Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Confrontation and debate

This is based upon second hand information. I want to make that perfectly clear before I begin. There, done with that. Also, this is intended toward those who claim to be skeptics.

I have been dying to go to TAM (The Amazing Meeting, a collection of skeptics who gather in Vegas every year for a skeptical conference) for a couple years now and I have not had the money. Paul and I have been trying to get ourselves a plan to raise the case for TAM 10 next summer. Today, I heard a couple things which have caused me to question what TAM is.

Apparently, at TAM eight, last year, Phil Plait gave a speech “Don’t be a dick” to theists. This is a sentiment that I would agree with. I say, don’t be a dick to anybody. Conspiracy theorists, theists, new agers or whatever. But I heard this was not exactly what he said in the body of the speech. Critical thinking pays off. Some of it was intelligent advice for conversational debaters but some was appeasement.

More recently, at TAM 9, there was an into saying be nice to theists. Again, second hand. I tried to pull this up online but was unable to do so. There was a question placed to the live blog for Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, asking how to be a skeptic and a theist. The answer was a load of crap!

Here is my problem. Theism is preposterous. It is a silly, foolish belief. There is NO evidence for such a belief. A skeptic has two options:

1 Examine the belief with the same lens as all other claims of fact.
2 Admit it is a silly groundless belief.

I ate organic for years. My food was twice as expensive and there was no evidence that there was any nutritional difference whatsoever. I did it. I was also the one in my group who argued for the organic lifestyle. This is because I am good at rhetoric and not because the arguments were strong. When I was pushed into an argument with someone having a stronger understanding of the actual chemical differences I always had the option of admitting that I held a silly belief but that it made me happy to hold. I was able to admit that I believed in some stuff with wildly insufficient evidence. I chose the second option.

Nobody get funny ideas. I am saying that if you meet someone who is willing to engage in a conversation about a belief (strong or weak) that you think is preposterous you should, morally, engage. Listen to their positions. Ask and answer questions. Find common ground, and expand it.

Insulting and mocking will drive them into the opposing position even stronger. It is counter to your desires. The first lesson in persuasive talks is DO NOT alienate your audience. If people are skeptical about Big Foot or aliens then let them know you are like them. Ask why they think God is different. Honestly listen. Let them convince you until their argument falls apart. Do not mock them for that. Ask if they see that it did. Nicely. I never knew why people wanted to catch bees but the saying holds true, you catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

I am tired of being the victim of the sacred cows of others. If you have a position you want to espouse I will question it. As should you. I thank the theists who helped me develop my positions. I thank the authors who wrote books which have made me change (or solidify) my position. Debate is the road to understanding and knowledge.

People at a skeptical conference should be willing and able to examine ANY fact. No restrictions. Question the Holocaust? Present your argument. Question the 9/11 commission? Present your argument. Question theism? Present your argument. There should be no sacred cows in skepticism. All facts need to be questioned. We can only know that which we have questioned. Plato defined “knowledge” as a justified, true belief. We need to take our belief and justify it. The better the justification, the closer we are to determining if it is true. Why is there a fear of knowledge? A skeptic should relish the chance to justify a belief. When they cannot be justified, a skeptic should be the first in line to adjust that belief. Or, at least, admit it is unjustified and that they are ok with that.



  1. I was at TAM this year. Only for one day though. I heard a lot of messages saying be nice to theists from the speakers that day, but only in the context that you were postulating above. They were essentially saying what you said. Do not alienate. Now, I do not know how the other days went. Perhaps your suspicion of what is meant by "be nice to theists" is correct on those days, but I think that what was meant was just as you put it.

  2. Jennifer FlammgerJuly 29, 2011 at 12:32 AM

    If you guys are looking to make money you should make a logo for the blog and then sell t-shirts and stuff through cafepress. It would also raise awareness at the same.