Skepticism Will Eat Itself

Within atheist and skeptical ranks there's been a growing schism between 'accommodationists', and, for lack of a more appropriate term, 'dicks'. In recent times the 'accommodationist' side has started speaking more loudly (which it has to, in order to be heard over the din of the 'dicks'), with the likes of Daniel Loxton and Phil Plait promoting more civil debate rather than P.Z. Myers-ish schoolboy tirades. But the cognitive dissonance that the skeptical movement is currently experiencing may in turn just reinforce the childish behaviour: in a new entry on his blog titled "Are We Phalluses?", Jerry Coyne has taken Phil Plait to task for his 'Don't Be a Dick' speech':

What struck me most strongly about the DBAD talk, and reminded me of the Tom Johnson affair, was Plait’s complete failure to provide evidence for what he was saying. Not only did he not give a single instance of the rudeness and stridency that he finds so ubiquitous, but also gave no evidence that skeptics who behave that way have been less effective than others. This was curious because, after all, the prime requirement for good skepticism is that you give evidence for what you think, and demand it from others.

And the dickish comments come fast and furious after the blog post, including one from an actual Dick - Richard Dawkins. I had a good giggle at his curt response to the Bad Astronomer's talk:

As Jerry said, Plait quoted no examples of skeptics who scream insults in people’s face. I don’t think I have ever met, seen or heard one. But I could quote plenty of skeptics who employ ridicule, who skewer pretentiousness, stupidity and ignorance using wit. Listening to such ridicule, and reading it, is one of the great joys life has to offer. And I suspect that it is very effective.

I'm sorry...you "suspect" that it's very effective? What happened to this evidence-based reasoning that Jerry Coyne and yourself were just singing the praises of? You might like to do some studies on that before you start criticizing others.

Here's a data point for Jerry and Richard. I regularly encounter dickish behaviour from 'skeptics', and I find it offensive. I find it very difficult to read anything that the likes of Myers and Dawkins write, no matter how intelligent, without an inherent bias due to my previous experience of their dickishness. And I'm not a fan of organized religion, so I should be their target audience.

Being offensive is the easiest course of action - it just requires unstopping any filters of civility and letting the garbage pour out of your head. It takes no intelligence at all, and rarely achieves anything other than to falsely stoke the ego of the offender. I am disinclined to listen to the 'rational' arguments of a 'skeptic' that can't act rationally themselves.

On the other hand, the way things are going, organized skepticism will tear itself apart soon enough...

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red pill junkie's picture
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On the other hand, the way things are going, organized skepticism will tear itself apart soon enough...

That, or it will suffer some sort of schism, with Phil and the guys agreeing with him disenfranchising from the Holy Erectnesses —Hmm no where have I seen that before?

 

Oh, right!  ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Bruce Duensing's picture
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Their internal dialog reminds me of a mistake in programming computer code for automatons that requires a fix, maybe a patch when an application runs amuck. There is plenty of external evidence in the application for dicks, but the dicks being dicks keep asking other dicks for evidence that they are dicks. This is fun to watch, I suspect pretty soon they will run an anti-virus program, the dick of dicks who will rid the dicks of dicks.

Bruce Duensing

Robbie's picture
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Completely agree with this article! My dad is a big Richard Dawkins fan but I had seen a couple of his documentaries and read a few things by him and found his 'dickish' behavior offputting, so I had the same bias problem with 'The God Delusion', in the end I had to stop reading it!
If they were more polite and rational with their arguments I'm sure they'd win more people over, the way they behave now only makes people who already agree with them feel more self assured and even arrogant about their position.

MacaPaca's picture
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a dickhead is only a dickhead for as long as you care about their opinion.

do we really need to apologise for the likes of p.z. myers and richard dawkins? when a person's obnoxiousness and ignorance outweigh their insight it's probably more fruitful to simply disregard them.

Greg H.'s picture
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"Listening to such ridicule, and reading it, is one of the great joys life has to offer."

In my experience ridicule is the tool of unrecognized insecurity. Secure healthy egos rarely find the need to ridicule, humiliate, insult others, regardless of the perception of "...pretentiousness, stupidity and ignorance..." And "Listening to such ridicule, and reading it, is one of the great joys life has to offer..." - this is the testimony of someone acknowledging their boorishness. Ridicule is the traditional tool of bullies and bullish behavior. Bullies always believe (fool) themselves into seeing themselves as superior, smarter, stronger, more of whatever empty need they are trying to fill, yet the rest of us know bullies are inherently weak, feeble, and sick inside their mind and hearts and deserve pity rather then enmity.

It is sad any time dialogue and debate falls to such depths, yet any time paradigms are threatened by anomalous facts, evidence or theories the initial reaction of those vested in the conventional is to attack, to silence, to ridicule. Then there are those who merely join the bandwagon for their own profit motives, to capitalize on the movement of the moment. History shows when those perpetuating the attacks finally die, a new generation replaces them who are open to new evidence, new theories, new facts and finally paradigms can shift. Then all those smug, boorish, egotists are remembered mainly for their foolishness, their close-mindedness and their mistakes.

Greg H.

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I think my main issue with books like the God Delusion as works is that they dumb down, especially compared to works like D. Hume. Nobody should dumb down, not Sheldrake, nor Dawkins. Present your argument as best you can.

Something's are quite obviously dickish, others are quite obviously not dickish at all. Then in the middle is the fine line where people will take it one way, or the other. We could go with majority rule or some other baseline to gauge what is, or is not, in particular cultural contexts.

I have no real answer for how to make arguments in the real world in that region. Flag burning for example can be seen as exceptionally dickish, but if it is done for something I agree with, such as an anti-war stance, then I don't mind it.

Defacing a book could be considered a terrible crime, but when there are millions of copies and the defacement is valid then I have no problem, God Delusion book burnings have happened I'm sure. To show that the book causes you pain and stress it is a valid way of venting and can help people understand how you are feeling, but that is a different question than whether it should have been published.

As for arguing with creationists, or setting out to, I agree that you might take more hearts and mind being well mannered.

However, what do I know. I'm a devil possessed, unspiritual, immoral, misguided, intolerant, materialistic soul destined for eternal torture by a loving parent.

I had two Jehovahs Witnesses come round my house a while ago. They were a pleasant couple and were unimposing and just because I like to I took the literature and read it. It was quite clear that I would go to hell and burn forever. I was left with this strange feeling. Here were two apparently nice people that had managed to say what is really the rudest nastiest thing anybody has ever said to me - I will be eternally tortured.. My flesh will burn... I will suffer unimaginable pain and anguish forever...

red pill junkie's picture
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This reminded me of that part in Mark Twain's book, where Huck is received by a family of the most kind and good-hearted people you could ever meet.

Huck later finds out that this family has been involved in a terrible feud with their neighbors that has claimed the lives of many of their kin.

When Huck mentions to his hosts that the people in that other family must be really nasty and evil, he is corrected: turns out that they were as good and kind as the ones that took him in!

Twain was a master at dissecting the irony of the human spirit.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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daydreamer's picture
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:) Yeah, its a nice story.

I think it's often true. Generally we are pretty much on the same level. Immorality to most of us is telling white lies because we're too tired (I'd love to do that right now, but i'm a bit busy), or to keep people happy (yes, I really loved the present). The very worst we might do is be deceptive for one reason or another; perhaps we're stressed and wish to hide it rather than blow it into a big deal etc etc. Normal stuff.

After that I think you have a new level of rudeness. Telling people their flesh will burn while wearing a nice happy smile and thinking your a good person is an example.

Fortunately, apart from potentially spreading fear and praying on the vulnerable, it is just name calling.

After that you have a level that most of us never reach, such as protecting paedophiles and murders; complicity in such crimes. Or even fraud and tax evasion, engaging in discrimination not in the defence of others rights, but in the diminishment of everyones.

I'm sure I could pull out some Twain quotes about that too ;)

emlong's picture
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"In my experience ridicule is the tool of unrecognized insecurity"

That pretty much sums it up. The dickheads spen a lot of energy just on saving face.

Greg's picture
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Greg H. wrote:

Dawkins: "Listening to such ridicule, and reading it, is one of the great joys life has to offer."

Meant to say about that particular quote from Dawkins - it's a pretty sad life when that is one of the great joys in it. I could list a few hundred that would sit above it in my life.

Kind regards,
Greg
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You monkeys only think you're running things
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Inannawhimsey's picture
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Greg wrote:
Greg H. wrote:

Dawkins: "Listening to such ridicule, and reading it, is one of the great joys life has to offer."

Meant to say about that particular quote from Dawkins - it's a pretty sad life when that is one of the great joys in it. I could list a few hundred that would sit above it in my life.

It is so much more human and positive and all that wonderful stuff when the humour is shared. I have got a saying that I have used before: it is better to play well with others, not play with others.

Plus, anyone who uses nonconsensual mockery, ridicule, etc. when debating with someone forgets that, empirically and rationally, this will cause the mockee's defenses to raise and all attempts at convincing someone of the argument will fail and the only way to proceed then will be to somehow get these defences to be lowered.

Agape never ceases -- real communication involves risk, there is vulnerability and to be effective (darnit, HUMAN) one has to get to know the people you are talking with.

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All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

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True that "dickishness" tends to be in the interpretation of the comments rather than the comments themselves (though not always). Ridicule will seem dickish to those at whom it's pointed, but funny to those who speak it.

That said, some commentators (Myers, Dawkins, etc) tend to throw out comments that are difficult to explain as anything other than "dickish." To be fair, when you are told that your life's work is all a mistake because an ancient parable by an unknown author with no scientific support says so, it's tough not to get pissed off. This doesn't excuse the dickishness, but it does explain the anger.

Any social movement, be it Skepticism, Feminism, Racial Equality, etc. will form schisms as it grows. There's simply no way for a large enough group of people to agree on everything and it's silly to expect that this division is the sign of a crumbling movement. The move for racial justice in America split sharply over the militant approach of Malcolm X and the more gentlemanly approach of Martin Luther King. The Feminist movement similarly has many schisms that self proclaimed Feminists argue loudly and angrily about. In both cases great progress has been made dispite the infighting and different approaches.

I am a "Skeptic" and I agree with Phil's sentiment. No I don't believe it's self contradictory to say that being an arrogant jerk will end up alienating people. Your accusation is essentially that Dawkins and the like should have supporting evidence for every statement they make. This is a red herring, but I suspect you were just being snarky in the article. Of course we don't need evidence to back up judgment calls about what constitutes proper behavior. Experience is fine in some areas of life. When pro psi arguments are made though, it's not irrational to ask for some powerfully persuasive evidence.

In some cases, I actually will come to the defense of PZ Myers. Currently the State of Kentucky is dumping public funds into the creation of a Noah's Ark theme park that appears to be little more than an elaborate argument for the veracity of the Ark story. To date, there's no evidence of a global flood (that's accepted by more than a very small fringe of geologists) so the Ark story is decidedly a religious one. This public investment is a clear violation of the US Constitution. Since the politicians in KY are overwhelmingly Christian (as are the citizens), it's all winks and nods despite sober analyses that show the park will likely be a money pit with little or no chance of recouping the losses. This pisses me off. There are many private religious theme parks in the US that I have no issue with. They are privately funded by supporters and deserve free speech protections. On the other hand, I do have a problem with taking taxpayer money and propping up a religious view in clear violation of the US Constitution. In this case, I giggle gleefully at PZ's fiery takedowns. In many other cases, I'm offended and annoyed.

So, that's my 2 cents. Thanks for letting me post and I welcome a cordial discussion. I promise to try to take Phil's advice to heart. :-)

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MeetTheSkeptics wrote:

Your accusation is essentially that Dawkins and the like should have supporting evidence for every statement they make. This is a red herring, but I suspect you were just being snarky in the article.

No, it wasn't a red herring, nor was it an accusation, nor that Dawkins should have evidence for every statement he makes. It was simply pointing out the (humorous) irony in Dawkins' supporting Jerry Coyne's post (which was about Phil's lack of evidence supporting his 'Don't be a Dick') by saying "he suspects" his way is right.

Quote:

Of course we don't need evidence to back up judgment calls about what constitutes proper behavior. Experience is fine in some areas of life. When pro psi arguments are made though, it's not irrational to ask for some powerfully persuasive evidence.

Now *that* would be a red herring. ;)

Kind regards,
Greg
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You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

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For many years, Richard Dawkins held the post of Professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. One might think that such a post carried some responsibility to present an unbiased and open minded image of scientists and the teaching of science.

British television companies have employed a succession of prominent atheists to present science documentaries - the latest being the new pin-up of physics, Brian Cox. Dawkins himself was given two series on Channel 4 with free rein to indulge his bigotry. And it seems that whenever a story about NDE's or psychic phenomena finds its way into the news, Richard Wiseman is on call to debunk it with his trademark patronising smugness.

The UK is nothing like the mid-west of the USA. We have a dwindling population of church-goers and no pressure to teach biblical creationism in our schools. Yet serious and intelligent scientific thinkers such as Rupert Sheldrake are vilified in the media. They are given, at most, a two minute slot on a radio news program - usually with a Wiseman type on hand to give the "real" scientific view.

So my question to the sceptics is: why the need to sneer and insult? What are you afraid of?

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Personally, I'm sick of seeing Brian Cox's smug mug on the telly - especially those endless shots of him staring out with 'awe' from some mountaintop.

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I've been watching Wonders of the Solar System on the telly the past couple of weeks, and I've actually been really enjoying it. Which surprised me, I thought Cox would annoy the crap out of me, but I haven't minded him at all. Unless he breaks out a synth and talks about his muzak days...

Much rather this Brian Cox though, to be honest. :-)

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

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I thought that Cox's recent TV lecture Science: A Challenge to TV Orthodoxy was very telling of his blinkered outlook.

Listen from about 4:30 when he strives to define science, whilst deliberately ignoring the 'drivel' written by philosophers of science, and quotes Feynman: "The philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds".

Grail-seeker

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kamarling's picture
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Cox is certainly not Dawkins but his world-view is clear enough.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/83308...

Georgehants's picture
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I have put up this book review I did on Amazon before, but it seems very relevant.

It is amazing that in a public forum with royalties to collect "scientists can be so open minded.
The truth is that Scientists in general and in reality shy away from almost every opportunity not driven by financial returns i.e. medical and computer,to further knowledge and instead, belittle and dismiss any advance.
The scientific community hid all of quantum theory for almost 60 years with a establishment led fear of the unknown and condemned generations of bright students to a life of adding one more decimal point to the Carnot Cycle.
Cold fusion was strangled before taking a single breath.
Only with the advent of a challenge to current cryptography methods by mathematicians was the quantum let loose, for the world to learn that nothing is as it seems.

"Scientists" that are cocooned in an academia and fully supported by the establishment have been allowed to maintain a status quo of science that is outdated, limited and plainly wrong.
Reductionist, mechanistic flat earthers have been free to promote a "science" that is but a shadow of reality, neo darwinism, Darwinism, the shortfalls of which where clearly seen by Darwin and totally discredited by the modern research, that has managed to escape the Censor.
Their are even now "scientists" who in the highest positions of our University's promote a, selfish Gene, condemning more generations to classical endeavorers.
The Quantum will change everything from, "Mind" to "Magic" once set free of the chains of determinism, reductionism and scientific mediocrity.

Their are even reductionist "scientist" who with a seeming complete unawareness of any scientific method try to advocate the absence of an intelligent creator.
No scientific method can say something does not exist, when the research is at such a basic level that backward science does not even investigate NDE, OOBE,
Jung's synchronicity, Grof's altered states of consciousness, etc. etc.
If one uses, one of the favorite tools of the reductionist, Occam's razor, then it clearly chooses a creator over Everett's many worlds or Anthropic principles, weak or otherwise.
If these authors had used the opportunity of this publication to highlight the faults and deficiency's of the present and passed scientific paradigm, then some benefit may have ensued, but as a "we are all jolly good fellows" promotion I find it very little use to anybody.

georgehants

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the member of the "united atheist alliance" who gives the monologue on the greatness of richard dawkins...

http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/15...