Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Abusing skeptical tropes: case in point

The other day, I wrote something about the word "groupthink" and how it's often used in a rather meaningless way.  I didn't have any examples in mind, but what do you know, Ron Lindsay (head of the Center for Inquiry) provided an example just yesterday:
Unfortunately, at least in my experience, some humanists do treat certain views and principles as “sacred.” These principles appear to be adopted more out of reflex, emotion, or groupthink than evidence-based reasoning.
This also runs into what I said a couple months ago about how "sacred" is abused.  Over half of the essay appears to be abusing this sort of rhetoric, claiming his opponents are failing to question everything, blindly accepting ideological principles, using empty rhetoric etc. etc.  I could probably write a series about these sorts of tropes, but I would begin to repeat myself very quickly.

The worst part is that most of these are recognizably skeptical/atheist tools.  Part of skepticism 101 is learning about lots of logical fallacies.  Part of atheism 101 is questioning everything and rejecting faith and dogma.  The tools are meant to be applied across the board in hopes that we can better reach the correct conclusion of any argument.  But do they really work?  Or do they just lead to extraneous bloviation?

This, here, is why I all but stopped naming fallacies.  I use them to aid my thinking, but I try not to use them explicitly as argumentative shortcuts.  I am unconvinced that these skeptical tropes help me to avoid being wrong, and unconvinced that it's effective at persuading others.

It's not that fallacies and cognitive biases aren't good to know about.  They just really need some quality standards.  The practices of naming fallacies or accusing opponents of bias is not really conducive to maintaining standards. Anyway, those are my current thoughts, though I realize I'm just asserting an opinion at this time.

(Via Pharyngula.  In case you're wondering, I oppose the death penalty, but I mostly don't care because it affects a very small number of people relative to other problems with California's prison system.)