Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bill Prady at TAM7 - Skeptics Need to Be Sensitive to People's Beliefs

To many of the people I know, the word "skeptic" is synonymous with "asshole." I know I'm guilty of representing that stereotype, as those who know me can attest. I am working on it but it's a slow process that I know has little chance of changing those who have already decided what I am.

One thing that really impressed me about The Amazing Meeting 7 was that many of the speakers and presenters are also trying to fight the "asshole" stigma of skepticism. There really is a time and place for ripping people about their ridiculous beliefs...think anti-vaxers for example. However, in order to be more effective skeptics and better people in general, we would be wise to be more sensitive to beliefs we do not share.

Bill Prady, executive producer and creator of the CBS show The Big Bang Theory, really put it best in his keynote address at The Amazing Meeting 7. Here is a snippet that was posted by the great Boston Skeptics group.


  1. You highlight a good point in the fact that people that disagree "seem" to think the others are stupid or asshats if they don't see eye to eye on subjects. I "mostly" agree with your critical thinking and "mostly" agree to your skeptic thinking but I don't agree that others are stupid for not thinking the way we/I do. There are plenty of intelligent people that "believe" in something that can't be proven or verified. Does that make them dumb? No. Just different. A wise person said that religious people wear their religion on their sleeve and Atheist do the same. Both groups seem to go out of their way to demean each other and that is my point. I know I ramble but during the days when people thought the Earth was flat, and some people said the Earth was round, the ones that thought the Earth was round were ridiculed. Look who turned out to be right…So even that you might be skeptical and might be a critical thinker you just might be wrong on your topics and must be open to that possibility. Just like you are asking the “believers” to being open to skeptical/critical thinking. It goes both ways.

  2. I think people get that negative impression from the following statement.

    “There really is a time and place for ripping people about their ridiculous beliefs...think anti-vaxers for example.”

    You can try to have a civilized dialog or conversation with them but to say it is ridiculous could be short sighted and just plain combative.

  3. @Anonymous#1: I've started using "ignorant" in place of stupid to describe certain people. I feel that is a better word because it means without knowledge. It also implies that it can be corrected with learning. (note the new header on the blog btw)

    @both Anonymous (anonymy?): I still believe there is a time and place for combative criticism. It's when people are dying because of false beliefs. For example, when someone decided they aren't going to give chemotherapy to their kid when all scientific evidence shows that he'll have a 95% chance to live. Furthermore, I can respect some religious belief or "believers", to a point. The problems for me begin when those belief systems are imposed on me through legislation and spending of my tax dollars. It's also a big problem for me when religious belief is used to persecute people, whether it's in Ireland (Catholics vs Protestant) The middle east (take your pick...Muslim vs infidel or Shiite vs Sunni or Jew versus Muslim or any combination there of) or in America with people assassinating doctors and bombing clinics or hiding and covering up child molestations.

    @Anonymous#2: If you can figure out how to have a civilized dialog with people like Jenny McCarthy or Osama Bin Laden, I'd love to learn who to do that.

  4. I should've commented when I noticed that you changed your blog title you deserve credit for evaluating the title and coming to the conclusion that there might be a better one.

    No you can't change Bin Laden or Jenny McCarthy but we can changed our shelves. They take the extreme side of any issue and don't/won't listen to any anything else but what they believe in. It's the middle of the road people that still can be swayed, or enlightened, that you can have a meaningful dialog with. People at the extremes rarely listen to something other than what they believe in.

    It is a problem when religion of any kind forces others to do what they think is best. I totally agree with you that loss of someone else’s rights, to the betterment of someone else’s religious beliefs, really pisses me off. The shear amount of crimes, death, and injustices all in the name of a religion are astounding.

    The me it comes down to two things that cause the greatest amount of problems in this world: resources (who has what and others what it) and religions (who believes in what and is different from others). Simplified view of course.

    I will admit that I'm on the fence about the family, and the boy that needs chemotherapy, and whether we should interfere with their beliefs...In one hand I say no they are doing what they believe in and that is that. On the other he is a child and if the parents don't have his best interest in mind (using our belief system) that someone needs to step up and help him. After all he is a child. Now if he was an adult, and the decision was about himself, and he was passing on treatment, I would say that’s a choice and think nothing further on the subject. But since he is a child and can be influenced, good or bad, then we might have to step in. With that all said I’m leaning towards the fact that this child needs to have a chance to live and that will not happen of the parents get their way…

  5. @July 17 Anonymous: "People at the extremes rarely listen to something other than what they believe in." I agree but the trouble I have is with people who mistaken my already well researched position with their woo belief. "See my How to argue with me" post. For example, it will take a thorough, well designed, double blind, placebo controlled test that show homeopathic treatments work before I'll consider changing my position that they are bunk.

    I think you are correct about resources and religion being two major causes of conflict. All animals struggle daily over resources and we humans are no different.

    The libertarian in me also hesitated when the court intervened in the case of the kid whose parent refused his chemo. I eventually decided that the parent should be forced to provide effective scientific treatment to save their kid. The kid is too young and easily manipulated to make that decision. If an adult wants to sprinkle lambs blood around the house or pray to Krishna or dance naked in their home to cure their ailment, it's find with me.


Be critical. Be nice.

Click Here for All Your Favorite Bookmarks and Shares!!

Bookmark and Share