Saturday 7 January 2012

What's it all about?

Please forgive this rather hastily written blog but I feel I need to write something down quickly. There’s been a bit of chat about our next speaker at Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub on Twitter, which in itself isn’t bad but some of it I’ve found, a bit confusing and a little insulting.

I’m the person that invited Andy McIntosh to speak. He is a physicist and a Young Earth Creationist. I find it incredible that he can be both and I’m interested to hear how he can hold such apparently disparate positions together.  The title of his talk is “A Skeptical View of Atheism”. I want to hear him speak and I think that in all likelihood I, and many of the regular skeptics, will disagree with his views, but hopefully it will be interesting to hear them nonetheless.

It’s been suggested that we have invited him to set him up for ridicule. That’s not true. Other people seem to think there may be trouble of some sort. What do they imagine, a mob of angry skeptics, torches blazing, carrying the limp body of the creationist away for a lynching? The speaker knows the audience and he is willing to come and talk. I respect him for that.

Last year Intelligent Design proponent Steve Fuller asked us what we were skeptical about? He called us “polite angry people”. Maybe we don’t have to be so polite, but surely the main weapon of the skeptic is logic and reason (or is that a Vulcan?).  I don’t think that the content of that talk was world changing but it certainly created a buzz that lasted a good while. People still talk about it. I would be shocked and disappointed if there were people in the room that resorted to plain rudeness and I don’t think it will happen and it wouldn’t be allowed to happen. Argument, yes, debate, yes, disagreement of course, rudeness and troublemaking, no. In my latest podcast Becs O’Neill describes skepticism as something like “the examination of extraordinary claims.” I like that definition and sometimes it’s worth inviting those claims in to have a look at them.

What is Skeptics in the Pub for? It’s a debate that I usually keep out of, but for the record here are my views. It’s a place where you can be challenged or where you can go to be with people you know think similar things to you. It’s a place where you might learn things and it’s a place where you will hopefully be entertained. Everybody should be able to come through that door and I have invited people from evangelical churches to come and join in. Should they be worried if they come? Of course not! We are Skeptics in the Pub not fanatical factual fascists in the boozer. I think that this has the potential of being a very interesting evening and I hope that you’ll come. If you do you’ll be very welcome, whoever you are.

This rather hasty blog was put together by Patrick Redmond (@paddyrex) and doesn’t attempt to reflect the views of any other @Brum_Skeptics organiser or anybody else in particular.


@christheneck said...

+1 @christheneck

Abby Bottrill said...

This is a great post - has there really been suggestions that we'd have this session for ridicule? (Sorry, been hiding in a cave in that I'm not often on Twitter).

It does often appear that the outside public, sometimes even Christians, get worried that a dry, irreverent Arab guy who was ridiculed 2,000 years ago is... laughed at.

I've solved it though. I might not be a literal creationist but as a Christian I welcome any suppressed ridicule to be diverted onto me instead of the speaker - would it help if I wore a silly hat?

Nobody say Jehovah!

Elaine said...

Well said, Patrick. I've been a regular at Brum Skeptics for a couple of years now and do not recognize the jeering mob scenario which seems to have been painted by some as likely in this case. I too am genuinely fascinated to hear how our forthcoming speaker reconciles his beliefs with his scientific training. None of my views are set in concrete; I know there's always a chance I might hear something which sets my thoughts on a different track and I look forward to that challenge. See you there!

Yeti said...

Excellent post Patrick, personally I haven't seen any of this discussion on Twitter but I'm very surprised (and a little sad) that someone would suggest he was invited to be ridiculed. I was involved in the discussions about possible speakers and this wasn't the case.

People that have attended Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub will agree that we don't do ridicule. We challenge, we question but we don't insult. One of the things I believe that makes it such a successful night is that we regularly invite people with differing opinions to join in the discussion. We need to be challenged and questioned or else we're just back slapping and revelling in how clever we are to be right. I agree with John Stuart Mill when he said that no matter how right we think our ideas are "if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth." Prof. McIntosh will be providing us with an excellent service: he will be blowing the cobwebs from our opinions, he'll be sharpening our arguments and giving us a livelier apprehension of the truth as well as being thoroughly interesting and entertaining. He's an educated, intelligent person not some bloke on a street corner with a megaphone telling us we're going to hell. What a brilliant opportunity to engage with a person with such a unique combination of opinions and expertise.

As Patrick mentioned, Steve Fuller called us "polite angry people" in response to our rigorous but good natured questioning. We had members of the Birmingham UFO group turn up (we invited them) to see Nick Pope talk to us. Various people put forth their opinions, a man admitted to having contact with a UFO, there was no tuts or sniggering behind his back, he joined in the debate. The debate is the thing. Going back to JS Mill, many of Professor McIntosh's ideas could well be wrong, but an erroneous idea "may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied." Then think of the discussion that this will provoke after the talk, it's going to be fantastic. When we can get all of this from a talk, why would we be interested in just boringly ridiculing someone?

Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub is not a cosy backslapping club for members of the 'skeptical community', the vast majority of comers don't identify with it. It is IMHO a great night of intelligent and entertaining talks, discussion and socialising for the questioning midlander. We work hard to stop it from becoming stale and nights like this really contribute to its vibrancy. This is why it is so successful in my opinion. I'm really looking forward to next Wednesday, it's going to be a cracking night.

Patrick (@paddyrex) said...

Thanks for your comments folks. I have no worries or doubts about the Brum Skeptic bunch. I'm very proud of our group, we have fun, we question and we're not up our own posteriors.

Especially well done @Yeti for a reply that was both longer and more coherent than the original post :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, blimey. This is my fault, isn't it? I said the set up for ridicule thing. It's not what I really meant. But I guess it's difficult for you to infer that it's not what I really meant when it's what I really said.

I didn't mean to suggest that you'd invited this guy with the express intention of laughing at him. But I can understand why you thought that was what I meant, and why you felt insulted, and I apologise for that. My use of the phrase “set up for ridicule” was largely a consequence of the 140-character limit, but that's a poor and oft-used excuse and certainly not an adequate one. It was meant more as one might mean “set up for a fall”; that the situation seemed ripe for that outcome. Not that you intended for that to be the outcome. Does that make sense? I don't know. Anyway, Chris, and now you, assured me well enough that you've had a similar situation before with Steve Fuller, and that there was no unpleasantness. And I'm glad. And maybe I'll even make it to the talk next week and manage to sit through the whole thing without saying anything else confusing or insulting.


Patrick (@paddyrex) said...

Hey Abrasive Shrub (great name), there's no need to apologise. I've also had suggestions similar to that in verbal conversations. When it's on a public forum you never know who is reading the back and forth. If there is anybody out there curious but nervous about coming to sitp and trying to figure us out, this is a good chance to set the record straight. They have nothing to worry about.Thanks for the opportunity and the encouragement to put this down.