Phil Plait Says "Don’t Be A Dick."

Phil Plait – Don’t Be A Dick from JREF on Vimeo.

Here is Phil’s response to some of the criticism of the talk.

When I saw Phil’s video, the main question running through my mind was “Who exactly is he speaking about?” I’ve never seen anyone in person simply be ugly and name call someone simply because they are religious. Is he talking about drive by comments on blogs or news stories in reply to someone’s ignorant religious sayings? Or perhaps on his own blog? Or like numerous others am I getting the wrong message from Phil’s talk? Perhaps he meant it as general advice, but it came out looking like he was personally slamming part of his audience and being a dick himself by calling them dicks. And why did Hal Bidlack get up an address everyone? Defensive much, Hal?

Everyone has beliefs that they probably shield from too much skepticism, but someone who calls themselves a skeptic should acknowledge that this is what they are doing. Martin Gardner was a religious skeptic who agreed and admitted that even though he believed in a god, there was no proof for said god’s existence. He said that it even though there was no evidence, it made him happy. A theistic skeptic like Hal Bidlack would be a more honest skeptic if he would emulate Martin Gardner’s attitude instead of trying to persuade skeptics to not be skeptical towards supernatural religious claims.

Phil did not give a very good definition of the word dick that he was using. It seems that being a dick is a condition where a person is does not act like Phil would in a given situation.

Some people are claiming I was saying we need to be milquetoasts. That’s ridiculous. I was very clear that anger has its place, that we need to be firm, and that we need to continue the fight.

Some were claiming they have a right to be dicks — I’m bemused by this, as of course you have that right. But that doesn’t mean it’s most effective, or that you should be one.

Others took issue with my initial question, asking how many people were “converted” to skepticism by having a skeptic yelling at them and insulting them. In fact, at least one person said that method does work and worked on them. That’s good for them, but given what we know about the way people argue and change their views on issues, the majority of people will become further entrenched when confronted in that way.

In other words, being a dick not only usually doesn’t work, it almost always works against the bigger goal of swaying the most people we can.

Perhaps I should have been more clear on what I mean by being a dick. I thought I had been clear, but a lot of people seem to think that I meant anyone who gets upset, or angry, or argues with emotion. I wouldn’t include satire in that category, or comedic work, or even necessarily using insults; tone and attitude count here. Think of it this way: when someone argues that way do you think to yourself, “What a dick”? I don’t; at least not necessarily. I think that way when the person belittles their opponent, uses obviously inflammatory language, or overly aggressively gets in their face.

Y’know. Being a dick.

Again, to be clear, I did not say we should back down when confronted. I did not say we should be weak against ignorance. I did not say we shouldn’t be angry. I did not say we should be passionless. In fact, I argued the exact opposite.

We need our anger, or strength, and our passion.

Matt Dillahunty over at Atheist Experience observes that Phil is making an argument from ignorance and is cherry picking.

First of all, who is Phil talking about? This seems a bit quixotic and exaggerated to me. Where are these people who scream in your face on behalf of skepticism? Where are these people whose primary tactic is to yell at someone and call them a retard? Since Phil didn’t provide any examples to support the claim, we can only guess.
Secondly, this is a prime example of a straw man argument – setting up an issue that is easily toppled instead of the actual issue. Not only has he not provided specific examples, or demonstrated that this is a significant problem, he seems to be engaging in an extremely flawed informal poll (read: emotional appeal) to get his point across. The first question is a fair skeptical inquiry (have you changed your mind about something?). The second question is about as far from it as one can possibly stray.

If Phil had really wanted to discuss better ways of communicating skeptical views to others like he says in Part 1 of his reply, then perhaps he should have clarified himself further after Hal Bidlack got up and spoke.Personally, I enjoy reading or seeing exchanges where some bible thumping zealot gets taken down verbally. I also know some religious people who enjoy that sort of thing as well.

When talking to someone who has differing ideas, I don’t attack their ideas directly. I find it more effective to make fun of the extreme in their religious institutions or its more extreme followers. This way we have a common ground in mocking the extreme example, and it may give the person something to think about later. I think that this has happened to a couple of people that I have known. But the process takes years. I also find that asking the right questions (going Socratic on their asses) and then not expecting an answer right away also may give someone food for thought.


3 Replies to “Phil Plait Says "Don’t Be A Dick."”

  1. going Socratic on their asses

    🙂 Reason, even of the basic, “just the facts, mam” sort tends to upset the fundamentalist, doesn't it. Discuss the historical problems related to establishing the biblical narrative and the fundie usually has a nervous breakdown or….for that matter, allude to say Darwin and Lyell, the facts of evolution [ie, fossil record] and radiocarbon dating, disproving Old Testament dogma, so forth and they start frothing at the mouth.

    Many quasi-intellectual christians now want to suggest they are outnumbered by the skeptics, atheists, pagans, etc.–which is complete BS. America's still full of religion (approx. 75% or so attend christian churches, usually baptist-protestant warehouse sort).


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