Don't Be a Dick, Part 3: the aftermath

By Phil Plait | August 19, 2010 11:19 am

[Note: This is the third of three posts on my "Don't Be a Dick" speech. Please first watch the video of my TAM 8 talk, and you can also read Part 2 which has links to others' thoughts on this topic.]

Before I gave my TAM 8 talk — now known as the "Don’t Be a Dick" speech — I was more nervous than I had been before a public speaking engagement since high school. Watching the video, I’m surprised that I appeared so composed. I was sweating bullets up there, and had an emotional catch in my throat several times that wasn’t so obvious in the video.

me_pamelagayAfter the video, my friend Pamela Gay was waiting off stage for me. She had given an impassioned talk about "science evangelism" literally minutes before I took the stage, and I could tell she was warmly received. I’m not speaking out of school when I say she was more than a little concerned talking at a skeptic conference; as an active Christian she knew she’d receive the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism… and she did, during the meeting and since. Having her support me after my talk meant the world to me.

As we left the auditorium and went out into the hall, someone beckoned to me. I went over, and they told me that an old friend wanted very much to talk to me. Down the corridor I saw Kitty*, indeed an old friend and someone very active in the skeptical community in general and the JREF community specifically. As I approached her, to my distress, I saw she had been crying. Concerned, I rapidly went to her, and over the next few minutes, between sobs, she told me how much my talk meant to her. She is religious, in a rather generic way (you could call her a deist, someone who believes in a non-specific god) and over the years has received quite a bit of ostracism from the community. This, despite her long and strong support for speaking up against psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest.

kittymervineShe was crying because what I said was something she had longed to hear from someone, anyone, in the skeptic community for years: that we need to be less antagonistic, and more inclusive. When we exclude someone for one belief they may have, we are losing them despite whatever other skeptical drive they might possess. And that means we all lose.

She was not alone, either. Another young woman, one I had never met before, similarly approached me and told me much the same story. She was crying as well. Eventually I heard from others who told me there were several people in the audience who were crying because they had felt so alone. Many were feeling so isolated from the skeptical community — and had experienced so many encounters with other skeptics who were rude, boorish, insulting, and dismissive — that they were seriously considering leaving the movement altogether.

I also heard from hundreds — hundreds — of people thanking me for what I said. They had seen others be jerks, or had been jerks themselves, and were contrite about it.

The support I have received has been very encouraging. The drop in the level of demeanor I had been seeing was disheartening to say the least. I’m very glad to know that so many people took this topic to heart.

And, at the very least, it has helped spark a conversation that, in my opinion, is long overdue in the skeptic community. We need to be skeptical of ourselves as much as we are of any claims made by others, and we should be reminded of that every now and again.



*Before posting this article I let Kitty see a draft of it, and she not only approved but asked me to use her name. Pamela as well.

Comments (476)

  1. Great speech Phil, Thanks.

  2. Richard Wolford

    Ostracized, or was she simply called out for her obvious cognitive dissonance, i.e. persecution complex. She debunks psychics, ghosts, and what not, but then believes in some non-specific creator? Seriously? You don’t see a problem with that? Not being a dick is just fine, but when someone spouts off nonsense I will call them on it, despite their list of achievements. If Einstein had spouted off the powers of homeopathy he would have been ridiculed despite his notable work in physics. Sorry, but I can’t tolerate this kid gloves nonsense, you need look no further than the Texas BOE to see where this type of thinking goes. Do you think a nice feel-good dialog would’ve worked with the likes of McLeroy (sp?)? Or do you think it was the ridicule that the BOE got that maybe got him tossed out? Sorry, but this is pathetic, I honestly expect better from you.

  3. Richard (#2): You have missed the exact point of the whole post, and indeed all three. When the default reaction to believers is being a jerk, then you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sure, we need to fight people like McLeroy tooth and nail — do a search on his name on this very blog, and you’ll see I’ve let him have it both barrels for a long time — but you can’t also do that to everyone.

    I disagree with both Pamela and Kitty, and and they know that! Yet we’re still friends. Why? Because I’m not a dick to them. I like them, and respect their opinions on a great many things. Yes, I disagree with them, but don’t see any need to insult them or otherwise be a jerk.

    As far as Einstein goes, you’re right, he would have been ridiculed. But is that the right approach? Linus Pauling became something of a believer in non-science toward the end of his life. It doesn’t take away from his tremendous work in science — he won two Nobel prizes, mind you. And Einstein, by the way, didn’t want to buy into certain aspects of quantum mechanics that are and were known to be true. Ridiculing either of these men is not the right path; certainly 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.

  4. vel

    The speech is very good Mr. Plait but I find little difference between “psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest” and religious belief, no matter how safe it seems to be, as in deism. What is the difference between one baseless claim and another? The degree of personal threat one perceives? Also, if one is so distraught about being questioned about one belief to the point of saying “well, I’ll just quit being skeptical.” I wonder about how skeptical they were in the first place. Yes, I know this can sound like a “True Scotsman” argument, but until someone can explain why a deist shouldn’t be questioned and a Evangelical Chrisitan creationist should be, I think I have a point. We may need to be less nasty in the way we question but I think we should still question. I’m afraid that this questioning will never be “inclusive” enough for some.

  5. Dwight B.

    Wow! That must be so fullfilling for you to get these people to feeling less lonely. Congratulations!

  6. Shell

    I really don’t see why our only options are “dick” or “silence.” OK, you don’t like people who are mean or snotty about religious beliefs. That makes sense. But what about people who challenge them without being snotty? Why should we tiptoe around perhaps the most pervasive obstacle to science education and understanding in our society because someone might cry? I don’t want to make anyone cry, but that’s not a reason to refrain from holding all supernatural beliefs to the same scrutiny.

  7. Phew, I thought you were going to name people who you thought were being dicks.

  8. grung0r

    Phil:

    But you don’t have to be a dick about it.

    Great. now please just define what that means via an example or two. It should be, as you mentioned, trivially easy.

  9. I like how Phil’s last comment can be summarised as ‘Don’t be a dick, dick’.

  10. It’s worth noting that a skeptic who’s truly skeptical in every aspect of life is a rare enough bird that I’ve yet to lay eyes on it. It’s one thing to *say* “question everything” and quite another thing to actually *do* it. Religious beliefs are woo. There’s really no getting around that, they have no rational basis and cannot survive truly critical examination.

    But we’re all entitled to a bit of woo. Skepticism may be a good ideal for a person to aspire to, but there’s no reason you can’t “do skepticism” (and do it well) and also believe in nonsense.

    After all, we humans are good at that kind of thing.

  11. Tim McCormley

    I can only defer to the Plato of our times, Elwood P. Dowd:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzOIhLJ1C-Y

    Tim

  12. David P

    I don’t believe religion should be treated differently than UFO’s or Homeopathy however I also don’t think we should think that it is as easy to change your beliefs in god as it is in Bigfoot. This is where I think being inclusive is important but also not being afraid to call someone out if they start making claims which have no evidence to support them.
    The Pamela gay incident was a good example of this for them most part. She said some rather foolish things and yes some people were overly hard on her but for the most part the response seemed like a “well that’s a stupid idea” not a severance from the movement. Which is what I think is the correct way to proceed, (Praise for all the good work that is done and correct when in error).

  13. Aaron

    Richard, certainly I wouldn’t claim that her belief in religion is rational or skeptical, nor if the topic arose would I give her the impression that I thought it was correct. But if there are people regularly harassing her (or every third person mentions it) than I’d say that is a problem. Yes it’s a bad belief but she’s in the skeptical community and obviously knows most people will be atheists, I don’t see the benefit in constantly calling her out on it.

    Note this is one reason why I’d still like a couple (even fictional) examples of dickishness. Certainly harassment of Pamela is being a dick, but I’m still unclear if the BA intend to include firebrands such as Myers and Hitchens in the dickish category.

  14. J. J. Ramsey

    vel: “until someone can explain why a deist shouldn’t be questioned and a Evangelical Chrisitan creationist should be”

    Who says the deist shouldn’t be questioned? There’s a huge difference between questioning and being a dick.

  15. It was a great speech and needed to be said as well. I find myself torn, because I agree with you and think you’re right, but I also really enjoy things like the cracker incident with PZ.

  16. Simon

    Richard, vel -

    It isn’t that someone who believes in deism, or some other non-scientific belief can’t be questioned about their belief, but should they be /ridiculed/ for it? Why is that your absolute first reaction?

  17. vel (#4) Because taking them to task on it in the way many seem to support is no different than a Evangelical Fundamentalist screaming “God Hates Gays” outside of some event. Nobody wants to listen. It is not conducive to real dialogue and understanding where the other person is coming from.

    One of my favourite things about Phil is that you can talk religion with him. He is willing to sit down with you and he will present his side in a calm and rational manner and allows the other side to do the same. And as long as either view point isn’t being crammed down the other person’s throat, if it is done in a fashion that is for information purposes only (IE nobody is trying to convert the other person), both parties will be more inclined to walk away from the conversation and contemplate what the other has had to say.

    Now if someone was advocating burning their baby because it is possessed or denying medical care to your child and instead going for faith healing, that is a different kettle of fish. Because you are IMPOSING your views on another person. You are telling somebody what to believe instead of presenting them with facts and allowing them to come to THEIR own decisions for what they feel is best for their own private person.

    I’m not a fan of evangelical anything. I don’t care if it is religion or skeptical thinking. Anytime anybody preaches, I stop listening. I feel backed into a corner. I will not be told by anyone but myself how to live my life. I am open to listening to a variety of ideas and beliefs. I have many a dialogue with people from all types of beliefs and every one comes out with things they want to think about. That is how understanding happens.

    And I know what I just said is an anecdote, but there is actual data to support what I am saying. Phil mentioned it in the video.

  18. NAD

    And so, out come the jerks who have to parade the superiority of their beliefs in front of the rest of us. Phil, I appreciate what you are saying here. You are saying that we need a “big tent” of rational skepticism – and that we should not dwell upon the differences among those who want to be part of the tent. We all win if we can do this – we will provide a united front against the snake-oil salesmen and deliberate ignorance peddlers. If we instead turn upon each other, we as a group are that much weaker.

    Note that I’m specifically *not* calling these guys – wolford and vel – out for their atheism – they have chosen their belief system, and that is fine. More power to them. I’m calling out their *behavior* – they apparently believe that unless you are an atheist like them, you are somehow deficient and unworthy of being part of the skeptic community.

    Personally, I’d rather hang out with a deist, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Moslem, or anybody else who chooses to accept the unrelenting application of logic and the scientific method, than with people who chose to wear their asses on their heads like a badge of honor.

  19. Greg

    I think the suggestion rubs a lot of atheist skeptics the wrong way because the request, not to be a dick, is leveraged at us no matter what we say. That is, the presentation of our very ideas is seen as being rude, since people invest their pride in believing things without evidence. You probably covered this in the “hard sell” part of your talk.

    However, any skeptic interested in logic & philosophy knows that a proper argument is one that focuses on the merits of the ideas in question, and not on the particular foibles of the person who is making the argument. If one pursues that ideal, hopefully that will preclude one from being the proverbial “dick.”

    The problem I have that always successfully turns me into a dick, is bad argumentation tactic, like argumentum ad nauseum (repeating your conclusion without justifying it). I make my best faith effort to make a reasoned point, and it all gets tossed without consideration. A better person would realize what’s going on and walk away or peaceably conclude the debate, but I get pissed. Your talk has invigorated me to try to be better at handling these cases, though, so thanks.

  20. Tom

    I guess I can see where people like Richard are coming from, albeit from a slightly less aggressive point of view. I agree with your overall point entirely, Phil. How can we hope to actively spread rational thought to the wider public consciousness through ridicule, bullying and intimidation?

    But what Richard describes, if taken with less vitriol, speaks to a frustration with what is, for want of a less reductive phrase, the “agree to disagree” approach we might take with friends we have no desire to make feel uncomfortable. Obviously, or at least hopefully, we can have conversations with them about why they believe this or that in a calm, friendly, respectful manner. But when it returns to faith and there is no rational argument which can counter that (especially with friends as well educated and informed as the ones you mention who already know the rational arguments) I can imagine the frustration of getting to the point where you know there is literally nothing you can say that will make a difference. And continuing to attempt to persuade, even in a friendly way, would have to eventually reach the point of rudeness. You have to either agree to revisit the discussion in future or simply agree that you will never disagree.

    Of course, this gets you to the point where you have to decide for yourself, based on your own relationship with the individual(s) concerned if that is the right way to go, or if pursuing the point will be hurtful which is where the not being a dick comes in.

    It’s a tough line to walk with those we care about yet so disagree with on fundamental, evidence-based or evidence-free, elements of our shared culture. I’m not sure there’s a definitive solution except to simply accept that not everyone is as perfect we all sometimes like to think we are. ;) And that, on a person-by-person basis, if a friend’s beliefs are not directly hurting anyone, don’t be so desperate to aggressively challenge them.

  21. Phil, I don’t think I entirely agree with you. In fact, I think more dickishness — or at least expressed anger — is needed to counter some outrageous stuff that we’re just expected to accept the religious and anti-science folks. But I admire you for saying what you thought despite your expectation of some fierce opposition from your friends and peers. So, bravo!

  22. Linda K

    I see this from two angles (in response, sort of, to #s 1, 2, and 3).

    1) As someone who sees value and necessity in critical thinking and analysis, it *is* important to point out dissonances and contradictions. However, there’s no reason to make assumptions about any person’s abilities if they’ve publicly addressed skepticism on subjects OTHER than deities. It could be that they’ve just not done as much research in the area, it could be that their conclusions are actually different than yours, or it could just simply be that there are emotional and cultural issues that are tied very deeply with those kinds of beliefs which make them particularly difficult to analyze with the same fervor.
    2) As an ex-Christian, I have found my loss of faith painful and difficult to deal with, especially in troublesome times. The *patience* and *compassion* of a few got me to the point where I could question that belief system (along with the other common skeptic subjects). If those people had come to me and pointed out, without sensitivity to my emotional and encompassing investment in being a Christian, that what I believed was illogical crap and that a belief in a creator was unacceptable in the scientific world, I’d not only still be a fundamentalist, but I’d be rallying against all the things that I value now. My views would have been limited, and it very possibly could have squelched my desire to learn anything substantial about the world around me. Nobody reached me in a day, and I never, ever responded favorably to arrogance, aggression, or lack of sensitivity to my deeply-held beliefs.

    I don’t consider myself particularly smart or well-read. I come from a family of religious folks. News: this is a good representation of a large portion of the country. Good news: they’re reachable, as long as you don’t come at them with “all the answers” and as long as you’re not a dick!

  23. Doug from Dougland

    Phil, I have to applaud your speech and your followup. It’s often the case in skeptical thinking that skeptics are accused of being intolerant, arrogant, over-bearing dicks for saying things like, “I disagree” and “Where is the evidence to support that?” and “That claim seems dubious.”

    But something that skeptics rarely brought up was that skeptics can, and do, sometimes mistake being a dick, mistake ridicule, for “I disagree” and “That claim is dubious.” Oftentimes, people forget that “Screw you, you idiot! Here’s why you’re wrong…” and “I disagree. Here’s why you’re wrong…” are not the same statement, especially on the internet where nobody feels as connected to the people they’re arguing with.

    Thank you Phil, for giving this issue it’s fair shake.

  24. Chris

    I know this probably won’t matter to you; I’m just some guy who follows you on Twitter, and has been a fan and admirer for a few years now. This whole thing rubs me the wrong way; not so much your original point–which I found vague and insubstantial, even wishy-washy–but the follow-up, which has been smug, self-satisfied, and, well, dickish. The sheer amount of fallacious thinking on display in these posts, and the huge amount of straw-manning present in your posts, has made me lose a lot of respect for you, to be honest. I get the feeling I’m not the kind of admirer you want anyway, though.

  25. Tom

    Raw Moscow: Dickishness is not the same as expressed anger. Being angry at anti-science promoters, for example, and angrily, loudly, sarcastically hurling obviously contradictory evidence at them, particularly when they are causing harm, is not being a dick. Being angry at anti-science promoters and hurling threatening or personal abuse at them is being a dick.

    But there’s obviously an element of context. Being angry at anti-science promoters, for example, and angrily, loudly, sarcastically hurling obviously contradictory evidence at them, particularly when they are causing harm, in a school in front of 100 11 year-olds .. may be dick-like.

    Context, self-control and common sense, as in so much of our lives, is probably the key.

  26. Gobear

    Being a dick to woo-believers isn’t merely counter-productive, or hurtful, but it is also profoundly lazy and anti-intellectual. While I agree with Richard that no ground should be ceded to any form of woo–and religion is merely woo with stained glass windows–the way to refute it is not through ridicule because it doesn’t address that facts of the case.

    Attacking a religious believer by mocking them makes you look like a jerk, reinforces their sense of persecution, and does not in any way deal with the merits of their beliefs. Instead of saying, “You believe in God? What a noob!”, how about saying, “Well, I understand why you believe in God, but here are the reasons that theistic claims really don’t stand up to logical scrutiny,” and then you make your argument.

    The Christians who like to say “hate the sin, love the sinner” are correct; the point is to attack faulty thinking, not people. Being a smartass is easy; it’s rather more difficult to become a skillful, yet compassionate, debunker of poor logic and bad reasoning.

    Be kind toward people, yet be ruthless toward woo.

  27. AliCali

    My understanding of skeptics who are also religious is that, even though they KNOW religion is not rational nor supported by evidence, it’s still what they believe. Most likely, it’s what’s been taught to them since childhood, and they find a level of comfort in the organization.

    I understand that a great many religious people will use the logic of believing (“You must have Faith; I don’t need evidence, just belief, etc.”) and apply it to a bunch of crazy ideas. But the ones that Dr. Plait is discussing use rational thought and evidence-based analysis for everything else; just not this one area of religion. And frankly, that’s fine, because they are not preaching to us about religion. They are not using irrational thought to decide about vaccination. If they said, “God made our bodies correctly, so we shouldn’t vaccinate,” then we have a problem.

    This is different than the Texas Board of Education Dentist. He was using his irrational thought to affect other quite important areas. And in that case, you don’t blast his religion, but rather his thinking, even though they may be related.

    For example, using the Einstein example, after a certain point, you could not discuss Quantum Theory with him, because he just believed it couldn’t be true; even though the evidence said it was. However, you can still discuss Relativity with him and not bash him over the head with why he rejects Quantum Theory.

  28. Brandon

    Very nice work Phil, great speech.

    You are touching on a subject that’s near to my heart. I left my local skeptical community because of the dickishness. The number of conversations mocking Christians outweighed the number of conversations on how to reach out and connect with local religious groups. I think that hurts the movement as a whole. No one wants to sit down and have lunch with a dick and if we aren’t sitting down and talking then we aren’t going to be very effective at being understood.

  29. This has long been my beef with the skeptic community. I’m a Christian. Yes, I am well aware that my beliefs are impossible to quantify or prove using the scientific method. But having said that, I also believe in science. I love science, and I love the challenge of wrapping my brain around the laws of physics that make our universe work.

    Maybe some see it as a double standard that I support one belief system while I oppose so much ridiculous pseudoscientific nonsense , but it has LONG amazed me that even though I agree with the skeptic community on 99.99% of issues, because I split paths with them on this on my belief that there’s a God. Big freakin’ deal, folks! Did you miss where I agree with 99.99% of everything you believe? I think psychics are nonsense, I think people who claim supernatural sightings are probably delusional. For crying out loud, I even openly oppose Christians who would rather stick their head in the sand and ignore or shun science rather than embrace it. But if I mention a hint of theological belief, it seems like I become the whipping boy of any and all skeptics nearby.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Phil on this one. Don’t be a dick. Here’s all I ask. At the very least, if you can’t respect what I believe, write it off as a tic. When you chat with me or another person of any faith, write it off the way you’d write off a person with OCD who washes their hands 38 times in a day. It’s our thing. Get over it, and let’s discuss what we agree on. I’ll even do you a favor and refrain from defending my faith when it becomes the source of your attack. Can we get some reciprocation here?

  30. Well, somecallmejim, would you be ready to extend that same consideration to a MHB or an antivaxxer? If not, can you quantify how they differ?

  31. Counting down the days until the Dick logical fallacy becomes prevalent.

    “Your reasoning is invalid because I think you were being a dick.”

  32. You can question believers in G’d or a religion, but you do not need to be overbearing about it. There’s discomfort, but, then, there’s writhing discomfort. People will not listen to you if you make them recoil with writhing discomfort.

  33. I just wanted to point out that Kitty is the “Director of Investigations” for Granite State Skeptics. We are glad to have her in NH. She’s fantastic to work with and really knows her stuff.

  34. cantech

    When I listened to Phil and read the followups I did see some of myself, perhaps as others may see me. I can be short tempered when challenged, I guess like anyone.
    But there is an example that comes to mind. My own mother once seemed to be leaning towards a young earth theory. She just didn’t believe that the world was as old as science indicates.
    This is the woman who raised me by herself, clothed, fed and educated. She can still whip my butt at Scrabble. She has been a Union President, negotiator, public servant, motorcycle rider and a pilot.
    There is no way I would ever be able to contemplate being a dick to my mom.
    But I had to disagree with her.
    I did it as cautiously as I could, one aspect of the subject at a time, using whatever references were available and appropriate. It took time, but she has moved somewhat.
    If I follow the debate correctly this is perhaps one aspect. There is another, of course, where the person involved has status, or more commonly, a financial intrest in spreading nonsense, not the same thing at all. Those people we need to fight with every weapon available.

  35. Phil, I’m wondering (quite genuinely). What counts as ‘being a dick’? Sure, it’s a Bad Thing to be rude to people (swearing at them / calling the stupid, etc.). But does merely, say, having an argument with them count as ‘being a dick’? Does firmly, but politely, saying “you’re wrong because a, b and c” count as ‘being a dick’? Because, if so, I’m going to have to disagree with you (firmly, but politely).

    Also… what if someone is firmly a skeptic but, say, is convinced that the Moon landing was hoaxed? Is your concern for them the same? Or is this a religion / science demarcation point you’re making?

    Also also… I’ve noticed you can sometimes be a dick. (I’m not saying this is a bad thing).

  36. Bryan Elliott

    The problem is that we tend to treat the victims of bad ideas in the same way we treat bad ideas – with disdain, ridicule and an eye towards exclusion – because we see every bad-idea-victim as equivalent to the idea’s originator.

    This perfectly natural, understandable behavior is completely unhelpful. We need to treat the victims of bad ideas like we would like to be treated if we were unknowingly wrong about something: with the appropriate corrections and an eye towards a common goal.

    If your goal is entertainment of other skeptics, though, have fun ^_^.

  37. Matthew I

    I almost posted most of this yesterday, but decided it would open too big a can of worms that I didn’t feel like defending yet again. I’m not going to defend it today either, but there’s enough context that I can make one point: I have stayed out of the skeptic community because I am Christian.

    Yes, I agree with skeptic principals; yes, I still believe in God; yes, explaining how that works is going to take more than a comment on a blog. But if you never have that conversation with me, who actually knows where you’re coming from, you’ll never understand why your arguments fail for so many others. Believe me, being a ‘skeptic’ in a religious community is a challenge, and gets me in a lot of arguments. At least we can have those arguments, though. Talking with skeptics never gets very far. These posts have made me very glad, and I’m hopeful that someday I’ll be able to come to a TAM or somesuch and have useful conversations with people with whom I agree on so much, even though we disagree on something important.

  38. Bunny Goodrich

    I am a science geektastic chica.
    I was wondering as I am new to all of the great skeptic “works” (sorry, Iwas busy in the lab!) Is it just me, or why do so many of the skeptics I chat with seem so pissed off? I get this attitude when all I was doing was asking a question.

    I was also questioning how may you present rational, critical thinking objectives to people for consumption if instead of serving me a nice lunch you just lob a sandwich at my head?

    Please note, I am working so hard to get my new parents to vaccinate, against the odds of perky actresses that my job is hard enough!! Dear Skeptics please take a note from (WOO purveyors, yes homeopaths and chiropractors I just invoked your names) try to smile and be patient, because let us look science in the face, y’all are right, but no one is going to listen if y’all call me stupid and walk away, thus: being a dick…. thanks for reading my thoughts Bunny Kathleen Goodrich

  39. Richard Green

    I don’t consider myself a Skeptic, and I am a Christian believer, so I’m a bit of an outsider to the discussion. I do consider myself a critical thinking in most aspects of my life; but I definitely understand why Skeptics would legitimately question my beliefs. (No, I am not going to evangelize in this post. That would be incredibly rude in this context.)

    I do think that there are a number of people like myself who believe in some form of god who would ally with Skeptics on a great number of issues. The question that the Skeptic community needs to deal with is “To what degree are non-atheists welcome in or beside the Skeptic community?” And I would not presume to say what the answer should be.

    I would agree with a “don’t be a dick” posture in most things in life. I do know that a lot of Christians have not treated atheists well and with respect; I don’t agree with that attitude myself. I would hope that whatever happens, the Skeptic community will learn from the mistakes of at least some Christians and other religious people.

    Just because I may disagree in some matters does not mean I do not wish Skeptics well. For that matter, when it really comes down to it – no two people totally agree on everything; so choose well the areas of disagreements that truly matter for you.

    Some areas of disagreement will be important areas of discrimination as to who is a Skeptic and who is not. Other areas will determine what types of people can work in cooperation with Skeptics (in their official roles as Skeptics at least). These areas will both limit and define Skeptics, and I do wish for Skeptics a wise and prosperous choice.

  40. Guysmiley

    Ray, after you’ve wrestled pigs in a mudpit for awhile you start to realize you’re not accomplishing anything and the pig rather enjoys it.

    I also think there’s a difference between the woo peddlers and people who just genuinely have never questioned some piece of woo. The Sylvia Brownes of the world deserve vitriol. But spewing hate and disdain at people who merely believe in her “powers” isn’t going to gain you anything. I think that is the point Phil is trying to put forth, and I agree with it wholeheartedly.

  41. Ronnie Lee

    I really cannot believe some of you people are not correctly comprehending what Phil is saying.

  42. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    To sum up from my previous comment, in the context an unsubstantiated slippery-slope argument is promoted, shored up by inconsequential anecdote instead of actual data. Every alternative strategy, can show up such anecdote as “support”; that isn’t the issue.

    Here it becomes obvious, as religion with its mostly outspoken special pleading is the poster boy for “criticism of subject is criticism of person”. It is a special pleading or elsewhere honest mistake that needs to be stricken down, btw, not encouraged by faulty analysis or worse.

    Again then: What matters is not whether skeptics or other people use criticism or have a critical issue at hand, but whether or not it is effective. And as skeptics, statistics from education and science, and important case study examples (suffragettes, blacks, gays), tell us outspokenness and honesty is that for growing minority views.

  43. While I have no doubt that Pamela and others feel persecuted, that is hardly evidence that Atheists are chasing them down the halls hurling insults at them. I am filled with a sinking feeling that, to the extent that Phil is correct, the problem is trivial. And to the extent that the problem is widespread, Phil’s description of it is incorrect.

  44. Andrew

    Well done, Phil. I hope most people can recognise when someone is being a dick to them; he is just asking people to try to avoid doing that to other people.

    Wikipedia – Wikimedia’s Meta-Wiki, to be more accurate – has much to say on the subject of not being a dick – see http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_be_a_dick

    To paraphrase:

    * being a dick is antisocial
    * you can be a dick even if you are right
    * being a dick can be counter-productive, as other people might stop listening to you
    * being a dick is not the same as incivility or impoliteness (but may be accompanied by them)

    Skepticism is about having a questioning attitude, and looking for evidence that tends to support or contradict a position. It is possible to have that sort of attitude, whether you believe in god, or not, or are not sure. Atheism – a belief that there is no god – is just as much a positive claim as the belief that there is a god. Personally, I am skeptical about either claim: I don’t have much evidence either way.

  45. Dave B

    @vel (#4) “..until someone can explain why a deist shouldn’t be questioned and a Evangelical Chrisitan creationist should be, I think I have a point. ” I’ll take a stab at that :)

    To many people, myself included, a personal faith is a comfort and support in their day to day life. To a well-adjusted moderately intelligent and educated member of any given religion, there is no conflict between physical reality and their belief. The dissonance comes from believing in the literal truth of the mythology that surrounds ones faith instead of taking the personal moral lessons from it that it is actually supposed to impart. It very much is a personal thing too.. A matter of faith is not a belief that one has any right to impose upon another, for the following reason: To present a belief and then demand that others believe it too is to immediately invoke the strictest requirements for verifiable proof in its correctness – which, if available, immediately disqualifies the belief in question from being a matter of faith.

    The two things, fact and faith, should not cause any kind of cognitive dissonance because in truth they operate in totally separate emotional and cognitive contexts. To use your example, a deist who draws from their belief a personal moral compass and takes responsibility for their own actions and interactions as a result of it is not proclaiming their belief as fact. An evangelist creationist that claims in spite of the evidence to the contrary that the earth is a few hundred years old, however, is.

    The former is keeping personal faith in the personal emotional/moral area outside which it has no proper role, the latter makes no such distinction and is attempting to bring their faith into the arena of verifiable fact where it has no place.

  46. Ethyachk

    Phil: damn straight. Being a dick alienates good people and doesn’t accomplish anything useful. The dicks also clearly don’t care who their target is, as the many nasty comments to you on here have proved. Regardless of the noisy trolls, you’ve struck an important nerve here and we’re all better off for it. Keep up the good work!

  47. masty

    Kudos Phil…
    I don’t believe in God but its becoming really hard for me to call myself an Atheist nowadays, I am afraid if I do I am labeling myself with certain characteristics. The reasons I hate established religion is they try to force feed me with their theology/ideology, they believe that they know the ultimate truth and make me a sinner for not acknowledging it, they are political, they have if you are not with me then you are against me attitude, their growth is fueled by their common hatred people they don’t like(Christians hate against Jews fueled their early growth, Islam hate against Christianity is fueling fanaticism in modern world(its ultimate hate that pushes a fanatic to turn into a suicide bomber)) etc..
    And several Atheist groups nowadays have started displaying same characteristics said above.
    Slowly Atheism is turning into a “No-GOD” God fanaticism. The arrogance and ignorance in blindly following God is no different than blindly and ignorantly preaching that there is No God, I know it all attitude.
    I recently attended a Atheist meetup to which I never went back because the people were more interested in parodying religious groups by watching clips from youtube than really talking like enlightened people that they claim they are. I am not entirely blaming them here but it was by no means destructive but it was certainly not constructive.
    Even my tone in this whole post is little harsh and I am replying to a post which instructs people not to be a d*** sssshhhhhhh…..
    Also I am subscriber to Astronomy cast and it doesn’t matter to me that Pamela is an Evangelist I am glad that she is, though I don’t believe in God.

  48. grung0r

    Michael:

    What counts as ‘being a dick’?

    Over three threads people have attempted to get an answer to this, with no success. In the previous thread, “being a dick” was at various times defined(by others, not Phil) as suing the government under the establishment clause to have Christian crosses removed from public property, Richard Dawkins using the word ‘delusion’ in the title of his book, an astronomy professor giving a 0 to students who answered a quiz question with theological nonsense, and of course, disagreeing with Phil’s premise.

    From Phil, all we know thus far is that screaming at a teenage girl and calling her a retard qualifies. As I think his vaugury is deliberate, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for any more then that.

  49. I think Greg @19 has it spot on when he writes,
    “However, any skeptic interested in logic & philosophy knows that a proper argument is one that focuses on the merits of the ideas in question, and not on the particular foibles of the person who is making the argument. If one pursues that ideal, hopefully that will preclude one from being the proverbial “dick.”"

    I was at the table for lunch one day with the “million dollar claimant” and was very impressed by the cordiality with which he was engaged by the others at the table. (I myself didn’t have the patience to engage him so I didn’t participate.) Rather than just ridicule him or call him a fraud, they engaged him in a dialog about his claims. I doubt they had any effect on him, but consider that if there had been some non-skeptics at the table, how they would have reacted to a less cordial engagement of the claimant by the skeptics. Sometimes not being a dick is about not being a dick to the person, and sometimes it’s also about not being perceived as a dick by others observing your discourse: theses are often the ones who CAN be won over, if you’re not a dick.

    I got into a lengthy, multi-hour discussion with my mother on the topic of gay marriage the other day, and it was a cordial, rational discussion between two people that disagreed. I never attacked her or her beliefs, but instead asked her to explain every point of her position, and Deconstructed each one accordingly. I can tell you that although I did not change her mind, I did make her consider things she hadn’t considered before, made her rethink several points, and even caused her some discomfort with some of the aspects of her position for which she had a lot of trouble rationally justifying. Though I didn’t move her off her position, I did give her a lot to think about, and that wouldn’t have happened if I had focused on attacking her and calling her a narrow minded, bigoted idiot or something similar rather than deconstructing her position.

    PS: I’m not gay…not that there’s anything wrong with that. :)

  50. Bryan Elliott

    Also, Pamely Gay looks remarkably like Felicity Doyle from SMBC Theater.

  51. JediBear,

    First, there are a couple HUGE differences here. First, unlike the anti-vaxxers that you so lovingly compared me to, what I believe has yet to kill anyone (referring to my personal faith here). I recognize that a trip to the ER can never be substituted by prayer, and I know that if you do something that flies in the face of logic or common sense, getting out of it unharmed in near impossible. To take it another step, I actively oppose the practices of other Christians who think they can just say a prayer for their kid instead of taking them in to get the whooping cough and pneumonia treated.

    Secondly, unlike antivaxxers or any of the other loonies out there, I recognize that what I believe cannot be scientifically proven. Try getting an antivaxxer to admit to that. I realize that what I believe wholly in my heart regarding the existence of God is something that cannot be proven, and must literally be accepted on blind faith. As such, I don’t come to sites like this trying to impose it on others (something else that a lot of pseudoscience folk will do). I’m happy to keep quiet about my beliefs, well knowing that they’re illogical and possibly irrational.

    If you’re willing to not just completely ostracize me, but worse yet associate me with people who not only blindly believe stupid and often harmful things that can and do cost people their lives, but also try to impose those stupid dangerous beliefs on others, then I’d go so far as to say that I want no part of whatever angry, spiteful bile you’ve got. It’s not worth the baggage you seem to be carrying around.

  52. Arthur Maruyama

    vel, by the timing of your response (#4) I believe that you may not have read the Bad Atronomer’s response (#3) to Richard (#2), but like Richard it appears that you have missed BA’s point. He isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be skeptical about other people’s beliefs regardless of its origin, but that you can advance your skepticism without being insulting. There is a world of difference between “You are an idiot for thinking that the world is flat!” vs. “You believe the world is flat? Why, when there is a lot of evidence contrary to that?” The latter might lead to a discussion where that person can be open to your arguments, while the former is more likely to lead to another person thinking that all skeptics are a**holes and he will be shut off from any further discussion.

    “I wonder about how skeptical they were in the first place.” Really? Perhaps you have been fortunate enough to have been a skeptic all of your life, but most people–myself included–have come to my degree of skepticism gradually. Such an “all or nothing” attitude might very well shut down the movement of others to a more skeptical view.

  53. Chaos

    Phil, next time we meet, I owe you a drink… well, two actually, one for the “Don´t be a dick!” speech, and one for making Kitty happy. Or, if you prefer that, I can bring some chocolate instead.

  54. Is there going to be a part 4?

    I’m curious because you seem to want to promote discussion, but your response to my initial post was utterly dishonest – and now it seems you want to wrap this all up in a bow of hugs and kittens.

    Granted, it’s nice to have you clearly imply that this (once again) ties to how theistic skeptics are treated, but some people are still waiting for something more than anecdotes and emotional pleas. Some of us would like to be able to determine if this is a serious and escalating problem or accommodationist hand-waving.

  55. Joshua Earle

    I think one part of the apparent disconnect that is happening with the skeptics is that it’s easy to preach to the choir, and it’s very easy to not realize that someone is being a dick when you agree with them. It’s even easier to not realize that you’re being a dick when people are agreeing with you. Skeptics who claim to have not seen this rash of dickishness may be simply distracted by the arguments they agree with. Condescention, especially written, is easy to read when it’s pointed at you, but less so when it’s pointed at others and when it delivers a message you agree with.

    On the few internet forums I frequent, I know I have seen the same boorishness that you describe. I have also partaken of that boorishness. It’s hard not to, especially when believers are just as forthright and direct with their beliefs as skeptics are. When we feel attacked, WE get defensive, too… and I think that as well leads to a lot of the dickishness in skeptic arguments.

    Great talk. I plan on sending quite a few of my own skeptic friends to this video and the responses to it. Perhaps we can help you help us not be dicks.

  56. Phil, I think you would have gotten more mileage out of re-framing your talk on chastising skeptics who let their debates and lectures languish in ad hominems than tossing out a nebulous term like, “don’t be a dick”.

    Intellectual dishonesty is what skeptics hate, and by letting their discourse wander into ad hominem land, whether they realize it or not, they are tossing out facts and rationality for sloppy arguing.

    That, I think, is something we can all understand and clearly sets boundaries without diminishing impassioned, angry, or forceful rants that grab attention and make points.

    I think it’s also what galls atheist skeptics when it comes to people that think of themselves as skeptics but hold religious beliefs – that one individual can clearly question, examine, and dismiss pseudoscience and other woo but give religion the free pass.

    It’s cognitive dissonance at its finest but that doesn’t disqualify anyone from getting along and having good conversations, and good back-and-forth about said topic.

  57. I think Dawkins (and Myers) makes an excellent point when he says we – atheists, agnostics, etc. – shouldn’t allow religious people to take offense at mere criticism. Saying Bronze Age myths are… Bronze Age myths is not “being a dick”.

    So… I ask again. Examples please. Also, Phil, can we please have examples for non-religious topics. E.g. people who came up to you afterwards crying that as a homeopath in the skeptical movement they felt so alone

  58. cameron

    Oh for the love of ______, Phil, you are making it so very difficult for people, who would otherwise be entirely on your side, to agree with you. We’ve now suffered through 3 threads of people asking you what, in your opinion, being a dick ACTUALLY MEANS. I’m almost certain we could come to agreement in about 30 seconds, but only if you take a freaking position and let us know what it is. Do you even read the comments on your blog? People have been asking this for hundreds of posts.

    Definitions matter! Who gets to decide if I’m acting out of line? You realize that there is a large portion of the population who finds the very *existence* of atheists to be literally offensive, right? If I ask a theist at a skeptical convention how they can possibly call out psychics for baloney thinking while simultaneously believing in something equally ridiculous, is that a dick move? Is it different if I do it at a dinner party? Is it different if I ask the same question to Ken Ham? These are important distinctions, and until you tell us what the heck you are talking about, your talk might as well have been speaking in tongues for all the content we’re able to extract from it.

    Again, so there’s no confusion, I think we’re on the same side, but please throw us a frickin bone here!

  59. I listened to your excellent talk and appreciate your candor in respecting mind and emotion. As a non-theist married to a minister I recognize every day the importance of expressing one’s thoughts, opinions and feelings while listening. . .always listening. Thank you.

  60. Good for you, Phil. You were the right voice to bring this forward. It’s very easy to be dickish. Too easy and it accomplishes little. Too many separate themselves from the issues in manners too black and white. They inherently place people in two distinct groups: With them or Against them, when this is not always the case. Not always. The world is full of potential and I think when given the chance many people will surprise you, but if they are attacked outright and without provocation (other than their ideas), defensively- they retreat, especially when they feel they have always supported the attacker. Betrayal is a horrible feeling to come to terms with and it often times isn’t. Maybe, people can re-examine how they interact with others and if just one thinking person is saved from dangerous myths then good on you, man. Good on you.

  61. Joe

    Why does anyone care whether or not someone believes in God. I can understand a problem with people who take Homeopathy, Magnets, or prayer in place of real medicine, or when people try to prevent the education of science (evolution as an example) because it doesn’t jive with their personal beliefs, but why do skeptics have such a problem with someone who believes in god, not at the expense of knowledge?

  62. Bryan

    Two things here:

    1) As many have stated, Phil doesn’t give us any concrete examples. So we have to try and figure out where he draws the line. I’d rather know his specific opinion, but in the absence of that I’ll assume that PZ and Dawkins are the type of “dicks” that he is talking about because they are most often decried as crass and rude by other articles. If this type of behavior doesn’t advance the cause, then why is there such a thriving atheist community that didn’t exist before those gentlemen and their contemporaries started speaking out? Before them we did have quiet diplomats. I spent my youth hiding my views because the quiet diplomats did an insufficient job of making skepticism mainstream and accepted.

    2) The strident and aggressive attacks on silly beliefs are not always about trying to convince the person on the other side of the discussion. That person often has this thing called “faith” which makes them immune to reason anyway. In my opinion, it’s often more about convincing the people that are listening in on the sidelines. Coming across as the nice guy willing to give equal time to all arguments doesn’t work so well when you are going up against people who are 100% sure that their stance is right and good.

  63. Jim

    As someone who’s a recent convert to the skeptical community, I applaud Phil for addressing this topic so well. Part of why it took me so long to find my way here is exactly because of the sort of ‘dickish’ behavior that Phil talks about. I was put off by it for so long that I didn’t have any desire to listen to the arguments, however rational and well-reasoned they were. So, thank you very much, Phil, for bringing this up!

  64. @#51

    Joe,

    Perhaps, because for most of written history beliefs in God have stood in the way of knowledge, scientific advancement, and civil rights.

    There’s a tad bit of animosity there.

  65. dangermom

    I certainly identify with Kitty and Pamela. I would really appreciate being able to talk about science and skepticism without also being vilified for my religious faith. It’s difficult for those of us who believe in God AND sympathize with all of the skeptics’ goals except for the one about erasing religion off the face of the earth. We don’t feel welcome in the tent, even though we want to camp out in it. I understand and respect atheists, but I mostly don’t get that back. I’m happy to hang out with them, but they mostly don’t want to hang out with me.

  66. Ken

    I am a rationalist and an empiricist, philosophically speaking. But I function with an understanding of what the limits are to those methods of analysis. Beyond that limit, I choose to employ tolerance. If there is no rational means of dissuasion and no empirical evidence and no verifiable antithesis, then believe as you must – but keep it to yourself and do not expect it to be publicly promoted.

    An example: I cannot stand for creationist irrationality. The evidence is crystal clear. Deal with it and move on. (everyone here cheers, yay!) (but now I go all controversial) But dont tell me that the evidence is clear that there is not a diety, or a non-terrestrial sentience, or other dimensions of matter. There is evidence neither to support nor to deny. There is no positivist position for those axioms. A common logical fallacy: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. As far as I can tell, the only truly rational answer to deism is to say that lacking evidence to construct a positive position on the matter, I choose not to recognize the possibility, and though I disagree with your position, there really isn’t any further constructive discussion to be had.

    Argue as you like, but you cannot provide any more evidence that the universe exists in an existential vacuum than a deist can that it does not. To do so makes each of you as dogmatic and irrational as the bible-thumping 6-dayers.

    Whether you entertain the possibility of deity or not, the root of skepticism is questioning, not confirmation, nor denial. Where questions have answers, there is confirmation or denial. Logically speaking, to deny an axiom on the basis of the question without due regard for the actuality of the evidence is to cling to an irrational dogma – the only eventuality is some kind of inquisition.

    I think that is the virtue of tolerance – I can be skeptical, you can be skeptical, but where there isnt a clear right answer, we can leave each other be. I wouldnt probably frame it in the way its going around on the board here (dont be a dick) but I suspect that its good medicine.

  67. grung0r

    Matt:

    Some of us would like to be able to determine if this is a serious and escalating problem or accommodationist hand-waving.

    It’s the latter. I’d put the Over/Under on a Chris Mooney post entitled: “Exhibit B: This is what Phil was talking about” at a week.

    Big Fan, by the way.

  68. BigJ

    That’s a great story, Phil, but I do have an issue with it, and it comes from my own personal experience. I was accused of harassment by a guy preaching on a subway platform for stating that I am an atheist, and had never seen any evidence for a god. This was in response to his question directly to me; it was not a confrontation that I started. He took that statement and went far enough to try to get a police officer involved (thankfully the officer did not take him seriously). This is not my only experience along these lines, though it is the only one involving police. I have had similar experiences with some long time (now former) friends and the occasional family member.

    My point in relating this is that some consumers of woo, especially the religious kind, will take any contrary point of view as a personal attack. If there is real harassment or ostracism involved, obviously that is not ok. If people feel ostracized because of being asked to justify their views on a particular subject, they might need to re-examine their own skepticism. After all, aren’t both skepticism and science in general basically asking people to justify themselves?

    Please note that I do not know the particulars of how anyone noted in the article has been treated. This was a general statement from my personal experience.

  69. somecallmejim –

    Firstly, I did not compare you to antivaxxers. And perhaps they were a bad example. We don’t have to be uncivil about this. I’m really just playing devil’s advocate (as should have been clear from my post upthread.)

    Second, okay, I can accept harm as a standard. That makes a certain degree of sense.

    Even so, it can sometimes be hard to quantify. Antivax is a pretty clear-cut case with regards to harm, but what about a theoretical “moderate antivaxxer” who gets his shots like a good boy but occasionally mentions at parties that he doubts they do much good and worries they might be doing some harm? What about UFO and Moon Hoax Belief? What about ethical practitioners of alt-med who may actually do more good than harm?

  70. @51 Joe,

    This is my point EXACTLY. Yeas, I believe in God, but in so doing, I do not disbelieve in physics and science in general.

    True story, we entered a “Biggest Loser” type contest put on by the local Christian radio station. We got some really useful stuff, like a year-long gym membership, but there was this other membership I wasn’t so sure about, listed as a “dietitian & natural health”. I went to the first of 12 free appointments with these people, and it turned out to be mega homeopathic garbage. First they strapped a lead to my big toe to analyze the quality of my “cellular water”, and determine about 39 factors of my “health”. Next they bring me into a room where I have to take off my watch and sit touching this simplistic battery powered device. Using the lead on the other end, the gal determines my body’s weaknesses using something between astrology and palm reading like skills. Then, here’s the hilarious part, to figure out which supplements will remedy my problems, she sets these little jars of different supplements on top of the machine and scans me again! Eureka! I discovered that I had a dozen deficiencies, but the good news was that with about $170 a month worth of supplements from their handy nutrition center, I can be free of all the negative energy that bogs me down. Needless to say, I didn’t redeem the remaining 11 appointments. (What’s more, our family won the competition, beating the others who religiously used the homeopathic remedies. Take THAT, pseudoscience!)

    What’s my point? Simply put, we should all be teaming up together to go after people like those who use fake gizmos to sell you $170 worth of crap you don’t need, but instead I have to deal with people who attack my belief in God which does absolutely no harm to them aside from tweaking their superiority complexes.

    @53 Matt,

    So your solution is to punish people like myself, who have a theological system but openly embrace science and knowledge, simply because thousands of years ago, people who are long dead were ignorant morons? Seems fair.

    And let’s be honest, many of our great historical scientists had a system of faith. Even after being locked away as a heretic, Galileo held to his belief in God The same goes for Copernicus. Einstein had a belief in God, albeit a fairly unique one from a theological perspective. I could go on, but that’s not the point. My point is, I believe in God, but it’s not a barrier for me to think rationally and scientifically, and therefore the thought that as a whole I’m not worthy of entering the sacred circle of the realm of skeptics is a little over the top, no?

  71. It’s simply good form that, having assumed the moral high ground in a debate, that one cede it only reluctantly and NEVER allow themselves to be the first to do so.

    But I’m inclined to throw in with those who wonder about how the notion of “being a dick” is framed; perhaps it would serve to amend the position to “don’t be a dick ALL THE TIME”.

    The truth of the matter is that, without resorting to unfortunate generalizations, we’re talking about an audience composed of a substantial number of dicks and those who are strongly influenced by them. Certainly no one should forsake the portion of the audience capable of being reached, but let’s be honest and admit that there are limits to it’s size. Even where intellectual integrity is not an issue, there are limitless variations of cognitive bias that reduce us to the role of hoping if we repeat the same message often enough, it will eventually register.

    As Dan Savage once pointed out, tolerance is not respect; it’s putting up with someone.

    You’re right, though. A lot of us have become so embittered by the dicks that we’ve become them ourselves, and that is fundamentally unhelpful. I hope to frak you’re listening, Sam Harris.

  72. stompsfrogs

    May we be dicks to moon-hoax conspiracy theorists?

    Why, exactly, does the majority (theists) need protection? Because they got their wittle feewings hurt? Why do they care what we say about them, anyway? We’re not citizens or patriots, according to good ol’ GWB. We’re probably not even human.

    I love ya Phil, but I feel like I’m on Fox News’ website. Serious bunch of straw men you been beating on. Reminds me of when Fox talks about how persecuted rich old white guys are.

  73. I think we fall into this trap of talking about skepticism—and being a skeptic—as though it were part of some kind of exclusive club, one in which the members choose to “include” or “exclude” people based on their whims. Being a skeptic means you take a particular approach to epistemology, one that prizes reason and evidence above “faith,” wish-thinking, and fantasy. Each individual skeptic herself or himself chooses whether or not to be a skeptic, and we recognize these people as skeptics when we notice that the thought process that lead to their beliefs is congruent with reason and evidence. Asking “Can you be a theist/deist and also be a skeptic” is asking the wrong question. The only relevant question is “What thought process lead you to that belief—and is that thought process congruent with skepticism?” Whether or not someone, as a person, “counts” as a skeptic is not as important.

  74. I find it amazing how many people missed the point of what Phil was saying. Those who keep asking for examples of dickishness lack imagination, life experience, or both. The current political state of our country contains many examples of ad hominem attacks. Are we the better for it? Not so much.

    On the other hand, there are people that cannot, and will not be reasoned with. They may simply lack the ability for rational discourse. Or it may be that hate and fear clouds their judgment. If they have no power, pity them and move on. If they have the power to effect social change, fight them tooth and nail.

    I would describe myself as an agnostic, though I seriously doubt that a being capable of creating a universe (or multiverse) would, as Einstein put it, “concern Himself with the fate and actions of men.”

    But we can only go back to within few milliseconds after the big bang, so I have to admit that it’s possible, though improbable, that some intellect created all this. To what end, one can only speculate. Maybe someday we’ll find out. Maybe not. A physicist friend of mine is fond of saying, “You can’t think 11-dimensional thoughts with a 3-dimensional brain. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.”

    Such is the beauty of both science and human perseverance.

  75. @69 JediBear,

    No worries. My feathers aren’t ruffled, so to speak :-)

    While “harm” might not be the perfect term, it works, so let’s run with it. I think in addition to physical harm, there is also psychological harm and intellectual harm that can be considered.

    For example, people who believe in the moon hoax and perpetuate it commit intellectual harm. They’re actively attempting to convince people that something true didn’t happen. While the harm is mostly localized to the person who believes it, it also causes problems on a larger scale. We learn from experience, so denying that something has taken place causes us to discount what we’ve learned. It would be a lot easier to see racial profiling as acceptable if we didn’t have German concentration camps floating around in the back of our minds someplace.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to write a free pass for religion, not even Christianity. I think there are some practices that go on to this day in Christianity that are wrong, and fly in the face of learning and science. I oppose those things. Whenever I see a supposed Christian telling people that if their faith were stronger, they wouldn’t need to see doctors, I cringe. When someone at my church starts talking about science like it’s the devil, I’m the first to speak up and say that science is the foundation for everything we have.

    The problem boils down to the Hatfields vs. The McCoys. Scientists assume all Christians are ignorant morons, so they blast Christians. Christians assume all scientists are egotistical jerks, so they attack science. And so on and so fifth. Personally, I think once these two bodies learn to get along, or at least to amicably coexist, the doors to scientific achievement will be thrown open. How many great minds have been stifled because they were afraid to enter the Christian-vs-Science battlefield? Let them coexist, and I think great things will happen.

  76. Greg

    I think we could all do with a round of thinking about what we believe that is outside what is accepted by the skeptical community. I’ll bet organic farming practice is a hot topic in our own community, and perhaps low-carb diets (shameless reference: go read Good Calories, Bad Calories to stir your mind on that debate). Considering we are all not formed by the same mold in the same factory, we could perhaps extend that understanding to others.

    Being a skeptic shouldn’t mean falling in line with particular sets of beliefs (although that may happen): it’s about developing the baloney detection kit and applying it to what we learn and have learned. Digging up our pre-rational beliefs and applying skepticism a posteriori is a difficult task, so be patient.

  77. Don Wiseman

    This is wierd, Phil. I find myself agreeing with you. I have been asked on a number of occassions to join skeptical or “intellectual” organizations whose purely “logical” standards seem to stop suddenly at certain subjects. By the way, on the “that’s a stupid idea” theme: isn’t that what was said to Copernicus, et al. And to Einstein in fact. Everything is legitimately subject to skepticism — even skepticism. By the way I agree with skeptics onmost things. But having sat in with some major scientists in the 60s, a number of whom insisted up to the landing that exploring the moon is impossible – well. Maybe, politically, it is.
    Don

  78. @74

    Mike,

    You’ve defined (as well as I) dicks as those utilizing ad hominem attacks.

    All ‘those missing the point’ have not drawn that conclusion themselves. I can’t fault them for that as the way Phil framed it – ‘being a dick’ is far too broad and as many have asked, he’s refused to define it any farther.

  79. I am boggled that people are so mystified about the whole notion of “being a dick.” Too many seem to believe that as long as you’re right, any tactic is OK, because, after all, you’re right. Quite frankly, that’s a Fred Phelps sort of attitude.

    You want examples? Well, to be honest, a fair number of the comments in this thread are good examples: #2 and #5, for instance.

    Why do people seem to think Phil is talking about PZ Myers when he says “don’t be a dick”? Well, let me suggest an explanation: PZ is a dick, and people know it even if they loudly defend him and shout that it’s unfair to call him a dick. Examples of PZ being a dick are the “cracker” incident, and this post: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/07/im_surrounded.php

    Read this post from “Whiskey Before Breakfast” documenting dickish behavior: http://sethmanapio.blogspot.com/2010/06/why-are-we-lying-to-pamela-gay.html

    It really is all over the place. I would suggest that those who don’t think it really exists are suffering from the same blinders as Fundamentalist Christians who are so convinced that they are Saved that they don’t understand what is so evil about telling other people who don’t share their religion that they’re damned.

  80. Waterdog

    Well, I’m convinced. As a science teacher, I (surprisingly?) haven’t yet been in a situation where I’ve had to decide whether or not I should be a dick, but I think I’d like to handle it the way you did in your anecdote. So I will endeavour to do so. You may be right. It just might work better than anything else.

  81. BJN

    Boy, a lot of dickish posts from folks who want to be dicks. Think of the opposite of being a dick as being humane. And you’re being a dick if you resort to the same level of presumption and offensive behavior that you find presumptuous and offensive from the non-rational side.

    Civility is sadly out of style. That’s dangerous in a diverse society (or between societies). Frankly, I think being a dick is easy. Effective persuasion without being offensive or hostile takes more intelligence and more sophisticated communication skills.

  82. @75 somecallmejim — And I’ll agree that “blasting” people isn’t the answer either, and that assumptions are the real enemy, but don’t expect me not to call you out on your faith. You work around it, and that’s cool, but you can’t say it’s truly harmless either.

    After all, widespread misunderstanding of Einstein’s private faith still plagues skeptics. If you ever get to be a famous smartypants, yours might as well.

  83. Michael Swanson

    I don’t see how on earth the concept of “don’t be a dick” is generating so much argument. You find a skeptic who says, “There is no evidence for extraterrestrial flying saucers, but I believe in god.” Should you say, A) “You’re a ****ing idiot” or B) “You do see that your belief in a higher power is the same as one in flying saucers, right? It also lacks any empirical evidence?”

    One of those statements dickish, and one is honest and unblinkingly confronts the issue head on. One of them is designed to call her stupid, and the other is designed to, with a small chance of success, set her down a path of universal, rather than cherry-picked skepticism.

    When it comes to someone like Sylvia Browne, a liar and a charlatan, I’m not afraid to be a dick: she hurts people for money by lying to them about their loved ones. But I don’t have to insult someone who thinks that she is a caring person and believes in her powers. I’ll just tell them, “Sylvia Browne is a liar and she wants your money. She’s an awful person. Read these books, watch these videos, and go to these websites.” Another case of not being a dick, but sugar coating.

    In other words, it is very, very, very easy to not be a dick, but to always be an honest skeptic.

  84. echowd

    It sounds like a lot of people are having a tough time with the vague middle ground of ‘being a dick’ between screaming profanity and deferential politeness. For these people I propose the following “don’t be a dick” definition:

    Treat people the way you would want them to treat your mother under similar circumstances.

  85. MT-LA

    @Dave B (#39): I thought that yours was one of the most well framed responses that I have read on the difference between being religious and having faith – thank you for that.

    @somecallmejim (#29): “Yes, I am well aware that my beliefs are impossible to quantify or prove using the scientific method.” I would only add that, though you cannot prove your beliefs, they are also impossible to disprove. Big-A Atheists never seem to acknowledge that atheism is a belief in not-God, while agnosticism is not believing either way. Sure, you can redefine atheism to include agnosticism, but I could just as easily redefine dogs to include cats.

    And to all that insist that BA must provide some examples: why? For me, dickishness is hard to define but easy to recognize (P vs NP, anyone?). But even if you could pin down what “being a dick” means, it wont help. Being a dick is completely subjective, and has everything to do with context. All Dr. Plait is saying is “Hey, if you want to be a dick, go for it. But it wont help your cause.” Whether or not *everyone* can agree that you’re being a dick is irrelevant – what matters is if the person you’re trying to sway thinks your being a dick. Stop looking to others to define it, stop looking for consensus. Just take a second the next time you have a discussion about anything with someone and ask yourself “Am I having a debate, or am I having an argument?” If you think you’re having an argument, chances are you’re being a dick.

  86. Girl_Noir

    I’ve been leisurely reading through these comments, but I haven’t finished the thread – as soon as I saw AliCali at #27, I had to throw in my two cents, and my two cents are

    ^THIS. THIS, THIS, THIS.

    Thanks for putting it better than I could have, AliCali, and cheers on a wonderful speech, Dr. Plait.

  87. I’m actually kind of surprised that people want conrete examples of what it means to be a dick. I shouldn’t be surprised, now that I think about it, but for pete’s sake, can’t you just use a little judgement and try to be tactful? Do you really need a *guide* on how not to be a douchebag??

    If you do I think you need to get out and mingle a little more, explore what it is to have a regular conversation with humans.

    Hint: I’m currently being a dick to many of you. This is an example of what not to do.

  88. For all those who have said Phil hasn’t defined what being a dick is, I think he defined it quite well by stating don’t call people stupid, retarded, idiots etc. Speak to their ideas, not to who they are as a person. As soon as you revert to name calling, you’ve lost.

    From a child psych POV, think of it this way. When disciplining or praising your child, it is better to speak to their action and not to who they are. You use phrases like, “I think you did a very excellent job on (insert what they did here).” Or in opposition, “I’m disappointed in your choice to call Bobby a (insert insult here). Use your words.” Calling them a bad girl/boy or good girl/boy doesn’t teach them the hows and whys. It also leads to self-esteem issues.

    This is a whole other language. It takes a lot of work to teach and learn “I statements.” The same works in conversation. If you begin a conversation with, “I felt (insert appropriate word here) when you did/said (insert appropriate action here).” You are taking ownership for your own feelings and speaking to the person’s action, not who they are. It is received a lot better than “You make me (insert word).” Walls get built and defensive go up because they are being approached in an accusatory manner.

    There is a way to be respectfully disagreeable with people. Name calling and personal attacks gets people no where. Likening them to things you know, or I should better say suspect, will cause people to get their knickers in a knot (such as comparing them to Fox News) is being a dick.

    You are not being an accommodationist simply by being diplomatic about how you tackle a situation. There is such thing as respectfully disagreeing. I don’t know if debate is taught in all schools, but it was mandatory when I was in grade 11. And quite often, my teacher would have students debate the side that he knew they were opposed to. For me it was a very valuable lesson, one that I think more people could benefit from.

  89. M

    A lot of people are wondering where one should draw lines about accepting other people’s “woo”. First, I think there are 3 categories of “woo”:

    Type 1: Actively bad “woo”: Eg, “God hates gays”, anti-vaxxers, homeopaths, etc. These are people who spread hate and bad medicine. This kind of “woo” needs to be stamped out. Also included in here is evangelical type 2 woo.

    Type 2: “woo” that contradicts mainstream science: creationism, not believing in relativity, whatever. If the “woo” is kept private, then it isn’t a major sin, but it does impede understanding of the universe. This “woo” is bad, but acceptable as long as there’s no attempt to make it part of our school curriculum or whatever.

    Type 3: “woo” that is not testable by the scientific method, but doesn’t interfere with understanding science. Deism is a good example. There isn’t any evidence that there is some kind of god, or afterlife, but at least there isn’t any contrary evidence. This kind of “woo” is mostly harmless, except inasmuch as it indicates bad logic on the part of the “woo” holder. Note that there are plenty of non-religious pieces of “woo” that fall into this category: when it comes down to it, most morality is underpinned by some assumption that is taken on faith. For example, I believe that other people are thinking, feeling beings who matter just as much as I do. Is there any way to prove that? Not really. I believe in doing nice things for people that I’ll never see again. Is there any logic in that? Well, it does improve the world a tiny bit, but… enough to matter? It makes me feel good – but is that just because I believe it is a good thing to do? At some point, everyone has some “woo” in them, and not all “woo” is bad.

    Which brings me to the last point: the key here is the _effect_ of believing the “woo”: personally, I’m an atheist, but I’ve seen people of faith manage to deal with crippling events with grace due to their faith. Some people of faith manage to do amazing good works for humanity. Now, clearly, many atheists also accomplish great acts of philanthropy and generosity, and I get very annoyed when I see religious people claiming that atheists can’t or won’t do good works without the threat of Hell/promise of Heaven as a motivating force. However, for some people, their faith _is_ a powerful motivating force for good works. And if believing in “woo” is what it takes to make some people Good Samaritans when they otherwise wouldn’t be – then I don’t merely tolerate the “woo”, I actually approve of it.

    -M

  90. grung0r

    Somecallmejim:

    And let’s be honest, many of our great historical scientists had a system of faith. Even after being locked away as a heretic, Galileo held to his belief in God The same goes for Copernicus. Einstein had a belief in God, albeit a fairly unique one from a theological perspective.

    This is a truly dumb argument. With the exception of Einstein, whom I will get to in a minute, every single one of these people who’s religious view you are appealing to(most like to include newton too) were, by modern standards, incredibility ignorant people. Any high school student with an interest in science and a time machine could go back and run intellectual circles around any one of them, including in their field of expertise. Someone who’s limit of scientific knowledge only extends to “maybe planets revolve around the sun” and who’s other scientific beliefs include a 6000 year old earth and alchemy probably shouldn’t be your go to guy for demonstrating the compatibility of science and religion.

    As for Einstein, his beliefs about god were neither unique nor theological. He said he worshiped Spinoza’s god, and used the word to describe the “rules of the universe”. he referred to a belief in a personal god as childish, and told the religious to stop appealing to his beliefs as conformation of theirs.

    Was I just a Dick there? Help me out Phil.

  91. BigJ

    Michael Swanson:

    It seems like the argument over exactly what constitutes “being a dick” stems from the fact that there are religious believers who take both your examples as being equally offensive. This is a problem that is never addressed by those who make statements about not being “a dick”, whether the message is full blown accommodation (“Religion should be free of skeptical scrutiny!”) or something more well reasoned, along the lines of Phil’s take.

  92. kwoolf

    It seems to me that much of the above concerns the semantics of a message instead of just the message. It’s all good writing practice but unfortunately, that’s all some of these posts amount to.

  93. Jack Mitcham

    This reminds me a little of something I tried to combat when I was in the Libertarian Party. If you agreed with 95% of the Libertarian platform, some of the other members would harass you about that other 5%.

    It’s no wonder we couldn’t grow.

  94. @86

    Julia,

    For the benefit of those that say they cannot find the definition, would you mind posting exactly where you pulled, “I think he defined it quite well by stating don’t call people stupid, retarded, idiots etc. Speak to their ideas, not to who they are as a person. ”

    I think it would it help settle things for many others.

  95. Bob

    I wonder why this post came with a “Live Psychic Readings” advertisement in Google Reader?

  96. @84 MT-LA — actually, you’re a touch confused about your definitions. Atheism isn’t a belief in anything. Atheism is a lack of belief in divinity. A belief in not-God is sufficient (but not necessary) to be called an atheist, while a simple non-belief in God is both necessary and sufficient.

    Agnostics are distinct from atheists in that they refuse to take a position. They’re fence-sitters. If you can say you don’t believe in God, you’re not an agnostic, you’re an atheist. In order to be agnostic, you must consider the question to be undecidable, either as a matter of fact or as a matter of principle.

  97. alfaniner

    If you’re not sure if you are being a dick, you probably are.

  98. Nemesis

    Wow! So much to read!

    At least deism allows the possibility of independent personal growth (without “sin” [unlike evangelical religions]).

    I can’t believe the tenacity that ardent atheists attack anyone who opposes their beliefs. The absence of a god might be more observable than its presence, but will never be confirmed through any experiment. It’s a two-way street. I’m not saying scientists should apply a god hypothesis to their experiments or anything, but it will never be proven either way. There will always be a mystery regarding the source of matter in the universe.

    Cheers to anyone who rejects the notion of a man-made god, yet accepts that a creator could exist. Cheers to anyone who doesn’t reject and ridicule like-minded people for not being same-minded (which is impossible).

    Thanks Phil, for being cool.

  99. Timmy

    For f*** sake, what a bunch of dicks!

    But, seriously… I thought it was obvious that “being a dick” means being insulting and loud and belligerent. I don’t think Phil needs to elaborate. It’s pretty clearly stated in the video.

    Second, go back and reread 27, 29, 39, 43, and 54. You see, many religious people are also very rational about their beliefs. I go to church, but I also know Jesus did not ride a dinosaur. I think maybe the disconnect comes with people thinking it’s a Yes or No issue, and not a sliding scale…

    To Phil,
    I have been following this blog for a few months, ever since a bored afternoon when I decided to see what the moon hoax was all about and ended up here. It’s funny, but I learned that I have always been a skeptic without even knowing it. I have to say, though, that I have been turned off by the hate I see in the comments and have considered deleting the blog from my feed a few times. If this is what the skeptic community is like, count me out. I can think rationally without any help from a bunch of dicks. I know that vaxxines are good and the earth is old. I don’t believe in UFO’s, ghosts, or psychics but I am still on the fence about God and I may go either way, though I do find comfort in my religion. Anyway, I can see that there is room for mostly-skeptics like me around here. Thank you.

  100. Ken

    is agnosticism a skeptically acceptable position?

  101. @91

    Horse,

    He spoke to it in his video. And he stressed it again when he was speaking about his experience with the young lady who is a young earth creationist. I obviously paraphrased what Phil had said. And to quote directly from his second post in this series, “I talk specifically about people who are insulting and demeaning”.

    And more quoting, “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.”

    I hope that helps. Relisten to the video. If it were in text form, I could very quickly go through and copy and paste quotes. But it isn’t and unfortunately right at this moment, I don’t have time to relisten because I’m busy writing my own post on this topic.

  102. @97

    Julie,

    Awesome, thank you!

  103. Brice Gilbert

    If saying “Holding a belief in a God is not a skeptical position” is being a dick then I’ll be a dick for the rest of my life. If not then were good.

  104. It’s been hard to keep up with this…I have been busy this week (and am still trying to find time to watch the original video). However, I know Phil (and Pamela) fairly well and have read lots of comments, so forgive me if I hit somethings again.

    Being a dick is a bit like pornography…hard to define, but I know it when I see it :) Generally my philosophy is to hammer away with logic, facts, studies (with citations if it is written and I have time to look them up) and call people out when they fail to do the same. I tend to drive people crazy in discussion forums since I won’t let them change the subject and move on when they have been clearly shown to be wrong until they admit it (which they rarely do of course, but it drives them effectively crazy then they end up being the undisputable dick). Besides, when you get dickish, you can fall into ad hominems and all kinds of logical fallacies we try to avoid.

    I don’t hide my atheism, but I don’t back down to others who feel I should believe like they do or live under laws that reflect exclusively their religious belief. I have dated Christians and never broken up with someone because they were Christian (although I can say the same about Christians breaking up with this atheist…I will say that I bear her no ill will since it worked out for the best in the long run and I still visit her when I am near DC).

    Now there are times for satire and humor. They can be very effective tools as well. I am part of a local improv troupe and we recently did a show with a local radio astrologer as your guest celebrity. We wanted her to have a good experience performing with us. Fortunately, she had a sense of humor and were able to do several scenes touching on new age themes (including a very difficult scene I initiated which turned into a very successful satire of cold readings). I didn’t have to agree with her, I was able to satirize her beliefs and show why some of them were wrong, and she went away laughing and smiling (I listened to her radio show the following week and she raved about what a good time she had performing with us…she talked about that in the first ten minutes so I was able to turn it off before she got to the astrology stuff :)

  105. elaine!

    Comment #2 is why I avoid the skeptic community. I’m ex-religious, and I still can’t stand to be around people who act like that. Part of the problem I think is with people who have never switched paradigms. They simply don’t understand that someone with a different world view can have complete congruency within themselves.

    It kind of sucks because I find skeptical topics to be really interesting, then I come across comments like that, and I have to ask myself why I’m exposing myself to that kind of pointless negativity. In fact, why am I even bothering to post a comment on a discussion that’s guaranteed to have flames in the comments?

    If it wasn’t for Phil Plait and Adam Savage, I’d have an awful opinion of pretty much all skeptics.

    Bring on the trolls, I guess.

  106. Jack Mitcham

    This youtube video from Neil Degrasse Tyson seems fitting to this discussion:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_2xGIwQfik

    NSFW language in the last 10 seconds.

  107. Doug from Dougland

    There are an awful lot of people on this thread who seem to be using atheists as the ultimate example of being a dick and contorting what atheists actually believe into a mild charicature to make the atheist viewpoint to seem dishonest (at best) or ignorant and stupid (at worst). I urge you all to realize that overgeneralizations and telling other people what they actually believe IS dickish. Exactly the kind of dick Phil is talking about. In much the same way that an atheist calling out a methodist for what a baptist says (as long as the methodist doesn’t agree with it) would be dickish.

    I guarantee that if you ask a thousand atheists what they believe, maybe one will say that they believe with 100% certainty there is no God. What the rest will tell you is that while there is no direct evidence disproving God, that doesn’t mean it is equally likely that there is no God. God existing is not a coin flip like agnostics would like to believe, but rather the odds are stacked very very heavily against it. Both because of the complete lack of any sort of evidence providing support of it’s existence ever presented in the history of civilization (and no, that’s not hyperbole, it’s just hyperbolic language for important facts) and the track record of natural explanations overturning supernatural ones countless times compared to the record of supernatural explanations overturning natural ones: exactly never. Ever. Plus, there’s the great problem of expectation, being that this world and this universe and all the things in it (including religion, ESPECIALLY RELIGION) behaves exactly the way you would expect it to if there were no God.

    Now agnostics like to point out that atheists glance over the existence of a desitic God, in that a deist believes in a God that is indistinguishable from a non-existent god. However the rule of occam’s razor applies; and even if you want to discount that there is always the source of the belief in a deistic God. Since no evidence has (or could) ever be presented to a deist to cause them to believe in this God (that is, if this God is indistinguishable from a non-existent god, where the heck did they even get the idea? And why do they think it’s equally likely that he doesn’t exist?), why do they?

    So I ask you all to please refrain from mis-representing atheism, and if you want to find out what atheists, even big A Atheists believe, actually believe talk to them. Or read some here:

    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/index.html

  108. @gungor

    I’m not Phil, but I’d say the dickishness depends on your intent.

    I mean, your information is all accurate. indeed, Copernicus, Galileo, and even Einstein didn’t know close to what science knows today. And yes, Einstein was a huge fan of Spinoza, and did indeed feel as Spinova did, that God was an impersonal deity. (Having said that, it doesn’t change the fact that he was indeed a deist.)

    However, your response goes off track from my original point, which was that despite having a religious belief, and (excluding Einstein for a moment) despite the fact that the religious leaders of the day said anyone with differing scientific views were not destined for heaven, these folks didn’t abandon their faith for science. They believed in God, but didn’t let that stop their quest for knowledge.

    Let me put it another way. A belief in some deity, be it the Christian God, an impersonal being that encompasses all nature, or the invisible pink unicorn, does not have to come at the cost of being a scientifically minded person who has just as much right to debunk myths about naturalistic healings and Sylvia Browne-type hoaxes as anyone else. Indeed, some people of faith tend to wear blinders to science, but is it fair to treat all people of faith with a prejudiced malevolence based on this? I don’t think so.

    @82 JediBear

    Ha, were I born in the 11th century I might have the brains to make it into history books, but that’s just not happening in 2010. I love science, but that doesn’t mean that when I look at stuff like quantum string theory that I don’t get that blank glazed-over look in my eyes either.

    And I don’t mind having people question the concept of God. It doesn’t irritate me, and indeed it is your right to do so. For me, I did the math on those numbers years ago, and I came to the conclusion that I believe in God. That doesn’t mean I expect you to, or that I could even make a compelling argument. Ultimately, there’s as much proof out there that no god of any sort exists that there is that some god does exist. If there were real concrete proof either way, I imagine that most everyone aside from moon-hoax sized fringe groups would believe in whichever way had the evidence on their side.

    Alright, I mean this genuinely, but I’ve loved chatting it up this afternoon on Phil’s blog. You guys are all a lot of fun to chat with, which is why I keep coming back. That being said, I have work to do, so I’m off until later tonight. Thanks for giving me something to think about and letting me toss out my two cents. It’s sincerely been fun!

  109. @MT-LA: “Big-A Atheists never seem to acknowledge that atheism is a belief in not-God, while agnosticism is not believing either way.”

    A weak understanding of atheism, IMO. It’s perfectly reasonable to say, “the omnipotent and unfalsifiable being you have proposed is incompatible with the scientific naturalism and epistemology that I adhere to”.

    That’s as Big A as atheism can get — it is nothing like agnosticism — and is *not* belief in “not-God”. It’s a sort of belief, certainly, but it is belief in a logical system to separate objective reality from concepts that are incompatible with objective reality.

    @Julia (Jules): Are you sure you’re on the Internet? Because you’re far more thoughtful than the Internet deserves.

    Long ago before the age of the WWW, I got into a conversation with other atheists along the lines of, “Why should we coddle religious people? Their beliefs are no more valid than beliefs in astrology or fairies or unicorns.”

    My response was that we should approach religious questions respectfully and diplomatically because the beliefs are sincere, deeply-held and usually traditional and widely accepted.

    A “liar” is someone who makes false claims with the intention of deceiving people, usually for personal gain. Astrologers are mostly liars and grifters of the worst sort, and they merit scorn and derision. Same with faith healers or (regrettably) some religious leaders.

    Chiropractors and homeopaths are liars in ignorance, and they’re still in it for personal gain, so they merit vigorous (if more polite) opposition.

    Generally, rank-and-file religious people are not liars or in it for personal gain. That’s why we approach their beliefs with respect. There is nothing at all wrong with explaining how those beliefs are incompatible with the scientific outlook. They’ve made a mistake, but not with intent to deceive, and generally the nature of that mistake is unclear to them. They need to be taught, not shunned.

  110. Via

    Context, context, context. Also critically important- as much if not moreso than merely the language used and the way it’s approached. If you’re approaching people you don’t know, or with whom you are only passing acquaintances, and attempting to convert them to skeptical thought- you might’ve crossed the line.

    If you approach strangers in the pharmacy about a homeopathic remedy they’re purchasing- you’ve crossed the line.

    If you overhear passers-by talking about their faith, or UFOs, or anything else, and can’t resist the urge to correct them, you’ve crossed the line.

    In other words, in addition to the “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”, pick your battles.

    As a practicing Christian with an (otherwise?) extremely rational. critical-thought-centered worldview, I would be and have been extremely offended by people approaching out of the blue. Friends, yes, or in general discussions like a classroom, sure- but otherwise you are evangelizing as much as the YECs who make me shudder for giving Christianity such a bad name.

  111. I feel so bad now! I guess I just never really heard other points of view. None of my friends are skeptics really, or religious so I was just kind of hanging out in the middle by myself. Thanks so much for these blogs! I’ll save my anger for when it’s constructive. I’d hate to see people leave skepticism, especially religious people just because of a lack of inclusive efforts. Boo on me.

  112. David

    Definition of being a “Dick” : Joining a skeptical movement and bringing up your “faith” in ANYTHING then getting upset about being questioned on it.

    At this point I simply do not believe any skeptics have harassed people over their beliefs. Now I will grant I define harass as following someone and engaging them on issues they no longer wish to talk about AFTER they have made it clear they no longer wish to engage in it.

  113. As the son and grandson of ministers and a Bible college graduate myself (from the largest Pentecostal school in the country, founded by my family), I was very encouraged by your words Phil.

    While I have retreated from my faith and now embrace skepticism and something approaching near total atheism (to say with certainty that there is no god shows just as much hubris as to say there is and you know his plan for your life), I have been very bothered by many in the movement’s methods of “evangelism,” represented worse of all, I think, by events like Blasphemy Day.

    I am reminded of something my wife told me once during an argument: “What is your goal here? To demolish my position and win the argument or convert me to your way of thinking?” It’s the same thing here. Do we want to “win” so we can feel superior but in the end banish all hope of reaching an audience we have now ostracized beyond measure, or, make inroads and actual converts, increasing our small numbers? As you suggested, I was won over by persistent but respectful rationality, not the atheist version of Bible-thumping we all so rightfully loathe.

  114. Arnold Jamtart

    What a bitterly disappointing way to conclude what could have been a valuable and worthwhile discussion. The talk made some great points, but the defence of its weaker arguments has been flawed and irrational, and now feels more like an accommodationalist rallying cry than a measured argument for tolerance in the movement. I’d compare this talk and its follow-up to my experience of iTunes: close to what I wanted in theory, but then utterly and infuriatingly bungled in execution.

  115. The Dick Demarcation Problem: not solved.

  116. Ken

    Shell:
    ————————————————————
    I really don’t see why our only options are “dick” or “silence.” OK, you don’t like people who are mean or snotty about religious beliefs. That makes sense. But what about people who challenge them without being snotty? Why should we tiptoe around perhaps the most pervasive obstacle to science education and understanding in our society because someone might cry? I don’t want to make anyone cry, but that’s not a reason to refrain from holding all supernatural beliefs to the same scrutiny.
    ————————————————————-

    Shell is correct. Phil wasn’t saying that you have to either “be a dick” or “shut your eat-hole”. Rather, he was putting forth the concerns that many people have about the skeptic community. You don’t HAVE to be a dick. Sure, you CAN be, but you don’t HAVE to be. You also don’t have to be SILENT. You can refute someone’s claims, without being a dick about it..and because you are refuting those claims, that obviously means that you weren’t being silent, right? Thought so…

    My opinion on the skeptic community (not as a whole, but rather parts of it) is that it is slowly turning into what most religious advocate groups have been like. “If you don’t believe in XYZ, then YOU’RE GONNA BURN!!”. It’s easy to plug one’s ears and say “la, la, la, I can’t hear you! You’re wrong, I’m right, and you’re stupid for it!”.

    Think of it this way…and this is coming from personal experience, after I told members of my Church that I no longer had faith in our religious deity, and was not planning on coming back except to visit friends:

    I had one person, a female, tell me that she was happy that I found what I thought were answers (not truly “answers” to life’s questions, but rather found the holes in the current “answer” that was given by my religion). She told me that while she was happy that I had done my own personal investigations and followed where my brain and heart were leading, she was also sad that I was damned to suffer in hell for eternity. Our (her) god would welcome me back with open arms and forgive all my sins (the sin of thinking clearly and forming my own opinion?), if only I would let him. She said this, gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and walked out to the parking lot with me. One thought that I had to ask her for myself, was “If there is a god, and he or she is omnipotent…why does this god need my permission to ‘save’ me from hell? Couldn’t he just do it anyway, if he loves me so much regardless of what I do?”. I left her with that, and made way to my car.

    The second person was also a female, with two male friends from the church who I had seen, yet hadn’t spoken to personally. Needless to say, this conversation falls straight into the category of “dicks”. The words that came out of their mouths astounded me. For someone professing to love everyone, treat others as they would like to be treated, “turn the other cheek”, etc…I was ashamed. Sure, not EVERY religious (in this case, Christian) person is like this…it is THESE people who are violating the tenets of their own belief system. This is very similar to the “GOD HATES FAGS” and “GOD KILLS OUR SOLDIERS (through Taliban Muslims?!?) IN IRAQ BECAUSE SOME AMERICAN MEN ARE HAVING BUTTSEX WITH EACH OTHER!!!!”.

    Seriously? C’mon, isn’t that just dripping with venom and hate, which is one of the things this “Jesus” individual preached about?

    While skeptics aren’t being held to any set of religious tenets or rules, should that really mean that we can throw the gloves off whenever we please, if someone continues to disagree with us after we’ve done it “the polite way”?

  117. Ken

    Oh, shoot…Brandon Fibbs (#113) just summed up what I said in that very long post I just made…

    Skeptics don’t have bibles. Therefore, we shouldn’t be thumping people with them. Sure, we have dictionaries and tomes of knowledge…but still….no thumping.

  118. I'd rather be fishin'

    I have to agree with Phil . Just because someone is not completely on your side and in agreement with all of your beliefs/stands/opinions doesn’t make that person ‘one of them’. ‘Them’ being the merchants of woo, alt-meddlers, anti-vaxxers and the like. This shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘all-or-nothing’ situation.

    Objecting to boorish, rude & insulting comments is not suffering from a persecution complex.

  119. @106

    RickRussellTX

    HA! Thanks :D I actually LOL’d but because your comment caused me to smile. Yes, I’m actually on the internet. And yes, I know why you asked that. I witness the trolling and the dick behavior on a daily basis. Especially within certain subgroups of geeks on the web. And I get often asked (even by my 11 year-old son the other day) “Why are you always so polite when every one else is a jerk, mom?” To which I responded, “Because someone needs to be. Sure it is easier to be rude and trollish online. Especially as you enjoy a certain amount of anonymity. Doesn’t mean it is the right choice to make. Often the better choices are the more difficult ones to make.”

    I have very strong ideas and opinions. There is no denying that. I’ll be the first one to step up to a good debate. I am passionate, strong-minded and strong-willed. I can come off as bosy and overbearing. My s/o jokes that I have no shades of grey and it is a “big deal” when I show areas of grey. I’m a very binary thinker. Some think this means I am inflexible when quite the opposite is true. Just because I have strong opinions does not mean my opinions will not change if strong facts are presented to me. And the nicer the fashion those facts are presented, the more willing I am to study them and form new opinions. I know how I can appear to others. I know what works for me personally and I try my best to treat others in the same fashion. I may not have everyone in agreement with me but at least I seem to get their attention and they are more willing to at least understand my POV even if they don’t agree with it.

    As a general rule, I’d rather somebody tried to understand than agree with. If every one simply agreed, there would be no room for growth and expansion, IMHO.

  120. Kenny

    I will watch the speech later when I have time, but I’m definetly not liking this soft approach, Phil. I don’t care if religious folk in the skeptic movement get irritated by the fact that we don’t shut up about their silly beliefs. The holy ghost is no different to ghosts that go bump in the night.

  121. grung0r

    somecallmejim:

    despite having a religious belief, and despite the fact that the religious leaders of the day said anyone with differing scientific views were not destined for heaven, these folks didn’t abandon their faith for science.

    They didn’t abandon their faith because they could see no other way life and the rest of the world came about due to their extreme scientific ignorance. I don’t see how this refutes my point. They didn’t abandon alchemy,astrology or creationism either.

    A belief in some deity, be it the Christian God, an impersonal being that encompasses all nature, or the invisible pink unicorn, does not have to come at the cost of being a scientifically minded person who has just as much right to debunk myths about naturalistic healings and Sylvia Browne-type hoaxes as anyone else. Indeed, some people of faith tend to wear blinders to science, but is it fair to treat all people of faith with a prejudiced malevolence based on this? I don’t think so.

    Sorry to keep harping on this, but can you give an example of someone who treats you with prejudiced malevolence or thinks you don’t have the right to debunk wooish myths? The bare assertions without evidence is why we need honest to goodness examples. I simply don’t see this in the world, internet or otherwise.

  122. Wow, I find this truly baffling.

    Here we have people who have their own private beliefs. They aren’t going around selling fake medicines to people. They aren’t manipulating people’s emotions for money, or endangering the public health. Their beliefs just… are.

    And yet some of the dicks around here feel the need to ridicule. And not just criticize the beliefs, but actively attack the believer.

    Why? Have these people done anything to you personally? Have they endangered you? The public? The environment? The planet? Have they tried to force their beliefs on you through proselytization? Public policy?

    There’s a *huge* gulf between, say, your average Christian, Mulsim, or vague deist, and an anti-vax wacko or a global warming denialist. I find it truly alarming that there are those, here, who can’t seem to grasp this.

    If there are those who, through their insane beliefs, are harming others or themselves, then hell yes, call them out. Let ‘em have it. But if someone just quietly believes in a deity, leave them the hell alone. They aren’t hurting you. So don’t go out of your way to hurt them, just because you disagree.

    And as an aside, since I suspect I need to prove my street cred, I’m a very hard atheist. OTOH, I don’t go around insulting others simply because I disagree with them. Have a reasoned, open discussion? Sure. Debate and discuss? Absolutely. Unilaterally attack? No.

  123. Wow, it really surprises me that there are so many people in the skeptical community that feel ostracised when someone criticizes their religious beliefs. Don’t they expect these beliefs to be criticized when they belong to a community that tries not to hold any sacred cows?

    I wonder what these people would do if they encountered somebody at TAM who were skeptical about everything but psychics, for example. They’re critical thinkers but they really just believe psychics exist. Would a deist skeptic just let that slide? Wouldn’t they criticize the belief in psychics? I’m having trouble understanding this.

    Phil – did these people who were moved to tears by your talk mention what kinds of things people said to them about their beliefs? I find it hard to picture anyone I met when I went to TAM making fun of someone because of a belief, but I frequently see honest inquiry and criticism taken the wrong way by someone who feels their beliefs are being attacked. I guess I could see them feeling like outsiders by forums and blog comments though, people tend to have poorer manners in those settings.

    I still haven’t gotten around to watching your talk, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the end of my work day today so I can go home and check it out. I’m extra curious now to hear that it was so moving to certain people in the audience.

  124. tmac57

    Well, one thing seems to be clear here,and that is that “dick” is in the eye of the beholder. Wait,that came out wrong! Oh,never mind. ;)

  125. From reading these comments I can see that for some people a “reasonable discussion” is actually just being a dick to prove somebody wrong. Pamela is a stellar example of the scientific community reaching out to educate. She doesn’t push her beliefs on others and actively encourages kids and adults alike to examine the world around us and make informed decisions on empirical evidence. Check out the astronomy cast episode on teh christmas star for example.
    As an atheist myself I’m ashamed to hear all these militant atheists who act like disrespectful 13 year olds spewing invectives because they want to make a point. I’m not a fan of religious institutions and preachy meddling parishioners, but I can entertain a philosophical/theological discussion without resorting to name calling, hate speech and shouting.

  126. daver

    Phil, thank you.

    I only wish I’d seen your speech sooner.

    I have been a dick about these things and I regret it.

  127. grung0r

    Brett:

    But if someone just quietly believes in a deity, leave them the hell alone. They aren’t hurting you. So don’t go out of your way to hurt them, just because you disagree.

    If they just quietly believe in a deity, how do all these apparent dicks find them? Is there a spate of atheists crashing church picnics that I am unaware of? Are there atheists who go door to door trying to convert the quietly religious? What are the examples?

  128. JRB

    Put me in the “disappointed in what had the potential to be a very interesting conversation but didn’t become one because Phil has failed to elaborate on what exactly constitutes ‘being a dick’ means” category. While the talk contained a few extreme examples and some general ideas, I still can’t get a concrete snese of what exactly Phil means when he says “dick” and because of that I have no idea if I agree with him or not.

    “Don’t be a dick” is such a vague statement that most everyone can agree on it in principle. But not everyone agrees on what being a dick is, so I don’t know if I agree with Phil or not because I don’t know what exactly he means when he says that. Does it mean not screaming in people’s faces? Does it mean if someone declares a personal sacred cow (e.g. a faith in God) that I cannot question that? Does it mean the stuff P.Z. posts on his blog? Does it mean no name calling? Does it mean not calling a spade a spade if I might offend someone? Does it mean that titles Dawkins gives his books? Does it mean not eating all the Jelly beans and a skeptics meeting?

    Depending on which behavoir listed above Phil would classify as “being a dick” would depend on whether or not I agreed with his talk. There are all sorts of behaviours that fit into the “dick” category for some but not for others and vice versa.

    And for those who says “While it’s obvious that being a dick means X”, I’ll note that I now know what being a dick means to you. I also know what being a dick means to me. I even (usually) know what being a dick means to my fiancé, my mother, and many of my friends. But one half hour talk, three blog posts and hundreds of comments later, I still have no idea what being a dick means to Dr. Plait (other than in the vaguest of terms). And until I know what he meant, I will have no idea on whether or not I agree with him. And until I know whether or not I agree with him, I — and the dozens of other who feel the same way — are unable to engage in any sort of meaningful conversation, which sort of defeats Phil’s stated purpose.

  129. grung0r

    DrNecropolis:

    As an atheist myself I’m ashamed to hear all these militant atheists who act like disrespectful 13 year olds spewing invectives because they want to make a point.

    For the love of god(heh), will someone PLEASE give some examples of this apparently rampant behavior? A whole lot of people have brought up, and not a single one of them have pointed to an actual incident.

  130. Ok. So, in my humble opinion belief in eg mediums or in a God is no different. From a skeptical perspective.

    When will we see Phil hugging a medium – calling for us to include them in our mutual skepticism about moon-hoaxers, homeopathy or, lets say, dogmatic religion?

    But I don’t feel a need to be a dick about it.

  131. kittynh

    Well I for one am willing to debate and talk about my “delusions”. If done with a give and take. I am often known to take on, with respect and openness, my many skeptic friends that are serious LIbertarians. I may not agree with their often hard core belief that no taxations (and some go that far) would work really well as a replacement for our current government system. I’ve taken grief for voting for “the parties that have a monoply”. If I don’t listen, they should not listen to me when I defend my belonging to a regular political party. Klaus Larson, Brian Pesta, Brandon Thorpe and other atheists, including my own two daughters have engaged me in spirited, but respectful debate. I belong to many atheists groups, why.. because prejudice against atheists is something everyone should be concerned about. I adore my two daughters, and am proud they made the what for them was an easy decision to be atheists(growing up in a very skeptic home, excpet fot that whole “ahhh I think there’s a God, but what you think you have to decide” poison I fed them).

    THe majority of my friends are atheists. When they take the time to talk to me, they usually go “well I don’t agree, but I’m glad you are honest, and also aware of the issues that atheists face everyday.” Heck at work I started the “Take an Atheist Out to Lunch Day” (no kidding) because so many people claim NOT to know any “atheists” (they dont’ usualy wear a giant red A unless they know our friend Surly Amy!). I just remember laughing and saying “no you DO know some atheists! Really!”

    I can take a little flack, it’s ok. My skeptic friends that tell me about how “monogamy can never work, biology proves it” (I listen, and learn, but still…so far it’s working ok for me, but I’d never force what works for me on anyone else), or “Not paying your taxes, if we ALL did it, things would change, don’t be a coward..” (well yeah I’m a coward, but if you want to talk about it, it’s ok, but you have to listen to me say why I do pay my taxes). I won’t back down from skepticism. My entire family is invovled in the skeptic movement and I think we all do really good productive work. My anti monogamy friends and don’t pay taxes friends are also doing good work. But going about that work in a respectful manner, with the goal of in the end, if not total agreement, agreement that inclusion is better than exclusion as long as people are civil, is a good thing.

    Mind you “don’t be a dick” does NOT include Buzz Aldrin just giving that moan hoax idiot a BIG WHALLOP!

  132. Michael Swanson

    @99. Timmy

    “To Phil,
    I have been following this blog for a few months … It’s funny, but I learned that I have always been a skeptic without even knowing it. I have to say, though, that I have been turned off by the hate I see in the comments … If this is what the skeptic community is like, count me out.”

    Please don’t view this as a typical cross-section of the skeptical community. View it as a typical cross-section of the comment sections on a blog. Manners and civility usually go right out the window on the interwebs. Show me any discussion board or blog that isn’t run Emily Post, and I’ll show you a bunch of jerks that think any differing opinion is stupid.

    I think Phil has a great blog, and I’d hate to see you stop reading it because of some his fans are dicks. I learn something every day here. Stick around!

    ps
    Everyone knows that Jesus rode a woolly mammoth, not a dinosaur!

  133. masty

    grungor

    I have given an example in my comment above I attended an Atheist meetup(I attended it because I don’t believe in God and wanted to meet similar minded people), they were playing some video clips from youtube which parodies religious beliefs and every one was quite enthusiastically exchanging info about various clips which they have watched and which they believe they should watch.

    This wasn’t too bad but still i thought why mock some one. Not only take any speech on you can find Atheism “MOST” are 60% constructive, 20% mockery which is very good but in the next 10 – 20% some times I feel they cross the line while talking about believers.

    I should also point out that “MOST” religious talk about Atheism they cross the line 50% of the time but one doesn’t make the other right.

  134. David

    Wow i just love the old “Atheists belive 100% there is no god” canard. Not once in 10 years have I ever seen any skeptic or atheist make this claim. Its a strawman always has been always will be.

    My problem isn’t really the definition of being a “dick” its more that the definitions people are using doesn’t happen. How many of you atheists go around berating or insulting people? Even on Pharyngula in the depths of the most heated debates any “skeptic” who resorts to unwarranted insults and berating gets called out on it by everyone else. I get a little irritated when i’m told not to do something that ive never done.

  135. Robyn

    A lot of people have already summed up most of my thoughts on this much more eloquently than I ever could, so I’ll just quickly say this: thanks Phil for a truly interesting talk. It is people like you that inspire me to be a better skeptic and a reminder of how it is possible to calmly and rationally debate an issue is probably handy even for the best of us! So yeah, thanks Phil!

  136. Andrew

    Wow. I’ve listened to Pamela Gay’s podcast for years and I had no clue she was a Christian.

  137. Eddie

    “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.” — Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia”

  138. This has been a very interesting series, Mr. Plait, and it’s good to know that there are people in this apathetic and continually dumbed-down country of ours who take intellectual matters not only seriously but to heart.

  139. grung0r

    Michael:

    Everyone knows that Jesus rode a woolly mammoth, not a dinosaur!

    There is very clearly a large contingent of people in the Untied States who would find your statement both mocking and dickish. You obviously have a line where you no longer care if some, even a rather large contingent of people think your statements make you a dick. This is the problem with Phil’s speech. Is the line declaring yourself an atheist when a religious person could possibly be around, or is it suggesting pissing on the tomb of a religious person’s favorite saint? We don’t know where he places his Dick/not dick line, because he won’t tell us. That makes the speech nothing more then masturbatory exercise.

  140. nowjustanatheist

    Wow, I just realized what’s actually going on here. This is about the new leadership of the skeptical movement making it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they want nothing to do with the atheist movement. Atheists are too caustic and polarizing, even if they are right.

    Politics have finally gotten hold of the skeptical movement. Spin is the word of the day, not truth.

    This is about the low hanging fruit. The attitude seems to be that we should only offend the smallest of minority groups, the fringe believers in the things the majority can agree are crazy, but don’t piss off the majority, no matter how wrong they are.

    I’m disgusted. I’ve been a huge fan of Phil’s until just about 15 minutes ago. That’s when I realized Phil has prioritized his image over the truth, put book sales and television ratings ahead of critical thinking. Phil has a new audience folks, and it ain’t us.

    Wow, just wow. My head is spinning, I have to go lie down.

  141. Benji

    I could tell you were nervous Phil. It was not that obvious but the motion of your throat and the vibrations of your voice were clear indicators. Good job though, I admire that.

  142. Chris Merchant

    I’m baffled at how so many people here are pretending not to know what Phil is talking about. Especially when they discount the whole argument because it doesn’t include explicit examples. That’s just game-playing, trying to bait Phil into naming names.

    You guys can’t think of any incidents where a skeptic has been disrespectful or mean to non-skeptics? Really? I can think of several skeptical blogs that have taken emails and blog comments from readers and picked on them mercilessly. Sure, the commenters are sometimes mean themselves, but that’s not much of an excuse to treat them the same way.

    And no, I won’t name names, because that just undermines Phil’s argument that this is something that we *all* need to be concerned about. This isn’t about calling out the worst offenders, it’s about refining our tactics.

  143. Wow, I love when people’s response to “don’t be a dick” is to be a dick even more. I find it unappealing, I’m not convinced it’s a good or harmless thing, and I don’t think you’re adding anything to the conversation whatsoever. I have to ask the question: Why are you doing it? Because I’ve made a strident statement in this comment, and being a jerk wasn’t necessary. I’m unequivocal about this, and condescension isn’t necessary. Phil comes up and talks about efficacy, achieving attainable goals. I have yet to see anyone explain to me how being an ass has ever accomplished anything beyond making them feel better. Street protests make me feel better as a social activist, but I know a helluva lot better than to argue they’re effective in all contexts. By contrast, I fail to see how being an arrogant condescending boor is effective at accomplishing anything in any context. And, if you’re not trying to get anything done then really what’s the damn point except to create a cathartic echo chamber?

  144. JRB

    @134 masty,

    Is that really your evidence of atheists acting like “disrespectful 13 year olds spewing invectives because they want to make a point”, an atheist meet up group watching YouTube videos parodying religion?

    Phil regularly posts videos along the lines of That Mitchell and Webb Look and Tim Minchin, not to mention Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal Comics, that parody and satire all sorts of groups. I’m sure each of those groups is composed of at least a few members who are no doubt offended by these satires/parodies.

    Heck, Phil even says at one point “I think that in many cases, being funny gets the message across better even than being passionate. And a whole lot better than being a jerk. And you can even kinda be a jerk if you’re funny about it. Satire somehow seems to smooth the rough edges around a hard message”

    So apparently, in light of Phil still not defining what it means to “be a dick”, I’ll take it from his past comments that someone most likely isn’t being a dick as long as they’re being funny (but only if they’re only being a little bit of a dick, whatever that means).

  145. Michael Swanson

    @ 135. David Says:

    “Wow i just love the old “Atheists belive 100% there is no god” canard. Not once in 10 years have I ever seen any skeptic or atheist make this claim. Its a strawman always has been always will be.”

    I did see this once. It was stated on an atheist discussion forum, and all of the other atheists thought that it was a dogmatic, foolish stance.

  146. @ Horse, who said

    Counting down the days until the Dick logical fallacy becomes prevalent.

    “Your reasoning is invalid because I think you were being a dick.”

    No, your reasoning is unconvincing because you were being a dick. I’m honestly starting to wonder why Phil is so hard to understand all of a sudden.

  147. Cameron

    Brett #122,

    I’m baffled that you’re baffled. Nobody is going around and interrogating people as to their dearly held beliefs just so we can laugh at them. If you’re not putting your religion out in public, how would anyone even know about it? Atheists (at least all of the ones I’ve ever met) don’t go out of their way to attack people’s grandmas because of what they believe. If those are the atheists you’re railing against, I’ll stand right beside you, but first we have to find one. There don’t seem to be many around.

    If someone quietly believes in a deity, they aren’t breaking my leg or picking my pocket, unless and until they start voting based on those beliefs. I don’t care if you pray at home, or believe in fairies, or think a race of Atlanteans live in the Hollow Earth and project brain rays to heaven through the pyramids. I do, however, get tense when those beliefs start dictating public policy. As an example, we don’t like it when our conservative government cuts safe abortion provisions from their maternal health care initiative. I don’t like it when stem-cell research gets scuttled because people think a collection of 8 cells has a soul and is therefore worthy of the same moral consideration as an 8-year-old spinal injury patient. Should I go on?

  148. JJ(the other one)

    I’m disgusted at the nit-pickers and entirely unsurprised that ‘reductio ad absurdum’ is about all they bring to the table.

  149. Chris V

    I started reading this blog a few months ago when someone linked to it because I’m an astronomy buff. Then I started to realize how much other ‘stuff’ was written about here, and really became rather disinterested, but patiently, I continue to peruse the posts for the occasional science gem.

    Having established the fact that I’m not a real “fan”, but rather a casual reader, I’d like to make an observation. It began with the trailer to the Bad Universe show and ends with this series of posts. The whole attitude of being a “skeptic” just for the sake of being a “skeptic” is pretty silly. If you find religion hard to swallow, then don’t follow it. If you have reason to disbelieve the assertions of another person, do so. If you find the whole anti-vaccination movement ridiculous, that’s cool too. But don’t be a “skeptic” just to set yourself apart from the mainstream and use it as some sort of identity platform. That’s just ridiculous.

    That’s just my $0.02.

  150. grung0r

    Chris:

    I’m baffled at how so many people here are pretending not to know what Phil is talking about. Especially when they discount the whole argument because it doesn’t include explicit examples.

    I’m not pretending. And I am not trying to bait Phil into anything. I would like though it if Phil and his speeches’ defenders would acknowledge the larger political issue his speech addresses, specifically the recent history(and complete failure) of Accommodationists attempting to point out examples of dickishness and incivility. Given the saga of Tom Johnson and Exhibit A, it may not be quite as trivially easy as Phil or his defenders thinks it is to point out a real and honest example of this supposed uncivil behavior. It certainly didn’t work out very well for Mooney.

  151. James

    I would never imagine that this would be so controversial. Thanks for taking a stand for civilized discourse.

  152. Joanne

    Thank you for this – and the whole series. (This one made me cry).

    I had to stop reading the comments though. I am an atheist, and I can be respectful of others and have others (including my evangelical christian brother in law) be respectful of me.

  153. Grego

    Seems to me, that the defenders of the “Go Ballistic or Go Home” approach simply aren’t asking themselves one important question. Has your approach ever persuaded anyone?

    I seriously doubt it, because you simply won’t succeed in insulting people into coming around to your way of thinking. Period. It’s just stooping to conquer. And furthermore, you’ll fail miserably at convincing anyone of much of anything. Except possibly closing their minds even further.

    If we in the skeptical community are only interested in winning the shout off, then we’ve failed. If we can’t convince others that critical thinking is a good thing, then it’s pointless. Preaching to the choir serves no purpose; they’ve heard it before.

    This approach sort of reminds me of the PETA paradox: Tho they may have valid points regarding animal rights & exploitation, I always find myself dismissing them because I find their approach so juvenile, petulant & childish. They too, feel that people can be insulted into enlightenment. And thus do their cause more harm than good I suspect.

    Phil made a reasonable and sane call for civility, for which he deserves many thanks. Fundamentalist Skeptics are only going to set back the very ideas of independent thinking they claim to wish to promote.

    And that’s NOT progress.

  154. Michael Swanson

    @ 150. Chris V Says:

    “…I’d like to make an observation. It began with the trailer to the Bad Universe show and ends with this series of posts. The whole attitude of being a “skeptic” just for the sake of being a “skeptic” is pretty silly.”

    You can’t be a skeptic without being skeptical. It’s being skeptical that makes one a skeptic. If one applies the label without actually being a skeptical person, then it’s simply inaccurate.

  155. I see that there’s a distinction between being a dick *to* someone, and being a dick *about* someone. If I was talking one-on-one to a homeopath, I’d try and be as reasonable as I can. If I was writing a blog post or even perhaps debating them in a public forum, then a touch of sarcasm, reducto ad absurdium, etc *might*, deftly used, prove effective in changing the minds of other people. Tactics that could reasonably be defined as being a dick.

    In general, I agree with Phil and we need to be better than our opposition. But sometimes you need to get down and dirty – Robyn Williams (Australian science communicator) said much the same thing about climate scientists the other night – by remaining above the debate, but remaining “balanced” and “cautious” they’re being undercut by the liars and deniers.

  156. masty

    @145 JRB

    Just to make my point clearer I have clearly mentioned in both my posts

    “This wasn’t too bad but still i thought why mock some one.”

    I am trying to give an example out here not saying here that particular event itself was as bad.

    OK to make my point much more clearer I will take 2 greatest leaders from history, one very evil and one very good. Buddha and Hitler(please note that I am referring Buddha as great leader not deity).

    Buddha was disgusted by various aspects of Hinduism he didn’t condemn it, he didn’t start attacking it but rather tried to teach a alternate way and because of his efforts brought an renaissance in Hinduism and provided an alternate way of life.(that he spawned a religion is not his fault.)

    Hitler the evil one also saw problems decided to use hatred of Jews to bring the nation together and try to instill pride by giving the nation a common enemy to hate. You know the results.

    As Gandhi said once I don’t hate Britishers, If I start hating them because they have their faults, then where do I stop? would I then start hating Muslims because they have their own faults? should I start hating Hindus because they have their own faults and moving from there should I start hating my own children and my wife for their faults where do I stop? So I don’t hate them.

    Exactly whats happening here, so you hate Christians, you hate Muslims, you hate Hindus. Now since some one who is a Skeptic told you stop being a Dick you start hating him too and his “Alleged Supporters” just because they agree with him? Then where do you stop? Some one agrees with you here so you like him then he tells he likes a certain food you don’t like it you start hating him too?

    Take history you can build your empire based on hate or love, see what happens when it is based on the message of love and understanding and see how what happens when its about hate and being a dick.

  157. NeverTheTwain

    Is it just my imagination, or is “It made me cry” being promoted as some sort of argument?

  158. Darth Wader

    Two of my best friends have, in my humble opinion, very irrational beliefs. One is a devout Catholic, and almost joined the priesthood, the other is a UFO-astral projection-new agey kinda guy. My brother is a HUGE believer in conspiracy theories and in Bigfoot.

    I have never, to my knowledge belittled them or their beliefs. We have for sure had heated and impassioned, however never acrimonious debates on the subjects, and they ofter ask me what I think on the subjects. If I were a jerk they wouldn’t ask my opinion or would likely want to be my friend at all.

    Another thing is I don’t believe that any true skeptic doesn’t find pseudoscience fascinating. I may be obsessed with reality, but I am also fascinated by fantasy. I have on my book shelves books on astrology, magick and several books written by Cayce. I am quite certain I have read more books about UFOs than I have about skeptical thinking. I still watch the History channel, though I find myself yelling at the screen often. By not being a jerk I get to ask my friends questions on these subjects and why they believe them.

    I guess part of it though is I live in rural Texas and I am often the minority opinion on religion and pseudoscience. If I were a flaming jerk I’d be fairly lonely.

  159. Paul

    So you should be a skeptic about UFOs and ghosts, but when somebody believes in a non-specific god, you should respect the difference of opinion.

    It’s hypocrisy.

    I will not respect the belief in god because it is a stupid belief. If I’m truly a skeptic, I don’t see god or religion as deserving of special attention. In other words, I cannot give belief in god any more respect than holocaust- or moonlanding denial. False means false.

  160. @154 Grego

    You make a great point there, and it’s true. How many homosexuals do you think have given it up because of the folks at Westboro Baptist? Carrying around “God hates fags” signs and yelling at people doesn’t work. I heard something once that I use from time to time to make a point: “The flogging shall continue until morale improves”. That seems to be the mantra for a lot of skeptics when facing a conversation with a person of faith.

    As someone who believes in God but is also a science-minded rational thinker, I really don’t mind people questioning my beliefs, and I’ll be the first to agree that at best they are unprovable, and heck, they might even be illogical and irrational. But with no clearcut solid scientific evidence either for or against what I believe, I think I have the freedom to choose to believe in God while still falling in line with skeptics on the vast majority of issues. If someone doesn’t want me to be part of the skeptic community simply for my belief in God, I’ll be happy to avoid them all and go on my merry way, but considering how much we do have in common, I hope that doesn’t happen.

    My opinion is that if skeptics want to attack practices of people of faith, such as those who would rather pray over their sick kid rather than rush them to an ER, or people who think wine actually turns into blood, go for it. If they want to attack the hypocrisy of people of faith who preach love and compassion but act completely differently, that too is fine. But the problem with attacking the core of the subject, the actual God or deity, is that it seems to me that it’s impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of a being who isn’t bound by this universe or the laws that govern it. It can’t be proven, but neither can it be conclusively disproved. Because of that, I think a lot of folks would be wise to lay off hurling rude or angry comments at others based on their faith.

    But even with that aside, if people want to question God’s existence, that’s reasonable as well and I wouldn’t blame them. But why do so in a way that’s inflammatory, insulting, or just plain rude to the opposition? While I LOVE a spirited discussion about faith, and I’m willing to discuss the topic at great length, when people start treating me like a moron because I believe God exists, I shut them out.

  161. tmac57

    I have been looking at some other blogs treating this subject, and I do see comments that rise to MY level of what I would call “dickishness”, but I am reluctant to re-post them here as examples. Not sure if that is uh..kosher (sorry). I guess I would use this test: If someone repeated your words back to you, but substituted your own belief,EX :”Belief in God is nonsense” vs “Belief in evolution is nonsense” or “I find people praying for me so damn stupid!” vs “I find Skeptics hyper-rationality so damn stupid!” How would that affect their message to you? Maybe you would be okay with it,maybe not,but going through that mental exercise might tell you if you are about to make a “dick out of yourself, by your OWN standards.

  162. Daniel J. Andrews

    @Ken (66): Good post (ditto somecallmejim). Philosophically I can choose to think God does NOT exist, but it certainly isn’t something I can empirically demonstrate. That just isn’t in the realm of science. I find it interesting that people who reject a deity of some type do so based on their understanding of science rather than one the many philosophical arguments. On the other side, many people believe in a deity but also couldn’t marshal a philosophical argument to back up their belief. The existence or nonexistence of some god of some type is argued through philosophy.

    Make a claim about a deity that can be tested, then great, I’m all over it. But the existence of another realm/dimension with higher beings of some sort, maybe even eternal or timeless, I’m a little more lax. I may disagree, but I’m reluctant to go beyond the evidence and beyond the tools I use in science to come out and say “you’re wrong” much less ridicule someone.

    Incidentally, our local bookstore has The God Delusion and other atheist books in the science section. I keep moving them to the philosophy section of a shelf. :)

  163. David

    “Incidentally, our local bookstore has The God Delusion and other atheist books in the science section. I keep moving them to the philosophy section of a shelf”

    Hey guess what? thats being a “Dick”.

  164. Mike Oliver

    Back to the thing about whether Deists or Creationists should be questioned equally…
    They shouldn’t be questioned at all unless there is concern that their beliefs are somehow going to be used to affect the rest of us. Outside of that situation, ask yourself why you care what they believe. Skepticism isn’t about telling people what to believe. It’s about presenting the power of critical thinking to people so they can use it as they see fit.

    One of the things implied by Phil’s talk is that many skeptics are as hard-assed intolerant as the people they speak out against. And we’re seeing it here. Persons of faith see their own views as so obvious that they can’t imagine how anyone could think differently. So many skeptics are the same. News flash: applying critical thinking is not objective. Other people will use it and come to different conclusions from you.

    While in principle skepticism is an objective process, it is essentially subjective, since its application depends upon what the individual’s goals are. A person who is religious might take a skeptical approach to evaluating his faith, and even though he might not find any objective evidence to support it, he might find subjective supporting evidence: he can decide that since the the aims of his faith are positive and can show valuable productivity, that even in the face of no scientific support, it is a worthwhile method to reach those ends. In this case I would argue that the principle of skepticism has done its job, for paradoxically, if it is a truly objective philosophy, it must encompass the subjective needs of the individual. It has in this case provided information which the individual can use not only in his own life, but in his interaction with others. Religion is a conceptual construct; but so is the culture it inhabits and informs. One construct serves another.

    You can leave the construct and go live in a cave and eat rabbits and berries for the rest of your life, and think what you want and damn the rest of the human race for not being like you. But aside from that, we really have to get along at some level, because, face it, you’re not going to take over the world.

  165. David

    “While I LOVE a spirited discussion about faith, and I’m willing to discuss the topic at great length, when people start treating me like a moron because I believe God exists, I shut them out.”

    I’m really confused by this, has it really happened? How did they start treating you like a moron? Ive read at least 1000 debates on the web about faith and religion on skeptic sites, from what ive seen almost all skeptics love LOVE good debates on religion. I don’t think I have ever seen someone who was not belligerent get treated badly without 90% of the other posters defending them. I recall a couple where someone new came along and got insulted because people thought they were trolls using sock puppets, but as soon as it turned out they weren’t apologies were made.

    Totally honest I really have no clue who these dicks in the atheist/skeptic movement are. I suppose PZ is a little harsh sometimes but when hes taken in context I have yet to see anything hes done that qualifies as being a dick.

  166. As for your appearing nervous, Mr. Plait, to paraphrase Laurence Olivier — anyone who isn’t nervous speaking in front of people is just flying on autopilot and doing a disservice to one’s audience, who after all didn’t come to hear a robot but a flesh and blood human being.

  167. David

    @165 “They shouldn’t be questioned at all unless there is concern that their beliefs are somehow going to be used to affect the rest of us”

    There is ALWAYS concerns when it comes to religious beliefs.

    As for the untestable god, well the untestable god is meaningless because he doesn’t interact with this universe. I see no point in even discussing such a being never mind insulting someone over believing in it.

  168. Somite

    That interaction Phil describes with the young woman at the end of his talk still strikes me as condescending and patronizing for two reasons. 1) your explanation of the age of the moon I’m sure went over her head which is an argument for authority and 2) You punted the evolution question! You never found a way to unequivocally state that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, just glossed over that “minor” issue.

    Contrast this with the way Richard Dawkins deals with groups of children in a recent documentary called The Faith School Menace. He treats them as equals and gives deep accurate answers to these important questions.

  169. @Daniel J. Andrews

    I find it interesting that people who reject a deity of some type do so based on their understanding of science rather than one the many philosophical arguments.

    Interesting… I agree that the existence of a god is an untestable, unscientific thesis, but I’d guess everyone here would agree. Honestly, I really don’t think you’ll find many atheists, here or otherwise, who invoke science to reject a deity. I once thought there were lots of them—Dawkins was the prime offender in my mind, but I changed my mind when I read him call himself a “de facto atheist” and a 6 out of 7 on a scale of atheism. I’d never really understood that his point all along wasn’t that God doesn’t exist (unprovable), but that it’s so unlikely and untestable as to render belief in it irrational.

    Science is crucial, naturally, in that it debunks many of the claims that religion makes and also dismantles the oft-cited need for a god by explaining complexity and the appearance of design. But as for making that final leap of rejecting belief in the existence of a deity itself, that’s not a matter of science, but simply being skeptical in the face of a lack of evidence.

  170. Somite

    Also, to clarify. The skeptical conclusion regarding the question of God is atheism because there is simply no reason or evidence to think there is a God. Lack of evidence does not increase the probability that an idea is real. You may be a skeptic in other areas but if you are religious then you have a skeptical deficiency in that particular area.

    Let’s get a baseline here: were those statements of fact dickish? How would you state those statements of fact in a non-dickish way?

  171. Contrast this with the way Richard Dawkins deals with groups of children in a recent documentary called The Faith School Menace. He treats them as equals and gives deep accurate answers to these important questions.

    It was pretty cool how effortlessly he interacted with those kids. I was impressed. No condescension at all. He spoke to them as though they had functioning brains, which they clearly did.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulX8nZjeCXE&feature=player_embedded

  172. 1) your explanation of the age of the moon I’m sure went over her head which is an argument for authority

    Really? I think a high schooler would be able to understand that the rate of recession could change, especially if she brought up the rate of recession as evidence of YEC in the first place.

    2)You punted the evolution question!

    I agree, he punted—but isn’t that his point? You punt on fourth down and sacrifice possession of the ball when you think it’ll help you win the game.

    I haven’t seen The Faith School Menace, by the way, but I have seen Dawkins respond to high schoolers in public forums, as you say, with no condecension nor quarter given, which I think is fantastic. Time and place for everything. :)

  173. Robert

    It seems strange to desire being more inclusive since that shouldn’t be a criteria for a specific group unless being more inclusive doesn’t go against the core definition of what the group is. For example, if being more inclusive in a skeptical group means including people that are not skeptical about certain things (e.g. believing in a deity without evidence, homeopathy, antivaxer’s that just happen to be skeptical about everything else, etc.) then I would have to question and be very wary of such a group. If the goal is to get more people “on your side” I can see the value of that in the same way as I can see why religions (catholicism comes to mind) trying to get more people “on their side” but it doesn’t lend credence to the group’s stated beliefs and would be placing what I believe to be a secondary goal of the group ahead of the group’s definition. Somehow Phil, I highly doubt that you would be ok with being inclusive of antivaxers that are skeptical about everything else and there are people that believe in deism that I find scary (some cults for example) as you and I both find antivaxers.

  174. @70 Somecallmejim,

    Overreact much? I’ve never said anything remotely like that. In fact, I’ve said the opposite – many times. Instead of assuming that I’m out to banish theistic skeptics, why not find out what I really think?

    To save you time:
    http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/2010/07/what-type-of-theistic-skeptic-are-you.html
    http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/2010/07/more-tilting-at-windmills.html

    If you believe something without sufficient evidence, you’re not being properly skeptical on that subject. That’s your prerogative and it doesn’t disqualify you from being a skeptic, participating in skeptical events or anything else.

    I’m simply noting that no one’s beliefs are immune to critical examination and those who assert otherwise are being dishonest and unskeptical. I’m also addressing who we, as a group, want representing us and how we choose to address issues. There is an apparent effort to offer special treatment and special status for theistic skeptics and that’s simply wrong. When it’s done at the expense of those who are most uncompromising when applying the principles of skepticism, it’s beyond wrong (to the extent that this is possible).

    Noting that it’s wrong does not mean that I’m advocating persecution of (or punishment of, as you sensationalized) these individuals, I’m simply noting their ideas get no special treatment – that their ideas are not immune to criticism and that whether or not they take offense at that criticism is entirely up to them. It’s about equality…and it’s annoying to see you not only assume otherwise, but to make exaggerated accusations.

  175. John Sandlin

    I have to say, Doug of Dougland, having you put your words in my mouth was an interesting experience. But as I chewed on those words for a bit, I realized they really didn’t fit well and tasted quite bad.

    You said “God existing is not a coin flip like agnostics would like to believe, but rather the odds are stacked very heavily against it.” Strange, but your version of what agnostics believe was rather a shock to this agnostic. I will echo, but paraphrase your request: “So I ask you all to please refrain from misrepresenting agnosticism, and if you want to find out what agnostics actually believe talk to them.”

    With a nod to JediBear and the fence sitting comment, this all started me thinking. I will acknowledge that Jedi’s remark, “In order to be agnostic, you must consider the question to be undecidable, either as a matter of fact or as a matter of principle” does sit fairly well with me. I consider the question to be unknowable on principle. The key to this is the root, to know.

    Let me paint a view of agnosticism as I see it from my perspective as an agnostic. The fence people think we are sitting on is a broad, vast even, and ancient and weathered plateau. The edges are so weathered it is difficult to discern just where the edges are. Also, as an agnostic I’m not just sitting, or even standing, in one spot. Agnosticism is as much a journey and constant motion as anything else. From my vantage, looking in the direction of the godless, I see a vast terrain, varied and mottled with many versions that fade off to a distant invisible horizon. When I turn and look in the other direction, toward the godly, I see a quite similar vista – although a bit more distant than the godless from where I am, it is perhaps even more varied and fades off to an even more distant end. Between those horizons are no lines demarking “Here be the godly” from “Here be the unsure” from “Here be the damned” (just kidding) but instead there is a continuous and unbroken plane of philosophies running in all directions.

    There is no 50/50 flip of the coin decision gate between there is and there is not a god. There is no fence where with a strong wind I may fall off to one or the other side. This is no wishy-washy can’t make up my mind land of weak willed, sloppy thinking losers. Saying something is unknowable is not the same as saying it is unbelievable. So, many agnostics believe there is no god and are functionally atheists but without the diehard commitment. Some others, however, may hold on to a deist belief – knowing that there can be no knowledge of god, merely a faith born of some feeling deep in themselves that god must exist. You cannot say someone who is an agnostic must also be an atheist any more than you can say they must be a theist. They might be either. Some, perhaps, may even be both (likely not at the same time, I’ll grant).

    This last then I leave you with; the most truly skeptical and critical thinking of us must acknowledge that we do not at present have the means to know decidedly one way or the other that there is or is not a god. An agnostic most certainly may be a skeptic.

    Remember: Don’t be a dick.

  176. Thameron

    With my own eyes at Tam8 I witnessed a bunch of self identifying skeptics get into a long line to get a piece of the celebrity Richard Dawkins essence by way of a signature in their books. How exactly does a signature add value to a book without magical thinking somewhere along the line? One wonders. Those throwing stones at the sacred cows across the fence should make doubly sure their own boots are free of bovine taint.

  177. John Sandlin

    To all of you saying you’ve never been a dick toward someone you disagree with, I applaud you (I’m accepting your self assessment as fact for the moment). To all of you that assert you’ve never witnessed a skeptic (or a theist) acting like a dick, please consider those of us asserting we have are as likely to be honestly relating our experiences as you. Perhaps you have your reality filters on and your bias is showing.

    Being confrontational when confrontational is not necessary is being a dick. Being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative is being a dick. Being disagreeable simply because you believe you are right is being a dick.

    I’m not going to say that being a dick is always wrong, but I am going to say it usually isn’t necessary, and is very seldom productive.

  178. Calli Arcale

    Christian skeptic here. ;-) (That is, I’m a Christian, and I’m a skeptic.) To me, skepticism is not a movement in the traditional sense nor an organization, and it has no leaders. (Nor should it, IMHO; someone upthread talked about the “skeptical leadership” going political, and not only do I see this as insufficient evidence of the assertion, but I think the very idea of skeptical leadership is bad. Take a peek at organized religion if you want to see where that sort of thing winds up.) Skepticism is a way of thinking. It’s about thinking critically, and being aware of one’s own biases. As such, it is valuable in every aspect of life. Even in theology; science isn’t a whole lot of help in deciding what to believe about Jesus (at best, it can tell me that texts referring to him date to the latter part of the first century and later), but skepticism is — it helps me judge propositions by whatever form of evidence is available. It also helps keep me cognizant of the relative weakness of the conclusions. I believe God is Love; this is something that I have examined critically, but due to the paucity of objective evidence, the conclusion isn’t very strong. I choose to believe in it, but it could easily be wrong.

    I think a great many of the world’s ills could be solved by a skeptical mindset. It’s not a magical thing, but how much money is lost because of gullibility? How much time is spent on dead-ends because we won’t drag our heads out of our own butts long enough to see the evidence that we’re on the wrong track altogether? Not long ago, a man was executed for murder by arson, but the evidence was poor; there is a very real chance that an innocent man was put to death. I think we skeptics have a responsibility to promote critical thinking. Teach it to our kids. If you’re an educator, teach it to your students. Plant the seeds of it in other people’s minds. It will grow good fruit in time.

    As far as belief in God being irrational — well, yes, but so are a lot of other, more every-day beliefs, beliefs which we cling to far more tightly than any religious belief, and I daresay that is true of even the most rigidly skeptical person, because it’s kind of human nature. Studies show that nearly everyone has an inflated opinion of themselves — we have irrational faith in our own expertise. This appears to be a survival trait, as is our very human blind spot towards the unknown. Hope is another great example. Not just hope in a deity; I think even relatively few religious people seriously have that sort of hope. Hope that you’ll win the lottery. Hope that tomorrow will be better than today. How did people endure Auschwitz and emerge sane? Not all did, but those who did managed it through an irrational hope that they’d survive, in defiance of both the real odds and the stark horror of their surroundings. That’s the real power of faith. Not that it can make someone believe in a magical sky fairy, but that it can give you the strength to go on when all the facts are screaming “GIVE UP!!!” I’m fairly sure that’s why we have faith — not because of gods or spirits or anything but because confidence is an important survival trait, and we very rarely will have enough facts at our disposal to really know the likely outcome.

    Don’t be a dick….

    I think most atheists, like most people in general, are generally good people. A few have chips on their shoulder, and a few of those are really vocal about it. I think they tend to be disproportionately represented. I’ve certainly met them. And I’ve met one or two who even felt that my Christianity was an absolute impediment to accepting me as a fellow skeptic. More, I’ve met ones who were just surprised to find a Christian who was also a skeptic. We’re not very common, though I suspect there are more of us than we realize. This is not a bad thing. I think skepticism would be good for Christianity; I think Fundamentalism is one of the worst things to have happened to Christianity in the past century. People stopped thinking for themselves. Bad things happen when you let someone else do your thinking for you, and moreso when it’s on the scale of organized religion.

    What is a dickish statement?

    Asserting that belief in God is irrational — depends. It’s certainly something to be delicate about, because people on a forum can’t read your body language or hear your voice to try to gauge your hostility level. It should be possible to express that without being a dick, though of course some will taken offense no matter how careful you are. I don’t think there’s a solution for that; in the end, all you’re responsible for is yourself, so if the other side gets their panties in a bunch, that’s probably their problem.

    Asserting that only an evil person or a fool would believe in God — now that’s a rather dickish statement, because rather than discussing the irrational belief it makes it undeniably personal. It suggests that attempting to counterargument will be fruitless, because it implicitly disqualifies a religious person from responding. Oh, they can try to respond, but you just said you believe they’re foolish or evil (in which case their arguments aren’t worth listening to).

    Asserting that religious people are the worst thing wrong with the world and you wish they’d all just drink poisoned kool aid and die — well, probably a nuclear-grade dick thing to say.

    It’s all pretty straightforward. If you are directly attacking the person’s character, it’s a dick move. If you’re attacking their arguments, that’s a horse of a different color, though some diplomacy might still be advised. (Not accommodation; if you disagree with someone and it’s not a situation where it would be rude to make an issue of it, by all means, feel free to call them on it. That’s what free speech is *for*.)

    And yes, this applies to believers in homeopathy and such as well. “You’re a crazed deluded old moron if you think that!” is dickish. “I can’t see how homeopathy could possibly work, since it’s just water that’s in there and nobody but homeopaths seems to be able to duplicate positive results” may offend, but it is not dickish.

    Mind you, there is a time and place for dickishness. Namely, when your opposition isn’t fighting fair. If they are intellectually dishonest, engaging them honestly is fruitless. Your options at that point are to ignore them (“don’t feed the trolls”), patiently tell them why they are wrong for the benefit of any third parties reading along, or go into hostile territory by either parodying them or by insulting them. When possible, a factual rebuttal is best; reserve the insolence for the more noteworthy cases.

  179. People keep talking like religion is a special case- it isn’t. AGCC is something else that cuts a deep rift into the skeptical community. Someone has to be wrong whatever side you come down on. So let’s stop pretending religion is somehow Phil’s, or other people’s special case. I was a skeptic before I was an Atheist. For me religion had zero to do with the evidence for or against it- I adhered to it for my own reasons. What disturbed me wasn’t people attacking religion. I was instead annoyed by assertions that I was somehow less of a skeptic for being human and deciding, not that the evidence or lack thereof wasn’t compelling, but that at that point in my life it didn’t matter. There is no logical way to reach a value judgment, any kind of value judgment. You set what priorities you want. Meanwhile everywhere I turned religious people were accused in no uncertain terms of being fools, unintelligent, mentally ill, etc., etc. Things that aren’t even objectively true. Things, like the accusation of mental illness, that even if true should not invite judgment and ridicule. You know what accusation I never saw levied at the religious? That they were mistaken. Which I was. That they were fooled by all the little biases and mental deficiencies that we (Atheists and skeptics included) are all prone to. Which I was, and am.

    You know what? A lot of people believe things that only happen to be true. Not everyone is capable enough or interested enough to review the evidence on every subject before they form an opinion. Sometimes, we go with our gut. A skeptic’s job isn’t to never go with their gut- but to know when they’re doing it. A skeptic’s job isn’t to defend rationally what they want out of life or from society, but to find a logical path to achieving those goals. A skeptic’s job isn’t to accept a set of position statements, or have an opinion on everything, but to understand the implications of the evidence regarding those statements and those topics which they may choose to opine on. A skeptic’s job isn’t to be right, to win arguments, or even to admit when they’re wrong. It’s a skeptic’s job to understand how we get to those endpoints. Skeptical activism is also not a skeptic’s job. But it’s Phil’s job, and the job of any Skeptic who chooses to undertake that task. And to that end, we are saying something important about what that means. I do think Phil may have made a severe error, but I don’t think that I agree with his critics here. I think he expected people to care about spreading skepticism more than preserving the legitimacy of a rhetoric they enjoy. I think he expected too much.

  180. Jason A.

    Phil:

    long and strong support for speaking up against psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest.

    we need to be less antagonistic, and more inclusive

    Phil, you’re praising her for being exclusive about psychics et al. while in the very next paragraph saying we need to be inclusive about her particular brand of irrationality. You still have not offered a reason why you’re singling out religion for special treatment. You’re simply being inconsistent.

    The Chemist:

    let’s stop pretending religion is somehow Phil’s, or other people’s special case

    Why would we do that? It’s exactly the truth.

    You just wrong a long post that doesn’t address that at all. Yes, it’s possible for people to be religious and skeptics because they don’t know the arguments or what have you. Why does that mean we can’t criticize them?

  181. John Sandlin

    @177, Thameron: It might not be magical thinking – it could just be sentimental thinking. Skeptics have feelings, too, you know. (and I’m not just saying this because I have the BA’s signature in a book – or maybe I am. Sadly, that signature is still awaiting moderation).

  182. David

    @177, Sentimentality not magical thinking. Of course there is also the FACT that signatures actually do make books more valuable in many cases.

  183. How exactly does a signature add value to a book without magical thinking somewhere along the line?

    Intrinsic value is in the eye of the beholder. But having a a book signed—especially if it’s a first edition—can absolutely raise its price. No magic there. The market takes care of it. A signed first edition of The God Delusion, apparently, goes for a cool 700 bucks:

    http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=2876846270&searchurl=an%3DRichard%2BDawkins%26sgnd%3Don%26tn%3DGod%2BDelusion

    All things considered, it can be an incredibly rational (and profitable) act to have your book signed by its author—whether that author is Dawkins or Rick Warren.

  184. Jason (181): I’m not singling out religion for special treatment. It so happens that those were the examples I used, because those are the ones that presented themselves after my talk.

    Also, please note that the people who have faith in these cases are not arguing for something about which we have evidence one way or another. That separates them from antivaxxers, UFO believers, and the like. These are people who, in the absence of evidence, choose faith. I would not do that, personally, but it does make this a somewhat different topic than other, more anti-evidence-based belief.

  185. Jason A.

    The Chemist:

    I think he expected people to care about spreading skepticism more than preserving the legitimacy of a rhetoric they enjoy.

    Are those the only options? It can’t be that they just want to speak honestly, damn the strategy?

    And, for the gazillionth time, where’s the evidence that what Phil is suggesting is the most effective way to spread skepticism?

    Besides the fact that we’re still not even clear on what Phil is actually suggesting. ‘Don’t be a dick’ is subjective. He specifically said that you can be assertive and even use insults. So what the heck is he even talking about?

  186. reggie

    @ 181 – Yeppers. Love Phil Plait, but don’t understand the whole message of sparing certain delusions from criticism. Perhaps Skeptics should start including psychics, astrologers, or anti-vaxxers? Why is it okay to be “dicks” to them?

    @185 – Phil replied to Jason as I typed. So, some delusions are okay and Skeptics are not allowed to be critical of them? Are Skeptics only allowed to address subjects where people are contradicting a body of evidence?

  187. Jason A.

    Also, please note that the people who have faith in these cases are not arguing for something about which we have evidence one way or another. That separates them from antivaxxers, UFO believers, and the like. These are people who, in the absence of evidence, choose faith.

    I think you’ve good a point here, but it’s not as clear cut as that. Many (most?) religious believers think they do have evidence. And there are certainly alien visitation believers, for example, who argue from ‘personal experience’ of their abductions.

  188. Jason A.

    reggie:

    Yeah, the whole reason I’m arguing this here is because I love reading Phil. It’s not like Chris Mooney, who I can just write off as clueless.

  189. John Sandlin

    181, Jason A:

    You just wrong a long post that doesn’t address that at all. Yes, it’s possible for people to be religious and skeptics because they don’t know the arguments or what have you. Why does that mean we can’t criticize them?

    See, here’s the thing, you just answered your own question by the way your phrased the question. Based on the grammar as I read the text I quoted, you’re saying you think it is OK to criticize the people (them) for their religious beliefs. The problem with that and the reason you can’t criticize the person, is for them, their religion isn’t subject to rational, objective reasons (though I’m sure they rationalize their choice), but a subjective, experiential choice to believe because their entire being (what many refer to as the gut feeling) says they must believe as they do.

    Criticizing them for their beliefs does you no real good, does them no good, and in the long run, might even prolong what you conceive to be wrong. Even if you can logically show their belief is wrong, they know – somehow – that your logic is faulty (because they know they are right). So you basically have just insulted them, driven them further into their corner and helped them build the walls of their defense against your arguments. Humans are seldom rational beings, and are even less so when backed into a corner. That’s when they will be the most dangerous to your cause.

    It is better to have them on your side for all those things you do agree on, then against you in everything. Obviously, they need to be worth having on your side for this to work.

  190. reggie

    @ Jason – Yeah, I gave up on Mooney quite quickly because he made no sense. I may disagree with Phil on this issue, but I still love him and will continue to be a fan.

  191. John Sandlin

    186: Jason A.:

    And, for the gazillionth time, where’s the evidence that what Phil is suggesting is the most effective way to spread skepticism?

    This is the million dollar question.

    The problem maybe that this is an area where evidence is lacking for both sides. Even Phil’s own argument is just anecdote. I do have to take him to task for his elevation of anecdote to evidence in sufficient quantity, and perhaps that wasn’t what he meant (it is how I heard it, though).

    Anecdote only becomes evidence when sufficient controls and blinds are in place to counter the biases of the story, I mean anecdote, teller’s. Anecdotes don’t become science because anecdotes don’t control for bias, not because there aren’t enough of them.

    So, with a dearth of evidence to support Phil’s assertion that we shouldn’t be dicks, I can only say, there is no evidence it won’t work, either. But then, I’m an agnostic.

  192. @Jason A.

    Why does that mean we can’t criticize them?

    Why shouldn’t we criticize people? Why should we criticize arguments? Do I really need to say? That’s the whole point of everything Phil has said up to now- that people are what you want on your side. Being right and alone doesn’t accomplish anything. Being the sole, free, and unlikable abolitionist on a ship that runs on slave labor doesn’t free them.

    You just wrong a long post that doesn’t address that at all.

    I brought up AGCC. Is the reason you don’t understand any of what Phil is saying that you’re too stupid to read? See how I’m criticizing you and not the argument? Tell me, how convincing am I right now, in this moment? In all seriousness it was a lead in, not a topic sentence. However there are forms of irrationality that are brought into play. AGCC being one that came up at a recent skeptical event I attended, and therefore the first to come to mind. Then there are lesser irrational matters that can be criticized but are parochial and come down to individuals. This includes lack of skepticism about certain specific medical issues like condom efficacy, or other such things that aren’t what we can consider prevalent. It so happens that religion is incredibly common. As a position that can be evaluated using skepticism, it’s not given special treatment. As individuals, the people adhering to it quietly deserve better than the abuse we accord them, however indirect. This goes for people who are generally non-skeptical as well, not because of any appeal to civility, but because criticizing the arguer is short-sighted in a world where ideas only exist because people believe them. Don’t make the person adhering to an idea choose between dealing with you as a source of discomfort and holding the idea close for whatever reasons they may have. Make it an easier choice. If the choice is having to hear, “Idiots, stupid, mentally ill, because [argument]” they won’t get as far as the argument without every defense up and every hackle raised, if they get that far. “[Argument].” should be sufficient.

  193. Thameron

    @183. David

    Yes, I often get all sentimental about watching people sign things. Happens all the time. I tear up just thinking about it. And that “FACT” you are going on about is because of other people’s magical thinking. So I guess if you are okay with taking advantage of other people’s magical thinking then it is all to the good. Keeping mementos of friends or loved ones is sentimentality. Getting signatures from celebrities is something different. The FACT is that a signature adds some ink and a very minuscule amount of weight to a book. Any ‘value’ after that is pure essentialist magic. If he wrote an appendix for you then yeah that would add value to a book, but a signature? Nope.

  194. Whether it is religious beliefs, political leanings, one’s choice of mate or other emotionally infected aspects of life, it is best to be judicious when considering the differences between others and oneself. I try to say “you may be mistaken” rather than “you are wrong” when speaking with others about the above areas. You are so right, Phil, about the way we communicate being as important as what we communicate. If we can encourage others to think critically about their beliefs, choices and actions, we may find a corner of peace in our world.

  195. Phil’s talk touches on the subject of my undergrad thesis and some lingering questions in the same vein that I have been looking into since I graduated in December 2008.

    There are three points that no one (to my knowledge) has addressed, and which pose a profound problem for skeptics, atheists, scientific rationalists, humanists, and anyone hoping to increase the role of evidence-based critical thinking in the discourse of our democratic republic.

    1. Proposed solutions to the problem of misplaced popular credulity/incredulity are nearly always some combination of better schools and/or teachers, more educational television programs, more popularizations by capable scientists or other public intellectuals, more scientifically accurate Hollywood pictures, better-trained science journalists, etc. However, the solutions suggested above all seem to make the unspoken assumption that all people are (roughly) equally capable of critical, skeptical thinking. Do we know that is so? What if some significant fraction of humanity is simply not cognitively equipped to think critically or skeptically?

    2. Many of the comments in the three threads (I have not read them all) have insisted that those on the opposite side of the “to be or not to be” a “dick” “prove” that “being a dick” works, with the “other side” demanding to be shown that “being a dick” does more harm than good. These are the wrong questions. Sometimes “being a dick” does work in the sense that people generally wish to avoid embarrassing themselves. At the first Beyond Belief conference in 2006, Sam Harris noted that there is a reason why people that are interviewing for positions at Fortune 500 companies do not make known that they manage their personal investments by referring to their personal horoscope–they justly will be embarrassed and feel stupid. I liken it to a kid that failed, without good reason, to complete their assigned homework then lied about the following day. And when they are found out when called upon to work one of the problems from the assigned set in front of the whole class, no one feels terribly sorry for them and the kid, hopefully, has learned a valuable lesson by embarrassing themselves in that way.

    A personal anecdote (which is, I realize, only an n of 1). Though I was raised in a conservative, evangelical/fundamentalist Christian home, my inability to compartmentalize my thinking (aided by an insatiable curiosity and an interest in science) was a major reason I eventually had to not only reject the religion I was raised with, but all supernatural beliefs. I do not like to be caught with my (intellectual) pants down and strive to avoid it. I still see political/social conservatives and religious believers (lots of overlap there) perform seemingly superhuman feats of compartmentalization on a daily basis.

    The wish to avoid being caught with one’s pants down or feeling embarrassed worked for me, but will not work for everyone…but there is some fraction of people for whom it is a powerful motivator. We need to know what that fraction is. Likewise, we need to know which other methods will work for other parts of the population. Is an inability to compartmentalize one’s thinking (re: “The Stupid, It Burns!!!” or the exploding “irony meter” metaphor) a learned behavior/thought process, or like musical or mathematical aptitude, has a significant biological/genetic component? We don’t know!!! Phil Plait does not know, P.Z. Myers does not know, Richard Dawkins does not know, I do not know, and none of the commenters on these three threads know! But we need to know!!!

    3. Similar to the embarrassment thing, sometimes the “target” of ridicule is not who we think it is. Though racism and sexism is still with us, the strides that have been made in nearly eliminating the most overt and blatant expressions of such sentiments is not due to gently persuading racists and sexists to change their ways or convincing them that they are mistaken. The strides that have been made are largely due to letting those that harbor such attitudes know that they will suffer a severe loss of credibility and respect from their fellow citizens by openly expressing such notions. Again, there is some faction of people, which we need to identify–both quantitatively and qualitatively–for whom this kind of social pressure will be a motivator.

    I am not a professional, credentialed, scientist–I am just a guy with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Science (IS) with an emphasis on science communication and the public understanding of science. I do consider myself a serious amateur, and in that context, I do what I can to, in Carl Sagan’s memorable phrase, be “a candle in the dark,” a voice for reason in our “demon-haunted world.” I deliberately switched majors to IS from Electrical Engineering because I was deeply concerned about the lack of appreciation and understanding of what science and critical thinking are, even among very bright students in engineering programs.

    Skeptics, rationalists, humanists, atheists (like myself), and professional scientists that are
    engaged with the public, need to stop making assumptions about what works for the entire spectrum of humanity. This would be an instance of being “caught with one’s (intellectual) pants down,” something that the diverse group that is the “skeptical community,” more than any other group, ought to know to avoid.

  196. Okay, I have fifty bucks right here, on the table, ready to go towards funding a study that goes into whether or not hostility helps people retain information, or otherwise convince them. I have another fifty bucks that says it actually has a significant adverse effect ready to go into a betting pool.

    Come on people! Use your hippocampuses (hippocampi?) and remember every goddamn argument or debate you ever got into. Not just the skeptical ones- in fact, save them for last. Think about arguments with SOs, political arguments, arguments over who takes out the trash. Go over carefully what convinced you and when you convinced others. Be honest with yourself. You’ll have a couple of stories where you were browbeaten into doing or trying something, but on the balance, where does the bulk of them lie in terms of any number of categorizations? I doubt you’ll see dickishness as being hugely effective. I’d look forward to the results of any study, but frankly I’d be as surprised with a result saying I’m right as that of a study showing men are in fact the largest population of people who wear neckties by gender.

  197. James

    Based on the comments of the anti-dickites here, it seems as if the choice is between being a dick or being a sanctimonious prick. Which is essentially the same thing.

    “Don’t be a dick” as position is the same as “Nice things are good.” It’s so nebulous as to be meaningless. It’s completely subjective and worthless.

    Be careful patting yourself on the back for advocating a platitude as the basis of the skeptic movement. You may pull a muscle.

  198. Jason A.

    John Sandlin:

    The problem with that and the reason you can’t criticize the person, is for them, their religion isn’t subject to rational, objective reasons (though I’m sure they rationalize their choice), but a subjective, experiential choice to believe because their entire being (what many refer to as the gut feeling) says they must believe as they do.

    Just like the psychics and others. But (I’m guessing) you don’t mind when we criticize them.

    Criticizing them for their beliefs does you no real good, does them no good, and in the long run, might even prolong what you conceive to be wrong.

    Evidence for any of those assertions?

    So you basically have just insulted them, driven them further into their corner and helped them build the walls of their defense against your arguments. Humans are seldom rational beings, and are even less so when backed into a corner. That’s when they will be the most dangerous to your cause.

    Maybe. Or maybe they’ll be embarrassed enough to do some research so they won’t get embarrassed again, and they’ll learn something.
    That’s what happened to me, anyway. Some evolutionist ‘dicks’ made a fool out of me for being an ignorant, anti-science moron (in conjunction with explaining why I was wrong). It made me even more determined to prove them wrong, so I went and read TalkOrigins so I would know their arguments inside and out, and they wouldn’t catch me out next time. And I learned. And in the long run, their ‘dickishness’ was effective.
    There are surely many people that wouldn’t work on, but there are surely many it would (I have a hard time thinking I’m special in that respect). My position all along has been that we need all these different types of voices because different ones work on different people. So some people will just shut out a ‘dick’ without ever listening to their argument. Fine, they can go listen to one of the nice guys. For the most part, the ‘dicks’ aren’t trying to get the nice guys to shut up (unlike the other way around).

    It is better to have them on your side for all those things you do agree on, then against you in everything. Obviously, they need to be worth having on your side for this to work.

    I notice there’s a thread up right now in which Phil is a ‘dick’ towards Conservapedia. Isn’t it better to have the Conservapedians on our side for the things we do agree on (like, say, the ineffectiveness of psychics)? But you’re not suggesting that. No, only religion gets the special treatment.

    So, with a dearth of evidence to support Phil’s assertion that we shouldn’t be dicks, I can only say, there is no evidence it won’t work, either.

    There’s no evidence there’s not a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars.

    But then, I’m an agnostic.

    On all matters, teapot and otherwise.
    (Why, if you’re only a god-agnostic and not a teapot-agnostic, that would be more special treatment for religion)

  199. @Thameron
    Keeping mementos of friends or loved ones is sentimentality. Getting signatures from celebrities is something different.

    Why?

  200. Jason A.

    The Chemist:

    Why shouldn’t we criticize people? Why should we criticize arguments? Do I really need to say?

    yes, lol.

    That’s the whole point of everything Phil has said up to now- that people are what you want on your side. Being right and alone doesn’t accomplish anything. Being the sole, free, and unlikable abolitionist on a ship that runs on slave labor doesn’t free them.

    And yet we don’t seem to mind running off the psychics, or the Conservapedians.

    AGCC

    Atlanta Georgia Cricket Conference? Arkansas Glass Container Group? (google results)

    See how I’m criticizing you and not the argument? Tell me, how convincing am I right now, in this moment?

    Well, it’s already making me do more research (googling AGCC) on what you’re saying…

    As individuals, the people adhering to it quietly deserve better than the abuse we accord them, however indirect.

    Like the psychics and Conservapedians, right?

    If the choice is having to hear, “Idiots, stupid, mentally ill, because [argument]” they won’t get as far as the argument without every defense up and every hackle raised, if they get that far. “[Argument].” should be sufficient.

    Are you sure about that? How do you know?
    When I was a creationist, [argument] meant [there is no consensus on the topic, it's still up for debate]. It didn’t push me to actually learn anything new. I (and many others of the type I suspect) was really just looking for excuses to go on believing. ‘It’s still up for debate’ is just such an excuse. Heck, you hear it directly every time you see one of those ‘X number of scientists don’t believe’ lists.

  201. Jason A.

    Thameron:

    The FACT is that a signature adds some ink and a very minuscule amount of weight to a book. Any ‘value’ after that is pure essentialist magic.

    This is goddess-damned ridiculous. Why is it not sentimental to keep a memento of someone I respect, just because I don’t know them personally?

  202. Jack

    I agree with comments such as 17, 18, 23, 118, 122, 150, 152.

    A little anecdote to illustrate the effectiveness of NOT being a dick:

    I have never forgotten the time James Randi was on The Don Lane Show in Australia in the sixties, debunking Uri Geller and Doris Stokes (a medium who had been on the show).

    Lane lost his cool and became an utter dick, and kicked Randi off. Randi kept his cool and did not respond in kind, although it would have been well justified.

    This incident outraged me and many others, on Randi’s behalf, and on behalf of the cause of logic and reason, not to mention the traditions of common courtesy and hospitality to guests.

    Phil, I agree with you fully and I have followed your blog for nearly two years now.

    It seems to me you follow in the the steps of Azimov and Sagan and other such enlightened science educators.

    Your success is largely due to your open minded and tolerant approach. I wish you every success in the future, and please don’t lose faith because of a few detractors!

  203. Jason A.

    James:

    “Don’t be a dick” as position is the same as “Nice things are good.” It’s so nebulous as to be meaningless. It’s completely subjective and worthless.

    Quoted for truth.

  204. Jason A.

    The Chemist:

    You’ll have a couple of stories where you were browbeaten into doing or trying something, but on the balance, where does the bulk of them lie in terms of any number of categorizations?

    You’re still working under this false duality that it must be one or the other. Why can’t we have both, and let people find the voices that resonate for them?

  205. where does the bulk of them lie in terms of any number of categorizations?

    Where I acknowledge dickishness as a potential range of options and a spectrum of evaluations. I’ve got more to say to your other stuff but, and I can’t offer any evidence for this I admit, I’m tired and want to sleep.

  206. David

    @194 Your on the side of not being a dick? Are you sure? Money is only ink and paper so it has no real value, can I have all yours? What exactly is your point? Do you really think skeptics should not get attached to their possessions just because they have no intrinsic value?

  207. Michael

    “Don’t be a Dick” is fine advice if it means: choose skilful means to make your argument; attack the cause and not the person; look at beliefs with cold eyes but persons with a warm heart; know that you too may be mistaken.

    Too many skeptics and atheists remind me of Nietzsche in “Ecce Homo” in the way they spend their time telling one another why they are so wise and why they are so clever.

    We atheists may be right, as Nietzsche was, in regarding God as “a crude answer, a piece of indelicacy against us thinkers – fundamentally even a crude prohibition to us: you shall not think!”

    But Phil Plait is quite right, as is Brandon @113 and many others, in pointing out that ordinary people – not the charlatans, the profiteers, and the power mongers – are best convinced by persistent reasonableness rather than by ridicule of their heartfelt beliefs.

    The charlatans, profiteers, and power mongers are another matter. They deserve the full weight of serious tough argument, not mere boorishness.

  208. When Hal said that this was his last TAM, I almost cried. That’s why I went off and wrote a giant blog post about it. I’ve also talked with a bunch of Colorado people in general about the whole thing and it seems like we’re generally feeling pretty frustrated about people being jerks to skeptics that have the *audacity* (/sarcasm) to not be atheists.

  209. John Sandlin

    198 Jason A: Re: Psychics and others… are we talking the Sylvia Browns or her audience? It makes a difference. We’ll never reach Sylvia – she should already know she’s a fake (or else mentally ill).

    Re: Evidence… did you miss the bit where I admit there isn’t any evidence, either way?

    Re: Embarrassment: The religious are a tough bunch to embarrass. Perhaps you were just particularly easy to embarrass and sensitive to being so. Many of my friends routinely do things to embarrass themselves and seem to enjoy it. It seems among people I know to have a very low motivating effect.

    An awful lot of the folks that should read Talk.origins go to answersingenesis instead. Rather than be embarrassed, the have that “Expelled” moment and say to themselves (or so I imagine) “See, they really are meanies and should be ignored!”

    I agree we need many voices and even noted that being a dick isn’t always wrong. I just believe it’s usually not necessary, and seldom effective. Seldom isn’t the same as never.

    Re: Phil being a dick… Yes, he admitted he slips up too. Apparently he even regrets it. That is a poor argument that it’s the right approach (being a dick, that is).

    Re: The Teapot… At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a teapot in orbit between the Earth and Mars. It likely has Chinese Tea brewing in it.

    Re: Agnosticism… that was a joke.

    But seriously, I’m agnostic, that is “without knowledge,” on those issues for which evidence is unavailable or at least currently lacking.

    If you wish to posit an Invisible Pink Unicorn and ask me to disprove them, I will admit I have no way of doing so. The differences between pink unicorns and other deities is a matter of cultural conditioning and the seemingly human urge to believe in a god of some sort. Therefore, in the special case of god, or multiverses, or string theory, I withhold judgement until such time as I have something better than the current arguments for and against. In the case of god, that will likely be my own death, at which time I expect my current opinion will not change to in favor of.

    Oh, and if there is a god, there is no reason it wouldn’t be an invisible pink unicorn. We were made in its image – or at least the one it held in it’s mind when it made us.

    Many have related their own anecdote regarding their conversion to or at least discovery of their skepticism. In my case, I was safely immune to embarrassment because of the support of the religious community available to me. Should any monkey’s children come along and show me how I was wrong, I had plenty of resources that would show me I was right. Obviously this had nothing to do with logic (since logically, I really was wrong), and because I have a strong anti-bully bias bullying me only encouraged me to rally the troops. I once harbored many beliefs I now consider silly and embarrassing – but I wasn’t embarrassed out of them. I was educated out of them, slowly, one item at a time. Kind of like one “Hmmm, that’s interesting” led to another and next thing you know (OK, it wasn’t the next, or even close) I’m a skeptic.

    And an agnostic.

  210. Somite

    Is the suggestion that we should punt on the question of evolution? Because of that’s the case I want no part of the “don’t be a dick” movement. And before someone answer that Phil is not a biologist and doesn’t do “squishy” science let me respond that is facetious. You don’t need to be a biologist to accept and understand evolution. It was simply an accommodation of the truth in the face of a challenge by a creationist.

  211. John Sandlin

    208. Somite: You might not have to be a biologist to accept evolution, but it sure helps if you want to teach it.

  212. David

    I’m not an expert on these things but from what ive read pretty much any specific god is actually a testable claim. its only the non specific non interfering god that isnt testable unless of course you go for the god that makes it look like hes not there on purpose.

    While anti vaxxers and psychics and other woo mongers do harm they aren’t the ones i worry about destroying civilization or enslaving my children in a theocratic nightmare. I don’t have any real fear of general woo. Religion gives me nightmares.

  213. Mark Z.

    I would be curious to know, from those who complained that Phil was a dick, if his dickery actually helped strengthen the presentation of his position and made you reconsider your position on dickery.

    That is, regardless of the substance of his speech, did his dickish tone put you off or pull you in? If the former (or neither), would it have helped his presentation to be a little less dickish?

  214. jcm

    Perhaps this talk by Jen McCreight will complement this post.

  215. And just as a note, there is a big difference between having a frank discussion about religious beliefs and trying to understand why someone believes them and questioning their validity and telling a religious person that they’re an idiot, or that they can’t possibly be a skeptic because they’re religious, etc.

    And yes, I have heard atheists say the latter to people. MULTIPLE TIMES. One of those times? At TAM, a couple years ago. And that IS being a massive jerk, and it sure made me not want to be associated with those people.

    I don’t think anyone’s claiming that a polite (if passionate) discussion about beliefs is being a dick – at least not unless they’re trying to tie a straw man to Phil’s neck. If someone wants to run off crying because you asked them to clarify one of their beliefs, then that’s THEIR problem. If someone runs off crying because you told them that only morons are Christian? YOU’RE their problem.

  216. gravespinner

    I have not read the full 211 posts so if this is a repeat it is worth repeating, but as a skeptic and atheist I am not about to castigate those who are skeptical and yet believe in a “god”. James Randi was quite accepting of Martin Gardner, a major contributor to the early skeptic movement, being a deist. There is a great 2 part (part 1 on the Skeptic Zone and part 2 on Token Skeptic) interview with Dr. Pamela Gay concerning her skepticism and religious beliefs.

  217. Mark Z.

    @Somite (208)

    Is the suggestion that we should punt on the question of evolution?

    No.

    Whew, thank goodness, glad we can clear that up! I meant it in terms of football, where punting on first or second down is silly. But there’s a time and place for punting, and obviously Phil judged that her skepticism would be strengthened down the road by doing some research on her own instead of taking it all in from one authority figure—and perhaps most pertinently to Phil’s point, that having lost the round on the recession of the moon, in front of a public audience—her peers, with whom she’d be spending the next week learning and living with— she may not have taken a further blow to her worldview—so obviously important to her self-validation—in the most rational of ways. Presumptuous? Perhaps, but making presumptions and anticipating how people will respond to your words is part of rhetoric. That’s all. :)

    I admit, the football punting analogy isn’t the greatest, as punting is really about minimizing your losses instead of preventing against overreach; but it matches the situation in that you sacrifice something immediate for the sake of your overriding goal—assuming your goal is to create more skepticism in the world.

    And maybe Phil was wrong—maybe that student will go home and not follow up and do any of the things she said was going to do, and maybe her personal thanks to Phil were rather shallow, and she secretly felt condescended to by Phil; maybe if he had given her the truth about evolution right away it would have inspired her to become more skeptical than she will become.

    But judging by Phil’s account, and by my own experience as a student and teacher, I doubt it. I think putting students on a personal quest to discover the truth, and demonstrating support for that approach as an educator, is more likely to reap rewards.

    You don’t need to be a biologist to accept and understand evolution. It was simply an accommodation of the truth in the face of a challenge by a creationist.

    I’m confused—wouldn’t it have been an accommodation of the falsehood, of creationism? Regardless, if what Phil did was accommodation, I think it would be silly to not do it if it makes that student a stronger skeptic later. Greater net gain in skepticism = yay! in my book. :)

  218. David

    @Rachael You heard it once a couple years ago at a TAM meeting? And a couple other times elsewhere?
    I’m trying not to be a dick here, but you do know some people are just assholes even among skeptics, one or even a dozen incidents over several years does not a trend make. Im sorry I just don’t believe its a large portion of skeptics who will start calling other skeptics morons because they are deists, many skeptics are deists. Most of them just don’t bother discussing it with anyone.

  219. grung0r

    Rachel:
    or that they can’t possibly be a skeptic because they’re religious, etc.
    And yes, I have heard atheists say the latter to people. MULTIPLE TIMES

    Was that the topic under discussion? If it was, what you seem to think is that somebody legitimately discussing a topic with another person should not state their honestly held opinion if their view conflicts with the beliefs of the other person. Or does it only apply to religion? Would it be okay to tell a Homeopath that They aren’t a skeptic because they believe in homeopathy?

    If it wasn’t the topic under discussion, how did it possibly come up? is this another one of those militant, psychic atheists who use their powers solely to ferret out the quietly religious?

  220. David

    @Rachael I will cede saying things like that is being a dick(not convinced it is but the point is moot) However there are quite a few atheists and skeptics, I would think a fair portion, just like the general population at large, are jerks. However even if in the past few years you heard it a few dozen times from all different skeptics it still wouldn’t qualify as some kind of trend. If, as is claimed, there is this large growing trend in the skeptic/atheist community to be dicks to deists or anyone of faith it should be very easy to supply a few links to blogs in the skeptic/atheist community that show this.

    If on the other hand your point is that once in a while you run into jerks who happen to be skeptics as well, sure I can buy that. Once in a while i run into christians who don’t think im going to hell, strange stuff happens.

  221. Shaun

    I just feel there is a lot of insincerity around. Hug a christian and tell them its okay to be them and that you really dont think they are being stupid, while frankly believing that their point of view is stupid and that further than that, they are unable to deal with frank opinion and need to be coddled like a child.

    And honestly? being religious is a fair indicator of a lack of scepticism.. you may be sceptical on other issues, but you are really not on that one and it is a biggie.

  222. @grungor – See, this is the funny thing. I don’t think I’m the Pope of Skepticism who gets to excommunicate people from our hallowed order.

    I am not going to to reply to anything after this or even read this comment thread, because it’s really starting to tick me off, and it’s not worth the aggravation to argue with someone on the internet. (http://xkcd.com/386/)

    But I will briefly elaborate on WHY I am starting to feel so angry about this.

    1) People have asked for examples. Examples have been given. Examples have now been dismissed out of hand, because they’re not sufficiently specific, or because they’re not sufficiently numerous. At this point, providing examples has been rendered pointless because there is a distinct impression that the goalposts will be subsequently moved, and the examples will again be dismissed.

    2) The psychic atheist thing is really ticking me off, because there seems to be this assumption that someone who isn’t an atheist either has to be creeping around like a mouse or brashly evangelizing. Particularly at meetings like TAM, there are a ton of atheists running about and talking about how bloody awesome it is to be an atheist. You know what? If we’re going to go around saying how awesome it is to be us, I think someone who isn’t atheist has the right to let out a peep that, well, could we please not assume that everyone is an atheist because it’s starting to get a bit stuffy? I know I sure have a hard time keeping my mouth shut about being an atheist when I’m sick and tired of a group around me making the assumption that everyone must be automatically Christian because being a Christian is so mind-blowingly great and all non-Christians smell like rotten fish. And you know what? A “hey, not all of us are atheists here” is NOT the same as getting on a stump and trying to convince everyone that they should follow Jesus. But the non-atheists sure get pooped on like they’ve done just that far more often than I’d like to see.

    3) Phil mentions Pamela Gay. For me, it’s Hal Bidlack. If I had to name a case zero for why I’m so mad, he would be it. That man has carried a ridiculous amount of water for skepticism and done yeoman’s work. And yet I have heard him insulted to his face and belittled behind his back for being insufficiently skeptical because he’s not an atheist.

    4) Everyone acts as if this is solely about religion. It’s not. I’ve been on the end of a lot of tiresome name-calling from libertarians because I’m not libertarian, and all good skeptics should be libertarians or something. Oooh, how dare I have a differing political philosophy.

    5) Frankly, I’m just really, really tired of everything being about atheism. And I’m an atheist. And as an atheist, I actually disagree that atheism is The Necessary Endpoint Of Skepticism To Which We All Must Bow. Guess I’m a bad skeptic. Better have the Pope of Skepticism excommunicate me.

    Have fun offhandedly dismissing my points. I’m out of here before I completely lose my temper.

  223. Listrade

    You know those phrases that start off: “I’m not a racists, some of my best friends are X-Race, but…”? I’m not a dick, some of my best friends are religious. And that’s it. I’m an atheist, some of my best friends and family are religious.

    Where this is going is that the undercurrent of this unsubstantiated accusation is that the vast majority of sceptics (on the basis of internet words) are always harsh, smug, aggressive, condescending, bullying to anyone they meet who is religious. I call bull. I smell bull. I see bull and I’m fairly sure I’ve just stepped in bull.

    At some point in your life, whether it is politics, society, religion, non-religion, woo, science, Stones Vs Beatles, Lennon Vs McCartney, Farrar Vs Tweedy, whatever you will find someone who challenges your view, your belief, your deepest held conviction. Get the fudge over it.

    What we’re doing here is making a special case for religious views. Nobody’s going to bat an eyelid if I get flamed for stating that McCartney’s first 3 post Beatles solo albums piss all over any of Lennon’s solo material.

    And so the circle continues, Phil’s making out there are hoards of sceptics out there away from the computer who are harassing “moderates”. I call bull on the accusation and this nonsensical principle that religion should get special treatment to justify Phil’s “dickish” behaviour towards anti-vaxers and Moon hoaxers.

  224. So we, as skeptics, shouldn’t savage motherhood and apple pie. Great. And we should also not just STFU. Great. Now, Phil, could we please have more specific and useful criteria than that?

    So, sure. Going up to Pamela and yelling “SHUT UP YOU STUPID CHRISTIAN!!11!!” would be being a dick. (And, to put it mildly, would not be advisable, tactics wise). Phil also seems to be saying that he doesn’t claim we can’t criticize Pamela (for having irrational beliefs). So far so good. But what are the criteria beyond these extreme cases? Lots of the commentators have stated what their criteria are (and I note that there is no consensus). But Phil’s position is so vague that I just don’t know what he’s saying (apart from the incredibly obvious).

    Phil’s position on the Dick Demarcation Problem is akin to saying, for the science/pseudoscience Demarcation Problem, that physics is science, and homeopathy is pseudoscience and then leaving it at that.

    C’mon Phil. Man up and give us (1) some clarity and (2) some examples.

  225. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    The drop in the level of demeanor I had been seeing . . .

    Erm . . . help!

    I don’t understand what this means.

  226. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’m with the Bad Astronomer on this issue.

    Here’s one good reason why – try this thought experiment please :

    Imagine you are arguing about something – & you are wrong.

    How would like to be convinced of your wrongness?

    What approach would best convince you of your wrongness?

    A : “Your wrong you stooopid dumbass! How can anyone be silly enough to believe X its just so wrong!

    *OR*

    B: “I think you are wrong about X because of fact Y, argument Z and examples Z, R, V and furthermore if you look at this respected source Q you’lll see she also argues point G here.”

    What approach works the best for most people do you think?

  227. Messier Tidy Upper

    Oh & yes, that thought experiment has happened to me in reality – and probably most other people on different things.

    We’re all fallible humans after all & nobodies perfect – except for the androids among us & even they have the odd buggy program! ;-)

    In my case can I refer folks to my recent (re)post on what things changed my mind (twice!) when it cames to the issue of Global Warming see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/19/sea-ice-coming-and-going/#comment-291597

    If you haven’t seen it already.

    That’s one a real personal account of how the BA’s approach has actually worked at least from my experience. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in coming here and arguing the “wrong” side of the debate on occassion & being gradually convinced otherwise into changing my views.

    Let’s not forget our “opposition” are also real human beings with emotions and RL problems just like us.

    Plus let’s also remember that there is only *one* person whose behaviour we really have any say in or control over – our own selves.

  228. katt

    Ok, I am a massive atheist (endorse the strong atheist position for most concepts of “God”) and consider myself a skeptic in all domains I’ve identified so far. I am not actively involved in any offline skeptical/atheist community but I have seen what I would label “dickish” behavior by atheists both offline and online. Part of what makes me fall on the Phil side of the issue is that I know that I have personally been a “dick” to friends and family about skeptical issues; my yelling (out of proportion to the gravity of the issue) and insulting others has never convinced anyone of anything. I have found in my experience that careful arguing and gentle questioning has gotten a lot more mileage with the average folk that I live with. For example, a friend of mine went vegetarian after months of talks between us where I argued that her moral beliefs compelled her to give up or at least severely limit eating meat.

    Let me propose a few kinds of statements which should be nearly always avoided as “dickish”, insensitive, or otherwise contrary to the spirit of reasonable argument (all that I’ve seen in reality):

    Direct personal insults & ridicule: “You’re a moron/imbecile/stupid”, “Only idiots believe in X”
    Racist, sexist, etc. remarks: “Ann Coulter is a dumb bitch”, “Only backwards (ethnic group) would believe X”
    Relatedly, remarks that fail to appreciate one’s own privilege/ highly politicized remarks held without reflection: “Women who feel unappreciated in the atheist movement are whining”, “Islam is 100x worse than Christianity”
    Claiming that the opposition is lying or insincere without evidence of intent (offering evidence exempts you from dickishness): “You’re just lying for Jesus”, “You’re just repeating what you heard”
    Making loaded & extraordinary claims without offering the equivalent extraordinary evidence (again, offering evidence exempts you from dickishness): “Religious thought is delusional”, “Religious upbringing is child abuse”
    Willfully misrepresenting what the opposition believes: “You believe in a sky-daddy who you can talk to at night”, “You worship a zombie”
    Violating parity of questioning/evidence between skeptic and opponent: “My belief in God is off limits, but I’m going to repeatedly question you on your ghost belief”, “I don’t need to offer evidence that evolution/western medicine/moon landing was true”

    I’d like feedback from all you guys on what you think. I personally see these sorts of rules as guidelines for appropriate rational discussion. Sometimes rational discussion isn’t the best methodology I suppose (in taking down the big woo-meisters), but I take skeptics to be committed to the power of rational argument. As you might have guessed from what I wrote I think of a large number of “dickish”-type behaviors as being a failure of skepticism rather than of its over-application. I actually take Phil to be a bit too accommodationist for my liking (because of aforementioned difficulty with religious people taking any questioning whatsoever as dickish) but since I have seen atheists and skeptics violate what I take to be basic standards of rational discussion & we do have religious persons and others feeling alienated, I think it is a genuine issue.

    As I said, please criticize my standards; I chose to offer them because a lot of people wanted basic premises and I thought this was a start.

  229. Steve P.

    Funny, I know a religious person who stopped reading Bad Astronomy years ago because she felt Phil was too much of a dick in his religion-related posts. I’ve had many hours-long conversations with this same person on religion, which were definitely the most objective and logical discussions I’ve ever had on the subject. She’s very open to discussion of her beliefs, but Phil’s religion posts, which had no rational discussion, frustrated her and she stopped reading.

    This meme really comes as no surprise to me. I’ve always had the impression that the skeptic movement has tried to distance itself from the atheist movement by putting religion off limits to skepticism (except the most absurd parts of religion such as pareidolia or prayer healing that the religious skeptics denounce). This post confirms that the main goal of the talk was to say “don’t criticize religion, even if you disagree with it…don’t even bring it up”. Which is apparently a new lesson Phil has learned and is now trying to preach for some reason. Maybe he realized his previous religious posts were bad for book sales. The current discussion has produced some nice traffic though!

  230. Listrade

    Interesting thought experiment MTU. Here’s another similar one:

    Imagine you have a puppy and it makes a mess on the carpet. How can you stop it doing so in the future?

    A: Introduce firm, but fair, measures to train the dog to go outside.

    B: Buy construction boots and repeatedly jump on the dog’s head yelling “Bad stoopid dawg!”

    Of course it seems easy when that’s the only choice. Of course it seems obvious without the glaring question of “Umm who exactly does B?”

    However, no examples, no context, no idea whatsoever that the original proposition is such a big deal or just a few hypersensitive souls being challenged on the internet and getting offended. Keep it vague, that’s the way to set up a manifesto.

    Also, rightly pointed out among all the comments, is we don’t know which works best. It may well turn out that blunt, hard brutal reality checks are more effective for the majority or it may well be the opposite.

    No examples means we’re speculating on speculation and three posts serving as a self-congratulatory “I was right!”

  231. Steve P.

    @222, Messier Tidy Upper

    But what you’re saying is trivial. Like others have said in these comments before me (and much better than me), the real argument is in the details, the gray area. Who is using your Argument A? If no one, then why are you saying we shouldn’t use it?

    To demonstrate that you and others aren’t really saying anything useful when you say “Don’t be a Dick”, Consider my TAM 9 Talk: “Don’t lick a pickle”….

    Imagine you are arguing about something – & you are wrong.

    How would like to be convinced of your wrongness?

    What approach would best convince you of your wrongness?

    A : “Hey watch me lick this pickle!” “QED.”

    *OR*

    B: “I think you are wrong about X because of fact Y, argument Z and examples Z, R, V and furthermore if you look at this respected source Q you’lll see she also argues point G here.”

    What approach works the best for most people do you think?

  232. Steve P.

    Damn, Listrade beat me to it… Nicely done.

  233. Thought-experiments are great for philosophy. Not so much for science. What I would rather like to see is a thorough review of the psychological literature on persuasion before people conclude (a) works, or (b) doesn’t work, etc.

  234. Listrade

    To be honest Steve, I’d take licking a pickle every time. Curved ball tactics work.

    I suppose to demonstrate the “thought experiment” through quoting Phil in #3:

    “You have missed the exact point of the whole post, and indeed all three. When the default reaction to believers is being a jerk, then you throw the baby out with the bathwater…”

    Just who’s default reaction is to be a jerk? Seriously, if that was our default reaction we’d have been smacked about by far too many people before now to be in a position to sit and type without using a stick held in our mouths or blinking eyes. But that’s the only choice we’re given you’re either a jerk or nice and to be honest I resent the accusation that I and my (unspecified)learned commentators don’t have the intelligence or basic ability to adapt depending on the circumstances and that by default we’re all jerks because we don’t see where Phil is comming from.

    Phil, we all have friends who believe stuff we don’t, we’re all able to get along as social beings with other people. You’re not the only sceptic able to form a friendship outside of their immediate circle. I’m sure those you named have experienced some stick at times for their beliefs, well so has everyone at some point. There genuinely are jerks in real life, you will find at some point that your beliefs will get criticised by others.

    So why are we creating a special case for hypersensitive religious people?

  235. This topic hits really close to home for me. I have been a skeptic for a little over 2 years, an atheist for less than a year.
    When the topic of my religious beliefs came up in conversation I reacted as if I were being attacked. As a theist I was unable to separate my beliefs from my identity. I was defensive, deflective and at best vague when I *did* answer. I was never excluded because of my irrational beliefs, but I wasn’t given a free pass either if I wanted to be part of the conversation I had to be open to criticism.
    My attitude didn’t change over night, I am still learning, still irrational, sometimes over emotional and thin skinned but I am not asking for special treatment. I get my feelings hurt, but seriously is it always the fault of the person I’m talking to? Should I demand that my feelings are more important than the truth, rational thinking, and skeptical inquiry?
    I think that is a vital part of “what defines a dick” question. Being thin skinned shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card.

  236. Messier Tidy Upper

    Context & consideration of other people is very important methinks.

    Yes, what constitutes “being a dick” is subjective aand I have to agree with (#) 104. hale-bopp saying :

    Being a dick is a bit like pornography…hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

    & also with (#25) Tom saying :

    Context, self-control and common sense, as in so much of our lives, is probably the key.

    & (#26.) Gobear saying :

    Being a dick to woo-believers isn’t merely counter-productive, or hurtful, but it is also profoundly lazy and anti-intellectual. .. [SNIP] .. Attacking a religious believer by mocking them makes you look like a jerk, reinforces their sense of persecution, and does not in any way deal with the merits of their beliefs. Instead of saying, “You believe in God? What a noob!”, how about saying, “Well, I understand why you believe in God, but here are the reasons that theistic claims really don’t stand up to logical scrutiny,” and then you make your argument. … [SNIP!] Being a smartass is easy; [& can be emotionally satisfying cathariis - ed.] it’s rather more difficult to become a skillful, yet compassionate, debunker of poor logic and bad reasoning. Be kind toward people, yet be ruthless toward woo.

    I have been a dick myself on occassion, mea culpa. I’ve said things then wished I could un-say them. I’m not perfect – I don’t think many, if any of us are.

    However, I do think we are well advised to aim for better conduct and to try and win debates in a way that is most civilised and reasonable rather than by abusing and turning people off. Is that really so very hard for some folks here to understand and accept?

  237. Messier Tidy Upper

    @226. Steve P. Says:

    @222, Messier Tidy Upper : But what you’re saying is trivial. Like others have said in these comments before me (and much better than me), the real argument is in the details, the gray area. Who is using your Argument A? If no one, then why are you saying we shouldn’t use it?

    I think from time to time a lot of us have fallen into the trap of effectively saying A there.

    I think if we reflect some on what we have said and what some respected skeptics and athiest have said you’ll have to agree.

    You really need an example? Okay I’ll give you one subjective one as I see it.

    PZ Meyers using a defiling communion cracker to make a point.

    Now I’m not Catholic myself* and I don’t believe the wafer is literally turned into Jesus either. So, essentially, I’d agree with the idea that PZ has there. But deliberatley and publicly descrating the “cracker” in a way that knowingly hurt and offended and upset a lot of people? That’s being a dick.

    And it makes it harder for all skeptics because people hear about the extreme action of PZ and take it as representative of all skeptics and atheists – they’ll stop listening and their reaction will be “Oh your one of those like that PZ A-hole who did the cracker stunt! Go away – your “type” are too extreme and arrogant and rude.”

    Another example, Dawkins in the God Delusion starting a chapter witha whole spiel of nasty adjectives blasting the OT God. Now again, he had a point – but he also told only half tehstory and ignored the other adjectives. Dawkin’s wasn’t making a logical reasonable case so much as launching a personal rant and rants are not conducive to winning over the unconverted.

    Or on another topic, the BA’s use of “Denier” for “Climate skeptics”. This one may be arguable but again it put off and angered the people who most needed to be won over.

    —–

    * FWIW : I’ve been a Christian and a militant atheist at various times in my life – I was, over adecade ago a Uniting Church regular for a while. I’d now descibe myself as an agnostic. I keep an open mind and am unsure of whether or not God exists – I can see some reasons to believe either possibility.

  238. Drunk Vegan

    It is sad that it actually creates a controversy to say plainly that being a dick to other people is, in fact, wrong. Far too many in our movement are making our case harder and harder to present because they treat anyone who is even a degree outside of the accepted worldview as a leper at best, and a crazy zealot more often. We’re all in this together, and let us not forget that:

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    What about love, and understanding, and embracing your fellow man, and all that lovely hippy crap?

    While our opponents may be shouting, dripping vitriol and hate, and sadly enough, often in the name of God, must we do the same? Can we not show some decorum and common decency? If we sink to that level, and become in effect *zealots of science and reason* we are no better than the most judgmental, willfully ignorant Young Earth Creationist railing against progress.

    Thank you, Mr. Plait, for having the guts to say what most *kind* rational people were already thinking.

  239. Mike

    This gets to the reason I won’t touch the Skeptic “movement” with a ten foot pole. Yes, I’ve become an atheist over the years and do believe in the skeptical principles. The hitch in the git-along is far too many in the “movement” have the manners and exhibit the conduct of a rabid badger with a toothache to anyone whose beliefs are not an exact clone of their own. It’s not the kind of disgusting behavior I care to be associated with and why you’ll never see me attending any skeptical gatherings of any sort.

  240. Is any one else as amused as I am about this whole no-true scottsman/atheist thing going on now? Or how a lot of people can’t figure out what it means to be a dick?

    There are some people here even getting defensive about it, and saying that if Phil can’t lay out an absolute definition of what being a dick is then they’re just going to dismiss it.

    I think some of you might need to spend a little less time on internet message boards.

  241. Phil, speaking as a teacher (astronomy, physics, biophysics) in a rather fundamentalist area of the country… some of us get it. Some of us have gotten it for years, and seen the results. Thanks for stating it to people who don’t, and for people who do.

    It’s not a case for hypersensitive people. It’s called “effective communication” – that simple. I strongly disagree with some of my students assumptions. So I show them evidence. I involve them in a dialog (in class, in public, or in office hours). I don’t alienate them, because then I loose any chance I have at getting them to think rationally.

    It’s about Not Being A Dick. Because, well… how often has anyone responded reasonably to somebody who’s being a dick?

    “Imagine you have a puppy and it makes a mess on the carpet. How can
    you stop it doing so in the future?
    A: Introduce firm, but fair, measures to train the dog to go outside.
    B: Buy construction boots and repeatedly jump on the dog’s head yelling
    “Bad stoopid dawg!””

    Note that B will work just fine – dead dogs rarely make a (new) mess on the carpet. But there might be unintended side effects that are less desirable. Likewise “being a dick” tends to work very well in changing the local environment (you drive out of the conversation people who have different viewpoints). But is that the desired outcome? Have you changed viewpoints… or just polarized and entrenched the conversation?

  242. Thameron

    199. shane Says:
    August 19th, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Why?

    Because with those relationships there is a depth of memory and a degree of reciprocation. There is none of that with Dawkins. The people in that line did not have his cell phone number, and he did not invite them round to tea. They were not his friends. They were just anonymous people standing in a line. They did not really know him. He is essentially a stranger and if you get sentimental at the simple act of a stranger signing something then you have no future in banking.

    Celebrity worship is like god worship that way. Getting a signature isn’t sentimentality its a form of worship. I understand though. The path of the purist is a tough row to hoe and once you go down that road, Countries (and patriotism), Money, and Love all go onto the block. Delusions all. But my point was simply that before you start throwing stones (big sharp stones) at others for their unsupportable beliefs you might want to make sure there is no glass left in your walls.

  243. scgvlmike

    @Dean Burnett: “I like how Phil’s last comment can be summarised as ‘Don’t be a dick, dick’.”

    I’d think it’d be difficult to be a dwarf antelope– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dik-dik

  244. Listrade

    I think some points are being missed here. Those objecting to the speech take issue with some of the conclusions and examples would be helpful in squaring that circle. Since when is it unreasonable to ask for some specifics when someone proposes you’re a dick?

    It isn’t that people are saying it’s good to be a jerk, which seems to be the conclusion of a few here: don’t agree with what Phil said, then you agree being a jerk is OK. Just. Not. So.

    Speaking for myself, I just don’t believe it is as big a problem as is being touted. I can accept there are likely to be isolated cases away from the internet, but what I don’t get is why we take those cases as the basis for labelling (as has been done in the speech) everyone as a dick. What does that achieve if in the vast majority of cases no one actually is being a dick?

    Yes we all say things we regret or word things harshly at times, but I thought that makes me human, not a dick. Nice though to see that I was wrong, I’m just a dick. Phil says our default position is dick, it isn’t for me and it isn’t for the vast, vast majority of people. It may be for a small minority, but then you expect that in any cluster or group. But that’s not the choice I’m given. I have a bad day and snap, I’m a dick. I hear the same statement and woo for the hundredth time in a day and bite back, I’m a dick even though the 99 other times I was measured.

    People are sarcastic and smug on comments sections and forums: they’re dicks. Doesn’t matter that away from there they’re just people who engage normally. Nope they’re all dicks.

    But what’s even better is I’m only dick if I do so against someone who’s religious and even then, not all religious people, just moderates, just abrahamic moderates. It’s ok to be a dick to everyone else.

    See, my view is that while some offense may go on out there, everyone experiences this in some shape or form throughout their lives. Everyone will experience their views being challenged or called to question. Everyone. It can be tough, it can be soul searching, it can be upsetting, but you’re not unique in being questioned and no belief is more special or sacred than any other. If you have a belief that you chose to make public, you should expect at some point that it will be questioned. You should expect that at some point one of those challenges will be made by some boorish firebrand.

    I don’t feel it is anymore a problem than any other human experiences in their lives with [insert belief].

    So: let’s stop with the view that to take issue with Phil’s speech is to be giving carte blanche to people being a dick, it isn’t.

    It’s not unreasonable that some people are asking for proof that this degradation of civility is as common or as significant as is suggested. It’s not unreasonable that people wonder if there actually is proof, not just “well it’s bound to be” that the accommodation of religious views is effective. It’s not unreasonable to question the proposition that only two ways of communicating exist: accommodating and being nice, being a dick.

  245. Messier Tidy Upper

    @228. Michael Meadon Says:

    Thought-experiments are great for philosophy. Not so much for science. What I would rather like to see is a thorough review of the psychological literature on persuasion before people conclude (a) works, or (b) doesn’t work, etc.

    Do we really need to see exhaustive studies before we conclude that if you want to communicate something (anything) to people then insulting them from the very beginning is NOT a good way to start because it makes them less likely to want to listen to you?

    If skepticism is to spread and convince people is it helpful to begin by making it seem that we view them as being dumb and ourselves being much smarter?

    @ 225. Listrade Says:

    Interesting thought experiment MTU. Here’s another similar one … [SNIP] … Of course it seems easy when that’s the only choice. Of course it seems obvious without the glaring question of “Umm who exactly does B?”

    Who exactly? Some notorious atheist spokesfolk like Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ Myers &, I suspect on occassion, most of us – myself included. Those big three I named are, I gather, rightly or wrongly commonly perceived that way at least. They are seen as fundamentalist militant, over-the-top Atheist lobbyists rather than reasonable fair-minded people.

    Now you can argue this is an exxaggerated caricature – & I’d agree to some extent – but I think that’s the stark reality of it. :-(

    Its an easy trap to get angry and respond the wrong way. To express our anger and sentiments in a way that turns people away and makes us seem like the bad guys. Sadly, the fact that this perception may be – indeed often is – incorrect and unfair doesn’t make it any less true.

    People generally, as an observation from life, don’t like those who are considered extremists or those people that appear to shout, rant and express only their side of any issue without taking in any understanding of the other side of the discussion. The folks that get talked to and listened to most effectively are the ones that are polite and that engage in reasonable discussions – and importantly who listen as well as talk.

    The golden rule – Do unto others as ye would be done unto – is deeply ingrained in us and makes good sense as a strategy as well as ethnics because humans *are* social animals and do empathise even with our enemies.

    It does help to consider what the others who disagree with us think and how we may be coming across negatively to them – and then try and take steps to remedy that by coming across less negatively.

    Thus, if we skeptics (& atheists for that matter) are commonly stereotyped as excessively rude, agressive and unwilling to listen then perhaps we would be much better off if we make an extra effort to be more polite, less aggressive or mean and more willing to listen first and then say, “ok I respect you thinking that but have you considered argument X?”

    Do we actually want to communicate with others in society or just be a small isolated echo chamber full of our elite minorities own rudeness, dislike of non-us, and self-congratulation whining about “gee why don’t those stupid people listen to us we’re so clearly right!?” Is that what we want athiest / skeptics to become? Or arguably remain? Remeber that the religious group* polls have consistently rated as the very last choice for US President is “atheist.”

    Is it that unreasonable to think for a second : “Hang on, how will the person I’m talking to feel if I say /do this & why dont I put this slightly more tactfully?” Really?

    I’m not brilliant socially. I’m no angel in this regard myself but that’s what I think for whatever its worth.

    ———–

    * I know some people will now chime in atheisms is NOT a religion. It’s not I agree but it is a belief *about* religion and anyhow arguing this minor nit is really missing the basic point.

  246. Doug from Dougland

    John Sandlin,

    I am sorry for improperly characterizing your beliefs, I was rather frustrated at the time and committed the same dickish behavior that I was admonishing.

    In no way do I agree with your beliefs (that is anytime one redefines “know” as “know for certain” their argument is sure to fail), but I would like to say that I do not believe agnostics (or the religious for that matter, thanks to, you know, being people) cannot be skeptics. In fact, if you read up on it and talk to atheists, you find that functionally all atheists are agnostics. We just think the chance for the existence of a deist deity to be so low it is neglible and the chance for there to be a theist deity (which would actually require evidence) to be 0.

    In fact, I would have to say that admitting one doesn’t know *insert favorite theory* for certain is a requirement of skeptical thinking. It’s the only reason we look for evidence that supports it. Without it, we’d be… well, a religion.

  247. Ken

    does anyone else think 244 comments on this is kind of crazy?

  248. As a slight change of perspective, and more food for thought, allow me to propose a new false dichotomy informal poll:
    Who would you rather debate with: an honest dick, or a polite liar?

  249. JJ(the other one)

    Michael Meadon said “Thought-experiments are great for philosophy. Not so much for science. What I would rather like to see is a thorough review of the psychological literature on persuasion before people conclude (a) works, or (b) doesn’t work, etc.”

    Sort of tangentially related – this appears to be close to the precautionary principle, which skeptics often see invoked/abused in areas where the fundamentals are not well understood by the mainstream.

    Food for thought, just remember how the precautionary principle can be used to effectively (and often dishonestly) steer the debate.

  250. masty

    why would polite people always lie? Is Gandhi a liar? Is Buddha a liar?

    And one more thing is, the blog doesn’t say that you shouldn’t be skeptical about religion it asks should you be a dick about it?

    BTW Deen you provide options that will suit and benefit your purpose and which doesn’t necessarily explore the whole truth and is blind to what others are trying to talk about, which I should point out is a typical behavior exhibited in deeply religious :-) .

  251. Listrade

    @ Messier Tidy Upper Says # 245.

    So: are Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ Myers, et al dicks?

    Their style might not be to everyone’s tastes, but does that make them a dick?

    Consider that the sales record of Dawkins and Hitchens is pretty good. What are the odds everyone of those was an already converted? Their writing may well be blunt and a slap about the face, it may well be offensive to some, but how many of those moderates who picked them up were affected or peaked to read into the area more? We don’t know. But we’re to start off with the assumption it hasn’t had any effect?

    Consider Dawkins has faced decades of public, egregious lies about his area of expertise. Accusations of him lying, accusations that his area of study is one big sham. And he faced all that before he first put pen to paper on the subject of religion. Replace “religion” with Moon Hoax. Consider this blog and the writer’s books.

    Consider Myers has faced the exact same thing. Consider that 99% of Myers posts and writing is a direct reaction to some harmful anti-science (not limited to religion, in fact far from limited to religion) that has been in the media. That the vast majority of times in a personal blog he is analysing (with sarcasm) some harmful public document or policy. He is not launching random attacks. Replace Myers with Plait and consider this blog.

    Consider Hitchens has worked, lived and experienced theocratic areas and seem the harm done by those beliefs and authorities. Consider all the death, degradation, punishment, oppression and poverty he’s seen in the name of religion before he first put pen to paper specifically on the subject. Now also consider some of the comments being made by some moderates and even some accommodationists that Hitchen’s cancer is in some Karma. Now tell me who’s the bigger dick?

    That’s why context is important. Those you mentioned may appear boorish and smug, but they didn’t come out the womb like that (apart from Hitchens, but I still like him). Then also ask if outside of those writings they’re actually that boorish to people in a real context (again probably apart from Hitchens, but he’s like that to anyone)? Do you honestly think that Dawkins doesn’t have friends and family he happily communicates and shares time and company with who aren’t religious? Do you honestly think he’s cast or chased them all away?

    The point is in one aspect of their communication they are brash and direct, some may be offended and so is their right. But to accuse them of being dicks by default? That’s going too far.

  252. Chris

    @57

    Well I think Dawkins (and Myers) makes an excellent point when he says we – atheists, agnostics, etc. – shouldn’t allow religious people to take offence at mere criticism

    This just shows that Dawkins, and I guess you as well, have difficulty understanding that an Agnostic is not a form of atheist. It is not halfway between atheist and theist, it is not fence sitting. Also, Dawkins doesn’t just do mere criticism rather he indulges himself by insulting those who don’t believe as he does and don’t subscribe to scientism.

    As an Agnostic-Theist it galls how self proclaimed intelligent people try to bastardise the language to suit their own political/social agendas. Not withstanding their claims to be skeptics and rational.

    On the believing of unprovable (by scientific methods) things.
    I and many others believe that slavery is wrong.
    It isn’t something that can be proved empirically and given the known history of human civilisations it is a novel belief and still exists under different names (indentured labour is a common form of slavery in modern societies); please feel free to accuse me of cognitive dissonance for holding a non scientifically testable nor rationaly (except given certain pre-suppostions that I may not agree with) supported belief.

    Please don’t try and argue based on morals/ethics that slavery is wrong, they’re just human constructs designed to produced outcomes you would like.
    No argument to preferred outcome allowed and no waffle about a good society or utilitarianism, they’ll be your beliefs as to what is good and perhaps my idea of what is a good society or my utilitarian aims may not match yours. The golden rule (do as you would be done by, rather than those with the gold make the rules) doesn’t count as science and isn’t rational unless your preferred outcomes require it.

    Before you attack the beliefs of others perhaps you should examine your own non scientism based beliefs.

  253. Red

    So are Pamela and Kitty often confronted, face to face, by people shouting at them and calling them horrible names?

    Forgive my incredulity but I’m having a hard time believing that their ‘persecution’ is as vexing as it’s made to seem here, though I admit it could be. Martin Gardner wasn’t treated that way, was he? Could it be that his openness about the irrationality of his faith made his belief a non issue?

    Is it possible that they realize their belief is unjustified and are overly sensitive and defensive about it, to the point that any questions or comments are perceived as attacks? Is it possible most believers feel that way and is the actual cause of the idea of dickishness from skeptics?

    Also, it’s interesting to me that these types of stories are only coming from religious believers. Granted, I don’t have a large sample set but Phil hasn’t mentioned anyone in tears over his speech because his belief in the Loch Ness Monster has caused him to be the recipient of much dickish behavior. This is one bit of information that makes me think believers share in the guilt in the perception of dicks.

  254. Does anyone else see the irony in all of this? I saw Phil’s talk at TAM8 and was impressed and inspired by the talk. And then this fire storm erupts and I find myself saying “Did those folks see the same talk that I did?” I just replayed the tape in the original post and that was indeed the talk that I remember attending. So how does one explain most of this above? It’s obvious to me now! Phil Plait must have an evil twin who has produced and posted an evil alternate version of the ‘Don’t Be A Dick’ talk and is somehow able to redirect most of the commenters to his version. For some unknown reason, I am unable to locate this evil alternate version.

    All kidding aside. The irony of the situation is that Phil Plait has given a talk that is one of the major components of any course on effective communication, and a lot of people have completely misunderstood what he was saying. Communication between people is not easy. We communicate with people all of the time, but often (mostly?) we do it very badly. For example; can you think of a single episode of the sitcom ‘Friends’ or any of Shakespeare’s comedies where the entire plot would not simply evaporate if the characters ever learned to communicate effectively? Those characters are forever getting the wrong end of the stick and running with it.

    Perhaps Phil should have given a talk covering the section of effective communication called ‘Active Listening’ directly before his “Don’t Be A Dick” talk. I will be greatly surprised if this whole episode does not become a case study in many an ‘Effective Communication’ course of the future.

  255. JeremyS

    @ 35
    “But does merely, say, having an argument with them count as ‘being a dick’? Does firmly, but politely, saying “you’re wrong because a, b and c” count as ‘being a dick’?”

    Most people would take it personal if you come out and say “you’re wrong”, even if you provide supporting evidence. A more productive debate/discussion with someone would be restricted to “here’s why I don’t believe”, listening to why they do, and then providing alternative rational explanations for the reasons they might have. The minute you come out and say ‘you’re wrong’ you are starting to tread on dick territory imo. You can politely and respectfully rebut the viewpoints, but just leave anything directed at the individual out of the discussion or you risk turning them off.

  256. Well Phil, for what it’s worth, the “The Stupid, It Burns” guy is behind you on this. I haven’t blogged about atheist or skeptical stuff in quite some time, but this got me wound up enough to have a go at it.

    http://www.plognark.com/node/10803

  257. @255 / John Woolley:

    Trust me, the irony isn’t lost on *all* of us ^__^

  258. JeremyS

    @ 254, A majority of the problem occurs on the internet. Athiests can be down right ridiculously aggressive, and the internet being such a vital platform of communication, that behavior gives athiests a bad reputation. It’s probably relatively rare for a believer to be verbally assaulted face to face, but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem, considering the importance of the internet these days.

    Religion is the specific example Phil used, but the topic is not specific to religion in any way. If you attack believers personally over beliefs they still hold, whether or not they are skeptic of other topics, you risk being a dick, shutting them down to anything you are trying to say, and alienating them and others who might otherwise listen to rational rebuttals of points while remaining respectful of the person.

    Build your points on evidence, rebut theirs on evidence. I’d say don’t personalize anything. Even something as simple as ‘you’re wrong’ is likely to put many people on the defensive, however politely you say it. Instead stuff like ‘that has been shown to actually be the result of x’, or ‘have you considered x’. I’ve found that turning counter points into questions is a decent way to keep someone engaged and get them thinking about things a bit from your point of view. It also allows you to root out a bit where in their logical thinking is breaking down.

    Some people get offended at the mere discussion of alternate views of their own. There isn’t a lot of point in debating those types of people. You will know them when you see them. Just skip over them in the forums or whatever. Concentrate on the people willing to actively engage the discussions.

  259. Red

    I’ve seen a few people say things like ‘being a dick hurts our cause’ or ‘ridicule isn’t helping us’. I want to know how they know this. What actual evidence is there that these kinds of statements are correct? Because to me, it sounds a lot like the unscientific reasoning we hear from believers.

    Also, is our goal really the personal deconversion of every type of believer in the world. And more importantly, should it be? I don’t think so.

  260. David

    Dawkins is arrogant and insulting to religious people? could you perhaps point me to where? because I have seen countless videos of him and read all of his books and he comes across as extremely reasonable to me. I have watched him talk to people that would simply make my head explode and calmly explain to them why it is he disagrees. I keep hearing people say he foams at the mouth and that hes a raving dick sometimes, really? I would LOVE to see him just go off on some of the people he talks to, could someone please provide a link because I REALLY want to see it.

    This is not a request for out of context quotes from any of his writing however. If you have a quote please provide the source.

  261. Jens

    Looks like the believers in religion, quackery and pseudoscience have won an important victory by driving a wedge into the sceptics community.

  262. @Masty in #251: what did you think “false dichotomy” means? Why do you think I included these words (even though it was in strike-through font)? Think about it.

  263. Listrade

    @ John Woolley #255

    Actually John, if Phil had given a talk based on “Effective Communication” instead of claiming everyone is a dick, it might have got a better response.

    As would employing active listening when people ask for examples of dick-like behaviour or even disagree with his proposition rather than glib retorts.

    Instead it was a black and white accusation that you’re either a dick or nice. Nothing grey, no context, just that. Oh except humour, that’s ok, but then plenty of people are offended by humour, so is it just jokes Phil finds funny? And except for Penn, people find him very aggressive and intimidating, but Phil likes him so he’s not a dick. And as long as you’re only talking to moderates.

  264. masty

    @Deen
    Sorry I missed that, please ignore my post.

  265. David

    @259 You haven’t said anything that people are disagreeing with. What skeptics open their argument with ” First off your a moron”? I have a list of a dozen or so sites I read on a regular basis probably the same ones many here read regularly. I could scan back as far as their archives go and not find a single instance of skeptics opening with insults. (perhaps on reddit or fark but I don’t consider those to be skeptic or atheist sites)

    I don’t disagree with Phil saying we shouldn’t be dicks all the time or even on a regular basis, What I disagree with is that its somehow the standard tactic of skeptics to believers. I’m not trying to be obtuse or argumentative but I just don’t see it. I will admit I do not attend TAM meetings or any skeptic meetings. So I honestly don’t know if skeptics are running around being dicks there. My assumption is that they are not and without some evidence to the contrary I will continue to assume that.

    As for PZ and crackergate several times now it was cited as an example of being a dick here, not once was it put in context by those citing it. Crackergate was a response to catholics making DEATH threats to a kid who mishandled a dried piece of bread. was it dickish? I suppose it may have been, was it necessary? I think it was, but opinions vary.

  266. Red

    Jeremy

    If this is all stemming from comments on the internet, it’s much ado about nothing. The internet =/= real life. There are dicks on both sides on the internet and if that’s really the problem someone is having, I don’t think it requires a 30 minute speech at TAM to handle it.

    And while I agree that religion is very much like other woo, we don’t seem to get that upset when belief in pyramid power is ridiculed.

  267. Matt

    Bravo Phil,

    Its about time more people realised that being a dick is just as much a turn off to Skeptisism as ‘ramming the gospel down peoples throats’ is a turn off to Christianity.

    So what if people have some odd beliefs. I have friends who believe in stuff that is frankly laughable. However, is it really worth losing a friendship over? Not at all.

    That doesn’t mean everything should be respected, just be respectful of the person when challenging their beliefs.

    respect works boths ways, if the person with the odd beleifs feels respected, then they will be more likely to respect you back and that means you are more likely to make an impact on their beleifs.

    I know this from personal experience. 4 years ago I was a creationist, now I accept that a lot that I believed was utter tosh. Being shouted at and called all sorts of names did more to hinder than help.

    If ridiculing helped people to learn the truth, then surely teachers would be encouraged to use it, would they not?

  268. Blaze Morgan

    To join in with Tim McCormley #11, Elwood P Dowd has the gist of it. I’d suggest, rather than “smart” OR “pleasant”, it should be “pleasant first, but keep smart in your pocket for easy access”.

    What burns the pleasant out of me is the quirky tribal reflex of humans. Banding together against the dark outside the cave. Pigeonholing and labeling.

    Atheism is not my “belief system”. I do not belong to the “Atheism Alliance”. I was totally unaware that a person could leave the “Skeptical Community”. (Do they lose their parking space?) I consider these conditions to be the normal operating function state of a human being. I don’t consider them special cases any more than I feel myself a member of the Amalgamated Union of Water Drinkers or Loyal Fraternity of Oxygen Inhalers. I guess when all the theists are wearing their gang colours, they can’t help but look for my gang. I’m just always surprised when non-theists and skeptic types start flashing gang sign.

  269. Teshi

    I have pretty complex views on this issue. Like many people, I find PZ Myers rude and occaisionally dickish but not always entirely unwarranted.

    However, I myself have always striven to be polite to people who have different beliefs to me. People have often expressed surprise that I am an atheist and a skeptic because there is this stereotype that atheists and skeptics are male, outspoken about their beliefs and relatively caustic. I am none of these things.

    I think we ought to have the majority of our group– including the prominent ones– be polite and relatively quiet because people need to know that they can be themselves-but-atheist. You don’t have to be male, outspoken about your beliefs or relatively caustic in order to be skeptical and atheist; you can be yourself, but skeptical and atheist.

    I think this is important, because many people identify more with Phil Plait-type being than with PZ Myers-type being. Both are fine– PZ is rarely, if ever, apallingly dickish– but Phil is more like how most people want to go about being atheist.

    We have to get to a point where the vast number of religious atheist can be like the vast number of religious people who are relatively quiet about their religion: becasue that’s standard human operating procedure. And think: if the only atheist you know you know (someone talked above about how many people “think they dont’ kjnow any atheists… it’s true) is the dick who constantly laughs in your face, why would you want to be an atheist even if you’re having doubts about what the priest goes on about?

    It IS about image: every dis-organization, including ours, generates an image that plays out in the minds of our opposition. And in our case, it’s about diversity of image– let’s allow ourselves to have fuzzy edges and a spectrum of viewpoints and show the world that, in fact, you can be PZ Myers or you can be Phil Plait or any person in between and we may disagree but we can be tolerant.

    Going off in a huff because Phil Plait, who does wonderful work and provides interesting scientific commentary, has said he would prefer if people didn’t insult every person who doesn’t agree 100% with them and imply they lack intelligence… that seems like a bad idea. If you can’t accept Phil, who agrees with you 100% except for method of delivery, how can you possibly accept a new atheist or skeptic who’s just finding their feet?

  270. Brian

    Well done Phil!

    You’ve obviously struck a nerve with some of the most insidious dicks of all: the fundamentalist skeptic.

  271. Somite

    This is how you do this. You can skip to the 7 min mark or watch the whole documentary. No condescension, just facts:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KNk6wNQjSU&feature=related

  272. Crazy Joe Malloy

    If someone had told me this morning that I would read an article on Discover that (including comments) had used the word “dick” at least 285 times I would’ve been highly skeptical (ha!) of that. Nevertheless it happened right before my eyes.

    As was mentioned already by Ethyachk (46) you’ve hit on quite a nerve here Phil. It’s kind of incredible to watch the opinions and debates churn out here in the comments. I would have to say that I generally agree with your position, though I might refine the mantra (if one may call it that) to be:

    “Don’t be a dick, unless you have no other choice”

    A sledgehammer is every bit as effective as a flyswatter when it comes to killing mosquitoes, though you tend to create an enormous amount of collateral damage with the hammer. You will eventually succeed, but not before you’ve destroyed pretty much every wall in the house. The same way, I’m sure, screaming at and/or berating people will _eventually_ get them to concede to your ideas, but for every one you…”convert” how many potentials have you lost?

    I’m of the opinion that “Being a dick” *is* a viable option as long as it’s your last resort. I’m forced to wonder though, if it comes to that has the effort on this person been in vain? The hardcore believers in any type of pseudo-science or religion are pretty much unreachable, they aren’t open to the idea of listening to you – regardless of your tactic.

    People will defend things they care about – so when you *attack* any of these things you immediately force them into a defensive position – you aren’t someone to be listened to anymore, you’re a threat – you’re the enemy. Arguably, once you’re in that position you’ve already lost, it’s a war of ideological attrition at that point…have fun!

    This is going to be a slow grind, and it takes time for people to question things they hold dear, especially things like religion. I’ve seen a number of comments here stating that religion shouldn’t be treated any differently than things like UFOs and homeopathy, etc.

    While I agree in principle with this notion, the reality is that no one has ever gone to war over the idea of UFOs.

    When was the last time a band of homeopaths got together and raided a hospital, slaughtering all the doctors and nurses because they were “wrong”?

    Doesn’t happen.

    Countries don’t get invaded on account of “the moon hoax”.

    Your stance on Global Warming/Climate Change doesn’t affect where you go in “the afterlife”.

    Religion, however, is a different story isn’t it? It’s for reasons like that (in my opinion) religion gets a bit of a break. When you’re challenging beliefs that run _that_ deep you have to be careful and patient. It’s a matter of scale, some beliefs are small, others are huge, react accordingly.

    You hit the nail on the head when you talked about losing your faith gradually, whatever that faith may have been – all that programming when you’re young is hard to undo, and the longer it’s there the harder it is to get rid of.

    Anyway, this has run on longer than intended – thanks for the speech and the discussion.

  273. @245 Listrade

    I think some points are being missed here. Those objecting to the speech take issue with some of the conclusions and examples would be helpful in squaring that circle. Since when is it unreasonable to ask for some specifics when someone proposes you’re a dick?

    People have interpreted our critique of the speech as a sign that we disagree with the speech’s message. Actually, I don’t know whether I agree or not—it depends on where Phil (not other people, but Phil—you know, the guy who gave the speech) draws the line on what is and is not being a dick. Extreme examples will always be “common sense,” but where is the line? Examples would go a long way toward bringing that line into focus. That’s ALL I’m saying.

    Anyone who has done a lot of public speaking probably saw right away what the chief weakness of the speech was—the lack of specific examples. If Phil had workshopped the talk in my speech class, I would have said “Fantastic speech, Phil—A+! But, you know, I think it would really benefit from a couple well-chosen specific examples. Anyway, something to think about. Nice work…”

    I’ll ask the question I asked a couple of threads ago: Strictly as a matter of speechwriting, is there anyone who thinks that the utter lack of specific examples was a strength of the speech?

  274. Mr Sitouh

    @Andy – I would consider the lack of specific examples a strength, personally. Being a dick varies from situation to situation, and hopefully we’re adults enough to know when we’ve crossed that line in a given situation. The arguments I’ve had with my roommate about AGW (complete with mock-hairtearing and relentless mocking of each other) are totally fine for the two of us, but would be utterly inappropriate for discussing, say, creationist beliefs with someone I’ve just met.

    I’ll be honest – the fact that so many people here have been asking for definitions on what it means to be a dick in these comments has had me wanting to go pound my head on a wall. We’re all grownups here – use your judgement, listen to others around you who you trust to tell you when your judgement fails, and when in doubt, don’t. It’s not that hard, really.

  275. Japhy

    I love SGU, but I’ll always remember one podcast I was listening to in the car with my Christian wife and they crossed the line of dickness. I don’t remember specifically what they said, but christian = douchebag was the theme and they kept going on laughing it up. What I do remember specifically during that long cringe inducing moment, was feeling terrible for subjecting my wife to that.
    I don’t think any less of the SGU folks, I think that they are good people, but I agree with Phil that it’s better to be inclusive, argue specific points, and treat people with dignity and respect for their ideas, no matter how crazy they are. Unless the person is doing direct harm to others by pushing physically harmful woo or taking money, be nice when you can. Not everyone is as enlightened as you.

  276. Stevel

    I wonder how comfortable Socrates would be with the Skeptical Movement.

  277. JRB

    @ 275 Mr Sitouh,

    We all know when WE think we’ve crossed the line by our OWN standards of dickishness, but truth be told, I rarely see members of organized skeptics crossing the line into what I consider dick behaviour — at least not any more than I’d expect to see in any large and diverse group of people.

    Others clearly disagree with that assessment but by my own standards of dick behaviour, either Phil is talking about something that is neither rampant in, nor unique to, organized skepticism or he is using a different scale of dick behaviour. Because he hasn’t listed any specific examples (either real or hypothetical) I don’t know which one is the case.

  278. bronxbee

    while adamant and unsupported ideas of all types should be questioned — including religious beliefs, which have a sliding scale from insane to mildly spiritual — it should be kept in mind that the road to skepticism and/or rationality is not always smooth, and often there is no one blinding moment of clarity where religious beliefs finally slip away, like shedding a skin or an old bathrobe. it often takes years of thinking, discussion and reading and examination for one to leave behind ingrained or cherised ideas, traditions and rituals. i know this from experience. spirituality does not always mean irrationality either. and many of science’s first advocates were people in religious orders. the old saying “you catch more flies with honey” comes to mind… mocking and nastiness towards those with a religious bent, who still come to skeptical inquiry, is not the way to win them over to our side. feed them cookies, logic and openness.

  279. Listrade

    @ Andy 274

    That’s where I am. As a state of the nation address, I agree with speech in that we do need to evaluate what we’re doing. As a call to arms, as such, again agree, we do need to consider goals and actions.

    In fact take out that first proposition relating boorish Internet jerks to shouting in people’s faces and again I agree.

    I don’t agree the hubris is as big a concern or issue as portrayed and I don’t agree there are special cases for protection from bluntness. I don’t agree we’re in business of converting anyone, you can only get there yourself.

    But the speech was started on the basis of people being dicks, so all the good stuff that came after is in that context. To justify that and to prevent those named in the comments from being tainted as being dicks, we need the specifics…

  280. Heather

    The add that goes with this post on Google Reader is for contacting a live psychic now! Very sad.

  281. @Crazy Joe Malloy

    That’s a great response! I tend to agree with a lot of what you said, however, I do have a slightly differing perspective, especially considering that I’d probably fall into the “hardcore believer” Category.

    For starters, you’re right for the most part about people of faith getting defensive when you come across as “attacking” that faith. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say that maybe as much as 80% of the people you’ll find in your average church, synagogue, or what have you know enough to simply follow the religion, but not enough to really rationally think about their faith when the hard questions get asked. These folks, the vast majority, do get defensive, and when that happens, a debate with them invariable involves poor references to pseudoscientists, or a more Tommy Boy-esque spouting off sentence fragments and setting things on fire.

    However, I’d like to think that there are others who, like myself, are not only open to a discussion on the hard topics of faith, but they welcome it. I’m not saying I’m perfect at this, and I openly admit that I do struggle not to switch into defensive mode, especially when dealing with the “dicks” out there, but I’m a big fan of knowledge and learning, and if someone has a perspective to offer that I haven’t heard yet, I gladly welcome it.

    The only caveat to that is that it’s important to remember that, especially in topics such as the existence of a deity, a straight science-on-science debate just won’t work. If you go from a solely scientific stance, the consensus both parties would invariably come to during a fair debate is one of agnosticism, since it’s impossible to either prove or disprove God. You CAN have some really thought provoking debates if you dip into the realms of philosophy, but I’ve discovered that when you start mixing philosophical and scientific conversations, it’s easy to start flying overboard and dip into the dickishness Phil’s talking about.

    I also agree with your thoughts on organized religion to an extent. While it’s easy to look at religious extremists, be they the Crusaders of the middle ages or the Taliban of the 21st Century, you have to keep in mind that not every Christian was a pillaging Crusader, just as every Muslim isn’t planning attacks on America. Throughout the ages, there have always been believers who understood that violence and aggression that seem to follow many organized religions weren’t the real teachings of their faith. I mean, look at Jesus Himself – he often spoke against the organized religion of the day, so it could be argued from a theological perspective that even God agrees with your point. At the same time I want to issue that reminder not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there have been many atrocities in the name of religion, but that doesn’t mean that all people of faith have backed these actions.

    As usual, I’ve written a novel when I set out to scribble a sticky note. My apologies for running long. There’s more I’d like to say, but I’ll cut this short here. The bottom line is that scientists and skeptics don’t need to look at Christians as “the enemy”. Many of us are willing and ready to get along towards a better future.

  282. grung0r

    @ Rachel 222:

    I am not going to to reply to anything after this or even read this comment thread, because it’s really starting to tick me off, and it’s not worth the aggravation to argue with someone on the internet.

    Can we include ‘writing a long reply to someone attacking their postion and then refusing to respond or even read any subsequent reply’s under the definition of “being a dick”?

    I don’t think I’m the Pope of Skepticism who gets to excommunicate people from our hallowed order.

    If you think that claiming someone is not a skeptic is the same as the pope excommunicating someone is an apt analogy….well, then I think you DO think you are the pope of skepticism. Imagine a person who is skeptical about astrology, but goes to Brazil to get psychic surgery, takes 40 homeopathic concoctions a day, uses a tarot card reader, etc. Is this person a skeptic? I say no. I would wager you would too.

    People have asked for examples. Examples have been given. Examples have now been dismissed out of hand, because they’re not sufficiently specific, or because they’re not sufficiently numerous

    The examples have been all over the map. I think there is a guy in the other thread who thinks believing in the scientific method makes you a dick. That is why we need the person who gave the speech to give an example so that we have a benchmark to compare all our other examples to(at this late hour, it is clear that will not happen).

    I know I sure have a hard time keeping my mouth shut about being an atheist when I’m sick and tired of a group around me making the assumption that everyone must be automatically Christian

    Me too. But if I open my mouth about it, I expect I have to defend my position. “Hey, I’m an atheist(or Christian), so STFU” seems like the ultimate in dickietry to me.

    Everyone acts as if this is solely about religion. It’s not.
    people have been talking about religion because the people Phil says he was defending are religious. If he had instead defending the members of the skeptic community who believe is psychic surgery, then that would presumably be the topic.

    Have fun offhandedly dismissing my points.

    I don’t think I did the former. But since you aren’t going to read it, I guess everyone else will have to be the judge.

  283. Steven Jackson

    I did not read through all the responses here, but I wonder if Sam Harris is privy to this information? As a devoted atheist, I find his behavior childish at times (such as when he and Susan Jacoby went back and forth about faith, etc.). Good work, Phil.

  284. InAVat

    It’s shocking to me how many people do not understand the concept of not being a dick. It’s not really a difficult concept. It’s also not a concept that’s specific to the skepticism/faith debate. It’s a shame to me that so many people with beliefs similar to mine discredit the movement by having such poor social skills.

    First of all, it’s not your job to convince any random person of anything. Let’s say you you’re invited to a dinner to which other people you don’t know are invited, and in the course of conversation it’s revealed that one person is of an opposing political party to your own (let’s say you’re a Democrat, he’s a Republican). Do you shout insults at him? Do you ridicule him? Is it even your place to strike up an argument to convince the Republican of why he should switch parties? Can’t you just have a conversation with him like a normal person about things?

    No one is saying you should hide your beliefs, should they come up. People with a certain level of social skills are perfectly capable of using phrases like “Well, I happen to disagree that blahblahblah, but… ” and continue on with their intelligent conversation.

    By all means, take up the flag and argue against stupid ideas. But doing so should not involve going around calling people stupid.

    On an entirely separate point, I’d like to urge people to save their arguments for logical subjects — that is, ones that can be resolved. There is absolutely no point in arguing a topic which has nothing to do with logic, and one of those topics is belief in god.

    You can no more prove that there is no god than a deist can prove there is. Occam’s Razor is a heuristic, it’s not a logical principle. Stop using it as a premise. I use Occam’s Razor to back my weak atheism, but I’m aware of the logical leap there. Occam’s Razor is a rule-of-thumb that makes sense to me in certain cases in which logical is of no help. To others the idea that there probably is a higher power might make more sense. To have an argument about which is right is like trying to have a duel to the death with cooked spaghetti noodles.

  285. EdF

    Thank you, as a Christian who falls into the apparently huge camp so many others do (belief in God but inline with everything else skeptical), I do thank you.

  286. Michael Swanson

    I think I’ve seen you mention, Phil, that you read every comment. Sucks to be you today.
    :)

  287. Jud

    Torbjorn Larsson writes: And as skeptics, statistics from education and science, and important case study examples (suffragettes, blacks, gays), tell us outspokenness and honesty is that for growing minority views.

    Being for one’s own position has far less potential for being objectionable than being against the position of the person on the other side of a dialogue. Yes, to a great extent this is semantics, but we humans are generally pretty good at picking up on nuances. Discussions can be friendly and respectful, or they can devolve into heated arguments, even unreasoning insults. I tend to prefer the former in general, though I’m certainly no saint and can be provoked into bursts of mockery by sanctimony, religious or otherwise.

    My best friend growing up is now an astrophysicist frequently published in leading journals, who’s had experiments on Hubble. He’s also a believing Christian, though for him this takes the form almost exclusively of spending his time and money on materially improving the lives of those less financially well-off, and of being impeccably kind and courteous. (I spent hours nearly every day for six years with him, and literally cannot recall him saying a single negative thing about another human being.) IMO, concentrating on his belief in something I consider to be a figment, rather than on his entire personality, intelligence, and accomplishments, would be a great and sad waste.

  288. Jason

    Don’t be a dick…
    or
    Treat those around you as you wish to be treated.

    Why are “Examples” needed for that bit of advice? How hard is it to understand to treat everyone around you as a valuable and functioning Human being?

    Is it easy? In some cases Its not. I have been guilty of failing more than I care to admit. But we should treat those who seem to deserve it the least that way most of all. Responding in kind only escalates the emotion and rhetoric and deflates the discourse.

  289. EdF

    Let me also add one more thing that I’m pretty sure will ignite some fierce responses. But, oh well. First, I think there is a HUGE difference between your average believer in a god (Christian, Muslin, etc.) and people who believe in a young earth, anti-vaxers, and all the other people that are usually railed against. One insult I commonly get from skeptics is lumping in anyone who believes in God with the same people who are trying to teach creationism or ID in our schools, you are WAY off base there.

    I have read in these comments several times things to the effect that if the skeptic community accepts people who believe in a god (even if the rest of the beliefs are inline), why not the antivax and others not be afforded the same privilege.

    And here is where my controversial opinion begins. I’ve read in other skeptics forums that religion should not be given a special status (an exemption status) within the skeptical community. That it should be treated as harshly as any of the other ideas the skeptical community is against. Well, I disagree. We are human, and religion is a major part of the majority of the planet’s way of life. Moderate religions such as the older established Christian religions (the only ones I’m familiar with)) have no problems with applying the scientific method to any part of our world and our lives. Even to their own religion, though in the end it will rely on faith of course.

    But in my opinion, if a special case is not made for a moderate religious belief in skepticism, then one of three things will happen the way I see it.

    1) Things continue as is, and a silent and rather large group of skeptics keep their mouth shut and put up with the status quo.

    2) Skeptics with moderate religious faith leave the movement, purifying the skeptic community (much the way our two political parties in the US are seeking to purify themselves.)

    3) A schism in the skeptic movement, perhaps establishing a parallel skeptic society that makes a special case for religion.

    A sense that underlying a lot of people’s objections to not being a dick, is their fundamental belief that religion does not deserve special status and should be treated as hostile as anything else.

    While I disagree, I can understand that sentiment. But I will say again, I believe in God and I believe in the Big Bang, I vaccinate my child, and I actively argue with other christians that think humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. My only question is, do you want me in your society or not? You’re not going to change my mind on God, I know it may be irrational, but I don’t want to hear it anymore. Not that I’m closed off to a challenge, I’m just tired of it. This isn’t the first, or hundredth time. At some point you’re just badgering the witness.

  290. Don’t be a dick…
    or
    Treat those around you as you wish to be treated.

    What can you do? Obviously some people have to grapple with the concept. You know what? I’m done with the efficacy argument because people are really keen on purposefully convoluting the matter- can we just have an ethic about not being jerks? I know it’s one of those quaint fuzzy things that logic doesn’t enter into, and Skeptics aren’t actually permitted to be human beings or anything. But can we do that? Can we agree on an affect if nothing else? If for no other reasons than those similar to why we arrange our appearance before heading out the door?

  291. grung0r

    Jason
    Treat those around you as you wish to be treated.

    What if your a masochist?

    This applies more directly to skepticism then you may think. Skeptics, In general, would want to know if they hold an irrational belief, even if that belief is something they hold near and dear. The wooish and religious do not want know the faults in their thinking.

    I’m not arguing that somebody should point out every irrational belief another person holds. That’s just silly. But to think that skeptical discourse can be governed by something so simplistic and flawed as the golden rule is absurd. If it could, wouldn’t Phil’s entire speech have consisted of a single sentence?

  292. viggen

    I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time. I even wrote a complicated response trying to pull together all my thoughts and reconsidered posting it.

    Perhaps the most important thing is that the Skeptical movement must never become fundamentalist, as described in a timely post I found in Pharyngula today. Guilting people into hiding is the first step toward that.

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

    I have a lot of other feelings about what Phil wrote, but I think this is the most important grain.

  293. Doug from Dougland

    Edf,

    I disagree that not giving religion special treatment means treating it as something the community is against. Not giving religion special treatment simply means requiring religion to back up its claims with evidence and to expect its ideas to be questioned if brought forward. The same as a political ideaology or any other hypothesis about teh way the world works. The problem is, religion has been sacred calf for so long, the very act of questioning it seems like an unnecessarily harsh and unjust attack to many of its followers.

    The whole point of the skeptical movement and community in general is that no idea is sacred and all must be backed up by evidence and questioned. If it doesn’t stand up to even the basic rules of evidence and questioning it should be discarded. This doesn’t mean ridicule the followers and it doesn’t mean, as Phil puts it, be a dick; but it DOES mean that if you want to tell people that God exists you have to back it up. If you can’t, it’s up to you to live with the cognitive dissonance but it’s extremely unfair to expect others to respect your opinion, and if you cannot separate attacks on your ideas from attacks on yourself; simply don’t put forth the assertions you know you cannot support. And in a room full of skeptics, God, the soul and the afterlife have never been properly supported. It doesn’t mean you have to be an atheist agnostic or whatever, and it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. But it does mean you have to keep in mind the point you’re presenting and not be upset if you bring it up and cannot defend it. Obviously it doesn’t give the atheists the right to be a dick, but it doesn’t give you the right to not be offended either.

    Living skeptically and being in the movement is a difficult thing, and I wouldn’t expect a large and diverse group of people to all think the same. I also know that people can believe in God and still be skeptics (I sure used to). It’s not about groupthink and it’s not about pressuring people to be quiet, it’s about requiring evidence to support assertions and perserving logical argumentation in good faith. But living skeptically is a discipline, a rather young one, that hinges on the idea that every idea is ammenable to criticism (not everybody has to listen to the criticism, or agree with it, but the opportunity has to be there). Take that away and the discipline is meaningless.

  294. David

    I’m actually about done. The only conclusion I can draw at this point is that the speech was just tone trolling. Reminds me of high school when one of the girls I used to hang out with would play the martyr causing a huge drama over some imagined slight. There would always be someone to champion her cause even if it was imaginary. If you asked for specifics of the slight or pointed out she was actually being unreasonable you became the “bad guy”.

    If I go by the three threads on this subject the “dicks” causing the trouble are:

    PZ Meyers
    Richard Dawkins
    Sam Harris
    Christopher Hitchens
    The Tenth circuit court of appeals
    Anyone who doesnt like crosses on public property
    the commenters on reddit
    The commenters on youtube
    The commenters on pharyngula
    Anyone who believes in the scientific method? (yeah im pushing it here but it actually was claimed)

    Did I miss any? I’m sure I have.

    While there may have been a few people defending being a dick now and then that actually wasn’t anyones main problem with the speech, to claim it is is dishonest which at least a dozen people here have done and just keep repeating. All anyone has wanted was a simple definition of what behavior he considers being a dick and to point out who is doing it (in general who, not specific who).

    I gathered from the video it was something like getting in someones face screaming and name calling but since this is such a ridiculous strawman, I assumed it was only a small part of what he meant as pretty much no one does that.

  295. David

    Sorry double post

  296. JRB

    @283 Jason,

    Examples are needed because some people are really into S&M. And if those people went around treating everyone as they themselves wished to be treated, they’d probably spend a lot of time in jail.

    The real Golden Rule (I believe I’m butchering a George Carlin bit here) should be: Treat those around you as THEY want to be treated – something that’s just not always possible when it comes to something like skepticism.

    The very nature of skepticism is going to offend a lot of people, as it tends to target deeply held beliefs (as Phil sort of says at the start of his talk). If I go to a skeptics meeting and start talking about faeries and all the reasons I don’t think they exist, I’m not going to stop just because someone says “Oh, I believe in fairies.” I won’t call them an idiot. I’ll certainly do my best not to “get in their face”, and I’m all for engaging them in conversation, but if the (well grounded and expressed) idea that believing in faeries is silly hurts their feelings, or makes them feel unwelcome, then perhaps skepticism isn’t for them.

    The simple fact is that if we start making exceptions for things like religion (to use the examples Phil has up at the top of this post) then why not for faeries, or homeopaths, or moon hoaxers? If your goal is just to get as many people as possible to call themselves skeptics , then sure, why not. But if our actual goal is to encourage critical thinking then we can’t be allowed sacred cows.

    If people want to hold irrational beliefs based on faith, that’s fine (I’m sure there are several I hold that people would think of that way), but then expect to have them challenged – otherwise we are skeptics in name only.

    And again, I’m not advocating name calling, or picking random arguments in the street with little old ladies. But if you define “not being a dick” as never offending, challenging, or (unintentionally) insulting someone — which some of the posters clearly do – then I don’t think that position is compatible with organized skepticism.

  297. Robert

    Phil, it seems like you would like skeptics to be more focused on the goal of getting people to be more skeptical by taking a more gentle approach. If that is your goal then you really should have taken your own advice and not gone with “don’t be a dick” since it seems that you believe this approach would have a better outcome.

    I think it comes down to “attack the idea, not the person” (replace attack with a less aggressive term if you find that term too aggressive though I highly suspect everyone would use the term attack for subjects they feel strongly about… antivaxers or moon landing hoaxers anyone?).

    Lots of people want to feel like they belong within their social circles and I personally believe that you in some way gave hope to or validated the beliefs of those two women you mention that were crying in regards to their social circle. They both have beliefs that are not skeptical as it is likely defined by the group and feel ostracized by this group that defines itself by its skepticism. I don’t know the circumstances of their experiences of skeptics being “rude, boorish, insulting, and dismissive” toward them but I can say being “dismissive” towards a claim that lacks evidence / has no evidence / has strong evidence to the contrary is more often valid than not and being “rude, boorish, insulting” towards a belief that lacks evidence / has no evidence / has strong evidence to the contrary especially when it is repeated by someone that claims to be a skeptic (contradiction!) can be called for.

    Also, how is it not being at least a tad jerkish when you belong to a group in which you don’t hold all of the same beliefs and then feel the beliefs you hold that are contrary should be accepted? I personally would expect that I would be called on those beliefs! In the case of the one person that spoke “up against psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest” there are groups that focus on those areas. If a general skeptics group teamed up with a group that spoke out “against psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest” that also believed in some sort of deity or religion in order to combat the common things they didn’t believe in and the general skeptics group were to harass the other group for their belief in some sort of deity or religion then I would wholeheartedly agree they were being jerks. So, why isn’t the other case where a person chooses to join a group that obviously doesn’t have the same beliefs as them and then expects to be accepted when they have those beliefs that go against the purpose of the group (skepticism) not being a jerk?

    I personally believe that being more inclusive is not a goal especially since there are other groups for the people that don’t have the same beliefs of the more generalized skeptics group. If you are looking to have more affect when combating those specific beliefs you called out such as “psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest” these other groups can often have more of an affect since they specialize in combating those beliefs. Then again, skepticism could be looked upon as a religious or political movement where getting more members is at the very least a primary goal. I wouldn’t be a member of such a group as it relates to skepticism though I would stand by them on specific issues.

  298. Joey Joe Joe

    There are two sides to this issue: Those who agree with Phil and those who don’t.

    Phil seems to be listening intently to one side, and completely ignoring the other.

    I wonder why that is?

  299. grung0r

    Phil seems to be listening intently to one side, and completely ignoring the other.

    Is Phil responding to anything anyone has said regardless of their “side”? He seems just as content to let people assert that being a dick entails suing to protect the establishment clause or believing in the scientific method as he has to let every criticism go unanswered, Maybe he’ll only answer if we have a blog with a certain number of hits per month. It would fit with the from down on high tone of the whole thing.

  300. MoMan

    Wow! Three hundred comments. Seems as if if Phil has hit a sore point, and one that deserved a great deal of discussion, although many of the comments went beyond discussion to become attacks (those on Phil are especially out-of-line, in my opinion). One way to know if you are being a dick: when you reflect and see that you have lost your sense of humor, temporarily or permanently. Geez, I need to end on a joke here. Help! Oh, wait. Did you hear the one about the Christian who went to a skeptics conference and when she confided in anyone, they always said, “I don’t believe you.”

  301. JD

    Aren’t the beliefs that there is a god and that there is no god equally fallacious?
    “No one has proved god does not exist, therefore god does exist” = Fallacy of appeal to ignorance
    “No one has proved that god exists, therefore god does not exist” = Fallacy of appeal to ignorance.

    I’m not religious at all, but not sure where I stand on the issue of atheism vs. agnosticism, and I’m kind of new to skepticism. Just curious what some the skeptics here think about this. I’m sure this isn’t the first time this has been brought up, but anyway…

  302. Robert

    When someone puts forth an argument, there are obvious flaws in the argument that are stated and then aren’t responded to, the basis of the argument lacks at the very least anecdotal evidence beyond “we all know what I’m talking about” to at least back it up when it would be much better to be specific about what is being discussed, and when this evidence is requested it is not forthcoming so the discussion can move forward it will often lead to 100′s if not more responses. ;)

  303. JRB

    @303 Robert,

    Yeah, I know I was moved to respond when I read (on Part II) Phil say: “…finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy,” and then didn’t provide any of those trivially easy examples.

    I know there is no way Phil would let an anti-vaxxer get away with claiming that the “evidence vaccination causes autism is all around, you just have to look for it,” as a reasonable argument, so I really don’t know how he expected — as the former head of one of the more well known skeptic organizations — to try the same trick without being called on it.

    Sure there are a bunch of people who seem to know exactly what he is talking about and agree that it is rampent within the skeptical community, but there are also a bunch of people who claim to have seen vaccination cause autism. I’ll believe either group when they can actually produce some reasonably good evidence instead of just claiming it exists.

  304. PeteC

    For those who need strict guidelines and concrete examples of what being a dick is – well, that’s several books already. The guidelines move depending on the individuals concerned, their ages, social background, customary speech patterns and many other factors. Snapping “look, you halfwit” in the bar to a college buddy you regularly drink with and trade insults with is not necessarily being a dick. Saying it to your gentle and easily hurt grandmother, on the other hand, is. So I’m afraid there are no strict, easy to categorise guidelines, other than the obvious ones:
    Attack ideas rather than the person you’re talking to.
    If you’re attacking an individual do it based on their idealogy and, more importantly, their harmful actions (convincing parents not to vaccinate their children etc). Don’t insult their looks, weight, age, skin colour, parents, children, etc.
    Emphasis and enthusiasm are one thing, trying to shout down the other or not allow them to say a single word is being a dick.
    Basically, if someone argued about your choice of partner (h/she’s too old for you, too young for you, too ugly, too quiet, too dull, too black, too white, too male, too female, whatever) in the same way you’re arguing and you certain that they’re being a dick, then there’s a good chance you’re being a dick too.

    As for the rest:
    Well, unfortunately complete scepticism and rationality is almost impossible. Humans aren’t rational. We – even almost all of us here – believe in all kinds of crazy woo. If there’s someone here who doesn’t then I am scared of them. We believe in loads of stuff just because we decide to, or have a gut feeling that it’s true. Don’t believe me? Then please prove, mathematically and/or with physics, why murdering children is “wrong”. Start by determining an accurate scale universably useable and measurable through instruments of what “wrong” is. I don’t know of any wrong particles, or wrong fields, or wrong flux or wrong charge. I don’t know any justice, honour, love, right, wrong, decency, caring or happiness particles either. Why is killing 20 kg of child worse, in non-emotive, non-”well, it just is!” ways, than killing 20 kg of moss or stopping the chemical processes of 20 kg of rust?

    I know the first reaction to such a ridiculous statement is often “Well, it just is!” or “If I have to tell you, then you’re obviously sick!” But that’s the same argument used by believers in deities. “It’s obvious” or “I just feel this to be true”. I find that I personally have little need or use for the irrational deity concept – but I do have a need for the irrational rules that so often are claimed to come from them. I admit that, if I were perfectly rational, I wouldn’t care about anything. Caring is purely biochemical illusion. It means nothing. Morality is not real. The good of the human race is irrelevant. The universe will continue, following its laws, regardless.

    Everything that makes us human, is, in fact, irrational.

    So I’m afraid that I have to accept a little woo in my life, just to pretend that my life has some meaning. It’s irrational to want meaning, but, hey, I’m imperfect. I vigorously object to those believing against the evidence – young earth believers, homeopathy, vaccine objectors, wi-fi signal worriers, ufo believers, etc etc – but I’m a little more cautious about denouncing those who just feel that there must be some sort of meaning to life.

  305. EdF

    I would say that most people who believe in religion, especially in this country, do not evangelize it. I know a lot of C&E Catholics (go to church only on Christmas and Easter), so one could argue they’re not very religious. But when a group of people bares down on them about how illogical their beliefs are, and ask them to defend their position, do you think you’re making converts of them? People who otherwise agree with you you’ve backed into a corner. And I think that’s the “don’t be a dick part” that’s central to this topic.

    IF I were to go and try to make you believe in God, preach to you about it and try to convert you, then you would have EVERY right to question and challenge that belief. But I think most of us, myself included, preach to no one except our own children, yet still receive the full court press of the community. It’s a litmus test and when one doesn’t pass, you hear all the same arguments again. And when it’s not rude, it’s condescending. Usually the spirit of the discussion is the reason Ed still believes in God is because nobody has explained to him how silly and irrational it is, or if they have they did it wrong. I’m going to try a different way to tell him how silly he’s being because he’s otherwise a pretty bright guy. Basically, I’m going to save Ed’s soul by convincing him he doesn’t have one.

    If someone is preaching God to you, confront them then. If they’re no vaccinating their kid (and thereby threatening the health to you and others), confront them too. If they’re running for school board and their agenda is to teach ID, confront them. But if you’re not responding to a challenge, in the case of religion, leave it alone. Trust me, a skeptical person with religious beliefs has already heard your argument.

  306. Robert

    @PeteC 305 – I don’t think anyone has asked for strict guidelines of what being a dick is though I do admit to not reading all of the comments. What I have read is that many people would like to have specific examples provided by Phil in order to further the discussion.

    All encompassing statements like, “Everything that makes us human, is, in fact, irrational” regarding people are almost always incorrect. Humans are oftentimes rational and oftentimes irrational. There are rational reasons to preserve one’s life and rational reasons to preserve the lives of the people around you. For an overly simplistic example, if you kill those around you there is a good chance other people will notice and quite possibly kill you.

    I also don’t think anyone has stated there is no meaning to life. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall a skeptic or an atheist for that matter ever stating there is no meaning to life and have read the exact opposite quite often though I have read several religious people state that atheists don’t have any meaning in their life.

    @ EdF 306 – with the caveat that you are a skeptical person except in regards to religion / god and that you are hanging out with people that specifically have skepticism as the primary definition of their group.

  307. What’s funny is that the result of Phil basically saying “lets all get along” is a 300+ post argument.

    Quick question: Can I be skeptical about there NOT being a God?
    :-)

  308. Default Athiest

    You can approach an argument in one of two ways:

    1. You assume that the person you’re arguing with is intelligent enough to understand your point of view and can possibly be convinced of your position. This person is a potential ally, and therefore should be treated with the respect and compassion afforded to those who are currently considered your allies. The goal is to create understanding with the goal of future cooperation. The goal of cooperation or collaboration is rarely achieved by antagonism.

    2. You assume that the person is not capable of understanding or conversion to your position. What then is the goal of the argument? To simply win? To make the other party feel defeated? If they’re already too stupid to realize the truth of your argument, why bother?

    In either case, regardless of subject matter, “being a dick” is all about the tone of the conversation, not the content. If scenario 1 is true, then what is the purpose of actively antagonizing a potential collaborator? In this case, “being a dick” runs completely contrary to ones own goals, and serves no purpose.

    If scenario 2 is true, then the only possible reason to antagonize your opponent is to inflict harm and foster a sense of superiority in yourself. This is just bullying, and serves no purpose other than to create a negative impression in someone who will most likely entrench even further into their erroneous beliefs.

    Smart people can tell when you think they’re stupid. When I’m wrong and the person correcting me treats me as if I’m intelligent enough to understand the truth but am simply uninformed, I appreciate the correction. If however, the same correction comes in an antagonistic manner, insinuating that my error is the result of stupidity, my initial response is a big F-You.

    What’s the harm in being nice to people when disagreeing with them? It gives them no ad hominem ammunition to use against you.

  309. JD

    Yes, 309, good question. See 303.

  310. Robert

    What’s funny is that there have been several great counter arguments that have not been addressed and requests for clarification that have gone unanswered and people find it strange that there are over 300 posts. ;)

    As for whether you can be skeptical about there NOT being a god sure you can just as easily as you can be skeptical about there NOT being unicorns, zeus, or whatever else you want to be skeptical about there NOT being. That isn’t to say that your reasoning or logic for approaching the question in this manner won’t be questioned as to whether it is a valid approach by the vast majority of skeptics.

  311. David

    @309 “What’s funny is that the result of Phil basically saying “lets all get along” is a 300+ post argument.”

    If that was all he said, there wouldn’t be an issue. If I come and tell you “hey don’t be a dick”, while it may be good advice everyone can benefit from, I think you might ask “how exactly was I being a dick”? Because it does imply that you were being a dick.

    Now lets just say your a minority group like Atheists, who are on a regular basis attacked by the “religious right” by the unfounded accusation that your arrogant, rude and obnoxious, or in layman’s terms “a dick”. You might, I dunno get a little upset when someone you respected does it and then refuses to supply any credible evidence or examples of how you were being a dick.

  312. Chris

    I’m glad that we have people like Phil Plait, who can tell us how to behave and call us dicks at the same time.

  313. PeteC

    @Robert 308
    “There are rational reasons to preserve one’s life and rational reasons to preserve the lives of the people around you. For an overly simplistic example, if you kill those around you there is a good chance other people will notice and quite possibly kill you”

    Indeed so – but why is your life worth preserving? Yes, I know you want to, but that’s just biological impetus caused by natural processes. That’s like saying it’s worth a stone rolling down a hill. Why is your life worth preserving over, say, some bacteria?

    “I also don’t think anyone has stated there is no meaning to life. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall a skeptic or an atheist for that matter ever stating there is no meaning to life and have read the exact opposite quite often”
    I completely agree, and that’s my point. But… prove it. Prove that there is meaning. Use what we know of physics and mathematics to show that life has meaning. Oh, and how do you define meaning, accurately? What units do you use? How is the base unit derived? Do you have experimental evidence and measurement to back up this theory?

    Now don’t get me wrong, I also believe our lives have meaning, and I don’t believe that it’s because the great sky-god gives them to us through a little book. But, if I’m honest, I believe that our lives have value and meaning because I choose to, not because evidence has convinced me. That’s what I mean when I say even skeptics on a site like this aren’t free of a little irrational belief in something more than the clearly proven.

  314. @PeteC (315):

    Great comment.

    To everyone:

    I find it wonderfully ironic that the people who request examples of “dickery” are providing the very examples they seek. :)

  315. Robert

    @PeteC 315 – being rational is not the same thing as having the knowledge to be able to measure in units or otherwise everything involved in making rational decisions. It does have to do with making decisions based on the evidence one does have, making different decisions based on new evidence, and not making decisions based on assertions that have no basis in reality. Making decisions when there is a lack of information does not make a person irrational which is what I believe you have in essence written.

    A couple points of evidence I (note the I) have for why my life is worth living is that I enjoy my life the vast majority of time and I have no reason to believe that I will exist when my life has ended. I see nothing wrong with this type of personal evidence and I hope one day that science is able to provide units and measure it. I don’t find experiences in anyway lessened just because they can be explained, measured, etc.

    Skeptics (including myself) are prone to being irrational just like anyone else. I do hope everyone strives to rid themselves of irrationality especially when it has an adverse affect on others or themselves and in my personal experience (I’m not going to measure that in units either) a skeptic is better at doing this than most other people though not all.

    Also, the way I have taken your use of “proving” I only see as applicable in mathematics. Life doesn’t work like mathematics though mathematics is often helpful with describing life and other things.

    @Scott Robert Ladd 316 – I find it ironic that trying to understand specifically what Phil is referring to is considered “dickery”. Is he referring to people getting in other people’s faces (IMO dickery), the two women he referenced that are members of skeptical groups and are upset over not having their beliefs that are clearly not skeptical accepted, or something else entirely?

  316. David

    “I find it wonderfully ironic that the people who request examples of “dickery” are providing the very examples they seek”

    Ironic is making a comment like that on a supposed skeptic site and not realizing it makes you a Dick.

    @317 Well said.

  317. Letting any believer, of any faith, decide what constitutes “being a dick” is a losing proposition. Generally, the most conservative, authoritarian, religious types (and I highly recommend Dr. “Bob” Altemeyer’s book “The Authoritarians”-see reference below) do not think about what they believe and why. All they really have are the canned responses and arguments from their “authorities” (i.e. religious leaders, political pundits, etc.) kept in the separate compartments of their highly compartmentalized minds. When a question comes up that they cannot answer by recourse to a canned response, they fall back on their inherent dogmatism saying things like “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” or my personal favorite: “If a hypocrite stands between you and God, they are closer to God than you are.” To which I have always replied that “God needs to pick his close associates more carefully then.”

    I am a state government employee in a very conservative state and I work with the sort of people described above. I am not rude or confrontational in any way and I am very fond of (nearly) all of my coworkers. It is no secret to most of them that I am not a believer and in general, we live and let live and laugh and joke a great deal. However, I frequently encounter situations where someone publicly displays their piety with the expectation that others will make approving, laudatory noises but for someone to react with even mere indifference, is perceived as insulting and offensive.

    The kind of moderately religious people the BA referred to who were moved by the olive branch he held out in his TAM speech are part of the problem. The truth is that the “nice” religious moderates provide needed cover for the Fred Phelps of the world. If the extremists are criticized too vociferously, the moderates feel as though they themselves are being attacked. This may be the result of a kind of “cognitive dissonance” when listening to criticisms of their extremist brethren. It would be interesting to get such moderates into an fMRI and observe what happens when hearing criticisms of the truly dangerous religious types.

    What it seems to boil down to is that because I will not maintain a polite silence about the damage religion does in order to spare the feelings of the “nice” moderate believers, I am perforce “being a dick,” as in…“Stop it or you are going to make me cry.” Real grownups do not play that game. I would much prefer to “be a dick” and maintain my intellectual integrity than to be a spineless sap and capitulate to childish attempts at emotional blackmail.

    If religious moderates or deists of a skeptical bent are bothered by the slings and arrows hurled at those that wish to establish a right-wing, authoritarian, fascist theocracy in the United States, do not come crying to me. Rather, direct your ire at the Dominionists, Reconstructionists, and like-minded fanatics because THEY are the ones that are making you moderates look bad…what are YOU going to do about it.

    Altemeyer, Bob. “The Authoritarians.” 2006. University of Manitoba.
    .

  318. viggen

    Life doesn’t work like mathematics though mathematics is often helpful with describing life and other things.

    Actually, life does work like mathematics if you look at it carefully enough. Most, if not all morality has underlying principle flowing directly from what is necessary for a group of people to work as a unit toward a common goal. Most, if not all human behaviors, good and bad, can be seen to follow from some form of selection or counter-selection, either as an individual or as a functional, competitive social group. It’s all just statistical mechanics and selection. To call something “right” or “wrong” just suspends the need to think about the uncomfortable aspects and gray areas that lie behind the simple label–it’s insulation from the harsh realities of life.

  319. @Mark N

    Your post reminded me of a song from one of my favorite Broadway shows, “Avenue Q”. The song is titled “Everyone’s a little bit racist”, and the premise is that everyone, no matter who they are or how non-judgmental they claim to be, has preconceived notions about people groups, and these stereotypes affect our outlook. Of course, the ultimate point is that if we enter conversations knowing this, it can help us all get along.

    I think that very much applies to this conversation, and I’d go so far as to say it would do us all a lot of good to grow a thicker skin. And yes, it is definitely a two way street. As one of those people who has a belief in God but also considers himself a skeptic, I can see first hand that there are a lot of Christians who can be every bit as abrasive as the nonbelievers who they rub against.

    At the same time, someone eventually has to turn the other cheek, so to speak. I mean, as a believer, I could easily take great offense every time someone stereotypes all of us in one big, ignorant clump. From there I would go after you, and tell you how big of a jerk you’re being, and naturally you’d respond in kind. Eventually four generations later the Hatfields are still fighting the McCoys, even though nobody really knows what started it, except that everyone is mad at everyone else.

    I think the secret is fro us all to admit that at some point, we’ve all been, as Phil puts it “dicks”. We’ve all wrongly committed some grievance against someone else. Some of us (myself included) have probably done so several times in the last 320-some posts here. Let’s get beyond trying to point fingers at who is and isn’t being a jerk. Let’s quit being defensive and work together. And if someone is being a jerk to you, it’s not an excuse to reply in kind. Just remind yourself that they’re only treating you that way because they have a faulty preconceived notion about you based on their views of the group you fall into. Then, instead of treating those jerks like jerks, which only further cements their views, be different and treat them with respect. Eventually they’ll start to see that their views aren’t accurate, and not every christian/athiest/skeptic/whatever is a jerk.

    The bottom line is that replying to dickish behavior with a dickish response only escalates the problem, where if you instead break the mold you run a good chance of having a breakthrough with those people.

  320. On the note of my last message, I would like to apologize to anyone if I have ever seemed to be a jerk in this thread. When I post responses on blogs, I often just open the tap on my thoughts and let them flow to the keyboard. I haven’t meant anything negative towards anyone, but I do have a different thought process from a lot of folks, and sometimes my methodology can come across as harsh when I’m really just letting my mind work things out on paper. Well, on the internet. It’s like paper, but with less tree pulp.

    Bottom line, this has been a really interesting conversation, and I’ve learned some useful stuff from it. Thanks everyone.

  321. Sister Chromatid

    I used to think TAM was a place where atheists could feel free to be themselves, but now it seems like a place where we are supposed to walk on eggshells like we do in the rest of our lives. Apparently, it’s fine to goof on those who believe that Sylvia Browne talks to the dead but not on those who believes that they get messages from the invisible creator of the universe. I guess the feelings of the faithful are more important than the feelings of those who find faith a dangerous thing to endorse.

    I don’t know who Phil thinks the “dicks” are since he never named names. Or what it is that he thinks others should be doing or saying. I’m glad the believers felt accepted… I guess. But doesn’t this make them even less likely to examine whether faith is a way of actually knowing anything? What if their belief was in demons? Or astrology? Should we worry about those that might believe in guardian angels? Crop Circles? Who decides what is dickish anyhow? In any case, I suspect I’d find Phi’s allusion to these supposed dicks more dickish than those he thinks are dicks. But we’ll never know, because he refuses to site actual examples. Moreover, the speech furthers a stereotype while no evidence is provided (though examples are supposedly everywhere.) We don’t even know if there are a bunch of atheist dicks or if they’re a problem or if they’re harming the “cause” of rational thought or whatever. Phil (like Mooney) just assumes this is the case and puts himself in the position of “moderator” advising others to be more like him.

    In any case, I don’t think skeptics should be in the business of tiptoeing around peoples’ deeply held beliefs. If people are feeling uncomfortable about their magical beliefs, then maybe it’s a hint for them to examine those beliefs instead of concluding that those who don’t share those beliefs are dicks. The truth shouldn’t be afraid of questions or mockery, right? And isn’t the truth the core value of skeptics? Phil has no problem being a “dick” to those who don’t believe in the moon landing. Why the double standard? I suppose “dickishness” is all in the mind of the beholder. Phil is free to cater to religious folks all he wants and be as dickish as he pleases to those who don’t defer to “belief in belief”, but I resent his implication that others should be more like him- especially when there is no evidence that this accommodationism furthers the cause of critical thinking at all. In fact I think it makes the faithful feel entitled to respect because of what they BELIEVE. I suspect I prefer the writing of those he thinks of as dickish. Moreover, I suspect they further skepticism more than he imagines.

    If someone’s faith is good or true, why in the heck should it matter whether others “respect” it or not? Does Phil’s feelings get hurt when people don’t accept his knowledge of astronomy? I don’t think skeptics should have to know or care about the magical beliefs of other skeptics–we should be able to assume they are rationalists in all areas of their lives since we have to tip toe around the religious thingie everywhere else. I’m a little tired of people assuming that I believe as they do. I’d like to assume everyone is more interested in the truth even if it means discovering the ways they may be fooling themselves.

    The whole speech just left me with the same feeling I got when reading Mooney’s “new atheists are hurting the cause” chapter in UA. I’m skeptical. Where’s the evidence? How can you further critical thought when people imagine themselves saved for what they believe? Who are these dicks… and where is the evidence they hurt some cause. Mooney’s biggest example turned out to be a fraud.

  322. Michael Kingsford Gray

    A problem is that often the only way to ‘not be a dick’ is by lying: either implicitly or explicitly.
    I cannot bring myself to lie in the service of a perceived short-term political gain.
    But that is me, and I sometimes am berated for being ‘too honest’, as if there is such an animal!

    Self-professed ‘skeptics’ who are also (bizarrely) faitheists & goddly-coddlers seem to be able to so do with hypocritical equanimity.
    Even more bizarre are the self-professed skeptics who are religious.
    They are exactly like those ‘vegetarians’ who eat chicken & fish!
    In fact, the parallel does not go far enough.
    A ‘skeptic’ who is religious is like a vegetarian who eats steak every day.
    They debase the term ‘vegetarian’ to the point of vacuity.
    A skeptic, who believes in infantile nonsense such as ghostly-sky-daddies who can help us when we mumble to them, dilute the term ‘skeptic’ to the point where it is utterly meaningless.

    My opinion of Dr. Plait’s personality (but not his astronomy) has been severely dented by this episode.
    Perhaps that is my fault for imagining him on a “skeptical pedestal” in the first place.
    Yes. It is my fault for expecting Phil to not be a human being.

  323. Steve in Dublin

    Looks like I’m late to the party as usual. Being 5 hrs ahead of east cost USA does that. I was going to suggest that people read The Authoritarians myself, but I see that Mark N. beat me to it back in #319. However, what he didn’t tell you is that this book is *free*, and available on-line as a PDF at:

    The Authoritarians

    A lot of people are posting here with an argument along the lines of: “I’m a practicing Christian, but I also consider myself to be a skeptic. I mean, what’s the harm? I don’t buy into any of that woo like astrology, anti-vax, or homeopathy. So lay off my religion. We’re on the same side.”

    But therein lies the problem. Because of your cognitive dissonance with respect to religion, you are unaware of just how big a problem religion poses to the world today. *You* may be the type of person that can successfully compartmentalise your religious beliefs. But for a significant percentage of those who are religious, it spills over into many other aspects of their life. Most importantly, it makes them susceptible to blindly believing anything that someone in authority tells them. Or even more importantly, they will *do anything that someone in authority tells them to do*, whether it is morally correct or not.

    This is the message that comes through loud and clear in The Authoritarians. Religions are great dividers of humanity. Many of them foster a group-think mentality where everyone in your group is OK, and everyone outside it is not. They incline people to be racist, homophobic, and anti-science where science conflicts with the tenets of your religion.

    As Mark N. put it so eloquently above:

    The kind of moderately religious people the BA referred to who were moved by the olive branch he held out in his TAM speech are part of the problem. The truth is that the “nice” religious moderates provide needed cover for the Fred Phelps of the world. If the extremists are criticized too vociferously, the moderates feel as though they themselves are being attacked.

    By their very nature, skeptics insist on having a body of evidence to convince them that something is true. Why should they be allowed to have a blind spot in this respect only when it comes to their own religion?

  324. Kris

    “that this book is *free*, and available on-line as a PDF at:”

    Thanks! Seems interesting. I’ll have a look.

    “Because of your cognitive dissonance with respect to religion, you are unaware of just how big a problem religion poses to the world today.”

    And your evidence of this is? I can equally posit that the skeptical atheists, by not practicing, are unaware of the reality of religion — and they are barking up the wrong tree. The examples are all over this thread, by the way.

    “Many of them foster a group-think mentality where everyone in your group is OK, and everyone outside it is not. ”

    Not in my church certainly. I have heard many sermons where the preacher claimed that people who are in the church lack faith [Yes, the logic of this is stellar]. I don’t remember a single one that would praise those in the church. And certainly not in opposition to those outside.

    “The truth is that the “nice” religious moderates provide needed cover for the Fred Phelps of the world”

    Try asking a religious moderate what is his opinion about Fred Phelps. You’d be surprised with the answer. But of course you did not, because you, yourself, already harbor a preconceived, false, notion about the opinions of other people. Certain atheists behave like neophyte adherents of a militant religion. Except they have willfully blinded themselves to that very fact.

    And that is the problem which is being actively denied here.

  325. Steve in Dublin

    And your evidence of this is? I can equally posit that the skeptical atheists, by not practicing, are unaware of the reality of religion — and they are barking up the wrong tree. The examples are all over this thread, by the way.

    That’s some twisted logic there. Why would an atheist practice religion, when we see no evidence for the existence of god(s)? That there are religions is indeed a reality (unfortunately). But atheists doubt very much whether any of them are *based* in reality.

    Try asking a religious moderate what is his opinion about Fred Phelps. You’d be surprised with the answer.

    Please give me examples of moderates publicly decrying the stuff that the likes of Fred Phelps and Bill Donahue spew out. That task is usually left to the atheists to deal with.

    Certain atheists behave like neophyte adherents of a militant religion.

    Ah. Those must be the ones who are dicks. Would you care to tell us roughly what percentage of atheists that have a public presence (speakers and blog hosts) you think fall into this category?

  326. David

    “Ah. Those must be the ones who are dicks. Would you care to tell us roughly what percentage of atheists that have a public presence (speakers and blog hosts) you think fall into this category?”

    How dare you ask for a little evidence, thats not being accepting or nice.

    “Because of your cognitive dissonance with respect to religion, you are unaware of just how big a problem religion poses to the world today”

    “And your evidence of this is? I can equally posit that the skeptical atheists, by not practicing, are unaware of the reality of religion — and they are barking up the wrong tree. The examples are all over this thread, by the way.”

    While there are actually studies on this and if pressed I will do my best to try to find them. To me the best evidence is just turning on the news. This world has almost 6 billion people in it. Most are claimed to be “moderate” religionists and yet the list of atrocities and persecutions committed in the name of religion would take months for me to list. Tell me, how can this be? if all this vast majority of “moderates” were totally against it? How could George Bush get elected AFTER publicly stating he didn’t believe atheists could be considered citizens? How the hell did prop 8 pass?

  327. grung0r

    It appears that a consensus is developing on The definition of “being a dick”.

    You are a dick if:
    *You scream at teenage girls and call them retarded
    *You disagree with Phil Plait’s speech.
    *If you criticize religion or religious beliefs.
    *If your sole interest in skepticism is not in boosting Self-identification of others as skeptics.
    * You believe Science and religion are not compatible
    * You enjoy drowning puppies

    You are not a dick if:
    *You accuse others of being dicks.
    *You criticize Homeopaths, Nibru believers, holocaust deniers, Astrologists, moon landing hoaxers, Cancer cure quacks, Palm readers, Psychic surgeons, Spoon benders or Fruitatarians.
    *You lie about your beliefs on religion so that the very existence of your ideas won’t hurt others feelings

    Does that about cover it?

  328. parclair

    I agree with everything Phil has said. *Thank you* for saying it. It’s really important to get the world into a more rational position if the human race is to survive. (I don’t have a dog in this fight, I don’t care whether humans go on or not.) I’ve got some suggestions about how to converse with true believers of any kind.

    First, let me talk about my thinking.

    I was raised Catholic. I’ve been a mostly atheist since I was 17 (when I finally got kicked out of sunday school for reading Mao’s little red book while in class). I used to be a dick, but because of the needs of my work (designing computer systems before most people understood what they were) I had to learn accommodation.

    I read Skeptic when Asimov first founded the mag. I stopped reading the rag (I think in the 80′s) when it lost it’s sense of humor and became like an evangelist pamphlet. (Especially in the area of recovered memories.)

    I’m a buddhist (note the small b). It’s not a religion, it’s a system of living this life so that I’m not a jerk. (That is, I aspire to not be a jerk)

    In one of the threads, someone asked “how can I not be a jerk”. So, now my thoughts. I’ve not read all the posts, because I got bored. So, if the following has already been said, I apologize in advance.

    First, there are books out there about how to be an one-minute “whatever”. My preference is for the ‘manager’ because that’s the one I needed. This discusses how to talk in a rational way in emotion-fraught situations: Active listening to the other person and responding with “i” words and facts in a calm manner. (not “jane you ignorant slut” but “jane, why do you think that? where did you get your information?)

    Second, I was raised to believe that not everybody has my advantage in education. Just because they’re uneducated doesn’t mean they can’t think. That helping them to think is a valuable tool for a good future. I have a vast pile of introductory books to which I refer people, and in some cases, give. (This may sound patronizing, but I only bring this information up if someone *asks me* if I can suggest any reading. I’ve developed the pile ’cause people asked me for suggestions)

    Third, Mediation training is an excellent way to understand how to connect with people. To quickly paraphrase the initial phases of mediation from the training I had (“We” is the panel of mediators);

    1. one person vents *without* interruption, then the other person. As this happens, we look for commonalities between the people.
    2. We use the basic who what where why questions to start a conversation between the people. (we try to incorporate feelings in this) “X can you tell Y why you believe ….” Then, “Y, can you tell X how you react to what Y just said”
    3. We then start a conversation based on the commonalities in 1 and 2. “You both seem to have been interesting in science when you were young, X why did you stop being interested in science?” ‘Y, why are you still interested in science”. Usually by this point a real conversation is happening, and we mediators just take notes because accommodation can be reached.

    So you can just be your own mediator. I don’t know of a good mediation book. Perhaps someone here can suggest something.

    Fourth, people are afraid and hurting. All people. It’s a condition of life. We feel and fear pain and irritation. Mostly this evidences as anger or depression. (Read the psychologists). Aggressive language just hardens the anger and depression. Gentle language and action actually has a poistive ripple effect to other people. (I can hunt for the citations, but like I said, I don’t have a dog in this fight)

    Finally, like someone said, you can’t change someone’s mind, only they can. I had a realization that my ability to control things ended at the ears of another person, at the end of my fingers. It really helped to reduce rage. It also helps to realize that *how* I said things made a difference. (I tune out snark and yelling, which is why I skipped to write this post).

    PS. Richard Dawkins is a jerk, if anyone needs an example. He’s patronizing, thinks his is the only way, and dismisses anyone who disagrees with him as contemptible. I agree with everything he says, just not the way he says it.

  329. J. J. Ramsey

    David: “This world has almost 6 billion people in it. Most are claimed to be ‘moderate’ religionists and yet the list of atrocities and persecutions committed in the name of religion would take months for me to list. Tell me, how can this be? if all this vast majority of ‘moderates’ were totally against it?”

    Because actual atrocities and persecutions tend to be done by people wielding brute force (e.g. fists, guns, bombs, hijacked airplanes, etc.) without much consideration for whether moderates want it or not.

    David: “How could George Bush get elected AFTER publicly stating he didn’t believe atheists could be considered citizens? How the hell did prop 8 pass?”

    When discussing whether moderates enable extremists, the extremists in question tend to be people like Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden. Proposition H8 is evil in its own way, but not to be confused with something like the 9/11 attacks. Let’s not confuse categories here.

    grung0r: “It appears that a consensus is developing on The definition of ‘being a dick’. [... insert strawman here ...] Does that about cover it?”

    Not in the least. You want to criticize religion? Fine. You want to to imply that being religious is a sign of gross intellectual fault, something beyond the normal levels of human irrationality that even nontheist skeptics have? That’s dickish. You want to engage in name-calling or exaggeration and distortion? That’s dickish. Yes, some people may falsely accuse you of dickishness merely for engaging in criticism, but just because they confuse criticism for being a dick doesn’t mean that you have to confuse being a dick for criticism.

  330. Chris Winter

    I wrote several paragraphs in a comment, but in this thread brevity is of value. So here’s the condensed version.

    Dr. Plait is correct that civil conversation is the best way to persuade others to your point of view. Being obnoxious, or “being a dick,” if you will, may shut your opponent up. But as the old adage has it, “You have not convinced a man because you have silenced him.” That goes for women too, of course.

    That said, there are situations where being a dick may be the tactic of last resort. (Notice: I said “may be.”) One such is when someone persists in arguing for a demonstrably false view which, if it is accepted by third parties, will result in material harm to them or others.

  331. Crazy Joe Malloy

    @somecallmejim

    Thank-you! I enjoyed reading your rebuttal. One of my best friends is a minster actually, we’ve had a number of interesting debates and discussions. I put no stock in the Almighty and she’s rock solid in her faith, but this doesn’t stop us from seeing eye to eye on alot of things.

    The existence of God being an exception to that rule, but ya know what – I can live with that. There’s more to her than her faith, if we disagree on something I’ll take her to task on why she has that stance and she returns the favour.

    At the end of the day however, it doesn’t matter if I can’t sway her to my point of view on a specific issue – we don’t need *everyone* on side with every argument, we just need _enough_ to have a critical mass (pun intended).

    Maybe I’m out in lala land, but I’ll take critical thinkers wherever I can get ‘em – if you’re on the spectrum at all, that’s progress because it at least provides a starting point to question other beliefs.

    As has been stated several times before, the change from believer to questioner/thinker is an internal one and it’s gradual. You can’t force people to question their beliefs, they have to get there on their own. Personally, I see our responsibility as one of assistance, our role is to help people question what they believe, not browbeat them into believing something else. For the sake of clarity, I’m not pointing fingers in that last statement, just completing the thought.

    Apologies if I put across the opinion that I was lumping all religious folk into the extremists – that was not my intent either, merely to point out the lengths some people have gone to for their faith – tends to dwarf the lengths people go to for homeopathy (for example). It seems to be the main thing that sets religion apart from the other stuff.

    I notice earlier in the comments you made reference to being on board with 99.99% of what science/skepticism has to say – that’s incredibly high percentage, I find myself wondering what’s included in that 0.01%

  332. David

    “When discussing whether moderates enable extremists, the extremists in question tend to be people like Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden. Proposition H8 is evil in its own way, but not to be confused with something like the 9/11 attacks. Let’s not confuse categories here.”

    Yeah, I will agree blowing things up is a little more extreme than donating to charities that supply the money for the bombs that blow things up.

    I used to get very angry when people would say I was partly responsible for anything America did, but you know what? They were right. Not because I pay taxes or because i just happen to have been born here but because once upon a time in my life I voted along ideological lines. Which gave anyone I voted for my tacit support for whatever they did in my name. The day I realized that anything they did, while I sat by and said or did nothing, or worse voted for them gave me (no matter how small) direct blame for what they did. Well, it was a big shock to my system.

    I don’t vote without knowing who and what i’m voting for anymore, I don’t give money unless I know where every single penny will end up. And if at all possible for me I oppose “magic thinking” any chance I get because I don’t care what atrocity you name if you look deep enough you will find its roots in some form of self delusion.

  333. Crazy Joe Malloy

    @Chris Winter (332)

    Well said, I wish I could condense my thoughts as effectively!

  334. grung0r

    JJ:
    The definition of ‘being a dick’. [... insert strawman here ...]

    some people may falsely accuse you of dickishness merely for engaging in criticism

    So my ‘strawman’ is actually something you agree people are arguing? It wasn’t aimed personally at you. It was aimed at what I see as the consensus amongst the commenters arguing in favor of Phil’s speech. I can copy and paste some examples if you’d like, but I’d prefer it if you’d just look up thread a bit.

    speaking of strawmen though….
    you want to to imply that being religious is a sign of gross intellectual fault, something beyond the normal levels of human irrationality that even nontheist skeptics have?

    Did I imply that? I thought the implication was that religion is a gross intellectual fault, reaching the exact same levels of human irrationality as the other items I listed. Was that not clear?

    You want to engage in name-calling or exaggeration and distortion?

    Whether I exaggerated or distorted is on you I suppose. But Do not accuse me of name calling, as I have not engaged in that behavior. I can point you to some people who have though. We could start with Phil Plait.

  335. David

    Ya know what, sorry for the last post it has nothing at all to do with this thread and I was ranting a bit.

    Most of us don’t care what you believe we don’t like it when you spread it, but thats not the discussion here either at least not for me.

    The only question here(for me) is whether there really is a large and growing trend of skeptics running around being dicks. And if so what exactly is it they are really doing. Anecdotes whether supplied by Jenny McCarthy, The President, or even Phil Plait is not evidence.

    The questions is NOT whether being a dick is a good idea (again for me). I personally believe it has its place but that is at the moment just an opinion.

  336. grung0r

    I would like to ammend my previous post(336) by adding two things:

    One: I suggested I did not engage in name calling, but that was not entirely accurate. I did call Phil “Chris Mooney’s Very Good Friend”, which was name calling in my mind, but since he has also used the moniker, I figured it didn’t count.

    Two: To back up My assertion that Phil has engaged in name calling, I will point you to the third comment of part 2 of these posts. Phil, In replying to someone asking for examples said in part:”But thanks for showing exactly why I had to make this speech.” It might be secondary, but Phil is very clearly calling this person a dick.

  337. Chris Winter

    @Andrew, #44:

    http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_be_a_dick

    That meta-Wiki article is interestingly self-contradictory (contra-dickery?).

    The article, titled “Don’t Be a Dick,” starts off by advising, “Don’t be a dick.” It goes through some explanation. Then, at the end, in a section labeled “How to deal with dicks without being a dick yourself,” it opines:

    Telling someone “Don’t be a dick” is usually a dick-move — especially if it’s true. It upsets the other person and it reduces the chance that they’ll listen to what you say.

    It is, in short, a paradox worthy of Epimenides the Cretan.

  338. Robert

    *sarcasm* Thanks Phil! This really needed to be said. I have also experienced skeptics being rude, boorish, insulting, and dismissive to me though I’ve also spoken up against psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest. I just happen to believe in Zeus (or insert any other belief lacking evidence such as leprechauns, unicorns, etc.) the almighty and skeptics repeatedly call me out on my beliefs and don’t accept them. Since my religion doesn’t advocate not using condoms which has caused much more suffering in Africa than even the antivax movement has throughout the entire world one would hope that it would be *more* acceptable than the beliefs of those other groups. *sarcasm off*

    I hope Phil is just taking his time in replying to the counter arguments and requests for clarification vs. ignoring them.

  339. Thameron

    There are those believers who acknowledge that the evidence of their senses, the evidence of experiment and the evidence of reason do not support their belief and yet they persist in that belief. Why? Because they wish to believe, they desire to believe, and if you say to those believers that they should not believe then what you are essentially saying to them is that their emotions are not valid (and presumably your own are). Is it really any wonder that people react badly to that?

    Let those devoid of any irrational desire cast the first stones.

    This of course only applies to those believers who do indeed acknowledge those three things (as I believe Martin Gardner did). By all means argue the logic of the God hypothesis and evidence for and against the God hypothesis with those who don’t accept them.

  340. David

    @330 “PS. Richard Dawkins is a jerk, if anyone needs an example. He’s patronizing, thinks his is the only way, and dismisses anyone who disagrees with him as contemptible. I agree with everything he says, just not the way he says it.”

    Could you perhaps post a link to a video of him doing this? Pretty much everything hes done is out there, and it sounds like something I haven’t watched yet, would really love to see it.

  341. Sister Chromatid

    So, did telling an unnamed group of “others” not to be dicks make people less dickish and more inclusive?

  342. J. J. Ramsey

    grung0r: “So my ’strawman’ is actually something you agree people are arguing?”

    No, because your claim that there is a consensus that criticism of religion is necessarily dickish is incorrect.

    As for the the “you” I used in comment #331, it was mostly a rhetorical generic “you,” rather than about you personally.

    @Chris Winter, comment #339: You might have been right about Wikipedia’s “Don’t be a dick” essay being self-contradictory, if the part that you quoted had lacked the word “usually.” Furthermore, there is a big difference between telling a particular (suspected) dick to not be a dick–which is what your quote from Wikipedia addresses–and advising a general audience to avoid being a dick without implying that members of the audience are already dicks.

  343. Sister Chromatid

    If Richard Dawkins is the best example they have of “being a dick”, then being a dick works. Have you read Dawkins’ Convert’s Corner? Dawkin appears to be leading a lot more people towards rational thought than his critics. Interestingly, I find his critics far more dickish than Dawkins. They also repeatedly fail to provide examples of his dickishness even though they imagine it to be obvious and everywhere. Sometimes they’ll make vague references to something they think he’s saying or some straw man view of his actual words. But they don’t cut and paste or link so I can judge for myself. Perhaps these self-appointed dick-experts know that “dickishness” is in the mind of the beholder, and they understand that some readers might conclude the one calling another a dick is more dickish than the one they are calling a dick… hence the blanching at providing actual data to support their opinion.

  344. David

    “You might have been right about Wikipedia’s “Don’t be a dick” essay being self-contradictory, if the part that you quoted had lacked the word “usually.” Furthermore, there is a big difference between telling a particular (suspected) dick to not be a dick–which is what your quote from Wikipedia addresses–and advising a general audience to avoid being a dick without implying that members of the audience are already dicks”

    I have to disagree, if you make a comment talking to some friends that its better to not be a dick about things then sure your not implying they are dicks. but when you make a key note speech at one of the largest skeptic meetings there is about not being a dick, you are implying that its a major problem, and lots of people are doing it. Since the skeptic community is not huge, your basically calling a large portion of it dicks.

    Even if that was not the intent, its not unreasonable for people to ask what behavior hes talking about. This thread alone proves beyond doubt, that even most of the people who totally agree with him all had different ideas of what he was saying. a little clarity would be nice.

  345. grung0r

    JJ:

    No, because your claim that there is a consensus that criticism of religion is necessarily dickish is incorrect.

    I know you post at the intersocktion, and thus you may be under a mistaken impression about how and when to apply a logical fallacy correctly. So, for future reference:

    Things JJ Ramsey thinks are incorrect != Strawman claims

    Your silence on the substance of my post is noted.

  346. Sister Chromatid

    So is saying “don’t be a dick” an attack upon people or on their argument?

  347. parclair

    @342 Unfortunately, it was a book I read, I’m not much for videos. And, I couldn’t find it– I must have passed it on without asking for return.

    Now don’t forget I agree with him, but do you think a devout whatever is going to find these areas funny? that this will open their minds? Preaching to the choir is easy.

    richarddawkins.net/videos/3752-richard-dawkins-at-american-atheists-09

    Re mormons, starting 4:40. I expect this from a teenager, not a man who is trying to change the views of others.

    Re the pope’s inspiring vision, about 6:00. I still have many friends and family who remain devotedly catholic. The snide tone in the discussion of the illogic of condoms/aids is not helpful.

    Frankly, the whole tone turned me off, but I thought, ok, skip to the end (around the area “how to talk to creationists=)

    So, I skipped to 42:57 and my word! the tone changed. His voice and demeanor changed. Here was someone discussing a topic, respecting the intelligence of his audience. Now, if only this could be the level of discourse in the areas of the skeptic community who are trying to help people understand reason. (Kind of like Phil’s speech—)

  348. David

    Thank you for the links. I will check them out. I have not seen this video will trspond when im done watching it.

  349. Sister Chromatid

    Dawkins doesn’t just preach to the choir. He’s changed many, many minds as his Converts Corner illustrates… just because he seems dickish in your biased memory, doesn’t mean that he’s only preaching to the converted, but I can see why some people want to believe (despite a lack of evidence) that this is so.. You have to get your message out there, in order to change minds. Dawkins’ message is out there–

    And so what is helpful if snide talk about condoms is not? And how do you know? And if nothing will change their minds, then snide talk about condoms might be exactly the thing that plants a seed of doubt. Your god coddling talk hasn’t changed their minds either has it? I think PZ demonstrated pretty succinctly that cracker stabbing can encourage rational thought– not for everyone… but for a lot more people than his critics imagine.

    Isn’t Phil preaching to the choir when he infers that religious belief and skepticism are perfectly compatible? Do you think that approach makes people less reliant on faith as a means of knowledge than Dawkins’ approach? Where is Phil’s equivalent of the “converts corner”? There doesn’t seem to be evidence that Phil’s approach at meeting his goals is more successful than those he thinks of as dicks.

    Although this might be tough for you to understand, dickishness is a matter of opinion… and telling others “not to be a dick” does not seem to be an effective method for making people less dickish. You’ve assume that the people you think are dicks are the people Phil was talking about–some might call that “dickish”. This belief is unwarranted since Phil never said exactly who was being a dick in his opinion and he might find you to be more dickish than Dawkins. And even if he doesn’t, others might. Certainly Dawkins has done much more to spread rational thought than you have. There is no evidence that he harms the cause as much as it makes you feel superior to imagine this is so. There is no evidence to show that his critics’ method is superior for promoting rational thought.

    • Sister Chromatid, where did I say religious belief and skepticism are perfectly compatible?

      And as I said, there are studies that have shown that aggressive posturing tends to be less persuasive than a gentler approach. Carol Tavris, for example, gave several examples in her talk right after mine at TAM 8.

  350. David

    OK, Watched the whole thing, at the points you named he mentions mormons “magic underwear” Now is it being a dick to mention they have magic under garments? or do you contend that they don’t have them at all? Because they do.

    As for the pope comment, well I think I must be a dick because It’s my opinion that anyone who goes to an area with pretty much no education and aids running rampant, then deliberately undermines health efforts there, should be beaten to death with a wet noodle.

    How would a person even discuss such a “vision” as the pope’s, without showing utter contempt?

    But perhaps I’m biased in fact I guarantee it. However he was giving a speech at an Atheist convention if any people of faith were there, they chose to be. So it doesn’t qualify as him being a dick on that point alone.

    P.S. forgot the book thing, well it could be just how you read it but either way just an anecdote unless you can remember it better.

  351. Back in comment #196, I put forth a call (much abbreviated-and I think it may be time I more fully flesh-out such ideas on my own blog) for actual empirical investigations of what different stratagems/tactics will work for different people, just as learning styles (usually described as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) differ greatly among both children and adults.

    One of the essential tools in the skeptics toolbox is lowering the intended audience’s threshold at which cognitive dissonance (cd) sets in so that they will be motivated to reevaluate the conflicting cognitions and change them to (hopefully) ones that are more in accord with the evidence. Here is an example that I have used with “young earth” creationists that question the validity of radiometric dating…
    “So how can it be that scientists have such a poor grasp of radioactive processes that they bungle the age determinations of everything from the Shroud of Turin to moon rocks, coming up with (so you say) errors of such magnitude (paradoxically internally consistent ones) in their age determinations, and yet, at the very same time, have a handle on radioactive processes sufficient to build power plants, bombs, radiation therapies for cancer patients, and many others useful applications too numerous to list?”
    Traditionally, there are three ways of resolving cd:

    1. Modifying one or both of the discrepant cognitions. An example from the
    history of science is the discrepancies between the observed “black body” spectrum of
    hot objects and what was calculated using the assumption that radiation was a
    continuously variable quantity. The problem was resolved by a synthesis of the work
    of Albert Einstein and Max Planck.

    2. Adding supplemental cognitions that bring the original two discrepant cognitions
    into agreement.
    This is the antithesis of Occam’s Razor which says that the
    explanation with the fewest initial assumptions is likely the correct one.

    3. Altering the importance of the conflicting cognitions. A connoisseur of fine
    food and drink may acknowledge, on an intellectual level, that their gustatory
    habits may negatively impact their expected lifespan, but decide that maximizing
    their lifespan at the cost of living a less “experientially rich” life is too much to ask.

    I propose that there is a fourth way of resolving cd, especially when the cd is brought about by a particular individual (or group) and that is to attempt to emotionally blackmail the “offending” person or group into feeling bad for pointing out the conflicting cognitions thus making the “offended” party’s continued ignoring of them harder.

    The skeptical “community” is an extremely diverse group and this diversity is one of its greatest strengths. It is right and proper that it include people from all walks of life, all education levels, genders, ethnicities, ages, and of all religious opinions. One of my personal pet peeves though are people who think that they can have their cake and eat it too, as described in my example of creationists’ attitudes about radiometric dating. Yes, some people, some of the time, can be “dicks,” however, it is entirely possible for the “target” of someone’s supposed “dickishness” to be hypersensitive to even the mildest challenge, and take an offense that is all out of proportion to the actual encounter. Anyone that self-identifies themselves as a “skeptic” to the extent that they attend skeptic meetings like the TAMs, needs to realize that such gatherings are the very last place on earth, and perhaps in the entire cosmos, where they are entitled to any reasonable expectation of NOT encountering cognitive dissonance in their interactions with other skeptics.

  352. David

    Seriously Phil? 350 + posts many with good reasonable questions, And that is what you respond to?

  353. EdF

    Can anyone get a hold of this?

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tea.3660320606/abstract

    “This study traces a heuristic inquiry process from the point of view of a science educator, from a secular-humanist background in the northern United States, attempting to better understand and appreciate a major aspect of religious-influenced culture in the southern United States which has a major bearing on science education in the region. The intellectual and emotional viewpoints of selected scientists, science educators, science teachers, and prospective science teachers are examined regarding the relationship between their orthodox Christian religious beliefs and biological evolutionary theory. We view the prospect of teaching evolution to students with such a religious commitment as a prime example of the severe limitations of cognitively-oriented conceptual change theory. We also view conflicts between religion and science regarding evolution as a bona fide example of a multicultural issue in education. ”

    I especially like this last part:

    “These theoretical perspectives are inconsistent with the common tendency among science professionals to view or treat orthodox Christian students in a manner unconscionable with others—to disrespect their intellect or belittle their motivations, to offer judgments based on stereotypes and prejudices, to ignore threats to personal selfesteem, or to deny the de facto connection of some scientific conceptions to the morals, attitudes, and values of individuals with such religious commitments.”

    I’d love to see what the study came up with. Also, Discovery magazine had the following recently:

    http://news.discovery.com/human/opposition-makes-your-opinions-stick.html

    I think for a religious person in a skeptic audience, they certainly feel like the minority. The more you confront, the less successful you will be.

    lastly, for all of you clamoring for Phil to give ome example of being a “dick,” can you seriously say after read 356 posts you have found no examples of it? If not, I think this argument will never be settled.

  354. Robert

    Phil, I don’t think you did say or ever would say “religious belief and skepticism are perfectly compatible” and I actually don’t think you *inferred* it which is actually what Sister Chromatid had written. I do think you inferred that it is ok for people to not be skeptical about some things that most skeptics do find important to be skeptical of and to be part of a group that defines themselves by their skepticism. Not saying that you are right or wrong for what I believe you inferred as ok for several reasons including there are way too many things I don’t know about the situation though it does seem a tad strange / contradictory on the face of it.

    I don’t doubt the studies (it is not something new by any stretch of the imagination) at all and agree with the gentle approach is better when trying to persuade people. I suspect the vast majority of people responding in this thread take that approach as well though I do find it somewhat ironic that your approach to persuading others included in the title “don’t be a dick”.

    So (very gently and non-aggressively), please Phil, take the questions, counter-arguments, statements, requests for clarifications / examples, etc. as a sign that people really do respect you and would appreciate knowing your responses to them.

  355. Sister Chromatid

    You are right; you didn’t say that, Phil, but the whole “tone” argument is about that, isn’t it? Whenever skeptics treat religious beliefs the way other skeptics might treat “The Secret”, they are called, shrill, militant, and dickish by the faithful and their “accommodating” cohorts– those who think that faith and fact are “compatible ways of knowing”. It’s a way of suppressing criticism of faith– if you call the critics, dicks– you can dismiss the messenger so you don’t have to deal with the message. Moreover, you don’t have to provide evidence for your assertion. Like believers in god, you can just claim the evidence is obvious to anyone with eyes.

    At least, I think that is what you are doing given the various people named whom your followers think you meant. You never gave us any examples. But a few of your followers jumped in to tell us who THEY thought you were talking about– apparently the SAME people THEY think were dicks. I’ve been to 7 TAMS, and I’ve never witnessed anyone doing dastardly things to theists even though I can understand why peoples’ feelings might be hurt. Like Matt Dillahunty, I’d like examples– especially since they are supposedly all over the place and obvious to you… –and not anecdote based on faulty memories.– Cut and paste– or link. I don’t want a Tom Johnson story. Is this a real issue we in the skeptical community need to be concerned about and look to your for guidance for? If not, aren’t you fostering a prejudice against a group of people that may not be causing the harm you imagine?

    I don’t doubt that aggressive posturing is less persuasive then a gentler approach, but who is doing this “aggressive posturing” and what are they trying to persuade others of and where is the evidence that your approach is working better? Is “aggressive posturing” the same as “being a dick” in your opinion? If so can you link us to the many examples that are supposedly everywhere so that we can see how you don’t think that we should be? See, I think that when you make special allowances for religious beliefs, believers think faith is something worthy of accommodating– and they are less likely to let go of that faith. But I’m open to evidence that I’m wrong.

    So, what are the very worst things that have been said to Kitty or Pam in relation to their supernatural beliefs? Do these things drive them further into their faith and away from skepticism? Why should other skeptics have to tiptoe around their feelings when there is no similar request that we not goof on those who might believe some other woo? I can’t imagine a woo convention where people are told to tiptoe around because there might be skeptics in the room! See you’ve left a presumption out there that there are a bunch of dicks in the skeptic movement and then there are a bunch of other people who think they know who you mean– but the people they named aren’t dicks in MY opinion… and they aren’t people who are harming the cause of critical thinking from what I’ve read.

    The bottom line is I don’t think calling a nebulous group of people dicks is a good method to promote cohesiveness and/or less dickish behavior in the skeptical community. But I’m open to evidence showing me I’m wrong. Your speech moved people, and I guess that’s good. But do you want to woo believers to feel comfortable in the skeptic movement at the expense of making vocal atheists feel that the skeptics movement is shunning them? Nobody is trying to kick believers out of the skeptic community, are they? But people ARE trying to silence or tone down those who criticize religious woo. Naturally skeptics are curious as to how skeptics rectify their supernatural beliefs. Are such queries the real reason for the “don’t be dicks” speech?

    I know you are trying to broaden the appeal of skepticism, but you are alienating some of the best skeptics around by insinuating (or letting your readers insinuate) that others are a harm to the cause. If that’s really the case, then every one should be interested in the evidence. There are no “sides” to the truth. I think Matt Dillahunty’s critique was spot on.

    Also, you might want to consider whether those you think of as dickish are reaching people you can’t reach. Some skeptics prefer those who are willing to declare the emperor naked… some prefer those who agree that it’s possible that there COULD be some magical kinda of clothing that only the chosen can see.

    You do realize that if you believe there are a group of dickish atheists out there that “hurt the cause”, you’ll confirm that bias at every opportunity. But that doesn’t make it true. That’s why a number of people have asked for evidence. Even a super skeptic like you can commit a logical fallacy. I’m just not willing to jump on the “don’t be a dick” bandwagon until I understand exactly what you think “being a dick” is. We can all get behind the “don’t be a dick” meme– but I don’t think people have the same idea of what “being a dick” means.

  356. grung0r

    Phil:
    there are studies that have shown that aggressive posturing tends to be less persuasive than a gentler approach.

    Gentler then what? Screaming at a girl and calling her a retard? Suggesting you don’t believe the same things other people do? There is an awfully wide range of opinions here as to what constitutes being a dick. You still have refused to clarify what you were talking about despite it’s “trivially easy” nature.

  357. Steve in Dublin

    The mention of condoms by Sister Chromatid a few posts above struck a chord with me, so now I’m going to go all strident for a moment.

    The position of the Catholic church condemning the use of condoms in AIDS-stricken countries is a perfect example of *superstitious beliefs* spilling over into Real Life™. It’s inhumane, and a completely untenable position to hold in this 21st century world where, thanks to science, we understand how disease vectors work.

    I’d like to see the so-called skeptical Christians out there defend the Church’s stance on this issue. Go on, give it your best shot.

  358. David

    “The support I have received has been very encouraging. The drop in the level of demeanor I had been seeing was disheartening to say the least. I’m very glad to know that so many people took this topic to heart.
    And, at the very least, it has helped spark a conversation that, in my opinion, is long overdue in the skeptic community. We need to be skeptical of ourselves as much as we are of any claims made by others, and we should be reminded of that every now and again.”

    This is from your post above, Thanks for reminding us that we need to be skeptical of ourselves, glad you took it to heart. So when is this “conversation” going to take place, are only people who agree with you invited?

  359. parclair

    Perhaps another way to approach the catholic church is to think of it as the oldest, most effective business/bureaucracy on the planet.

    Where are the discussions about income transfer from the poor to the verry rich center? (this could also be applied to the evangelicals)

    (Why are you driving a 15 year old car and sending 10 percent of your miniscule paycheck to a group that just closed the church you’ve been going to for the last 20 years?

    All that money you’ve sent over all those years, why isn’t the church sending you a stipend since you’ve lost your job?

    IE where’s the “christian’ behavior here?)

    Where are the discussions (even actions) about taking away the church protections from taxes as applied to the vast for profit holdings of the catholic church (business buildings, for-profit apartment complexes, etc). People have done research on the amount of non-religious holdings.

    These are tangible discussions that could resonate with believers and get them to start thinking.

  360. Dr. Plait may be doing the “I’m an atheist (skeptic?) but…” routine. If Dr. Plait really, truly cared about tone and civility, he would spend blog post after blog post complaining about the tone of religious believers, paranormalists, art reviewers, movie reviewers etc. who are clearly much more uncivil than skeptics (and Dr. Plait has to my knowledge not even given a single example of this supposed lack of civility within the skeptic community!) but he is clearly not, so there has to be something else going on. Furthermore, there is no civil way to explain to someone that his or her entire worldview is a sham.

    At the end of the day Dr. Plait may be just another faitheist accomodationist who does not dare to consistently stand up for rational principles all the way through.

  361. Steve in Dublin

    The position of the Catholic church condemning the use of condoms in AIDS-stricken countries is a perfect example of *superstitious beliefs* spilling over into Real Life™. It’s inhumane, and a completely untenable position to hold in this 21st century world where, thanks to science, we understand how disease vectors work.

    I’d like to see the so-called skeptical Christians out there defend the Church’s stance on this issue. Go on, give it your best shot.

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. Do I hear:

    *crickets*

    Tell you what though: I still have a lot of respect for the BA. He’s just (unwittingly, I hope) chosen to fight a battle that isn’t possible to win. Really. It’s like attempting to herd cats.

  362. Snafu

    If one is ruthlessly practical about this, the main issue is that current communication practices are not working, the reasons are well known, and so other approaches must be adopted. There is no shortage of studies covering effective communication techniques to consider and take advantage of, if one wants to go for it systematically. In fact, the opposition is doing it all the time.

    This is not about being soft, or nonargumentative, or accomodationist. Is about making it work. As he says, what’s the goal?

    And, from a purely emotional point of view, if doing so happens to spread a bit of joy and happiness and warmth around, double plus good then. I’ve been of the dickish condition most of my life, and the few times I’ve approached the thing the other way ’round, I’ve been surprised at how much more of a real dialogue I’ve managed to produce, with more opportunities to get my points across and plant some seed. And it felt good.

  363. J. J. Ramsey

    Steve in Dublin: “I’d like to see the so-called skeptical Christians out there defend the Church’s stance on this issue. Go on, give it your best shot.”

    What makes you think they’d even want to, especially since the skeptical Christians that have been mentioned so far have been toward the liberal end of the religious spectrum?

  364. Steve in Dublin

    What makes you think they’d even want to, especially since the skeptical Christians that have been mentioned so far have been toward the liberal end of the religious spectrum?

    I’m afraid you lost me there. I’m not sure if liberalism can be applied to religious beliefs.

  365. Tefter

    Goodbye Phil. We part ways. I’m very very disappointed with you :( (

  366. John Sandlin

    It seems we’ve drawn a line in the sand. On one side are those who wish to make a difference in the world and use the tools that will do so, and on the other are those who wish to remain curmugeonly.

  367. EdF

    to #367 and #368. As a former Catholic (now Presbyterian (marriage compromise)), I can say that one issues of sex the church is pretty consistent when it comes to life. They say no to condoms as vehemently as they say no to premarital sex. No to abortion as they say no to death penalty. Their solution to the AIDS epidemic is stop having sex before marriage, don’t cheat on your spouse, etc. A skeptical mind would have to agree that that is the only way to 100% prevent the spread of AIDS in cases in which a condom would help. Now, a rational mind would say it’s unrealistic to expect people to uphold to that, but should they bend their core beliefs to accomodate those who aren’t true believers anyway? Sound familiar? If you think they should because the greater good is served, then I suggest looking in the mirror in regards to this whole topic.

    Now I agree with JJ Ramsey, and I assume most religious folks here do not agree with the church on this point, because my assumption is that religious believing skeptics tend to be on the liberal end of the religious spectrum. Meaning, we don’t subscribe nor follow the letter of the law in a particular church, but do try to follow the spirit of it. If you can’t differentiate that those who believe in God believe in ways that cut across a huge spectrum, then I challenge that your beliefs about someone like me are purely based on prejudices and stereotypes that anyone who believes in God is a bible thumping, evangelical, young earth believing person.

    Lastly, don’t look to me to offer a decent defense to the Catholic church on the matter of condoms. First, as I said before, I don’t agree with it. But second, I’m not a religious scholar with the background to do it. I also don’t think you’re going to find a lot of defense here because none of us are theologians. It’s like asking for someone in a discussion group of theologians to defend skepticism. So don’t jump to a conclusion that a lack of defense on a skeptics forum means there is none, that would not be very skeptical of you.

  368. David

    “It seems we’ve drawn a line in the sand. On one side are those who wish to make a difference in the world and use the tools that will do so, and on the other are those who wish to remain curmugeonly.”

    Got any evidence to back that up? Because Atheism and godlessness is actually spreading faster than ever before in history, you know, back when atheist’s stayed in the closet where they belonged.

    When I was in grammar school there was this meme going around about gays, its still here i’m sure you’ve heard it “I don’t mind if they are gay, just keep it out of view so I don’t have to see it” or the other one which fits here better “they can be gay but why do they have to be so strident?”

    Ridicule works as a tool. And no i’m not suggesting you go around taunting people to me its not even what this argument is about at all. But you did bring it up.
    http://www.iwp.edu/news_publications/detail/ridicule-an-instrument-in-the-war-on-terrorism

  369. David

    EDF “Now, a rational mind would say it’s unrealistic to expect people to uphold to that, but should they bend their core beliefs to accomodate those who aren’t true believers anyway? Sound familiar? If you think they should because the greater good is served, then I suggest looking in the mirror in regards to this whole topic.”

    Just have 2 points, he didn’t say their beliefs about condoms weren’t important to them he said it was an example of “magical thinking” that kinda messes up the world for the rest of us. he said it better than I did but its not really related to what you were arguing.

    Second point is noone NOT a SINGLE post has argued that its a good idea to go around name calling and being intimidating in fact most totally agree that if you want to get your point across to someone and get them to listen you should try to be nice. At least until its time to not be nice. The problem is as this post is actually evidence of, ask 100 people what being a dick means and you get 100 different answers. Ask them who they think the problem is and you get answers ranging from internet trolls all the way up to “anyone who believes the scientific method”.

    Oh last thing, theres no evidence that being nice to people actually changes their minds, when they are hostile to the message. You claiming it does, doesn’t make it so.

  370. grung0r

    . I also don’t think you’re going to find a lot of defense here because none of us are theologians.

    Do not make such assumptions about people you don’t know. I’m a Theologian.

    In my capacity as house theologian, I will tell you that The Catholic Church is wrong about condoms, because when God demanded the foreskins of the Jews as a sign of the covenant, he was also telling us that he was now improving on his already perfect design, and thus any modification to one’s penis was also endorsed, nay, created by him. Given this fact, it would be unholy NOT to use condoms.

    What’s awesome about being a theologian is that any possible postion can be posited and then assumed to be correct by anyone who already believes you are a theologian, just so long as you assume god exists and mention something from your scriptural text as a reference point.

  371. J. J. Ramsey

    The catch, David, is that your link is about using ridicule to discredit people, in this case terrorist groups, dictators, and such, not to ridicule the very people that one is trying to convince. The goal is not to, say, convert bin Laden, but to make him unappealing to onlookers.

    David: “Atheism and godlessness is actually spreading faster than ever before in history, you know, back when atheist’s stayed in the closet where they belonged.”

    The evidence for this is rather sketchy. For example, according to the ARIS 2008 survey, the rise in irreligion has actually been less steep since 2001, before the “New Atheists” got rolling.

  372. David

    “What’s awesome about being a theologian is that any possible postion can be posited and then assumed to be correct by anyone who already believes you are a theologian, just so long as you assume god exists and mention something from your scriptural text as a reference point.”

    Thats awesome.

  373. John Sandlin

    @372: David:

    Thank you for your interest in my comment. I am surprised, though, that you demand evidence for a personal observation. Here is my citation:

    * John B. Sandlin, Bad Astronomy Blog, 2010-08-22, “Don’t Be a Dick, Part 3: the aftermath” comment 370.

  374. David

    “The evidence for this is rather sketchy. For example, according to the ARIS 2008 survey, the rise in irreligion has actually been less steep since 2001, before the “New Atheists” got rolling.”

    You will have to define “New Atheists” then, because 2001 is not before those I consider “New Atheists” or those who have been called “New Atheists” by others.

    I could also argue that you will always get diminishing returns in any growing group. However when I said this time in history I should have been more clear, to me the 1990s actually are part of “this time in history to me” Damn i’m getting old.

  375. EdF

    I’m glad there’s a Theologian in the bunch, my point was don’t look at me to defend the Catholic church’s position because 1) I don’t agree with it and 2) even if I did, I don’t have the knowledge upon which they base their reasoning. Perhaps, as a theologian, you could argue the church’s case in the matter. I know you don’t agree with it, but since the Vatican is unlikely to pipe up here it would be nice to hear. The only thing I remember the church saying was that they were against all forms of birth control because they view the sperm and the egg, even before conception, to be a form of human life. And using any barriers you were in effect killing that human life. With that said, 96% of married Catholics use birth control.

    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/11/15/bishops_stress_sexual_issues_and_warn_on_communion/

    But #373 David is right, this is way off topic to the original post about “not being a jerk” (changing the word, better for me to type.) I don’t know that you’d get 100 different answers though. It reminds me of the supreme court case ruling about pornography, more specifically obscenity. Perhaps its’ the standard we should adopt for the whole “Don’t be a jerk” discussion.

    “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. [Emphasis added.]”

    — Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it

  376. David

    Did a link not take there john? Or am I not reading something correctly? Or did you just cite this thread as evidence for this thread?

  377. David

    Sorry JJ I didn’t answer your first point, Yes ridicule isn’t used against those you want to convert, however it keeps people from joining those you ridicule. and does get people to think. Keep in mind I was not advocating it’s use or suggesting that its even what this thread is about. I was pointing out that It IS a tool that works.

  378. J. J. Ramsey

    David: “You will have to define ‘New Atheists’ then, because 2001 is not before those I consider ‘New Atheists’ or those who have been called ‘New Atheists’ by others.”

    Sam Harris was the first New Atheist writer, and his book The End of Faith didn’t come out until 2004. The God Delusion came out in 2006, as did Dennett’s book Breaking The Spell. The term “New Atheism” was coined by Wired magazine writer Gary Wolf near the end of 2006, and Wolf only mentioned three of the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism, leaving out Hitchens, whose book god is not great had not been published until 2007. The New Atheism is a relatively recent movement, and it certainly does not pre-date 2001.

    David: “Yes ridicule isn’t used against those you want to convert, however it keeps people from joining those you ridicule.”

    Trouble is, the people we’re trying to convert have already joined.

  379. David

    “Trouble is, the people we’re trying to convert have already joined.”

    Last I checked they were still making new people.

    If those are the new Atheists who are the old ones? Is Randi new or old? how about Sagan? How about Madalyn Murray O’Hair was she one of the “old respected good atheists”?

    I think people like to look at history through rose colored glasses. The “Atheists are rude” meme has been around a lot longer than you seem to think.

  380. Steve in Dublin

    Now I agree with JJ Ramsey, and I assume most religious folks here do not agree with the church on this point, because my assumption is that religious believing skeptics tend to be on the liberal end of the religious spectrum. Meaning, we don’t subscribe nor follow the letter of the law in a particular church, but do try to follow the spirit of it. If you can’t differentiate that those who believe in God believe in ways that cut across a huge spectrum, then I challenge that your beliefs about someone like me are purely based on prejudices and stereotypes that anyone who believes in God is a bible thumping, evangelical, young earth believing person.

    Sorry, but by your silence/indifference regarding this issue, you implicitly condone the Pope’s stance on condoms. That’s basically what I (and others here) have been trying to say all along: the religious moderates abet the extremists (or rather, let’s say authoritarians) by not speaking out against things that are just plain wrong.

  381. EdF

    @384

    You have jumped to a huge conclusion to prove your point! You have no clue whatsoever what I have done or spoken on in regards to this, and that’s a problem. Face it, in the media you will only hear extreme points of view.

    As I’ve said over and over again, don’t lump everyone who believes in a god together. Because I promise you that that anger you have towards the church, and all the moderates within it, will spill over into your conversations with them. And guess what, they’ll think you’re being a jerk. Which was the WHOLE point of this post.

  382. parclair

    #383 Steve in Dublin. May I suggest you are off topic? When there is a discussion on the topic of the cc’s stand on condoms/aids I might join in (believe me, I’ve a lot to say). My comments were related to the tone of Dawkin’s presentation. (Note I included Mormons). I’m certain most of the responders here, like me, *have* spoken out on this topic. What we’ve been discussing is the *manner and tone* in which people speak out.

    I’m checking out now, back to lurking. Phil, hang in there; this topic is just too important to drop. I’ve been sampling for an atheist/skeptic site where I might feel comfortable. Too many have been just as you described. I’ll add you to my reader list. I *will* be watching your new show. To the others, thank you, it’s been fun……

  383. Phil: “that they were seriously considering leaving the movement altogether”

    What does that mean? They won’t go to TAM anymore? Please don’t think you saved people from this horrible, but undefined, fate.

  384. grung0r

    Steve:
    the religious moderates abet the extremists (or rather, let’s say authoritarians) by not speaking out against things that are just plain wrong.

    At the risk of appearing a contrarian(if the shoe fits…), I don’t think this is a charge you can level individual people in the rank and file of any group. The fact is, most of do not get to appear on talking head TV shows, have widely read blogs or books, or have the ability or inclination to organize mass protests. I would venture to say this charge could be laid at anyone’s feet, including your own.

    “Speaking out”, hilariously enough, Is somewhat like “being a dick”. It’s awfully tough to define, and can mean a vastly wide range of things depending on whom your talking to, or talking about.

  385. Blizno

    I’m a latecomer to this thread and ran through many dozens of responses but cannot possibly read all of the hundreds. If what follows has already been said, I apologize.

    My emotional response to the title of the original post, “Don’t be a Dick” was purely defensive.
    When I read “Don’t be a Dick”, my brain heard Phil saying to me, “Stop being a dick, you dick!”

    I finally dug down to the original video and watched 2/3 of it before my internet connection stopped trying to play it. I agree with it all except that I have not witnessed the level of dickishness that others appear to have witnessed. I’ve read some insults and some anger from both sides during my travels along the interwebbing but they were isolated and were usually followed by calm responses. Maybe I haven’t visited the really contentious threads.
    I don’t have a globally read blog like Phil’s so I’m sure that the mail flooding me (cheap Viagra from Canada!) is nothing like the bile than Phil has to wade through each day.

    I have sunken to rage-writing in the past but I hope that I am past that stage. I get as frustrated as anyone else when everything I’ve written is ignored and utter wrongness is posted as a reply to my carefully crafted post. I learned long ago that insulting and typing in all capital letters and bold font does nothing to convince others.

    I could not agree more with the “Teach a man to question and he’ll ponder for a lifetime” or whatever that sentiment was.
    It’s the right thing to do. Encourage others to question everything and, if invited, offer those others tools to help them make their own observations and decisions.

  386. John Sandlin

    380. David Says:

    August 22nd, 2010 at 4:26 pm
    Did a link not take there john? Or am I not reading something correctly? Or did you just cite this thread as evidence for this thread?

    I didn’t know any other way to document my observation, one entirely done within my own brain. Therefore, I provided evidence for said observation as a link to the first point where I documented that observation. The dataset for that observation is this thread. I probably should have referenced that as well.

  387. David

    “I didn’t know any other way to document my observation, one entirely done within my own brain. Therefore, I provided evidence for said observation as a link to the first point where I documented that observation. The dataset for that observation is this thread. I probably should have referenced that as well.”

    I think you missed what I was referring to, only part of your statement was opinion. The other part was implying that one tactic works and another doesn’t. Thats the part you need evidence for.

    “On one side are those who wish to make a difference in the world and use the tools that will do so, and on the other are those who wish to remain curmugeonly”

    Its your opinion that people just wish to remain curmudgeonly which is fine to have, but you made a claim about the tools which needs evidence.

    Now aside from that because the thread has degenerated extremely far from where it should be, ill state again. The argument isn’t that people should go around insulting people and being nasty to them to get results. Because no one does that, not PZ Myers not Richard Dawkins not even Christopher Hitchens, not even the worst commenters on PZ’s blog do it unless provoked by obvious trolls. Sure you can easily go and find something said and take it out of the context it was said in and call it dickish, but that doesn’t make it so. It also doesn’t change he fact that Atheists have had the same claim thrown at them at least since the 1970s, probably earlier. Long before any supposed “New Atheists” whatever the fark that means.

    The whole problem with this thread is one side thinks if you post anecdote after anecdote eventually it becomes evidence. It doesn’t.

  388. grung0r

    David;
    Now aside from that because the thread has degenerated extremely far from where it should be

    Why bother keeping the thread on topic at this point? Phil is very clearly running out the clock, and he will succeed as it’s his blog. He will never defend his claims or back up his anecdotes with actual evidence.

    So much the worse for him. The saddest part is that Phil has possibly destroyed his ability to be a defender of skepticism or debunk any claims of the woo filled in the future. Not with with his speech, which was just typical accommodationist claptrap, but with his brief and frankly pathetic defense of it. Imagine what someone hawking the latest in unscientific woo will say when confronted with the Bad Astronomer taking them to task. I would guess that their defense will consist entirely of “I find that funny; finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy.” When he asks how that could possibly constitute evidence, they will point to one Mr. Phil Plait.

  389. John Sandlin

    Quite obviously, based on the examples of real skeptics exposed in this thread, I am no true skeptic. Also, based on the examples demonstrating what it takes to be a true skeptic, I have determined I do not wish to be one. As such, from this point forward, I will no longer espouse taking a rational point of view, neither by post nor in person.

    I am not interested in completing anyone’s PhD in effective communications for them. If any one is really interested in those studies, they can find them on their own. I’m just not skeptical enough to argue the point, now or any time soon.

  390. Dr.Sid

    It was a good speech. Though I did not cry, sorry :-D

  391. David

    “Why bother keeping the thread on topic at this point? Phil is very clearly running out the clock, and he will succeed as it’s his blog. He will never defend his claims or back up his anecdotes with actual evidence.”

    In the past ten years of surfing the web, I can count the number of posts I have made on the internet on one hand. I am not an eloquent writer i’m fairly certain I don’t even get my punctuation correct most of the time so I mostly just read. I wouldn’t have posted anything here either but it bothered me, probably a little too much, that someone as important to me as Dr. Plait could say “I find that funny; finding examples about which I was speaking is trivially easy.” without backing it up.

    So I will wait, maybe its a good thing, after all i’m now participating a little bit at least.

    @393 John Sandlin Weak….just weak. You sound like a petulant child.

  392. darren

    Phil Write: “The support I have received has been very encouraging. The drop in the level of demeanor I had been seeing was disheartening to say the least. I’m very glad to know that so many people took this topic to heart.”

    Phil is much smarter and more educated than me. And, I think overall, good for the skeptical movement. But he has a lot of nerve commenting on the ‘drop in level of demeanor’ when he himself has engaged in the “drop in demeanor”. In his second post on the subject he essentially called the commenter in #2 a dick, in not so many words here (see phil’s comment #3)

  393. Mike McCants

    “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.”

    So it’s ok to disagree, just don’t strongly disagree. I don’t think you can possibly draw a line and separate “close but not over the line” from “that’s over the line”. That’s why you have never tried to define “be a dick about it”. You really can’t.

    “And, at the very least, it has helped spark a conversation that, in my opinion, is long overdue in the skeptic community.”

    I don’t think so. “Tone” has always been part of the conversation.

    “We need to be skeptical of ourselves as much as we are of any claims made by others, and we should be reminded of that every now and again.”

    I think this throwaway sentence is meaningless.

    “I found a lot of the people were grossly misinterpreting what I was saying”

    Could this be because you are not clear about what you are trying to say?

    “I still think my message is best in general when dealing with a believer.”

    A believer in what? Be specific! Religion? So, saying unkind things directly to a person who has been indoctrinated for decades is unlikely to be productive? Is that your message? Then I think I agree that you have found a strawman.

    “please first watch the video of my TAM 8 talk.”

    It’s 31 minutes. Where is the executive summary?

    “If it’s to change the hearts and minds of people across the world, then at least as important as what we say is how we say it.”

    Ahh, there’s the rub. Be very “nice” when you call someone irrational? Thanks so much for your opinion.

    “the vast majority of people will become further entrenched when confronted in that way.”

    The vast majority of people are hopeless – so what?

    “it almost always works against the bigger goal of swaying the most people we can.”

    Here is where I think others are calling this a strawman. The counter argument is that almost every skeptic approaches a person with the hope of persuading them of the irrationality of their belief. Only after it is clear that the case is hopeless does the skeptic pronounce “you are hopeless” and that is the time that the skeptic becomes a “dick”.

    I think you are confused and confusing about three different situations: 1) person to person, 2) comments in response to a blog, 3) writing for the general public. You have tried to make a statement that might apply to 1 and failed to admit that it does not apply to 2 or 3.

  394. Checkmite

    I read all the responses here and I’m absolutely flabbergasted. Here Phil rather eloquently argues that you can be skeptical and questioning without resorting to name-calling, personal insults, and ad hominem attacks. And yet so many people here seem to be passionately arguing that it’s impossible to “be a skeptic” without doing those things; that refraining from hurling insults between the facts, figures, and scientific rebuttals is equivalent to “giving woos a pass” of some kind. I really don’t understand how what these people are thinking.

    Honestly – read Phil’s book, “Bad Astronomy”. Will anybody argue that it’s not one of the most excellent rebuttals to astronomic pseudoscience and moon-hoax claims that can be found? And yet not one single personal insult to anyone within its pages. No “by the way, moon hoaxers believe what they do because they’re idiots”, no “astrology fans are stupid so I really don’t understand why I’m wasting time writing this” to be found anywhere inside it. Obviously, it can be done.

  395. EdF

    I’m lurking after this, I’ve said too much already. But to all those who are so angry at Phil for his comments, my question is this. At the very end of the video, when he speaks about his exchange with a young earth believing student, how would you have handled it? Same way? Different?

    I’ll leave with this. As a kid I always got in trouble from my parents, they’re reasoning was it wasn’t what I said, but how I was saying it. I still fall into it, I’m sure we all do when our passions are hot.

  396. Red

    EdF

    I probably would have handled the creationist girl in a similar manner, perhaps with a bit of mild chastisement for blindingly accepting what she was told and not investigating for herself. The real question is does it matter. How likely is it that she will deconvert because of how Phil handled it versus someone berating her publicly? I’d say the chances are nearly equal. Now, what are the chances that she will continue to bring up ridiculous beliefs in public? With Phil’s approach, I think she’ll probably continue to do so. Had she been publicly humiliated, not so much.

    Then we have to ask ourselves if we want to personally change every believer into a skeptic or if we want to suppress the public expression of magical thinking. I don’t think the former is even remotely possible. I also think that those who are capable of changing will do so with very little input from us. All the arguments and data necessary to change are already available and easily accessible. I think we should be focusing on giving people the opportunity to consider their beliefs while also letting the public know, in no uncertain terms, that magical thinking is not acceptable.

    Of course, without any hard data either way, we’re all just speculating. We ought to be working on that.

  397. I believe in a god very different from the Christian norm, but I am a skeptic. I am even skeptical of my own belief, because I don’t KNOW I am right. My belief is such that it cannot be proved or disproved for ages.

    I think many other skeptics have similar beliefs. Even Christians can have beliefs which do not compromise their critical facilities. They just have to keep in mind that beliefs can affect knowledge and understanding and learning, but a skeptical attitude can correct mistakes. Just Keep Doubting. Don’t give up belief, just remember that it IS belief, not facts of nature.

    Like the fact that Evolution adds perspective to unify the diverse knowledge of biology, religious belief CAN add perspective to unify cosmological knowledge. It is not a substitute for knowledge, just a lens through which to view it. And when the view becomes distorted, we can adjust the lens, we can alter our beliefs.

    The only sin is to maintain beliefs when they conflict with scientific discoveries and understanding.

  398. grung0r

    Louis:
    The only sin is to maintain beliefs when they conflict with scientific discoveries and understanding.

    So Bigfoot is fine then? UFOs? The Loch Ness monster?

  399. Steve in Dublin

    The dicks out there are beginning to weigh in on these BA posts. Here’s an opinion from Jerry Coyne that pretty much sums up my feelings:

    Are we phalluses?

    Dawkins comes in at comment #29.

    ETA:

    The only sin is to maintain beliefs when they conflict with scientific discoveries and understanding.

    So Bigfoot is fine then? UFOs? The Loch Ness monster?

    This! Why do religious beliefs, which conflict with scientific discoveries and understanding at nearly every juncture, get a free pass? Cue “but… but… not *my* religious beliefs!” in 3… 2… 1…

  400. Tyro

    Three posts, a thousand comments and I still have no idea what Phil is saying.

    Since no one thinks they’re dicks and Phil just hand waves we can substitute our own definition of “dick”, careful to draw the line with us on the right side. Great, we all feel good about ourselves for not being one of Them. A perfect feel-good but vacuous speech.

    Or we could figure out just what a “dick” is, see when it’s a good or bad thing and then make appropriate changes. But that would require actual definitions, examples and a serious discussion, something Phil seems dead set on avoiding.

    So thanks for nothing. Literally.

  401. Unsupportable views are unsupportable views. All should be criticised, including religious views. That said, there is no reason you can’t be civil about it unless the person you are talking to isn’t civil.

  402. Jolo5309

    My name is John and I have been a dick. I have actively disagreed with others regarding their religion, homeopathy, 9-11, and vaccinations. In exchange for disagreeing with them I have been called: a 8*tard, an ***hole, a ****ing waste of space and others.

    Why just yesterday someone called me a **tard because I refused to accept his statement that Wakefield’s research has been duplicated (yet he never gave any evidence).

    Now, I have been called a dick, because since others feel this way, surely Mr Plait does as well. The easiest way to show you are losing an argument Mr Plait, is to start with the name calling. That tells me your statement lacks validity and are just resorting to it because you have nothing else.

  403. Sister Chromatid

    The problem with trying to get people to be civil via a “don’t be a dick” speech is that the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that the biggest dicks are the least likely to identify themselves as the dicks in Phil’s speech, while less dickish folks might wonder if he was talking about them.

  404. David

    “That said, there is no reason you can’t be civil about it unless the person you are talking to isn’t civil.”

    Is this really what this discussion is about? People keep repeating it over and over again, while some (rightly) have argued there is no evidence to suggest one way or the other on this, I do not think its the main issue being argued. And yet over and over again its repeated while peoples main objections are totally ignored.

  405. Snafu

    When the person one is talking to isn’t being civil, there are ways to bring him/her back to civility. Many “self-help” and coach training books around provide with interesting toolboxes for that, actually.

  406. elaine

    Beautifully done, Phil.

    We all have sacred cows. EVERYONE!

    The difference between the way Kitty believes and an atheist activist is that Kitty doesn’t proselytize. It’s personal. It’s private. Therefore, no one should believe they have a right to make Kitty justify her beliefs.

  407. James (the militant agnostic)

    I’m kind of fascinated by all of the people who have reacted defensively to this; more so the ones that have reacted aggressively.

    How can you not know what behaving like a dick is like?

    Would you speak to your parents like that?
    Would you speak to your employer like that?
    Would you speak to a friend who is on the verge of tears like that?

    If the answer to all of these questions is “no”, then what makes you think that kind of behaviour is acceptable towards a complete stranger on the internet?

  408. Robert

    @elaine 412 – I don’t think everyone has “sacred cows” but I am more than willing to be shown that I am wrong. I personally don’t have a problem with discussing things that I believe / don’t believe and to be shown that I am wrong.

    Just about everyone that is a member of a skeptic organization self identifies as a skeptic and I don’t see how having unjustified beliefs questioned especially within a skeptic organization whether the person is proselytizing or not is in any way wrong. Why should a belief get special treatment because the person isn’t trying to proselytize their religion / deity / moon landing hoax / antivax / etc. belief?

    @James 413 – I suspect the vast majority if not all would not / do not. The defensiveness you brought up likely comes from them not doing this and trying to get specifics from Phil so they can understand the problem that Phil sees and took the time to speak about at TAM since he has called it out as a problem within the community.

  409. Tyro

    @James 413

    If that’s what Phil means then sure, I agree but is that really what he’s talking about? He says it’s trivially easy to find examples of these ‘dicks’ yet I don’t know anyone that shouts insults directly at people, certainly not people they care about. That would be insane. Phil can’t possibly mean that, can he? If so, the whole talk is ridiculous since it’s such a non-problem.

    I’m pretty sure that Phil is talking about something else but the fact that we have a big disagreement and worse, that you think his meaning is obvious and I think you’re obviously wrong shows that his example- and definition-free talk is open to widely divergent interpretations.

  410. elaine

    @robert 414

    That’s the sacred cow part, Robert. If a person has a private belief they don’t feel the need to justify, than that needs to be respected. Otherwise, you’re dangerously close to defining who the “real” skeptics are. That, I think, is a larger part of the problem to the “dick” comments. One group saying “if you believe “x” , you’re not a skeptic.”. It’s an us versus them mentality.

    I don’t know you, but if you have no sacred cows, if you consider EVERY decision you make skeptically, before acting, then you are certainly the exception. Not the rule.

    It’s cool, though, to disagree. It’s the “being a dick part” that’s causing all the problems.

  411. David

    “Would you speak to your parents like that?” Like what?
    “Would you speak to your employer like that?” Like what?
    “Would you speak to a friend who is on the verge of tears like that?” Like what?

    My mother is 70 she hates doctors, not a rational fear but she justifies it any way she can to get out of seeing a doctor. After weeks of begging pleading and reasoning with her to go see one when she was sick the ONLY thing that worked was . “Mom, Stop being a farking moron, your going to the doctor if I have to drag you there in your nightgown!”

    I had a a very religious employer years ago, I liked the job, I needed the job every morning he gathered his “team” (all his employees) for a group prayer. Playing along with that group prayer was horrendous but Washington is a “right to work” state and by his actions and words it was quite clear being any thing but a “god fearin christian” would cost you your job. I put up with it for almost 2 years, decent jobs were not easy to find where I lived. When I finally did move on, yeah I was probably a major dick to the guy.

    When I was 19 one of my best friends had a boyfriend who would smack her around on a regular basis the worst part was that this girl was not stupid in any other area of her life. We tried everything to end this relationship even things that weren’t quite legal. In the end she came to our house crying one night asking “if she could stay till he calmed down a bit” We told her to “go fark herself” and we were tired of her stupidity, couldn’t be her friend anymore as long as he was around. Now this might seem harsh but the story is much longer than this and there were reasons for us to be angry with her. She came back 2 hours later with her packed bags though.

    What I’m trying to say with my long winded collection of anecdotes is, context matters, and you still haven’t shown anyone where these dicks are. Or why anyone thinks its some kind of growing trend in the skeptical movement. Or even what behavior your talking about.

  412. David

    “That’s the sacred cow part, Robert. If a person has a private belief they don’t feel the need to justify, than that needs to be respected. Otherwise, you’re dangerously close to defining who the “real” skeptics are. That, I think, is a larger part of the problem to the “dick” comments. One group saying “if you believe “x” , you’re not a skeptic.”. It’s an us versus them mentality.”

    The SGU introduced me to skeptics, had no idea before then, I don;t think I all that irrational but I had a few things I took uncritically. Maybe I misunderstand what being a skeptic is maybe i’m confused.

    I always thought it was something like this.

    Claims require evidence.
    Question everything
    Anecdotes are not evidence.
    Logic and reason not ad hominem and appeals to emotion.
    And Above all ….There are no sacred cows.

    Hi I’m a skeptic I believe in astrology, homeopathy, ghosts, psychics. leprechauns, unicorns, puff the magic dragon and that vaccines cause all diseases, please refrain from discussing those while i’m here. I am skeptical of bigfoot and the Lochness monster, those are fine to question. Oh and i’m on the fence to magic crystals and therapeutic touch, so dont be too critical of those.

    Does this work for anyone else?

  413. grung0r

    elaine:
    If a person has a private belief they don’t feel the need to justify, than that needs to be respected

    The psychic atheists strike again, I see.

  414. Robert

    @elaine 416 – I suspect there is a disconnect with the definition of words.

    A private belief by its definition would never be discussed since by being private it is not known by others. If you are using the term private to mean personal belief… personal beliefs (which I see as no different than just saying “beliefs”) can be questioned and are questioned all the time. Do you think that because the person holds it sacredly that they should be given a pass with regards to questioning and rebuttal as to why they hold the belief on it even within a group that identifies with itself by its skepticism which by its definition includes questioning as to why beliefs are held?

    Why should a belief that is unfounded ever be respected? It is often easier to get across a statement such as this by using an extreme example of what I am saying. What if I believed in unicorns or that the earth was flat… should either of those be respected?

    I would hope that any skeptical group defines what being skeptical is and hence what a skeptic is. If some people are not considered skeptical by this definition why is that wrong? I have next to no doubt that a person that believed in unicorns would also end up in the situation you described. I would also hope that the people on the other side from those that have the “personal beliefs” look at it as more of an us vs. those that aren’t being skeptical mentality.

    I don’t see how not having sacred cows equates to considering EVERY decision skeptically. I do see it as being willing to not consider anything sacred in the sense that everything can be questioned which I do believe I and others are perfectly fine with. Can you justify adding this additional requirement or do you see where I am coming from?

    When you say, “causing all the problems” can you be more specific? The skeptical movement does not seem to be suffering from being skeptical of people’s personal beliefs though I do believe that it would not grow as fast due to some people not wanting their beliefs questioned. I personally don’t see that as a bad thing.

  415. Tyro

    Looks like one comment is lost in the admin queue, so trying again without links.

    What I find troubling about the “what is a dick” question is that the biggest, loudest, most dickish sceptics I can think of are Penn & Teller. They are certainly public, they are very loud and they spend most of their tv show shouting, swearing and insulting believers. It really is everything Phil decries in his “don’t be a dick” video and yet Phil has repeatedly endorsed their show, praised their work and even appeared as a guest.

    If P & T aren’t dicks then just who the heck is?

  416. Steve in Dublin

    The thread that just keeps on giving…

    I thought this part of Richard Dawkins’ comment (over at Jerry Coyne’s blog. See my comment #403 for link) was especially good:

    My second point is that Plait naively presumed, throughout his lecture, that the person we are ridiculing is the one we are trying to convert. Speaking for myself, it is often a third party (or a large number of third parties) who are listening in, or reading along. When Peter Medawar destroyed Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, in the most devastatingly barbed book review I have ever read, he wasn’t trying to convert Teilhard. Teilhard was already dead in any case. Medawar was trying (and succeeding, in spades)to convert the large number of gullible fools who had been taken in by Teilhard.

    Similarly, 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.

    And that’s mainly why I post on science blogs as well: in an attempt to reach the fence sitters. You feel that even though some of the posters may have a decidedly un-scientific slant to their posts, the very fact that they are reading and posting on a science-oriented blog (well, at least the ones not slinking off after a single drive-by post) is a good start. Learning something about the scientific method, and that science is not a ‘religion’, can’t hurt.

    And now we come full circle: please tell me again why all other woo (astrology, homeopathy, The Secret, et. al.) is fair game for debunking by skeptics, but religion is off limits?

  417. James (the militant agnostic)

    Tyro @415,

    I think it is trivially easy to find examples of that type of behaviour online, and BA’s primary media identity is as a blogger so I think it *is* that simple.

    I like to play devils advocate with people that I agree with and I have been mistaken for a Theist before in the comments conversations (hence the handle) and the vitriol unleashed is – interesting – lets say. I’m going to hurry to say that I’ve never been subject to abusive behaviour, simply rudeness. However on one memorable occasion I got a regular to admit that he had no interest in convincing anyone, just in verbally beating on theists.

    It comes back to what BA said in his talk; is the aim to convince the person you are talking to, or is it to vent, make yourself feel better and “win” the argument?

  418. Sister Chromatid

    Clearly anyone can call oneself a skeptic (and I bet most people think of themselves as “skeptical”) and anyone can decide for themselves whether another person calling themselves a skeptic is a “skeptic” per their own definition. This is true for the label Christian, deist, and atheist too. This even goes for the term “dick”.

    Although Kitty feels ostracized, there’s no actual ostracizing going on. Nobody is saying, “go away”. Kitty is well-loved in the skeptical community. If people don’t want their beliefs questioned, then it’s probably best not to let skeptics know about your supernatural beliefs. It’s dickish to ask skeptics to treat religous woo differently than other woo under the guise of asking for increased civility in general. It’s also dickish to infer that there is this out of control group of dickish atheists getting in peoples faces and “harming the cause” (whatever the cause is) without providing evidence. It furthers a stereotype that seems to have little basis in reality but is oft promoted by those with “belief in belief” (Dennett’s term).

    Skeptics being skeptical is not dickish– even when they are skeptical of the woo that Kitty thinks is true… even if it hurts her feelings and makes her imagine she is being ostracized. Clearly, Phil’s patting believers on the back has not been successful in making Kitty think more critically about her faith –nor have those who hurt her feelings sent her scurrying deeper into religious thinking. So this anecdote does not support Phil’s argument nor does it illustrate that some skeptics are “harming the cause”.

    Again it can be asked, what was Phil’s goal in giving his speech telling us to think about our goals, and did he achieve it by implying that the skeptic community contains a bunch of “dicks”? How is this different than what he’s admonishing us not to do? Also, where’s the evidence that he declares so essential to changing minds? And if he cannot or does not provide it, is he going to apologize for furthering a prejudice that is due more to his own confirmation bias than anything anyone actually is saying or doing in reality? Skeptics can’t get in the faces of believers who are actually keeping their beliefs private… and a skeptics forum is not really a place to get support for anyone’s supernatural beliefs.

    Also, when people feel “saved” for what they believe, how is respecting that notion ever going to change any minds? I think you have to go to the core and get people to question whether faith and feelings are ever a way to know anything true. History has shown us that faith is an excellent way to delude oneself and others. History also shows us that when you want to change many minds you have to question those telling others not to ask questions or make waves.

  419. James (the militant agnostic)

    David @417

    Although you rhetorically say “like what?” you actually provided examples that kind of support my point.

    With your mother and your friend, you tried everything else before being forced to resort to extreme measures.

    With your boss you waited until there could be no adverse consequences for you personally.

    (fair enough, my boss is delusional and a pathological liar, pointing this out to his face is contra-indicated in the manual)

    With your friend with the abusive partner – if you had disconnected earlier, rather than sticking around providing support until she became unsupportable, would your disconnect have made any impact?

  420. David

    @425 James.

    Your right “I” provided examples, but they don’t support anyones point, not even mine. Because they are anecdotal. But at least I provided some examples, whether they are true or not is debatable as no one here really knows except me. I can tell you now I probably exaggerated each one.

    When I asked “like what?” I was quite serious, what behavior is dickish? Read this thread and you will find 100+ different answers, and each one with someone claiming its not dickish.

    I don’t have a problem with someone arguing that being nice is better than being not nice, But thats not what Phil did.

    Instead of presenting a case with facts and evidence, he used strawmen and appeals to emotion to imply that there is a rising tide of dickishness in the skeptic community. Even that wouldn’t be so bad, if when he was asked to explain what he meant, he didn’t use creationist hand waving tactics to justify it.

    On top of that between the speech and his posts afterwards it was clear this only applied to atheists or people arguing against religion, all other woo need not apply for special treatment.

  421. Sister Chromatid

    James are you a militant agnostic about demons? Sprites? Thetans? Or justsome invisible undetectable beings– say, god(s) and souls? What rational reason is there for believing in some invisible forms of consciousness, but not others? Do you think it’s fine if skeptics treat belief in god(s) the same way they treat belief in demons?

    I already know how to change peoples’ beliefs anyhow if that were my goal… I’d do what religion does– I’d promise people eternal rewards for their faith and threaten them with eternal punishment for lacking faith. Fortunately, I’m not a dick.

  422. Robert

    A couple of statements from the NCSE and TAM websites I hope will help convey my attitude towards people that are religious and are a member of a skeptical group.

    NCSE – the NCSE is devoted to defending the teaching of evolution in public schools, and keeping creationism out.
    I have absolutely no issue with the NCSE or Dr. Eugenie Scott not being outspoken about beliefs (e.g. antivaxxers, flatearthers, deity / religion, unicorns, etc.) where it doesn’t affect their goals / purpose. When it does affect their goals / purpose they are quite outspoken as they should be. Just because they aren’t speaking out about these beliefs doesn’t mean that the beliefs are not false, harmful, etc.

    TAM – The Amaz!ng Meeting is a celebration of critical thinking and skepticism sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation. Thinking people travel the world to share learning, laughs and life with fellow skeptics and distinguished guest speakers.
    Both “critical thinking” and “skepticism” stand out as core goals from these two sentences.

    (obscured links to prevent this post from being moderated just in case)
    From freeinquiry dot com critical-thinking.html – “Critical thinking means correct thinking in the pursuit of relevant and reliable knowledge about the world.”

    From skeptic dot com about_us manifesto.html – “One who doubts the validity of what claims to be knowledge in some particular department of inquiry; one who maintains a doubting attitude with reference to some particular question or statement.”

    From the comments of people with belief in a deity here and in other blogs it seems to me that some of them would like for an exception to be made for their beliefs (perhaps especially so for those that are active in the skeptical community). In Phil’s post for example he said, “She is religious, in a rather generic way (you could call her a deist, someone who believes in a non-specific god) and over the years has received quite a bit of ostracism from the community. This, despite her long and strong support for speaking up against psychics, ghost hunters, UFO believers, alt-meddlers, and the rest.” I am by no means sure (especially since Phil has not taken the time to reply to the many questions, counter arguments, requests for clarification, etc.) but it does seem to me that Phil thinks it is not ok for people that have beliefs to have their beliefs questioned and not ok for those doing the questioning to consider these beliefs held by others as not being skeptical… this is within a group that defines themselves as critical thinkers and skeptics.

    Few skeptics have ever denied that there are people that believe in a deity, etc. that are also skeptics though I do think many skeptics think that these types of skeptics are not being skeptical in regards to their beliefs. One example is what Dr. Pamela Gay wrote, “This is false logic. Being a skeptic does not preclude a belief in a God. Being a skeptic simply means I have to admit that there are things I know are scientifically true and based on evidence (such as the age of the universe), and there are things that in the absence of sufficient data I may choose to believe in or not believe in (such as God).” The issue I see with this statement is that in the absence of sufficient data it assumes at times that the default position (once again with “at times” to prevent misunderstanding) is god. It is also compartmentalizing (not saying that is good or bad) in that there are things that are scientifically true that are based on evidence and everything else is potentially because of or in support of god. It is interesting to note that many of the things that are now scientifically true that is based on evidence were in the god category not that long ago.

    Dr. Pamela Gay also wrote, “In our classrooms, this distinction between what we scientifically know to be true (vaccines work), and what individuals choose to believe in without sufficient data (that life must exist somewhere else in the universe), has been lost in too many cases. This is harmful because it sours people to learning science.” I am all for not stifling ideas / research and in the exaample cited we have our own planet as evidence that it is possible for life to exist in this universe and it isn’t by any means a great leap of the human mind to believe in the possibility that life exists in other parts of the universe. Another item of note, most people with belief that there is life on another planet are more than willing to discuss its merits and faults. These type of beliefs are judged using skepticism and critical thinking… why shouldn’t other beliefs or why should some beliefs be given an exception to this?

    As with the NCSE / Dr. Eugenie Scott and their goals I have no reason to doubt and several reasons to think that Dr. Pamela Gay is an excellent professor and a valued member of the skeptical community though I do believe responding with “we don’t know” or “to suspend judgment” is a perfectly valid default position when there is a lack of evidence for areas where god usually comes up and one that I think aligns well with skepticism.

  423. James (the militant agnostic)

    @David:

    Fair enough, we disagree. I thought that Phil’s speech was very clear on what he meant and I don’t think I can put it any better than he did. That’s my limit as a debater.

    I disagree strongly at everyone’s assumption that his comments apply exclusively to atheists. That seems to me to be a gross misinterpretation and smacks of both ad-hominem and “the lady doth protest too much”.

    @Sister Chromatid:

    Yes; if I read your question correctly, I *am* equally agnostic about all supernatural concepts, be they deamons, jinn, nymphs, the greek pantheon, the teuton pantheon, the hindu pantheon, the christian trinity, ancient aliens, the matirx and the head in the jar hypothesis.

    I believe in none of them, however neither can I disprove them. The best I can say is that I consider their existence very unlikely. If the believer then trots out some weeping statues, you can certainly disprove that, no problem. A non-interventionist creator being however? I really don’t know where to start.

    I’ve only ever met one moon hoax believer, in person. Back then I didn’t know where to start either, except to franticly rip his arguments to shreds for the benefit of the interested neutral 3rd party as soon as we were alone.
    I wasn’t able to debate him because I didn’t have the resources to engage in a non combative manner. I did the only thing I could do: be polite and rescue the innocent bystander.

    If I ever meet a flat-earther I would hope to be as polite.

    I know racists. I have to work with them. And I have to try and challenge their preconceptions while maintaining a working relationship.

    As I mentioned before, my employer has a less than firm grip on reality as understood by the man on the street. I have to maintain a working relationship with him as well.

    I know people who have strong political opinions. I have strong political opinions as well.

    I want to change the opinions of THOSE PEOPLE. Because they are not stupid and they are not entrenched, they are simply misinformed. And I’m optimistic about succeeding, because diplomacy works, and getting in their faces with a “you’re WRONG because” doesn’t.

    Unless the person is a scientist.

  424. David

    “I want to change the opinions of THOSE PEOPLE. Because they are not stupid and they are not entrenched, they are simply misinformed. And I’m optimistic about succeeding, because diplomacy works, and getting in their faces with a “you’re WRONG because” doesn’t.”

    See there you go again. who is arguing that getting in peoples faces is a good way to argue? Who is this mythical mob of skeptics that runs around to other peoples houses, churches or blogs and gets in peoples faces? Where are they?

    Lets take this to the extreme and have outlandish hypothetical…

    If the president in his state of the union got up and said “…so basically im just saying Americans need to stop beating their grandmothers, be nice to each other and stop being bastards…”

    While I am sure it actually happens once in a while, some people might question whether its prudent to associate all Americans with what could plainly be called a rare incident.

    To add to this lets say a favorite tactic among americas enemies is to demonize americans by making the claim that americans beat their grams.

    The Atheists/skeptics are mean, canard is a tactic that has been around for a long long time.

  425. David

    On a side note the phrase “I believe in none of them” makes you Atheist.

    The Atheist who thinks he can disprove (the deist) god is about as common as the jackalope. They just think its irrelevant.

  426. Sister Chromatid

    Here’s how Phil treats those who think the moon landing is a hoax. (He also fully endorses Penn and Teller’s treatment and gives Christians an extra warning that one part of the episode might offend them):

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/02/01/penn-teller-the-moon-hoax-and-me-part-i/

    Do you think the moon hoax folks would think this is dickish? Does it matter? ts Do you think Phil would find this sort of blog post dickish if it was aimed at believers in god(s) instead of those who believe the moon landing was a hoax? Why didn’t Phil alert those who have been taken in by the moon landing hoax that they might find some parts offensive?

    Where are all the skeptics who are treating religious woo more dickishly than Phil, Penn, and Teller are treating those who believe the moon landing was a hoax? I’ve heard, they are “trivially easy” to find. If you can’t or won’t provide evidence, then maybe you should quit fostering the rumor that they are everywhere and increasingly vitriolic. Consider, instead, the possibility of examining whether you might be engaging in confirmation bias because you’ve come to believe that religious belief is something good or worthy of protecting. I see such rumor-mongering akin to those who claim that there are strident gay folks out there trying to push their “agenda” on everyone else.

    I submit that there isn’t a dickish cabal of atheists hurting the cause of skepticism… there are just skeptics who treat religious woo pretty much the same way Phil Plait treats moon landing deniers –and people aren’t used to religion being dissected, so they call these people dicks. I don’t doubt that feelings haven’t been hurt; I do doubt, however, that there’s a group of skeptics out there driving people away from skepticism and deeper into the comfort of their woo. I would need evidence before I’d accept such a claim.

  427. Tyro

    James @423

    I think it is trivially easy to find examples of that type of behaviour online, and BA’s primary media identity is as a blogger so I think it *is* that simple.

    From the video we’re told that “dickishness” is “trivially easy to find”, we know his focus is on blogs (and possibly newspaper & other media), and he characterizes it as shouting insults in people’s faces. My problem is that I can’t think of anything which meets all these criteria. If it isn’t trivially easy to find then maybe he’s talking about a fringe minority of obscure anonymous commenters but who cares about them. If shouting insults in people’s faces is hyperbole then PZ, Dawkins, Coyne could fit but then so too could Plait and almost everyone else with a handful of exceptions. If he’s serious about this being about individual criticism then I say “who cares” since virtually no blog and media writing is targeted at individuals (at least none worth bothering about), and if that’s metaphorical then his example of still being friends with Pamela Gay makes no sense. If we use Phil’s behaviour as a template then his palling around with Penn & Tell and his attacks on other pseudoscience shows that even literally shouting insults at people is acceptable.

    With no definitions and no examples, his hints simply aren’t enough for us to know what the heck he’s talking about. We can guess and clearly people like you are confident that you know just what he’s talking about but I’ve seen the same level of confidence in people reaching different conclusions. I think that instead of relying on the single emotive term “dick”, we need something more.

    I’m going to hurry to say that I’ve never been subject to abusive behaviour, simply rudeness. However on one memorable occasion I got a regular to admit that he had no interest in convincing anyone, just in verbally beating on theists.

    So what? A less salutary effect of blogging communities is to have a group of like-minded individuals to vent frustrations with and sometimes this surfaces as “beating on theists”. The object is not, as he admitted, to convince anyone so why should anyone care about the DBAD speech? And could Phil really devote a long talk and three blog posts to anonymous blog commenters? I had thought that this was about the public, influential blog writers themselves, Op Ed writers or other people in the public eye. It’s like devoting a 30 minute keynote to single out a group of nobodies – that’s something he could and should do with a couple brief blog posts establishing a commenting guideline.

    So again I’m left feeling like I’ve no idea what DBAD means. The best way I can make sense of things is to start imagining that he’s hypocritical, he’s talking only about religion, or he’s hyperbolic with many of his criteria – I can’t make all the pieces fit so basically I’ve got to take some out but which ones? We have no guidance here either.

    Maybe you can help me out: are Penn & Teller dicks, why do you think so, and what has Phil done about it?

  428. James (the militant agnostic)

    *On a side note the phrase “I believe in none of them” makes you Atheist.

    The Atheist who thinks he can disprove (the deist) god is about as common as the jackalope. They just think its irrelevant.*

    a) rubbish, it makes you an agnostic.

    b) rubbish, because I’ve meet a lot of self professed atheists that firmly believe that you can.

    Because I care about this particular definition I make sure that IS what they are saying.

  429. James (the militant agnostic)

    I’ve just realised something.

    Phil talked for about 30 minutes, and he used the word “dick” 5 times in one three minute period at the the end. OK, it was the punchline of his speech, but I personally thought it was far from the most important part.

    However, possibly because it was at the climax, or just because it has come to be known as the name of the talk, this is the 3 minutes that everyone is obsessing over.

    And, yes, Phil HAS been a dick in the past. He admitted so in his talk. And I’ve SEEN him be a dick in the past, and memorably someone called him on it, and he suffered an “Oh S**t” moment and apologised…

    …at which point he was crucified in the comments. Unfortunate word choice, but I can’t think of another word that conveys just how physically ill the venom I was reading made me feel.

    At that point I felt ashamed to be even remotely associated with the people that were posting.

    And I’m sorry to be all anecdotal again but that’s what I’ve got.

    Anyway, I’m satisfied that everyone understands the position I’ve been outlining. It’s not necessary that you agree with me (although it would have been nice) but you all get where I’m coming from, and disagree, for different reasons.
    It’s been very civil, thank you.

  430. grung0r

    I’ve SEEN him be a dick in the past, and memorably someone called him on it, and he suffered an “Oh S**t” moment and apologised…
    …at which point he was crucified in the comments. Unfortunate word choice, but I can’t think of another word that conveys just how physically ill the venom I was reading made me feel.
    At that point I felt ashamed to be even remotely associated with the people that were posting.
    And I’m sorry to be all anecdotal again but that’s what I’ve got.

    But you don’t have to be anecdotal. You can point to to exactly what you are talking about, which should be there on the intertubes for all to see. Why are you being so vague about it? I’ve been reading BA for years, and I have no idea what you are referring to. Is there something that prevents the “don’t be a dick” proponents from pointing to a single, tangible example of this behavior? If you are going to accuse people here of being so vitriolic that it made you ill, perhaps maybe a link, or even a more specific description would be in order.

  431. Chris F.

    Personally, the line between “questioning” and “being a dick” is all about proportional response.

    If someone is selling homeopathic cures for cancer and laughing all the way to the bank, yes, you are entirely justified to roast the guy alive without being a dick.

    If someone is going around spreading moon hoax rumors, you shoot them down with hard evidence and leave it at that. You don’t call them idiots or morons for thinking its easier to film a soundstage set than it is to build a rocket and go to the moon. If they start aggressively attacking back, then you can get more aggressive.

    If somebody says “I believe in God” and then doesn’t mention anything else about it, pretty much anything you say or do about it is going to be dickish. If someone believes woo, but doesn’t try to spread it, doesn’t want to convert you to their belief, and isn’t hurting themselves or others by believing in it, then yes, you’re being a dick by going out of your way to call them on it.

    Double standards here people. If its wrong when the fundies do it to you, then it is *WRONG* when *YOU* do it to *THEM*. If you’re just going about your lives as quiet skeptics living your own lives, and get offended when some woo spouting nutcake gets up in your face telling you that the lizard people are going to send their death beams into your brain, then guess what? Its equally bad when you go up to someone that believes in woo that is quietly living their lives and do the exact same thing to them.

    Or do you just go into verbal tirades at people that cross their fingers for good luck too?

  432. Jolo5309

    …at which point he was crucified in the comments. Unfortunate word choice, but I can’t think of another word that conveys just how physically ill the venom I was reading made me feel.

    I only read about 200 posts, many of them say: “Show us the evidence”, and others say “You are missing the point”. Maybe I am reading this the wrong way…

  433. David

    “a) rubbish, it makes you an agnostic.
    b) rubbish, because I’ve meet a lot of self professed atheists that firmly believe that you can.
    Because I care about this particular definition I make sure that IS irregardless of our opinions of what they mean. ”

    A) Theist = Belief in god, Atheist =Lack of belief in god, Gnostic/agnostic refers to knowing or not knowing something.

    B) Ive met a lot of self professed jackalopes too.

  434. David

    437. Chris.

    While it is debatable whether being a dick is useful, or even what being a dick is, thats not really the question most of us are asking. While at this point none of us really expects an answer, basically we just want to know who is doing it, when and where would be nice too.

    I know this wont stop people from coming here telling us what a dick is by way of hyperbole or cherry picked out of context quotes, or just anecdotes, but i’m hoping.

  435. CBrachyrhynchos

    Well, here’s another side of the story. I’m an atheist and UU Humanist who’s increasingly reluctant to say anything about skepticism or atheism because “don’t be a dick” has become the standard response to any expression of atheism or skepticism these days. I’ve given up on the goal of convincing people to adopt atheism or skepticism. I’m happy if I can convince them I’m not a dick.

  436. grung0r

    Its equally bad when you go up to someone that believes in woo that is quietly living their lives and do the exact same thing to them.

    Is every atheist psychic but me? There have been so many claims of this in this thread, it’s getting to the point where I wonder if Randi was lying to me. Maybe if I don’t believe hard enough, My psychic powers will finally arrive.

    I’m off to not pray as hard as I can.

  437. Sister Chromatid

    As grungor notes, how does any skeptic know who believes what woo unless someone makes an issue of it? Why would someone bring up their magical beliefs to skeptics unless they wanted that magical belief treated differently than skeptics treat other magical beliefs? As you’ll note we have no actual examples of skeptics going up to people quietly living their lives– only unsupported assertions. In fact, it’s religious people who go door to door inflicting their faith on people, not the other way around!

    The accommodationists seem blind to the harms caused by faith while exaggerating the actions of those who don’t cater to it. Jolo @ 438 thinks of comments as being akin to crucifixion! And I suspect kitty equated questions about her faith with “ostracism”. To me, this is alarmist rhetoric of the faux news variety. It’s laughable, and dare I say it– dickish.

  438. grung0r

    Sister Chromatid:

    So, you’re saying your an atheist who also lacks psychic powers? That’s a relief…I thought I was the only one.

    I think it’s incredibly telling that so many people feel the need to frame it this way. The ‘dick’ value(not matter how we define it) goes down about 90% if we acknowledge that in almost any discussion between skeptics and the religious, the religious were the ones who initiated it in the first place. They weren’t dragged unwittingly into a discussion about their private belief’s, instead, they made their beliefs public and were challenged on them. If we get rid of challenging people’s public assertions about woo, I’m not sure what being a skeptic would even mean.

  439. me

    Perhaps a good reason to be vague about giving examples is that being a dick is extremely common in humans of all philosophical stripes when trying to convince another group of something.
    On that basis, anyone who claims that this doesn’t happen often within the sceptical community is either being woefully unobservant or is probably being a dick.
    This happens often in *all* human communities.

    That said, sometimes being a bit of a dick can work wonders. We are social animals and a bit of harsh public ridicule can be the right tool for the job at times, but this generally only works well when tempered with humour that plays to the wider crowd, not just your own clique.

    If anyone is really desperate for a contemporary example of sceptics acting like dicks towards the religious, then perhaps look to something like the way the current generation of Chinese leadership (nearly all being atheist engineers) has acted towards the Falun Gong. Yeah, historically there are more examples of the religious persecuting people than of sceptics doing it, but historically there are far more religious folk than sceptics, so you would sort of expect that. On the occasions that the boot has been on the other foot, the sceptics have been far from shy at sticking it in.

  440. J. J. Ramsey

    Sister Chromatid:

    how does any skeptic know who believes what woo unless someone makes an issue of it?

    That’s easy. Someone can make an offhand comment that indicates what he or she believes. One might mention one’s beliefs as a relevant part of an answer to a question. One might declare one’s beliefs as a way of admitting one’s potential biases, laying one’s cards on the table, so to speak. One might say, “I believe fill-in-the-blank, but …” Of course, those possibilities are hardly exhaustive. There are a number of ways that one may make one’s beliefs known without proselytizing or setting out to make an issue of them.

    The accommodationists seem blind to the harms caused by faith while exaggerating the actions of those who don’t cater to it.

    Considering that accommodationists are the ones who tend to be on the front lines against creationists, I’d say that they are well aware of the potential dangers of faith.

  441. Ken

    Phil,

    You’re point is good, but you’re overlooking something fundamental:

    SOME PEOPLE WANT TO BE “DICKS” and that’s why they are [claim to be] “skeptics”!

    H. L. Mencken (a journalist) observed this particular characteristic of “skeptics” nearly a century ago (1920′s):

    “This has been the main effect of skepticism in the world, working over long ages: that it has become gauche and embarassing to admit certain indubitable facts. Their unpopularity is due not to their destruction or abandonment but simply to the forensic talent of the skeptics, a bombastic and tyrannical sect of men, with a great deal of cruelty concealed in their so-called love of truth. It is not altruism that moves them to their assaults upon what other men hold to be precious; it is something no more than a yearning to make those other men leap.”

    Here’s one on-line reference: http://www.mencken.org/text/txt001/elliott.leo.1998.mencken-01.htm

    That aside, for someone to assert they’re a “skeptic” pursuing rational & logical thought AND not knowing that being a “Dick” (obnoxious crass) is an exceptionally poor & ineffective way of persuading anybody about anything. Which is itself an indication of illogic & irrational behavior….which is to say skeptics are still not practicing what they’re preaching to such a significant degree its warranted the “Dick” speech.

    Which is a strong indication that Mencken was & remains correct to a substantial degree.

    How disappointing.

    Maybe the follow-up speech will address the need to purge the ranks of poseurs, or at least be alert to them to minimize their damage?

  442. Jolo5309

    443. Sister Chromatid

    That was not me, that was James in 435, I didn’t highlight what he said, I repeated it. Mainly because I don’t see examples of this.

  443. Meg

    Saw your video last night after hearing about it on an evolution debunking website blog. I liked the video and agree with your view. Perhaps it takes various forms of discourse, but there is plenty of room for being as civil and polite as possible. I think this should be the majority of the tone.

    I’ve had my share of discussions with religious folks, but as I’ve gotten older I try to choose my battles and be as nice in the process as I’m capable. It is hard to keep that way when you get completely surrounded by believing crazies, laughed at, ostracized, ridiculed and assumed you are a horrible depressed person by default. So… if that means non-believer folks give as they have gotten, then there is room for that too.

    I think a good way to show people that non-belief is okay is by showing you are a nice person without god(s) belief. You aren’t an angry, suicidal, amoral crazy as they may assume. I try to encourage them to also be a nice person while they are believers, such as not thinking it is okay to kill someone over publishing a cartoon.

    I’ve met too many folks who only are good people because they are trying to get into heaven. Honestly I back far away from them and am happy to let them keep believing, if that keeps them from raping and pillaging. Now… if they are doing awful things in the name of their religion or trying to spread stupidity in schools, then I will speak up and try to emulate those who use polite reason vs ridiculing angry response. I applaud those who can come up with clever ways to humorously get the point across, such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the Kansas School Board. It may not work on completely religious types, but plenty of people in the middle saner ground then can see the points.

  444. J. J. Ramsey

    There’s an interesting essay that looks at the research relating to ridicule. The benefits of ridicule are mixed. For example, ridicule within a group can cow the members within it to submit to group norms, but as a method of outreach, it’s dicier and a speaker using it is perceived as less credible, even if the ones listening aren’t the target of ridicule.

    See here: A Ridiculous Essay on Rational Outreach

  445. Teshi

    Hello,

    I spent some time trying to discuss my views on this on Pharyngula. It’s (very?) hard to mention this argument there, even for someone who thinks that “being a dick” has a genuine place*, albeit a limited one– a belief I still hold.

    * I don’t necessarily consider PZ Myers himself as usually a dick (although I think he sometimes can be), but he seems to ally himself with that moniker.

    I agree with much of what Phil Plait said. As a teacher (and a skeptic/atheist) I’m in the business of getting hearts and minds in the reason camp and that means, even to children, that I have to be Not A Dick. I don’t think most adults are so different– some are; most aren’t.

    You’re right. Building skeptical children who come from religious parents and a religious world is a long game, not a short one. The seeds need to be sewn vehemently, but they need to be sewn positively and– as Phil said– primarily with laughter, joy and passion. The vast number of believers in both religion and other peculiar beliefs are just as invested in these things and believe in them. We need to show people that they can be themselves, but find their joy in things as they are, not things as humans would like to believe they are.

    It can’t keep happening that people are surprised that I’m an atheist because I’m polite. Atheism can’t be associated with the most violent and angry among us because it’s giving us an image problem. Perhaps it is alienating a lot of people who are “not much into God” but can’t make it across to self-identifying as atheists. We don’t want to ridicule those people; we want to make a bridge to them!

    And perhaps if that bridge is built we can show people who are perhaps standing a bit close to the cliff that it’s okay to teeter a bit, and ultimately that it’s okay to walk across, shedding beliefs into the precipice below.

    I guess I just wanted to thank Phil Plait for formally broaching this subject.

  446. Intrachresodist

    @70 somecallmejim …

    “What’s my point? Simply put, we should all be teaming up together to go after people like those who use fake gizmos to sell you $170 worth of crap you don’t need, but instead I have to deal with people who attack my belief in God which does absolutely no harm to them aside from tweaking their superiority complexes.”

    But Jim … belief in God _is_ $170 worth of crap you don’t need. And people are trying to sell it every day – to me, to others, to kids. Religion is _harmful_.

    In post @51 you called antivaxxers “loonies”. Isn’t that being a dick toward antivaxxers? I fail to see the qualitative difference between you, a religious person, stating that antivaxxers are loonies and that’s apparently OK, while it is not OK for the non-religious to state that believers are loonies? Is the former statement OK because the majority opinion of skeptics is that antivaxxers are loonies, and so we are in good company?

    Let me add my voice to the apparently hundreds of people calling on Phil Plait to be specific about what he means by being a dick. Is this something so that Christian skeptics can feel comfortable in the community? Or nobody should insult anybody else’s beliefs? Or somewhere in the middle?

    There is a huge spectrum of behaviour here. Where should I draw the line? Is it a case of “be respectful to the person, but not the belief”?

    The religious usually demand respect for their belief system. Is that where the line should be drawn? Do Catholics get a free pass on the Virgin Birth, and we can accept that Female Genital Mutilation done by Muslims is a religious practice which we must respect?

    I tend to not insult people (at least, not without reason) but respecting their beliefs (if illogical or harmful) seems beyond the pale.

  447. Intrachresodist

    I welcome all Christians, Muslims, Jews (etc) into the skeptical community.

    That doesn’t mean your deeply cherished beliefs are not a crock.

    Skepticism is about questioning, and you are walking among people who will question everything, particularly your religious beliefs. People who have freed themselves from woo of all kinds will consider that you have cognitive dissonance.

  448. Red

    Couple of things, Ken.

    How do you ‘know’ that being obnoxiously crass is an exceptionally poor & ineffective way of persuading anybody about anything? I see this sentiment being paraded about, and have for some time, but I have yet to see any evidence to support it. Surely you’re not irrationally supporting a position without any evidence?

    I will grant that being a dick doesn’t seem to be very effective, but from my experience being ‘nice’ is only slightly better. If you’ve got evidence that people who believe in irrational things can be moved, in droves, by calm reasoned arguments, please share with the group.

    Next, how frequently are you seeing people being dicks? If this thread is any example, actual dickish behavior is extremely rare, particularly as an initial response from the skeptic toward the believer. Do you see dickishness frequently used as an opening salvo from skeptics?

    Finally, do you think it’s possible to ‘convert’ most believers (by any means)? I don’t think it is. After all, the arguments we use have been around for decades, and centuries in some instances, yet a majority of people still believe in woo. I think we should focus our attention on creating an environment where magical thinking is looked upon in the same way racism is. Sometimes that means using reason and logic, other times it means publicly ridiculing the obviously ridiculous.

  449. Red

    Teshi

    WHY do you think these things? What evidence do you have? We have to quit ‘using our guts’ and doing what FEELS good or right and start doing what actually works.

    Now, it may very well be that being ‘nice’ is the best way to accomplish our goals, but until we get real, actual evidence, we’re just talking about feelings. And I could assert that being a ‘dick’ is the best way with just as much authority as you assert the opposite.

    As skeptics, we should be better than that.

  450. Angie

    To those who demand evidence of the efficacy of not being a dick: I’m a little puzzled by the apparent lack of knowledge regarding previous research about reward vs. punishment. There is still debate about this subject, but there ARE studies to be read and evidence to be considered. “Being a dick” is a form of punishment, i.e. you are belittling someone (and making them feel bad) for believing something that is irrational. Let’s call “successful communication” a reward, because it seems that connecting emotionally with other human beings releases a little dopamine reward. Given previous study, it seems clear that you CAN take the stance that reward is a more successful technique than punishment. It’s not definitive, but there is evidence to support it–it is definitely a well-studied area of inquiry.

    Which brings me to the second point I want to make: It is quite likely that brainwashing (think POW techniques) is probably more EFFECTIVE than either reward or punishment if you want someone to think a certain way. Is it wrong? Abso-freakin-lutely. Efficacy is not the only thing to consider in cases where you are affecting another human being. Ethics are important as well. Personally, I find that being a dick is just kind of wrong, for various reasons that I have thought deeply about. There are aspects of being human that are not quantifiable–not exactly, anyway. And that’s okay.

    “I used to think that my brain was the most important part of my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” -emo phillips

    To be truly skeptical, I believe that one must always consider the above. We are subjective creatures, doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Evidence helps us make practical decisions, but it is irrational to think that we can be completely “objective.” The scientific method is mighty handy and has worked well for us, but we will never be completely free of our biased brains and limited perceptual abilities.

    Accepting that enables me to be more compassionate to people who I think have flawed reasoning. It’s all a continuum that no human is going to be completely above, including myself.

  451. Red

    Angie

    Simply stating that someone’s beliefs are incorrect is a form of punishment, no matter how well you connect to them emotionally. If we tell someone that something they hold dear is factually incorrect, we’re going to be seen as dicks no matter how meek and mild you may be.

    And I think this is a broader subject than just reward vs punishment. Influencing beliefs and behaviors is tricky. However, if you want to stick with that, people tend to work very hard to avoid punishment. And, given that the punishment for magical beliefs can (and in my opinion should) be very severe – in the same vein as being a racist- and the reward for the believer to connect with a skeptic is comparatively tiny, we are probably better of using the stick rather than the carrot.

    Of course, that’s assuming that your goal is to lower the level of public expressions of woo-w00. If you’re trying to convert each individual believer, good luck. Nothing I’ve seen so far works very well.

  452. me

    Red, I personally really don’t like dogmas, of any philosophy. That’s my basic dogma. I’m a Groucho Marxist.

    You seem to claim that stating someones beliefs to be incorrect is a form of punishment, no matter the situation. This makes little sense. There are innumerable situations where correcting someones beliefs are in no way a form of punishment. Disillusionment does not always equate to a bad experience.

    With saying that the stick is much mightier than the carrot, perhaps start with the prisoner’s dilemma and work from there. Altruism and forgiveness often has a nice mathematical payoff. Alternatively just be nice and help people, it’s usually quite fun.

    As for the “severe punishment for magical beliefs” shtick, it sounds as though you might be being a dick, although I am not sure to what apparent magnitude. And some kind of psychic if you think you can enforce said punishment fairly, so you would presumably have to shun yourself.

  453. Red

    me

    I think you’ve misunderstood every point I made. Hopefully I can correct that.

    Telling someone their beliefs are incorrect will almost always be taken as a form of ‘punishment’ (to use Angie’s crude analogy). There’s no getting around that. No matter how sweet or warm or lovey-dovey you are toward that person, they’re not going to immediately leap into your arms and shower you with praise for exposing their delusion. It’s going to be an affront to them, and it’s going to sting them. Maybe after a lot more discussion and time they’ll come to appreciate what you did, but it won’t happen quickly.

    The stick is ‘mightier’ than the carrot if the stick is huge, full of nails and wielded by a bodybuilder and the carrot is tiny and shriveled. I can’t imagine anyone being sweet enough so that when a believer ‘connects emotionally’ to the skeptic, the carrot that is offered is anything anyone would have a tremendous desire to get. To put it another way, regardless of how wonderful we think we are, there’s no way a believer is ever going to see the carrot of ‘connecting’ with us as anything other than a very minor, insignificant prize. You’re never going to be able to make a carrot so enticing that a believer will consciously give up his belief.

    Given that, the only choice we have is to make the stick bigger. I think if magical beliefs were treated the same way racist ones were, we wouldn’t have many people publicly claiming to hold them. And what’s bad about that? Now, I don’t mean that we should all start berating believers as soon as we learn of their belief, but we can’t continue to think that being all puppy dogs and rainbows toward them will make any difference. In my opinion, if a person is capable of deconverting, he will do so regardless of what we do. I think we should be fostering an environment where people are less comfortable publicly admitting they believe in woo-woo. You don’t hear many people freely talking about their belief in Bigfoot, do you? But I hear them talk about Reiki all the time.

    Now, the reward/punishment analogy wasn’t my idea. It was Angie’s. I was just pointing out that it’s not as simplistic as she was making it.

    I think that lessening the impact and prevalence of magical thinking is a good thing, and I think that, in most cases, magical thinking is akin to racist thinking. Anitvaxxers are killing children. Alternative medicine really does cost lives (and money). Christians believe I am going to be tortured forever just because I think differently than they do. And more importantly, they think I DESERVE that fate. I have a hard time thinking of a sentiment more ugly, hateful and divisive than that. If you want to continue to coddle people like that, be my guest, but given how successful that tactic has been so far (read: not very) I think we should start looking at other tactics.

    Most importantly, I think we should start examining our tactics from a scientific viewpoint. Instead of everyone doing what ‘feels’ good or what they ‘think’ is right, why don’t we do some damn experiments so we can actually KNOW what the best way to proceed is? Why is it that so many otherwise rational people have completely ignored reason here?

  454. Red

    Believe it or not, I am nice and I do often help people. But I recognize that if we want to create a sea change of sentiment around woo-woo, we’re not going to be able to be nice all the time. As the great sage Dalton told us: “be nice, until it’s time to not be nice”. I think when people try to reintroduce measles and pertussis by not vaccinating their children, it’s time to not be nice. When they try to get the government to teach my kids that the planet is only 6000 years old, it’s time to not be nice. When people forego chemotherapy and instead run off to Mexico and the promise of a magic cure with tens of thousands of dollars, leaving his wife and kids high and dry, only to die thousands of miles away a few months later, it’s time to not be nice.

  455. Angie

    Red:

    Just out of curiosity: Do you really think that people are “trying” to reintroduce disease when they don’t vaccinate? Isn’t it much more likely that they are ignoring that risk because they are terrified of autism? If an actual cause for autism could be identified, it would be a far more effective “cure” for the antivaxxers than anything has been so far. As long as it remains mysterious, there will be speculation and people trying to prevent it in the only way that seems like an option to them. It’s short-sighted, it’s almost certainly wrong, and it’s selfish. But a deliberate attempt to reintroduce disease? I don’t think so.

    People who believe in “woo” have many motivations to do so, but they are not usually diabolical. They’re just wrong. Sometimes selfishly, and sometimes with no effect on you whatsoever. I also don’t believe hatred and malice are involved in most “woo,” which makes me doubt your comparison to racism. People are sometimes wrong with disastrous effect, but not necessarily because they are malicious. I’d guess that maybe you’ve had that experience once or twice? I know I have.

    I don’t think combative behavior is the answer to forging into a better, more rational society. Compassion and reason are the only ways.

    Also, I’m not sure I understand your argument regarding the problem with punishment and reward in human relations. Are human relations complicated? Definitely, and I said nothing that indicates that I think it’s anything other. However, punishment and reward (in their various forms) are aspects of human relation and basic biological function that have effects on behavior. Thousands of studies over decades indicate that this is so. Merely telling someone that you have a different opinion, and stating the facts that led you to your opinion is very rarely perceived as punishment, I’d bet. Saying “You’re wrong” or “that’s stupid” might be, depending on the background and temperament of the individual.

    Recently I saw a post on FB along the lines of:” I’ll refrain from telling you that your Bronze Age beliefs are fallacious if you will promise to stop using ‘our’ modern medicine and technological advances.” This is the type of faulty construction that goes unchecked in otherwise rational, fact-oriented people who get on their high horse about “woo.” We all have to “check our work.”

  456. Red

    So do you think we should continue to try and ‘convert’ believers one at a time?

    Frankly, I don’t care if the believer is consciously malicious. His beliefs often manifest in a malicious way, particularly against those who don’t think the same way. I think it’s a real problem. I think we need to be having serious conversations about figuring out the best ways to deal with that problem. Instead, we have conversations about what we ‘feel’ is the right thing to do and yet we continue to claim science and reason as our tools.

  457. Angie

    I think the most positive changes can be made by working toward actual solutions to the problems that cause “woo.” For instance, if it really chaps your rear that people aren’t vaccinating children because they’re afraid of autism, why don’t you work toward finding a cause/cure/prevention for autism? At the very least, you could contribute money toward the cause. Pick a problem and work toward its solution–you have plenty to choose from, unfortunately. If you’re concerned about alien abductee’s delusions, then work on the problem of delusional thinking in some way. And so on…

    The best advertisement for science is to be an effective scientist. The best advertisement for rationality is to be rational. Anger may be motivating, but at its worst it clouds rationality and works against your cause.

  458. Angie

    BTW, here is one study that I found interesting.

    http://www.physorg.com/news125155198.html

  459. Too bad this all got derailed into “Nice vs Not-nice,” and away from Phil’s original topic. What does “being a dick” mean? As Phil pointed out, it has nothing to do with anger or passion. Instead it’s all about acting like a snide superior do***bag. The term “dick” is a cleaned-up version of “a**hole,” and first had much attention as Wikipedia’s older “Don’t Be A Dick” rule (since moved off to http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_be_a_dick )

    Now perhaps there are members who are far on the autism/aspergers etc. spectrum who genuinely have no idea what these terms mean. But for the rest of us, anyone asking for examples of dickkery is just being dishonest. You know perfectly well what a**hole behavior is. It’s even been well treated in the decades of flamer/troll/hater forum issues. Probably most of us also realize that, should Phil single out some examples, *PHIL* would become a dick. (Accusing individuals of dick behavior is itself a good example of dick behavior.) Here’s one venerable definition: when your impulse is to tell someone “hey, try being human,” or “have a heart,” then you’re dealing with dick behavior. A**hole is the very opposite of “compassionate.” If you can’t step back from the fight and spend time seeing things from your opponents viewpoint, or if you’d find this too disgusting to even consider …then you’re way over the line and well into the “dick” spectrum. :)

    Suggested reading: The one-sidedness fallacy http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/courses/inflogic/onesided.htm, and The clinical attitude towards arguments http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/courses/inflogic/clinical.htm

  460. Red

    Angie

    Do you really think a series of studies that demonstrated solid evidence for what does cause autism would actually make Jenny McCarthy change her mind?

    I do contribute money to that cause, but I also correct people when they say vaccines are the cause (because while we may not know what does cause it, we know for a fact it isn’t vaccines). When those people refuse to listen to the facts and rational arguments I present, I see no reason to continue being nice or even polite to them.

    I think the problem you and I are having is in describing the mindset of believers. You seem to think (please correct me if I’m wrong) that they believe what they believe because they don’t have enough information or haven’t been exposed to the facts. While I agree that is the case for some, I think there is something deeper than that. To paraphrase Dr. House: if logic and reason worked on believers, we wouldn’t have any more believers around. I think there is a big cultural component to belief and while they can believe almost any amount of ridiculous things without fear of having to be accountable for those beliefs, they will almost certainly continue to do so. I also think that if someone is so inclined to abandon those beliefs, they don’t need any help from us to do so. Deconversion is a deeply personal process and while someone might get a little bit of information from us, they’re going to do most of the work alone. Plus, all the facts and arguments they need are already out there. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here.

    I think the best we can do is create situations where the believer must face his beliefs and give them honest consideration. I also think it’s tough to create those situations without hurting some feelings. And keep in mind, the truth, no matter how nicely you put it, is going to hurt some feelings. What I fear is that we’re more concerned with hurting feelings than we are with speaking truth.

  461. Red

    “BTW, here is one study that I found interesting.

    http://www.physorg.com/news125155198.html

    Interesting, but not relevant to what I’m talking about. This study assumes everyone is playing the same game, working toward a common goal. It says that punishment doesn’t lead to increased cooperation.

    That’s all well and good, but when I’m dealing with a recalcitrant believer, I don’t want cooperation. I’ve already tried that and he doesn’t move. If he is unwilling or unable to honestly consider his beliefs and continues to proclaim them publicly, my only goal at that point is to get him to quiet down and to let others see the ridiculousness of his position. It’s about creating peer pressure against those beliefs. It’s about getting people to say “wow, that guy really looks silly, I’m sure not going to say the kinds of things he says”.

    Is that being a dick? Maybe. But we’re not going to win everyone over to our way of thinking. In fact, we’re not going to win very many over. I think we should be focused on mitigating the harmful effects of magic belief more than trying to get everyone to agree with us.

  462. Angie

    “This study assumes everyone is playing the same game, working toward a common goal.”

    Aren’t we, for the most part, working toward a common goal and isn’t cooperation also preferable? Perhaps you think not, but I continue to think that people have enough in common to do so. We all seem to want to get through life with as little true suffering as possible, and extend that to not wanting to watch other people suffer either. There are many obstacles to acknowledging that we’re all playing the same game, but most of us are anyway. Creating more “us” and “them” situations just muddies the field.

    I really don’t think using the same silencing methods that were used to combat racism and sexism over the last 50 years are the most effective tools. Look at the evidence we have today that bigotry of all sorts has been bubbling under the surface somewhat quietly for years, only to be brought to light again, as ugly as ever. I don’t think it’s a truly effective method, this attempt to shame people into keeping their mouths shut. Education and reason worked for many people, and I think that’s the way to go.

    But we can certainly differ in opinion.

  463. Red

    Yes, we’re all working toward making a happy life four us and ours. Unfortunately lots of other people have lots of other goals their working toward. And those goals include taking rights and dignity from others. Many christians want to bring about the end of days. I don’t want that. We’re not working toward that same goal. Many reiki practitioners want all insurance companies to pay for it. I don’t want that. We’re not working toward that same goal.

    “We’re all in this together” sure sounds nice, but the reality is not nearly so pleasant. There really are people in the world that actually want us dead because of what we don’t believe. I don’t think they can be reasoned out of that position.

    Education and reason works for a select few, whom I think would shed their delusions with or without us. Thinking that it will work on a large percentage of the population seems to be an exercise in futility. I’d be tickled pink if nearly everybody could be persuaded with logic and reason. My experience, however, tells me that’s not the case. So at some point I’ve got to be logical about my own expectations and methods and realize that a shift in aim and strategy is probably warranted.

  464. Alright you ignorant atheists… if there is no god, then HOW DOES THE SUN KEEP ORBITING THE EARTH? BAM!

    You see people, that’s how you deal with atheist skum. With LOGIC! Hit that bullseye and the rest of the dominoes will come down like a house of cards… CHECKMATE!

    And on that note…

    Dunt dun duuh DAAAAHHHH!

    !!!!!!!!!MY ATHEIST STORE!!!!!!!!!

    Aristotle’s Muse

    This is my store. Maybe wearing an atheist T-shirt won’t change the world, but enough of them just might.

  465. Tom Rhoads

    Excellent talk and I really respect you for putting yourself out there like that. I think the hug that you got from the incredible Pamela Gay was well deserved.

  466. Yanping

    Bunny Goodrich: Would you please shut up already. You’re a sad sack of a human being and a one-trick pony. You’re incapable of uttering a coherent sentence without a sexual reference or bragging about your made-up scholastic achievements. You’re a nurse, whatever. So is half of the Philippines. And you’re a microbiologist inasmuch as it was your major in college. You don’t have a PhD in Virology yet you keep telling everyone you planned on getting one, and your “Doctoral Candidate” claims are as hollow and the degree you know you’ll never get. Only an insecure person would incessantly route their bio and resume every time they fart. Get a life and grow up.

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