Anyway, a major point of contention is the correct response to someone who makes an untestable claim. Steven Novella says that we cannot counter claims that are purely based on faith. They are outside the realm of scientific inquiry:
As skeptics we can now say – that belief is not science-based. It is faith. Now the rules of faith apply – which means, in a secular society (see above) you don’t get to teach such belief in the public school classroom, and you don’t get funding for scientific research, you can’t impose your beliefs on others without violating their religious freedom, you cannot claim that insurance companies should cover your therapy, etc. It becomes a matter of personal faith only.PZ Myers is unsatisfied with this. He'd like to go further and directly counter faith-based claims:
“Faith” is not a magic get-out-of-jail-free word; I don’t think Novella would be stopped cold in his tracks if a homeopath invoked faith and god as a mechanism behind succussed water. Faith-based claims are empirical claims! When someone claims a vast cosmic intelligence named Jesus created the universe, I’m going to ask for their evidence for that claim; it is an empirical claim not just about how the universe works, but about how they arrive at their conclusions and what the chain of evidence that led them to that assertion is.If you only read PZ Myers, it might seem like Steven Novella was advocating that we stop questioning beliefs as soon as their believers invoke faith. But I do not think this is accurate. When properly understood, this is not a matter of attacking faith vs letting faith be. Rather, Novella and PZ advocate different kinds of attacks on faith.
Novella says, if your belief is faith based, then you cannot get into classrooms or acquire scientific funding, and your belief is "not even wrong". PZ says, you think your belief is faith-based, but it's still a belief about empirical reality, and you better come up with evidence for it.
Viewed in this way, the disagreement between PZ Myers and Steven Novella seems much more trivial and unimportant then they make it out to be. So we all don't like faith-based claims. What does it matter if we take different rhetorical strategies to counter faith-based claims?
Novella's strategy is essentially the more conservative one. It's the kind of argument you can make in the courtroom or other professional settings, without getting bogged down with philosophical details. "No matter what you think about faith as a concept, you now have to agree that other people may reasonably disagree with you, and that your idea does not deserve public funds." It's going after the believer's political power, because faith-based claims deserve no power.
PZ Myer's is the more radical strategy. It's not just about attacking the believer's political power, it's going after the belief itself. This is a useful strategy, because when believers retreat to faith, they generally don't quite grok what it is they're doing. So we have to drive it home. "In order for your claim to be faith based, it has to be a claim that does not affect reality in any observable way. Are you sure that you want to say that the resurrection of Jesus has no effect on reality? You know that even homeopaths and alien abductees invoke faith when criticized, so what makes you so different?"
Both of these rhetorical strategies seem useful, albeit in different contexts. So I just don't see what the problem is.