Must-read of the day

Daniel Loxton does the yeoman work of unearthing much of the history of Skepticism’s Oldest Debate: A Prehistory of “DBAD” (1838-2010). It’s too good throughout to even try pulling out a summarizing quote, so seriously, read the whole thing, and see how skeptics have been telling one another not to be so dickish since around the time Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle was published.

That year, 1838, David Meredith Reese published his Humbugs of New-York: being a remonstrance against popular delusion, whether in science, philosophy, or religion, and wrote:

Unhappily, however, those who have buckled on the armour against the follies of the times, have been often unwise and indiscreet in the character and spirit of their measures. Disgusted by the stupidity of the victims of delusion, and provoked by their obstinate adhesion to error, they have assailed them personally, instead of attacking the false philosophy and pseudo-philanthropy by which they have been imposed upon; and thus they have made a show of intolerance which has been fatal to their success.

There’s truly nothing new under the sun. Read the whole thing.


  1. #1 J. J. Ramsey
    June 21, 2011

    IMHO, here’s the quote from Loxton that’s most worth remembering:

    Critics often frame civility debates as a dichotomy: exercise restraint, or be honest. But skeptics long ago learned that the choice is just as often between honest restraint and making stuff up. That is, incivility sometimes goes hand in hand with exaggeration, factual inaccuracy, and legal liability. (Consider such common skeptical phrases as “He’s a fraud.” It’s always insulting, but it’s only occasionally true.)

    This especially seems to be a problem for anti-theists.

  2. #2 harold
    June 25, 2011

    Very glad I read this. It clarified some things for me.

    1) I personally agree that using a reasoned, neutral tone, and making absolutely sure to understand and characterize opponents’ arguments correctly, is the way to go, for me. That’s the ideal I ascribe to.

    2) However, criticizing the tone of other people tends to be a worthless exercise, and one that lead to unintended hypocrisy.

    When I heard “don’t be a dick”, I took it to be something of a general humorous reference to human failing. We can all be dicks once in a while, let’s try to avoid it.

    However, others, with some justification, took it to mean “I think you’re a dick and I’m taking a swipe at you, but with the ‘plausible deniability’ of avoiding actual examples”.

    3) Furthermore, in societies with freedom of expression, most generic insults are completely legal. I believe that it is uncivil to use threats, racial/gender/orientation bigotry, or sufficiently excess and crude profanity as to create emotional disgust in others. That type of thing should be condemned and is reasonably removed by moderators of private forums where rational discussion is supposed to be taking place.

    Beyond that, the best way to encourage civility is by example, not by “tone trolling”.

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