I’ve written a quite a few posts criticizing other atheists–some of them other FTBers–lately, and somewhat to my surprise, they’ve become some of the most-read posts I’ve ever written. The most-read ones have beat out my previous high-ranking posts on William Lane Craig (though not my #1 most read post since coming to Freethought Blogs, which is still my post on Kony 2012).
I feel a bit odd about this. Not that I regret it. We shouldn’t hide disagreements for the sake of looking united. Reagan’s rule about “thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican” was profoundly dishonest. Writing about disagreements, furthermore, tends to be more interesting than just saying “I agree” all the time. Seriously, how annoying are blog or forum threads that have too many one sentence “I agree” comments?
And dealing with the William Lane Craigs of the world gets tiring after awhile. I think I’ve said almost everything I can say about Craig’s dishonesty not to mention creepy delusions (though keep your eyes open for a post on Craig’s demands that Dawkins debate him.) I’d rather deal with people I can have some respect for.
The trouble with this is that it risks giving outsiders a false impression of how much we agree and disagree on within our community. Not even just outsiders, but anyone who doesn’t have a very, very good feel for the dynamics of the community. That’s a danger that will exist in any community involved in the habit of arguing about things, if for no other reason than that comments expressing disagreement are more interesting than ones expressing agreement. (See related thoughts from Eliezer Yudkowsky here.)
To counter that problem, let me repeat what I said in this post: “No one is perfect, but on the whole I like people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Greta Christina, and John W. Loftus–the people who most often get singled out as the “bad” atheists.”
Also, when dealing with people I respect I plan on doing my best to follow the advice cited by Daniel Dennett in his review of The God Delusion:
The social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport (creator of the winning Tit-for-Tat strategy in Robert Axelrod’s legendary prisoner’s dilemma tournament) once promulgated a list of rules for how to write a successful critical commentary on an opponent’s work. First, he said, you must attempt to re-express your opponent’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your opponent says “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” Then, you should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement), and third, you should mention anything you have learned from your opponent. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.
Though as Dennett goes on to explain, there are many cases where it isn’t possible to follow (see: Craig, above). But on reflection, much of the time I’d rather be able to follow it, I’d rather be dealing with the kind of people with whom this advice is follow-able.