Still more on being a dick


This started as a comment on Matt’s post about being a dick, but when it got to a certain length, I decided to barge to the front of the line and write my own post. That is, no doubt, a dick move on my part. :)

The problem with Phil’s approach isn’t that there are no dicks in the atheist community. Obviously there are, as highlighted by the “all Christians are retarded” post linked in that thread. All Christians aren’t retarded, and that’s a dick thing to say. One point for Phil.

The real problem is that by focusing on it in a speech this way, Phil gives the clearly false impression that this is systemic to the “leaders” of the “new atheist” “movement” (to the extent that there are leaders and it is a movement that is new, although I join many in despising the “new” designation).

There’s a bait-and-switch which always seems to go on in these discussions. PZ Myers, Dawkins, and we on TAE, do what we can to attack ideas and not people at every opportunity. Some people are dumb, but none of us wants to paint with a broad brush everyone who holds a belief as universally dumb. We say that up front, and we don’t hesitate to call specific ideas dumb, if it’s warranted. By focusing on the ideas we can pay attention to WHY they’re dumb, rather than calling names of people who, after all, are complex individuals with many different ideas and motivations.

We do attack ideas, but we attack them in a way that sometimes offends people. The point, though, is that the people who are taking offense are often doing so due to unreasonable beliefs. Like PZ Myers and his “frackin’ cracker.” It’s less about the offensive language and more about the fact that certain people believe the cracker is the body of Jesus — which it clearly isn’t — and they are willing to terrorize and intimidate people who don’t treat it with the respect due to a magical cracker — which it isn’t. It’s about the fact that people should be allowed to draw cartoons with Mohammed as a character — clearly an activity that harms no one except by annoying them — without receiving death threats.

In a nutshell, this is about drawing attention to an activity which shouldn’t be offensive but is. It is taking a stand to say that religious devotees cannot draw arbitrary battle lines and say “We hereby intend to be offended by activity X, and unless you cease and desist from doing X at all times, you are a dick.” I actually see a lot of parallel between this issue and the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, which is neither a Mosque nor at ground zero. On that subject, an opinion seems to be coalescing, even among people who are trying to appear reasonable, that “those Muslims have the right to build a cultural center there, but good taste dictates that they should not do it.”

I reject that. I think if anything, this whole crapstorm has made it more apparent that those Muslims should build their cultural center right where they damn well said they would, because if they give up ground on this issue then there won’t be a spot in America where they are allowed to build anything, ever. Free speech and free assembly aren’t just symbolic. If those rights aren’t exercised then we can still lose them.

I’m willing to have a reasonable discussion about what are the best methods for exercising our free speech to deal with unreasonable taboos. Sure , Phil, in a few situations it may be preferable to be polite and observe the taboos that you disagree with, depending on how important the fight is. I reject, however, the categorical statement that you shouldn’t do things that might make some group think you’re a dick. That way lies capitulation to every unrealistic demand of a new Taliban.

But Phil Plait would also like to strengthen his case by sneakily conflating two things. On one hand, we have posts that say “All Christians are Retards,” a statement which is both dickish and false. On the other hand, we have PZ Myers throwing his cracker in the trash. By conflating the two, we can be left with the impression that PZ Myers calls all Christians retards, when in reality the two acts are not equivalent.

It just seems to me that way too often, saying “Don’t be a dick” is actually code for “Shut up and accept it when other people are dicks to you.”

Comments

  1. says

    I'm more than a little perturbed.It's not just that Phil hasn't adequately defined a problem and hasn't provided any evidence that this is a significant and escalating problem…it's that he's responded to legitimate concerns, honest inquiry and comments critical of his flawed reasoning by smugly knocking over straw man.At this point, I'm starting to think that the only way I'll get any sort of response from him or any sort of acknowledgment that the response he directed at me was dishonest is to actually BE a dick to him. How ironic would that be?It's probably good that there's no TV show this week, because I'm about 90% certain that I'd be calling him out on live TV.

  2. says

    At the time I was there I felt the speech was targeted not at the 'leaders' of skepticism but to the general audience and was meant as a reminder some to chill out a bit when talking to friends and family.Keep in mind this was at the beginning of the convention and I think the idea was to set a tone of acceptance. Dawkins was the keynote speaker at this very convention and I am sure that Phil did not have a problem with that.I am not really sure what to think now that I have seen his response to Matt though. I do think this 'skeptic schism' business needs to be addressed. I hope they spend as much or more time at the next TAM talking about how to lessen it. A good start would be to invite more religiously minded skeptics like Matt.

  3. says

    Regarding the "mosque at Found Zero," Carl Paladino, one of the Republicans running for governor, has promised to seize the mosque building through eminent domain and turn it into a war memorial. Now, that would be a dickish move.

  4. says

    @johannthecabieIf eminent domain were used to take the mosque, it would be a blatant violation of the first amendment. I don't know anything about the guy, but he's either stupid for saying it, or he's shamelessly making this statement to get all the bigoted dicks in New York to vote for him.

  5. says

    I don't mean to sound silly or anything, but would you people mind sometimes saying some things on some topics that I don't completely agree with? Just now and then, to make me feel less like some stupid groupie, please?

  6. says

    I think Phil is a bit too caught up on the seduction parts of teaching skepticism. I think He's ignoring the fact that social disapproval of bad ideas is effective as well. When The older kid makes fun of the younger kid for believing in Santa Claus, what happens?Some ideas are really dumb. Would it be so bad to have a society that abhors bad ideas? Or is it preferable to have one that champions ignorance and gullibility as open-mindedness?

  7. says

    Phil just seems to be digging a deeper hole every chance he gets. As for his most recent response, I can only guess that he gave Matt's critique of his speech the most cursory review. If he can't use that as an excuse then shame on him for being a dishonest prick.I respect the guy and his accomplishments, but the vibe I get these days from him is that of a politician more worried about his image and fame than he ought to be. To the detriment of his stated goals.I seem to remember him stating that Carl Sagan was a hero of his and that his goal was to be like Carl. Carl Sagan would never have responded to a critique in such a shallow, off the mark, and apparently dishonest way. Phil has got a lot of work ahead of him.I don't mean to give the impression that I dislike Phil. I really do not. Just keeping it real.

  8. ribidons says

    There's another problem here; the atheist/secularist movement in the United States is rather weak by international standards, and it's faced with confronting the overall strongest bastion of theistic power in the "first world." We don't have the numbers to make good press by peacefully protesting, gently correcting, and simply doing our own thing; right now, we need strength and some solidarity on the issue of church/state separation. The opposition collectively has THOUSANDS of full-time professional apologists, campaigners, organizers, and recruiters on staff, a significant minority of whom are, in one form or another, "in" on the secret that they're arguing disingenuously. They've also got the assumed majority position — they can claim to speak for the public without raising eyebrows. Then, if you factor in the Republican/Tea Party's recent behavior and its explicit dominionist statements, straight from the desks of a few elites… [/tinfoilhat] Meanwhile, it's pretty darn hard to get paid for pushing the secularist position. There are a few lawyers and judges, a few scientists, philosophers, and professors, one or two bureaucrats, and a very few journalists who spend a significant amount of their time covering the issue; the rest are volunteers with day jobs, like y'all. What I'm trying to say is that now isn't the time to be telling atheists to quiet down and play nice, and that's exactly the take-home message Mr. Plait advanced. Calling out specific misdeeds on the part of individuals is one thing. When some atheist douchebag wants to sue someone to quash their free speech rights, call 'em out. When someone's defacing monuments, call 'em out. When someone (specific) is being abusive and mean, or is opposing legitimately conducted meritorious acts by religious people, call 'em out. However, calling for a general ceasefire isn't warranted at all. We've got junior theocrats pushing to block a non-majority religious building in our nation's economic capital on solely religious grounds, and they're polling well. We've got an (avowedly) new splinter political party that's very explicitly stumping for Christian Reconstructionism, and an out-and-out dominionist came as close to the Presidency as V.P. for the runner-up. We've got a whole bunch of big, rectangular states where legitimate science and history education are hanging on by a thread and where the Establishment clause and the 14th Amendment are uncommonly acknowledged. And, we've got a new Supreme Court justice who's not solid on church/state separation. Sorry, but while it might not be time to beat on a big brass bell and call everyone to arms, it's definitely time to stand up and be heard, to rattle the shutters of a few of the swelling theistic enclaves, and ensure that we don't get shut out in the next decade.

  9. says

    Matt D. said… I'm more than a little perturbed.I don't blame you one bit. However, I would be extremely surprised if Phil were to reasonably address this and admit to any error. My guess is that he will ignore it and never speak directly to you. It would be nice to be wrong.

  10. says

    I respect the guy and his accomplishments, but the vibe I get these days from him is that of a politician more worried about his image and fame than he ought to be. To the detriment of his stated goals.This.Phil needs to realise he is not the Grand Wise Elder of the skeptic community.His non-response to Matt was incredible. I'm sick of these accommodationist asses talking down their noses. Damn, I wish there were a TV show this week. Save that anger up for next week, Matt!

  11. says

    This is my first interaction with you guys but I've been listening to your podcast for years. I work with a bunch of atheists in a company owned by an atheist. In case anyone is wondering, there's no discrimination here, this is just a particularly secular part of Canada. We all listen to mp3 players all day and I'm the guy that loads them up. Your podcast is the #1 most anticipated and enjoyed. Great stuff people.To the discussion at hand, I don't think there's a more important skeptical topic than religion with the exception of, perhaps, global warming denial. I don't say perhaps in the sense that I think global warming is debatable, only in the sense that I don't know which has the potential to destroy our existence first. My interest in skepticism is driven by a desire to one day die with some grounds for hope that mankind isn't on the trolley tracks to self induced extinction. Everything else skeptical, UFOs, ghost hunters and anti-vax etc are important in their own right but they are ultimately trivial in the big picture.There seems to be a push, whether calculated or not, to steer clear of atheism in the skeptical community. If this is the case, my involvement in the skeptical movement is no longer justified. When group leaders get in the way of forwarding the very message the group hopes to promote, skepticism, it's time to cut your losses and bow out. I'll watch from the side lines and hope common sense wins the day but, until then, I'll focus my efforts directly on the problems that I see as more pressing.

  12. says

    "But Phil Plait would also like to strengthen his case by sneakily conflating two things. On one hand, we have posts that say "All Christians are Retards," a statement which is both dickish and false. On the other hand, we have PZ Myers throwing his cracker in the trash. By conflating the two, we can be left with the impression that PZ Myers calls all Christians retards, when in reality the two acts are not equivalent."Russell,Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this.You said it much better than I did, for sure!"It's probably good that there's no TV show this week, because I'm about 90% certain that I'd be calling him out on live TV."Matt,I'm about 99% certain that I'd be enjoying the hell out of it!

  13. says

    "I seem to remember him stating that Carl Sagan was a hero of his and that his goal was to be like Carl. Carl Sagan would never have responded to a critique in such a shallow, off the mark, and apparently dishonest way. Phil has got a lot of work ahead of him."Yeah, well. Phil Plait is no Carl Sagan.For one thing, Sagan was not an accommodationist. He wasn't a fire-breathing debater, but he had very little patience for nonsense and superstition. Watch some of those old "Cosmos" episodes; some of them are out-and-out arguments for atheism and a naturalistic worldview—and these episodes did not seem to give a rip about the fragile sensibilities of believers. Sagan tip-toed around NOTHING. (Watch 1:15 of this clip. Keep in mind: this was PBS, too!) We tend to remember Sagan as though he was this Mr. Rogers kind of guy with his turtleneck and tweed jacket—but he never sacrificed truth in service of not offending the precious widdle feewings of religious-types.And Matt: Hang in there. LOTS of us share your frustration. You always seem to engage people in good faith (no pun intended), and it's a shame Phil didn't handle this better.

  14. says

    AS the apparent dick poster boy (my own fault) I would like to reiterate that that "All Christians are retarded post" was written after watching a since deleted video by youtube user glenreb.Anyway, if therw was one thing I would change about that post, I would insert the word "being", as in "Christians are being retarded" instead of "Christians are retarded." Obviously, Christians aren't literally retarded. And, just as obviously sometimes smart people do dumb things. I do still think that the collection of ideas labeled "Christianity" are an extraordinarily dumb collection of ideas, and that people who accept those ideas are being dumb. You'd have to convince me that Christianity *wasn't* a set of dumb ideas to get me to change my mind on that.That being said, the post was not an argument, and was never intended to be an argument — it was intended to be a rant. And sometimes I will rant on my blog. It's why I have a blog. I invite you not to read it if you don't like it. Or read it if you do.

  15. Ptah says

    I think it's safe to say that at least some christians are retarded. For example, I believe Trig Palin is a christian.

  16. Martin says

    Actually, Trig Palin could not possibly be Christian, since he's still an infant and has Down's Syndrome. Therefore he is neither old enough nor mentally sound enough to understand the tenets of Christianity well enough to accept them. Now, I'm sure Sarah and the First Dude have imposed Christianity upon him, as Christian parents do. But if so, Trig cannot really be a Christian, as he has no understanding (let alone an awareness) of what it is he is being obligated to "believe". Imposing religion on children, especially ones who aren't mentally developed — that's a dick move!

  17. says

    I keep reading through the comments of Plait's post to see if he is ever going to respond to Matt… but I think it's now obvious he isn't.As many in the comment section of his post have noted, this makes Phil look arrogant and aloof – not to mention that he can't engage with reasoned criticism.I suspect that this is one of the few times, if not the first, where Phil is faced with opposing viewpoints which he cannot use his scientific knowledge to rebut or debunk quickly – and we are now seeing how he handles himself when criticised by people he cannot merely dismiss with fact.

  18. says

    I have a good friend at work who I always call "the holy roller". We enjoy a pretty good natured friendship and I genuinely like her. She's a good person. Whenever I legitimately challenge her on her beliefs, she accuses me of being "grumpy" or simply "being negative". All I usually am doing is halting her proselytizing. Basically she goes on as if I've never heard the story before and that's why I don't believe it. I now have a bible at my desk and refer to it and say "I know". Often I'll play devil's advocate and espouse an opposing denomination's belief. Then I'm not labeled as mean.The bottom line is this; any time I get the least bit serious and bring up legitimate failings in her system of worship I am labeled, for lack of a better term, a "dick". Even if this is a bit farther than Plait intended, it certainly supports this notion. Just what does that allow me to do then? It essentially makes it a taboo subject. Because when it comes to religion, having an alternate opinion makes you a dick to many christians. And not to defend the dickish blog entry du jour, but you simply must watch the videos by "glenreb". They can still be found everywhere. The guy is hysterical. He is also a complete dick of the opposing view. While I would never say he shouldn't be allowed, it definitely weakens the christian argument… and I think that was what was originally intended by Phil's comments.

  19. says

    Andy said… "Yeah, well. Phil Plait is no Carl Sagan."My point exactly. Not even close. Not that he is required to be like Sagan, who could be. But he has recently acted like he needs to have this pointed out to him."For one thing, Sagan was not an accommodationist. He wasn't a fire-breathing debater, but he had very little patience for nonsense and superstition."Yah. That is what I liked best about Carl. I certainly wish I could argue like he did.

  20. JJR says

    My current new favorite YouTube atheist is Angie The Anti-Theist, and right now I'm enjoying watching her read and RIP INTO Rick Warren's smug tome _The Purpose Driven Life_. Is Angie being a Dick, Phil? I don't know, but I do know I'm enjoying the hell out of it. She's a cult survivor (faith healers) and yes, she is an "angry atheist", but for damn good reasons considering what she's been through in her difficult life.Angie also has a blog, but her most recent YouTube videos have been priceless. Angie's anger is, in my estimation, fully justified. And entertaining, in the same way that Lewis Black is entertaining. Angie is full of awesome, even if Phil Plait thinks that what she's doing is the rhetorical equivalent of strapping on a dildo. ;-)

  21. says

    "Whenever I legitimately challenge her on her beliefs, she accuses me of being "grumpy" or simply "being negative".I think I've encountered this before (and have no doubt done it myself a few times). That tendency to take the uncomfortable feelings some questions generate, and project them outwards as problems with the questioner.No doubt your work colleague thinks that there must be something wrong with you, rather than ask herself why your questions cause her to react in this way.

  22. says

    I personally remember Carl Sagen as Captian America's friend who was killed by oil tycoons :http://spoonyexperiment.com/2010/02/08/captain-america-review/The schism stuff really annoys me because the message they're sending isn't "Some skeptics are christian", it's "Skeptics are NOT atheists". The "don't be a dick" thing wanting to not drive people away is especially galling as on some places, say..skepchick, some of the people are perfectly fine and have no problem with offending atheists. Sometimes…a lot. Skepchick has a lot of voices but there is some WTF dissonance when one guest is ranting about how juvenile and stupid atheists are while the host and founder follows up with a pro-atheist vlog. That sorta is evidence for Matt's Schism hypothesis.

  23. says

    Two things, hopefully quick ones:First, before we canonize St. Carl, he had his own forays into poor, fallacious argumentation. I'm pretty sure it's Phil himself, in the "Bad Astronomy" book, who calls out strawmen that Sagan dredged up about Velikovsky in "Broca's Brain." Second, I think a large swath of skeptics, so enamored with the idea of education, are uncomfortable with the notion of making believers uncomfortable. They also seem to be very concerned with making the skeptical movement larger, and think that being discomforting would hinder that. These aren't necessarily entirely unreasonable conclusions, but they are unrealistic. The very existence of nonbelievers discomforts believers in whatever subject. There's no way for us to argue in a way that won't make people uncomfortable. And if some potential "members" are driven away by that discomfort, then they don't have the stones to be a skeptic. Skeptics should expect to be questioned, to defend themselves, and to face the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is. And while our situations are not the same, it would be good to (yet again) take a page from the gay rights movement. You know what makes people uncomfortable? Pride Parades. Seeing same-sex couples showing affection openly. Rainbow flags. Guys in sequined speedos. The gay rights movement certainly wouldn't be where it is today without the vast majority of GLBT people being normal, everyday folks who just happen to be gay and just want to be treated like everyone else. But those people would be invisible without the folks who had the courage to defy norms and stand up and make conservative straight people uncomfortable. We can worry about growing the ranks and playing patty-cake with believers once we've gotten to the point that our very existence isn't taboo. Until then, we need the "warriors" at least as much as the "diplomats."

  24. says

    I get to an extent Matt's point, and the point in this post. But for anyone who has spent time on a forum where say atheists and theists debate, or believers of psi and proponents, for example, will see all sorts of comments by skeptics about how idiotic the beliefs are on the other side. They may have some legitimate points in their posts, but those get lost in the 10-20 posts following which discuss nothing other than the person's nasty tone.Do we really need Phil Plait to go through and find examples? We've all seen them, on various forums. Fact is, being a dick often causes one's point to be lost. The recipient focuses solely on the insult, and ignores the content. That's not to say we shouldn't vigourously promote our skeptical approach, and use logic and reason to tear apart the believer's fallacy-ridden position. We should do that. Phil's point is that when we add inflamatory and base insults into the mix, our valid points get lost. This happens over and over and over again. And even when frustration sinks in, and some stronger tactics may be necessary: use your whit, try to be clever, use humour, but if you do so in a dickish way, prepare for your message to be ignored.

  25. says

    I've noticed the same desire to "grow the movement," and that might be roughly what Phil means by "don't be a dick": don't do anything that might push people out of skepticism, or make them not call themselves skeptics. Which seems a silly thing; who cares what someone calls themselves? Who cares how many people come to TAM? If someone wants to care about those things, more power to them, but I don't see a compelling reason why everyone should.Plus there's the point that the attempt to not push people away is pushing people away. Just another kind of person. Maybe those people are undesirables or something, though. We don't want them anyway, right?

  26. says

    Tom: You're right. Sagan was wrong about the whole Velikovsky thing. Dead wrong. I was unaware that in order to revere someone we had to revere every single argument that person ever made. My point about Sagan–my only point–was that, while he seemed soft and fluffy, he wasn't preoccupied (like Phil is) with the possibility that some people might think that those who defend scientific knowledge are "dicks." If I seem like I hold St. Carl in rather high esteem, it's because I do. But I hope I'm able to view my heroes soberly–which would include acknowledging when they are dead wrong (which, I believe I just did above)."We can worry about growing the ranks and playing patty-cake with believers once we've gotten to the point that our very existence isn't taboo. Until then, we need the "warriors" at least as much as the "diplomats.""Very well put. The warriors–let's remember–are how the rest of the population knows we even exist.

  27. says

    @ PomboloI gotta come back to the aristo thing. Plait just doesn't see Matt D. as part of the club because Matt lacks the requisite letter assortment after his surname.How sad. This sort of facile credentialism is the LAST thing our movement – such as it is – needs. Let's call it, oh I dunno… being a PhDick?@ Tom FossGood point about Sagan. Nobody, but nobody, should get a pass on legitimate criticism.And it is, in fact, downright remarkable how conservative – no other word for it – the gay rights movement has become. Marriage. Adopting children. Military service. Especially for those of us old enough to remember the ACT-UP days or going even further back to Stonewall.As an old-skool, small-c conservative, as well as the proud owner of an autographed Sylvester album, this makes me smile.

  28. says

    Arouet,You haven't really said anything new. It might be more fruitful if you addressed the specific points Matt D. brought up in his critique of Phil's speech.Regarding the image you invoke of atheists being dicks to the polite believers during internet discussions, I really disagree with you. My experience, anectdotal of course, just as yours, is that a high percentage of the time the theist is the one showing their ass. This seems to almost be the norm from anonymous posters to high end theologians. Foul language is not necessary for dickishness. So many people are just too sensitive about curse words. The most dickish, and downright rude, snooty and boorish, comments I have seen usually contain no curse words, and in fact are often littered with the grandest most self important verbiage one could imagine.With regards specifically to theists in the "skeptical crowd", if they don't want their religious beliefs "torn apart" then they shouldn't bring them up during a discussion with other skeptics. After all skepticism in general is about dismantling woo.It is fairly typical for theists to cry dick no matter the tone of an argument against their beliefs. What I find curious about this situation is that the theist skeptics do not see that they are being just as dickish to proponents of other types of woo as they claim atheist skeptics are to them.Maybe, like that Aussie comic likes to say, everyone in the skeptic community just needs to "harden the fuck up".

  29. says

    Arouet said:"Do we really need Phil Plait to go through and find examples? We've all seen them, on various forums."Yes we really do. Or we do, if we want to understand exactly who Phil is trying to get to tone it down. Clearly people have different perceptions of what "being a dick" is… which is normal –since it's an "opinion"– not a fact. No doubt, moon-landing deniers think Phil is a dick. I found his speech dickish, accommodationistic, prejudice promoting, and generally unhelpful in getting people to be less dickish. But I'm willing to change my mind with evidence that telling people not to be dicks helps make skeptics more inclusive(or whatever his goal was.) I find your post dickish in that you are suggesting that Phil, you, and others all have the same opinion of what this "dickishness" is, but none of you are providing anything so we cannot know. Like believers in god, you all get to assume you believe in the same thing and then confirm your biases accordingly– not very skeptical, in my opinion. We cannot even compare to see if you are more dickish than those you think of as dicks nor can we examine the effect it has. No doubt lots of people think Matt is dickish, but I suspect he furthers the cause of rational thinking far more than those accusing him of being a dick. I suspect I'd find those who think Matt is a dick to be much bigger dicks than they think Matt is.

  30. says

    "Fact is, being a dick often causes one's point to be lost. The recipient focuses solely on the insult, and ignores the content."On the other hand, the "dick" can call the other person out on his or her appeal to the Style over Substance Fallacy.The Style over Substance Fallacy is one of my favorite fallacies because its identification as a fallacy can be a way to counter the all-too-common "Wah wah wah… I don't care what you said because you were mean to me!" response.

  31. says

    Darrell E. said: I respect the guy and his accomplishments, but the vibe I get these days from him is that of a politician more worried about his image and fame than he ought to be.I'm so glad to read this from someone. I was afraid that I was the only person who believed this, and that I was being petty.Frankly, I'm baffled that so many are so pleased with Phil's speech, and seem to hail it as an example of a message of brotherhood. Every time I view the video, I can't help but feel anything besides a sense of scorn and venom coming from Phil. The parts where he tells the applauding crowd "I don't need it" strike me as particularly…. well…. dickish!

  32. says

    @ArounetDo we really need Phil Plait to go through and find examples?No, but I wish someone – anyone – would.@GeorgeI gotta come back to the aristo thing. Plait just doesn't see Matt D. as part of the club because Matt lacks the requisite letter assortment after his surname.It seems Phil, like Mooneybaum, isn't interested in having any kind of dialogue on this issue. I am tempted to think he is concern trolling.

  33. says

    Andy: I was unaware that in order to revere someone we had to revere every single argument that person ever made.Yes, clearly that's the argument I was making. My point was that saying that Phil is nothing like Sagan, because Phil has here engaged in some wildly unskeptical arguments, is not necessarily the case. Neither Phil nor Carl is/was perfect, or perfectly skeptical. I also hold Sagan in high esteem. Demon-Haunted World is my favorite non-fiction book, period. And I've never read anything by Sagan that goes wrong in the way that Phil goes wrong here (although there's a bit in that same book where Sagan calls himself agnostic and makes a comment about how atheists are "certain", which has similar traits). But when we start saying "Sagan would never…," I think we're getting into a fairly tricky territory. For one, we can't exactly ask him, and for another, it's a subtle distinction between "Sagan wouldn't say that because it contradicts other things he said" and "Sagan wouldn't say that because he wouldn't make that kind of stupid mistake." Phil may be more like Sagan that we're comfortable accepting. Also, Sagan wasn't "dead wrong" about Velikovsky, he just used poor arguments when he didn't have to. George: I gotta come back to the aristo thing. Plait just doesn't see Matt D. as part of the club because Matt lacks the requisite letter assortment after his surname.I don't know if that's fair–there's no string of letters after Randi's name either, and Plait would certainly respond to him. It may be fair to say that Matt's not a big enough "name" in the "community," and Phil probably sees this as the kind of low Internet squabbling that he doesn't want to be involved in. Of course, if he didn't want to get involved, he shouldn't have commented in the first place, and refusing to answer the criticism is pretty dickish, but that's the kind of hole you dig when you start in on this "my way is the right way" kind of idiocy.Arouet: It is fairly typical for theists to cry dick no matter the tone of an argument against their beliefs.And this is a key point. Theists tend to read whatever tone they expect into Internet comments, and they'll take any excuse they can to dismiss the arguments–even if it's an excuse they make up. And they tend to expect a free pass on being a dick–or at least don't think quote mining, dodging questions, changing the subject, crowing victory prematurely, stereotyping their opponents, and threatening eternal torture as being dick moves. Again, my definition differs.

  34. says

    When just acknowledging atheists existence (ie putting up billboards that just say to other non-believers that "You are not alone") is considered dickish by believers, wtf are atheists supposed to do?And if we're allowed to work for our causes but just supposed to pretend to be nice, that is IMHO pure dickishness. It really kinda pisses me off when the believers pull their smug ass nicey nice act they play as soon as you enter into an argument with them. (which isn't to say they're being nice normally is an act, its just that when you enter into an argument they try to overplay their niceness like they are fucking goodness incarnate and then throw their condescending "i'll pray for you to understand, I know the truth and you'll eventually get there if you just trust jesus and blah blah blah.")The message is apparently, atheists, sit down, shut up, know your place, get back in the kitchen!..wait, what?

  35. says

    "Regarding the image you invoke of atheists being dicks to the polite believers during internet discussions, I really disagree with you. My experience, anectdotal of course, just as yours, is that a high percentage of the time the theist is the one showing their ass."Youtube is full of atheists who skop argumentation and go right to insults. Then again, it's the internet. And it's also youtube….Maybe the message should be "Don't take the internet so seriously."

  36. says

    [Do we really need Phil Plait to go through and find examples? We've all seen them, on various forums.] Yes, he needs to. That's the whole point. I find many people claiming this rude or mean attitude, but I don't see it as some big trend at all. I find instances where someone reacts to their ideas being challenged. but I'm not convinced it's about how their ideas are being challenged. Unless specifics are given, I don't know where this arbitrary "dick line" is or when I'm crossing it. We've seen one example so far and we mostly admit this was not an advisable approach. But this is rare, not common, when I go looking through forums.The claim seems to be that this dickishness is "everywhere", but I really don't see it. Even on YouTube, possibly the least high brow of discourse, I most often find atheists using arguments not insults. Actually the atheist/ theist discussions on YouTube are the rare videos that don't immediately invoke racists, bigots and nationalists. It's almost like you are saying it "feels like" people are being mean all the time, but you can't show examples. I'm open to the evidence proving me wrong, but a general feeling isn't evidence.

  37. says

    I've lost some respect for Phil Plait over this. It's regrettable because it was so damn avoidable.I didn't lose respect for him for his original speech. But after Matt pointed out so cogently that Phil made an emotional appeal, I felt he was obligated to respond.What made me lose respect for him was the nature of the response: his dismissive and dishonest defense in part 2, his refusal to answer Matt's criticisms in any way after being called out on being dishonest, and a Part 3 post where the argument seems to be "but look how happy it made the theists in the skeptic community!". And now it appears the case is closed from his perspective.To be clear, it's not the fact that he made the emotional appeal in the first place. Anyone can make a mistake. It's his adamant refusal to either admit error or give a valid response.I respect his work as a popularizer of science, but until he mans up and either admits his error or provides a valid counter argument, I can't respect him as a skeptic after this.

  38. says

    magx01 said… "Youtube is full of atheists who skop argumentation and go right to insults."As I wrote on this topic on another blog.Obviously there are instances of flat out uncalled for, improper, unhelpful dickishness by atheists. But as numerous people have already asked, show me that this type of behavior is displayed frequently enough to be a real problem. I am skeptical about that."Then again, it's the internet. And it's also youtube….Maybe the message should be "Don't take the internet so seriously.""Yeah. I think you are correct in that there is a lot of unimportant crap on the internet and I fully agree with this sentiment. But some ideas are important for various reasons. And the internet is becoming more and more an integral part of our culture that does affect the way people act in meat space.

  39. says

    "I like the idea of Boobquake for many reasons. It’s an excellent display of physical mockery, which is a great way to raise awareness. It also resonates in American culture because we have so many people who are so twisted up about such things morally; I support poking them in the eye with this kind of thing as well." "Now, Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) is batguano insane…Her viewpoints are so bizarre and skewed that her biography would have to be written on a Moebius strip."–Phil PlaitPhil has no problem being a dick to moon hoaxers or other "safe targets", and even says Boobquake was good specifically because it was dickish (if boobs could be dickish). The main issue I think (although I haven't looked into all the backstory for it) is that Pamela Gay is his friend, and he's upset because other people were talking about her skepticred. He's like a guy who's for the death penalty because his friend or whatever was murdered, he knows all the logical arguments, but doesn't care because he wants the guy who did it to die. His judgement on the issue may be skewed and as such should probably salvage what he can and bow out for now until he can come at it less emotionally.Is there room in the skeptical community to improve relations with theists, sure. But the answer isn't to just have the atheists shut up.

  40. says

    and a Part 3 post where the argument seems to be "but look how happy it made the theists in the skeptic community!".He was also saying "These people and I disagree, but we're still friends!"And that's all well and good, as I have theistic friends, ghost-believing friends, friends who use alternative medicine, friends with whacko political ideologies, and so forth. And when the topic comes up, I usually tell them I think what they believe is stupid. And we get into it for a bit and call each other names and then we go get Chinese. Throughout the "dickish" behavior between good friends, there was never any real animosity, because we're friends. If your friends up and leave you the first time you say "Are you retarded or something?" then I can't say I think much of the strength of your friendships.This whole nicey-nicey goody-two-shoes crap is making me nauseous.

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