Suppose, for a moment, you're a strong proponent of Glim, a fantastic new philosophy of ethics that will maximize truth, happiness, and all things good, just as soon as 51% of the population accepts it as the true way; once it has achieved majority status, careful models in game theory show that Glim proponents will be significantly more prosperous and happy than non-proponents (although everybody will benefit on average, according to its models), and it will take over.

Glim has stalled, however; it's stuck at 49% belief, and a new countermovement, antiGlim, has arisen, claiming that Glim is a corrupt moral system with fatal flaws which will destroy the country if it has its way.  Belief is starting to creep down, and those who accepted the ideas as plausible but weren't ready to commit are starting to turn away from the movement.

In response, a senior researcher of Glim ethics has written a scathing condemnation of antiGlim as unpatriotic, evil, and determined to keep the populace in a state of perpetual misery to support its own hegemony.  He vehemently denies that there are any flaws in the moral system, and refuses to entertain antiGlim in a public debate.

In response to this, belief creeps slightly up, but acceptance goes into a freefall.

You immediately ascertain that the negativity was worse for the movement than the criticisms; you write a response, and are accused of attacking the tone and ignoring the substance of the arguments.  Glim and antiGlim leadership proceed into protracted and nasty arguments, until both are highly marginalized, and ignored by the general public.  Belief in Glim continues, but when the leaders of antiGlim and Glim finally arrive on a bitterly agreed upon conclusion - the arguments having centered on an actual error in the original formulations of Glim philosophy, they're unable to either get their remaining supports to cooperate, or to get any of the public to listen.  Truth, happiness, and all things good never arise, and things get slightly worse, as a result of the error.

Tone arguments are not necessarily logical errors; they may be invoked by those who agree with the substance of an argument who nevertheless may feel that the argument, as posed, is counterproductive to its intended purpose.

I have stopped recommending Dawkin's work to people who are on the fence about religion.  The God Delusion utterly destroyed his effectiveness at convincing people against religion.  (In a world in which they couldn't do an internet search on his name, it might not matter; we don't live in that world, and I assume other people are as likely to investigate somebody as I am.)  It doesn't even matter whether his facts are right or not, the way he presents them will put most people on the intellectual defensive.

If your purpose is to convince people, it's not enough to have good arguments, or good facts; these things can only work if people are receptive to those arguments and those facts.  Your first move is your most important - you must try to make that person receptive.  And if somebody levels a tone argument at you, your first consideration should not be "Oh!  That's DH2, it's a fallacy, I can disregard what this person has to say!"  It should be - why are they leveling a tone argument at you to begin with?  Are they disagreeing with you on the basis of your tone, or disagreeing with the tone itself?

Or, in short, the categorical assessment of "Responding to Tone" as either a logical fallacy or a poor argument is incorrect, as it starts from an unfounded assumption that the purpose of a tone response is, in fact, to refute the argument.  In the few cases I have seen responses to tone which were utilized against an argument, they were in fact ad-hominems, of the formulation "This person clearly hates [x], and thus can't be expected to have an unbiased perspective."  Note that this is a particularly persuasive ad-hominem, particularly for somebody who is looking to rationalize their beliefs against an argument - and that this inoculation against argument is precisely the reason you should, in fact, moderate your tone.

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On convincing others to change their minds:

"[Alfred] Reynolds was in Army Intelligence during the war, and in 1945 was given the almost impossible task of ‘de-Nazifying’ young Nazi officers who had been captured. Reynolds has described how, when he first entered the room, there was an atmosphere of cold hostility. They stared at him, prepared - like [Dr Jerome] Bruner’s cat - to ‘cut out’ anything he had to say at the level of the ear-drum. To their surprise, there was no homily on the evils of Nazism. Instead, he asked them to explain to him what they understood by National Socialism. Once they were convinced he really wanted to know, they began to talk. He listened quietly, asked questions, and pointed out contradictions. Within a matter of days, there was not a Nazi left among them." - Colin Wilson, "A Criminal History of Mankind"

A similar technique worked on Ingo Hasselbach (described in his autobiography "Führer Ex"). A TV crew asked him to explain neo-nazi philosophy, and the more he saw himself in repeat on TV the less he believed himself.

A similar technique worked when I was employed at a homeless shelter. I'd ask aggravated clients what the... (read more)

Really? De-Nazified all of them in days? I notice I am confused; I deny this data - either that, or I really want the videotapes.

Really? De-Nazified all of them in days? I notice I am confused; I deny this data - either that, or I really want the videotapes.

The tapes are archived right next to the chat logs of the AI-Box experiment.

Also, might be nice to get a source who has less of a history of writing nonfiction books embracing a variety of parapsychological woo than Colin Wilson.
So what would happen if you did this with religious fundamentalists?
I have had similar conversations with religious believers (I'll not comment on whether they were fundamentalists or not). Listening quietly, asking questions, and pointing out contradictions has changed specific parts of their beliefs that were less considered or more harmful. They remained religious believers. On occasion, I've had to revise my beliefs about religious beliefs as well - mutual benefit, both of us hopefully less wrong. Homilies on the evils of religion have their place as well - for me, in essays. Conversations go better with quiet listening.
I did that with mormon preachers one time because I was seriously bored. Doesn't seem to work. They can repeat themselves infinitely, especially if faced with contradictions. I think there's a crucial difference with the nazi officers: the nazi officers were more or less sane guys in an environment where they had to profess a belief in belief and rationalize other's errors of thought; they didn't really face a lot of alternatives, and furthermore had pretty damn good deep survival related reasons to drop their beliefs. The religious folks are self selected true believers, or children of self selected true believers, and however strong was the propaganda it is but a drop in the ocean compared to upbringing. Some believers genuinely possess the failures of thought that create their beliefs; some merely imitate this; and among the self selected there's much more of the former.

I used to be a young-earth creationist. I was convinced that young-earth creationism was wrong by old-earth creationists. I was convinced that old-earth creationism was wrong by theistic evolutionists. I was convinced that theistic evolution was wrong, not by Dawkins, but by equally bombastic atheists before the God Delusion was published. I was never convinced of anything by mealy-mouthed atheists pretending to think that religion was a reasonable position that they just didn't personally agree with.

There is a case to be made for "easing people into it", when it comes to advocating ideas. That doesn't mean atheists should advocate Intelligent Design in an attempt to lure in YECs, obviously. And I think it would be equally ill-advised for people like Dawkins to pretend they see religion as anything other than transparently stupid and evil. Better to have the people who actually hold moderate positions advocating those moderate positions.

I don't think criticisms of tone are necessarily fallacious. But I am suspicious whenever anyone says "stop advocating your position so stridently, or you'll only drive people further away from your position", because such claims are usually unfounded, and often associated with sinister ulterior motives.

Do you think it is ill-advised for homophobes to pretend to be okay with gay people? Are you okay with Klan rallies? Or does your support of people making their beliefs clearly, publicly, and loudly known extend only to beliefs you share?

I'm glad you asked this.

I actually get really angry when I hear people mindlessly badmouthing the Westboro Baptist Church (the "God Hates Fags" people). I even get annoyed when I hear people defend WBC on free-speech grounds, because they always say the same thing: "Sure, I wish we could throw these people in jail, but gosh darn it, we gotta defend free speech!". As if the only reason we let people with odious opinions speak their minds is because of some slippery slope belief that otherwise we ourselves will be censored.

The truth is I'm grateful for WBC's honesty. I don't just reluctantly support WBC's right to free speech, while really wishing they would shut up. I wish they didn't hold the opinions they do, because I think they're wrong, but given that they do hold those opinions, I'm glad they're forthright about it. I don't think anyone would be better off if they kept their hateful views to themselves. Their children are arguably better off being exposed to mainstream culture, knowing how controversial their family's views are, rather than being quietly indoctrinated.

And yeah, I think it really sucks when homophobes pretend to be okay with gay people... (read more)

I would prefer that homophobes (and other people with opinions) express their beliefs in some way other than, say, rudely interrupting funerals. I don't think that the world in which that were reliably true would be worse than the one I live in.
Yeah, probably. But that's way more extreme than anything atheists do anyway. OrphanWilde was asking if I have a double standard, and I don't.
I already have a judgment of the opinion of homophobes. I agree with you on this for slightly different grounds; hatred grows in the dark, and shrivels up in the light. Which is to say, I don't see any particular value in agreement or disagreement or judgment, per se, but I do see value in the ability to offer counterargument. I might not be able to change the opinion of this particular person, but those who might grow to share their opinions otherwise. (That being said, I wish -my side- would shut up most of the time, particularly on political matters. I have to put up with the reputation their nonsense engenders for us. Sturgeon's Law means free speech is best left for your opponents to hang themselves with.)
You're looking at this very strategically. You want people on your side to be more discreet, so that "your side" can "win". This seems inappropriate, because your side is defined by a set of beliefs, not a group of people. It's almost as if you want people with whom you share some beliefs, to help your side win, by promoting those beliefs while holding back their other beliefs. For example, it sounds like you disagree with most self-identified rationalists/ atheists on political matters. If so, how are they on your side, anyway? They have their own agendas, which don't align perfectly with yours. So shouldn't you be glad that they've given you enough rope to hang them with?
They hang part of my agenda along with themselves. There are always casualties, but the more of my agenda I can salvage, the better.

I would like to see your data on Dawkins' actual effectiveness. You've made a strong claim there.

While diplomacy is certainly an important consideration in getting an argument across, it's very far from the whole story. I think you're confusing people's self-reporting on whether they like an argument with whether the argument is actually effective. These are very different things. I quote again David Colquhon on getting homeopathy out of UK universities, and Dawkins' tone:

Dr Baggini, among others, has claimed that the “new atheists” are too strident, and that they only antagonise moderate atheists (see The New Atheist Movement is destructive, though there is something of a recantation two years later in Religion’s truce with science can’t hold).

I disagree, for two reasons.

Firstly, people like Richard Dawkins are really not very strident. Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion, is quiet and scholarly. It takes each of the arguments put forward by religious people, and dissects them one by one. It’s true that, having done this, he sets forth his conclusions quite bluntly. That seems to me to be a good thing. If your conclusions are stifled by tortuous euphemisms, nobody takes much no

... (read more)
What this debate about the strategically best tone needs is some experiments. Are there any social scientists in the LW house?

Why redo what has already been done? The information is out there – we need but someone to read and summarize them. A ten-minute search yielded the following:

... (read more)

Wow, nice start! Unfortunately none of your citations, except maybe those behind paywalls, seem to address our main issue directly. They do, however, provide much useful background about the emotional and interpersonal dimensions of persuasion and deconversion. Streib's book, for example, uses personality tests (the 5-factor measure, a measure of "well-being and growth", and such) to study deconversion. Jacobs writes that "severing of socio-emotional bonds to the religious leader" is important in deconversion. And Ullman writes that "Emotional factors were more closely associated with religious conversion" than cognitive personality features like tolerance of ambiguity. Max Heirich disputes the emotions-and-relationships focus however.

Cobb and Kuklinski do examine argument styles for effectiveness, but the only dimensions they study are Pro/Con and Easy/Hard (to comprehend). From other browsing, I got the impression that Hard to Comprehend means that the arguer actually explains how the policy will lead to great or terrible things, rather than simply asserting that it will. Ah, democracy!

It occurred to me that political argument is probably bet... (read more)

Nice, I like the Arceneaux paper. (Published version and online supporting material.) It cites a lot of papers too, so given its recency, it'd make an excellent base for a backward citation search.
[Edit: I have retracted the strong claim, incidentally.] "Quiet and scholarly"? It compares a religious upbringing to sexual abuse - and finds sexual abuse too mild to compare. Public derision should not be your first resort, however. It has a bad tendency to backfire, and depends pretty heavily on a public agreeing with you to begin with.
Your last paragraph is true, but somewhat vacuous in context: no-one's particularly disputing that diplomacy is a useful persuasive tool. Your article comes across as elevating tone considerations above all else when the aim is effectiveness, and I think that you simply haven't substantiated that.
* Your article comes across as elevating tone considerations above all else when the aim is effectiveness The summary sentence of the article: "The categorical assessment of "Responding to Tone" as either a logical fallacy or a poor argument is incorrect, as it starts from an unfounded assumption that the purpose of a tone response is, in fact, to refute the argument."
Hence "comes across as".

The God Delusion utterly destroyed his effectiveness at convincing people against religion.

PZ Myers has been collecting anecdotes entitled "Why I am an atheist" from various folks. Several of them mention Dawkins, and at least two I've found with a casual search mention The God Delusion:

Evidence to update on?

Not exactly. One was already an atheist, the other was, at strongest, an agnostic. I would be honestly surprised if The God Delusion converted anybody from a held religious belief. And considering the number of people out there, that's a pretty strong statement of my opinion of its ability to convince anybody of anything.

I've already said this before but I'm certainly someone who became an atheist largely through Dawkins' works, and particularly with the help of The God Delusion. Before, I was firmly religious, along with my family, peer group, and community.

Anecdotal evidence and all, but just as a data point for you -- especially given how falsifiable your (strong) statement is.


It converted me.

I've been forced by brute-force evidence to concede this point. Would you recommend it to other people with currently held religious conviction? (I'm still convinced it has a pretty strong net negative value. I'd like the opinion of somebody for whom it did make a difference.)
Dawkins is a biologist, not a philosopher. His book is definitely a no go because It has a huge deal-breaker: Its central argument, 'Who created God' (which embarrassingly was the one that swayed me) is false. If I had promptly found out back then that this particular argument was false, I would have probably stuck with the theist position. I like have discussions with religious people, so I have a sense of what works and what does not work. I have tried many approaches and I think for an approach to work, you have the present the strongest argument in the simplest form with the least amount of offence. The best argument that fits these criteria IMO is that the universe in its current form is different than the way it would have been if an intelligent entity had created it. For example, why are there billions of billions of stars and planets without any purpose? Why did God wait 4.5 billion years since the inception of the universe to create the Earth, and another 9 billion years to create humans? Why does the human body have an appendix, whose only purpose is to inflame and rupture, killing many people before the invention of surgery? Why is the human heart, a vital organ, incapable of adequately rebuilding itself after a heart attack? This line of arguing is great because It is strong You can spend hours giving examples on how poorly the universe is designed, and I have debated many theists and none so far has managed to provide a good counterargument. It is simple The theist already knows the universe is vast. The theist already knows the heart does not regenerate well after a heart attack. You don't have to show him scientific papers. You don't have to waste time explaining a philosophical argument. It is non-offensive You are just saying his God is a poor designer. You can do much worse than that. This reminds me of a 30-minute lecture lukeprog gave long ago, which communicated a similar message: Of course, lukep
Don't want to debate Luke's video here, but I also disagree with you about "who created God?" being the God Delusion's central argument. The central argument is the "Ultimate Boeing 747", which essentially argues that the Bayesian prior for the likelihood of God should be very low. This applies whether or not God is "necessary" or "non-contingent", and has nothing to do with how good an explanation for anything God is.
What's wrong with the "who created God?" response? Remember, it's not an argument against the existence of God, itself. It merely nullifies an argument for the existence of God: That we need God to explain the universe.
Watch the video I linked to earlier. lukeprog explains it better than I ever will:
I've always regarded the arguments that Luke cites against Dawkins' central argument as being awfully weak. Yes, theists believe that God is eternal and necessary, a "non-contingent" being, as they say. But you could just as easily say that the universe itself is necessary and non-contingent. It doesn't seem to have existed in its current form forever, but that doesn't mean that the process which gave rise to the Big Bang ever had to be caused by anything, or could possibly have not existed. Maybe the universe is necessary and non-contingent, maybe not. But the fact that it exists is established beyond reasonable doubt. We're not taking up a big unnecessary complexity burden by positing the existence of the universe. God, on the other hand, is a big complexity burden. You can say that he's non-contingent, that he couldn't possibly not exist, but you could say that about anything, and we don't have any actual evidence for that assertion. When dealing with a causal chain, you're ultimately going to end up with an infinite regression or an uncaused cause. What Dawkins argues is that if you're going to posit an uncaused cause, God, as an intelligent being, is a far more complex explanation than a simple uncaused cause, such as some sort of basic physical principle. Some believers will respond that God is simple, he has no moving parts and is ontologically basic. But of course, again, there's no end to the hypothetical entities you could posit and say that they're ontologically basic, but they can't even establish that intelligent ontologically basic entities is a coherent idea, and even if they could, it would leave the question of how we single out their conception of God as the specific ontologically basic causal agent to believe in. He has qualities attributed to him which you could not attribute to an ontologically basic causal entity, so as an explanatory hypothesis he can't be minimally complex.
An actual reply: The question "How did the universe arise?" is equivalent to "How did God arise?". You do not have to explain how the universe came into existence in order to accept that the universe exists, and the same applies to God. Your main point in your reply is that God fails occam's razor. He does not help us understand the universe nor the physical phenomena; He is just a less embarrassing replacement of the word magic. God has poor explanatory power, and this is a good argument. If from the beginning you do not accept that God is a good explanation for our existence, you do not have to play the theist's game. If you do, then you cannot afterwards tell the theist to provide an explanation for his God or you won't believe in Him, because 1)this question is irrelevant as shown earlier and 2)his theology already provides an adequate answer for this question once you conceded/entertained the thought that God could provide a good explanation for our existence.
I'd contest that it provides an adequate answer, although it certainly offers answers.
An actual reply: The question "How did the universe arise?" is equivalent to "How did God arise?". You do not have to explain how the universe came into existence in order to accept that it exists, and the same applies to God. Your long reply can simply be summarized by saying God fails occam's razor. He does not help us understand the universe nor the physical phenomena; He is just a less embarrassing replacement of the word magic. God has poor explanatory power, and this is a good argument. If from the beginning you do not accept that God is a good explanation for our existence, you do not have to play the theist's game. If you do, then you cannot afterwards tell the theist to provide an explanation for his God, because 1)this is a meaningless question and 2)his theology already provides an adequate answer.
I will just leave this paper here, which lukeprog mentioned in his Better Disagreement article: To quote:
I agree with the general thrust of this, but note that specific case of the uselessness of the appendix is controversial. My list for this argument starts with the fact that it would be much better if the trachea and esophagus didn't intersect, with the nostrils on the side of the neck -- no one would ever choke, a circumstance of death usually associated with children (typically exemplifying the morally blameless for most religious people).
I can argue back that each of the two discrete pathways would be narrower than the one common pathway we have, so having a common pathway is not as stupid as you are making it out to be. This answer is poor because the risk of choking is much more problematic than having a narrower airway. Earthquakes are also mildly useful in that they bring out precious metals to the surface of the earth. I am pretty sure an omnipotent god could have brought out such materials without having to kill millions of people each time he did it. Regarding the appendix, I frankly don't care if a handful of doctors claimed the appendix had some trivial functions. The way I see it: people without an appendix are indistinguishable health-wise from people with an appendix, while until a very recent time, people with an appendix had to worry about dying when it inflames and ruptures. Humanity would have been much better off without an appendix.
Recommended reading:
I've read it. That comment was an attempt at levity.

You've already made plenty of strong statements of your opinion. What makes you think that your opinion is calibrated to the world?

My prior was based on my initial reading of the book; I came away thoroughly disappointed, and quite certain that the book would be useless due to its offensive nature (not to mention the careless way Dawkins discloses his biases, such as his feud with his ex-wife), and probably damage Dawkin's reputation to boot. I've since updated on the responses I have encountered, which were only sporadically positive among atheists and even more sparsely positive among agnostics, and universally negative among the religious.
Did you check with them a year later? Were they still religious?
I've already said this before but I'm certainly someone who became an atheist largely through Dawkins' works, and particularly with the help of The God Delusion. Anecdotal evidence and all, but just as a data point for the OP -- especially given his relatively strong statement.

Talking about tone is not necessarily a bad thing. As the OP says, the tone in which arguments are presented can be an important thing. Discussions can often proceed more fruitfully if participants maintain a moderate tone, and strong arguments are often more persuasive when they are framed less antagonistically.

The problem is when a focus on tone takes the place of a focus on content. There is a large class of bad arguing which involve pretending to engage with someone's argument, while in fact ignoring it. One way to do that is to focus on their tone. When agreements break down into two sides, criticizing the other side's tone can be an easy and relatively content-free way to say "Yay us, boo them!" and suggest that the other side is not worth listening too. Or, if you want to portray yourself as a reasonable person who is not attached to either side, then criticizing the content of the views of one side and the tone of the other side can be a convenient way of portraying yourself as above the fray while barely engaging with the views of some of the main participants in the fray.

Focus on tone can also be a problem more broadly if, whenever you think about a topic, you habitually think about one side's tone rather than the actual content at stake. In many places, whenever the topic of atheism/vegetarianism/feminism/homsexuality comes up, people will complain about how proponents are too in-your-face about it. If that is someone's most accessible response to the topic then that is a warning sign.

It occurred to me that US TV news reporting is full of tone arguments.
I'd argue that it's more a warning sign about an author that they're incapable of being tone-neutral about a subject. Having difficulty reading past an extremely hostile tone, particularly about a matter sensitive to you, is -human-. Having difficulty being civil to a group you have an -honest- intellectual disagreement with, less so.

The God Delusion utterly destroyed his effectiveness at convincing people against religion.

[citation needed], of course.

Consider it my opinion, and the whole of this article as the substantive argument for why. If you have an issue with the argument, of course, you're free to present it. Alternatively, if you know somebody who was converted from religious belief to atheism by The God Delusion, that would be an evidence-based argument as to why I am wrong on the matter as a whole.
Hm. The rest of your article explains that tone can be bad for effectiveness, and when it is, it's reasonable to act on that information. You do argue that a confrontational tone will put people on the defensive. Which seems true on average, and ceteris paribus will result in persuading fewer people than a nonconfrontational tone. But there are "non-average" effects, for example if people who don't immediately become defensive are also more (or less) likely to be persuaded by confrontation, that gives a positive (or negative) term. And there are "ceteris isn't paribus" effects, where a confrontational tone might get noticed a lot more (or less) than non-confrontation, gaining a positive (or negative) effect that way. Anyhow, one could find anecdotes both pro (yay google) and con (I guess we'll count you for that one. We'd prefer anecdotes of opinion because of rather than opinion on, but those will be scarce unless Dawkins actually makes people join religions). To get non-anecdotal evidence, maybe we could estimate some long-term impact on atheism? That gets awful theory-laden awful fast, though. I guess you'd need some persuasion studies on the marginal impact of tone, and a model that could account for effects like those I mention above.
Dawkins, of course, has a pile of them. While this selection is obviously lacking in arguments against, it is precisely the thing you just asked for.
I'll have to concede that point then. Most of those weren't strong believers to begin with, but the presence of one refutes my argument, leaving me with the weaker form "The God Delusion does more damage than good."

leaving me with the weaker form "The God Delusion does more damage than good."

I look forward to your substantiation, on a more robust basis than personal feeling.

I've met both sorts, people turned off by "The God Delusion" who really would have benefited from something like "Greatest Show on Earth", and people who really seemed to come around because of it (both irl and in a wide range of fora). The unfortunate side-effect of successful conversion, in my experience, has been that people who are successfully converted by rhetoric frequently begin to spam similar rhetoric, ineptly, resulting mostly in increased polarization among their friends and family. It seems pretty hard to control for enough factors to see what kind of impact popular atheist intellectuals actually have on de-conversion rates and belief polarization (much less with specific subset of abrasive works), and I can't find any clear numbers on it. Seems like opinion mining facebook could potentially be useful here.

Amongst the sophisticated theists I know (Church of England types who have often actually read large chunks of the Bible and don't dispute that something called "evolution" happened), they will detail their objections to The God Delusion at length ... without, it turns out, having actually read it. This appears to be the religious meme defending itself. I point them at the bootleg PDF and suggest they actually read it, then complain ... at which point they usually never mention it ever again.

This is part of why I tend to think that for the most part, these works aren't (or if they are, they shouldn't be) aimed at de-converting the faithful (who have already built up a strong meme-plex to fall back on), but rather for interception and prevention for young potential converts and people who are on the fence. Particularly college kids who have left home and are questioning their belief structure. The side effect is that something that is marketed well towards this group (imo, this is the case with "The God Delusion") comes across as shocking and abrasive to the older converts (and this also plays into its marketability to a younger audience). So there's definitely a trade-off, but getting the numbers right to determine the actual payoff is difficult. I think a more effective way to increase secular influence is through lobbying. I think in the U.S. there is a great need for a well-funded secular lobby to keep things in check. I found one such lobby but I haven't had the chance to look into it yet.
I think in practice, it has to be a movement and it has to, in its various parts, work all the angles at once. Which is pretty much the present state of things - there's plenty of work to go around.

The problem with tone arguments, from a Bayesian standpoint, is that the arguer is declaring "I don't have to update on your evidence because I don't like the tone with which you present it." This is a form of rationalization for maintaining one's previous position against evidence to the contrary; as such, it is bad epistemic rationality.

(In some cases, it goes so far as "I don't have to update my view of humanity and human value on the evidence of the fact of your existence because I don't like the tone with which you present yourself." Which implies, "your tone in speaking to me is more significant to my values than your existence is.")

But why think that the targets of persuasion are epistemically rational? Why think they are Bayesians doing careful updating on only relevant information? I take it OrphanWilde's point (or part of it) is that if your goal is persuading the majority of ordinary, fallible, often irrational people, then tone is worth considering. That is, if ordinary people irrationally care about tone, then you still need to care about tone when trying to convince them of something, even if your only goal is to get them to stop caring about tone. Otherwise, you are failing in the same sort of way as Hollywood portrayals of rational or logical people, who are perpetually surprised when the people they interact with are not rational or logical.
Sure, these are reasons for an individual to consider the tone of their own arguments. But that's not what "tone argument" usually refers to ...
It's also reason to care about the tone of arguments whose substance you endorse, and which are being offered by other people -- which is exactly the tone argument (assuming that the person offering the argument is sincere and not concern trolling or worse). The scenario being imagined supposes that you and I both support the same agenda, but while you are being persuasive, I am turning people off with my tone. In that case, you really ought to point out to me that I am hurting my own cause with my tone.
That's not the scenario in which I have most often seen people objecting to tone arguments.
I could be making a mistake, but I'm working off of the first incognito google hit from "tone argument," which is this. As I understand it, a tone argument is a suggestion that someone change tone in order to improve his or her chances of persuading. And the common objection is that such tone arguments are disingenuous. They are "concern trolling" or offering fake support in order to hurt the cause. So ... are we really disagreeing here or are we talking past each other?
Talking past each other. The conventional use is to protest tone being used as an excuse not to listen to an opponent. Dissent being perceived as rudeness.
I've seen it split. You need to pay close attention. For example, if Alice and Bob are both arguing in favor of the same proposition for some time, then at one point Bob suggests that Alice has just had a tone problem... it's much less likely to be concern trolling. Alternately, if Bob, while mentioning Alice's tone, restates Alice's argument in such a way that it still means the same thing, but is more palatable, she might want to consider the possibility that he's not trying to undermine her arguments. Lastly, if Bob has come across Alice and Carla arguing against each other and says that they're BOTH messing up the tone, assuming he's on one side or the other seems a mite premature. Instantly deducing that someone is a concern troll for mentioning tone, prejudicially to all other evidence, is a mistake.
Potential scenarios: 1: Alfred and Bob really do support the same agenda, but Alfred thinks Bob's tone makes him unpersuasive. 1. Alfred pretends to support Bob's agenda, but is just a concern troll. 2. Alfred is open about disagreeing with Bob's agenda, and directs his criticisms at Bob's tone rather than engaging with Bob's actual argument. I interpret the opening sentence of that page as referring to scenarios 2 and 3, in that order: Here's some more stuff from that page which seems to describe scenario 3: And: On that page I don't see much reference to scenario 1, which is what you seem to be talking about. In my experience scenarios 2 and 3 are where tone arguments most often come up and are objected to.
I'm a male who has commented on feminist thought which I agreed with, but found so hostile as to be antipersuasive - the attitude demonstrated seriously made me reconsider whether or not I even agreed with them - and was promptly called a concern troll, among other invectives. (I will add that that particular post rapidly turned into a shitstorm which resulted in several readers, including myself, ceasing to read the blog in question. I've seen commenters on unrelated blogs link to it as an example of why the author shouldn't be taken seriously.) "Derailment" and "concern trolling" are rationalizations; they're an author seeking a mechanism by which to justify ignoring criticism.
Concern trolling is definitely real, though.
No doubt; trolls will utilize any behavior effective in eliciting a reaction. The grown-up thing to do is to realize the trolls are a fact of the internet and deal with them on an individual basis; categorically eliminating every troll behavior in turn doesn't lead to an end in trolling, only an end to honest debate. I've seen requests for clarification being treated as troll behavior, for an example of where that leads.
Fair enough. I think the way I was thinking about it was this: the tone argument as such is the claim that some argument would be more effective if it were presented with a different tone. I think you're right that the tone argument is typically given either disingenuously or as a distraction from the real issues. But those are motivations or tactics or something for making a tone argument. I suppose there is a preliminary question of whether a tone argument can ever be made sincerely. Assuming that a tone argument can be made sincerely, I think we get the original question. Does it matter whether that question is about typical tone arguments? Should we use a different term instead of "tone argument"?
That only holds true if that is, in fact, what the arguer is arguing. What's more likely, however? A Bayesian rationalist who is rationalizing on a well-known logical fallacy, and publicly announcing it? Or somebody who is irritated with you for damaging the reputation of your in-group or the terms of the debate? [Edit] Or, to put it more deliberately - read the final paragraph. You're starting from the assumption that the arguer is doing just that. You're starting from the unfounded presumption that a tone argument is a dismissal of the argument.
Yes, that last bit is super-important.
And often true. Edit: More thorough analysis here
The "It's not our responsibility to teach you" bit never fails to amuse me. Until humans stop dying, somebody's gotta keep doing it.
3[anonymous]11y is pretty frustrating when I see people who are supposedly on my side say things like "it's not my duty to educate people" or "allies get no cookies for doing what we tell them to". It's like they gave up with actually convincing anyone to be less evil and just want to yell at people. I even made a blog labeled as being a bit about social justice, without knowing people there had given "social justice" such a bad name...I try to be nice and reasonable instead, maybe I can surprise a few people with that and actually help.
Yelling at people is high-status. Talking with people politely signals respecting them as equals. If (I believe) I am wise and good, and the other people are ignorant and evil, it feels completely natural to act high-status towards them. Treating them as equals could even lower my status in the eyes of my friends. Monkeys all the way down...
Depends on the context. Not yelling can also be a high-status. Consider a CEO talking in soft tones when faced with grim news during a large meeting, signifying that he doesn't even need to raise his voice to command all others to listen to him. There's a mind game aspect to it; for nearly any high-status move I can think of, doing the exact opposite is an even higher-status move (if you can pull it off), emphasizing that you don't even need to rely on giving off high-status vibes in the conventional way. Consider e.g. Silicon Valley CEOs in casual clothing, or "old money" foregoing the usual trappings of status.
Absolutely. The CEO's soft talk in your example is impressive because no one else dares to interrupt them. If you imagine a commision of dozen people, where one starts speaking with a soft voice, and is immediately interrupted by someone else yelling, and people show their agreement with the yelling person... that would send a completely different message about status within the group. -- To an outside observer, the first person could seem more sympatetic. But within the group, the second person is the winner, at least for the given moment. And you can usually pull it off only if you have already accumulated enough status through other means. (I do X and conspicuously abstain from doing Y, to emphasise the power of my X.) My model of a typical "people enthusiastic about fixing the rotten world" group is that most people there focus on looking good in the eyes of their peers. (If that actively harms the goal, most of them don't realize it. And if the world does not improve despite the effort of the group, that only confirms that the word really is rotten and the group is superior to the outsiders.) If you have very high status, you can afford speaking politely with the ignorant evil outsiders, because your peers know that despite your polite facade you truly despise them in your heart. But only a few members have status this high. Most people work actively on gaining it by signalling their loyalty to the group values, for example by yelling at people who disagree. And, for obvious evo-psych reasons, yelling at outsiders, especially the meek ones, when you have a full backup of your tribe, feels good. (Note: Despite the tone of this comment, in the past I was a member of groups that tried to make other people see the light -- although I didn't yell at anyone -- and I was yelled at or otherwise shown contempt by groups who tried to make me see the light. In one case it was the same group, a few years later. I consider yelling and other forms of contempt unproductive
I think that in certain cases (e.g. when your opponent is already very low status) it's the other way round.
A homeless tramp yelling at every passerby is not high status. Fact is, yelling can mean anything (an instance of the general rule that anything can mean anything). It can imply that you are in a position of weakness, having to yell to get anyone to pay attention. In can imply that you are in a position of strength, being able to get away with yelling at people. It can imply you're just an asshole. Talking with people politely signals respecting them, period. What feels natural to you is a fact about you. You need a better class of friend.
Being a homeless tramp is low status. Said tramp using a social move that constitutes a status grab does not thereby change the principles of social dynamics. This theory is worse than useless. Period? What happened to your 'general rule that anything can mean anything'? Is that the kind of fully general counterargument that applies only to your rivals, and not yourself? Non-sequitur one-upmanship. Disingenuous and rude. You are attempting to distort Viliam's counter-factual illustration into a confession of weak social alliances. That would be untenable as a sincere interpretation of the meaning.
That made me laugh very, very hard.

I'd like to pool thoughts on what books we do recommend to get people out of religion.

I consider myself a Dawkins fan, but I personally wouldn't recommend The God Delusion to, say, a creationist. To a creationist, I'd recommend Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth, along with Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True and the website The other Dawkins book I most frequently recommend is The Selfish Gene, but I'd recommend that mainly to people who aren't opposed to evolution but may need more help really understanding evolution.

I suspect The God Delusion would be of greatest help to someone on the fence about religion, but I'm not sure I'd necessarily recommend it over, say, Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian. The main advantage of publishing The God Delusion, as I see it, is that Bertrand Russell wasn't going to make it back onto the bestseller list anytime soon.

I don't have many books I really strongly recommend to people with total confidence, but I do frequently give strong recommendations for Bart Ehrman's books, particularly Jesus, Interrupted.

Have you tried this? Does it work?

A: worked on me. I thought, "Okay, I realized I don't know that much about my religion. What's the deal?" So during church I'd actually read the bible. It didn't take long.

B: Well, I once was on a discussion board that was primarily for evangelical Christians. In the natural course of discussion, I mentioned the tribe of Benjamin. You know, the one with clearly-God-sanctioned mass murder and rape.

Some of them came up with some pretzel logic justifications. The rest of them backed away quietly.

Incidents like that were a big contributing factor to why the site was shut down.

Wait, what? The Book of Judges in general and this part in particular has a lot of problems, and may well help to cure people of Christianity. (Perhaps I should say, 'stop them from annoying me with Christianity,' since without this factor I would feel inclined to leave them alone. Or at least focus on the ones smart enough to do something useful.) But the specific rapes that I think you refer to here occur right before the last verse of Judges: I'm pretty sure the author saw that as bad. This whole "Destruction of Sodom" fanfic seems to condemn breaches of the rules of hospitality, rather than rape as such. But I do think the original audience would consider the rape of other Israelites, who didn't have permission from their fathers to be raped, a heinous crime.
This was a long time ago so I'm not fresh on which passages are which. I suspect I misremembered the context. Perhaps it was a discussion of how easy interpreting the will of god is supposed to be ('just read it! It's all there!' they say). The author may have seen it as bad, but it seemed far more connected to lack of a king than the lack of the LORD - they were trying to do god's will in incredibly stupid and immoral ways through that episode. And in this particular case, there were definitely people in that crowd who tried to justify it anyway, saying that the men were evil anyway, and the women would be so glad to be free of them and hitched to good, god-fearing men, that it wasn't rape. I wish I were making that up. Anyway, there are god-sanctioned massacres - the Canaanites in particular get it really rough.

Often what is called a "Tone argument" is someone who is saying "I have trouble considering your argument because of factors which are irrelevant to your content. If you wish to communicate with me, stop including things which impair communication."

It comes out more along the lines of "Did you really need to compare the comparing opinion to Stalinism to make your point? That's just rude.", or "You really should provide a warning when you are likely to trigger PTSD.", which can be rejected as tone arguments even though they identify specific failures of communication that could be remedied by the previous speaker.

It's also tied up in status. Often, when someone is protesting their condition of lower status, any argument they put forward will initially be interpreted as rudeness and bad tone, without regard to the content. This is what the protest "that's just a tone argument" conventionally refers to.

Any examples?
The geekfeminism page has a ton of examples.
...I see two. Both of which look like "my kind" of tone arguments; i/e, arguments that tone is detracting from a common purpose. I see two posts about the tone argument. And I see one comment with the extremely amusing implication that tone moderation is only valid when discussing certain topics. The closest thing to an example is somebody praising an argument for moderation in discussing a sensitive topic. It lacks any examples of bad tone arguments at all, much less protestations of lower status being treated as rudeness as a product of their content. It is in fact exactly what I'm arguing against, in terms of discarding tone argument. As a political aside which I'll probably regret bringing up, it argues that relative privilege should be used as the primary basis in determining whether or not a call for civility is genuine; i/e, I should be taken seriously because I'm a bisexual, but shouldn't because I'm male, but should because I'm an atheist. This is the kind of crap which has led me to stop taking most self-describing feminists seriously, and is also why most people take "Privilege" arguments as offensive at face. "The key to understanding whether a request for civility is sincere or not is to ask whether the person asking for civility has more power along whatever axes are contextually relevant than the person being called "incivil", less power, or equal power." Seriously? It's advocating ad-hominem.

Suppose you and I are scheduled to debate some topic.
Suppose further that my supporters have defined the rules of the debate, and have done so in such a way that I have a number of concrete advantages.

In that hypothetical scenario, I would say that me requesting that you follow the rules, and you requesting that I follow the rules, are not symmetrical acts. And they are asymmetrical precisely because of the power imbalance between my supporters and your supporters, and how that power applies to the specification of the rules in the first place.

Would you agree or disagree? (Note, I am not asking whether the above is a reasonable characterization of real-world situations involving civility and power-differentials. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't. Right now I'm just trying to establish what your position is with respect to a simpler problem.)

Can you provide examples of what the rules are? If my method of 'debate' is to pound the podium and compare you to infamous people, then a rule against that provides you with concrete advantages while being symmetrical. In fact, any rule that applies equally to both of us but has asymmetrical results implies that a difference in the debaters, and that they are trying to debate on different terms.
Sure, that's absolutely true. So, just to be clear: if the rules in question apply equally to both of us, but have been selected so as to constrain you more than they constrain me because they prevent behaviors you are more likely to engage in than I am, you would call that situation symmetrical?
No. The situation is asymmetrical because I will use different behaviors than you. The fact that a rule benefits one of us while being symmetrical shows that the situation is asymmetrical. Eliminating areas from the realm of discussion (you can't discuss the economic impact of the proposal) is likely to be a symmetrical rule which illustrates a difference between the debaters. Other rules could simply apply equally but be targeted: For example, the rule could be that both debaters have poor lighting, no access to makeup, and will have their clothing crumpled, or know the subject of the questions but not their phrasing or order. The first set would favor the person who was less likely to convince people based on his appearance, while the last would favor the one who could think faster and be perceived as better prepared. Then there are rules which are clearly biased, and only appear to apply equally: 'Only brown-eyed people may talk'. I don't think those were ever in serious discussion, and I only mention them to dismiss them.
I will agree, under the terms that any advancement in your argument applies to the following reformulation: The rules forbidding thievery aren't symmetrical in terms of thieves versus non-thieves, and the rules are asymmetric precisely because more people support non-thievery than support thievery. (Which is to say, if you extend your argument in such a way that it doesn't apply to the reformulation, my agreement may no longer apply. This stabilizes our mutual understanding of our metaphors.)
I agree that the rules forbidding thievery are asymmetric, in that they are intended to impede thieves more than non-thieves. It's not quite as clear to me that in practice they are differentially imposed by non-thieves, but I'm willing to posit that for the sake of argument. That is... if I steal a bunch of property, I immediately have an incentive to support rules that prevent the stealing of that property, rules that a moment earlier I had incentive to oppose, while still having incentive to oppose rules that prevent the stealing of other property, and while still being a thief. But I don't think that matters for our purposes; if we assume for simplicity that all rules are either pro-thievery, anti-thievery, or thievery-neutral and no rules are pro-some-thievery-and-anti-other-thievery, then what you say is true, and I'm willing to assume that for simplicity. (There's a reason I picked a simple toy example to start with; real-world cases tend towards distracting complexity. But, OK, if you prefer to use thievery as our working example, I'm willing.) Positing all of that, it seems to follow that if I'm a thief, the rules therefore don't favor me, and if I'm a non-thief, the rules do favor me. Agreed? It seems to follow in turn that if I say "Hey, the rules against thievery are a good thing!" that means more if I'm a thief than if I'm a nonthief, since it's less likely that I'm just arguing for whatever benefits me. Agreed? This seems generalizable: if the rules benefit me more than you, then when I endorse the rules I'm doing so in support of my interests but when you endorse them you're doing so against your interests. And that's a legitimate ground upon which to evaluate our endorsements differently, even if they seem superficially identical. Which seems to me to apply just as well to rules of "civility" as rules of debate as rules of theft. Who is doing the endorsing, and how much they benefit from the rules, matters when I'm figuring out how much weight to
Can we call "Thievery" either a non-revocable lifestyle choice, or posit that thievery laws will be ex-post-facto in any case (so if a thief in a thief society steals, he would have no incentive to switch sides later), in order to maintain our metaphors? (Alternatively, we can drop the metaphors altogether. I believe I see where your line of argument is going, and I don't think it strictly requires them.) Agreed, at any rate.
I agree that my line of reasoning does not require any particular metaphors regarding theft, and I'm happy to adopt any simplifying assumptions that allow us to talk usefully about it. (As I say, there's a reason I started with a much simpler toy example in the first place.) So, OK. Returning to the line you dismissed as ad-hominem: What the above quote seems to be saying is that when evaluating X's endorsement of a rule of discourse, one significant factor is the extent to which X has contextually relevant power. Agreed? (1) We've agreed that when evaluating X's endorsement of a rule, one significant factor is the extent to which X benefits from that rule. If it were true (which it might not be) that power differentials between X and Y as they apply to discourse correlate with differential benefit between X and Y from obeying the rules of discourse, then it would follow that power differentials between X and Y are relevant evidence when evaluating X and Y's endorsement of those rules. Agreed? If we agree so far, I'm content. For my own part, I do believe that power differentials between X and Y as they apply to discourse often correlate with differential benefit between X and Y from obeying the rules of discourse. I don't think I could provide significant reason to believe it in the context of this comment-thread, though, so if we disagree about that I'm content to agree to disagree. (1) This is admittedly modulo some rhetorical hyperbole; what the quote actually seems to say is that this is the only significant factor, which is absurd on the face of it. I very much doubt the author would stand by that literal reading... for example, I expect they would agree that the requester's previous history of lying through their teeth was also relevant, at least sometimes, to understanding whether their request was sincere.
When evaluating the merits of a rule, it matters very little what X stands to gain from the rule. X's evaluation is only relevant to you if you are trying to support or oppose the rule because of what X thinks. You have enough information to evaluate whether controlling the tone of a discussion is primarily a power play by the person trying to control the tone or primarily an attempt to improve communication by reducing the amount of noise in the channel. More important than identifying the motives, you can also figure out the likely result based on direct observation, without giving much weight to someone else's conclusion based on their direct observation.
Whether evaluating the merits of a rule is a better thing to spend my time doing than evaluating the motives of the speaker is a value judgment completely orthogonal to what I was talking about.
What were you talking about?
I was talking about evaluating the motives of the speaker, because that's what OrphanWilde's comment, which I was responding to, was talking about. That there exist other topics that would be more valuable to talk about is undoubtedly true, but rather beside my point.
I agree on all points with one caveat - It's still an ad-hominem response. This is not to say it is wholly invalid - it's proper in Bayesian reasoning to weigh the source of evidence in addition to the evidence itself, and I presume this may extend to arguments as well - but it is the weakest possible response to a criticism. A potentially tangential continuation: That caveat carries costs; it runs the very real risk of alienating sympathetic parties. I am no longer sympathetic to gnostic atheism, for example, as my attack on Dawkins may reveal. Indeed, Dawkins is quite possibly single-handled responsible for converting me from gnostic atheism to agnostic atheism, as my reactions to The God Delusion resulted in my re-evaluation of my own behavior, and then my re-evaluation of my own reasoning. While this is probably a plus, on the whole, for my rationality, Dawkins and other gnostic atheists might prefer to count it a minus. To use my politics as another example, I used to count myself among the Democrats. The anti-Bush rhetoric did more than anything else in pushing me away from them, however. I can't find the Overcoming Bias post describing Benjamin Franklin's use of eliciting favors from others as a mechanism to make them like him, but a post somewhere else: makes a similar point. In retrospect, spending so much time defending Bush against undeserved/dishonest attacks probably had a pretty significant impact on my politics of the time; I cannot recall a deliberate reconsideration of my political policies, so I cannot claim any kind of win for rationality on this point. But this bias (whatever it's called) does suggest a particularly high cost of hostile rhetoric among even rational people: You're inviting the intellectually honest to do your mutual enemy a favor.
Sure. If, when you wrote "Seriously? It's advocating ad-hominem." you meant to suggest that it was advocating a response that was valid but not as strong as other possible responses, then I agree with you completely. I had understood your rhetoric to be conveying a stronger objection. Also agreed that hostile or otherwise extreme rhetoric can alienate people who might not be alienated by different rhetoric. That said, while I often find reactive anti-Blue rhetoric offputting in much the way you describe, I also consider myself to have some responsibility for actually evaluating the positions involved, rather than allowing myself to be reactively alienated by it.
It was more that it didn't advocate anything else at all. (As you observed, it's hard to believe the author would endorse the literal understanding.) I'm actually considering writing a "Defense of Ad-Hominem" post, if a search doesn't turn any similar posts up in the past. I may take too much entertainment out of this. :-)
I'd suggest you look up "intersectionality". This issue is actually widely discussed in the very same communities that talk about "privilege". In gist, the same person can exercise privilege in some contexts and have it exercised against them in others; and different kinds of privilege can be synergetic.
Are you explaining a thing, or naming it? I'm familiar with the concept. I acknowledge it refers to a real phenomenon, but grant it no merits; the use of it in argument always minds me of a Douglas Adams quote: "If we find something we can't understand we like to call it something you can't understand, or indeed pronounce. I mean if we just let you go around calling him a Rain God, then that suggests that you know something we don't, and I'm afraid we couldn't have that. No, first we have to call it something which says it's ours, not yours, then we set about finding some way of proving it's not what you said it is, but something we say it is." In particular, the second part. There was already recognition of the fact that "privilege" was a fragmented concept, and in response to constant objections on that ground, the fragmentation was named, and thereby claimed. (And yes, arguments on this matter long predate that particular name, which arose in the late 80's.) The reason I mock that concept, however, is that it is -always- a categorical error to treat me as a collection of my labels. Trust me when I say that you have no idea what my life has been like as an atheist living in a particularly religious small southern town. (Seriously. I had a minister apologize to me because a student was proselytizing at me; the student later apologized as well, and we got on on good terms.) Nor do you have any idea what my life has been like as a bisexual male. All you can do is make assumptions. I don't particularly care if you assume I've had a tough life, a sinful life, a hedonistic life, or a boring one; none of these is any more right than any others. The only labels which matter in relation to me are those I have chosen for myself. Anybody arguing otherwise is on the same side of the categorical error fence as racists and homophobes.

You always want the tone to be effective, but just what constitutes effective is dependent on what you're trying to accomplish today. If it's not just to get people converted today, Mr. Nice Guy is not necessarily the best tactic.

Ridicule can be effective. Moral condemnation can be effective. Maybe both are not so effective at the moment of conversion, but a Bad Cop today can soften someone up for a Good Cop tomorrow.

Sam Harris had a wonderful smackdown of Christianity on moral grounds in a relatively recent debate with Craig. Comments like "evil&quo... (read more)


I think there's an issue in that people read in differently from tone arguments depending on the source. The argument response "I don't like your tone" coming from someone you know agrees with you would likely be seen as a suggestion of phrasing the same point better, from someone you believe disagrees with you it is probably an attempt to avoid the substance of the argument.

I suspect with minimal information about the other person people will assume the latter and go on the defensive.

A rationalist who doesn't consider the effects of tone when attempting to effect a change in someone's thinking is not dealing in reality. There is a reason Becker's Rules have to be asked for and agreed to, even among rationalists- we are not built to automatically separate tone from content, and there are times when even the most thoughtful of us are personally vulnerable to a harsh tone. We tend to simplify to "two Beysians updating on evidence", but in reality, we have to consider the best way to transmit that message, as well as the outcome ... (read more)

Ahh, that wonderfully embarrassing moment when you realize your small group has been calling Crocker's rules by the wrong name for almost year.
Becker's Rules? Surprisingly relevant.
Crocker's rules?

I have stopped recommending Dawkin's work to people who are on the fence about religion.

Of course. Dawkins preaches to the converted. I doubt that he ever seriously put himself into the mindset of a devout person for the purpose of writing a convincing argument.

His early works, such as The Selfish Gene, were actually really good books for convincing somebody of an alternative to creationism or guided creation, however. (Which isn't the same as convincing somebody of atheism, but does give somebody paralyzed by the question of where complex life came from a much-needed line of retreat.)

I saw someone reading The Selfish Gene on an airplane the other day, and a similar thought came to mind. I thought, "Ah, I should say hello to this person when we get off the plane. Failing that, give the official rationalist nod of affirmation. Go science!" (I missed the person leaving while trying to get to my book bag in the overhead compartment).

After, I decided that I would have had a similar urge to express my admiration to anyone I saw reading any Dawkins book, except the God Delusion. I'm happy to have a conversation with a fellow science lover. Not nearly as much with a fellow God hater.

I'm happy to have a conversation with a fellow science lover. Not nearly as much with a fellow God hater.

upvoted for this.

Selfish Gene itself is indeed quite sufficient to convince most thinking young people that evolution provides a far better explanation of how we got to be the way we are. It communicated far better than anybody else the core theories of neo-Darwinism which gave rise to evolutionary psychology, by stating bluntly the Copernican shift from group or individual selection to gene selection. Indeed, I'd still recommend it as the starting point for anybody interested in wading into the field of evolutionary psychology: you should understand the fairly elegant underlying theory before doing the deep dive into what is now a far less elegant and organized study (in part because many of its practioners still don't understand the underlying theory). Dawkins also had some very interesting theories of his own about evolution and animal behavior in Extended Phenotype, and despite his skill as a communicator of science it's a great loss that he largely discontinued his actual research in science. In Blind Watchmaker he actually expresses quite a bit of understanding and empathy for major creationist arguments, especially the watchmaker argument, in the process of debunking them far better than any evolutionist had ever debunked them before. Since then, he's gone downhill, becoming by now pedantic and repetitive and shrill. Of course he went downhill from a great height very few of us will ever hope to achieve, but it's sad nevertheless.

I thought The Greatest Show On Earth (2010) was fantastic, and I'm currently rereading it. (I recommend this book to everyone. If you thought you understood evolution, you'll understand it better.) The first paragraph of the first chapter summarises just why Dawkins is so generally pissed off with religion these days:

Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, anxious to impart your enthusiasm for the ancient world – for the elegiacs of Ovid and the odes of Horace, the sinewy economy of Latin grammar as exhibited in the oratory of Cicero, the strategic niceties of the Punic Wars, the generalship of Julius Caesar and the voluptuous excesses of the later emperors. That’s a big undertaking and it takes time, concentration, dedication. Yet you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class’s attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses (as a Latin scholar you would know better than to say ‘ignorami’) who, with strong political and especially financial support, scurry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed. There never was a Roman Empire. The entire world came into existence on

... (read more)

I have stopped recommending Dawkin's work to people who are on the fence about religion. The God Delusion utterly destroyed his effectiveness at convincing people against religion. (In a world in which they couldn't do an internet search on his name, it might not matter; we don't live in that world, and I assume other people are as likely to investigate somebody as I am.) It doesn't even matter whether his facts are right or not, the way he presents them will put most people on the intellectual defensive.

This has come up before in other discussions, ... (read more)

I believe his original approach of not trying to argue them out of it at all was a more effective one. Partly because his argument was so wildly misaligned. His disproof of God is laughably bad from a religious perspective - although it makes perfect sense from an atheistic one. (It makes a number of assumptions about God that few, if any, deists actually agree with.) Partly because of the tone, which sets any reader who has an emotional buy-in looking for flaws which are readily found. There is a hint there about when a negative tone might be more effective, though - when there aren't flaws to be found. When your opponent is so angry he looks for any possible argument, and finds none.
Flaws can always be found. Just because an argument against God is logically valid and based on true premises doesn't mean that believers won't be able to argue against it, they'll just need an unsound counterargument. If most believers found logical flaws in religious arguments easy to spot, they'd have argued themselves out of religion already.
That presumes they care to argue about it with themselves at all, a rather faulty assumption relating to a philosophical doctrine which discourages such questioning. Additionally, I've yet to see a logically valid, based-on-true-premises argument against deism. (Certain -versions- of deism, yes; deism generally, no.) The strongest argument I've seen is that a god is unnecessary/possesses no explanatory power - which as far as I am concerned is as much of an argument as you need, but hardly an argument against god, per se.
What would you regard as an argument against deism, if you wouldn't regard that as one? If such a god is unnecessary and has no explanatory power, then it follows that there's no evidence for it (evidence being observations that are more likely in light of the truth of a proposition than its falsehood, a proposition should always help "explain" why you make observations that are evidence for it.) And we should not believe in complex propositions without evidence, not because it defies some etiquette of rationality, but because they're probably not true. Most theists are, if not acquainted with arguments against the existence of God (although many are familiar with some formulations of such arguments,) but have a number of arguments for belief in God, which they will rehearse whenever they encounter arguments against God. Being entirely sheltered from thinking about the reasons for believing is the exception rather than the rule. Note that Luke claims a single logically sound argument against God (for which you can check the video ElGalambo links in this thread,) but in his experience with actually deconverting people, he has not found any particular argument as effective as creating an impression of being a smart, likeable, good person, while treating religion as low status and uncool.
That presumes a complex god. Your second paragraph only applies to deists who in fact engage in arguments about belief, rather than ignore them. There's a selection bias at play there. Additionally, given that there is (can not be?) evidence against god, any evidence for, however weak, is pretty substantial. As for what an argument against deism would be, it would be an argument which demonstrates that god is unlikely, which is not necessarily the same as unnecessary. (To distinguish between the two, I will point out that from a deist perspective, evolution is unnecessary.) And before we continue, I will add that I have met deists who believe that the universe itself is god. Deism is so broadly defined that a complete proof against it would also be a proof against the aforementioned universe, duck eggs, and wombats.
I address the argument of a simple god in this comment. How do they distinguish believing in a god that is also the universe from believing in the universe, but no god?
As opposed to Gods that can be described in only a few bits. I am not sure what the lower limit on information complexity on a God is, but if it is going to do the sorts of things people generally claim a God does, it is going to be a complex proposition. Saying that "the universe is God" is disprovable without disproving duck eggs and wombats. If the Universe is God, then there must be some classification "God" that is at least epistemically different from "Universe" or else the statement is meaningless. Saying that the universe does not fit into the class "God" is not saying that the universe doesn't exist.
Which people, and which claims? Complexity is not necessary to beget complexity; evolution, for example, is a remarkably simple process. One deist's position was that the universe as god had a particular goal in mind, cohesion. His particular god was impersonal and disprovable (as he claimed the contraction of the universe to a single point was the purpose of that god, if that were not the case, it would be a contradiction), and had a particular theistic ramification; the dead joined the universal consciousness, which was, as far as I could tell from conversation with him, a strictly experiential existence, devoid of thought and possessing only purpose - the aforementioned cohesion.
Have you ever questioned him on whether the discovery that the rate of universal expansion is accelerating, suggesting that the universe is unlikely to end in a Big Crunch, affects his beliefs?

I see less Tone Argument with atheism than with the sense of 'Privilege' that was introduced in The Invisible Knapsack, including its variant forms.

Some people the notion of 'privilege' is aimed at 'get it', and some don't, but I've never seen it mentioned without a raft of people making obvious facile objections because the idea is presented aggressively. People who 'get it' and also note that this approach is not maximally efficient... catch a tremendous degree of flak, and that includes complaints against using 'Tone Arguments'.

I suspect the "getting it" versus "not getting it" is largely derived from different baselines. If you choose a social-normative baseline, "privilege" makes no sense, because what you're really talking about is a lack of handicaps, and the implication that somebody is better off because they -aren't- handicapped, rather than because of their own efforts (which somehow always gets suggested in privilege discussions), is offensive. If you choose a lower baseline, "handicap" is just offensive, because really, people who are better off than the baseline are enjoying a special status they refuse to acknowledge. Personally, I find it a gross misuse of the word "privilege" to begin with, and a blatant attempt at connotation mining a word which had its connotative roots in its meaning of special legal rights enjoyed by a legally superior class. Its use in a non-legal context, to describe the absence of social or physical handicaps, was initiated in a deliberate attempt at mental subversion, to bypass rationality with the emotive appeal of a word. But then, I ascribe to a higher baseline of "normal."
I fear you are too late: it's a meaning the word has in English now, and it's one that's actually useful.
The English language is not homogeneous. It's only useful among that set of people who agree with that meaning; considering this is also the set that agrees with you about your arguments, the word has no business being in any arguments meant to convince people you're correct.
This reads like an attempt to say "words mean what me and my friends want them to mean" as a response to "it's technical jargon with a particular and useful meaning". I appreciate you don't want the term to exist, but it still does.
Where did you get that from? It's not in evidence from the point you're replying to.
A response to "It's technical jargon with a particular and useful meaning" would have been "Technical jargon shouldn't be used in arguing with the public." That is not, in fact, the statement which I was responding to.
This is probably the wrong place to talk about language, but I encourage you to look up how language actually works in the wild, both among small cultures and large populations. You may find that your phrase: "words mean what me and my friends want them to mean," is a surprisingly accurate description of language.
Yes, but that doesn't mean "and therefore not what your friends and this substantially well-documented academic usage want them to mean". I figured that bit was implied.
Arguably useful, but it has such a tendency to derail that I suspect it's much more marginal than it really ought to be.
It's technical jargon that escaped.

We have quite a few atheist converts on LW. How about a poll?

Upvote if you converted to atheism, and Richard Dawkins made the conversion neither easier nor harder.

Upvote if you converted to atheism, and Richard Dawkins made the conversion easier.

Upvote if you converted to atheism, and Richard Dawkins made the conversion harder.
Discuss this poll by replying to this comment.
HonoreDB created a way to embed polls here instead of using karma.
What counts as a "conversion"? I was baptized Catholic, but my family was otherwise extremely lapsed. I don't think I really believed in anything that strongly before briefly dabbling in various esoteric practices. JREF and Gödel, Escher, Bach convinced me otherwise.
I converted long before I heard of Dawkins. Reading God Delusion at work made for a very awkward conversation with my boss once, but he was the one who came out as a dick, and after that, everybody has been pretty quiet about the whole religion thing.

I object to the tone of this post

So do I, in retrospect. Shouldn't have attacked Richard Dawkins. Apparently he's a polarizing figure `round these parts.
Yes, that must be it; it couldn't possibly be that you were in fact saying insubstantiable things.

Tone arguments are not necessarily logical errors

I think people's objections to tone arguments have often been misinterpreted because (ironically) the objections are often explained more emotively and less dispassionately.

As I understand it, the problem with "tone arguments" is NOT that they're inherently fallacious, but rather, than they're USUALLY (although not necessarily) rude and inflammatory.

I think a stereotypical exchange might be:

A says something inadvertently offensive to subgroup Beta B says "How dare you? Blah blah blah" ... (read more)

Or, in short, the categorical assessment of "Responding to Tone" as either a logical fallacy or a poor argument is incorrect

People actually do that? Those'd be crazy things for them to claim.


Tone arguments are not necessarily logical errors; they may be invoked by those who agree with the substance of an argument who nevertheless may feel that the argument, as posed, is counterproductive to its intended purpose.

Hmm, I guess I can still shrug off tone disagreements, because my arguments are rarely intended to convince someone. I mostly just try to exchange information. If people don't want my information, or give me noise instead of information, that's ok and I go talk to someone else. Sorry, this is not meant as a statement of superiority, but it seems to work pretty well for me.

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