Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Clearly this is a discussion that is long overdue

Before a dozen people send me a link to this article: A Rational Approach to Irrationality let me just say that I've read it, it's more accommodationist dribble and as I agree with Jerry Coyne on the subject, I'll just send you over to read his response.

The only thing I'll add is this:

Pretending that religious delusions are harmless makes you part of the problem.
Promoting your kinder, gentler skepticism by way of decidedly unskeptical methods (unsupported assertions, emotional appeals and encouragements to be less critical with one's critical thinking) betrays the principles that make skepticism something people should aspire toward.

For the accommodationists, I'll put it bluntly, as the more diplomatic responses seem to go unanswered: You're still skeptics. You can still call yourself a skeptics (anyone can). You can still be part of the group and attend events and talk about skepticism.... but you're a very poor skeptic in this area. You've demonstrated a preference for style over substance and shown that you're willing to water down your skepticism for marketing purposes.

That's your prerogative - but if you continually try to pretend that you hold the skeptical high ground while encouraging others to water down their skepticism or disparaging those who most consistently apply skepticism, you've become part of the problem and the unapologetic defenders of reason, inquiry and skepticism will continue to call you out on this.


  1. Huzzah, Matt.

    An additional note to accommodationists about Skepticism: you earn the noun by doing the verb.

    You can call yourselves Skeptics or empiricists or flying squirrels if you like, but you are none of these unless you qualify as such.

    You qualify for Skepticism by... doing it. That means turning the same cold eye of unapologetic, unsentimental scrutiny on claims about "God" that you would employ for claims about leprechauns.

  2. The more I think about this the more I agree with Matt.

    Phil Plait really did use a straw man augment in that all of his anecdotal evidence was ad hominem attacks (you are an idiot for believing in god for example) that no serious skeptic ever purposefully uses. I am only embarrassed that I fell for it now.

    Promote well being over rationality? Don't challenge beliefs that will hurt people's feelings? Religious superstition is so well entrenched that we will only alienate people if we try to challenge it?

    I don't think so.

  3. How does this idea apply to Pharyngula commenters? It's been a while since I've avoided reading the comments there and just read PZ's posts, because they seem to copy the tone of hardline skepticism, but without the important ideas that Myers expresses.

    Can the population be modeled by a Punnett Square with notability of thoughts expressed on one axis, and aggressiveness of tone on the other?

    Also, hello, George!

  4. " earn the noun by doing the verb."

    I love that.

    I continue to be pleased how the overall response that we "dicks" have given to the Plait acolytes is far-and-away more thoughtful, more substantive, and, frankly, more measured (of course, I'm biased) than what the Phil fanboys/girls have put forth. Their best arguments seem to be nothing more than making the rather banal observation that screaming in people's faces and calling them names is not going to make them like you. (Well, nice work Columbo!) But once you pin them to the mat and ask for specifics,or even that they define their terms, you get this glib, dare-I-say "dickish" reaction (Phil saying his examples---you know, the ones in his head--- are "trivially easy" for us to find). It's not that they're defending an indefensible position; it's that their position trite, mushy, and amorphous (and therefore useless).

  5. I would love it if someone would point out all the times Phil Plait has been a "dick" to moon hoaxers and ask him to justify it.

    Calling someone a dick is the definition of an ad hominem -- not because it's name-calling, but because in dismissing someone with "you're a dick" it fails to address the more important question: is he right?

    Let's agree that PZ Myers is a dick, for the sake of argument. Is he right? Then the his being a dick is irrelevant.

    What pisses me off more than anything is the hypocrisy here. Phil did his speech about being a dick and everyone was all rocked back on their heels...but only regarding religion. Not for a second did anyone at TAM consider "not being a dick" about the fact that homeopathy is bullshit, or that antivax is a dangerous lie. Everyone there was being a dick, it just wasn't about religion so it didn't count.

    Screw that. It's just like Matt said before -- call yourself an atheist and a skeptic if you want. But if you start talking bullshit, people are going to call you on it because that's what skeptics do.

  6. In the last Pharyngula convo I was in via the comments we talked about male privileged and sexism in relation to criticism of female pundits, Whether language influence thought and to what degree and how it deals with assigning labels, and the validity of promoting beliefs that do nothing but some people think have effects.

    And yes, there was said discussions while using the word "fuck". Pharyngula is removed from the discussion because it's an intentionally roped off area designated for people to be as harsh as they want to each other. Like a fight club for pansy ass whimpy liberal nerd atheists.

  7. Oh yeah, it's on!

    This is really getting on my nerves. As much as religious maniacs annoy me, skeptics who should know better going out of their way to defend theists pisses me off even more. It makes a mockery out of the whole skeptic movement.

    For all the fuss they make over homeopathy being funded by the UK government, the bigger issues are the sheer amount of public faith schools in that country. Schools taking children to church and even locking them in a room with a priest to confess "sins".

    Religion has by far a more detrimental effect on the planet and the minds of children than any of the general woo that skeptics are happy to rant about.

  8. I love reading the Pharyngula comments. I think that site has some of the brightest, funniest, most in depth comments anywhere. I find the tone trolls on Pharyngula far more dickish than the regular respondents. And, like Dawkins mentioned in his response to Phil's speech, I enjoy watching the blowhards be eviscerated-- it's one of the joys in life.

    In any case, I doubt the Pharyngula commenters are harming the cause of skepticism. I think it's awesome that the thin-skinned, self-righteous, concern trolls, etc. are given their comeuppance by bright people whom they could learn something from if they weren't so sure they knew more than everyone else.

    To me, those going tsk-tsk are the bigger dicks. Why don't they model the behavior they think others should have instead imagining that people find that worthy of emulation?

  9. Now I am starting to see people quoting angry anti-religious tirades from just anywhere as proof of this saturation of nastiness in our environment. Is the argument now spread past the "within skeptical circles"? Because I'm not going to attempt to defend the idea that everyone, everywhere will be kind to anything or anybody.

  10. Scorinth, I've felt the same way as you about PZ Meyers blog. The comments are the usual for most people who follow others and comment ravenously. I say the comments are quite above the average, but no where near what you can get on other blogs like that of the Atheist Experience.

    Also I think Meyers is not as skeptical as he should be and often falls into a bit of ad hominim when he really doesn't understand the opponents arguments all that well. It's not too often that he does this, but when he does it just feels like the typical christian fundie bashing relativity because it has the word relative in it and relative morals are a no no.

  11. mm1: I can't think of any examples of PZ actually doing that. From my daily readings of Pharyngula, whenever he's attacked religion or woo or pseudoscience, he pretty much always backs up even his rantiest posts with an argument. If you're going to suggest PZ has ever said anything as dumb as the blatherings of Andy Schlafly, I hope you're prepared to link to an actual example.

  12. Claiming to be a Skeptic, whilst willfully closing off an enormous world-wide destructive force to criticism, is similar to claiming to be a Vegetarian whilst eating steak 3 times a day.

    The latter are NOT vegetarians, and the former are NOT skeptics.
    They are intellectual prostitutes.

  13. I pretty much realized O'Neill's piece would be too stupid for consumption with the following passage:

    It might seem, given these benefits, that improving rationality would improve well-being. But irrationality has its perks. Delusions can provide comfort. They can give us confidence, hope, or a sense of purpose.

    Have a sense of hope and purpose is worse less than nothing if it is utterly misguided, and can in fact lead to disaster. Parents who believe in faith healing and prayer over taking their sick children to doctors may well feel "comfort" in their delusions...right up until the point their child dies, that is.

    Honestly, for O'Neill to be this accommodationalist towards beliefs that even she acknowledges are delusional, without considering this face-palmingly obvious point — or, even worse, hand-waving the problem away by saying in effect "oh well, there's nothing you can do about this anyway, so why try?" — is not merely intellectually lazy but morally reprehensible.

  14. How does this idea apply to Pharyngula commenters?

    I tend to look at the Pharyngula comments--at least, when they tend to get really hardcore--as a "monority space," a safe place for atheists to vent even the most taboo frustrations.

    But while there are commenters who lack particularly deep thought, most of the vitriol and invective is still hurled at arguments rather than people. Not that there aren't insults thrown around too, but when you're talking about people like Casey Luskin and the like, I don't think insults are unacceptable.

    Frankly, my biggest problem with the Pharyngula comments is that they move so quickly that they're nearly impossible to follow for any length of time.

  15. "Delusions can provide comfort. They can give us confidence, hope, or a sense of purpose."

    Did someone say Sense of Purpose?

  16. Yup, I reckon Phil dropped the ball on this one - much as it sucks to have to say so because I really like the bloke. But, like his New Framer mate Mooney, he's magnified some vague feeling about nasty ol' skeptics into something it simply isn't, claimed an endemic & counterproductive problem and then produced nothing to support either claim - not even vague hints toward who he 'might' be talking about.

    It's bullshit and if calling bullshit on Phil Plait makes me a dick, then fine: I'm a massive oily cell-block dick.

    Phil's used plenty of robust talk and harsh "tone" when discussing moon-hoaxists, anti-vaxxers, HIV denialists, psychics and other purveyors of woo; why should religion get a pass here? Religious claims are among the MOST outlandish, divisive and damaging of all woo-claims; they should be met with the strongest skepticism and, occasionally & when it's deserved, ridicule and sometimes even *god forbid* sailor-talk.

    New Framers whinge that uncompromising tone is causing some kind of skeptic schism or being counterproductive to our cause. Ironically, it's not the skeptics' precious goddamn "tone" that's causing any division or diverting our attention from more important arguments - it's all these New Framers contstantly whingeing about f^cking TONE!

  17. Ing, Tom Foss: I see your points about how Pharyngula is a special place for people to act like dicks because they all accept that behavior. I suppose I'm just not part of the target audience. Walking in there with "I disagree, and I wish people would cut back the abusive wording" and getting six abusively worded replies accusing me of "tone trolling" should have been expected since I'd seen that in the past.
    It's not for me; I'm 23 and already tired of being angry at facing Christian Fundamentalists and Homophobes and all manner of people who want to put me down. I don't want to be angry at Atheists, too.

  18. Is the first amendment accommodation?
    Is freedom of religion accommodation?
    Is recognizing ones right to believe
    woo (provided it doesn't infringe
    my rights) accommodation?

    Re: Plait
    I agree with the commonly raised
    criticism: that he didn't support his
    first premise that the civility of sceptical/atheist criticism is trending low. Where were the data? Where were the references? And he is supposed to be a sciency guy. I had the bias that he was correct but I did the research. Surely youtube is the place to find atheist dicks. I looked. Far and away the theists are beating us in the race to the bottom. I only found one atheist dick.

    I agreed with Plait on his point about being aware of the goal. What is our goal? Is it to annihilate theism? Or is it to render theism impotent in affecting our rights?

    xoxox Sue

  19. Scorinth, I don't think any forum would be welcoming to some random person coming in to tell random strangers that he doesn't like their tone while implying that they should act more like he does. In fact, I suspect this would be about as effective in changing tone as Phil's "don't be a dick" speech.

    Myself, I enjoy reading the tone trolls being taken down a notch. I don't think tone trolls add anything to a conversation, and I can't imagine what their goals are or why they think such a lame approach would achieve their goals.

    The bottom line is you probably shouldn't be tossing out your opinion of others unless you are willing to hear their opinion of your opinion and/or their opinion of you. When they respond you can model that fabulous tone of yours that you think everyone should have. That's fair, isn't it?

    I'm glad that the "tone" of Pharyngula weeds out the self-righteous and the sensitive, and I agree it's not for everybody. I think it may have been too much for me at 23 too; I was fairly thin-skinned. Then again, I don't think I'd walk into any forum, insult the members of the group, and then expect a warm welcome.

    It seems to me that the tone trolls are really eager to make themselves feel good by denigrating a group and imagining themselves on higher ground. This is too bad, because there are some really brilliant people who post at Pharyngula that you could learn a lot from if you didn't feel compelled to lecture them on how they should speak. You might want to become a better communicator before advising others.

    If someone doesn't like someone's tone, they are free to "change the channel" so-to-speak. I think that is that is more effective at stopping hurt feelings than whining that about some nebulous group of peoples' tone hurting some nebulous cause.

  20. As for Sue's goal question, I don't think atheists need to have a common goal. One of my goals is for Christians to be treated the same way they think Scientologists and Muslims should be treated. I don't want faith thought of as a virtue. I think faith based notions in religion should be treated like other faith-based notions and pseudoscience-- rain dancing, voo-doo, animal sacrifices, etc.-- just like all other myths. This is probably the quickest way to get it to fade on its own.

    I don't want to know or care about peoples' magical beliefs or hurt feelings anymore than they care about mine. If people don't want their beliefs mocked, then they need to keep them private-- not bust into skeptic forums and demand an audience while calling the audience dicks and pretending to be persecuted when we respond.

    I'd like a world where theists stayed in the closet that they'd like to keep the atheists in. I believe their bible instructs them to "pray in the closet", in fact. I think the religious should feel a little embarrassed about engaging in magical thinking in adulthood.

    And I'd really like it if it was as socially unacceptable to spread prejudice against atheists as it would be to spread prejudice against homosexuals or any other minority.

    I don't really care about what people feel saved for believing in... I care about what's true. I want no part in enabling or ennobling faith. I'd rather be a "candle in the dark" for those interested in letting go of their brainwashing. And if that makes me a dick according to the faitheist crowd, then I consider myself in excellent company.

    I'm sure if there's any evidence that accommodating religious beliefs helps further any goals we'll all hear about it over and over. Until then, I think the only thing accommodating religion has to show for all this accommodation is a bunch of religious nutters who think that people deserve respect because of what they've been indoctrinated to believe in!

  21. Sue:
    A vital addendum to your cogent enquiry is thus:
    At what chronic level is Phil targeting his cryptic goals:-

    1) Immediate Short term
    (Say, during a conversation with a delusional religiobot)

    2) Long Term
    (For the next handfulls of decades)

    3) Eternal
    (Truths that withstand withering scrutiny)

    I have to assume that he is aiming at less than ½ on my scale.

  22. Dorkman:

    >Is he right? Then the his being a dick is irrelevant.


    I know this isn't Matt's point. But it's certainly something I think can be said more than it is. I've been cruely corrected before--laughed at to my face--and recognized I was wrong. Dicks can be 100% correct. And I may have every right to say "you're an ass"--but to disregard a valid criticism over it comes at _my own_ expense.

  23. This issue is so annoying to me that when I started my new blog I made the first post a rant about this.

    Apparently my attempts at militant atheism aren't working though. I just got invited to an evangelical "Bible study" by someone who thinks they need exposure to more diverse viewpoints. I thought that telling people things like "Your religion is one of the biggest problems this country has to defend itself from." was supposed to make them get offended and hate me? It's almost like even the fundies aren't all as closed-minded as Plait thinks.

  24. I can't help but think of that one moon hoax know the one Phill lost. Maybe if he was more dickish and did some AE esq "wait, we can't go on until we address your first point, stop throwing out random nonsense" he would have been better defended against the Gish Gallop.

  25. Me: "monority space"


    Obviously, that should be "minority." Although if it's about me, it could be "moronity."

    scorinth: Walking in there with "I disagree, and I wish people would cut back the abusive wording" and getting six abusively worded replies accusing me of "tone trolling" should have been expected since I'd seen that in the past.

    If you'd said "I disagree for the following reasons," I think you'll find you would have gotten an altogether different response. What you describe is a little like walking into a crowded, established restaurant and saying "I don't like it here and I wish you'd change the ambiance." Complaining about the tone is a little more reasonable when you've been there long enough to establish yourself as part of the group (there's less presumptuousness when the regular says "hey Lou, why don't you ever replace this old paneling?") than when you're just starting out. As others have suggested, if you don't like it, there are other places to eat.

    I've seen plenty of people disagree on Pharyngula, even with the particular words used in the comments. I don't necessarily always agree with the criticisms of terminology (usually loaded gendered phrases or slurs), but the people making those criticisms aren't usually shouted down. They give reasons that the words shouldn't be used, and people are free to agree or disagree as they like.

    I suspect your experience is borne more out of your tone and how you came across than any major fault with the Pharyngula commenters, based on my experience and your description of events.

  26. Also the best Pharyngula comments are on posts where PZ is dead wrong.

  27. If anyone has a moment for an off topic question, is there gonna be a show this week?

    One more. Do bats poo while flying and do ya'll go under the bridge where they fly out?

  28. Daniel Loxton took this up over at Skepticblog. I'm getting a little peeved at the citations that he, and others who have come out in favor of this "DBAD" thing, have been using to bolster their claims. Studies DO consistently show that people SELF-REPORT that the credibility of an arguer or an educator is damaged by overly aggressive, bullying behavior. However, I never see conclusions regarding the changing of preferences by biased observers. In fact, there's a growing amount of research that shows factual correction of the misinformed tends to have an opposite effect, causing those people to actually become more firm and confident in their beliefs based on incorrect facts. It's called "motivated reasoning", and it has nothing to do with tone. A part of a study (Journal of Politics, Kuklinski, et. al, 2000) shows that manipulating respondents into undercutting themselves (they were told to estimate welfare spending in the US, and provide a preferred amount of spending...then they were confronted with the fact that actual spending was less than either amount) they had a tendency to change their positions. I don't think any one methodology would work, but clearly, the literature doesn't bolster the "just be nice" position either.

    I don't even know why people are arguing so much about one serious about skepticism as a movement advocates being a dick for dickishness sake, nor do they think being pleasant and inspirational is wrong. If they're just going after Internet trolls, good luck to the DBAD guys with that...Xbox Live Security would pay well for such info if they can figure that out.

  29. Re: articulett

    Right. We're not going to have a common goal.
    Afterall, we are a pride of cats. ;)

    But I'll tell you what this cat's goals are.
    - to get more atheists elected to public office.
    - to rescue morality from theist hijackers.

    xoxox Sue

  30. Re: Goals:
    My only real goals are to get religion out of government, get religiously motivated hate recognized as what it is and eventually marginalized, and to leave the world a better place than I entered it in every way I reasonably can.

    I don't really care about deconverting anybody. I'd rather not have a life where I get spammed by people trying to convert me whenever religion enters the conversation, and so I give the same courtesy to religious nuts when I can.

    That's not to say I'm never a dick. When somebody has the small-minded idea to tell me that their perfect book would have me put to death for being gay, you're fucking-A-right I'm going to tear them a new asshole over it.

    I just know that somebody out there would call me an accomidationist, but fuck them. If it's their own mission to go out and convert all the religious people out there, they really are dicks.

  31. My problem with the whole accommodationist crap is that they are allowing the nutjobs to label rational people.

    Listen/read people like Matt, Dawkins, or PZ and you will find intelligent, reasoned discussion. In "The god delusion", dawkins logically addresses why he considers the concept of God delusional.

    He doesn't engage in name calling, ad hominem attacks, or write whole chapters ridiculing how ugly some preacher's daughter is.

    But the theists label these people as "strident". Why? Because they take their skepticism one delusion too far.

    If I went around flying planes into churches, or shooting people who were anti-abortion, you could rightly label me as being strident. Unfortunately for the theists out there, I don't do such things.

    So, while I can understand and, on the surface, acknowledge the phrase "don't be a dick", I refuse to accept the common accomodationist statement that we need to debunk Uri Geller, but not the pope. As far as I'm concerned, if you say something stupid, you will be called on your stupidity.

  32. well, i dont know how to private message anyone on this but i wrote a poem kinda about the Texas School Board Of Education texbook censorship. Maybe you could share it on the show or blog about it?

  33. The truth always hurts somebody.

  34. I wanted to add my 2c worth as to why it is so important to get people to stop believing in religion. There is a process called "brain patterning" where people learn to do things based on what they have done before. It's pretty much like working out your muscles. As you work out, the muscles that you use get stronger. If you pattern your brain to ignore evidence against and accept delusion as evidence for religion, why wouldn't you do that in the rest of your life? Why not judge the President because of stuff you want to believe, instead of what is really true? Why not base your political voting based on how you "feel" instead of the actual facts of what (or who) you are voting for?

  35. I wanted to add my 2c worth as to why it is so important to get people to stop believing in religion. There is a process called "brain patterning" where people learn to do things based on what they have done before. It's pretty much like working out your muscles. As you work out, the muscles that you use get stronger. If you pattern your brain to ignore evidence against and accept delusion as evidence for religion, why wouldn't you do that in the rest of your life? Why not judge the President because of stuff you want to believe, instead of what is really true? Why not base your political voting based on how you "feel" instead of the actual facts of what (or who) you are voting for?


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