It’s Never Really About Civility

Here’s Rod Dreher giving lectures about civility:

What is it with science-oriented advocates who consider contempt a virtue? Who, exactly, do they think they are going to persuade? (You could say the same thing about sneering political bloggers, sneering religious bloggers, and, well, sneerers in all forms of public discourse, inasmuch as sneering seems to be a popular pose these days.) Most of us are tempted to sneer every now and then (I certainly am guilty of this), but some of these people adopt sneering as a basic intellectual stance to the world.

Here’s Rod Dreher hectoring Anne Rice over her decision to leave institutional Christianity:

I’m sorry, but this is weak, and makes me wonder what really happened. Surely a woman of her age and experience cannot possibly believe that the entirety of Christianity, current and past, can be reduced to the cultural politics of the United States of America in the 21st century. Does she really know no liberal Christians? Has she never picked up a copy of Commonweal? Does she really think that if she asked a Christian on the streets of Nairobi or Tegucigalpa what they, as Christians, thought of Nancy Pelosi, they would have the slightest idea what she was talking about? And Christianity, anti-science? Good grief. Has she not noticed that Catholic Church, to which she did belong until yesterday, has affirmed evolution, and embraces science? How can a woman of her putative sophistication really think that Christianity is nothing more than a section of the Republican Party at prayer?

Dreher’s rant here is ridiculous, of course. Regarding the Catholic Church specifically I suspect Rice noticed their contempt for homosexuals, their willingness to use the sacraments as political weapons against pro-choice politicians, their opposition to stem-cell research, their intransigence on the subject of women priests, and, of course, their reaction to the child sex abuse scandal. Maybe having an official position of accepting evolution isn’t quite enough to undo all of that. And somehow I suspect that Rice is aware of the existence of liberal Christians. She probably just feels they are not enough of a force within the church to combat the more reactionary forces. (We should also note that, contrary to what Dreher says elsewhere in his post, Rice has not lost her faith. It is only institutional Christianity that has lost her confidence.)

But that is not really the subject of this post. That Dreher complains about a lack of civility one minute and then engages in snotty incivility the next is indicative of a common phenomenon among those who complain about the tone of blogs. The problem rarely seems to be incivility per se. Usually that is just a cover for the real complaint, which is seeing incivility directed towards people the writer does not think deserve it.

Take Dreher’s remarks about science-oriented advocates sneering as a basic intellectual stance. He offers two pieces of evidence. One is that P.Z. Myers is rude. The other is this charming little anecdote:

A few years ago, I was in an editorial board meeting with some pro-science academics and others, who had come in to speak to us about some issue, I forget precisely what, having to do with science education in Texas. We entered that meeting entirely on their side, but by the time it was over, we were, as I recall, still on their side on the merits of the argument, but we had a distinctly nasty taste in our mouth. The advocates were simply dripping with contempt for their opponents, and carried themselves with an aristocratic hauteur, as if they considered it beneath them to be questioned by others about this stuff. I never quite got a handle on why they acted that way, but reading Heffernan, it’s more clear: I thought these people had come to argue about science and science education, but whether they realized it or not, they were class warriors.

Gosh yes. It sure is hard to figure out why pro-science academics would respond angrily to the machinations of the Texas School Board. Clearly the explanation lies in classism. What else could it be?

Anne Rice serves up a few Twitter posts criticizing institutional Christianity and Dreher flies off the handle. But scientists being contemptuous towards people who lie about the facts of science, and then try to alter school curricula to peddle their lies to children is incomprehensible to him. Suppose someone argued that the ceremony of the Eucharist promotes cannibalism. Do you think Dreher would say, “What an interesting viewpoint! Let us have a civil discussion about it”? Or do you think maybe he would consider it beneath him to have to reply to such a thing?

We pro-science academics spend a good portion of our professional lives trying to make scientifically ignorant people a little less ignorant. You can always find a few rotten apples, but very few of us are contemptuous of our students. Quite the contrary. Most of us find it thrilling to engage with people who are genuinely interested in learning about science. That is a far larger portion of our lives than is blogging or having to deal with school board demagogues. For Dreher to extrapolate from a few blog posts or one editorial board meeting to people’s general views towards life is absurd. Likewise for thinking that contempt directed at specific people for specific things is somehow indicative of a general philosophy.

Let me also suggest that it is never a good argument to complain about someone’s tone by saying something like, “You’re not going to convince anyone!” That is a lazy argument used exclusively by people more interested in seeming above it all than in actually engaging the issues. Incivility is a tool in the arsenal. It is very good for calling attention to an issue and to a point of view. If the incivility is backed up by a good argument it can be very powerful.

For a personal example, when I was first learning about evolution and creationism I was heavily influenced by the large body of anti-creationist writing that is out there. Initially, you see, I felt some sympathy for the creationists. Not the part about taking the Bible literally, but the part about scientists exaggerating the strength of the evidence for evolution. Most of that writing is very rude to the creationists, and much of it is downright obnoxious. That did not stop me from finding it compelling. As I came to understand the issues more clearly, I also came to realize that the incivility was entirely appropriate.

Or consider The God Delusion. Can anyone argue with a straight face that Dawkins would have been a more effective advocate for his view had he written a stodgy academic treatment of his material? Such treatments exist, of course, but mostly they sit unread on the shelves of university libraries. A few years ago Oxford University Press published an anthology entitled Philosophers Without Gods. It was a marvelous book. It should absolutely be read by anyone interested in this topic. Precisely the sort of scholarly seriousness the tone-complainers said they wished Dawkins, HItchens and Harris had written. I am sure the few dozen people who read it were enriched by the experience. But how many people did they convince?

So much of the discourse on these topics imagines two clearly defined sides with everyone having already taken a stand one way or the other. People with an emotional stake on one side are likely to dig in when confronted by rudeness from the other, so we are all supposed to speak in soothing, gentle tones. But that is a ludicrous oversimplification of reality. What about all the people who are on the fence? What about people who have long been uncomfortable with their religious lives but have never heard a non-cartoonish version of any alternatives? What about all the people who have their eyes opened by the visibility atheism now has as a result of Dawkins’ writing? What about all the other books, and public presentations, and You Tube videos that were sparked by Dawkins’ success?

And, yes, some people will be turned off by his tone. So be it. Life is full of trade-offs. The price of reaching a large audience is calling attention to yourself in ways that some will find distasteful. You can’t please everyone and all that. But the anger directed at people like Dawkins has almost nothing to do with his tone. It is because he harshly criticized religion, and has been very successful doing it.

Which brings me to Vriginia Heffernan. By now you have probably seen her essay bashing ScienceBlogs. We’re all so rude, blah blah blah. Her evidence of massive, wide-spread badness here at SB, in its entirety, was this:

Recently a blogger called GrrlScientist, on Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted), expressed her disgust at the “flock of hugely protruding bellies and jiggling posteriors everywhere I go.” Gratuitous contempt like this is typical. Mark Hoofnagle on Denialism Blog sideswiped those who question antibiotics, writing, “their particular ideology requires them to believe in the primacy of religion (Christian Science, New Age Nonsense) or in the magical properties of nature.” Over at Pharyngula — which often ranks in the Top 100 blogs on the Internet– PZ Myers revels in sub-“South Park” blasphemy, presenting (in one recent stunt) his sketch of the Prophet Muhammad as a cow-pig hybrid excited about “raping a 9-year-old girl.”

A strong case. There are something like sixty blogs here, and Heffernan found three she dislikes. Elsewhere in her essay she recommended a climate change denial blog as worthier reading. (Then recanted that endorsement when its denialism was pointed out to her.)

As for P.Z., I get it that some people do not care for his style. The cure for that is to not read him. I would point out, though, that he routinely provides some of the very best biology posts you will find anywhere. Some of us come for the contempt for religion, and then stay for the science. I would also point out that posts about science and religion, or about the culture wars, are absolutely appropriate subjects for a science blog. Science is not just technical papers and jargon, it is also, or should be, a cultural force.

It was pretty obvious that Heffernan’s essay was not about tone, but was about her sympathizing with the targets of our ire. I was inclined to ignore it, until I noticed Chad Orzel gamely trying to defend her.

That’s where I think this incident points out a real problem: if we’re really trying to promote science, Virginia Heffernan is our target audience: she’s a smart and educated person with no science background, who would benefit from learning more about science in an informal manner. She’s one of the people we ought to be speaking to using blogging as a platform.

If we’re driving her away before she learns anything, there’s something wrong. And castigating her after the fact, essentially for being driven away, is not helping at all.

That’s what bothers me about this whole incident. Firing up people who are already interested in science and know something about it is great, but to paraphrase an Adlai Stevenson joke, we need a majority. If we want to improve the standing of science, and make the world a better place, we need to reach people like Virginia Heffernan (at the very least), and get them on the side of science.

On the narrow question of Heffernan specifically, I disagree with Chad in thinking she deserves the benefit of the doubt. I do not think her article represented a good faith attempt to assess the contents of Science Blogs. Her essay was not especially measured or thoughtful, which rather undercuts her complaints about tone and nastiness.

On the more general question, I think Chad is concluding too much from Heffernan’s piece. She visited the site, found it rude and left. Oh well. But how many other people visit the site precisely because they see a lively conversation going on? How many other people like the passion and the politics and would simply find it boring if everyone wrote in staid, academic terms?

And that’s precisely the problem with all the hand-wringing about tone, the worries about driving people away for excessive nastiness, and the fretting about what is and is not convincing to people. The same features that some people find offputting are precisely the ones that others find attractive. Discourse that drives some people away form your cause draws other people to it.

I don’t know which of those forces (the driving away or the drawing towards) is more powerful in this case. But I have noticed that P. Z. Myers currently gets more than a hundred thousand hits a day. Am I seriously to worry that his primary effect on the site is to drive readers away?

It’s like profanity in comedy. I think George Carlin and Robin Williams are two of the best comedians in the history of the business. But I know a lot of people who find them crude and offensive. No problem. For them we have people like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby. Profanity is one tool in the comedian’s arsenal. Used properly it can increase the effectiveness of a routine. But it can also turn people off. Different strokes for different folks.

Why do people find it so complicated that different styles of writing are appropriate in different contexts? Or that different people respond to different things? Polemicism and incivility are tools in the arsenal. Used properly they can achieve things that are near impossible to achieve in any other way. Used improperly they are just obnoxious and unpleasant. Many of us are attracted to writing with a clear viewpoint and a strong opinion. Others do not like that. That is why we need many different people doing many different things. We need both warriors and diplomats as the saying goes.

Don’t like P.Z.? Or Dawkins? Then don’t read them. It’s OK, really. Just spare me the lectures about how they’re symbolic of some rot in the discourse, or that your delicate sensibilities are somehow normative for the rest of us.

Comments

  1. #1 david
    August 3, 2010

    Oh good, bloggers disagreeing, a dilemma for those commenters who routinely fawn over whatever the blogger says. Now for you bootlicking commenters: you could not comment at all. Or, you could tell Jason how great he is, then you could change your name and tell Orzel how great he is, and we would never know, tho we already suspect you have done this trick, as you did at work.

    Jason, you athirst felineophile, the arabesque length is approaching Bora’s. If you get from me the impression that this essay was good, don’t let it go to your head.

  2. #2 Tyler DiPietro
    August 3, 2010

    The “classism” complained about by Heffernan and Dreher could be elaborated. It stands to reason that there is, in fact, a class of people in the world that is distinctly smarter than everyone else. These are the people who can grasp scientific concepts on a level necessary to decide on what should be included in a science curriculum. This group is not necessarily economically advantaged, however.

    I, for one, acknowledge that I can be a viciously disdainful elitist. But it has nothing to do with wealth, as is what is implied by Heffernan and Dreher.

  3. #3 Uncle Bob
    August 3, 2010

    thats it, this post was too vile and strident. I can’t take it anymore! I’m leaving and I’m taking my cookies with me!

    I’d say this was a most excellent post, but then, all of your posts are most excellent. I just wish you posted more often.

  4. #4 ERV
    August 3, 2010

    Tyler– There were ‘interesting’ things in Heffernans article, but I think it was by accident, not by design.

  5. #5 Zach Voch
    August 3, 2010

    ” or that you’re delicate sensibilities are somehow normative for the rest of us.”

    Your is my delicate sensibility.

    Also, well said.

  6. #6 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 3, 2010

    Zach –

    Drat, I blew the big finale! I’ve corrected the error.

    Uncle Bob –

    Thanks for the compliment!

  7. #7 Paul Murray
    August 3, 2010

    Of course the eucharist is all about cannibalism! The middle aged chinese man consumes tiger penis soup in hopes of consuming and absorbing the strength and vigour of the tiger. The Roman Catholic consumes the flesh of Christ in hopes of absorbing into himself Christ’s divinity and sinlessness. It’s very straightforward.

  8. #8 Marshall
    August 3, 2010

    For a minute there I thought you were complaining that somebody was being incivil or snotty, not especially measured or thoughtful, but that can’t be right because polemic and incivility are useful tools, and anyway some people enjoy food fights. Maybe the point is that the Texas School Board is beyond re-education, so school age people should move north. I would, or at least to New Mexico.

  9. #9 Miranda Celeste Hale
    August 3, 2010

    Fantastic post, Jason!

  10. #10 Jeff Knapp
    August 4, 2010

    Thanks for this post, Jason. I think you said it perfectly. I too think ridicule and incivility can be very effective – especially when used to point out absurdity, outright stupidity, blatant dishonesty and, what I call, “the aggressive pursuit of ignorance.” It may not convince the purveyors of nonsense and their true believers, it’s not meant to. What it is meant to do is to point it out to the rest of the audience – the middle-of-the-roaders, the fence-sitters who are watching and reading on the sidelines. At that I think it can be very effective.

  11. #11 briclondon
    August 4, 2010

    ‘It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?’ – Stephen Fry

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/jun/05/religion.hayfestival2005

  12. #12 Hamilton Jacobi
    August 4, 2010

    That _________ complains about a lack of civility one minute and then engages in snotty incivility the next is indicative of a common phenomenon among those who complain about the tone of blogs. The problem rarely seems to be incivility per se. Usually that is just a cover for the real complaint, which is seeing incivility directed towards people the writer does not think deserve it.

    If there were any justice in the world, this little gem of boilerplate would be tattooed on the foreheads of all those whose names are a match for the space provided.

  13. #13 Christian
    August 4, 2010

    Great post. I’ll second the recommendation of Philosophers Without Gods, a fantastic book. The section of essays written by ex-believers is like an extended version of the Dennet and LaScola paper and one of the most enlightening things I’ve read recently.

  14. #14 James W
    August 4, 2010

    On the subject of civility – you might already have noticed PZ’s appreciative post on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s column in the Atlantic.

    PZ:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/are_constant_reminders_ok_too.php

    Atlantic:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/07/a-final-thought/59924/

    I’ve only skimmed the Atlantic piece so far, but the money quote pulled out by PZ is a beautiful piece of writing.

    Do take a look. And please do excuse the lame approach to linking (I fail at html).

  15. #15 GrrlScientist
    August 4, 2010

    heffernan is entitled to her opinion, and to her lack of rigor when reporting her opinion, however, if she had any professional ethics at all, she would have not quote-mined my piece and twisted my words to support her claim that i was “sneering at fat people” when i was doing no such thing. i was attacking PepsiCo’s ridiculous claims that their company’s products are “good” for public health. but of course, almost no one reading heffernan’s tripe would know that was my point because she conveniently “forgot” to link to the actual piece that she was so blithely misquoting. the level of her incompetence and her general inability to comprehend the written word makes it easy for me to conclude that she is either a functional illiterate, or she’s an astonishingly unethical journalist. or both.

  16. #16 Nick (Matzke)
    August 4, 2010

    I agree with this:

    “Usually that is just a cover for the real complaint, which is seeing incivility directed towards people the writer does not think deserve it.”

    …but this doesn’t get PZ and the rest off the hook, if they have a pattern of directing incivility at people who don’t deserve it.

    OK then, perhaps it’s not incivility that should be complained about (although one might argue it is civil to be uncivil to Nazis etc., and uncivil to be uncivil to people who don’t deserve it, I will leave this aside.) Charges like the following can still be leveled: it is unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious to use the same rhetoric against theistic evolutionists, prominent evolution-defending scientists like Francis Collins, accomodationists, and moderate, pro-constitution, pro-science, pro-civil liberties religion, that one uses against creationists/fundamentalists/crazy-violent-oppressive-whatever religion.

    Whether or not being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious in these ways has good or bad effects on public opinions about religion, evolution, science, etc. is a different question. Probably mostly what happens in the blogging world doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things involved in public opinion. But I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist or a statistical study to say that if one’s goal is to be an Ambassador for Evolution — which appears to be one of the goals of people like Dawkins and PZ, and even if its not their goal, the ambassador role has been acquired whether they like it or not due to their popularity — then being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious about topics involving religion probably isn’t a good idea. Neither is encouraging such behavior in fans, which is probably the bigger problem.

    Whether or not being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious has demonstrable or plausible negative side effects, it is still the case that one should avoid being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious — if one accepts these, one is on the way towards giving up rational thinking, which is what hopefully all of us are trying to defend in the end.

    We can argue about the amount of unfairness etc. that comes from the Dawkinses and PZs of the world, and its importance, but I think there is a strong case that there is a pattern of a fair bit of it — way more than comes from the Eugenie Scotts of the world, for instance.

  17. #17 Art
    August 4, 2010

    You can’t start a debate by opening with an exclamation of passionate condemnation and insult.

    On the other hand, you can you can’t end a debate without pointing out that, on this subject, the opposition is wrong, and that the reason they are wrong is that their belief system is interfering with their perception and thinking.

  18. #18 Reginald Selkirk
    August 4, 2010

    Suppose someone argued that the ceremony of the Eucharist promotes cannibalism.

    Yup, I have done that.

  19. #19 Reginald Selkirk
    August 4, 2010

    For those who object to TGD by Dawkins as the bad cop, I recommend as the good cop The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan. It is a wonderful book. It has also not sold as well, or held public attention as long, as TGD.

  20. #20 jtradke
    August 4, 2010

    Nick –

    [Citation needed]

    Your post may in fact be well-reasoned, but you seem to be taking it as a given that these guys do, in fact, treat fundamentalists and liberal theists the same. I would like to see some examples thereof in order to judge for myself the appropriateness of it.

    Also, like Jason said:

    For Dreher to extrapolate from a few blog posts or one editorial board meeting to people’s general views towards life is absurd. Likewise for thinking that contempt directed at specific people for specific things is somehow indicative of a general philosophy.

  21. #21 James Sweet
    August 4, 2010

    Incivility is a tool in the arsenal. It is very good for calling attention to an issue and to a point of view. If the incivility is backed up by a good argument it can be very powerful

    That reminds me of the epic quote from The Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates that PZ called attention to today:

    I have, in my writing, a tendency to become theoretically cute, and overly enamored with my own fair-mindedness. Such vanity has lately been manifested in the form of phrases like “it’s worth saying” and “it strikes me that…” or “respectfully…”

    When engaging your adversaries, that approach has its place. But it’s worth saying that there are other approaches and other places. Among them–respectfully administering the occasional reminder as to the precise nature of the motherfuckers you are dealing with.

    Oh hell YES!!!

  22. #22 James Sweet
    August 4, 2010

    Some of us come for the contempt for religion, and then stay for the science.

    You can count me in that group. In fact, it’s probably not an overstatement to say that if PZ had never stabbed a cracker, I wouldn’t know half as much as I do now about cellular biology, oncology, chaos theory, and all the other things I have read about on ScienceBlogs.

  23. #23 Raging Bee
    August 4, 2010

    Are acience-advocates really that rude? Or are the liars, con-artists, demagogues and denialists redefining “rudeness” to include any and all explicit refutations of their BS?

    Children bitch about how mean their parents are for making them bathe every day, clean up their rooms and do their homework. This talk of “rudeness” is just the same childish behavior on a much larger scale. When you can’t defend your ignorant or dishonest assertions, change the subject and whinge about how rude your opponents are for not letting you get away with spouting nonsense. We hear the same lectures from Southern nationalists bitching about all us rude Northerners who insist on equality and democratic values.

    REAL LIFE is rude, folks. Grow the fuck up and deal with it already.

  24. #24 eric
    August 4, 2010

    The whole issue strikes me as a successful dodge on the part of creationists and woomeisters. The reason scientists have to write post upon post about how ‘its not about civility’ is because these folks have successfully shifted the conversation so that its not about science.

    IMO a strategy better than explaining why incivility is okay (sorry Jason) would be to push them back on topic: to the Drehers and Heffernans of the world – do you have a scientific argument against the scientific arguments these uncivil scientists make or not? If so, what is it? If not, end of story. Refuse to rise to any other bait.

    I’d suggest that these folks don’t really care if they win or lose an argument about incivility. If they get you to stop arguing science, they’ve already won.

  25. #25 Kevin
    August 4, 2010

    I came to Pharyngula for the science and stayed for the incivility.

    The “incivility” meme apparently is the only arrow left in the entire quiver of accommodationists and Templeton wanna-be-funded-by’s. It is a direct indication that they don’t have any new arguments to present that would advance their cause.

    They certainly have no new evidence to present that would convince rational people that magic exists if you wish REALLY REALLY REALLY hard. (The best anyone has come up with is “string theory isn’t proven, therefore Jesus came.” Well, no…and at least string theory had math to support it. Where’s yours?)

    So, what’s left are complaints about the manner in which we point out that there isn’t a pony under that manure. And that you are just getting shit all over yourself by continuing to dig.

  26. #26 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 4, 2010

    Nick –

    Whether or not being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious has demonstrable or plausible negative side effects, it is still the case that one should avoid being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious — if one accepts these, one is on the way towards giving up rational thinking, which is what hopefully all of us are trying to defend in the end.

    This is precisely the point at issue. I don’t agree that P. Z. is unfair and disproportionate, at least not in general. Most of the time I think the targets of his derision richly deserve it., and I think he makes a good argument to back up the snideness. From the other side it happens all the time that defenders of science/religion compatibility speak derisively of atheists, often in terms I consider very unfair and unmeasured. Somehow I don’t think you get quite so annoyed when Dawkins et al are casually compared to inquisitors or fundamentalists, or are described as militant or violent, or likened to Malcolm X. That’s why I emphasized that the real issue is what one thinks of the targets of the derision, not the derision itself

    We can argue about the amount of unfairness etc. that comes from the Dawkinses and PZs of the world, and its importance, but I think there is a strong case that there is a pattern of a fair bit of it — way more than comes from the Eugenie Scotts of the world, for instance.

    Do I really have to choose? Genie Scott is a great personal hero of mine (as are you, BTW, for your own highly significant efforts on this issue). It seems to me I can admire both PZ and Genie for the different contributions they make. That’s why I closed the post the way I did, talking about warriors and diplomats and about how different people respond to different things.

    On the general issue, Josh Rosenau and I argue about this all the time. I don’t believe that significant numbers of people are driven to the dark side by people like PZ or Dawkins. But if I am wrong about that then we should treat that attitude as a big social problem all by itself. Opposition to evolution education is one symptom of a bigger problem. We need people fighting the local fights at the political and legal levels, and we need people addressing the bigger problem, which is the excessive respect given to religion in our society. Different methods and modes of discourse are appropriate at different levels.

  27. #27 Ophelia Benson
    August 4, 2010

    A few years ago Oxford University Press published an anthology entitled Philosophers Without Gods. It was a marvelous book. It should absolutely be read by anyone interested in this topic. Precisely the sort of scholarly seriousness the tone-complainers said they wished Dawkins, HItchens and Harris had written. I am sure the few dozen people who read it were enriched by the experience. But how many people did they convince?

    Well, more than a few dozen, at any rate. The Seattle Public Library has at least two copies, and they’re always checked out.

  28. #28 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 4, 2010

    Ophelia –

    They are probably perpetually checked out by the local fundamentalists, just to make sure no one else can read them. :)

  29. #29 Rokkaku
    August 4, 2010

    “Whether or not being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious has demonstrable or plausible negative side effects, it is still the case that one should avoid being unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious — if one accepts these, one is on the way towards giving up rational thinking, which is what hopefully all of us are trying to defend in the end.”

    Rhetoric doesn’t necessarily exclude reason. Your slippery slope fallacy, however, surely does. Your hand-wringing has been duly noted nonetheless.

  30. #30 Collin Brendemuehl
    August 4, 2010

    I posted a comment here this a.m. that seems to have diappeared. It concerned a misrepresentation of facts by Jason. Has it been removed?

  31. #31 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 4, 2010

    Colin -

    I haven’t removed any comments, and I didn’t see anything pending from you. I don’t know what happened, but try posting it again. I’m interested to know what facts I misrepresented.

  32. #32 Peter Beattie
    August 4, 2010

    » Nick Matzke:
    Charges like the following can still be leveled: it is unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious to use the same rhetoric against theistic evolutionists, prominent evolution-defending scientists like Francis Collins, accomodationists, and moderate, pro-constitution, pro-science, pro-civil liberties religion, that one uses against creationists/fundamentalists/crazy-violent-oppressive-whatever religion.

    Please name names, Nick. Who do you think does this? From the actual record, it is pretty obvious that it is not e.g. PZ or Jerry Coyne. They will call out Francis Collins’s quasi-creationist ideas about human minds and otherwise acknowledge his contribution to the fight against all-out creationists, but Don McLeroy they will call an incompetent idiot. Dawkins only said Collins was “not a bright guy” after being assured by Bill Maher that Collins believes in the talking snake. How is any of that unfair, disproportionate, and/or tendentious? Do you have better examples?

  33. #33 Zach Voch
    August 4, 2010

    Nick,

    I’m lost. I was not aware that there existed some objectively measurable `obligation to politeness to X’ which corresponds reliably with some similarly measurable merits of `X’.

    That was a bit of sarcasm on my part, but here’s the point: though we (presumably) agree that a Ken Ham and a Karl Giberson are not morally/intellectually equivalent agents and that soberness of argument and the type of rhetoric employed in exchanges should reflect that, one is assuming a very heavy yet extremely ambiguous burden in claiming that the `overall’ rhetoric of a PZ Myers or a Richard Dawkins violates this rough standard, particularly if we are supposed to believe that this violation is distinct to or markedly more severe by Myers/Dawkins than the rest of the groups (again, `overall’) surrounding the relevant issue.

    If one desires an overall civilizing of the discourse, specifically mentioning a particular group will more likely generate reaction as opposed to serious reconsideration. This should have been obvious before this entire mess began, but it has nevertheless been done and, predictably, actualized reaction in many `New Atheists’. And if you are familiar with the sort of treatment that `New Atheists’ have received from all quarters, it seems reasonable to expect that non-specific accusations related to `tone’ will not be taken seriously.

    We’re talking about value judgments. They are important, but (in my view) not factual in any proper sense of the term and hence reduce to whining when voiced. (Here again, I intentionally use a harsh term to illustrate a point.)

    The separate discussion of `will adversely affect acceptance of evolution’ is different, but for now, we’re talking about preference of word choice separate from concerns over accurate/honest communication. So, I agree with this:

    Charges like the following can still be leveled: it is unfair, disproportionate, and tendentious to use the same rhetoric against theistic evolutionists, prominent evolution-defending scientists like Francis Collins, accomodationists, and moderate, pro-constitution, pro-science, pro-civil liberties religion, that one uses against creationists/fundamentalists/crazy-violent-oppressive-whatever religion.

    But at the same time, each of the key terms here, i.e. `unfair’, `disproportionate’, and `tendentious’ are subjective judgments, based on feeling. So, the overall concern is how one feels about X’s writing, not the accuracy of X’s writing.

    So if we ask whether or not the charge is accurate, we need to include the assessor as a factor. Could PZ Myers’s writing against theistic evolution possibly be taken as unnecessarily harsh in tone by a theistic evolutionist? Of course. I can see that. Could PZ Myers’s writing against theistic evolution possibly be taken as reasonably toned by a New Atheist? Certainly. Could there be overlap? As far as I know, there could be anything.

    I just do not think that charges over tone can ever be persuasive unless there is a factual component involved, e.g. more successful strategy, etc. Until that work is done (we lack the studies to make any serious comparison of strategies, as far as I know), `tone’ should at best be the sidest of side issues. For some strange reason, it’s at the very center of attention. Why do you suppose that that is?

    To New Atheists, this goes back to what Dawkins and others have been saying all along. Questioning religion is to a great extent taboo. There is a lot of prejudice against atheists. Many of the critics of New Atheists have made their contempt for atheism, or less strongly, their contempt for atheists who speak openly in any way negative of religion, badly toned or not rather obvious. There is a strong element of belief in belief. Many believe that religion is beneficial for society, no matter how irrational it is. For these reasons and from this experience, `tone’ is being treated as a trojan horse by many New Atheists, and I am having a hard time blaming them.

    That being the case, civilizing the conversation involves civilizing the conversation, not targeting one loosely-knit group of participants. Even if it were correct (and I doubt that very much of any group), it would be a failed tactic.

  34. #34 Daniel Schealler
    August 4, 2010

    It’s kind of ironic that most of the people complaining about tone don’t seem to actually understand rhetoric. At all.

    I’m only an armchair enthusiast – but even I know that Rhetoric doesn’t have rules so much as tropes. But if there were rules to rhetoric, Rule One would be: There is no One True Way to argue that applies all the time.

    Civility has its place. Then again, so does incivility. It’s entirely dependent on the goal of the speech and the audience spoken too.

  35. #35 Collin Brendemuehl
    August 4, 2010

    Jason,

    My question goes to (as I read your post) taking at face value and without qualification, the criticism that Christians oppose SCR. We do not. The issue is, and always has been, ESCR. There is a really big difference here.

    Then there is the question of cannibalism, though not a criticism of your remark. Murray played into the ancient Roman slander of cannibalism. It’s a 2-millennia-old slur.

  36. #36 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 4, 2010

    Colin —

    My question goes to (as I read your post) taking at face value and without qualification, the criticism that Christians oppose SCR. We do not. The issue is, and always has been, ESCR. There is a really big difference here.

    Point taken, though in context I think you are splitting hairs. Just to be clear, I was talking specifically about the Catholic Church’s position in that paragraph, bot Christians generally.

  37. #37 Collin Brendemuehl
    August 4, 2010

    Then I think, for the sake of accuracy, that one would do well to discern whether “stem-cell research” has become a term with mixed meanings, eg. general stem cell research v ESCR v (eu)genetic engineering adventures.
    You definitely have a number of commenters who do not comprehend the scope of such terminology. It is their persistent lack of insight into some important terminology which prompts my response and desire for precision.

  38. #38 Alistair
    August 4, 2010

    In Unweaving the Rainbow Dawkins says something to the effect that when the tide of opinion is overwhelming in one direction, you have to work extra hard against it.

    This is reasonable, and perhaps justifies incivility: if you see this as a battle, then you have to fight.

    But this vitiates the principles that are claimed to be at the root of the project; it becomes an ideological struggle, and therefore generates unsubtle and fanatical advocates and arguments.

    I am undecided on this. I am one of those people referred to by another commenter as a ‘fence-sitter’. Uncertainty is no bad thing though.

    I find it difficult to take seriously the idea that atheists are suffering under great prejudice. It might seem like it’s been slow progress, but atheism is much more respectable today than at any time in the past.

    The problem for me – and there is no reason why you should be concerned about this, but it might be interesting nonetheless – is one of embarrassment. I normally regard myself as an atheist, and I am very uncomfortable to find myself in the company of these ‘New Atheists’ and their supporters.

    In my social circle, I am surrounded by shallow, philosophically-ignorant people who clutch their Bibles of New Atheism and talk about religious people with contempt. They are at best crass, at worst stupid, yet they are well-educated. What am I to make of this?

    The harm of incivility then, might be an alienation of other atheists.

    Naturally, I do not submit all this as any kind of evidence. At the same time, it’s hard to believe I am alone in feeling this way.

  39. #39 J. J. Ramsey
    August 4, 2010

    When I read your quote of Dreher’s piece on Anne Rice, I thought, “That’s uncivil?” There’s no piling on of insults, and while Dreher apparently doesn’t quite understand Rice’s position, namely that she gave up institutional Christianity but not faith in Christ, there doesn’t seem to be an attempt to willfully caricature her. Ok, the “I’m sorry, but this is weak” bit is maybe mildly uncivil, but it’s nowhere near, say Dawkins’ implicit argumentum ad Naziium (a.k.a. the Chamberlain gambit) or PZ Myers’ condoning a “joke” about forcibly sodomizing the Intersection bloggers.

  40. #40 Zach Voch
    August 4, 2010

    J.J.,

    We’ve had a discussion about Dawkins’ `implicit’ Nazi card already. I still do not see why you feel the need to repeat this. As for the “joke” that was `condoned’ by Myers, I’ll let regular Pharyngulites handle that one.

    For the first, as we’ve been over before:

    1. You are omitting the context from The God Delusion in which the `Chamberlain School’ label is a continuation, indeed a softening, of a much more nasty analogy given by Michael Ruse who compared creationists to Nazis and theistic evolutionists to Stalinists. Continuing the analogy, Dawkins, who views Ruse’s `Nazis=creationists’ and `Stalinists=theistic evolutionists’ as two varying forms of the same underlying problem, i.e. religious faith, would consider Ruse and other accommodationists to be the analogous Neville Chamberlain. I do not think that this counts as an implicit accusation of Naziism. More strongly, I think that it takes a very deliberate sort of uncharitableness to force this position onto an author.

    2. Dawkins (and other New Atheists) consider theistic evolutionists such as Miller and Collins to be allies and sincere proponents for the public acceptance of evolution. They disagree over the reasonableness and/or coherence of many of their forms of theism in light of science and the successfulness of reconciliations of Christianity and science, but they do draw distinctions between creationists and TEs, forming distinct arguments appropriate to either group. They disagree with these groups, but they do not draw the simplistic moral equivalences of which you `implicitly’ accuse them.

    Do I like using the label `Neville Chamberlain School’ for accommodationists? Nope. (I’m not overly fond of `accommodationists’ either.) Any mention of anything loosely related to Nazis tends toward the inadvisable, in my opinion, mostly because people will cry `Nazi card’ regardless of whether or not it was intended as such. I think that `The Chamberlain Gambit’ wasn’t the best choice of terms, but not so uncivil as to be beyond the pale. But to accuse Dawkins of callously equating Naziism and accommodationism is a rather weak and uncharitable interpretation. If my experience with your comments has taught me anything, it would be that you frequently make little effort to form charitable interpretations of works with which you disagree.

    Another point: you harp on about Dawkins using `the Chamberlain Gambit’ incessantly, but outside of the case when I brought up context, you never mentioned Ruse’s tone. (When I did, you agreed that his analogy was pretty horrible, so I do not think you are determined to make defenses of all accommodationists, which is a hopeful sign). That doesn’t strike me as fair. In general, you hop all over the incivility of New Atheists. If your concern was with civility for civility’s sake, I would expect a more representative set of targets.

    And yet…

    Is it that you only tend to post when you disagree and I only see you around New Atheist blogs? Do you rip on Ruse and other accommodationists proportionately but do it elsewhere? Or what is it?

    If you expect proportion from others and wish to be taken seriously, try being similarly proportionate.

    Our last conversation about this ended when you refused to acknowledge or address a point which I explicitly asked for several times in a row. (You claimed that The Chamberlain Gambit was grounds to ignore New Atheists generally. A contemptible position which you repeatedly avoided modifying. (For those interested, the link includes the context quoted from TGD.))

    Oh, and J.J., you forgot this bit of Dreher’s piece:

    How can a woman of her putative sophistication really think that Christianity is nothing more than a section of the Republican Party at prayer?

    If I were uncharitable, I could read `putative’ as `supposedly’ instead of `reputedly.’ Even if I do not attribute this sarcastic tone to Dreher, I would still have to contend with the rather crude caricature involved in his description of Anne Rice. This would be understandable if he were writing on a very broad, general subject partially admitting of this description, but here he is supposed to be addressing a particular person whose views are public. At best, this is laziness or carelessness extrapolated to a (apparently) insulting depiction (she thinks religion is Republican Party religion, and yes, that could be taken as offensive by self-identified Republicans who are not fundies) on the public stage directed at an individual, something which I consider far more unfair and uncivil than Dawkins’s `Chamberlain Gambit’.

    Again, with Dreher, you are far more charitable than you have consistently been in treating New Atheist writers.

    How about Heffernan? Do you find her treatment of Scienceblogs objectionable as unrepresentative and careless negative writing? Is this more fair, serious, and civil than writing by New Atheists?

    Gosh, so many relevant points of civility to consider… but no, `The Chamberlain Gambit’ was more worth mentioning…

    Maybe I have you wrong, J.J., and my (relatively) new arrival to this area of the blogosphere has left me with inaccurate impressions of you, but if I am wrong, I think that my wrongness would be understandable.

    Again, really, if you insist on the `implicit Nazi Card’ from Dawkins’s writing or a rude comment on Pharyngula as proof that New Atheists are not-to-be-listened-to-nasty-people, please qualify your comments by laying out the logic and context of your judgment. Try putting it in terms of an implication so that others can see the relevant fallacies. Try this:

    “Dawkins used the term `Neville Chamberlain School’ to describe accommodationists and I saw a rude comment on Pharyngula, therefore New Atheists are remarkably uncivil and can all be dismissed.”

    Then, list some things like this:

    1. Some atheists use the term `faithiests’ to describe some accommodationists.
    2. Some accommodationists and religious people describe some atheists as `fundamentalists’.
    3. I think (1) is worse.
    4. Therefore, those atheists are more uncivil and intolerant.

    I guess I’m straying into the repetitive and I hate to bring up history to make a point, but it seemed necessary to make my point. I hope that you consider it.

  41. #41 Rokkaku
    August 4, 2010

    In my social circle, I am surrounded by shallow, philosophically-ignorant people who clutch their Bibles of New Atheism and talk about religious people with contempt. They are at best crass, at worst stupid, yet they are well-educated. What am I to make of this?

    You tell me, but you can generally judge a man by the company he keeps. Just saying, likes.

  42. #42 Zach Voch
    August 4, 2010

    In my social circle, I am surrounded by shallow, philosophically-ignorant people who clutch their Bibles of New Atheism and talk about religious people with contempt. They are at best crass, at worst stupid, yet they are well-educated. What am I to make of this?

    Recommend some Graham Oppy, Michael Martin or more detailed collections of essays. Also, print out some of your favorite essays and find an opportunity to give copies to your friends. :D

  43. #43 Zach Voch
    August 4, 2010

    Addendum to #40: “section of Republican Party at prayer” is also insulting to those whose religions are implied to be unsophisticated and/or naive. It can also be taken to imply that a given section of Democrats is more religiously sophisticated (whatever that means) than the referenced section of Republicanism.

    Gosh, I can find all sorts of potentially uncivil things to look at…

    J.J., does this mean that we can dismiss all Templeton-funded writers? Or does it mean that we can dismiss all accommodationists? How about religious liberals? Which of these groups has the incivility of Dreher discredited and to what extent?

  44. #44 Glendon Mellow
    August 4, 2010

    ““You’re not going to convince anyone!” That is a lazy argument used exclusively by people more interested in seeming above it all than in actually engaging the issues.”

    I loved this line. Jason, I lurk here a lot, and articles and writing of this caliber are why I keep coming back. Thanks for putting more tools in my verbal toolkit when discussing science and religion.

  45. #45 H.H.
    August 5, 2010

    It’s like profanity in comedy. I think George Carlin and Robin Williams are two of the best comedians in the history of the business. But I know a lot of people who find them crude and offensive. No problem. For them we have people like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby. Profanity is one tool in the comedian’s arsenal. Used properly it can increase the effectiveness of a routine. But it can also turn people off. Different strokes for different folks.

    I’d bet money Mooney is a Dane Cook fan.

  46. #46 H.H.
    August 5, 2010

    Collin wrote:

    You definitely have a number of commenters who do not comprehend the scope of such terminology.

    No, no, no. It’s that we don’t care to parse the issue that finely because we find your reasons for opposing any of it to be bollocks.

  47. #47 H.H.
    August 5, 2010

    Alistair wrote:

    I find it difficult to take seriously the idea that atheists are suffering under great prejudice.

    U.S. polls have revealed that atheists are the most unelectable class of citizens, behind even gay men and Muslims. The situation is better in Europe.

    It might seem like it’s been slow progress, but atheism is much more respectable today than at any time in the past.

    Yeah, we hardly even get killed anymore. Well, at least in most parts of the world.

  48. #48 MikeN
    August 5, 2010

    I recall Dreher berating some poor woman for being a “slut”- his word- because she wore a backless gown that revealed a tatto of the artistic butterfly variety- at her wedding.

    Civility, and all

  49. #49 J. J. Ramsey
    August 5, 2010

    Voch, you already know what Orac wrote about the Chamberlain gambit, and I consider what he wrote to be a pretty thorough explanation of why Dawkins crossed the line and crossed it badly. As for why I don’t bring up Ruse likening theistic evolutionists to Stalinists, it’s because no one has repeatedly claimed that Ruse didn’t earn a reputation for incivility, and so there’s no point in providing a counterexample to that claim.

    Dreher:

    How can a woman of her putative sophistication really think that Christianity is nothing more than a section of the Republican Party at prayer?

    Voch:

    If I were uncharitable, I could read `putative’ as `supposedly’ instead of `reputedly.’ Even if I do not attribute this sarcastic tone to Dreher, I would still have to contend with the rather crude caricature involved in his description of Anne Rice.

    Actually, judging from what I heard of Rice’s interview on NPR, she does think that the right wing has largely hijacked Christianity.

    More to the point, the comparison between Dreher’s purported incivility and the incivility of the “New Atheists” (or “GNU Atheists” or “Emacs-loving atheists” or whatnot) is at best a comparison between a firecracker and dynamite.

  50. #50 Michael
    August 5, 2010

    The problem with PZ is that his actions offended LIBERAL Muslims and Catholics. He didn’t just make fun of the fundamentalists- he mocked the beliefs of millions of people who had done nothing wrong.

  51. #51 Glendon Mellow
    August 5, 2010

    Michael #50: I assume you’re referring to the incident commonly known as Crackergate? It’s important to read the entirety of what happened and not take it out of context. It may have been offensive, but there are sometimes reasons why being offensive is important to bring big issues to everyone, including liberal Muslims and Catholics.

  52. #52 Michael
    August 5, 2010

    #51, that and the Moo-ham-ed cartoon,yes. I’m wondering if both incidents didn’t bring the issues to everyone, but instead drove away people who under other circumstances might have been more sympathetic.

  53. #53 Rokkaku
    August 5, 2010

    @Michael 52: If people are offended by Crackergate then they are by definition not sympathetic to the idea that superstition isn’t sacred, which I would argue is a cornerstone of rational and scientific thinking.

  54. #54 Kevin
    August 5, 2010

    @50 – Michael:

    Crackergate certainly must have been one of the most powerful events in the history of anything EVER!!!!

    Which was precisely the point.

    PZ was pointing out the fact that religious symbols are empty, meaningless, devoid of actual content…”Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, as it were.

    The “host” was just a cracker – you can make them yourself or buy them online. Merely because a man in a funny outfit waved it around a little and spoke an incantation, that does not change the chemistry of the cracker. It’s still just wheat and water. The Koran page was merely a sheet of paper torn out of a book. Paper, ink, nothing more. The words on the paper no more important than words from any other book, including the Egyptian Book of The Dead, The Cat in The Hat, or Anne Rice’s pornographic “Beauty” series.

    Was the exercise designed to “shock”? Undoubtedly. In same way that “Piss Christ” was, or Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary”. It was also designed to make a point about the powerlessness of religious symbols and of the deities they represent.

    Unless and until the deity being worshiped makes a clear, direct, unmistakable, and undeniable in-person appearance declaring itself to be offended by acts of blasphemy, then I can safely assume that the crime itself does not exist, because the target of the alleged offense is nonexistent.

    Just because someone else has an imaginary friend, that does not mean that I have to kowtow to it. Because where would it end? If the cracker is sacred and deserving of absolute respect by everyone everywhere, then why not everything else anyone else considers sacred and/or profane? Where do you draw the line? For example, where goeth the bacon cheeseburger?

    Until religions can all agree on bacon cheeseburgers, I think all symbols are fair game.

  55. #55 James Sweet
    August 5, 2010

    he mocked the beliefs of millions of people who had done nothing wrong.

    But if their beliefs of worthy of mockery?

    Just because you are a nice person with liberal beliefs, that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to point it out if you say/believe something really foolish.

    @Alistair, with your social circle comment: If that is true, you must have a very progressive social circle and/or live in a very progressive place! There are only a handful of openly atheist people I know IRL. Obviously there are plenty in the atheist blogosphere, big surprise… heh..

  56. #56 eric
    August 5, 2010

    Michael @52: I’m wondering if both incidents didn’t bring the issues to everyone, but instead drove away people who under other circumstances might have been more sympathetic.

    Sympathy wasn’t the point. He wasn’t trying to win friends but trying to provoke thought. If an RCC person’s response was “that guy’s a complete a**hole…but I’ve never really thought deeply about my faith’s doctrine on the eurcharist. I should look into it, if for no other reason than to prove his more ridiculous statements wrong…” then PZ accomplished what he set out to do.

    If someone seems lost in a daydream, sometimes you gotta poke’em. They WILL get ticked off at you…until they see the oncoming truck.

  57. #57 Zach Voch
    August 5, 2010

    Michael et al.,

    Hey, Crackergate conversers…. Do not omit the context. Crackergate was a response to death threats against the life of a student over the Eucharist. It wasn’t an arbitrary nothing-is-sacred action.

    Similarly for Moo-ham-ed. Do we need say what such a picture might be a reaction too?

    In both cases, we have symbolic responses to violence and threats of violence, and this is jaw-droppingly offensive? Please, Michael.

    If liberal religious people are more offended by Crackergate and Moo-ham-ed than they are by death threats and outright violence then they are not liberal.

    J.J.,

    I guess that answers my question as to whether or not you’ll consider it. Sorry I wasted my time.

  58. #58 hyperdeath
    August 5, 2010

    In my social circle, I am surrounded by shallow, philosophically-ignorant people who clutch their Bibles of New Atheism and talk about religious people with contempt. They are at best crass, at worst stupid, yet they are well-educated. What am I to make of this?

    Do you have any specific examples of philosophical mistakes that these people made?

    I don’t mean to sound suspicious (well actually I do), but these example-free claims of philosophical unsophistication are a classic feature of anti-atheist boilerplate.

  59. #59 J. J. Ramsey
    August 5, 2010

    Zach Voch: “I guess that answers my question as to whether or not you’ll consider it.”

    Actually, I skimmed your post and missed that detail, partly because I didn’t want to get into full bore SIWOTI mode.

  60. #60 Wowbagger
    August 5, 2010

    In my social circle, I am surrounded by shallow, philosophically-ignorant people who clutch their Bibles of New Atheism and talk about religious people with contempt.

    But that’s a ridiculous and unfair double standard.

    I mean, christians in particular (and theists in general) aren’t required to (though that isn’t to say some don’t) have any indepth philosophical knowledge in order to affirm their belief in their gods; after all, there are no entrance exams to pass before one is allowed to attend a church service or answer the question about religion (or tick the box marked ‘Christian’) in a poll or a census.

    Why, then, should atheists be expected to go to so much more effort in order to justify rejecting the same gods theists can simply accept out of hand?

    It kind of ties in with what PZ Myers was trying to represent with his concept of The Courtier’s Reply. It seems as if certain people amongst the religious believe that, somewhere in the midst of the mountain of apologetics is some profound, irrefutable, winning argument for why we should believe in a god – only they themselves don’t know what that argument is (or can’t articulate it), where it can be found, or – most importantly – why they themselves didn’t need to understand it before they chose to believe what they believe.

    What’s also left out is that any person belonging to one religion must, by default, reject all the other religions they don’t adhere to. How many Christians justify their rejection of Scientology based on a ‘nuanced and intelligent’ understanding of L Ron Hubbard’s works rather than writing him off as a second rate, sci-fi hack who made up his own religion purely to con easily-scammed rubes out of a buck?

  61. #61 oldfuzz
    August 5, 2010

    Whenever I read someone who wants to make a point by self-endorsement or denigration of another, I know I can go elsewhere for thoughtful insights.

    In considering the evolution of humankind and that each of us begins as a unique incarnation determined largely by our DNA, then growing through experience I am amazed at how much we have in common and celebrate the ability each of us has to think originally. It’s when others, including me, try to tell another that we know better that I demur.

    Make your point and leave it at that. Those who get it will. Those who won’t, don’t, but may if left to consider it without assault.

  62. #62 Rokkaku
    August 6, 2010

    Whenever I read someone who wants to make a point by self-endorsement or denigration of another, I know I can go elsewhere for thoughtful insights.

    Irony, thy name is oldfuzz.

  63. #63 John
    August 6, 2010

    Anne Rice is still alive?

  64. #64 Roman
    August 6, 2010

    So, incivility and disrespect are OK as long as it serves the cause ? I think Fred Phelps (of Westboro Baptist Church fame) would agree with you. After all, the ends do justify the means, right ?

  65. #65 Wowbagger
    August 6, 2010

    So, incivility and disrespect are OK as long as it serves the cause ? I think Fred Phelps (of Westboro Baptist Church fame) would agree with you. After all, the ends do justify the means, right ?

    If you’re saying that writing blog posts or expressing in interviews that you consider something to be delusional to be in any way similar to picketing funerals or dressing children in ‘God hates fags’ t-shirts then you’re either a liar or a moron.

    Is it one or the other? Or perhaps both?

  66. #66 Robert
    August 7, 2010

    Yes, this is why internet message boards and unmoderated forums are such bastions of intellectual debate.

    Civility is essential to reasoned discourse. Nothing can be debated when the conversation degenerates into childish name-calling. Rancor is the death of intellectualism. Incivility is not “a tool in an arsenal.” It is an example of lazy thinking, using insults because you cannot think of logical basis for your argument. It is also why America is falling behind the rest of the world academically, because we care more about hurling insults than we do about knowledge, and that is sad.

    Berating someone or humiliating someone with a differing opinion will not convert more than it repels, and the people it attracts are more interested in the spectacle of someone’s humiliation than the finer points of your argument.

    Okay, I’ve disagreed with you. Bring on the insults! They don’t prove me wrong. :)

  67. #67 Wowbagger
    August 7, 2010

    Robert wrote:

    It is an example of lazy thinking, using insults because you cannot think of logical basis for your argument.

    Which would be a valid point if the people being uncivil hadn’t already tried the polite, reasoned argument option but, having realised the person they’re debating with is immune to reason, decided they might as well try ridicule.

    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.” – Thomas Jefferson.

    Yeah, a real lightweight thinker that Jefferson. What a pity he could only insult people, huh?

    Berating someone or humiliating someone with a differing opinion will not convert more than it repels, and the people it attracts are more interested in the spectacle of someone’s humiliation than the finer points of your argument.

    Citation needed.

    Okay, I’ve disagreed with you. Bring on the insults! They don’t prove me wrong. :)

    Well, you seem to have a poor grasp of the issues at hand and have demonstrated a distinct lack of intellectual honesty in what you’ve written here – is something still an insult when it’s demonstrably true?

  68. #68 SocraticGadfly
    June 22, 2011

    PZ’s problem is more and deeper than style/tone. It’s about accuracy, black-and-white thinking and other issues, and how this becomes PR fodder used against ALL atheists, not just Gnus, Jason. I cite Chris Hedges’ anti-atheist screed. Were it not for Gnus, such a book might not have been written. (That’s not to excuse Hedges’ own inaccuracies.)

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.