Strand 1 – Analysis of the dialogue so far

This is an overview of the areas of agreement, agreement with reservations, and disagreement in the statement 2 responses in strand 1 of the dialogue process. The opening statements are quoted in black text, and the responses are in green text for agreement, orange text for clarifications needed, and red text for disagreement.

There are some initial areas of agreement, including

  • that our interactions can get very prescriptive very quickly with words like ‘all of us’ and ‘may not’ and must’;
  • that we can promote our atheism and skepticism in many different ways from promoting science to political activism, and at a personal or local or national or international level;
  • and that personal feelings have limited utility when determining objective reality but are crucial or important components of being human, determining values and supporting cohesion and unity within our community.

Please read the actual statements below rather than rely on this summary.

Most of the initial responses are in the category of ‘I agree with reservations’ or requests for clarification. These include many important nuanced opinions that have been lost in the manner in which some of our debate has been conducted in recent times. These are the areas that we suggest that we focus most of our attention on next, consistently with the initial areas of agreement described above.

There are some initial areas of disagreement, including on whether we should accept rebuttals on the same space as published material, whether failure to reach common ground puts at risk our efforts to achieve our common goals, and whether analysing our efficacy can sometimes lead us to a single more prescribed approach. Please read the actual statements below rather than rely on this summary.

Responses to questions about the process

Some commenters have asked about the speed of this process in comparison to unstructured or unmoderated dialogue. This is a gradual, step by step, structured process that aims to build trust between participants while addressing the issues. The statements and responses are carefully considered, and written and moderated by people acting in a voluntary capacity. We’re happy to continue making progress at whatever pace is feasible in this context.

Some commenters have asked about the need to define and clarify significant terms. This is of course correct, but we do not need to define every significant term at the early stages of the dialogue. Some terms will become more relevant when we discuss later agenda items. Until then, it can be more constructive to focus on building trust on areas of agreement, so that we will be better able to address any differences in definitions when we reach those agenda items.

Where we are in the dialogue process

Please remember that we are still in the first strand of this process, which is:

1. 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.

We will then move on to discuss the other agenda strands, which are:

2. How we can balance the right to freedom of expression and robust debate about ideas and issues, with the desire to not unnecessarily hurt people who disagree with us about those ideas.
3. How and to what extent our various communities and groups should have ethical and equality and social justice issues on our internal and external agendas.
4. How we can each, as individuals, lead unilaterally by example by behaving reasonably and charitably and constructively, while others are not doing so.
5. Any other issues that people believe are important to address.


The following is the response by Thaumas Themelios to the Strand 1 Opening Statement by Stephanie Zvan. The Opening Statement by Stephanie is quoted in black text; Thaumas’s response is in green text for agreement, orange text for clarifications needed, and red text for disagreement.


By Thaumas Themelios (with input from a working group including these individual volunteers: Jack Smith, Renee Hendricks, Skep Sheik, and Aneris F. Nord but not necessarily reflecting the entirety of each of their views)

SZ (1): The key to working together under these circumstances is to understand that there are myriad solutions to each of these problems. None of them are complete in themselves, but together, they provide a strong force for change. Additionally, pursuing multiple strategies at once allows us to take advantage of the diverse talents and motivations of those who find value in promoting all or any of these ideals.

(1) I agree with this with reservations. The ‘many approaches’ approach supports and encourages multiple ways of pursuing activism, and I’ve argued this also. However, when you state that none are complete, but together they are strong, this omits mentioning a critically important caveat: Some ways can also be misguided and actually harmful. History is littered with tragic examples of good intentions resulting in more harm than good. And it’s not always clear at the outset which approaches are the misguided ones and which not. There will be disagreements on this topic and it seems our current ‘rift’ is an example of this. Speaking only for myself (Thaumas) here, I do not believe we can answer the question of “How we can work together … in the real world” without each of us also asking ourselves: Where do I draw the line? Do I support everyone regardless of approach (all inclusive)? Do I go it alone (all exclusive)? Somewhere in between? And what is the basis for this decision? Each person will have their own answers, and our individual criteria for making this decision will ultimately decide “How we can work together … in the real world”, depending on how they overlap. So, in the interests of moving the dialogue along, here are my own views:

  1. I may not like or prefer some particular approach to activism myself, so I might not actively support it. But so long as there is no clear evidence that such activism is likely to lead to more harm than good, then I will not actively oppose it either. Diversity of approaches is generally a good thing. This is the basis of my support for ‘many approaches’.
  2. However, if I consider some particular approach likely to lead to more harm than good in the long term — even if it is intended to promote some cause or idea with which I agree — then I will not support it. Indeed, I may actively oppose it, especially if it involves the promulgation of potentially harmful, unsupported ideas in society. This is the basis for my skeptical and atheist activism in the first place (i.e. against theism/religion, faith-based reasoning, pseudo-science, etc.).

SZ (2): To use science as the least contentious (currently) of these topics, we already recognize that there are different roles to be played. We recognize the bench scientist and the field scientist. We recognize the physicist and the sociologist. We recognize the philosopher of science and the critic of methods. We recognize the lab manager and the lab technician. We recognize the grade-school science teacher and the PhD student. We recognize the peer reviewer and the science journalist.

(2) I agree with this with reservations. I readily endorse the methods and findings of mainstream science (pending future shifts in scientific consensus, of course). And that does not preclude discussions on emerging advancements or areas of active scientific debate. However I do not accept the latter type of discussions as beyond question or debate as they do not form part of mainstream scientific consensus.

  1. Furthermore, no one has a complete and thorough understanding of all of mainstream science. So in my view part of our role as skeptic activists is to educate both the greater public and indeed ourselves on a continuous and regular basis. This allows us to further develop the public understanding of even the most basic aspects of science, as may well be needed.
  2. Many of us are inspired by famous popularizers of science, such as Carl Sagan, Einstein, and many others. We are deeply curious about everything in this universe. We want to fully explore science ourselves. There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers. The most tragic honest question is the one unasked, for whatever reason. The most dangerous answer is the one which cannot be questioned. Some of us delight in being asked even the most mundane questions, because it offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves, “Hmm! How do I really know that for sure?”

SZ (3): There are far more roles to be played in promoting science than I’ve listed, but this gets the idea across. We require all those people and more to do good science, and we understand that. We don’t expect Neil deGrasse Tyson to be Shinya Yamanaka or either of them to be Mary Roach. We don’t tell them they’re hurting science because they’re not doing each other’s job. We all understand this.

(3) I agree with this with reservations. Some people in some roles taking some actions can be positively harmful to the promotion of science and reason. We cannot blindly accept all efforts, however well-meaning, as inherently valid and immune from critique. Further, some critics of science offer no useful criticism but serve only to undermine public understanding of science. For example: Post-modernism, Intelligent Design, the Templeton Foundation, Scientology, pseudo-scientists, ideologically motivated academics and scholars (such as some Bible historians for example), alternative medicine, etc. These are exactly the kinds of pseudo-allies we need to be wary of and should be allowed to question.

SZ (4): For whatever reason–possibly because the secular and skeptical movements in their current incarnations are much younger, smaller, and more consistently besieged than the broad institutions of science and science popularization–we lose that insight when talking about these movements and their priorities. All sorts of people suddenly seem to know The One True and Proper Way to conduct the campaign for the Pure and Shining Platonic Ideal of…whichever issue we happen to be promoting.

(4) I agree with this with reservations. Your paragraph appears to be describing dogmatists and ideologues. Could you give an example from within the atheist/skeptic community to illustrate your comment that “All sorts of people suddenly seem to know The One True and Proper Way to conduct the campaign for the Pure and Shining Platonic Ideal …”?

SZ (5): According to these people, we may not or we may or we must include religious skepticism under our skeptical umbrella. We may not or we may or we must build friendly working relationships with religious institutions with similar goals. We may not or we may or we must shape our agendas to appeal to groups of people whose relationships to these various issues are very different from the relationships of the white, cisgendered, educated, middle-class to upper-class men who have shaped the traditional concerns of our movements.

(5) I cannot agree or disagree without clarification. Could you please define who these prescriptive people are and include evidence to support that?

SZ (6): All of us. May not. Must. Things can get very prescriptive very quickly.

(6) I agree with this, and don’t like it.

SZ (7): That kind of prescriptivism is no more necessary for us, however, than it is in science. Beyond the basics of ethics and efficacy, we can take as many approaches as we have time and/or money, talent, and motivation for. Beyond ethics and efficacy, the more prescriptivist we are, the more people we exclude, because we don’t offer meaningful work that motivates them and puts their talents to work. The demand for active volunteers is high. They can always find another issue that motivates them with groups behind those issues that will welcome their work instead of endlessly insisting it’s the wrong kind of work.

(7) I agree with this with reservations. If by prescriptivism, you mean dogma, then I agree.

  1. I agree with second sentence. I endorse a ‘many approaches’ approach. This kind of diversity is very healthy and more importantly it works very well to counter dogmatism and to reach a wide variety of people from all backgrounds.
  2. I’m concerned with your vague usage of the word ‘efficacy’. How are you measuring efficacy? What are the criteria for separating effective from ineffective? Are you allowing for context-dependence? Are you unintentionally letting in a form of prescriptivism through the back door by importing, without realizing it, assertions of ‘what is effective and what is not’ which are not themselves open to examination?

SZ (8): So some of us find church-state separation law motivating, and we (in the U.S.) become members or follow action alerts from the Freedom from Religion Foundation or Americans United for Separation of Church and State or American Atheists or the ACLU. Some of us follow politics very closely and sign up with the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy or the Secular Coalition of America. Some of us are particularly concerned about science education and support the National Center for Science Education. Some of us want to see big-name speakers in front of crowds promoting our agendas and support the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science or the James Randi Educational Foundation. Some of us like the think-tank approach of CFI and its related organizations and publications. Some of us work with our local groups to create change in our own communities.

(8) I agree with this. As indicated already I fully agree that people should be encouraged to pursue their atheist activism in any manner in which they see fit. This assumes their activities are in compliance with the principles of equality and avoidance of harm as laid out in our opening statement point 4a) and also this response point 1.

SZ (9): Some of us are particularly in developing younger activists and support the Secular Student Alliance, have joined Secular Woman because we’re motivated by the assault on women’s rights to bodily autonomy, or feel that the Black Skeptics Group Los Angeles do important work with young adults that no one else is doing. Or we’ve joined some other specialized affiliation group that speaks to our interests. Some of us take our advocacy for skepticism or secularism with us into our other advocacy work because those principles can and should make our most important work better. Some of us consider our advocacy for skepticism and critical thinking our most important work and insist that we apply these principles to our shared advocacy work do for exactly the same reason. And on and on and on.

(9) I agree with this with reservations. See point 8 above. In addition as already stated no person or group of persons has the right to impose their particular brand of advocacy on anyone else.

SZ (10): Some of us don’t work with existing groups at all. We’re writers or vloggers or filmmakers or singers or graphic designers or interviewers who are producing independent content. We volunteer at our kids’ schools to improve education and watch what our local school boards are up to. We encourage our kids to ask questions and do their own hard thinking. We stop the annoying email chain letter with an annoying link to Snopes. We talk about politics and religion around the dinner table. We send letters to the editors of our local papers and make sure to talk to our politicians when given the chance. We share cool science articles, xkcd strips, and “I fucking love science” memes on social media. We do a thousand and one things to make the tiny differences as well as the large ones.

(10) I agree with this. As noted in point 1 above, I myself have argued in support of the ‘many approaches’ approach.

SZ (11): All of that is working toward common goals, even when it isn’t working hand in hand. It’s working together without having to agree at every point or even to work closely with anyone else. Everyone gets to do what motivates them–to a point. We do still have to consider ethics and efficacy.

(11) I agree with this with reservations. See point 1 regarding the risk of unintended harm.

SZ (12) : I’ll assume I don’t have to get into ethics at this point. I will later if it becomes necessary.

(12) I agree with this with reservations. I think discussion of ethics is critical to establishing common ground. See point 1.

SZ (13) : When we’re talking about promotion of ideals and behavior, attending to efficacy is particularly important and not always easy. I recommend two resources highly. The Skeptical Activism Campaign Manual (pdf) by Desiree Schell, Maria Walters, Trevor Zimmerman, and K.O. Myers is an amazingly detailed resource for thinking your way through activism, including who your target audience is, how you expect to reach them, and how you’ll measure your success. I would also recommend Todd Stiefel’s presentation on Strategy and Leadership that he’s given at a couple of conferences. It covers a similar sort of planning but at the organizational level and over a longer period. Both resources strongly promote an “eyes on the prize” perspective.

(13) I agree with this with reservations. Efficacy needs to be defined. See 7b.

SZ (14): That’s an important perspective. We become emotionally invested in the groups and activities in which we invest our efforts. If we hear that we’re not successfully reaching everyone we’d like to, it’s all too easy for us to find reasons to dismiss that feedback or blame the failure on others. Setting benchmarks ahead of time protects us from our own biases–as well as those of other people who might have their own reasons for persuading us to change.

(14) I agree with this with reservations. Whilst benchmarks might be suitable for the objectives of certain individuals or groups within the activist communities, no person or group has the right to impose benchmarks on any others. Benchmarks will vary according to the individual’s or group’s motives or final targets and they are the ones best able to formulate their own criteria for establishing them. It may even be undesirable for some groups or individuals to set any particular benchmarks as their beneficial activities speak for themselves. Finally, many people may have no interest in having a formal structure by which they are required to adhere.

SZ (15): Sometimes that analysis of our efficacy will lead us back to a single, more prescribed approach. For example, we may want to craft a single message that can be broadcast to as many people as possible while alienating as few as possible. Sometimes it will lead us to use more parallel approaches, perhaps because we expect an issue to be important to different demographics for different reasons. Either way, our behavior going forward will be based in evidence rather than our innate or learned biases.

(15) I disagree with this. I already assert that establishing efficacy is problematic. Therefore to impose a prescriptive approach on that would be extremely troubling. Not only will this require a high authoritarian and top-down approach to activism it risks destroying all the bottom-up flexibility that we have already established as crucial to the movement’s success. Furthermore, who is in a position to assert on others which particular standard of efficacy we should follow? This comes across to me as a potentially highly dogmatic way of trying to control people who have no wish to be controlled. I firmly reject this as a concept. While people can lay down the rules on their groups or themselves, they have no right to try to impose that on others. In fact this whole statement seems to fly in the face of what was said in paragraphs 4, 6, and 7.

SZ (16): So, in short, we work together by not always insisting we all have to work closely on the same projects in the same ways and by keeping an eye on our ethics and efficacy in order to make sure we don’t overlook opportunities for outreach.

(16) I agree with this with reservations.


The following is the response by Stephanie Zvan to the Strand 1 Opening Statement by Jack Smith. The Opening Statement by Jack is quoted in black text; Stephanie’s response is in green text for agreement, orange text for clarifications needed, and red text for disagreement.


 

JS – 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”.

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.

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?

1. I agree that this is a fair characterization of the purpose of this portion of the dialog. I think it would be useful to define the term “community” wherever it is used, however, as it is often a source of confusion.

JS - 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.

2a. I agree with some reservations. The first reservation is that treating people all the same is not the same thing as treating people equally. This becomes obvious when one sees arguments from opponents of marriage equality who claim that everyone is already treated equally under the law because everyone already has an equal opportunity to marry someone of the opposite sex. Prescriptions for equal treatment that don’t include consideration of how different people want to be treated are not merely meaningless but likely to drive away people who could, and other circumstances would, be happy to work with us.

2b. The second reservation is that treating people equally has–and as far as anthropology and primatology are currently telling us, have always had–exceptions carved out for those people who act in ways that damage the community (at whatever level “community” is defined for the purpose). We in industrialized societies tend to agree that this description should include people who are overly physically aggressive and cheaters. There is less agreement on what other violations of the social contract may also fairly invite sanctions.

JS - 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.

3a. I agree and disagree. We don’t only seek truth for reasons that are that dramatic or noble. The basic reason we seek truth is that, without it, we’re flailing ineffectually in the dark. Curiosity drives us to seek truth. The desire to predict and control the world around us drives us to seek truth.

3b. Additionally, “dogma” here seems to be used in a limited sense that may cause confusion later if not unpacked now. On top of the common meaning of “a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds“, “dogma” is also that set of common agreements or principles that underlie our work. For example, the Freedom From Religion Foundation treats the desirability of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as dogma. That idea is the foundation of their work, and they don’t devote energy to exploring whether the idea is true. Dogma is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it escapable. Any dogma must be examined on its own to determine whether it is problematic.


3c. I am unwilling to put competence at truth-seeking above other–I’ll call them “virtues” for lack of a better word. It is certainly important, but making it our primary consideration has come to be recognized as a bad idea. Placing the collection of knowledge above all else was the kind of thinking that led to the Tuskegee experiment. Researchers uncovered a great deal of truth about the progression of untreated syphilis, but they did so at the cost of the health and lives of people who did not volunteer to be sacrificed for truth. In response to this and other travesties, we’ve instituted safeguards intended to curb unchecked truth-seeking. Putting truth-seeking above ethics and compassion is deeply troubling.

JS - 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.

4a. I’m not sure who “we” is supposed to represent here. I can’t tell precisely what this is advocating for, so I’ll cover the most likely interpretations. If this is a statement that the scientific process should be as open as possible–given the ethical constraints I’ve already discussed–I generally agree. Where I disagree in that case is that science is supposed to be a cumulative process. Once consensus has been reached on a particular topic through that process, it’s typically time to shelve that topic and move on until we come across information that doesn’t fit the models. Continuing to study geocentric models of planetary and stellar motion at this point would not advance our pursuit of truth. Debate does not go on forever on a topic without the introduction of substantial new information.

4b. If this is intended to suggest that individuals must test all their beliefs through debate and that this process will lead to understanding the truth, I strongly disagree. When people who are taught to debate are taught to be equally comfortable taking either side of an argument, we are looking at a process designed for winning, not truth. If we want to arrive at truth through give-and-take, we need a more collaborative process in which the goal is not to win.

4c. Additionally, we have long since passed the point at which every person could be well educated on every topic for which we have accumulated evidence, if such a time ever existed. I could debate with someone on whether a call made in a hockey game was a good one, but since I don’t know much about the rules of hockey, debate would not be productive. What would be productive is listening to expert consensus (or disagreement) on the topic or pursuing a course of education. When discussion is used as a pedagogical tool, it is guided by someone who is educated on the topic.

4d. It is also frequently reasonable to expect that the uninformed opinion will be dismissed. When the crank sends their “theory of everything” letter to physics departments at universities around the world, we do not expect the physicists there to suspend their research and/or their teaching in order to carefully rebut the letter. We expect them to throw it away or keep it to laugh over. The presence of an idea is not enough to compel debate on that idea.

JS - 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.

5. I agree.

JS - 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.

6a. I agree with reservations. I’m not sure what the last sentence has to do with the first two, so I’ll treat it as unrelated for the purposes of this reply. My reservation on debating ethics is that, as with any other sort of debate or discussion, will generally be most productive if done, or at least led, by people trained to debate ethics. This is a field that has experts. We should make use of them.

6b. I agree that making immediate judgments about those we are dealing with is not helpful. I agree that when one can, one should generally err on the side of charity in judgment. At the same time, however, not everyone is in the same position to risk that kind of error. Sometimes the consequences to trusting and having that trust betrayed are too much. Given this, it also behooves those who desire to be trusted to create an environment in which risks are reduced.

JS - We believe that in order for us to be effective we should strive to avoid:

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.

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

JS - Attributing motives or character traits on others. Ad Hominem fallacies serve no good purpose in reasonable dialogue.

8a. I agree with reservations. The more interactions we have with people, the more information we have about how they behave. Granting some charity and proceeding cautiously in how we interpret this knowledge is one thing. Declining to draw any conclusions from it is quite another and not productive in our search to understand and be effective in the world around us.

8b. Additionally, I have some concerns that ad hominem argumentation not be confused with insults or observations relevant to an argument, but that can be discussed later if necessary.

JS - 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.

9. I generally disagree with this. I do agree that diversity is a strength, but that is not the same thing as claiming that we all must work closely enough together that we are in dialog. To borrow an aphorism, sometimes good fences do make good neighbors. Sometimes we simply accomplish more by limiting the amount of time we spend in conflict with each other.

JS - 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.

10. I agree with reservations. This is more generally covered under free speech and, thus, is subject to the same restrictions that other speech is. I’m not sure what “personally attacked” is meant to mean here, but I will note that a stipulated “right of reply” would not be a right to have one’s reply be the last word in a discussion or a right to not be criticized for the form or content of the reply.

JS - 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.

11. I agree that it will not help us to work together to ignore the feelings of those with whom we’re working. I am confused as to what “valid and genuine debate and discussion” is intended to describe. I don’t think this can be discussed until we agree on the circumstances in which debate is useful (see #4 above).

JS - 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.

12a. As with imposing beliefs, I am confused as how this censorship is supposed to be accomplished. I don’t know of anyone in our overlapping movements with the power and reach to shut down “all forms of criticism”.

12b. I agree that satire, caricature, and critical commentary are common human responses. I am unsure, however, what “valid” is meant to convey in this context. All these things can be illuminating or can serve to obscure the truth. They can be proportional, productive, reasonable–or none of those things. They are all simply means of communication. Talking about them collectively tells us nothing about their content, and this is the important part of any communication.

JS - 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.

13a. I have a number of problems with this point. Above, it was suggested that attributing motives is unhelpful, yet this entire view of the conflict is predicated upon ascribing motives to others. Additionally, even if anyone wished to impose any ideology, it has not been demonstrated that this could be done. I don’t see anything to be gained in opposing a hypothetical that is also, as far as I can tell, impossible.

13b. The extent to which any fundamental disagreement can distract from a movement’s work is the extent to which the parties involved insist that the issue must be continually debated. The secular and skeptical movements already contain several fundamental disagreements that were successfully resolved by schism. Working apart much of the time allows us to work toward common goals even when we have conflicts, as I noted in my opening statement. Beyond that, not insisting that there be constant friction let’s us more easily work in concert when the need for numbers arises.

13c. I am also unclear on how this idea of “unelected political leaders” is supposed to happen. Is this intended to refer to being persuasive? If so, I fail to see the problem, particularly in movements that value skepticism and rationality.

JS - 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.

14. I disagree. Accepting rebuttal in the same space that a criticism was made is at most a courtesy. It is neither an ethical imperative in our world of easy access to publishing nor a universal practice. As a courtesy, it is expected that it will be taken away when abused. When we criticize creationists, we are not required to host a Gish Gallop in return. Those who write about antisemitism should be under no pressure to publish racist comments. When we criticize a climate change denialist, we are not required to allow them to spread their astroturfed disinformation in our space. No less than the blogs editor for Scientific American routinely deletes comments from denialists of multiple stripes. These are extreme examples, but they do illustrate the general point.

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

15. I disagree. Again, we do not have to work closely together to work on common goals.

JS - 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.

16a. I agree that we should follow our principles. I agree that we should remember we are each fallible. I agree that we have an equal right to self-determination. I am unsure how having just one life fits into this list or how most of these fit in with working together. I would request further elaboration.

16b. Promoting reason, critical thinking, science, skepticism, atheism, and secularism is worthwhile, necessary work. I would disagree that any individual owes it to anyone to do specifically this work. There is other humanitarian work that is just as necessary and just as worthwhile. One of our challenges going forward is making people feel that ours is the worthwhile, necessary work on which they want to spend their time.

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

17. I welcome your comments in return.


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  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.
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Comments will be moderated before they are approved. Also, the moderating team is still evaluating the general tone of the comments, and working out practical details of how to moderate the process, so please be patient after you post comments.

3 Responses to “Strand 1 – Analysis of the dialogue so far”

  • Woo says:

    Okay, this is like reading a medical textbook with less med specific terms. I think some things were lost this way. I think if people used less, I dunno, windy syntax? it would be an easier read. And as for the vocabulary, can we make it a bit simpler? Just a bit. It’s not as if I don’t know the words, but it’s hard to remember what I’ve read if it’s drawn out and written in words I don’t usually feel a need to use. I have to read things multiple times over. Sometimes I just end up skipping over things if it is winded out from the start before the main subject is even introduced into the paragraph.

    Another thing? The way things are written here is too cold. It’s too detached. I’m not saying there needs to be passion; I understand why people have sucked the passion or assertiveness out of it, it can really interfere with having a discussion without it turning into a fight match. But I’m afraid that the way people speak in this dialogue is so cold that people won’t be as willing to be engaged in talking about points we don’t agree on and trying to talk about it.

    Although, if I’m the only one affected this way, (which is totally possible) it can stay as is, really. I can just read lines and then simplify them for myself and remember what I’ve read that way.

    Here’s an example of the above paragraph winded out:
    “However, if the only one being adversely affected by the manner in which some things in this dialogue are dispensed is me, the contributors are free to decline. I can read the dialogue as is, and rewrite it in a simplified manner for better recall.”

    ” These include many important nuanced opinions that have been lost in the manner in which some of our debate has been conducted in recent times. These are the areas that we suggest that we focus most of our attention on next, consistently with the initial areas of agreement described above.”

    Can someone clear the above quote up for me? I’m not sure what’s meant by it.

    • Woo says:

      I know I sound like a real ditz in the above paragraph but I want to say that this isn’t a sign of a reading problem or lack of literacy, swear.

    • Moderators says:

      To restate and hopefully clarify, as per Woo’s request:

      “Most of the initial responses are either ‘I agree with reservations’ or requests for clarification, including “shades of gray” that have been portrayed as black or white, or have been lost, as nuanced discussion has (it seems) gone by the wayside in the past ~2 years. We suggest that attention be focused on these areas next.”


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