Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dissenting Opinion?...What Dissenting Opinion?

There are some things that are just inevitable: death, taxes, the tides, the seasons, and…Los having his relevant and insightful posts rejected from religious blogs. Earlier this week, I got into a mini-exchange with occult author Donald Michael Kraig on this blog entry here. It forms an interesting extension of the discussion I had with him on his blog earlier this year (which you can read here).

It’s not terribly enlightening to go through my argument there in much more detail: my point is abundantly obvious, as is the rather pathetic way Kraig immediately directs the conversation away from the substance of my post and onto irrelevant, distractionary nonsense (in this case, equivocating on the meaning of a common word and then trying to turn the discussion into speculation about *me* and not engagement with my *arguments*).
Feel free to read through our exchange. My final post of the exchange – rejected by Kraig – will be published below.

But first I wanted to take this opportunity to point out a trend I’ve noticed among religious believers online: they seem to have an aversion to an open discussion of their claims and are quick to shut down discussion (or simply prohibit it outright).

Read on for more.

First, it needs to be said – although it should be obvious – that a person who runs a blog has every right to permit any comments he or she wants and reject/delete any comments he or she wants. If someone wants to run a blog where no comments are allowed to be posted – or no dissenting comments are allowed to be posted – then that person has every right to do so.
However, that person does not have the right to go uncriticized for exercising those rights. Other people are well within their own rights to comment upon the actions of the owner of a blog.

Now the point I want to make here is that it seems that religious believers (such as occultists) are much more likely to prohibit dissenting opinions in their online postings and communications. This phenomenon seems especially prevalent on youtube, where videos posted by theists frequently have the comments completely disabled. In contrast, I have rarely seen any atheist videos where the comments were disabled. In all of my various travels online, in fact, I have strongly gotten the impression that atheists/skeptics often welcome dissenting opinions and debate, while religious folk (such as occultists) tend either to avoid it like the plague or to ban dissenting discussions.

Let’s remember, of course, that I’m simply basing this suggestion on my own (admittedly unrepresentative) experience. It’s purely anecdotal and, by itself, doesn’t demonstrate much. And, in all fairness, there are plenty of reasons that people (whether theist or non-theist) would elect to prohibit comments. Perhaps they simply have no time or interest in debate. Perhaps they want to display their work but not discuss it. Perhaps they are (understandably) concerned that immature internet “trolls” will post profanity, vulgarities, or otherwise attempt to “flame” them in an annoying manner. It may be that, in point of fact, theists actually don’t disable comments any more than atheists do, that my sense that they do disable comments more is the result of confirmation bias.
Be that as it may, the notion that skeptics are more willing than non-skeptics to entertain opposing arguments and to engage with dissenting opinion seems like a relatively uncontroversial point. Whether that willingness actually manifests in more frequent free discussion threads on atheist blogs than theist blogs remains an open question. For now, I will content myself with specific examples. An amusing one appeared recently on the Atheist Experience Blog. There, host Russell Glasser recently engaged in a weeks-long debate with suppositional apologist Stephen Feinstein. Read their lengthy exchanges through the links here if you must, but Feinstein’s argument can basically be summarized as “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”

The fun part really came after their debate, when Russell opened up comments on the final post (both debaters had agreed ahead of time to disable comments until the final post so that they could focus on each other’s arguments). Feinstein also opened comments on his final post (actually an extra post above and beyond his agreed-upon stopping point). Hysterically, he closed down the comments after less than ten atheist posts. Flooded with atheist comments and unable to respond to them all (and unable to respond intelligently to the handful he did entertain), he chose to shut down dissenting opinion rather than engage with it. The Atheist Experience thread, meanwhile, remains open.
Now sure, Feinstein doesn’t have an army of fans who can respond to atheist points (the way that the Atheist Experience has many fans who post cogent and insightful replies to theists who wander over to the AXP blog). Indeed, he says in his last post that the task of responding to so many atheists is too "time consuming" (though I'm not really sure what he was expecting would happen when he opened up the comments; if he didn't have the time to field comments, and fielding all of the comments is so important to him, then why bother at all?). He further says that he hopes that more theists will come to his blog to help him discuss with atheists, and until then (aka until Hell freezes over) the comments section will remain closed. But even given all of that, Feinstein could still – if he wanted to – permit dissenting opinions to be published on his blog. He chooses not to.

As I’ve said, it certainly seems as if atheists are more willing to permit discussions to happen. As a skeptic, I personally am eager to see people who disagree with me assemble cogent arguments against my positions. One develops knowledge and understanding through intellectual discourse, through contact with positions that are different from one’s own and through understanding why others hold those positions: what evidence convinces them of these claims? How good is that evidence?
I strive to read at least once a day arguments for positions I don’t agree with. I go through the arguments and try to figure out – completely detached from emotion or from what I “want” to be true – whether or not the argument is sufficient. Usually, I’m easily able to spot glaring factual or logical problems with the argument. If I can’t do that, then…well, then I’ve to start seriously considering this new argument and asking myself why I hold the opposing position. How good is my evidence, after all?

This kind of skepticism is a lifelong process, a never-ending quest to learn more and to perfect (as best as possible) the mental map I have of the territory that is reality.

To that end, I also strive never to deny or delete comments on my blog (unless, of course, the comments are literally unreadable word salad, criminal, or completely irrelevant). As a rule, cogent arguments that oppose my positions are greatly welcomed, and they will be received with the greatest compliment I can pay them: careful and skeptical consideration and critique. That’s what I like to call “respectful.”

Oh, speaking of which, here’s the post that Donald Michael Kraig rejected from his blog. Enjoy:
DMK writes: “you have totally ignored my call for you to do some self-examination about your inner motivation.

“I wonder why that is?”
Because your misunderstanding of my motivation has got nothing to do with a rational analysis of claims you’ve made.
To be clear, I don’t have an “inner need to have everyone agree with [me].” I could care less what you think privately, but I *do* care about the claims you’ve made in public. You’ve publicly said that when someone repeatedly does magick and repeatedly gets the things he does magick for, then it’s reasonable to assume the magick is working.

This is a claim, and by posting it in public, you open it up to reasonable criticism. My reasonable criticism is that since it’s *very common* for people to want stuff and then get stuff, it’s not possible to distinguish between someone who’s getting the stuff he wants because he did magick and someone who *seems* to be getting stuff he wants because he did magick (but would have gotten all of that stuff anyway because it’s very common for people to want stuff and then get stuff).

You haven’t addressed my critique at all. You seem far more interested in discussing me or equivocating on the meaning of common words than addressing my critique.
I would wonder why that is, but I have a pretty good idea why you do that.


  1. thanks Los. Regarding skepticism in the context of religious belief, can you suggest any introductory texts which might survey commonly held logical fallacies?

  2. I’m not quite sure what to recommend, largely because I didn’t learn logic – or the fine art of deconstructing religious discourse – from a text. I’ve studied logical argumentation and rhetoric for many years, and I’ve been a frequent observer of atheist/theist arguments for many years as well. One starts absorbing the patterns of arguments after a while.

    The following link contains fallacies that are very often encountered in these kinds of arguments:

    If you're looking for a book-length text, there’s always Carl Sagan’s classic “A Demon Haunted World,” but that’s not really what you’re requesting – that’s more of a general anti-supernaturalism text. I saw an interesting book on Amazon called “Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men, and Sacred Cows,” but I really can’t recommend it firsthand because I haven’t read it. I skimmed it in preview, and it seems like a decent introduction to the kinds of everyday logical fallacies one encounters (“Won’t you please think of the children?!”)

    If you’re interested specifically in taking apart religious argumentation, I can think of no better (or more fun) recommendation than to watch clips of The Atheist Experience on youtube, particularly clips where ACA President Matt Dillahunty skillfully eviscerates the arguments of religious callers. It’s most instructive.

    I'll offer a few examples for you and/or for other interested parties reading this.

    Take, for example, Matt's brilliant refutation (through Socratic method) of the old canard, “It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a theist”:

    Or his one-minute takedown of Pascal’s Wager:

    His explication that faith is not a path to truth:

    His explanation of evolution as a branching tree (and not a ladder):

    If you have the stomach for it, his hour-long debate with a Christian apologist named Matt Slick:

    Tracie Harris (a co-host) providing an explanation of the argument from ignorance:

    Those are just a few to get you started. There are also a ton of funny clips on youtube, where religious buffoons call in with laughable arguments, like the guy who – upon being told that humans aren’t moved by spiritual forces but by energy that ultimately comes from the sun – asks why we don’t all die when the sun goes down:

    If anyone reading this can recommend any books on logical fallacies, please feel free to.

  3. thanks Los, I'll check 'em out. For your amusement you might also enjoy this

    apparently God's been hiding messages in the landscape in anticipation of our eventual satellite monitoring capabilities. I am sure he must have been barely able to contain his excitement knowing we were about to stumble on these easter eggs!