Forum:On ridicule

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Stuff starts here[edit]

On the Christianity talk page we were taking to task by User:Fyrius for using ridicule in an article. In essence the claim is made that using ridicule against ideas is not rational.

At the time a couple of us responded saying that ridiculous ideas deserve to be ridiculed. But I've been thinking about it some more. Let's say that somebody claims that the earth was created 500 years ago by a magic fairy. (Ok, so all fairies are magical, but you get the point.) Furthermore, all evidence to the contrary has either been: magically created to give the appearance of age; misinterpreted by sceptics; or doesn't really exist.

How could one rationally engage with such a person? It seems to me that it would be impossible and that one's only option is to ridicule the ridiculous idea. Or am I being too unkind to my hypothetical fairy worshippers?--BobSpring is sprung! 17:54, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Well, in terms of how articles should be written, it SPOV gives us a lot of elbow room, and that includes ridiculing absurd ideas.
But is ridicule "rational?" I'm not sure. I will say that religions do not deserve special respect, though. After all, the idea of free speech protects both kindness and unkindness. But that doesn't justify mockery. I think it really comes down to etiquette, which in essence is personal preference. However, I personally like to be civil, as doing so puts me above most obnoxious religous people. Tetronian you're clueless 18:01, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
I think that ridicule is fine so long as we remain reasonably factual. I say "reasonable" because relious beliefs and woo are not consistently defined. Lies are bad, but poking fun is fine. I'd accuse Catholics of being tree-stump worshiping nutters, but I'd struggle to support the claim that they eat babies. ConcernedresidentAsk me about your mother 18:07, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
It's not like we don't have serious criticisms & arguments against creationism, etc. As long as we've got a serious point to make, using some humour & satire is fair. & Reductio ad absurdum can be a valid argument (although our article on it isn't currently defining it very well). WeaseloidWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 20:44, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
Fyrius here. I'm glad you guys are taking this seriously. :)
Bob: I do think you can rationally argue against unfalsifiable baloney like that. I've been doing just that for a long time. Instead of empirical arguments, you would then need to use arguments from methodology; Ockham's razor, the requirement of falsifiability, and the idea that an explanation should predict what we see but should also crucially rule out that which we don't see. An explanation that could explain anything is useless, because you can't tell from any sort of evidence whether it's true or not. (For further reading, see this article on LessWrong.)
I've been thinking about our exchange on the Talk:Christianity page. I'm generally not one at all to discourage sillyness. But if people actually take ridicule seriously, even half-heartedly, that worries me. If you start disrespecting your intellectual opponents, to a point where you no longer feel it's necessary to listen to what they have to say for themselves, assuming a priori that it'll probably be nonsense anyway... that's how people become bigots. I'm sure this mind-set is very wide-spread among the denizens of Conservapedia. I think this is probably one of the basic things going horribly wrong there.
And I'm going to link to another article on LessWrong, on why belittling the seriousness and complexity of an opposing point of view is a bad idea. (Tl;dr: the upshot is that ridicule is a thought-stopper, and again, it can be used against anything, true or false.) Fyrius (talk) 09:34, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Mmmm. All very well to talk about empirical arguments and so on, but you can come across people who are simply stuck in their own universe. I would be interesting to see how well that worked at A Storehouse of Knowledge for example. Nods.gif. --BobSpring is sprung! 09:46, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Some people are not receptive to reason. I'll have to admit that. It breaks my heart, but it's true.
But when reason doesn't work, ridicule isn't going to help either. Arguably in that situation the only thing you can hope to achieve is that the wrong beliefs don't spread, but I say you can achieve that better with arguments than with ridicule. Ridicule is easier, but arguments are the only valid way to discredit ideas, and furthermore by being the one to remain reasonable you'll set people the right example on how to evaluate beliefs and deal with disagreements about factual things.
I'm not sure if it's part of the objectives of this project to improve the number of rational thoughts per capita in the world, to encourage laypeople to become more rational and help them learn how to be so, but if I can be said to have any sort of personal political agenda, that's definitely on it. (Between solving world hunger and instating a worldwide annual silly hats day.) Fyrius (talk) 10:47, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
If you want to write hundreds of ridicule-free, high-quality, well-written and researched articles completely rebutting falsehoods - go for it. You are not achieving anything debating the point. - π 11:18, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Are you saying I should be busy editing, instead of discussing policies on what edits should be made?
What I want, or what I think would be nice, is a wiki debunking irrational beliefs without being an agreement hive. A wiki you can refer open-minded but superstitious people to, that will show them why their beliefs are wrong without trying to make them angry. I think it would be nice if this place would not scare away anyone who does not already agree with us. That way it could actually make the world a better place, so to speak.
What I'm doing here is discussing whether the rest of you also think that's a good idea. Because if not, if I would be just one person trying to turn RW into a different kind of place that nobody else wants, that would be called "trolling". Fyrius (talk) 11:59, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Not quite. I read him as suggesting that if you were to start and write an article - or, say, add a section to an existing article, in the tone and manner you prefer, it would probably be well-received. As people start to appreciate your work and style, they might even start to mimic it/use it themselves. ħumanUser talk:Human 00:11, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Yes, we would like all those things. If you would like to start making edits in that direction that would be more productive than discussing policy. - π 12:05, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Okay. Can I start with booting that "Christianity in a nutshell" section off the Christianity page? Fyrius (talk) 12:10, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Isn't that under discussion over on that article's talkpage? - π 12:12, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Pi: Hence my point.
You're right that I could be spending more time improving articles. I'll see what I can contribute. I'm just not sure if editing the derision out would be approved of, so I'm letting the discussion unfold first. Fyrius (talk) 12:27, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
The thing is that RW is the product of its membership. Articles will be written and edits will be made which accord with the views of its membership and its mission statement on the front page. Your are not the first, and you won't be the last, to suggest other directions for the wiki. You are as welcome as anyone to attempt to change the direction of the wiki, though I must admit that people generally wait to establish a bit of an editing history first.--BobSpring is sprung! 12:21, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Bob: Noted, I don't have a lot of "street cred" here. I'm tempted to point out that that shouldn't be relevant as long as the idea can be judged on its own merits, and I'm aware I've already pointed it out by the time I'm overhere in this sentence, but your point is taken. Fyrius (talk) 12:27, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Yeah, "street cred" shouldn't matter, and I'd happily say it doesn't. But we're all human and that it sort of does in a way, reputation carries people along whether you like it or not. But as far as I'm concerned at least, you've raised a point, you've talked it over, you've made clear suggestions and came back to defend yourself. So points all round in my book regarding credibility. But take some heed of what Bob says, RW is a bit chaotic with opinions, you'll find people who agree with you and who disagree with you, and out of that mess something will arise that just works well, reads well and everyone can, at least in part, agree on. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 15:31, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Actually just reading my own link to "What is a Rationalwiki article?" below, I find:
  • Sarcasm, satire, absurdist commentary, frank language and witty asides are all part of how the site wants to present its material to the world. It makes it both fun to edit and fun to read.
So we are pretty up-front about it.--BobSpring is sprung! 15:38, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Yes, but how much mockery is too much? That was Fyrius's point anyway. Tetronian you're clueless 15:43, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
I'm sure that he can speak for himself, but I'm pretty sure that he was arguing against it in principle not in quantity.--BobSpring is sprung! 15:50, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
(EC)Indeed, it can be too much. But we can't codify what is too much and what is just enough. That would be impossible. But we need to reiterate the spirit of the site whenever people get lazy, and we do sometimes. It's piss-easy to write an article and say "this is obvious nonsense, how stupid is this?" but we want to know why it's laughable. If we can't justify the snark, then it shouldn't be there. I've always said that snark should never come at the expense of facts - I've also got no problem fact tagging things that I know to be true or agree with. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 15:52, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
But how does one "justify snark?" As we know, humor is a very subjective phenomenon - what some people find funny, others find unfunny and/or offensive. Tetronian you're clueless 15:56, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
As with any wiki I suppose. Does it stand the passage of time and review by multiple editors.--BobSpring is sprung! 15:59, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Yes, it'd have to stand the passage of time and review by others, including the ones who say "enough is enough". Scarlet A.pnggnostic 16:00, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Let me clear up my point. What worries me about mockery is the extent to which people are serious about it. If you're proclaiming Christianity is about zombies and rib-women and talking snakes and then move on to explain string theory as the theory that electrical guitars are so awesome they can distort the fabric of reality, that's cool with me. But if you sincerely believe Christianity is so freaking stupid you need to be half a madman to give it a second thought, I think that's where it becomes detrimental to your ability to remain a detached rationalist about it. I'm worried about people taking pride in not believing in Christianity. Fyrius (talk) 16:01, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
No one is suggesting that you need to be "a madman" to believe in it, but we are pointing out the absurdity of the Bible and other religious texts. As Pi says in the section below, "we can call bullshit when we see it and laugh at it."
As for "'I'm worried about people taking pride in not believing in Christianity." - um, why? As Richard Dawkins says, there is no reason to be ashamed of not believing in religion. Quite the opposite. It shows that you are actually thinking about religion rather than passively agreeing. Tetronian you're clueless 16:04, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
I don't get the pride bit either. By the way, I think Christianity gets more stick becasue it's the one we know most about. To be fair I'd say it's no more stupid than any other religion.--BobSpring is sprung! 16:08, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Hang on. There's a world of difference between "it's nothing to be proud of" and "it's something to be ashamed of". A belief merits neither pride nor shame, and both pride and shame about beliefs will get in the way of any honest effort to find out what's actually true. Hence why I oppose being proud of not believing something. Fyrius (talk) 16:11, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Ah, now I see your point. The problem, though, is that the "pride" meme is almost universal no matter what subject (religion, politics, hair color) we are talking about. In a perfect world, we would all be conciliatory and polite when arguing with/writing about religion, but we aren't, in no small part because the opposition isn't either. Instead, we have snark to liven things up. RW's position (and my own) on humor is basically "as long as humor doesn't take the place of intelligent debate, it's fine." What's wrong with that? Tetronian you're clueless 16:18, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
On pride: The young idealist in me does not feel particularly compelled to accept "that's the way things go" as a reason why it's okay not to do anything about this trend.
On lulz: I won't bore you by repeating myself on when I think snark is okay and when not. Fyrius (talk) 17:10, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Pride I don't get either... pride, to me, is something you take in your achievements. Pride in being gay? No. Pride in having the courage to come out in a hostile environment? Yes. Of course, this is semantics (and I also vaguely remember discussing this elsewhere recently) but it's still a point worth making if we're going to diverge in that direction. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 07:22, 2 April 2010 (UTC)

My $0.02[edit]

I was actually thinking to myself the other day, what are we trying to actually achieve with RationalWiki? The answer came to me quickly and was fairly obvious - we are writing the articles you can not write at Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a great resource and if you want information on Christianity that is where I would go.

So what can we do that Wikipedia can't?

  1. Original research - go to the original source and write about it, don't wait for someone else to. Check out what LArron has been doing with Dembski's research papers
  2. Non-notability - who cares if he is a small time vlogger on YouTube with no media reports on him, if he is a big deal in that community you can write about him
  3. Neutrality - we can call bullshit when we see it and laugh at it

I am sure there is more, but to me we are not adding anything by having a dry serious article on Christianity, Wikipedia has an awesome one, we need something that complements and adds to that. - π 13:08, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

I think Pi has it right. However, there are limits to #3, such as (a) libel, and (b) we don't all agree on what should be ridiculed. That was the source of this problem anyway. Unless we can come to a consensus on that, I'm not sure how we can deal with this problem going forward. Tetronian you're clueless 15:21, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
No.2 is certainly my favourite of those. RW shouldn't have a "notability" guideline. If it's out there, then it should appear here. Even the most obscure stuff, then RW acts as a resource when someone wants to know about it (the laws of the internet being the top example, even though they're only tangential to the mission). So of course, ridicule has its place based on the fact that RW is not WP, in many, many ways - and you're right, dry, serious articles add nothing. I'd like us to take the Penn & Teller route a bit more; "we're biased as all fuck, but we at least try to be honest". Scarlet A.pnggnostic 15:27, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Yes, but a lot of this is covered at: RationalWiki:What is a RationalWiki article? , isn't it?--BobSpring is sprung! 15:29, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
It is, but Pi's list is addressing the spirit and meaning behind the guidelines. Tetronian you're clueless 15:40, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Ah!--BobSpring is sprung! 15:51, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

My $0.02 as well[edit]

I agree with both sides of the argument here. If you want to be more persuasive and less polarizing, use less ridicule. If you want to have fun and be more entertaining, use more ridicule. I'm not sure you can have it both ways, unfortunately. I tend to write more subtle, jabbing humor than what I've seen on this site so far, so perhaps that's one way to go.

Another option I was thinking of was creating a separate wiki based on pure empiricism and logical argumentation including both inductive and deductive reasoning (but making a clear distinction between the two). It would be a dry read, but hopefully the information would be in such a concise format (propositional logic?) that you wouldn't have to read much before getting at the information you were after. For example, the conclusion that belief in God is irrational could be argued via propositional logic, and that would take up very little space I think.

If such a wiki already exists, please do point me to it! --Domokato (talk) 23:51, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

There's a huge index of wikis at, um, wikiindex, searching there might find one or several. ħumanUser talk:Human 00:12, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Write an essay called Proof God is illogical via propositional logic if you want. - π 00:20, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
That's an idea, but I would prefer a dedicated wiki, since then you could cleanly build it up by using previous conclusions as premises for future arguments via inter-wiki links. --Domokato (talk) 00:36, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
How can you not do that with a series of articles here? I'll make you a nav box if need be. - π 00:55, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Hmmm...okay, you've convinced me :). Ummm...I'm not a very experienced wikipedian, so before you make that nav box, I think I'll create a few articles first. --Domokato (talk) 01:15, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Thanks, I eventually found Debatepedia, which I am pretty impressed with so far. Check out the page on Atheism. The only problem is, it only lists pros and cons and doesn't attempt to resolve disagreements and arrive at conclusions. I had a more conclusive wiki in mind. Since I can't find one, maybe I'll create it. The only problem is, I'm a computer scientist with some education in philosophy, but not quite a philosopher/logician. Are there any hardcore philosophers/logicians here that would be interested in such a project? --Domokato (talk) 00:36, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Not wanting to have a go at you or anything, but I'll give you 10 to 1 that you will be the only one editing it and it will die from stagnation within a year. The overwhelming majority of wiki projects fail. - π 00:53, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
How would you go about attracting users then? --Seantalk 01:02, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Pimping it here is not a bad start, but wiki's grow largely through word of mouth. People linking to you on forums and discussion boards. So unless you want to go a full Ken and pimp it yourself, you need a fairly established project before you even create the wiki. - π 01:05, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
If you're asking me, I suppose I could democratize it more. Instead of making it only accessible to philosophers and logicians, I could try to make it more accessible to the general public. --Domokato (talk) 01:15, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
I suspected as much. But of course, I can't let that stop me. Especially when I see much potential value in a wiki like this. It could allow people to get their arguments out on the web for others to scrutinize and update, accept, or reject. For conclusive arguments, you could build new arguments based on them, creating a knowledge tree based on logic and evidence. For example, after concluding that empiricism is the most rational method of knowledge acquisition, you could build on that to conclude that atheism is the most rational position in regards to the question of the existence of God, etc. That would be pretty cool to have, wouldn't it? --Domokato (talk) 01:15, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Yep, the wiki has a lot of potential. I say you should ignore the Old Guard and naysayers and go ahead with whatever you want. RW is community driven and communities are made up of individuals doing what they want. If you want to write something regarding propositional logic and God, you might drag the intellectual heavy-weights out of the closet. I'm interested, at least. Well, possibly not contributing as I'm not too big on advanced philosophy, but I'm keen to read other's ideas to see if they work for me, and once I've done that, I can throw some constructive dialogue your way. This sort of thing would interest me, but I don't have the pre-existing knowledge or ideas to kick that sort of thing off. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 07:18, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
agreed, but I don't think any form of formal logic is gonna get you where you want to go. But feel free to try. ħumanUser talk:Human 10:23, 2 April 2010 (UTC)


Here's a thought. The libel laws in the UK are changing, not sure when, but they will. The thing is, could this prompt people who we've pissed-off a little to think "shit, if I'm going to sue these bastards, I better do it now before it's too late!" Of course, this is unlikely, but it's not impossible and the spectre of this sort of threat is always there - in the past we've came very, very close to the opening shots of such an action being fired. This is why a good ratio of fact-to-ridicule is needed, rather than just plain ridicule. While we're not bad at this, we could always be better and we must always be wary of getting complacent on the issue. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 15:59, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

I've wondered about this as well. But what I've wondered is could RW be sued in the UK where suing is easy?--BobSpring is sprung! 16:02, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
It applies to numerous websites. This is why "content is not available in your country" pops up. A lot of people waiting to sue in places like the US spend their time trying to find a way of proving that the material can be viewed in the UK. When they prove that, they sue in the UK, using UK libel laws. It's getting so bad that the US and the rest of Europe were thinking of outright refusing to acknowledge the legal weight of UK law themselves in a combination of protest and self defence. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 16:06, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
So it's based on where the content is viewable, then. So, basically, we can be sued from anywhere. Tetronian you're clueless 16:07, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Interesting, but what would the legal mechanics be in that case? I mean the server is not in the UK and neither is the owner.--BobSpring is sprung! 16:10, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
If I'm interpreting what Armond is saying correctly, the location of the server doesn't matter. Also, there is a little precedent - remember when Dembski was going to sue us over LArron's paper? In that case, it apparently didn't matter that he was in a different country. Tetronian you're clueless 16:13, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
I understand that. What I mean is how would the person who claimed to have been libelled actually physically get hold of somebody to sue? And if they (somehow) got a judgement in their absence how would they enforce the judgement?--BobSpring is sprung! 16:45, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
The issue of physically getting at the people responsible is also problematic. Hence why they often go up against ISPs, servers, or domain owners specifically, as these people are registered. To some degree (IIRC) some modern laws sort of give immunity to these people based on the fact that much content is user generated so they have little control over it, but as I said, that's only to some extent. But of course, the content would still be available, this is the internet and it's practically impossible to delete something from it, but the name, our hosting, our Google results and the community are things that could be lost if some unscrupulous bastard decides to go after us in some way. But whether the threat is imminent or only metaphysical at the moment is beside the point, if we want to appear as a bed of zen-like rationalism, then we need to clear up our arguments, source our statements, and cut the ridiculous assertions that aren't based around anything. Simon Singh was strung up to the tune of two years and £200,000 for a few words and it's a big risk to think we're immune from it. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 07:13, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
OK. But I'm still not sure how they would go about it. As far as I can tell nothing associated with the running of RW in based in the UK. Can a British libel court issue international arrest warrants? Can they extradite somebody from another country? Can they hold the case in absentia? I rather doubt it. So I'm just not sure how one could even initiate action against somebody who has neither a physical presence nor assets in the UK. I'm not saying that we shouldn't do things properly - I just can't see how the British libel laws could be used against RW. On the other hand I'm not a lawyer, and I'm always happy to have my ignorance reduced.--BobSpring is sprung! 10:34, 12 April 2010 (UTC)

unscrupulous bastard[edit]

Sorry, I just thought that was such a great phrase that I would swing it here against anyone who doesn't like us (typed with an embarrassing fake British accent, watching QI, sorry). ħumanUser talk:Human 08:07, 2 April 2010 (UTC)

Well, anyone who would go after RW is probably, by definition, an unscrupulous bastard. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 08:28, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
And so, what would anyone who goes before RW be? ħumanUser talk:Human 08:31, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Hurr hurr. Scarlet A.pnggnostic 08:33, 2 April 2010 (UTC)
Let us now pluck the feathers from a turkey who accidentally crossed our paths, and then roast it with chestnuts and potatoes. Also with some scrumpy yorkshire pies and trifle. What a lovely breakfast! ħumanUser talk:Human 08:40, 2 April 2010 (UTC)


This strikes me as more of a stylistic question. Ideally the WTFness of the ridiculous notion should be presented so as to be self-evident. Though sometimes you really do just want to shout "WHAT THE FUCK" - David Gerard (talk) 10:09, 12 April 2010 (UTC)