Sunday, August 22, 2010

What the dickens?

Phil Plait, Randiphile, Bad Astronomer and as far as I can tell, all round nice guy, gave a speech at TAM suggesting that skeptics not be dicks. He posted the speech and follow ups on the Bad Astronomy blog. Jerry Coyne has queried whether he is a dick (Sorry Jerry, Dick is an informal form for Richard, and the gnu atheists already have a Richard) to whom Phil Plait might be referring? He wonders what evidence Plait has to support his thesis. Given that many ex-believers state that sometimes a bit of in your face atheism has swayed them to give up or rethink their beliefs, and they can't all be lying, it would seem that it's OK to be a dick in some situations.

Perhaps it's a discover blog thing? Maybe that's why the Intersection and Bad Astronomy are running a similar line?


  1. I hate to just reference blog posts I've already made, but I replied on this topic to a post Jason Rosenhouse made:

    The short form of it is that ridicule, mockery and rudeness are, in fact, always bad. Even if they work. Actually, ESPECIALLY if they work.

    The reason is that while satire is part of intellectual discussion, ridicule, mockery and rudeness AREN'T. If you're aiming at an intellectual discussion of a topic, you shouldn't be including any of those. So what, then, does it mean when you do?

    And what does it mean that some people need something that isn't part of intellectual discussion to be convinced of a position?

  2. It's always the fundies who ramp it up. If you try to be nice or gentle, they come up with false evidence, self-supporting assertions and just plain lies.

    So I will continue to 'take the piss', laugh, deride, belittle and nark. I do not abuse, swear or threaten however.

    These people are so besotted they need a metaphorical slap across the face just to get their attention and make them think.

  3. Eric,

    First off, starting any argument with "Well, they did it first!" is not going to demonstrate a rational approach to the topic [grin].

    Second, you seem to be lumping all theists into one category. Not all theists apply false evidence or lies, and for many if you stick to the argument they will as well. Starting from the presumption that if you debate rationally they won't is not a good place to start, and is exactly what is ticking off moderate theists and so-called accomodationists. Starting out on the attack is, in fact, the problem.

    Third, so you give them their metaphorical slap. Let's imagine that it helps them become atheists. At that point we need to ask: was it the slap that converted them, or the arguments? If the former, then they aren't any more rational than they were before they changed their beliefs. Surely you'd like them to convert using reason as opposed to, say, an emotional response to ridicule, no?

    Using irrational methods to change people's beliefs runs the very large risk that you haven't made them more rational, but have merely made them believe what you do. That's not something that anyone who wants to stand on rationality should accept or claim desirable.

  4. verbosestoic, perhaps I overstated my case. I always begin by giving the benefit of the doubt, unless their upfront statement is ludicrous. But I too often find they very quickly resort to lies, misrepresentations and distortions. So I let them have it. The few, very few, who have not followed that path retain a polite approach from me.
    The metaphorical slap was not to change their thinking, it's to get them to think at all to start with. They may change, they may not.