Strand 1 Opening Statement by Jack Smith

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?

By Jack Smith (with input from a working group including these individual volunteers: Tim Skellett, Renee Hendricks, Thaumas Themelios, Skep Tickle but not necessarily reflecting the entirety of each of their views)

1. The subject of this opening strand, first of 5 strands, is: “How we can work together on core issues on which we broadly agree, including promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism and secularism in the real world”.

2. I speak as an individual member of “the atheist/skeptic community” and recognize that other members of that community will not agree with me, or not on every point. What I say here is consistent with my understanding of core features of atheism and skepticism.

3. The primary purpose of this dialogue is to find common cause on which we can ‘work together’ while accepting diverse political and social beliefs. We first need to identify core areas of agreement and of disagreement. I think the following are core to atheism and skepticism and have served the community well for many years; on which of these do we agree, and on which do we disagree?

4(a) We stand for equality for all. We believe that all humans should be treated equally as people, with no inherent superiority of one over the other, as there is no rational basis for such claims of inherent superiority. Addressing areas of inequality such as seen in religions, cultures, and laws is done on the basis of these principles.

4(b) We seek to establish real truths from untruths, for without this discernment we end up with religions, dogmas, and demagogues poisoning our society. We establish truth through the application of logic, evidence-based reasoning, critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Our competence in this truth-seeking endeavour is the most valuable asset we have.

4(c) In our pursuit of truth, we must test our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate. Nothing is left off the table; all claims can — and sometimes must — be fully examined and tested to determine the best evidence, arguments, and explanations. We can do this without rancour or dismissal and it is a key requirement in achieving our objectives: freeing this world of the terrible injustices we see all around us.

4(d) We recognize that personal feelings have limited utility when determining objective reality. However, this does not ignore the fact that emotion and personal experiences are crucial components of being human and determining values. Further, these are important components in supporting cohesion and unity within our community.

4(e) We believe that ethics is a valid area for discussion and debate While morality is an important part of our lives, by its nature it is highly subjective and dependent on values. We therefore feel, in the interests of mutual cooperation, that it is appropriate to consider the best in others, give the benefit of the doubt, and assume others are acting in good faith.

5. We believe that in order for us to be effective we should strive to avoid:

5(a) Imposing political or social beliefs on others. We can of course form our own social and political groups within the movement but they have no inherent right to impose those beliefs on others.

5(b) Attributing motives or character traits on others. Ad Hominem fallacies serve no good purpose in reasonable dialogue.

5(c) Dismissing others in a dialogue if they do not follow our own beliefs. Our strength is in our diversity. We should try to work together, irrespective of differences of opinion, as long as equality for all remains a core principle.

5(d) Commenting on others without accepting a right of reply. The right of reply is fundamental to any open society. If we criticise others then others have the right to respond to that without being personally attacked for doing so.

5(e) Ignoring the feelings of others. However we should not use our feelings to shut down valid and genuine debate and discussion. How many times have we heard theists say we should never attack their beliefs as it hurts their feelings? Allowing this would put us into a position where we are hostages of our own making.

5(f) Shutting down all forms of criticism. Criticism has been a mainstay of free debate for hundreds of years. Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue and have been for millennia. it’s even on the walls of ancient Pompeii. While everyone has the right to their own protected spaces that does not provide the right to censor others outside those spaces.

6. We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, and those who wish to maintain the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years. This kind of imposition will necessarily divide the movement and weaken it. It will set up an ‘us vs. them’ mentality which distracts from our core aims. It will alienate our friends and allies who would otherwise wish to support us, but will be discouraged if they do not hold the same political beliefs. It will impose unelected political leaders and encourage schisms.

7. People with similar interests will tend to congregate and should have spaces in which they can communicate and work together cooperatively. We do not seek to control anyone’s space, the policies in others’ spaces, or their expression of their beliefs and values. However, when people in one such space criticize or challenge other people, we feel it’s important for them to accept rebuttal or presentation of counter-evidence in accordance with the core principles outlined above.

8. Failure to reach a common ground on these issues puts at risk our efforts in achieving our common goals.

9. We can work together by following the principles core to atheism/skepticism and remembering we are each and all fallible humans, each with one life to live and with an equal right to self-determination. We owe it to those who are hurting, suffering, and dying in this big wide world of ours.

10. I welcome your comments about this statement and your efforts to help the atheist/skeptic community identify and hopefully expand our “common ground”.

Note from Moderators

If you want to comment on this statement

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  3. Respond to each paragraph, and use the number of each paragraph.
  4. Begin each paragraph response by saying either “I agree with this” or “I agree with this with reservations” or “I disagree with this”, and then elaborate on why you agree or disagree.
  5. 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.

17 Responses to “Strand 1 Opening Statement by Jack Smith”

  • Submariner says:

    1 and 2. N/A

    3. I agree. It is in fact the goal of this section of the planned discussions to determine areas of agreement.

    4a. I agree.
    4b. I agree.
    4c. I strongly agree. Humans have biases. One of the better ways to help keep one’s own bias in check (or even to determine it is there in the first place) is to apply rigorous critique (and examination by others) to all claims, even one’s own.
    4d. I agree with the proviso that lacking evidence for one’s claims and still professing the truth value of that claim due to emotional reasons, is not in keeping with the core values at the top of this page. (Ex. Theist’s belief in God due to emotion with no evidence)
    4e. I agree with reservations. I think a sound definition of good faith needs to be presented and agreed upon before I give full agreement to this line.

    a. I strongly agree.
    b. I agree. I also have the right to disagree with a person’s stated motivations (if available).
    c, d, e, and f. I agree.

    6-10. I agree.

  • oolon says:

    1. N/A
    2. Yup I’m an individual too, what I believe is probably different to most and not objectively “right”
    3. N/A
    4(a) “…all humans should be treated equally as people…”
    Disagree, equality is not achieved through treating everyone equally. Someone who is not able bodied is actively disadvantaged by equality of treatment for example, special consideration for the inherent disadvantage they experience is needed. The evidence for systemic bias against sections of humanity based on this, race, gender etc make it clear we need positive action to achieve true equality.
    4(b) Probably nit-picking disagreement but “truth”? Seek to get nearer to “truth” but science never quite gets there… Absolutes are in the realm of religion.

    Mod note: 1 1/2 sentences at the end of 4(b) removed by moderation team to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

    4(c) Disagree, climate change denialists would love this “nothing off the table” statement. Some things are off the table because they are unevidenced, when they are evidenced they are back on the table.
    4(d) Agree, except personal feelings and objective reality are intimately linked when determining how another feels!
    4(e) Bit of a mish-mash, mostly agree.
    5. We believe that in order for us to be effective we should strive to avoid:
    5(a) Who is “imposing” anything on anyone and how could you do that? Cannot agree or disagree, makes no sense.
    5(b) Reasonable dialogue, maybe agree.
    5(c) What does “dismissing” mean?
    5(d) Again weird, everyone has a right of reply.
    5(e) Disagree. Feelings are used by theists to try and stop the debate about their institutions. If an *individual* asked me to stop arguing with them or targeting them I would. Difference comes when that person is in a position of authority for an institution that is imposing on others – such as the RC Church. Their hurt feelings are trumped by the greater damage done. There is no such parallel in atheist-sceptic circles.
    5(f) What? I’ve seen no examples of this happening, its not possible to shut down!
    6. Disagree. Expand on “impose”, how is it possible for people to impose on anyone? So how is this an issue?
    7. They need to have people they criticise publish a rebuttal on their blog? How could that possibly work… Have I misread?
    8. No it doesn’t as individual groups can carry on, what damages the goal is wasting time attacking each other.
    9. Agree with the deepity but it seems irrelevant to this process.

  • Ariel says:

    5(f). On a charitable reading, I’m inclined to agree with most of the points. My main problem is their vagueness. An extreme example is 5(f): “Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue”. Here the formulation is in fact so vague, that it’s not possible for me to agree (or to disagree) with such a statement. E.g. does it follow that satire or caricature is a valid human response to the sight of someone dying of hunger? Some serious qualifications are needed here and until they are provided, I don’t think 5(f) can be treated as an uncontroversial prerequisite for effectiveness (see 5).

    Mod Note: One sentence removed by moderation team to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

  • John Greg says:

    4a. I agree.
    4b. I agree.
    4c. I agree.
    4d. I agree.
    4e. I disagree, with reservations — I do not think anyone should assume anything about others acting in good faith; I think everyone should be neutral until there is sufficient to evidence to show good or bad faith.
    5a. I agree.
    5b. I agree, with reservations — if no motives or character traits have been expressed or shown, unambiguously, then yes, everyone should avoid attributing motives or character traits to others; however, if motives or character traits have been expressed or shown unambiguously, it is fair game to attribute motives or character traits to others.
    5c. I agree.
    5d. I agree.
    5e. I agree.
    5f. I agree.
    6. I agree, with reservations — what are “the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years”? That strikes me as a rather broad and ambiguous brush without support.
    7. I agree.
    8. I agree.
    9. I agree.

    Mod Note: Moderation team removed 2 short sentences at the end of (6) in order to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

  • Woo says:

    3. (is to find common cause on which we can ‘work together’ while accepting diverse political and social beliefs. We first need to identify core areas of agreement and of disagreement.)
    –Sounds exciting.
    4(a) We stand for equality for all.
    –preach it Sir Jack.
    –Preach it baaabyyy
    4(c) (Nothing is left off the table; all claims can — and sometimes must — be fully examined )
    –Exciting plan.
    4(d) [That part about emotions having limited use but being a big part of human experience and unity.]
    –Great and wordy way to put that you won’t just through feelings out of the window while reminding people that things can’t be dominated by emotion. :)
    4(e) [That part about ethics, benefit of doubt, assuming good faith]
    *nod nod* this so much this.
    5. We believe that in order for us to be effective we should strive to avoid:
    5(b) Attributing motives or character traits on others. Ad Hominem fallacies serve no good purpose in reasonable dialogue.
    –Very important point… Needs to be said.
    5(d) Commenting on others without accepting a right of reply.
    -Another important thing to say; if people do that it will really hinder this.
    5(e) [The clause about not using emotions to shut down others while not ignoring feelings] :)
    5(f) (Satire, caricature and critical commentary are a valid human response to any issue and have been for millennia.)

    —I totally agree with these being a valid form of criticism, especially satire since it can really make you think! I expect this to be a point of debate though.

    6. [The part about a cause of
    'Us vs them'] I think what would really help is perhaps a list of points that both “sides” mentioned agree with to discourage implying the worst about each other. I do think some aren’t realizing there are multiple issues we could have a *good* talk about.

    7. [#7] Yeah… Giving people a chance ***

    — I hope this discussion will encourage others to change their mind about not at least reading this… And also claiming that the participants aren’t serious about it, because everyone has put work into this for several days.

  • Steersman says:

    1) I agree.

    2) I agree.

    3) I agree with reservations. While “working together”, and “identifying core areas of agreement” are certainly necessary and important elements, it seems that they are, by themselves, not at all sufficient. As with a group of tradespeople agreeing to work together and “identifying core areas of agreement”, a house isn’t going to get built unless there are some detailed plans about what it will look like, and how the process will develop from start to finish.

    4a) I agree with reservations: I think the phrase “We stand for equality for all” may be somewhat problematic as there is no context specified. If we are talking of “equality before the law” then that is a perfectly credible and acceptable concept (1), and is covered in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    But if we are talking of equality in the sense of your “no inherent superiority”, then I think the facts are plainly against that contention, although that very much depends on your definition of “superior”. But if we take the most sensible and credible definition – “greater in quality, quantity, etc” (2) – then that in turn depends on the questions of, “to what ends?”, and “in which environment?”. For instance, considering that men are, on average, about 5 inches taller than women (3), one might reasonably argue that men are, on average, superior to women in circumstances where the extra height is a benefit, but that women are, on average, superior to men in circumstances where the extra height is a liability. Context and environment is, if not everything, certainly a very significant factor: not taking due cognizance of that is a recipe for going off the rails rather quickly.

    4b) I agree with reservations: While “our competence in this truth-seeking endeavor” is certainly quite far reaching, there seems to be no small amount of evidence [(4), (5), (6)] to suggest that science and reason have their limits. While the consequences, and implications of that state of affairs seem decidedly moot, to say the least, it might be construed as dangerous hubris to put more faith, more eggs, into that basket than is warranted.

    4c) I agree with reservations: While testing “our beliefs in the forum of open and free debate” is certainly a credible premise and a worthy goal, the evidence seems to suggest that there are limits to that process as well (7). Starting from slightly different points, two people can wind up with very different if not contentious conclusions, with the “truth” of either one being something that is not readily provable, except maybe or sometimes at prohibitive or morally questionable costs. How to proceed in the face of that perspective seems a difficult challenge.

    4d) I agree.

    4e) I agree.

    5a) I agree.

    5b) I agree with reservations: While ad hominems are generally considered beyond the pale and as logical fallacies, it also seems that there are cases where the motivations and values of one’s intelocutors, their ethos, can have some bearing on the relevance and credibility of their arguments. (8), (9). Hard and fast rules tend to be problematic as they tend to discount the possibilities of exceptions: “for every rule there is an exception” frequently has some utility.

    5c) I agree with reservations: “as long as equality for all remains a core principle”, at least in the sense, as noted above, of “equality before the law”.

    5d) I agree with reservations: A “right of reply” certainly seems to be a credible principle, although “personally attacked” raises a number of questions.

    5e) I agree with reservations: Raises the question of how to balance out individual feelings against various social goals and values.

    5f) I agree with reservations: While the “right to protected spaces” seems a credible one, one might also argue that it is not an absolute. Even in the case of our “castles” – our homes – the State seems to reserve the right to limit our uses of them to “legal” ones. Another case where the rights of the individual must be balanced out in some way with the rights of the group, and of others.

    6) I agree with reservations: While the connotations of “a particular political and social ideology” seem rather obscure, the evidence strongly suggests that feminism, in one form or another, is a large part of that. As Ronald Lindsay – of the Center for Inquiry – put it (10) several months ago:

    … there are some stark differences of opinion within the movement about the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations.

    7) I agree.

    8) I agree.

    9) I agree with reservations: Apart from the fact that I think we owe that to ourselves, even if only from the point of view of “enlightened self-interest” (11), there is the fact that we are all dying which has, or should have, some bearing on the choices we make and the goals we define, not just for ourselves, but for the atheist/skeptic/secularist movement(s).

    10) I agree.

    1) “_”;
    2) “_”;
    3) “_”;
    4) “_”;
    5) “_”;
    6) “_”;
    7) “_”;
    8) “_”;
    9) “_”;
    10) “_”;
    11) “_”;

    Mod Note: Moderation team removed wording from (5d), (6), and (9) in order to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

  • Coel says:

    This all seems sensible and acceptable. There is nothing I would particularly disagree with.

  • Moderators says:

    An update from the moderation team:

    Thank you to everyone who has commented so far. We have had a moderation meeting and have approved more comments.

    We have emailed people whose comments have not been approved to ask for revisions.

    We have decided not to publish trackbacks.

    At this stage we are moderating fairly tightly within the guidelines, and we are erring on the side of caution. We hope to gradually lighten the moderation as trust is built up.

    Please let us know if you disagree with any of our decisions and we will look at them again.

    You can email us at moderators at atheistskepticdialogue dot com

  • hoary puccoon says:

    Re Jack Smith’s point 7: “…when people in one…space criticize or challenge other people, we feel it’s important for them to accept rebuttal or counter-evidence….

    This is unclear. 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.

    If JS is saying that criticized parties may present a defense in other Internet locations of their choosing, I am in complete agreement. However, I can’t see how this differs from the present situation.

  • aardvark406 says:

    1-3 N/A

    4(a) Agree with reservations? Can we have some clarification on the last sentence? What principles? What follows from them?

    4(b) Disagree. I don’t think that’s our number one asset. As someone who identifies as Humanist, it’s equally important for me, personally, to treat others with empathy and respect–if we can’t work together, being right is useless.

    4(c) Disagree. Not everything is on the table. Some ideas just don’t deserve an intense treatment at this point (e.g. bigfoot, climate change, the Catholic church).

    4(d) Agree, but irrelevant. See my response to 4(b).

    4(e) Disagree. Some statements can and do leave no room for such an assumption.

    5(a) Agree with reservations. Don’t understand. How are beliefs imposed? What are the criteria a group must meet to maintain their right to exist?

    5(b) Agree.

    5(c) Disagree. See response to 4(e).

    5(d) & 5(f) Disagree. Request for clarification. Mandating a “right of reply” and saying “everyone has a right to their own protected spaces” seem to contradict each other.

    5(e) Agree, with caveats. At what point should skepticism take over from empathy? In order to work together, we all need to feel comfortable. I, personally, think that a balance between objectivity and empathy must be maintained.

    6 Agree with reservations. Request for clarification. How are these two positions different as stated? Why does the current status quo not count as a political position? Why is it not open to the same rational treatment that was argued for previously, with “nothing off the table”?

    7 Disagree. Again, a request for clarification. How do you reconcile everyone’s right to control their own space with the requirement that everyone else be able to respond in the same space? Is that even what’s being said here, I can’t tell? Certainly no one is capable of preventing another from speaking their own mind at every available venue on the entire Internet!

    8 Disagree. Common goals can be reached even by separate, unrelated groups.

    9 Agree with caveats. Like I’ve stated, I don’t think the core principles of atheism/skepticism are a sufficient basis for progress.

    10 Agree. Thanks!

  • A Hermit says:

    I am not an activist, organizer or conference goer, just an observer who self identifies as a humanist and a doubter with a personal interest in skeptical issues, including those regarding religious beliefs and occasional participant in internet conversations. That said I’ve been watching the conflict in the wider community of atheists, skeptics and rationalists over the last couple of years and feel compelled to comment, so here’s my two cents worth. (Make that a nickle, we don’t have pennies here in the Great White North anymore…)

    4(a) Agree with reservations; equality can’t mean being blind to cultural and physical obstacles to equal participation. It’s not enough to simply proclaim that we stand for equality we have to actually put in the effort to make equality a reality.

    4(b) Agree with reservations. I’m a little put off by the “real truths” language, sounds a little too much like the religious idea of absolute or ultimate truths. Our goal should be the best understanding based on the available evidence, not some mythical ideal truth.

    4(c) Agree with reservations. All claims should be up for examination, but the depth of that examination can’t be equivalent for all claims. Some claims are facile, frivolous or have been previously debunked and shouldn’t need deep forensic investigation or re-litigating. Also, we need to remember that if extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence it follows that ordinary claims (eg “I went shopping today”) only require ordinary evidence or can even be reasonably accepted at face value.

    4(d) Agree with reservations. This is where a lot of the current problems seem to lie. If our goal is cohesion and unity then we have to be sensitive to the feelings of others and express our disagreements in a mature, respectful fashion. That’s not to say we can’t express our differences strongly but we should be able to do so while being sensitive to the experiences of others and the need to keep the focus on ideas, not on personalities or appearances, as is too often the case lately.

    4(e) Agree with reservations. The assumption of good faith can’t be expected to be unlimited. If someone is consistently behaving in a manner that appears to not be in good faith we need to be able to point that out. I always say that respect isn’t earned and should be extended to all by default, but it can quickly be lost…

    5(a) I’m confused by this point. Who is “imposing” what on whom? I need a better explanation of what’s being proposed here before I can agree or disagree with it.

    5(b) Agree, with the caveat that not all observations about character are ad hominem. Someone who continually behaves in a hostile or insulting manner shouldn’t expect the character revealed by such behaviour to be exempt from comment.. On the other hand, photoshopping people’s images, mocking their age, appearance, gender, making sexually suggestive comments about them…none of this qualifies as “reasonable dialogue”.

    Mod note: Partial sentence removed by moderation team to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

    5(c) Agree with reservations. If you insist on a core set of principles, especially equality for all, is it reasonable to say we must never dismiss anyone who
    doesn’t share those beliefs? When we encounter people who don’t appear to be interested in promoting equality for all how far should we go in
    accommodating them? Should we, for example, be welcoming to racists, sexists, homophobes or other bigots? If failing to forcefully rebut those people causes us to look like we are less interested in standing up for the people being marginalized by them aren’t we going to have a hard time popularizing our message?

    5(d) Agree with reservations. While I certainly agree that everyone has a right to respond to criticism, but no one is obligated to provide a platform for others to criticize (or as too often has been happening to insult them). What precisely is the objective of this sentence? I apologize in advance if I am mistaken about this, but I suspect it’s directed at those who choose to moderate their blog comments…if so this seems to me to contradict the idea of not seeking to control other people’s spaces expressed elsewhere in this statement. Please clarify.

    5(e) Agree with reservations. This goes back to 4d. If our goal is cohesion, unity and constructive dialogue we aren’t going to make much progress if we can’t respect each others’ feelings. I don’t think anyone is asking that their ideas or opinions be off limits.* If people are being offended by the words we are using we can find different words to express those ideas. That’s not holding anyone’s ideas hostage; it’s just common courtesy. Shouldn’t be too hard to do…

    *Mod note: Partial sentence removed by moderation team to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

    And if it’s the idea itself that’s causing offence we need to ask why and be prepared to re-examine that idea.

    5(f) Disagree. A lot of what’s being passed off as “criticism” in our community lately is little more than schoolyard taunting.* Again, if cohesion and cooperation are the goal some kinds of comment are simply counterproductive. Pointing this out, by the way, is not an act of censorship as suggested in the statement; it is an example of legitimate, reasonable criticism.

    * Mod note: One sentence removed by moderation team to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

    6 Disagree. Here we have this strange idea of “imposition” again. Expressing a point of view even forcefully and passionately is not “imposing” it on anyone. This characterization of the expression of certain points of view as being an intolerable imposition seems to me to be contrary to the principles of free, open, rigorous and unrestricted examination of ideas advocated in the previous part of this statement. On the other hand, it seems to me that insisting on maintaining a rigid status quo will prevent us from promoting the kind of diversity of views and ideas and approaches that we need to see if we want our movement to grow and be effective in bringing about positive change in the world. The last bit about imposing “unelected political officials” is a bit jarring.

    *Mod note: One sentence removed by moderation team to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

    7. Disagree. Again I apologize in advance if I’m mistaking the intent here but this appears once more to be directed at people who choose to rigorously moderate their own forum or blog comments. That said we should all certainly be prepared to respond to legitimate criticisms. But this does not extend to personal attacks, strawmen or mockery, and even in the case of legitimate criticism one’s right to speak does not include the right to compel anyone else to provide us with a platform, to listen or to respond.

    8. Disagree. It’s certainly a laudable goal to get people to agree to behave like decent human beings toward one another, and |I hope that to some extent we can accomplish that here. But people of good will with an honest desire to promote reason and critical thinking will continue to do so with or without signing on to some list of principles.

    Mod note: Two sentences removed by moderation team to keep dialogue within the guidelines.

    9. Agree

  • GG says:

    4(a): Disagree. “Equality”, in this context, can mean:
    + Formal equality in a Kantian, “All persons are free and equal”, sense.
    + Equality of opportunity.
    + Equality of outcome.
    Clarification is needed as to which sense is intended.

    4(b): Agree with reservations. The phrase “real truths” has a metaphysical ring to it and raises the question “What is an ‘unreal truth’?”. I can agree without reservation if “fact” is subsituted for “real truth” and “fiction” for “untruth”.

    4(c): Agree with strong reservations. Freeing the world from “injustices” is acceptable in abstract, but “justice” needs to be defined. I foresee a big challenge here in constructing a theory of justice which is compatible with the core issues laid out in item 1. Teleologic theories, utilitarianism in particular, presume the existence of moral facts, but demonstrating the existence thereof within the constraints of a skeptical epistemology is very difficult.

    4(d): Agree.

    4(e): Agree with reservations pending further definition of “ethics”, “values”, and “morality”.

    5(a): Disagree. Skepticism strongly suggests certain political and social beliefs e.g. “we should not be governed by a theocracy”. It should be acceptable to impose political and social beliefs on others provided they can be derived from the core issues outlined in item 1.

    5(b): Agree.

    5(c): Disagree, same reasoning as 4(a) and 5(a). The meaning of “equality” needs to be pinned down, and we should feel free to dismiss others if it can be demonstrated that they’re reasoning from beliefs which are incompatible with skepticism.

    5(d): Agree.

    5(e): Agree with reservations; separating contumly from criticism is inherently subjective and will inevitably lead to contention.

    6) Disagree. Rationalism is “a particular political and social ideology” and we need to recognize it as such. What separates rationalism from (some) competiting ideologies is that it puts heavy emphasis on being congruent with empiric fact.

    7) Agree.

    8) Agree.

    9) Agree with reservation; the core principles remain to be enumerated.

  • Silentbob says:

    5 (f) Agree with strong reservations. Given the special mention here of satire and caricature I think it should be explicitly noted that such caricature can only be considered valid when directed toward ideas or expressed opinions. 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).

  • tamerlane says:

    3) Agree. During any negotiation — business, social or personal — potential synergies & reciprocal interests must be explored at the outset. One valid outcome of negotiations is to recognize that sufficient mutual interests do not exist to proceed;

    4) & 5) Hodge-podge of rules of engagement with an attempt to formulate an atheist/skeptic’s credo. Agree that establishing rules of engagement for discussion & debate are essential; Disagree in principle with any credo that overreaches to include beliefs & values which, however laudable, are not essential to the core skeptic/atheist approach. Further, “ethics” and “morals” are not defined;

    6) Agree. To find common cause, goals & objectives must be narrowly defined;

    7) Agree. The putting forth of propositions, and the refutal thereof, must be a two-way street;

    8) Agree with reservations. The more narrowly defined common ground is, the easier it is established. Yet it cannot be forced if it does not exist;

    9) Please concisely define the envisioned “core principles” of atheism/skepticism so that they may be agreed to or rejected by each prospective collaborator.

  • Brony says:

    Note: I am assuming nothing about anyone in this comment. These are general, real issues of ethical philosophy and any assertion I of fact I make is a thing where evidence could be demanded.

    1. I agree that this is an excellent question. My biggest area of contention is that we need to get specific with your “…we…” because the most basic issue in the community is We as a proper noun, the Community and how we relate to one another. Relatively speaking we are a small, but active community.

    2. I agree that your experience of the Community matters as much as ours. Fair enough.

    3. I have to disagree with you as a member of this community until you address one other area as a member of this community. My primary issue with your piece is your emphasis on how we do what we do as a community. If we do not also mutually acknowledge and support why we have each chosen the atheist/skeptic label, I believe we will fail as a community. If we only think of how and what, that thinking can lead to treating Community as if it is a tool only.

    4a. I disagree because the debate in this area is not over. “…there is no rational basis for such claims of inherent superiority.” This is a primary source of disagreement in the Community. I believe I have seen evidence that demonstrates that people have privileged social positions that are de facto positions of superiority.

    This needs to be discussed as a community, and I realize that there will be many who will say that it already was. To me this is empty of meaning.

    4b. I agree. I also try to be investigatively scientific, including times when I am confronted with something.

    4c. I agree, except where this neglects the reality of how we make decisions as a group. Eventually consensus develops and the group starts to collect around particular solutions and positions.

    What do we do about individuals who will not budge and raise their behavior to disruptive levels when the group goes in a direction they do not like? At some point we do start dismissing. Because we have to in order to move forward in our own sub-tribes. How do you propose we deal with that as a Community?

    4d. I agree, but this makes only partial sense to me because personal feelings are objectively present at all points of our efforts to study things, and interact with objective reality, and each other. It is better to address ways of constructively using the feelings, channeling them, or personally controlling them.

    One cannot do anything without an emotional input. A popular way of pointing this out is the cry of there being “bias everywhere” in places like the media. Or rejecting an argument on Facebook because “someone is biased”.

    What matters is taking the emotion and its effects into account. We can’t detect the use of a fallacy as easily as when another points it out to us, and as skeptics we should welcome the efforts of our fellows to help us improve. But personal history is something that cannot be ignored when it comes to one’s ability to use values, ethics, skepticism and many other things.

    4e. I agree with specific exceptions, “…we assume others are acting in good faith.” I personally assume that others are acting in good faith until I have reason to believe otherwise. I reserve the right to reject the words of a person who displays signs of not acting in good faith. I also reserve the right to talk about it to the Community.

    5. I cannot agree or disagree. I am unclear on your argument in this bullet. Can you rephrase?

    5a. I disagree because I do not see evidence of Impositions on the Community. I see people passionately suggesting that we follow certain paths and take certain actions as a group. I also see people controlling the communication environment in their places of speech, in a manner that their relationship with their parts of the skeptical community needs. You cannot have an imposition without the power to impose. To what are you referring?

    5b. I agree that Ad Hominims are bad. However if someone sees a trait that they suspect makes the person they are dialoguing with a dishonest or manipulative conversation partner, they have the right to point it out as an issue of its own. I would personally accept no less.
    As long as we agree on that point, I too hate to see people rejected due to irrelevant personal features.

    5c. I disagree. If a difference in belief is too fundamental to the individual persons, and has too much of an effect on any proposed Community political activities, a level of personal dismissal (avoiding one another) will be unavoidable for community manners if nothing else.

    It is better to plan for it and figure out how to compromise. Beliefs inform actions and some actions are disruptive for one reason or another.

    5d. I agree in principle if we are discussing legitimate criticism. But dishonest components of the arguments of another are fair game. A fallacy is a fallacy, a mischaracterization is a mischaracterization. So when it is truly personal I would stand with you. I also reserve the right to point out these things to the Community when I see them. I like to warn my friends.

    5e. I disagree. This is still an ongoing controversy. The word “feeling” does not take into account the very real intense and often uncontrollable connections that life experience puts on some parts of communication, or styles of communication. There must be room to accommodate people who cannot be rational to their fullest extent without community efforts to support them. I find it unacceptable to compare the bruised feelings of a Creationist, to the trauma of someone with PTSD without more information.

    5f. I disagree. I believe in making specific forms of criticism situational (depending on the person and their abilities/background). It is pragmatic. I also believe that persons have the right to control their places of communication that they have the rights to, for example blogs and twitter accounts are like a persons home phone. Legally one can ask someone to refrain from calling you so and psychologically there are people who engage in harassing communication. I would need to see specifics on examples of “Shutting down all forms of criticism”. I have seen some claim that a ban on criticism occurred, when what was being described was avoiding particular means of criticism for specific reasons.

    6. I disagree without more information. I still need to see the evidence of imposition. There can be no imposition without the power to impose.

    7. I agree. Unless the person is in a space that they have the right to control. If they don’t want something in their house, they can tell others to keep it off their site if they wanted. There are areas where people chose to engage with others, and areas where one can publicly call out someone.
    But people also have the right to avoid contact with others if they want. As long as we can agree that unwelcome communication is a real thing we can probably proceed.

    8. I agree.

    9. I agree.

    10. I agree. I welcome your comments about this statement and your efforts to help the atheist/skeptic community identify and hopefully expand our “common ground”.

    This is a good start. We will see where it goes.

  • Kevin Solway says:

    “6. We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, . . ”

    Strongly agree.

    This is the big one so far as I’m concerned.

    When persuasion fails, or is not even attempted, public shaming and personal abuse are highly detrimental, both in the short and long terms.

  • Patrick says:

    “6. We see the issues as a clash of ideas between those who wish to impose a particular political and social ideology, and those who wish to maintain the rationalist principles that have served us well for so many years.”

    Strongly agree. This is the essence of the “Rift”.

    Skeptic and atheist activism does not require adherence to any particular political or social viewpoint other than respect for reason and evidence, and a willingness to question even one’s most closely held beliefs. There are plenty of other groups that pursue political and social goals, the atheist and skeptical movement must focus on atheist and skeptical goals to have any chance of success.

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