Dear Token Skeptic Bloggess (About That Massimo Pigliucci Post)

Dear Token Skeptic Bloggess,


Seriously. Just chill. Every time that you see one post that just really piques you, you end up losing your faith in the general skeptical community and end up either having to go for a run that has you stranded half-way across the city with only Spice Girl songs left on your iPod (urgh) – or baking a Black Forest cake at 4am in the morning.

[Long story.]

You know perfectly well that there’s plenty of writers out there who have more time on their hands to address posts where…

Well, it appears that Massimo Pigliucci has already put it quite well:

Here is a (surely incomplete, and I’m even more sure, somewhat debatable) list of bizarre beliefs I have encountered among fellow skeptics-atheists-humanists. No, I will not name names because this is about ideas, not individuals (but heck, you know who you are…). The list, incidentally, features topics in no particular order, and it would surely be nice if a sociology student were to conduct a systematic research on this for a thesis…

[Massimo, if you're reading this too? Please don't tempt the Token Skeptic Bloggess with that kind of conclusion; she has been musing about a good topic for a PhD thesis or at least some paper topics for next year...]

What are some of the points he’s given? Let’s try not to cut and paste the entire blogpost that he’s worked so hard on (as much as we wish we had written it…):

* Science can answer moral questions. No, science can inform moral questions, but moral reasoning is a form of philosophical reasoning. The is/ought divide may not be absolute, but it is there nonetheless.

* Feminists are right by default and every attempt to question them is the result of oppressive male chauvinism (even when done by women). These are people who clearly are not up on readings in actual feminism (did you know that there have been several waves of it? With which do you best connect?).

* All religious education is child abuse, period. This is a really bizarre notion, I think. Not only does it turn 90% of the planet into child abusers, but people “thinking” (I use the term loosely) along these lines don’t seem to have considered exactly what religious education might mean (there is a huge variety of it), or — for that matter — why a secular education wouldn’t be open to the same charge, if done as indoctrination (and if it isn’t, are you really positive that there are no religious families out there who teach doubt? You’d be surprised!).

* Insulting people, including our close allies, is an acceptable and widespread form of communication with others. Notice that I am not talking about the occasional insult hurled at your opponent, since there everyone is likely a culprit from time to time (including yours truly). I am talking about engaging in apologia on behalf of a culture of insults.

…The point of this list, I hasten to say, is not that the opinions that I have expressed on these topics are necessarily correct, but rather that a good number of people in the CoR, including several leaders of the movement(s), either hold to clearly unreasonable opinions on said topics, or cannot even engage in a discussion about the opinions they do hold, dismissing any dissenting voice as crazy or irrelevant.

Seriously, go read his entire post everyone. I don’t agree entirely with his first point about religion (the claims of religion, sure – what is testable is what we can apply skepticism to, but that is a post for another time), but he does have some excellent points about where “rational communities” are heading and what they could do – in short:

But once the anger subsides, perhaps we active members of the CoR can engage in some “soul” searching and see if we can improve our own culture, from the inside.

Blog moderation. Know when sarcasm and humour are appropriate. The principle of charity. Civility, respect for experts in their domain – and yes, for not-god’s sake fellow rationalists… read more philosophy.

Want some suggestions? Hell, you know perfectly well after nearly a decade of teaching or teaching alongside philosophical ideas that the Token Skeptic Bloggess has a bookshelf that is the envy of most of the skeptics you know. Let’s see about putting more of these kinds of suggestions out there for people. You’ve already got a very nice brainstorm of Top Twenty Skeptical Books as it is.

What are some other things we could do?

documenting science communication conferences around the country and even overseas for people who didn’t / can’t go (just how many conferences can people go to these days? Let’s network! Seen the use of Storify on Twitter recently? Oh, that’s right – you do that already);
working on podcasts and blogposts and articles - ranging from interfaithsecularism and atheism to science and science outreach - keep the dialogue going!
promoting and donating to good causes - even music tours you can’t attend and events you’re not going to;
producing lessons and resources for philosophy and critical thinking

Oh, that’s right. Some of us do those kinds of things already. More of it, thanks, Token Skeptic Bloggess. Less cake-making at 4am for a start.

As a palate cleanser, some other blogger has written about the Jamy Ian Swiss video that will have you less frustrated and annoyed - and as much as people pish-tosh about blog hits (and gnash teeth about advertising on blogs – hey, Discover blogs advertises too!) – it’s nice to spread the love around.

In fact, I think that’s an element missing in Massimo’s post when he writes amongst his many fine suggestions as to how to improve the situation we’re facing: “Pick the right role models for your skeptics pantheon” – also remember to also look out for those role-models who aren’t given as much credit as they should be getting. 




Behind The Scenes And At The Start Of Perth’s #FringeWorld
Robin Ince Australia Tour Video
Unholy Trinity Melbourne Review (AKA From Up The Gods Without God)
Unholy Trinity Australia Tour Video
About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • smhll

    Humor and snark appropriate right now? Because I think he had some good ideas, but exaggerated them and framed them in provocative ways.

    I want to riff on this illogical belief he presented – ” Feminists are right by default and every attempt to question them is the result of oppressive male chauvinism…”

    My counter strawman, to his strawwoman is this problematic belief, exhibited by more than one noisy skeptic.

    My parody:

    Every criticism a skeptical man (or woman) has of the feminist movement and feminists is:

    - Not over-broad
    - Substantiated
    - Free from any bias due to cultural conditioning
    - Well informed

    Because the idea that rejected critiques of the feminist stance are all perfect and misunderstood is quite implausible.

    (Overgeneralizing about the positions of others is my pet peeve. But since he went down that road, I feel free to follow.)

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Feel free to raise it with him – having studied feminism via historial studies at university in terms of its early history, I have found that some of the more recent waves do have issues; I think I wrote about the bizarre lecture that was presented by Germaine Greer last year at the Perth Writers’ festival, where she pretty much claimed that scientists like Stephen Hawking (she misinterpreted his views about space travel) were going to be the ruination of us all? I knew that she was starting to voice odder and odder views over time, but this was my first-hand experience of her views and I know that she continues to be influential.

      • smhll

        Yeah, I tended to interpret the argument of his that I chose to highlight in impressionistically, and in the framework of the last two months of debate in the atheist community about acceptable and not acceptable interactions between the sexes at conferences. Perhaps that is not what he was aiming at when he indicated that feminists don’t seem to be open to hearing rational criticism. IDK. (It’s not easy to separate out the rational criticism in a flood of fairly emotional criticism.)

        This is probably quite a side point to what he wanted to engage with.

  • Walton

    Science has established that there is no consciousness or free will (and therefore no moral responsibility). No, it hasn’t, as serious cognitive scientists freely admit. Notice that I am not talking about the possibility that science has something meaningful to say about these topics (it certainly does when it comes to consciousness, and to some extent concerning free will, if we re-conceptualize the latter as the human ability of making decisions). I am talking about the dismissal-cum-certainty attitude that so many in the CoR have so quickly arrived at, despite what can be charitably characterized as a superficial understanding of the issue.

    Pigliucci is conflating different things here, and failing to define his terms. Consciousness is not the same thing as free will, and I’m not sure why he’s conflating the two concepts. He’s also conflating a metaphysical question with a separate, and quite different, empirical scientific question.

    The term “free will” has multiple meanings, but I use the term strictly to refer to contra-causal free will (also known as “libertarian free will”). Cognitive science has no bearing on the question of whether we have contra-causal free will, because the question is not an empirical one. It can be answered by logic alone: irrespective of how the human brain works, contra-causal free will logically cannot exist. It is a self-contradictory concept. Galen Strawson explains why. I’ve never seen any argument that casts any serious doubt on this.

    A more difficult issue is whether, having accepted that there is not and cannot be any such thing as libertarian free will, this necessarily means that we do not have moral agency and are not morally responsible for our actions. I am an incompatibilist, so I take the position that, if we do not have libertarian free will (and we do not), we cannot be, in the fullest sense, morally responsible for our actions. (Though there may well be sound consequentialist reasons why it is desirable, and even necessary, to treat people as though they were morally responsible for their actions.) However, my position on this is highly debatable, and there is certainly no consensus among philosophers about it.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Do make sure you take the time to post this on his site, as I don’t know if he reads here (or even that I exist, even though I write for Skeptical Inquirer on occasion)?

    • http://Freethoughtblogs Mark

      I think this philosophical postion is completely wrong. I believe people are influenced and shaped by their environment but not determined it. We still have important choices as to how to respond to influences and individuals faced with similar or even the same influences can have entirely different responses to it. Maybe I’m missing something …

      M Duran

    • J. J. Ramsey

      Pigliucci did not conflate consciousness and free will. Rather, as he put it in a comment to his post,

      I assure you that I am not conflating anything, and that I am perfectly aware of the difference between those concepts. I was simply saying that a number of skeptics cavalierly deny both of them in one breath, confusing philosophical and empirical issues while they are at it.

  • michaeld

    Mostly good definitely a decent place to start this discussion any way. Also your JIS pallet cleanser link seems broke.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Oh darn – thanks for that. It appears if I don’t include “www” the whole link just somehow folds within itself and refers back to the blogpost for some bizarre reason best known to itself!