• The other part of the problem (or what Phil Plait got wrong)

    Commenting on the Atheist Ireland decision to dissociate from PZ Myers, Damion aimed at what he thinks is the larger problem within the evidence-based community:

    The problem is this: It is easier, faster, and far more emotionally satisfying to discredit someone by attacking their character than by civilly dissecting their arguments.

    Or, ironically summed up by Phil Plait, don’t be a dick.

    I’ve always found this piece of advice a little bit naïf for my taste, for it falls short. Yes, most of the times you needn’t be a dick: when people disagree with you or when they’re incautiously wrong, you can point out why they might find useful a different perspective or considering your point of view. So far, so good.

    But it turns out not everyone out there promoting nonsense is an ingenuous person. There are con artists who profit off the ignorance of others, there are bigots out there who enjoy people being discriminated against due to biological traits, and these people couldn’t care less about getting their facts straight. Ideology comes first, second and third in their priorities.

    I claim it is our moral duty to expose this charlatans and attack their character because they’re not making a mistake out of ignorance, unawareness or lack of time; they’re hurting people with their agendas and they won’t entertain the thought of being wrong, let alone consider all the damage they’re doing.

    Think of Deepak Chopra, pope Francis (any Pope, actually) or David Icke — the reason they’re peddling nonsense all day long is because they’re ideologically driven to do so. We shouldn’t stop at proving them wrong, we ought to question their motives and connect the dots. That’s more in the iconoclast tradition of Christopher Hitchens, Penn Jillette and James Randi.

    Yes, being kind to people when they’re honest is a good rule of thumb; but failing to call out the motives and agendas of ideologically motivated people who seek converts by means of ridiculing freedom, science, intelligence, knowledge, and those who defend them is doing our cause a great disservice.

    After quoting Salman Rushdie, Damion insisted: “Ideas may be (and sometimes must be) flensed ruthlessly, but individuals must be treated with dignity“. I retort: individuals must be treated with dignity as long as they have any left. Someone who scams people, someone who takes advantage of someone else’s trust, someone who lies their way through life have no right to claim to be treated with the dignity reserved for honest people — if there is anyone even remotely dishonest in this respect within the secular community (and I’m positively sure there are some), they shouldn’t be given free passes or treated with any less contempt than Uri Geller.

    I could go even further: they’re tainting our community, perverting it, and turning it upside-down. Ours is a community that advances an evidence-based worldview, which takes science and Human Rights seriously and finds it disheartening when public policy is based on fairy tales or people are discriminated against because of some gratuitous assertion. If you have any appreciation for evertyhing it took us to get where we are, your contempt of these people should be, justifiably, even stronger than that of the run-of-the-mill charlatan.

    I think we would be right to dissociate from people doing this kind of stuff in the name of our cause: misrepresenting the secular community by engaging in dishonest behaviors should be reason enough to distance ourselves from them, not just their fallacies.

    Failing to do so is the other part of the problem — how are we supposed to be the ones who civilly dissect ill-designed arguments if we’re not even capable of telling us apart from the very people who can’t do civility? People who willfully gave up on civility and decency don’t get to be treated civilly.

    Category: AtheismPhilosophySecularismSkepticism


    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Fact-checker

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    • Some of these comparisons seem a bit over the top, Ðavid. Icke, for example, is actually on Wikipedia’s list of messianic claimants.


      • Hi @Damion Reinhardt:disqus , I don’t understand: why would it be over the top?

        The son of god can never be wrong. PZ Myers thinks the same thing about his own self righteous zealotry.

        Would you mind explaining this to me?

        • PZ is zealous and incredibly confident of his own righteousness, but I don’t think that he is comparable to someone who openly compares himself to Jesus, on camera, to millions of people who worship Jesus.

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    • DevlinHill

      One of the more frightening aspects of religious zealots is their unwavering certainty.
      A person who is closed to the possibility that they might be, on occasion, less than absolutely right is a person who cannot be swayed by argument or negotiated with.
      I believe i detect some of that same surety in the patterns of your discourse, so it is with some trepidation and the heartfelt hope that I misread you that I express the opinion that you are wrong.

      One does not gain a more civil community by answering incivility with incivility. One does not gain a more reasonable (and reason based) society by answering unreason with unreason.

      When you choose to criticize someone publicly, especially if it is a person you believe to be acting in bad faith, who are you really addressing? Is it really that person, or is it rather the wider audience? If it is the former, you are indulging in a rant and otherwise wasting your time (the person in question is acting in bad faith and probably cares not what you think of them). If it is the latter, then the message is multilayerd, and some of it will be implicit and maybe unintended: THIS is what I think (person A), THIS is WHY I think it, and ALL OF THIS is how a person believed to be acting in bad faith should be publicly criticized.

      Consider for a moment how easily someone can come to believe (or claim to believe) that you, or anyone else for that matter, are “acting in bad faith”.

      In any case, you attack the arguments and not the person because even “evil” people are sometimes right. (E.g. Hitler was a non-smoker).

      • Hi @DevlinHill:disqus, thank you for your comment. I think you’re misreading me, and I would appreciate it if you could share the patterns of my discourse you think reflect my supposed unwavering certainty.

        I won’t say I have no certainty, though. I have a reasonable certainty but I’m willing to change my mind provided the evidence proving my opinion wrong. I have no problem with that (:

        I think the “This person is trying to scam you, he’s a con artist and here’s his MO” tactic is a valid one, even though they might be right once in a while. That doesn’t change their bad faith, wouldn’t you think?

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