” is more effective that being “a dick” — ask any salesman. And what we’re trying to do here is SELL ideas.

    Religion tends to use good cop/bad cop: Follow the rules, and you get rewarded in the afterlife, break the rules and suffer for eternity.

    Atheism COULD use a similar but rational approach. For example: Be rational, and you’ll live a longer, happier life — succumb to superstition, and you’ll die of horrible diseases because you didn’t vaccinate yourself!

    Atheists might also recognize a fact: Most people are either incapable of or uninterested in thinking. You can scream and yell at such folk all you want — or be nice to them, for that matter — and it won’t do you a lick of good. You can lead a person to evidence, but you can;t make them think. So why waste time trying?

    Product advertising appeals to people’s baser instincts — say, the desire for attention, or lust… maybe that’s what atheism needs to sell it’s message: More boobies!

  163. @Jack Mitchum (165)

    Yes! Great example.

  164. David

    @165 Of course, The god Delusion was on the best seller list for months while pretty much only skeptics and Carl Sagan fans have heard of the other book. So which worked better for getting the message out?

  165. Red

    Scott, instead of referring to anecdotal evidence and what could work, how about us scientific minded people do some damn science and get real answers? We’ve all been guilty of behaving irrationally here and it’s high time we got back to doing what we do best- thinking critically and devising scientific ways to get some definitive results.

  166. grung0r

    We’ve all been guilty of behaving irrationally here…

    I stand by what I’ve said here, and do not consider it irrational. Unless you have evidence of my guilt, please remove me from your ‘we’. I’ve put too much time and effort in here to have it written off via a baseless assertion in an attempt to make nice.

  167. Wes

    The fact is that peer pressure does play a part in our belief systems. When the majority of people if your life find something to be vapid or stupid and are staunch about this view, you are likely to hold the same view to be part of the “smart” group and not the “stupid” one. The more that the “stupid” group is ostracized, the more likely each new member of the community will side with the “smart” group on the issue because few people like to be part of an ostracized group. That is, outside of the people already in it.
    In essence, the more we ostracize, call names, ridicule and deride those who hold a anti-science, anti-rational/critical thinking point of view, the less likely they will find members in the general public. Damn few adults want to be declared stupid by their peers and even fewer teenagers.

  168. @Red (169)

    I can find no such scientific studies. I’d love to see one.

  169. @Wes (171)

    Ostracize means to “exclude from society.” Peer pressure only works when people think YOU are their peer.

    My experience with people is that they become MORE attached to their tribe when attacked, just like Americans became more patriotic after 9/11. Trying to ostracize Christians into being atheists is laughable. Atheists are not considered “peers”, is there is no “peer pressure.”

    And do *you* feel like becoming a Christian when one of them calls *you* stupid? I suspect not.

    Atheists are an extreme minority. That’s a fact, regardless of what study or survey you use. Their tribe is a tad larger than ours. Well, more than a tad — according to the best estimates I can find, only about 15-20% of the world’s population can be considered non-religious — and that includes a lot of different groups, not just “atheists.”

    The more we “ostracize”, call names,. ridicule, and deride, the more people run from rational thought into the comfort of the majority.

  170. Red

    grungor

    You’re misunderstanding what I said. If you’ve ever expressed an opinion on which methods are better or more useful when debating believers and didn’t have hard data to back you up, you were behaving irrationally. And as far as I know, there is no hard data on which methods are best, so anyone who offers an opinion on a particular method’s efficacy is not being rational or scientific about it. We can do better than that.

    Scott

    So would I.

  171. Jack Mitcham

    @168:

    I’d argue that Sagan had a much greater impact than Dawkins has, when taken as a whole. My point in comparing the two books was to compare their styles. I can’t speak for anybody else, but Sagan had a huge impact on me.

  172. Wes

    @Scott Robert Ladd (173)

    While I do agree with your assertion that when insulted we take comfort in our group and usually remain there, I am talking about all of those people who really don’t care about this topic or are in what I like to call the general public. The general public avoids this type of discussion like the plague. It’s the non-interested chunk of our society that jumps on whatever bandwagon that gives them the most sense of self-worth that we need to, for lack of a better word, recruit. Anyone that has seen any US politics in the last 10 years knows damn well that sometimes all you need to do is make your opponent look worse to get elected. We know it works.

    So, believe it or not, the people that are not directly involved in the discussion (i.e. the general public) will respond. Particularly, the younger generations. This is the same method that the early church used to rid themselves of competing sects and religions.

    Note- I am not suggesting that this method is the only one, nor is it the best for all people. However, it will work for some of the public at large.

  173. grung0r

    Red:

    You’re misunderstanding what I said. If you’ve ever expressed an opinion on which methods are better or more useful when debating believers and didn’t have hard data to back you up, you were behaving irrationally.

    Well, whether a normative statement is irrational is a debate that goes back thousands of years. None the less, I have not engaged in the behavior you have described, nor have many other people in this thread. Please remove us from your “we”.

  174. rabrav

    Thanks Phil.
    While listening to your talk, my mind was revisiting the most recent ZING-ers that I had shot at people who had disagreed with me on the topics of ‘faith’.
    And you know what. Although I felt comforted after those nasty encounters, now I feel guilty.

    I had forgotten my self-imposed rule —
    “Never treat others in a way you don’t want them to treat you.”

    thank you for voicing it out loud. It helped.

  175. Red

    grungor

    So you do not- and have never (be it in this thread or in any other discussion online or in person)-issue opinions, ideas or thoughts on the best ways to go about opposing woo-woo? Very well, consider yourself removed.

  176. itskurtins

    Sorry But I am a dick. If I am visiting some one and they keep trying to push some thing on me that I just cant except then I leave the room. I can only excuse my self by saying that the universe does not revolve around me. Bad I know but that is my only response to the ‘Secret”. I can;t stay for that one last lecture, and if I am being abrupt and dismissive well no you can not proselytize me. Nor will I argue the point. But then have I lost the argument by default?

  177. Sister Chromatid

    I think “being a dick” is the term accommodationsts use when an atheist treats religious woo the same way the accommodationist treats other woo– such as claims that the moon landing was a hoax, the 2012 scare, and the “prophesies” self-proclaimed psychics.

    If one is too polite, it comes across as respect for the notion that the emperor COULD really be wearing magical invisible robes that only the chosen can see. I think the “don’t be a dick” speech was really an admonishment for atheists to treat religious faith differently than we treat other faith-based notions or pseudo-scientific claims without having to give a reason why, because otherwise, we are supposedly harming some cause.

    I want to compare and contrast the quotes of the supposed “dicks “with Phil’s quotes regarding woo that calls into question his scientific expertise. Are they really more dickish? Or is Phil talking out of both sides of his mouth? I’d like to compare and contrast the effect of the so-called “dicks” with the “non dicks” by reading their main commenters and judging for myself who appears to have a more positive affect on furthering rational thought.

    Whether someone is a “dick” or not is a subjective opinion of course. I find Chris Mooney and his most ardent supporters to be super dickish– but Mooney thinks we should all be more like him. He thinks PZ, Coyne, and Dawkins are dickish, but I find them far more honest and worthy of reading than Mooney. Of course, they are all evolutionary biologists and have had to put up with more vilification and dishonesty than anyone in any other science due to religion, plus they have to put up with this constant inane notion of the accommodationists that faith is something worthy of respect. (The “belief in belief” crowd according to Dennett.) I suspect that I would find the people telling others not to be a dick to be bigger dicks than those they are admonishing if they were to actually name names.

    How hard is it to cut and paste the worst quotes from the biggest dicks so we can all know what exactly it is Phil doesn’t think we should be like? Who is it that he thinks he’s so much more effective than and how? Is there a way to measure this effect? Or was this a feel good speech for those who can think, “I’m so much better than those unmentionable “others” — who are dicks?

  178. David

    @180
    “Sorry But I am a dick. If I am visiting some one and they keep trying to push some thing on me that I just cant except then I leave the room. I can only excuse my self by saying that the universe does not revolve around me. Bad I know but that is my only response to the ‘Secret”. I can;t stay for that one last lecture, and if I am being abrupt and dismissive well no you can not proselytize me. Nor will I argue the point. But then have I lost the argument by default?”

    I don’t think that really qualifies as being a dick. who knows though, at this point i have no clue what “being a dick” means.

  179. Sister Chromatid

    Apparently, to Jack @ 165, Dawkin’s book title, The God Delusion, is dickish.

    I think it’s akin to saying the proverbial emperor is naked. Some might find it dickish; I find it honest and bold. How exactly is belief in god(s) different than a delusion, Jack? Perhaps it comes across as “dickish” to those who want to believe it’s different than a delusion, but they have no evidence to support such a notion, so their mind looks for a reason to dislike the messenger and avoid that message.

  180. Damon

    Hmmm. You’re right, Phil. Science may be a legitimate pursuit, but many well-meaning folks with– ah, shall we say, “personality disorders”– use it as an excuse to belittle others for their own gain. I see it all the time. It’s exactly the same as trolling. Doesn’t matter what you believe in or what you think you know, you can never legitimately claim to be acting altruistically or even evolved for that matter if you behave like a dick to another human being.

    I’m not surprised by the huge outcry to your speech; I’d say 99% of the frequenters to your site are composed of these toolbags who consider themselves “evolved”. As if one person intrinsically has more of a right to their opinion because they “know stuff”.

  181. @Sister Chromatid

    so their mind looks for a reason to dislike the messenger and avoid that message.

    But isn’t that the point?—that people are emotional and irrational and won’t listen to the message if it’s taken as an insult? I think Phil’s thesis is better restated as “Don’t come off as a dick” (perhaps with the preface “Make every reasonable effort…”)

    Personally, my feeling is title of The God Delusion was an overall net gain, by virtue of being an attention-getter. But I also felt put-off by it at the time and never read it—and I clearly remember a friend of mine, a non-believer but who didn’t identify with the atheist movement—was also put off by it. “He’s just so snobby about it!” were her exact words. I don’t mean to take her anecdote as evidence, I’m just trying to inject some specifics into the discussion.

  182. grung0r

    Science may be a legitimate pursuit, but many well-meaning folks with– ah, shall we say, “personality disorders”–…

    I’d say 99% of the frequenters to your site are composed of these toolbags…

    you can never legitimately claim to be acting altruistically or even evolved for that matter if you behave like a dick to another human being.

    Irony, thy name is Damon.

    The fact is all the ad hominems and accusations of dicketry in these last few threads have gone in one direction: From the defenders of the speech to it’s detractors. If your speeches intent was to make people look inside inwards and question whether they were the dicks, then your speech Phil was a miserable failure, as least by the comment threads account.

  183. Sister Chromatid

    I think Dawkin’s “Converts Corner” shows that he’s won more people over to rational thinking than those who criticize him. Different strokes, for different folks, eh? Maybe the thin skinned should stay away.

    I’m just not convinced that those calling other skeptic’s dicks are having more success in promoting rational thought than those they criticize. In my experience, religion is the vector by which people come to think that faith is a noble quality– worthy of salvation– and a path for knowing something true. Coddling that notion, just enables (and ennobles) the delusion. And I don’t think science should be in the business of promoting god belief any more than it is in the business of promoting demon belief or belief in ghosts or psychics. It should be a candle in the proverbial darkness– not a coddler of the darkness. But whenever a skeptic treats religion the way skeptics treat other woo, they get accused of being dickish (or militant or strident or shrill.)

    When a skeptic tells other skeptics not to be a dick, he’s implying there are a group of dickish skeptics out there that should act more like him to further some cause. It’s a dickish way to silence others and foster prejudice while elevating one’s own approach –similar to what Mooney did in UA –in my opinion.

    I am a follower of Phil, but I think he blew it with this speech. If the worst dickishness is Dawkin’s book title and other vague writings that no one will cut and paste—then theists have very thin skin indeed, and maybe it’s time for them to examine the god that can’t stand up to such scrutiny. Why should they need other skeptics to “respect” their belief or defer to their beliefs? How weak is their god and/or their faith? You don’t need others to believe when the evidence is on your side. If theists beliefs are true then they are true whether people believe or not and the evidence should accumulate like it has for every other thing we’ve come to understand about our universe.

    Besides, don’t most people presume that they are in the “non dick” category? It sounds to me that those calling other people dicks are more dickish (and less effective at promoting critical thought) than those they are calling dicks. So what was the goal of the speech? And did it work? Or did most listeners think, “I’m glad I’m not a dick like those mean old dicks he was talking about!” (– even thought they might well be the very dicks Phil had in mind?)

    I think that no matter how polite you are, once someone realizes that you think of their sacred beliefs in the same manner that they think of other woo– they are going to think of you as a dick. Heck, even Dennett is called strident! There might not be a non-dickish way of letting people know that you think their most sacred beliefs are on a very shaky foundation. But that doesn’t mean that people should feel cowed into pretending that faith is groovy.

    When people feel “saved” because of what they believe, then I’m not sure that coddling them is the best way to change their minds anyhow. I think provocation might be a better means of getting them to question faith. I’d be interested in seeing data on the topic. Remember, the “other side” is telling people that they will live “happily ever after” for having the right faith and be punished forever if they doubt. They are the ones telling their congregation that scientists are arrogant and that, without faith, people will be lost, immoral, and unhappy .These are dangerous, primitive, and childish memes, and I think they are as damaging as demon belief or the notion that gods need sacrifices from humans. How many people believe because they are afraid not too? For many of these people, a “dickish skeptic” might be EXACTLY what they need to finally be able to laugh at the beliefs that once held their thinking captive.

    I’m not saying there isn’t room for those who think they are non-dicks– I just think most people think they are not being dicks… even those who others might think of as dicks. And there’s room in this movement for all kinds. There’s no evidence that Phil’s brand of skepticism is more effective then those he thinks of as dicks– or how many people think Phil’s approach is dickish. Heck, we don’t even know WHO those people (that Phil thinks of as “dickish”) are or what it is they said that he finds dickish. I guess, like gods, everyone just assumes that everyone else knows who is being referenced while no one really “knows” anything since it’s all opinion and conjecture.

  184. Marley

    Phil, I’m nobody, but I’m going to jump in here and agree.

    I’m the first one to back out of a discussion the instant it turns dickish, no matter who is being the dick, or whether it’s directed at me or not. I don’t need it and it’s not going to accomplish anything. I simply ask questions. I make it clear that I don’t want answers, so people don’t have to rush to come up with something, but I try to plant a seed of curiosity or even doubt whenever I can.

    I do this because I remember how I got to where I am, despite being raised a Catholic, attending Catholic school, and considering (as a child) devoting my life to the church. I couldn’t reconcile the actions of my church leaders with the words of this really cool Christ guy, and the more I tried to understand, the farther away I moved. But I got there on my own–because the religious people around me were dicks.

    If I can get someone to ask “Why?” or “How?”, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. What they do with that question is up to them. It’s not going to be easy, or fast, and it’s not going to happen for everyone, but it has happened for some. I’m proud of them.

  185. @Sister Chromatid

    Very good post, I agree with many of your points. Sorry in advance—I’m going to respond kinda out of order.

    In my experience, religion is the vector by which people come to think that faith is a noble quality– worthy of salvation– and a path for knowing something true. Coddling that notion, just enables (and ennobles) the delusion.

    That is true, but it’s also a bit of a strawman, IMO. We’re not talking about coddling any such notion or bad idea; we’re talking about coddling their egos. I would never say something like, “I respect your belief on that issue” if I didn’t—but I might say “I can see why you might hold such strong belief; but…”

    then theists have very thin skin indeed, and maybe it’s time for them to examine the god that can’t stand up to such scrutiny.

    Well, it’s always time for them to examine such a god, regardless of whether they’re thin- or thick-skinned. I can’t speak for Phil or put words in his mouth (and have tried to avoid doing so), but my own point is that coming off as a dick—even if you don’t think you’re being a dick—isn’t always the best way to get them to examine it. And if you accept the premise that not coming off as a dick can at least be sometimes helpful in the art of persuasion, then it follows that one ought to be mindful about what a given theist you’re having a discussion with might perceive as dickish. And then it follows that if you’re not sure if you might be coming across as a dick, instead of simply saying “it’s impossible to define what’s dickish for all people” (which is true) it might be helpful to make an informed judgment about what your particular theist discussion partner actually believes is dickish.

    Tangent: Oftentimes, I think that can be accomplished by simply asking them what they believe. I’ve come across debates myself (some even in the threads on these posts) where we assume a believer of a faith X holds a belief Y because the historical theology of X contains Y; yet, in practical terms, a believer defines their faith personally as a mere subset of the possible beliefs within the set X (which makes sense, since organized religions these days are so philosophically incoherent even within themselves).

    If theists beliefs are true then they are true whether people believe or not and the evidence should accumulate like it has for every other thing we’ve come to understand about our universe.

    That’s true, but it’s missing the point, since yet…they still believe. Nobody’s saying they’re on solid ground, it’s just a matter of how do we talk them down from it? Like Phil said, how do we convince them they’re not thinking clearly when they’re not thinking clearly?

    In a perfect, rational world, we could lay out our arguments uncompromisingly—even harshly—100% of the time and convince people with a 100% success rate and not have to worry about thin-skinnedness and hurt feelings. But obviously, we don’t live in that world, we live in a demon-haunted one. Boo. :(

    Different strokes, for different folks, eh? [. . .] For many of these people, a “dickish skeptic” might be EXACTLY what they need to finally be able to laugh at the beliefs that once held their thinking captive. [. . .] When people feel “saved” because of what they believe, then I’m not sure that coddling them is the best way to change their minds anyhow. I think provocation might be a better means of getting them to question faith.

    Fair point. My own gut reaction is that few people want to join a movement of people who have offended them. Yet, I’ll reiterate, I think The God Delusion is a net gain, despite my personal anecdotes. Of course, there may be some confirmation bias at work here—before I identified with the skeptic movement, I thought it was counterproductive for atheism; after I joined the skeptic movement, I thought it was a net gain.

    I’d be interested in seeing data on the topic.

    Me too! (And more rigorous than simply going off the anecdotes of Convert’s Corner! ;)). But I also like to think that we are, generally, capable enough of judging character in one-on-one dialogue to choose which approach is best to take for a given person. It’s not that hard to use a little common sense, go into a discussion without making presumptions about one’s beliefs, ask a few questions to find out, and then make an informed judgment of how best to persuade. :)

    It’s a dickish way to silence others and foster prejudice while elevating one’s own approach –similar to what Mooney did in UA –in my opinion.
    [. . .]
    It sounds to me that those calling other people dicks are more dickish (and less effective at promoting critical thought) than those they are calling dicks.

    Speaking of collecting data, I’m curious—if Phil and Mooney are being dickish, would you say that their dickery has helped to persuade you of their arguments?

    I think that no matter how polite you are, once someone realizes that you think of their sacred beliefs in the same manner that they think of other woo– they are going to think of you as a dick. [. . .] [W]henever a skeptic treats religion the way skeptics treat other woo, they get accused of being dickish (or militant or strident or shrill.)

    Well, that depends on how you think of other woo. I mean, even though we all agree it’s wrong, there’s still a variety of ways to characterize it. For example, one might think of woo as something that only idiots believe in. Or, you could think of woo as beliefs that reasonable people may hold when possessing incomplete datasets. They’re all different ways of looking at it, with various levels of charity towards the nonskeptic, and which one you hold in a particular case will affect how you decide to engage them.

    Maybe the thin skinned should stay away.

    Gosh, I sure hope you mean “stay away from the skeptics who employ dickery” as opposed to stay away from the skeptical movement in general! After all, if we really think (as I do) that superstitious religious thinking is dangerous—in a sense that manifests itself as all too real, with the potential for harm both intellectual and bodily (if it stops you from seeking medical treatment, if it leads you into ignorance or poor decision-making, etc.)—isn’t it sort of callous to say to outsiders, “stay away” and effectively doom yourself to these dangerous practices if you’re thin-skinned? Isn’t it worth, yes, accommodating not their beliefs (which we ought never to do), but their thin-skinned sensibilities by being nicer than necessary (even to the point of coddling their ego) in the hopes of possibly even saving their lives?

    I mean that in all seriousness, in that being easily offended is a character trait, and while it makes it life perhaps more difficult, I don’t see why we should wish irrational thinking upon those who have it, or not do our best to try to convert them.

    If the worst dickishness is Dawkin’s book title and other vague writings that no one will cut and paste

    Ok, I’ll bite—this is all taken from one comment thread at RichardDawkins.net:

    “…the majority of the Muslim world that simply shrugs its shoulders and goes right back to lying face-down in the camel shit…”
    [On the Dalai Lama] “deluded berk” (I had to look that one up—was a bit taken aback when I found out what the rhyming slang equivalent was)
    “what did you expect from a crazy mob of fringe-dwellers spending most of their time looking up the ass of goats and camels?
 Sophistication and worldliness??”
    “When you really think about the idea of reincarnation only one conclusion comes to mind: A steaming pile of religious excrement and primitive backwardness.”
    “F*** the Dalai Lama.”
    “The Dalai Llama can go f*** himself.”
    “I hope the Dalai Lama reincarnates as a Muslim. F***er.”
    “These people are ignorant f**** all the same.”

    Now, this is all stuff that was intended as venting at an audience of fellow skeptics—I would not assume that anyone of those people who said these things would repeat them, unprovoked, to a believer they were trying to convince in one-on-one dialogue. However, it was comment threads like these (which based on my initial efforts, seem to be, if not “trivially easy”, relatively easy to find) that came to my mind when Phil began his talk. And being on the internet, it’s there for all to see, including anyone who might be curious about Dawkins’ views (which he certainly does not articulate in forms as crude as these). Besides the largely-irrelevant-to-this-discussion fact that I find those quotations to be personally to be in poor taste, I really struggle to imagine it being provocative in a persuasive or intellectually stimulating way to hardly anyone.

  186. It’s very interesting to see all of the stuff some of the posters here are making up – things Phil never said.

    Go back and listen to the video again. Phil didn’t mention atheists, not did he mention Atheists. He mentioned no names and really didn’t mention stuff on the Internet as the sole example of his discussion.

    (After I left this comment, I went to a news page and noticed a headline – ” U.S. anti-Islam protest seen as lift for extremists”. That’s EXACTLY what I was talking about. Name calling and derision only bolster the strength of the fundamentalists

    He’s talking about ALMOST ALL OF US at some time or another in our interactions with other people.

    What I see as one of the biggest problems in today’s society is the lack of civility (hence my “Nom du ‘Net”). You can’t have a discussion if one side is busy yelling or calling the other side names. That’s a monologue or a tirade. As Phil said, you can’t change someone’s mind that way. All that happens is their emotional barriers get raised. They may start yelling, too.

    It’s been pointed out here that the people we should be having conversations with are the people targeted by the fundamentalists. My definition of a fundamentalist revolves around the idea of someone who believes something so strongly that they are willing to go to any lengths (including lying or fooling themselves) to show others they are wrong. Mind you that’s not a complete definition, but it covers many, if not most of the noisy fundamentalists.

    So, as skeptics, it makes most sense to go to those listening to the fundamentalists and have conversations with them. Understand their concerns or confusion. Treat them as thinking individuals and give them the chance to explain their side and ask questions about your beliefs and truths and their underpinnings. Be patient, but understand that there may come a time when you realize you are not going to make a difference and move on. When you move on, however, don’t leave them feeling they’ve been judged. It makes things that much harder for the next person talking to them to make a difference.

    These people, the disciples of the fundamentalists, are only going to strengthen their resolve and become closer to their leaders if we resort to being uncivilized, because we are causing an emotional response by attacking their beliefs. That response will be to circle the wagons.

    Those of you who are asking for examples are wasting your time. It’s clear Phil isn’t going to give any, and he shouldn’t (because he would be acting as a dick). Besides, you don’t need any. If you really listen, Phil is telling you to be civil, which you should be anyway. If you’re looking for fingers to be pointed so that you can listen to a speech or read a blog post and say, “Aha! That person’s being a dick!”, then you are asking someone else (Phil, in this case) to do your work for you. Incivility is often obvious, sometimes subtle, but it is incumbent on each of us to determine when it exists and maybe even point it out. However, when you do, calling someone a “dick” makes you one. Don’t you get that??

    So, as a side point that relates to this, notice that I don’t use diminutives in my posting. Using the word “fundies”, for example, is a way of belittling others, which, I believe, is what Phil’s saying. “Fundamentalist” is a long word, but it should never be shortened through laziness or as a way to harm someone else through words. To those whose beliefs are the target of YOUR words, it drops your words into the “dick” category.

  187. I also want to point out that dickishness is in the eye of the receiver, and we can’t totally control that. The target of the dickishness can be the only judge of that, because we, as the ones being accused of uncivil behavior, don’t know what the person we’re talking to has gone through that day, what they are thinking, and what their personal situations are in other aspects of their lives.

    That makes the task of being civil very difficult, but it isn’t impossible. So we should all remember that, since we are trying to perform the almost impossible by getting someone else, through our arguments, to change their mind about their own.

  188. Sister Chromatid

    MarkZ: No, neither Phil or Mooney changed my mind because neither made an argument. They assumed their conclusion in their premise. They, and other people here (who seem dickish to me) believe there is this group of dickish atheists that are driving people away from reason… but they present no evidence for these claims (Mooney’s only evidence turned out to be a complete fabrication)… so we don’t know who these dickish atheists are nor if they are a problem– so the whole argument is a straw man. Heck, we don’t even get to examine whether we think those accusing others of being dicks are more dickish than those they accuse because their assertions are based on assumptions that everyone “knows” who these people are but there is no agreement on who the dicks are or what the dickish things are that they say or do. We all know about the stereotype of the militant atheists who are, apparently, screaming “You are a cretin for believing in god!” at kindly souls minding their own business, and we can all agree those people should stop being dicks… if they existed. But to assert their existence without providing evidence promotes a prejudice against atheists who already have to contend with more than enough prejudice from those who imagine themselves more moral because of what they believe.

    And, we all know that you can catch more flies with honey… but you can also, apparently, catch more flies by promising eternal salvation if only people have faith.

    Not everybody’s goal is to catch flies. Some people want to be able to speak with like minds. For some people, it exorcises old demons to be able to goof on the religions that once caused them such angst. Some skeptics want the freedom not to have to worry about peoples’ supernatural beliefs at skeptic conventions (especially when those people don’t even think atheists have feelings. )

    To me, the people who think Dawkins is dickish are more dickish than Dawkins. And Dawkins certainly has brought many, many people towards more rational thought and an expanding interest in science. Can any of his critics claim the same? Do any of them have anything like a “Converts Corner”? Do any sell the massive amounts of books that he does? Does Phil think Dawkins is a dick? Apparently some people who heard his speech thought of Dawkins. Others thought of PZ. I read PZ and his respondents, and I don’t doubt that it comes across as dickish to some people. But I always find those who think he’s dickish to be far more dickish than him. I suggest those people avoid his blog. But does PZ hurt the cause of skeptical thinking?– I doubt it. Pharyngula is the most popular science blog with some of the smartest, funniest, most thought provoking commentary on the web. I would suggest that his growing popularity isn’t just because he’s preaching to the choir. So, is Phil talking about Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience? I’m sure many people think Matt is dickish, but I bet he has as many fans as Phil… and a growing number of “converts” as well. I doubt Matt’s listeners want him to be more like Phil. I don’t. Or maybe by dick, Phil just means an atheist who refuses to give the equivalent of the “courtier’s reply”? It’s unclear, isn’t it? Who are the biggest dicks responding to this blog? I’m sure folks would not agree. And Phil left it unclear so people can “hear” what they want and confirm their biases accordingly. Everyone can assume that Phil is talking about the same people THEY think are dicks… just like believers in god can all imagine they believe in the same god… and they can imagine that the god they believe in is much more rational than all those mythical gods people believed in yesteryear.

    I like my truth straight up… even if that seems dickish to “accommodationists”. Millions, apparently, are like me. Like I said, different strokes, for different folks.

    To some skeptics, it feels dishonest to bend over backwards respecting faith–like going out of one’s way to prolong a kid’s Santa belief. I imagine this is especially true of many biologists since religious faith is the only reason people don’t accept evolution and they are astoundingly arrogant and dickish to those who might give them a clue. I would suggest that there’s room for the most outspoken “dickish” atheists in the skeptical movement–even the ones that hurt the feelings of religious folks who consider themselves part of the skeptical movement too.

    Look, we all agree that people shouldn’t be dicks if their goal is to change minds or be inclusive or whatever. We just don’t have a consensus as to what “being a dick” is. But we have no evidence to show whether Phil’s approach or those whom he thinks of as being dicks is more successful at promoting rational thought or advancing skepticism. In any case, I don’t see evidence of dickish people hurting the cause of skepticism though I don’t doubt that some peoples feelings may be hurt. I think that ignoring those one finds dickish is probably more constructive than telling some nebulous group of others not to be dicks.

  189. Tg

    To use your own words, “what is your goal?”

    Is your goal to convince skeptics to avoid certain types of behavior in debate? If those same skeptics ask for specific examples of the type of behavior to avoid, and you dismiss the request by say examples are everywhere, how does that help your goal? It seems to me it does not, and in fact would hinder that goal by allowing both you and your audience to avoid the necessary self-examination and, yes, critical thinking. That seems, if not the dickish move you atttribute to undefined others, certainly seems at the very least counterproductive to your own goal.

  190. 194@Tg –

    I believe I summarized exactly what Phil is saying. You don’t need examples. None of you do. All you have to do is observe others’ behavior.

    Why is that so hard to understand? Don’t you recognize poor behavior when you see it? When you do, apply it to yourself and avoid it.

  191. grung0r

    Why is that so hard to understand? Don’t you recognize poor behavior when you see it? When you do, apply it to yourself and avoid it.

    If you are unaware of the large debate over what constitutes poor behavior within the skeptical/atheist community, perhaps you need to do a google Search on ” Chris + Mooney accommodationism”

    The debate in these threads has been entirely about wheather Phil meant “punching someone in the face”, “any criticism whatsoever of religion” or something in between. We won’t know until he tells us.

  192. Sister Chromatid

    What grungor said.

    So Barber of Civility, due you think we should all be more like you? What if I find grungor, tg and others more civil than I find you? What if I don’t find you the model of civility that you think yourself to be? What if I think this tsk-tsking of others is more divisive than the things you find “uncivil”? See, when it comes to opinions, there are no right answers…. or maybe many right answers. I suspect everyone is a dick according to some people at some time… even those who imagine themselves role models of civility. Different strokes for different folks–

    Now, when it comes to the stuff that is true no matter what anyone believes (such as whether or not invisible beings exist) then I would hope all skeptics are on the same page. After all, truth is the same for everyone no matter what peoples’ opinions on the subject are just as all facts about the moon landing are the same no matter whether people believe humans landed there or not. The evidence tends to accumulate on the side of truth. For me, skepticism is about understanding the truth that is the same for everybody… it’s also about finding the ways I may be fooling myself. It’s not really about making people feel comfortable or privileged for what they’ve come to believe.

    Now if someone thinks I’m a dick I’d like a clear illustration of why they think so, so I can determine whether they are imagining my dickishness to enhance their own view of themselves or if they are noticing something about me that I might want to work on to better achieve my goals (not that these are my only choices). If they can’t or don’t give me that information or assumes that that their opinions on the subject are the same as everyone else though nothing is actually said… then I’ll conclude they are trying to build up their own viewpoint by knocking down straw men and I’ll form an opinion of them accordingly. I choose my own role models and such people are not role models for me.

  193. @Sister Chromatid (193):

    No, neither Phil or Mooney changed my mind because neither made an argument.

    Thanks for your response, but that wasn’t my question. :) I’m wondering if, when you analyze your response to Phil’s presentation—regardless of substance—did it make you more open or less open to his speech? I guess there’s a third option—you’re so good at skepticism and rational thinking that you only pay attention to the substance and no longer experience those base, gut reactions.

    I’m not asking about the quality of Phil’s arguments, and frankly, I don’t really care. I find whether or not Phil gave a good speech to be the least interesting of the issues that he raised, many of which I believe have been unfortunately obscured by his own use of “Don’t be a dick”.

    (On the other hand, I do think it was a fantastic attention-getter and conversation starter, like the title The God Delusion. :))

    Does Phil think Dawkins is a dick? [. . .] Others thought of PZ. [. . .] is Phil talking about Matt Dillahunty [. . .] It’s unclear, isn’t it?

    Totally! :) But like I said, my goal here in these comments hasn’t been to pin Phil down or defend his ambiguity or even get involved in that debate; I wanted to use his speech as an opportunity for examining my own approach to dealing with non-skeptics (and people I disagree with in general) and how I can improve, and why I believe some tactics, while effective in many cases, are being misused by their practitioners on cases where they may not realize their ineffectualness—or worse, as you imply, that some don’t care.

    What are we here for? That’s the most fundamental issue to face any movement, and one of the ones Phil raised. You’ve spoken to it yourself:

    Not everybody’s goal is to catch flies. Some people want to be able to speak with like minds.

    So now you’re saying not that targeted dickery can help us catch flies (which I would agree with), but that we reserve the right to not even bother catching flies in the first place. That to me is the real issue. Phil et al. (as well as many of his critics here who take issue with his opinion on dickery) are arguing for a goals-oriented movement where our purpose is to fight to spread our values (he wants to “win the damn game”—a noble purpose). Others want skepticism to be a sort of club or safe haven where people can talk amongst themselves and practice skeptical values without interference (a noble purpose as well). Many are looking for a balance between the two. Right now we’ve got both groups saying that the other is cramping their style. What to do? We’re going to have to work it out between us somehow.

    My own personal position is, I’m out to catch flies. Just talking with like-minded people is great, but that’s not a movement—that’s a club. I want to change people’s minds. If I were to go to a skeptic convention (I’ve never yet been), I wouldn’t be going because I wanted a support group to vent to—I would want to learn, and game-plan for how best to accomplish (what I consider to be) our goals of persuading people of the value of rational thought. Obviously, as you make clear, others in this movement disagree, and I respect that. I certainly don’t want to simply tear down everything we’ve built. Somehow, we’ll have to work it out between us.

    And Dawkins certainly has brought many, many people towards more rational thought and an expanding interest in science.

    Oh, absolutely! No question there. I’m no critic of Dawkins in that regard (and I hope I was clear in distinguishing between him and the behavior of some of the commenters on his site; by the way, do you think that behavior in that example will be ultimately persuasive? I’m curious.) But that’s not the question. I could ask whether Dawkins has also driven away a comparable amount of people, stories you’re not going to hear in Convert’s Corner (which of course has no statistical relevance beyond the anecdotal, anyway). But even that wouldn’t be the question, either. The question is: have people’s demeanor turned away people they might otherwise have converted? Could they be even more effective with a little persuasion? (Personally, I feel that as for Dawkins himself, he sees his role as to be inflammatory and that it pays off for the movement in terms of raising its profile by virtue of his being already a very public figure, but that’s not true of everyone.)

    I like my truth straight up… even if that seems dickish to “accommodationists”. Millions, apparently, are like me.

    And many millions more, apparently, remain unpersuaded at this point. These are both relatively meaningless assertions without hard data. (I’ve said this so many times I feel like we should start a Kickstarter fund or something! ;)) As you say, different strokes for different folks! :)

    What I wonder is, are we trying hard enough to figure out which strokes to use for which folks? I think we’re all capable of modulating our approach to different people with different sensitivities. It seems to me that many are refusing to modulate their approach and justifying it by saying “It works some of the time on some people” when it also actively turns others away; and when they could be getting it to work more of the time on more people and turning away less with a little more flexibility.

    [. . .] it feels dishonest to bend over backwards respecting faith [. . .]

    Which is probably why nobody’s asking you to do it. :) Respect the person, not the idea. Prop up the ego, not the belief.

    Look, we all agree that people shouldn’t be dicks if their goal is to change minds or be inclusive or whatever. We just don’t have a consensus as to what “being a dick” is. [. . .] I think that ignoring those one finds dickish is probably more constructive than telling some nebulous group of others not to be dicks.

    If we all agree that people shouldn’t be dicks, I think even more constructive would be to help point out when skeptics are putting off believers (“being dicks”) without even realizing or intending it, so we can better implement “different strokes for different folks”. That doesn’t seem to have been the conversation Phil started, but it’s one I’m interested in. :)

  194. grung0r

    Mark Z:
    If we all agree that people shouldn’t be dicks, I think even more constructive would be to help point out when skeptics are putting off believers (”being dicks”)

    The problem here is that being skeptical == putting off believers. Regardless of the postion(religion, Tarot card, etc, etc.)you are telling someone that their cherished and deeply held beliefs are imaginary. Nobody but the skeptical minded wants to hear that. If that is the definition of being a dick, Then I embrace my dickatude with open arms. It’s the only way.

    Despite your wish to talk about something else, I think in attempting to define “being a dick” you get right to the point of the whole matter. I would love to see how many people would agree or disagree with your definition, and I especially wonder if Phil would endorse it.

  195. Hi Phil, here is my take on your talk:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/08/dont-be-dick-phil-plait.html

    This is my first comment here. Nice to share a common cause with you.

  196. @grung0r

    I think in attempting to define “being a dick” you get right to the point of the whole matter.

    I think it gets to the heart of a possible flaw in Phil’s speech, but it doesn’t really address things like, “What is our goal?”, or something like “Should we try to catch flies or lead by example?” or the gaping lack of data. Plus, “dick” is such a widely and casually used word I doubt that I could ever foist my own personal definition of “dick” on a significant portion of anyone! :)

    Oh gosh, I probably shouldn’t even have put (“being dicks”) there. You’re right, I guess I let it slip in because that’s kinda my own working definition, but I put it in quotes because I wanted to highlight—as you point out—the totally arbitrary nature of what “being a dick” means to different people.

    The problem here is that being skeptical == putting off believers.

    I think you’ve gotten awfully close to defining yourself out of the problem. If being skeptical == being a dick (which nobody has claimed) then we’re all dicks and the term is useless. But I don’t think that really gets to the heart of the matter.

    We all realize that questioning someone’s beliefs—the fundamental act of skepticism—is inherently off-putting (“dickish”, if that’s your own definition). The question is (as Phil brought up in the first half of his speech), knowing that, and knowing that the odds are against us (even though the truth is with us), knowing that the very ideas you’re putting forth may drive people away, why would anyone let their demeanor be even more off-putting?

    In a way, that’s a very banal point, and I don’t think many people intentionally try to be more off-putting. But I think the fact that it can still happen unintentionally (it certainly does to me! :)) makes it a worthwhile point to make. And then there’s the issue of what constitutes being off-putting to different people in the first place, and how we can better arm ourselves to understand what might be off-putting to different people.

  197. grung0r

    Mark Z;

    We all realize that questioning someone’s beliefs—the fundamental act of skepticism—is inherently off-putting (”dickish”, if that’s your own definition). The question is (as Phil brought up in the first half of his speech), knowing that, and knowing that the odds are against us (even though the truth is with us), knowing that the very ideas you’re putting forth may drive people away, why would anyone let their demeanor be even more off-putting?

    Is being a dick about demeanor? The accommodationist camp is of the opinion that there are things that shouldn’t be said, and subjects that shouldn’t be broached and that the very mention these sacred cows is uncivil. If I thought this whole brouhaha was just “speak softly and carry a big stick” then I wouldn’t have bothered writing god knows how many comments on the matter. But I don’t think that’s the debate, and I don’t think it’s a debate that could even be had. What sort of dick goes around telling others to ‘check their demeanor’? That’s not something I want to be a part of.

    As for the calculus on what is catching flies or leading by example or what is more or less off putting, I think it comes down to personal choice. Richard Dawkins, in reference to this very speech had this to say at Why Evolution Is True:

    “When I employ ridicule against the arguments of a young earth creationist, I am almost never trying to convert the YEC himself. That is probably a waste of time. I am trying to influence all the third parties listening in, or reading my books. I am amazed at Plait’s naivety in overlooking that and treating it as obvious that our goal is to convert the target of our ridicule. Ridicule may indeed annoy the target and cause him to dig his toes in. But our goal might very well be (in my case usually is) to influence third parties, sitting on the fence, or just not very well-informed about the issues. And to achieve that goal, ridicule can be very effective indeed.”

    What he is saying here is that being a dick(if we decide that ridicule is dickish, which Phil has claimed) can in fact be a more effective tool then Being accommodating. People should be free to employ whatever tactic they believe most effective, and should also be free from tone trolls telling them the only way is theirs.

  198. Scote

    Phil Plait wrote:

    “The author of this one says I don’t give specific examples, and therefore because he hasn’t seen the insults they don’t exist… and then accuses me of a strawman argument! I find that funny; finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy.”

    Phil, please give us one instance where you would excuse an anti-vaxer or moon hoaxer who declared “finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy?”.

    Please, just one example where you would allow someone to declare their thesis proven based on the assertion of un-substantiated generalities rather than citations of specific, verifiable instances where you could examine the actual facts. Without actual examples you can’t prove that you aren’t making a Straw Man argument because you can’t point to any man, straw or otherwise.

    The details matter. Facts matter. You can’t make your argument sound without them because the validity of your argument is in the details, not the generalities:

    * Are skeptics really being “dickissh”?

    * What is the definition of “dickishness” and does it comport with your examples?

    * Is there really enough such dickishness to constitute and actual trend?

    * Dose mockery or ridicule have no positive value? Is Voltaire’s Candide an example of counter productive dickishness?

    * Etc.

    You need to provide examples or admit that your thesis is merely a bald assertion.

  199. ken

    I wouldn’t claim we should go for insults as a first mode of attack, but many of these theistic beliefs must be attacked vigorously. It often seems to me that the public views of skeptical thinkers are lacking direct and in some cases pointed derision. Almost as if the topic is mearly an intellectual game. People’s lives, health and in the end, likely the world as we know it, is at stake. Namby-pamby overly polite discussion often lets the delusion off the hook. Most of my acquintances believe that theism is dying and will fade away under the scrutiny of reason. I dont have as much confidence as them. In fact, before its death-throws are manifest, given religion’s ability to morph and reinvent itself, it wouldn’t shock me to observe Islam and Christianity unite in a common goal. Afterall, the christianity of today is much removed, even unrecognizable, to the christianity of dark-ages. The truth has seldom been the most important factor if one’s beliefs are threatened.

  200. @grun0r

    Is being a dick about demeanor?

    Demeanor: conduct; behavior; deportment.

    Yes.

    The accommodationist camp is of the opinion that there are things that shouldn’t be said, and subjects that shouldn’t be broached and that the very mention these sacred cows is uncivil.

    You’re right, they’re out there. And if accommodationism means accommodating beliefs—giving them a free pass—I don’t want a part in that.

    I would, however, point out the limitations of tossing around the phrase “the accommodationist camp” like that—a lot of people who have been labeled accomodationists don’t believe that we ought to accommodate beliefs. A lot of them are accommodationists in the more limited “to do a kindness or a favor to” sense and just think we ought to maintain a certain level of discourse (yes, regarding one’s demeanor) in attacking those beliefs; and some go even less and say we ought to use that limited accommodationism as only one of many tools alongside more strident methods, adapting to the needs of the specific case.

    Applying the label of “accommodationist” so broadly is perhaps similar to presuming a moderate Christian believes in all of Christian dogma, even the crazy bits they may personally renounce; if you’re trying to get them to give it up, it can be be a useful tactic to get them to stop identifying with Christianity (“I was never a Christian all along, but I just never knew it!”), but it can also backfire and cause them to self-identify with Christianity even more (“But that’s not my Christianity—I’m taking it back!”).

    As for my own thoughts on accommodationism, I put some of them in comment #66.

    [Dawkins:] And to achieve that goal, ridicule can be very effective indeed.

    Bravo! Certainly couldn’t have said it better myself.

    People should be free to employ whatever tactic they believe most effective

    Of course!…

    and should also be free from tone trolls telling them the only way is theirs.

    …but while I also don’t believe in a monolithic approach, neither should anyone who calls themselves a skeptic be free from criticism regarding the effectiveness of their chosen method or their discretion in applying them.

  201. grung0r

    Mark Z:
    “Demeanor: conduct; behavior; deportment.”
    Yes.

    Conceded. Demeanor has more of ‘attitude’ type vibe to me, however, it’s clearly more general then that.

    I would, however, point out the limitations of tossing around the phrase “the accommodationist camp” like that—a lot of people who have been labeled accomodationists don’t believe that we ought to accommodate beliefs.

    It’s true that that term can be used grossly or unnecessarily. However, I defined whom I was speaking about, so I can hardly be accused of “tossing it around”.

    neither should anyone who calls themselves a skeptic be free from criticism regarding the effectiveness of their chosen method or their discretion in applying them.

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Efficacy is simply not an objective value absent a time machine. Even if a group manages to agree on a set of goals, they probably won’t agree on a time scale. Some people may believe that a sneering, snide, dickish attitude will do little now, but change the tone of the debate in such a way that people in the future, who may have yet to even be born , will consider the side one is railing against to be silly and not even worth considering. Furthermore it’s possible someone could believe that changing one mind is all that is important(a politician’s or family member’s for instance), all others be damned. Lastly, it is clear not all options of efficacy are on the table. Though I sincerely doubt it, murder, torture or genocide may in fact be the most effective options in changing the most minds. I can see the criticism now, once the efficacy studies are concluded: “Clearly Phil, instead of answering that little girl’s questions, you should have beaten her to death with a wooden spoon. It is, after all the most effective method of changing the most minds”. To most, possibly all people, principle comes before pragmatism or efficacy. In fact, the order to violate my principles* is part of what infuriates me about accommodationism, and this speech in particular. it’s not that THEY accommodate religion, but that they want ME to.

    *My principles do not involve beating people to death with wooden spoons, in case it wasn’t clear. A spoon made of any material will do fine.

  202. @grung0r (Sorry for the missing ‘g’ in my last comment! How dickish of me!)

    However, I defined whom I was speaking about, so I can hardly be accused of “tossing it around”.

    True, you did define yours. I should clarify—while I can’t be sure, since you’re not naming names, my impression is that you are applying the label to people who don’t fit your definition. For instance, I have yet to come across a comment here (I may very well have missed some) that I interpreted as advocating accommodating beliefs. I haven’t seen anyone here say “Don’t challenge the sacred cows.” I have seen people say “Don’t be a dick about challenging the sacred cows,” which does not fit your definition of accommodationism (unless the “things that should not be said” extend to “things” like insults) and is also substantively different from the stronger, more general statement, “Don’t be a dick.”)

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Efficacy is simply not an objective value absent a time machine. Even if a group manages to agree on a set of goals, they probably won’t agree on a time scale. Some people may believe that a sneering, snide, dickish attitude will do little now, but change the tone of the debate in such a way that people in the future, who may have yet to even be born , will consider the side one is railing against to be silly and not even worth considering.

    And some people may believe that a sneering, snide, dickish attitude will cement an image of the skeptic movement as one full of cynics, bullies, and dicks, and hurt our efforts in the long term. Certainly, as a skeptic, you do not hold your opinion to be a sacred cow that ought to go unchallenged, do you? (I’m not trying to equate your opinion here with Christianity, and deliberately refrained from using the word “accommodated”—nevertheless, I am trying to appeal to your skeptical values. :))

    Let me say that I agree that not everyone will have the same goals—in fact, that is exactly what I’ve been saying for a couple posts now. But surely, there are many of us who do share a common goal of trying to convert as many skeptics as possible, and where that common ground exists, there is no excuse to avoid acknowledging it and working together towards it.

    To that end, I believe we ought to be able to have a free and open dialogue—on which strategies work best in which situations, constructive criticism where skeptics believe their fellow skeptics are perhaps being ineffective or not creating their intended effect, and an exchange of insights into where different non-skeptics come from. Nobody has a monopoly on the vast range of experiences that people have with irrationality. For example, my own departure from Christianity was gentle (due to the fairly liberal strain of Christianity my congregation practiced), and I have no animosity and great affection towards my time there. Clearly, however, my experience is not the only one, and I can learn from the people who have experienced much more of the demons that other practitioners of faith have to offer.

    I think we and many other commenters have traded such insights in this thread, and for that I thank you. As you rightly point out, such a dialogue cannot consist of “My one way is best.” (And certainly there are other dialogues to be had (or that have already been had) on other topics of “accommodationism”—e.g., if accepting a Templeton fellowship amounts to accommodationism.) But such a dialogue is difficult as if people declare themselves impervious to criticism.

    In fact, the order to violate my principles* is part of what infuriates me about accommodationism, and this speech in particular. it’s not that THEY accommodate religion, but that they want ME to.

    Accommodation as you define it also infuriates me. Yet, I don’t feel like I am seeing that accommodation in the places that you are. Certainly, we heard different speeches—I never once interpreted Phil’s words to suggest that we ought not to challenge any belief. When he said “Don’t be a dick”, I heard not “Don’t be a dick by challenging belief”, but “Don’t be a dick about challenging belief”. (The latter still doesn’t account for the employment of ridicule by proxy a la Dawkins, but it does fall outside your definition of accommodationism.)

    I guess I feel that our positions are not so far apart, and I would be interested in knowing whether you feel that my interpretations of the accommodationism in this thread as I’ve seen it and the kind of dialogue I’m advocating are in conflict with your principles.

    *My principles do not involve beating people to death with wooden spoons, in case it wasn’t clear. A spoon made of any material will do fine.

    My god, I’d hate to see what you’re capable of with chopsticks! ;)

  203. I was extremely grateful for this at TAM, and though I stumbled a bit when I tried to express that in person, I’m going to thank you for it again (and less haltingly) here. It’s a point I try to make to others and I point I need to have made to myself, because I definitely find myself engaging in some pretty dickish behaviour that I know isn’t likely to change many minds.

    If people disagree with the substance of the lecture, that’s fine – I can’t claim to have all the answers and neither can anyone else. But if nothing else, the speech helped me and others like me to be on the lookout for those sort of actions in our own lives, and that is a worthwhile thing.

  204. grung0r

    Mark Z:

    since you’re not naming names, my impression is that you are applying the label to people who don’t fit your definition. For instance, I have yet to come across a comment here (I may very well have missed some) that I interpreted as advocating accommodating beliefs.

    I cannot help you, as I don’t know what you would interpret as advocating accommodating religious beliefs. I’ve seen quite a few myself.

    some people may believe that a sneering, snide, dickish attitude will cement an image of the skeptic movement as one full of cynics, bullies, and dicks, and hurt our efforts in the long term. Certainly, as a skeptic, you do not hold your opinion to be a sacred cow that ought to go unchallenged, do you? (I’m not trying to equate your opinion here with Christianity, and deliberately refrained from using the word “accommodated”—nevertheless, I am trying to appeal to your skeptical values.

    Some people say cucumbers taste better pickled. Certainly, you failed to address my point about the efficacy of rhetoric not being an objective value. (I am not trying to equate your opinion here with a patronizing self-righteous,half-wit, and I deliberately refrained from using the words “passive aggressive” – nevertheless, I’m glad we have figured out who’s opinion we are not equating with who’s, and what words we are refraining from mentioning)

    such a dialogue is difficult as if people declare themselves impervious to criticism.

    Nobody has argued this. Not me, not anyone. You need to decide if you are talking about efficacy or principle.

    Certainly, we heard different speeches—I never once interpreted Phil’s words to suggest that we ought not to challenge any belief.

    Nor did I. I interpreted it to mean that we shouldn’t challenge one particular belief. I think his 3rd post made that abundantly clear.

    I would be interested in knowing whether you feel that my interpretations of the accommodationism in this thread as I’ve seen it and the kind of dialogue I’m advocating are in conflict with your principles.

    As far as I can tell, what you seem to be saying is: “all who agree on the definition of being a dick AND all who agree on the best way to change minds should come up with a strategy to achieve those goals”. I wouldn’t find my principles violated there, no. I feel I must be missing something in my assessment of your postion, though. That seems almost tautological.

  205. Anon of Ibid

    Um, so, where are these “trivial to find examples” if they are so easy to find? Or are you talking about things like PZ calling Ken Ham a moron? ‘Cause I think Ken is a lost cause, and people _do_ need to know that many people think of him as a moron.

  206. @grung0r

    I cannot help you, as I don’t know what you would interpret as advocating accommodating religious beliefs. I’ve seen quite a few myself.

    Great! Like I said, I’m interested in what you’re interpreting as accommodating religious beliefs. I’m going off of your definition here for the time being, as given in #203. (Having said that, I popped back into the thread on post 3 and read Elaine, whose position, as she has currently stated it, I would definitely put under your definition.) To that point, regarding, Phil’s speech…

    I interpreted it to mean that we shouldn’t challenge one particular belief. I think his 3rd post made that abundantly clear.

    …interesting what we both saw in it! When he wrote,

    certainly taking them to task for it is OK and I support that

    (by way of analogy to Einstein and Pauling) in his comment, I thought it made it abundantly clear he was not.

    Some people say cucumbers taste better pickled.

    I do! I love pickles. :)

    Certainly, you failed to address my point about the efficacy of rhetoric not being an objective value.

    Sorry about that. If I understand your point correctly, I agree that efficacy cannot be objectively defined—up to a point. You don’t need a time machine to look around you and make observations about what’s worked, nor to make an informed judgment about what might work best for a particular person.

    Nobody has argued this. Not me, not anyone.

    I strongly disagree. While perhaps I am misinterpreting your own strong disagreement, I have seen many other people say that one should not be criticized for their methods, with varying justifications—e.g., there is no consensus about which is best; or, everyone has a right to their own style. Those are correct assertions. But they don’t exempt one from constructive criticism. When Neil De Grasse Tyson challenged Dawkins about his methods, Dawkins’ response was to “gratefully accept the rebuke”, not brush him off as a tone troll.

    You need to decide if you are talking about efficacy or principle.

    What I’m saying is that, if people refrain from saying “My one way is best,” having a dialogue about efficacy can be done without sacrificing your principles.

    Or are you saying that not everybody values efficacy equally? That is most certainly true. For many people (including me), efficacy is one of their principles. Their goal is to “win the damn game”. (Yet, in me, this lives alongside the principle of not accommodating actual beliefs.) Like I said, this is a much more pertinent conversation, IMO, then the effort to define “dick”.

    As far as I can tell, what you seem to be saying is: “all who agree on the definition of being a dick AND all who agree on the best way to change minds should come up with a strategy to achieve those goals”. I wouldn’t find my principles violated there, no.

    What I’m saying is those who don’t agree on a definition of dick and who don’t agree on the best way to change minds can learn something from each other without having people feel excluded or subject to the “tone trolls”.

  207. grung0r

    Like I said, I’m interested in what you’re interpreting as accommodating religious beliefs.

    But what you said was: I have yet to come across a comment here (I may very well have missed some) that I interpreted as advocating accommodating beliefs.

    It’s a lot of ‘I’s’ For something having to do with me.

    in his comment, I thought it made it abundantly clear he was not.

    To be clear what we are talking about is this statement, correct?
    taking them to task for it is OK and I support that, as I said in my original post on this. But you don’t have to be a dick about it.

    You may satisfied that Phil has defined ‘dick’. I am not. To my mind, Phil could have been saying any of the following:
    taking them to task for it is OK and I support that, as I said in my original post on this. But you don’t have to kill all of their family members in front of them

    taking them to task for it is OK and I support that, as I said in my original post on this. But you don’t have to punch them in the face and call them baby rapers

    taking them to task for it is OK and I support that, as I said in my original post on this. But you don’t have to ever have to mention your disagreement with them to their face

    But Pamela Gay, if I may be so bold, endorses the last postion. The same Pamela Gay who has been apparently ostracized and mocked by the skeptical community. The same Pamela Gay who’s apparent ostracism and ridicule Phil told us is a real and tragic thing that made her cry. Pamela though, has conveniently given us an example of this mockery, and not just an anecdote, but a real, verifiable occurrence.

    Pamela felt she was mocked because when she was on The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Steve Novella made a joke about the soul’s hiding place being in Junk DNA. Not to her or at her mind you, but just in her telephonic presence.

    What other interpretation could there be? Pamela would like it that when she is in the presence of atheists, they refrain from mentioning anything religious in even mildly negative terms. Given that this is the only publicly known incident involving the ‘victims’ Phil mentioned, It would seem reasonable to assume that Phil implicitly endorses the ‘shut up’ method as well.

    they don’t exempt one from constructive criticism
    I didn’t say it did. I think we are talking cross-purposes. I am saying that The Beatles vs the Rolling Stones is a subjective subject, and you’re seem taking this to mean that I think that no one can suggest that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is a terrible song. This analogy breaks down at the level of whether we can ever play that terrible song(and it really, really is), but we seem to agree that suggesting a certain tactic is verboten on efficacy grounds is not reasonable.

    What I’m saying is that, if people refrain from saying “My one way is best,” having a dialogue about efficacy can be done without sacrificing your principles.

    For many people (including me), efficacy is one of their principles. Their goal is to “win the damn game”

    If efficacy is one of your principles, it’s always subservient to every other principle you have. You aren’t going to beat people to death with a wooden spoon because you believe it to be the most effective method and you wouldn’t concede that creationism was science if you thought it would get you the farthest. As for winning the game, well, people have lots of definitions about that too. Mooney’s definition for instance, would look a lot more like losing in my book.

    What I’m saying is those who don’t agree on a definition of dick and who don’t agree on the best way to change minds can learn something from each other without having people feel excluded or subject to the “tone trolls”.

    Aren’t we going to exclude the tone trolls? What about fundamentalist Christians? What exactly do you anticipate we will learn, other then perhaps how to sing Kumbaya?

  208. hans ps hansen

    its looks like you have right then you say that almost no-one change their mind because someone is a dick, and its looks that you demonstrate you’re theory on one of this videos.
    yes its data, but i think you are missing one importen information in you’re data.

    how many change they’re mind because someone is being nice?

    my impression its that’s also about no-one, its looks for me that almost everybody changed their own mind, often because they thought they needed more information

  209. CBrachyrhynchos

    Scott Robert Ladd demonstrates just what I find to be problematic in this discussion. Having a difference of opinion regarding establishment of religion doesn’t make one a dick. It doesn’t even mean that one is an atheist, as government favoritism in regards to religion has been one of the issues that sparked the English Civil War, the Crimean War, the Northern Ireland Troubles, and a few dozen other conflicts. One can be religious and be a strict separationist in regards to church/state issues. I know radical Quakers who don’t even get get married because they believe the state has no business in their religious sacraments.

    A difference of opinion regarding the Utah case isn’t being a dick. Either the government is permitted to make exceptions for certain kinds of religious expression on the highway right-of-way, or it isn’t.

    There’s something of a growing cottage industry right now based on scolding atheists for perceived problems of tone simply because they speak out on current issues. I’ve even recently seen people complain that Dawkins shouldn’t comment on gay rights in his home country. The other side of the equation is that other people, non-skeptics need to rethink their views of us.

  210. @grung0r

    It’s a lot of ‘I’s’ For something having to do with me.

    You are completely right. I failed to parse my own writing, and I am sorry for suggesting that the fault was yours.

    taking them to task for it is OK and I support that, as I said in my original post on this. But you don’t have to ever have to mention your disagreement with them to their face

    I think that’s an unreasonable interpretation of Phil’s definition of “dick”, at odds with Phil’s statement that “taking them to task for it is OK and I support that” and his explicit statement that he thinks of a person as a dick when “the person belittles their opponent, uses obviously inflammatory language, or overly aggressively gets in their face.” Yes, Phil does not limit it strictly to those conditions, and leaves a little bit of room in his definition open for interpretation, asking us what we think of as a dick. But I think you’re filling in that room with an interpretation of his definition at odds with his own words. Furthermore, I see no evidence that anyone you’ve mentioned actually has that definition; rather, I see a lot of evidence for the opposite.

    But Pamela Gay, if I may be so bold, endorses the last postion.

    I think this is categorically false. I can find no such endorsement. I mean, I can’t speak for Pamela Gay, but I can read what she wrote: “If I’m on SGU, I expect mocking. No big deal.” Novella himself related that “in a private e-mail to me following Seth’s post she expressed that while anti-religious talk may make her feel uncomfortable, we have never crossed the line with her and she likes coming on the SGU. Essentially – yeah, she is religious, but she is cool with it.”

    This simply doesn’t equate to saying “But you don’t have to ever have to mention your disagreement with me to my face.”

    I am saying that The Beatles vs the Rolling Stones is a subjective subject

    And I am saying that whether or not a tactic works is not as subjective as The Beatles vs the Rolling Stones. We agree that certain people will respond differently to different tactics. The problem is in knowing which people respond to which tactics; this is uncertain, but not subjective in the sense of The Beatles vs the Rolling Stones.

    For many people (including me), efficacy is one of their principles. Their goal is to “win the damn game”
    If efficacy is one of your principles, it’s always subservient to every other principle you have. You aren’t going to beat people to death with a wooden spoon because you believe it to be the most effective method and you wouldn’t concede that creationism was science if you thought it would get you the farthest. As for winning the game, well, people have lots of definitions about that too.

    I agree. I just think that the accommodation that you cite as violating your principles is less rampant than you do, as evidenced by our disagreement on the example above.

    What exactly do you anticipate we will learn, other then perhaps how to sing Kumbaya?

    Well, for example, I knew nothing about the dawning of the new world until you mentioned it, and you seemed to be under the impression that all Christians knew about it.

  211. grung0r

    Mark Z;
    I think you’re filling in that room with an interpretation of his definition at odds with his own words. Furthermore, I see no evidence that anyone you’ve mentioned actually has that definition; rather, I see a lot of evidence for the opposite.

    Do you see ‘don’t ever mention it to their face’ in NOMA? Because I do. Under NOMA, not only are we forbidden from criticizing religion do to it being a ‘different way of knowing’, we have to bow to it’s ‘way of knowing’ on all things moral. The most famous religious or semi-religious critics of atheists subscribe to NOMA(Armstrong, Miller, Collins) and the leader of the accommodationist hoard does too(Mooney). It’s hardly a stretch to think that this is what Phil’s speech was about, given his abject failure to defend his speech from commenters, if nothing else, suggesting that suing to protect the establishment clause is “being a dick”, not to mention his many critics.

    I think this is categorically false. I can find no such endorsement. I mean, I can’t speak for Pamela Gay, but I can read what she wrote: “If I’m on SGU, I expect mocking. No big deal.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. My interpretation of her postion is based on the fact that she thinks that incident was mockery. That she tolerates it is irrelevant. The logic is simple: Phil suggests we shouldn’t mock Pamela. Pamela considers the SGU incident mockery. Unless you are saying that Steven Novella was in fact mocking her, I still don’t see any other interpretation.

    And I am saying that whether or not a tactic works is not as subjective as The Beatles vs the Rolling Stones.

    I pointed out this exact failing of the analogy in my post. I made the analogy in response to your suggestion that I was attempting to immunize myself from criticism by asserting that efficacy is not an objective value, a subject you failed to address this time around, despite spending so much time on it in your previous post. Shall we consider that topic closed?

    We agree that certain people will respond differently to different tactics. The problem is in knowing which people respond to which tactics;

    No, It is not that easy. Let me give you an example. In the 2000 US election, Ralph Nader, by his own admission, wanted the Republicans to win so that they would create such a toxic and illiberal environment that people would be swayed 10 or 20 years in the future to revolt and change the whole system. One can criticize Ralph Nader’s plan(I know I did), but we can’t evaluate it on something so simple as how any one person reacts to it, the toxic environment it created, or the situation 5 years down the road. It, of course gets even more complex then that, but I hope you get the point. A Variety of tactics, variety of goals and a variety of time frames = subjective efficacy.

    I just don’t see how your principles are violated by anything mentioned in this conversation except the accommodation of ideas and beliefs themselves, which as I’ve said, I think is less rampant than you do

    Hopefully I have dissuaded you of the latter point by the above, but to the former: I’m not sure I know what all my principles are. Could you let me know? Having a list would be handy.

    Well, for example, I knew nothing about the dawning of the new world until you mentioned it, and you seemed to be under the impression that all Christians knew about it.

    Well, great. If you are suggesting that we deliberately start arguments so that we can have a few moments of latent learning amongst the skirmish, then I’m with you. Can we establish the efficacy of such a thing?

  212. Do you see ‘don’t ever mention it to their face’ in NOMA

    Not really. Looking back over Gould’s original essay, I see a call for respect that excludes ridicule and satire, which we’ve both agreed can be useful and has its place. I see, “scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution,” which I take to mean “Don’t use science to disprove God,” which of course is true. I can see how you might take that to mean “don’t ever mention it to their face”, but that doesn’t seem like the interpretation Gould intends since he goes on to talk about how he “could have a wonderful argument” with a believer and evolution doubter whose letter to the editor he read, and then details the arguments he would use against him. I can see how that excludes “don’t call them an idiot to their face,” but not “don’t ever mention [your disagreement] to their face”, as you put it.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. My interpretation of her postion is based on the fact that she thinks that incident was mockery. That she tolerates it is irrelevant.

    This strikes me as moving the goalposts, and no, it’s not irrelevant. First, your original formulation was “taking them to task for it is OK and I support that, as I said in my original post on this. But you don’t have to ever have to mention your disagreement with them to their face”, which has nothing to do with mockery. Second, Pamela clearly does not consider mockery dickish, which speaks to the issue that’s been at the crux of this whole conversation. Making the logical step of noting that mockery is a synonym of satire, neither does Phil, as he explicitly exempted satire from his definition of dickery way back in his original post. Again, l believe you’re seeing more accommodationism (under your definition) than exists.

    I pointed out this exact failing of the analogy in my post.

    Granted.

    I made the analogy in response to your suggestion that I was attempting to immunize myself from criticism by asserting that efficacy is not an objective value

    I was under the impression that when you responded, “I strongly disagree” to my statement, “neither should anyone who calls themselves a skeptic be free from criticism regarding the effectiveness of their chosen method or their discretion in applying them,” and followed it up with the statement “Efficacy is simply not an objective value absent a time machine,” you were doing exactly that. In fact, I’m not sure how else to interpret that. But if that was not your intent, then you are categorically exempt from my assertion that people are advocating such a position.

    And on second thought, maybe I’ve overstated my assertion, as well, by saying people are “declaring themselves impervious to criticism”; what I should say is that people are suggesting it would be more productive to simply ignore behavior we find ineffectual rather than examine it critically and openly; and that seems, to me, unskeptical.

    a subject you failed to address this time around, despite spending so much time on it in your previous post. Shall we consider that topic closed?

    I guess I wasn’t clear enough in my previous post. Again, after reading your posts, I disagree with your premise that efficacy is as subjective as you claim.

    No, It is not that easy. Let me give you an example. In the 2000 US election, Ralph Nader, by his own admission, wanted the Republicans to win so that they would create such a toxic and illiberal environment that people would be swayed 10 or 20 years in the future to revolt and change the whole system. One can criticize Ralph Nader’s plan(I know I did)

    Great, so then we agree that criticism of Nader’s plan is just as legitimate as criticism of one’s tactics for converting non-skeptics?

    but we can’t evaluate it on something so simple as how any one person reacts to it, the toxic environment it created, or the situation 5 years down the road. It, of course gets even more complex then that, but I hope you get the point. A Variety of tactics, variety of goals and a variety of time frames = subjective efficacy.

    Maybe this is irrelevant, but I still don’t see the connection. Maybe we’re working off of different definitions of subjective? I guess my definition of something that is subjective is something for which there are no wrong answers, there are no true Truths, and for which the only “truths” are as you see them. As for the example with Nader, it is now 10 years later. How did that work out for him? We can observe that now—empirically, to an extent. There are certain Truths, although perhaps few that I am qualified to divine. Maybe one of those few is the blatantly obvious—that over a time span of 10 years, Nader’s methods didn’t achieve their end goal. I’m sure pollsters can uncover more truths (or already have)—that certain age groups were affected or unaffected by his message, that it hit supporters of one party more than others.

    Those aren’t subjective. You can’t just claim that Nader’s tactics were, say, wildly effective in winning support from elderly Republican voters when they weren’t. (Unless they were…in which case I truly do have omelet all over my suit. :) But either way, there is an objective reality there.) Just because something is uncertain doesn’t mean it’s subjective. To draw a crude analogy, quantum theory says that there is physical uncertainty in the universe, but you don’t get to fill that in with magical quantum healing powers even if it feels like truth to you.

    And while we don’t have a time machine, we do have hindsight, and we can glean lessons from it and apply them today. I understand that it is perhaps “subjective” in the sense that everyone will have different lessons (maybe that’s all you’re saying?)—some might say he went too far; others, not far enough; etc. They are equally “valid” in the sense that no voice should be drowned out or suppressed in the discussion (which I think we agree on), but not all of them are equally true. That’s not a case of purely subjective analysis. It’s certainly complex, and also uncertain; and people’s opinions about which one is best are subjective (by definition of the word “opinion”)—but the efficacy is not subjective.

    Again, maybe that’s all you were saying to being with; I just think that having a discussion about that is more useful than just saying “different strokes for different folks” and having an unmodulating approach (which I’m not saying you’re doing, but I feel others are).

    Hopefully I have dissuaded you of the latter point by the above, but to the former: I’m not sure I know what all my principles are. Could you let me know? Having a list would be handy.

    Well, gosh. What I can do is give a list of what I think we agree on:

    1) Accommodation of beliefs is bad.
    2) Suggesting that there are certain beliefs we should not challenge is bad.
    3) Open, honest, debate and criticism on which tactics are best is legitimate.

    Any objections?

    Well, great. If you are suggesting that we deliberately start arguments so that we can have a few moments of latent learning amongst the skirmish, then I’m with you.

    Great! After all, isn’t that one of the premises of debate? :)

    Can we establish the efficacy of such a thing?

    To a degree, yes. Not with absolute certaintity, to be sure. But again, uncertainty != subjectivity.

  213. Here is an additional post for your list, I’d put it under the “agree” column but many would put it under the “disagree” column.

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/08/be_a_smart_dick.php

  214. BW

    Phil, please give us at least some ficticious, invented, made-up examples which are similar or comparable to the real examples of dickishness you are referring to. Pretty please. Please, please.

  215. grung0r

    Mark Z;

    I see, “scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution,” which I take to mean “Don’t use science to disprove God”

    Huh? What does the existence of God have to do with morality, religion’s ability to investigate it or science’s apparent lack of ability to do so? Do all religions now agree on the solution to the Euthyphro dilemma or something? I also take issue with you selectively quoting Gould in such a way(he constantly put himself in a postion to be quote mined, so it’s not all your fault), It’s clear that he goes much further then what your quote would imply. In fact, it’s clear from the title. Magisterium, as he defines it is: “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution”. Besides the ludicrous assertion that religion can meaningfully investigate anything, he is saying that naturalists have nothing to say on morality, and in fact are barred from doing so. I’m glad you understand how I see this as telling atheists, at the very least, to shut up. I fail to understand how you can see it as anything else.

    he goes on to talk about how he “could have a wonderful argument” with a believer and evolution doubter whose letter to the editor he read, and then details the arguments he would use against him. I can see how that excludes “don’t call them an idiot to their face,” but not “don’t ever mention [your disagreement] to their face”, as you put it.

    Have you not been paying attention? This is EXACTLY what accommodationists do. They declare some level of belief off limits to challenge or inquiry, and then declare anyone doing so to be a dick. Of course he was fine challenging creationism, He would have also declared the same conversation(in tone) off limits if it was with a evolution believing Christian.

    This strikes me as moving the goalposts, and no, it’s not irrelevant. First, your original formulation was “taking them to task for it is OK and I support that, as I said in my original post on this. But you don’t have to ever have to mention your disagreement with them to their face”, which has nothing to do with mockery.

    I guess I was less the clear. I’m not moving the goal posts because I don’t think the incident was mockery, and even if it was, it was not mocking of Pamela. That she does is the issue.

    Second, Pamela clearly does not consider mockery dickish, which speaks to the issue that’s been at the crux of this whole conversation.

    Because she expects it and is still okay with going on the show or is still friends with the people on it is not an indication that she doesn’t think it’s dickish. You aren’t friends with anyone who is predictably a dick on occasion?

    Making the logical step of noting that mockery is a synonym of satire, neither does Phil, as he explicitly exempted satire from his definition of dickery way back in his original post

    Is mockery a synonym of satire? Not in any Thesaurus that I have(I looked at the usual suspects online too). I’ll tell you what they do all have mockery as a synonym of though: ridicule. Let’s see what Phil says about ridicule: Ridiculing either of these men is not the right path; certainly taking them to task for it is OK …. Looks to me like my original formulation stands.

    And while we don’t have a time machine, we do have hindsight, and we can glean lessons from it and apply them today. I understand that it is perhaps “subjective” in the sense that everyone will have different lessons (maybe that’s all you’re saying?)—some might say he went too far; others, not far enough; etc. They are equally “valid” in the sense that no voice should be drowned out or suppressed in the discussion (which I think we agree on), but not all of them are equally true.

    Truth don’t enter into it. Speculations about what Nader should have done have no truth value, because Nader didn’t do those things. You also seem to assume that the efficacy of any tactic is a binary proposition, that either it succeeds or fails. Because Nader’s strategy failed to achieve his stated goals(Some of his stated goals, it’s important to note, were contradictory) does not mean it didn’t create a better possible world then the imagined alternatives would have(not that we can ever know this!)

    That’s not a case of purely subjective analysis
    To return to my Rolling stones vs. Beatles analogy, in this one can also obtain objective results(measure the brainwaves or biochemistry of the people listening to each and come up with a value of how happy it makes each person feel, check the actual record sales, or do a poll and ask which people like better), but despite having objective results, both the question and answer are still subjective, and thus any method by which you determine those objective values are as well. The question then, is not PURELY subjective, but might as well be.

    I just think that having a discussion about that is more useful than just saying “different strokes for different folks” and having an unmodulating approach (which I’m not saying you’re doing, but I feel others are)

    You think some people are exempting themselves completely from criticism? who?

  216. @grung0r

    Huh? What does the existence of God have to do with morality

    Well, for some, everything, since many believers do believe that morality comes from it.

    religion’s ability to investigate it or science’s apparent lack of ability to do so? Do all religions now agree on the solution to the Euthyphro dilemma or something?

    To be more clear, in my interpretation, “scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world’s empirical constitution,” means scientists are free to contribute scientific knowledge to issues of morality, but once you begin to draw conclusions of moral truth from that knowledge, you are engaging in the magisterium of religion, by definition. This is the most charitable interpretation I can grant Gould’s arguments, and even under this interpretation I find them problematic…

    Thanks for bringing up NOMA. It’d been a while since I actually read Gould’s original essay. I used to be a full-throated supporter of NOMA; now, I find it less of a useful pronouncement on the current state of things and more of a sort of idealized vision, requiring a currently unrealistic redefinition both of science and religion. While I think it’s eventually possible, it’s by no means the only way to reach resolution, and it’s certainly not as “blessedly simple” to implement as he makes it out to be. Obviously, one of the fundamental requisites for a state of NOMA is that religion can’t make natural claims, which is not how religion is practiced by most religious folks.

    It’s clear that he goes much further then what your quote would imply. In fact, it’s clear from the title. Magisterium, as he defines it is: “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution”. Besides the ludicrous assertion that religion can meaningfully investigate anything, he is saying that naturalists have nothing to say on morality, and in fact are barred from doing so. I’m glad you understand how I see this as telling atheists, at the very least, to shut up. I fail to understand how you can see it as anything else.

    Well, I’ll do my best to explain. I take issue with your interpretation and with Gould for the efficacy of his title—I don’t find it quite as clear as you do. What’s not so clear in the title is that the magisteria are defined as domains; what Gould seems to imply, but not state in such explicit terms) is that while the magisteria’s domains don’t overlap, their ranges (of issues they can address) most certainly do. Through this, naturalists can indeed have things to say on issues of morality. So I’d say your interpretation of that statement is valid in and of itself, but it’s also selective. For in another selection, Gould writes, “Many of our deepest questions call upon aspects of both for different parts of a full answer”, which contradicts that interpretation (as well as his own title).

    As for the part about asserting that religion can meaningfully investigate anything, religious inquiry, as historically practiced, could be defined as containing both elements of philosophy (meaningful), and supernatural claims (not so much). I agree with Dawkins when he says that it’s unrealistic to view religion, as it exists today, as not overlapping with science. To be fair to Gould, though, I think that’s his point—if religion wants to contribute meaningfully to the conversation, it has to first give up any claims to the natural world, leaving behind only the philosophic elements. I think many religious people have accepted this redefinition—certainly most every self-identified “religious” scientist has.

    But my response to Gould would be that in order for these science and religion magisteria to be truly non-overlapping, the sub-domain of philosophy would necessarily become exclusively religious (or else the magisterium of religion, having been stripped of its supernatural claims, would cease to exist). If philosophy becomes a placeholder for the magisterium of religion, many philosophic ideas are wrenched away from their traditional alignment with science as a branch of critical thinking and instead placed firmly within the magisterium of religion. I’m fine with religion limiting itself to philosophy, but to then relabel philosophy such as the Socratic method as the stuff of “religion”? That a scientist who applies the Socratic method in his classroom is actually practicing “religion”? While this radical redefinition of terms is one possible resolution, it strikes me as lacking efficacy.

    Obviously, you’re right that we could quote mine all day and come up with various interpretations. I hope I’ve made it clear where mine comes from.

    Have you not been paying attention? This is EXACTLY what accommodationists do. They declare some level of belief off limits to challenge or inquiry, and then declare anyone doing so to be a dick.

    I know I’m repeating myself, but again, in this discussion, I am not arguing with your definition of accommodationism. I’m saying there are fewer people practicing it than you think.

    Of course he was fine challenging creationism, He would have also declared the same conversation(in tone) off limits if it was with a evolution believing Christian.

    Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Gould wanted to argue with an evolution-doubter; are you saying he would criticize the use of ridicule in that situation? I thought we agreed he would.

    Because she expects it and is still okay with going on the show or is still friends with the people on it is not an indication that she doesn’t think it’s dickish.

    Nor is it an indication that she thinks it is.

    You aren’t friends with anyone who is predictably a dick on occasion?

    Of course I am—depending on how you define it. And if I thought they were being counterproductive to their goals, I hope I’d be honest enough to tell them so they could evaluate my criticisms for themselves. But even if she does consider it “dickish” she has, quite simply, never called on them to “shut up”, and issued explicit statements that she’s fine with it. If you’re saying she privately thinks that they’re dickish—perhaps even counterproductive—but suppresses that thought and allows them to speak anyway, isn’t that what you’re advocating?

    Is mockery a synonym of satire? Not in any Thesaurus that I have(I looked at the usual suspects online too).

    It is at Dictionary.com. FWIW. :)

    I’ll tell you what they do all have mockery as a synonym of though: ridicule. Let’s see what Phil says about ridicule: Ridiculing either of these men is not the right path; certainly taking them to task for it is OK …. Looks to me like my original formulation stands.

    I don’t see how saying a tactic is “not the right path” = “you don’t have to mention your disagreement to their face”, so I don’t see how your original formulation stands, but you’re welcome to your interpretation.

    Truth don’t enter into it. Speculations about what Nader should have done have no truth value, because Nader didn’t do those things.

    You also seem to assume that the efficacy of any tactic is a binary proposition, that either it succeeds or fails.

    [. . .]

    To return to my Rolling stones vs. Beatles analogy [. . .]

    Hmm, I think maybe we have a more fundamental difference of opinion—mine is that the analogy doesn’t apply because the question of efficacy is intrinsically not subjective.

    My take is that the efficacy of a certain tactic in a certain situation is not akin to asking something along the lines of “Which band is better?” A more accurate analogy would ask something like “Which band is more effective at putting infants to sleep?” in which case the objective results you mention absolutely are meaningful to the question.

    True, we have to define goals and timelines—are we trying to get them to sleep in 5 mins? 10 mins? What stage of sleep are we using to define “sleep”? The final judgment of what is the best tactic for these goals depends on those goals, and if that’s what you mean by efficacy is subjective, then I totally agree, and all those conversations about what our goals and timelines are are ones we need to have. I think we also agree that using a certain tactic will have certain observable effects, with an observable (albeit uncertain) efficacy towards a given goal; therefore its efficacy is, in this sense, as you say, not purely subjective.

    What I am saying is that while it’s true that in real life, we often don’t have an exact control—we can’t scientifically measure what might have happened had Nader used an alternative strategy—we do have the historical record and can find a similar situation with these alternative tactics and draw parallels. Are they ever perfect? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful.

    You think some people are exempting themselves completely from criticism?

    Was I not clear? “And on second thought, maybe I’ve overstated my assertion, as well, by saying people are “declaring themselves impervious to criticism”; what I should say is that people are suggesting it would be more productive to simply ignore behavior we find ineffectual rather than examine it critically and openly; and that seems, to me, unskeptical.”

    who?

    As for who I believe would fit that description, as I previously stated, I disagree with Sister Chromatid’s take: “I think that ignoring those one finds dickish is probably more constructive than telling some nebulous group of others not to be dicks.” Perhaps you disagree; if so, after our conversation, I do feel like I can better understand why. :)

  217. grung0r

    Mark z:
    Well, for some, everything, since many believers do believe that morality comes from it.

    I guarantee Gould did not think the existence of god had any baring on morality, any more then he would have thought the existence of god had any baring on math. No naturalist, even if they suddenly decided that god existed, would then decide that god could make baby rape a moral act by declaring it so, just as they wouldn’t think that god could declare 2 +2 = 5 or produce a square circle.

    once you begin to draw conclusions of moral truth from that knowledge, you are engaging in the magisterium of religion, by definition. This is the most charitable interpretation…

    I agree that it’s charitable, of course. I can’t actually think of any scientist declaring this or that a ‘moral truth’ though. It might depend on how you defined such a thing, I suppose.

    religious inquiry, as historically practiced, could be defined as containing both elements of philosophy (meaningful)

    Based on the axiomatic assumption that god exists(and often that he wrote the “philosopher’s” favorite book). As you are an atheist, I can’t see how this could see this as in any way meaningful.

    …the sub-domain of philosophy would necessarily become exclusively religious

    you think this is ideal??!

    I hope I’ve made it clear where mine comes from.

    Well, I think so. But It seems to me that you agree that NOMA was confused, contradictory and can be reasonably read as telling atheists to shut up. We could argue about whether Mooney or Armstrong et. al. read it in this light, but since the original question was where I see this behavior, I guess this is at least a partial answer. NOMA subscribers.

    Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Gould wanted to argue with an evolution-doubter; are you saying he would criticize the use of ridicule in that situation? I thought we agreed he would.

    No, I’m saying his standard of what ridicule is, as per NOMA, would fall to 0 if the discussion was with an evolution believing Christian(I’ll assume you read me as having said ‘doubter’).

    Nor is it an indication that she thinks it is.

    Come on, dude. I never said it was. You’re the one who said who said her tolerance of mockery was relevant, not me.

    But even if she does consider it “dickish” she has, quite simply, never called on them to “shut up”, and issued explicit statements that she’s fine with it.

    Nor did I suggest she did. I suggested Phil did, by using her as an example of those who have been ostracized and subjected to “rude, boorish, insulting, and dismissive” behavior by the skeptical community. I think it is entirely reasonable to put ‘mockery’ in the latter categories and she defined it as exactly that. Since this was a publicly known incident, Phil could have exempted it quite easily, but he choose not to.

    but suppresses that thought and allows them to speak anyway, isn’t that what you’re advocating?

    No, I am not. I would never advocate anyone shut up about anything they think is important. They should be prepared to defend their postion though. I have no beef with Pamela on this point, my beef is with Phil, who engaged, as someone elsewhere cleverly observed, in “accommodationist cold reading”.

    It is at Dictionary.com.

    You are correct sir.

    I don’t see how saying a tactic is “not the right path” = “you don’t have to mention your disagreement to their face”, so I don’t see how your original formulation stands, but you’re welcome to your interpretation.

    I thought you said you understood my definition of accommodationism? There is no right path, no taking to task of anyone who has had the accommodationists draw the line in the sand around their particular beliefs. This is the whole point of the Pamela Gay “mocking” business. Phil didn’t exempt it because he thinks it qualified as dickitry. Why do you think we have all been calling for Phil to provide examples? Why do you think he hasn’t done so? It’s because if he did, he would confirm that if he sees a belief as innocuous, then challenging it, however mildly, qualifies as you as a “Dick”.

    What I am saying is that while it’s true that in real life, we often don’t have an exact control—we can’t scientifically measure what might have happened had Nader used an alternative strategy—we do have the historical record and can find a similar situation with these alternative tactics and draw parallels. Are they ever perfect? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful

    Meaningful != Objective. I agree that one can look at history and draw parallels and lessons. but those parallels just analogies and speculations. They are not objective in any sense.

    as I previously stated, I disagree with Sister Chromatid’s take: “I think that ignoring those one finds dickish is probably more constructive than telling some nebulous group of others not to be dicks.”

    You think we should tell a nebulous group of others not to be dicks?

  218. @grung0r

    you think this is ideal??!

    No, that’s precisely what I think is problematic and lacking efficacy about NOMA.

    Well, I think so. But It seems to me that you agree that NOMA was confused, contradictory and can be reasonably read as telling atheists to shut up.

    Yep, absolutely. :) Like you said, my sense is that not many skeptics adhere to those aspects of that interpretation of NOMA, but I appreciate you pointing to it and them as examples of what you see.

    No, I’m saying his standard of what ridicule is, as per NOMA, would fall to 0 if the discussion was with an evolution believing Christian(I’ll assume you read me as having said ‘doubter’).

    Yeah, I did wonder if you meant that. I think it’s safe to say that Gould doesn’t advocate ridicule of religious belief in any case.

    Come on, dude. I never said it was. You’re the one who said who said her tolerance of mockery was relevant, not me.
    [. . .]
    Nor did I suggest she did. I suggested Phil did…
    [. . .]
    I have no beef with Pamela on this point [. . .]

    Relevant to your assertion that Pamela endorsed your particular formulation of dickery, yes. But if that’s no longer your claim, then we have no issue.

    I would never advocate anyone shut up about anything they think is important.
    [. . .]
    There is no right path, no taking to task of anyone who has had the accommodationists draw the line in the sand around their particular beliefs.

    Do you see why these statements sound contradictory to me? You say you support people speaking out (including on methods of dealing with accommodationists), but then say there is no taking to task of anyone over their methods of dealing with accommodationists.

    Meaningful != Objective.

    I absolutely agree, which is why I never made that claim.

    You think we should tell a nebulous group of others not to be dicks?

    Well, when you put it that way, not really! :) I disagree with the characterization that that’s the only alternative; I think there’s room for skeptics to take fellow skeptics to task for their tactics. I hope I’ve made it clear why it sounds to me that you think there isn’t.

  219. grung0r

    Mark Z:

    No, that’s precisely what I think is problematic and lacking efficacy about NOMA.

    Oh, I was confused because earlier in your post you had referred to NOMA as “a sort of idealized vision”.

    I think it’s safe to say that Gould doesn’t advocate ridicule of religious belief in any case

    Seeing as how he’s dead, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t currently advocate much of anything. Still, I think his standards of what would constituted ridicule rise to such heights with what he would have seen as an innocuous belief as to make the subject unbroachable. I still don’t quite see how you could read NOMA as anything else.

    Relevant to your assertion that Pamela endorsed your particular formulation of dickery, yes. But if that’s no longer your claim, then we have no issue.

    That was never my assertion. From the first, I have said that Pamela’s feelings, beyond finding the incident mockery, were irrelevant. Please go back and take a look. This entire time I have been simply saying that Phil considers mockery of Pamela’s beliefs dickish, and Pamela considered the SGU incident mockery of her beliefs. It may be a rhetorical failure on my part, but you did seem to understand my point back when you were arguing that Phil exempts mockery for dickish behavior.

    In any case, if we have no issue, does this mean you now agree that Phil thinks the SGU incident was dickitry?

    Do you see why these statements sound contradictory to me? You say you support people speaking out (including on methods of dealing with accommodationists), but then say there is no taking to task of anyone over their methods of dealing with accommodationists.

    I do, but only if you misread what I said(probably my fault). When I said “there is no right path, no taking to task” I was referring to the view of accomadationists(Phil in this case), not my own. I was saying that the accommodationists allow no path to challenge theistic beleif’s that they find innocuous.

    Meaningful != Objective.
    I absolutely agree, which is why I never made that claim.

    When you said:What I am saying is that while it’s true that in real life, we often don’t have an exact control—we can’t scientifically measure what might have happened had Nader used an alternative strategy—we do have the historical record and can find a similar situation with these alternative tactics and draw parallels. Are they ever perfect? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean they’re not meaningful.

    I assumed you were summarizing your view about why the efficacy of tactics is objective. Was this incorrect?

    I disagree with the characterization that that’s the only alternative; I think there’s room for skeptics to take fellow skeptics to task for their tactics. I hope I’ve made it clear why it sounds to me that you think there isn’t.

    No, I’m not sure why you think this. will you summarize it for me?

  220. @Phil,
    To me, saying someone is being a dick is a relatively mild insult and implies more in the way of being priggishly smug than abusive, but the fact that you give it a stronger meaning explains some of the resistance I have seen to your claim that it is ubiquitous (or at least easy to find) in the behaviour of gnu atheists. In the weaker sense I think anyone who denies having been a dick is being disingenuous, but in terms of the stronger sense I agree that it is reasonable for people to ask what the hell you are talking about.

    Also, the choice of even a mild epithet to label the practices you want to discourage really is asking for a strong and not necessarily rational reaction, so that what may have been said in a spirit of good humour can lead to a pattern of escalating insults in place of a real conversation.

    For both of these reasons, although I agree with what I think you meant to say, I think that you have been a bit of a dick (in the weaker sense) yourself, and that you may need to acknowledge that fact in order for the important point that I think you wanted to make to actually be heard by those who need ot hear it.

    P.S. If you want to link to my more extended blog posting on this at
    http://qpr.ca/blog/2010/08/24/whos-a-dick/
    then of course you are welcome to do so (and I guess if you do then it would belong in the fence-sitting category).

  221. @grung0r:

    Oh, I was confused because earlier in your post you had referred to NOMA as “a sort of idealized vision”.

    Ah, yes—idealized in the “something that exists only in the imagination” sense of the word. :)

    Seeing as how he’s dead, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t currently advocate much of anything.

    True dat!

    Still, I think his standards of what would constituted ridicule rise to such heights with what he would have seen as an innocuous belief as to make the subject unbroachable. I still don’t quite see how you could read NOMA as anything else.

    Just to clarify, exactly what subject are you referring to? As I said, I think Gould’s acknowledgment of the “interdigitating” of the magisteria, and that both are required to answer deep questions, allows for naturalists to make moral claims. If you’re talking about more direct assertions of specifically atheism, well, I wouldn’t have expected an agnostic like Gould to do so.

    And if you put it that way (“making the subject unbroachable”), I just about agree with you. The way I read NOMA is that it isn’t laying out standards of ridicule—it’s more like declaring that there’s nothing to ridicule religion about in the first place, as long as it sticks to its end of the “non-overlapping” bargain. It is, I think, an inherently agnostic view; I don’t think he’s telling atheists to shut up about it to be accommodating or to “not be a dick”, he’s saying, simply, atheists are wrong.

    (Again, I’ll clarify that while this is my interpretation of his view, I still find implementing such a solution to be an impractical ideal.)

    That was never my assertion. [. . .] Please go back and take a look.

    I probably wasn’t clear. When I said “your position”, I didn’t mean your personal definition, but the one that you ascribed to her when you said, “But Pamela Gay, if I may be so bold, endorses the last position.” That, I disagree with.

    In any case, if we have no issue, does this mean you now agree that Phil thinks the SGU incident was dickitry?

    No, that’s still not how I interpret his comments, based on his non-specific examples (“someone called you a moron”, etc.) and his explicit exemption for satire. His condemnation of ridicule (that you quoted) is aimed at ridicule of people, not their ideas, and I think it’s safe to say that Pamela’s ideas were being mocked, not Pamela herself. But I don’t mind disagreeing with you on this; I think talking about the tactics and goals themselves is the heart of the matter.

    I was saying that the accommodationists allow no path to challenge theistic beleif’s that they find innocuous.

    I see! Well, that I have no quarrel with.

    I assumed you were summarizing your view about why the efficacy of tactics is objective. Was this incorrect?

    Yes, but maybe I wasn’t clear. I never claimed that the efficacy of tactics is outright “objective” to begin with. In fact, I said I agreed with you that it wasn’t objective—up to a point. That point, as I tried to define it, is that there is an objective reality that can be observed against which we can judge the efficacy of past tactics and make meaningful predictions about future ones. (Ok, I guess I’m ignoring the uncertainty principle in claiming an “objective reality”, but I think it’s safe to say we’re dealing on on fairly macroscopic scales here. ;)) The debate of “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones” is subjective and ambiguous in a way that “The comparative efficacy of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones putting infants to sleep” is not.

    No, I’m not sure why you think this. will you summarize it for me?

    It was based on your “no right path” comment, but after your clarification of it I revert back to my position in my previous post that we both agree that “Open, honest, debate and criticism on which tactics are best is legitimate,” and I am happy to do so. :)

  222. Dr. Cuddles

    I suspect that article on the American Atheists website was probably written by Matt Dillahunty, he’s the host of the American Atheists television show and is known for how he treats rude callers. Now In his defense those callers he gets upset at are usually being pretty rude, talking over him and making truly idiotic statements. I don’t think you would consider him a dick, but he may have felt that talk was partially aimed at him.

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