Strand 1 Discussion

You can discuss here, with each other, the opening statements on this agenda item, independently of making structured responses to the opening statements.

How can we work together on core issues on which we broadly agree, including promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism and secularism in the real world?

Please discuss only the opening statements on this agenda item. There will be time and space later to discuss other agenda items.

Please read these guidelines for how to participate before you comment.

Comments will be moderated before they are approved.

Also, the first comments will not be approved until the moderating team can evaluate the general tone of the comments and work out practical details of how to moderate the process, so please be patient after you post early comments.

19 Responses to “Strand 1 Discussion”

  • Billingtondev says:

    Thanks to the two contributors for their opening statements.
    I found it difficult to respond to the statements on a paragraph by paragraph basis as requested. I felt that this resulted in me getting bogged down in minutiae. I found this confusing and I lost my understanding of the over-all positions.
    Instead, I attempted to summarize each statement. This exercise was very useful to me to get a better understanding of each of the positions. I post it here in the hope that it may also be useful to others.

    Statement 1 – Stephanie Svan.
    1. Key to working together in the real world is understanding there are myriad solutions, multiple strategies, diverse motivations.
    2,3. Science is an example of this. To do good science, all roles are required. (I inferred this was analogous of other types of work in the real world)
    4. When we lose this insight we suddenly ‘know’ The One True Way to do (work)
    5. The One True Way becomes prescriptive
    7. Being prescriptive excludes some people from doing the work.
    8,9,10,11. Examples of the wide variety of organised areas of work, advocacy work, and informal work in the real world that contribute towards the common goal. (given that these are on basis of ethics & efficacy)
    13. Efficacy is important – 2 resources cited.
    14. Setting benchmarks to measure efficacy of work in the real world is important.
    15. Use benchmarks to analyze the results of our work and adjust work accordingly – ie evidence based.
    16. We can work together by not insisting on working closely or on the same projects. All work should be based on ethics and efficacy.

    tl;dr; there’s lots of ways of doing the work; they all contribute to a common goal; lots of different people can be involved; this is the opposite of being prescriptive which excludes people; we should not insist on all working on the same projects or in the same way; our work should be based on ethics and efficacy; we should use evidence based benchmarks to analyze the efficacy of our work and adjust what we do accordingly.

    Statement 1 – Jack Smith.
    3. Identifies areas of agreement – and asks if (readers) agree.
    We stand for
    4(a) Equality for all
    (b) Establishing truth using logic, critical thinking etc
    (c) Open debate – claims are examined and tested
    (d) Feelings are limited in determining objective reality but are a crucial part of being human, determining values and creating cohesive communities.
    (e) Morality is subjective – so assume good faith in others
    Avoid
    5 (a) imposing beliefs on others
    (b) attributing motives
    (c) dismissing people who don’t agree
    (d) denying right of reply
    (e) ignoring others feelings – or using feelings to shut down debate
    (f) shutting down criticism.
    6. Defines the issue:
    Wishing to impose ideology vs wishing to maintain rationalist principles
    (While not stated explicitly I inferred that Jack Smith identifies with the side described as ‘maintaining rationalist principles’. He then goes on to say…)
    7. “We feel it’s important for them to accept rebuttal or presentation of counter-evidence in accordance with the core principles outlined above.” (I infer again that the “we” here refers to those described as ‘wishing to maintain rationalist principles’ and the “them” refers to those described as ‘wishing to impose ideology’.)
    8. Failure to reach common ground with pints 1- 7 puts our goals at risk.
    9. However we can work together by following the above principles.
    10. Welcomes efforts to expand common ground.

    Tl;dr; In doing work in the real world there are five basic principles we should agree to stand for and six behaviours we should avoid; failure to reach common ground on these, puts our goals at risk; but we can work together by following these principles and behaviours; the issue is a wish to impose ideology vs a wish to maintain rationalist principles; its important that those wishing to impose ideology accept the rebuttals and counter evidence of those wishing to maintain rationalist principles; if we do this we have the common ground to be able to work together; we may be able to expand this common ground.

  • Woo says:

    I agree with this needed comment: Caricature directed “to the person”, for example mocking an individual’s name, or physical characteristics, or supposed resemblance to an animal, or supposed sexual practices, or supposed deficits of moral character, etc., should not be considered valid for consistency with item 5(b).

    • Silentbob says:

      Thanks, Woo. (That was an excerpt from my comment on Strand 1 by Jack Smith.)

      For clarification, examples of caricature of that type that have heretofore caused disharmony have been documented.

      Mod Note: Moderation team removed a link in order to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

  • Coel says:

    In replies to Jack Smith’s statement two commenters said:

    Oolon: They need to have people they criticise publish a rebuttal on their blog? How could that possibly work… Have I misread?

    And

    hoary puccoon: Is JS saying that people who post criticisms on their own blog must then open that blog up to rebuttals from the criticized party? If he is, I am in complete disagreement. Bloggers must be allowed to control their own blogs. Otherwise, they have no defense against spam, trolls, etc.

    I presume that what we’re talking about is good manners, civil interactions with others, rather than legal entitlement?

    Should bloggers be *required* to allow a right of reply on their blog to anyone they criticise? No. Is it good manners and good netiquette for them to do so? Yes, I think it is. (Provided, of course, that the reply is civilly worded.)

    Personally I consider it bad manners to criticise a named person on a blog while that person (and people who agree with him) are banned from responding. If you really don’t want interaction with someone, and thus have banned him/her, it would be better then not to blog about him/her.

    Again, I’m talking about standards that people might voluntarily try to adopt rather than obligatory rules.

    And I don’t think that this would leave bloggers with “no defense against spam, trolls, etc”.

  • tamerlane says:

    In her response to Smith’s statement, Zvan questions the usefulness of debating topics where consensus has already been reached. She suggests that those “uninformed” on a subject refrain from debate, and instead “listen to expert consensus” or “pursue a course of education.” Aside from her own ignorance of hockey, she fails to identify any specific topics germane to the current dialog.

    This is beating around the bush. Before proceeding further, Zvan and Smith should unequivocally state whether they require or reject as preconditions for dialog & cooperation:

    1) That gender feminist tenets, such as patriarchy/kyriarchy, rape culture, privilege, gender spectrum, etc., be acknowledged as established fact;

    2) That evolutionary psychology be acknowledged as a valid, scientific field of study.

    • GG says:

      Expecting monolithic statements of approval/disapproval on subjects as complicated as feminism or evolutionary psychology is unreasonable, but there does seem to be some bush-beating going on. Part of the problem is that there are a lot of implicit assumptions in Strand 1 regarding who “we” are, the “core issues” on which we agree, and the existence of a non-trivial set of values upon which we agree. To be more explicit about issues I’ve already raised, I expect that the audience for this discussion includes

      + Deontologists and teleologists
      + Proponents of formal equality and luck egalitarians
      + Ontological naturalists and mind-body dualists
      + Etc.

      These are deep, axiomatic divisions that aren’t going to be resolved by any amount of dialogue. Such divisions should be acknowledged up front so that we can quickly establish whether any meaningful agreement is even possible.

  • Ariel says:

    In Statement 2 by Stephanie Zvan we read:

    7. I am confused by this statement. I don’t understand how people are able to impose their beliefs on others in this context.

    Strongly agreed: the notion of imposing is indeed unclear; I think also that some of the most central issues in the debate depend on its clarification. (More doubts in this direction are expressed by Stephanie in 13a – agreed again.)

    My tentative proposal is to interpret “imposing one’s beliefs on someone” as “trying to silence someone’s opposition to these beliefs by illegitimate means”. The intended interpretation of “illegitimate” is moral, which makes “imposing one’s beliefs” a moral term, not a purely descriptive one. (Alternatively, one could look for a descriptive analysis of the phrase, but I’m pessimistic about the perspectives of such an approach.)

    On such a reading, we can say that trying to convince your opponent by rational argumentation doesn’t constitute “imposing your beliefs”, since the means (argumentation) are taken as legitimate. On the other hand, using threats would count normally as a case of imposing your beliefs (although perhaps there are extreme examples when even threats could be treated as legitimate – I’m not sure).

    Apart from the clear cases, there will be a plethora of borderline examples, with a place for disagreement as to what should count as legitimate. …

    Mod Note: Moderation team removed a general example in order to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

  • Submariner says:

    “’7. I am confused by this statement. I don’t understand how people are able to impose their beliefs on others in this context.

    Strongly agreed: the notion of imposing is indeed unclear; I think also that some of the most central issues in the debate depend on its clarification.”

    Some methods of imposing: Shunning from otherwise earned speaking engagements, banning dissenting commenters, starting petitions for removal from secular offices, labeling those with dissenting opinion with derogatory language, call out culture, two different ethical criteria depending on dissent or assent, etc.

    • Ariel says:

      Some methods of imposing: (1) Shunning from otherwise earned speaking engagements, (2) banning dissenting commenters, (3) starting petitions for removal from secular offices,(4) labeling those with dissenting opinion with derogatory language, (5) call out culture, (6) two different ethical criteria depending on dissent or assent, etc.

      If you accept my proposed definition of “imposing one’s beliefs”, with the stress on legitimate means, a mere list of methods won’t help us much at this stage. The methods you listed are not illegitimate as such, with the possible (a bit unclear) exception of (1), where the ethical content is explicitly built into it (the phrase “otherwise earned”). Ok, I must add that the second possible exception is (5) – I can’t assess it because the phrase “call out culture” is too unclear to me.

      For illustration:

      (2) – sometimes legitimate, when a dissenting commenter is dishonest (e.g. a case of a dissenter stubbornly questioning with silly arguments a conclusion which has already been established, just because he evidently doesn’t like it).
      (3) I guess we could easily find examples where this would be assessed as legitimate by both of us.
      (4) In some extreme cases I would treat it as legitimate (e.g. a dissent to a moral opinion that one shouldn’t exterminate a group of people because of their race)
      (6) See (2)

      All in all, your list of methods illustrates nicely why I was pessimistic about the perspectives of explaining the phrase “imposing one’s beliefs” in a descriptive way. The phrase carries negative connotations – normally we would think bad of someone doing it. Accordingly, the list of methods where morally heterogeneous instances can be given, should be treated with caution, even if meant as a mere example (not a definition).

      • Submariner says:

        I keep seeing the word “legitimate” . Who decides what is legitimate and what is illegitimate?

        2) “…conclusion which has already been established…” by whom? Established how? Who determines what’s “silly”?
        Again, who gets the power to decide when a topic has reached a conclusion? It seems if there are still reasonable dissenters then no conclusion has been established.

        4) or that the population of males needs to be reduced to 10% of current numbers.

        5) I recommend you ask Michael Shermer, Dr. Hall, Steph McGraw, Richard Dawkins, and recently EllenBeth Wachs. I’m sure each could assist you in understanding the phrase.

        6) In an effort to reach common ground, I’m going to make an argument here: If a technique for demonstrating disapproval of the religious or theistic is acceptable, that same technique should be acceptable for demonstrating disapproval of fellow non-believers various ideologies. This principle is so well established in civil discourse that it has its own aphorism: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

        • GG says:

          Regarding item 6, I think you’ve hit on an important point that bears fleshing out. I’m going to assert (and people are welcome to argue the point) that a core principle/axiom/what-have-you of any reasonable definition of “skeptic community” is the desire for logical consistency in both the formal (adherence to the principle of non-contradiction) and informal (treat like cases alike) senses of the phrase.

          Assuming agreement with the above, it seems to follow from there that we should apply standards of evidence uniformly. Notably, we frequently criticize theists for making claims that are not testable/falsifiable such as “God caused a hurricane to descend on location X for reason Y”. To be consistent we should expect the same standard to apply to atheists/skeptics.

          To be (slightly) more concrete, consider how this principle applies to discussions of bias. It’s one thing to say that a particular form of bias (racism, sexism, vengeful deity) exists in principle but quite another to demonstrate its operation in any particular instance. In general the latter requires, at minimum, two pieces of information:

          1. Some observable phenomena taken to be indicative of the operation of bias.
          2. A control accurately reflecting what would be observed in the absence of bias.

          This is why we feel free to dismiss the theists’ statements with regards to the weather, because the observed phenomena are identical regardless of whether or not a deity exists.

          Now, here’s where things get tricky for atheists/skeptic: Establishing the control observation may be hard-to-impossible, so oftentimes people make recourse to proxy measurements/approximations. For example, a common approximation is that ratios of X/Y (men/women, minorities/non-minorities, etc.) in various situations (employment and education spring to mind immediately) should be close to the ratios observed in some underlying population. Which raises the following questions:
          + Why should the ratios be equal?
          + How do you identify the relevant population?

          IMHO these sorts of methodological questions get short shrift in many instances and also have a tendency to lead to the types of disagreements that are seen in the skeptical community.

        • Ariel says:

          I keep seeing the word “legitimate” . Who decides what is legitimate and what is illegitimate?

          And who decides what will be counted as “imposing one’s beliefs” and what not? Either “imposing” is an ethical term (carrying negative connotations), or not. If it is, there will always be the question “who decides”. If it isn’t, you have to count with the possibility that a given case of “imposing your beliefs” will not be ethically wrong, and using the expression “you are imposing your beliefs!” as an accusation leads you nowhere, since in this case you can’t assume automatically that imposing one’s beliefs is inappropriate. So I proposed to define it explicitly as an ethical term in order to avoid misunderstandings. That’s it.

          2) “…conclusion which has already been established…” by whom? Established how? Who determines what’s “silly”?
          Again, who gets the power to decide when a topic has reached a conclusion? It seems if there are still reasonable dissenters then no conclusion has been established.

          And who decides whether the dissenters are reasonable? Ok, I would say that in practice such questions (together with what’s “silly” and what has been “established”) are decided by moderators of a given space. Any other candidates for decision makers? But then you are free to criticize their decisions, possibly elsewhere (not necessarily at the same space). As long as you have such a possibility, is there a problem?

          5) I recommend you ask Michael Shermer, Dr. Hall, Steph McGraw, Richard Dawkins, and recently EllenBeth Wachs. I’m sure each could assist you in understanding the phrase.

          Submariner, it is you whom I ask because it is you who used the phrase. I know quite well some of these examples, although not all of them. E.g. even if that surprises you, I would expect us to be basically in agreement about Ellen Beth’s case (I made some comments about it in various places). The point is however that the phrase “call out culture” goes beyond mere examples – it suggests (to me at least, correct me if I’m wrong) some general diagnosis. If you have one, produce it and explain the phrase.

          6) In an effort to reach common ground, I’m going to make an argument here: If a technique for demonstrating disapproval of the religious or theistic is acceptable, that same technique should be acceptable for demonstrating disapproval of fellow non-believers various ideologies. This principle is so well established in civil discourse that it has its own aphorism: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

          Now my remarks are directed also to GG below. To use a popular phrase, I agree with reservations. In my opinion it’s a good idea to agree on some techniques acceptable “for the goose and for the gander” on discussion sites. However, it is far from clear that every atheist place should perform (or actually performs) the role of a discussion site. It is also unclear to me to what degree various atheist bloggers treat their spaces as discussion sites. Imagine yourself coming to some place, asking “Excuse me, it’s a discussion site, isn’t it? May I ask a question?” and hearing an answer “Hell, no, what we have here is an internet counterpart of a street riot!” Is there anything wrong with such an answer? Do you think every place should be a discussion site? If so, why?

          I’m only a commenter, not a blogger, and it’s not my role to answer the question what purpose the FtB bloggers plan for their comment sections. Are these sections to be treated as free discussion sites, or do they have some other roles to play? My guess is that the answers will vary, depending on the blogger. But it’s just a guess, and it would be good indeed to have some real answers. I think also that any deeper criticism of the bloggers should take these answers into account.

  • John Greg says:

    How about the writers from either side just answer the initial questions with short, sharp, clear and concise, specific points, in plain English, …. This should be a stratght forward, plain English discussion between interested parties. …

    Mod Note: Moderation team removed about half of the comment in order to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

    • Woo says:

      John Greg, I completely agree and my comment basically says the same thing in the analysis part. It can be hard to parse the dialogue while at the same time trying to remember the line you just read. It’s easier to read Spanish, translate mentally and remember than to do that with this dialogue. It is as if there’s a character count along with a word count that people are trying to reach with complex phrasing and jargon. It’s hard to read, like governmental law text.

  • David Leech says:

    Fuck this is moving at a glacial pace.

    Lets get something straight, the atheism+ people can believe what ever they want, that is their right.

    My objection is:

    Trolls are not legitimate criticism as they are just trolls.

    Censorship is bad for open dialogue.

    Dissent is not harassment.

    Smearing people with dissenting views is bad form.

    Can we move on now?

    Also any censoring of my comment will be in vain as I have copied it and it will appear on the anti-atheism+ forum on Facebook (if it happens.)

    • Moderators says:

      Everyone is free, of course, to submit comments anywhere they care to, including at sites they control or where there is no moderation, on any topic they care to, including this dialogue or their experience at this dialogue site.

      This site is aiming for civil & hopefully productive dialogue, understanding that there’s no gold standard for civility, and also that people’s interpretations are influenced by the degree to which they trust the other participants in the discussion.

      • David Leech says:

        Thanks for your reply but it is a sad time when I feel the need to protect myself from tactics that have only previously been employed by creatisnist and scientologist. Have the A/S ‘community’ sunk so low, I feel it has. I am just pointing out the main bones of contention between the two groups. Sooner or later they will have to be addressed. Like I have said I don’t care what anybody believes just so long as they bring them to the free market of ideas and lets have at it.


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