I agree that self-congratulation among skeptics about being champions of reason can ring hollow if not accompanied by sufficient self-examination and in that sense the exercise in those blog-posts seems well-intentioned. However, the tone seemed affectedly self-critical, bordering on self-flagellation, sometimes conceding to hackneyed theological arguments where it was not warranted. It is also useful to complement this exercise of listing what skeptics do wrong, with suggestions to what exactly we can do about it!
Continuing, there is little to disagree with the second post 'Mistakes skeptics make while citing history'. Fact checks are incumbent upon anyone claiming to be an advocate of reason and trotting out factoids as fact is unbecoming of skeptics.
However, the third post 'Mistakes skeptics make while arguing
' seems susceptible to the following critique.
Quote:Quoting obsolete philosophy. Many skeptics only quote the great philosophers, such as Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell. The problem with this is that apologists have long formed powerful objections to these men’s arguments. There are countless professional philosophers, such as Richard Swinburne, Peter Van Inwagen, and Alvin Plantinga, who have dedicated their lives to creating strong responses to such skeptical claims.
This objection seems to cited almost verbatim from a video clip from Dr. William Lane Craig, which has been responded to in a forum thread here
and also in a Nirmukta post
Quote:Being oblivious to Bayes’ Theorem. For some reason, Bayes’ Theorem freaks skeptics out. This is unfortunate because skeptics love to quote Carl Sagan’s restatement of Hume’s proof: ”extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, which is a Bayesian argument! Even worse, not understanding Bayes leaves the skeptic unable to defend this potent maxim.
If the statement that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" must be backed up mathematically by a skeptic, it requires first agreeing upon what 'extraordinary' means here in terms of the quantity of the evidence and offering a crash course on Bayesian approaches to the interlocutors and the audience, neither of which is practicable in a debate setting. Different rhetorical devices are demanded by necessity.
The statement and its equivalent "What is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence" can still be employed effectively in debates by pressing theologians to answer the following : "Name one extraordinary claim, besides God, that you would be prepared to believe without evidence." Sam Harris asks theologians if they would be willing to believe that there is a diamond the size of refrigerator buried in his backyard, if he simply asserted so.
Quote:Only knowing surface level objections.
Ignoring their opponent’s literature and debate tape.
Thinking they will win because they are right.
The importance of doing the homework right, assessing the opponent's arsenal and practicing enough to beat the opponents at their own game, is something evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne seems to have got right during his debate
with theologian John Haught. In these blog post(1
), he describes how he read Dr. Haught's books, watched videotapes, anticipated arguments and prepared his rebuttal accordingly.
Quote:Scientists debating creationists. If you are a scientist, I beg you to not debate creationists. By doing so, you are making it appear that there is a legitimate debate between mainstream science and religion. If you lose, it makes it look as if science lost. This will also happen quite often, as it is virtually impossible to explain science in a debate format.
The most visible scientists at the frontlines of the manufactured creation-evolution controversy do agree and their stance seems to be in line with what Richard Dawkins says in this video