About Me

My photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back to Newcastle tomorrow - well, technically today

Since it's after midnight, I'll be going back to Newcastle today ... technically speaking. But first some sleep.

The trip to Melbourne ended tonight with a very, um, lively gig. I gave a talk to the local Atheist Society about living in a world without objective values/morality, putting a similar line to that which I've given in a number of talks in the past to other forums, though with a different emphasis that involved some new arguments. I obviously pushed a few buttons this time, though, as some of the audience members (well, one in particular) used question time in ways that I found objectionable. Somebody later accused me of having a short fuse, but question time is a time for asking questions, not for making speeches that would be better as infuriated blog posts, berating the speaker for dishonesty or other personal failings, refusing to listen to answers, asking questions on totally different topics, and the like. Beyond a certain point, I don't have to put up with this ... and I didn't.

My only regret is that some listeners thought I was angry: actually, I wasn't particularly. I was annoyed at the behaviour of the last questioner in particular, but I felt quite calm. But people who come along to a talk don't get to be obnoxious to the speaker in question time without receiving a firm response. Once again, it's a time for asking questions. Objections can be made, but they should be expressed thoughtfully and politely. If I'm asked a question, or an objection is put to me in the proper spirit, I'll always give the best and most honest answer I can - not a merely rhetorical one - and I'll frankly admit it if I don't understand what is being asked or if I don't see a clear answer. I'm there to consider and discuss, as well as to put my own viewpoint. But if I'm berated, cut off when I try to give answers, or personally attacked, I'll give the questioner short shrift. Some people need to learn a few manners.

8 comments:

Udo Schuklenk's Ethx Blog said...

lol, someone had a bad time. happens all the time though, when you give talks. there's always someone who would have liked to give a talk and uses question time to do so. needs a firm moderator.

Brian said...

Sounds nasty. Did anyone video question time? You could then point to the provocation.

Russell Blackford said...

The question time wasn't video'd, which is just as well. There's no good way to respond to some things and no one comes out looking good. I'd probably handle things differently if I had an audience like this again. Note, though, that it was the very last questioner, a religious nut, who was especially obnoxious and left me with a really sour taste. Normally such a person would be brought to order by a moderator or even the audience as a whole, but it was left to me say that enough was enough and bring proceedings to a close.

Anonymous said...

What was the question? And your response?

Russell Blackford said...

In the case we're talking about, it wasn't a question. It was a long speech in which she accused me of everything under the sun including intellectual dishonesty. When pressed (by me) as to whether she had a question, she finally said she wanted to know why I lost my Christian faith, back in the day ... which of course I'd be happy to talk about and have spoken elsewhere orally and in writing. However, it had almost nothing to do with the topic under discussion and it would have needed a separate talk to deal with it properly. I referred her to my essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief, where I explain my reasons at some length.

After some more exchanges, I called things to a halt because we were already running overtime, people in the audience were leaving, and she continued to want to deliver what amounted to the oral equivalent of an outraged blog post denouncing me. I told her to put it on her blog.

All in all maybe I could have handled things better, and I ask myself what Richard Dawkins would have done in my place. I'll continue thinking about that, as it's bound to happen to me again. But however well or badly I responded on this occasion, this is a nice counterexample to Tom Johnson's now-exploded claims about nasty New Atheists. In my experience, it's much more likely that someone like me will be treated rudely by a religious person than the other way around.

Russell Blackford said...

That said, the Baptist pastor whom I spoke to the other day was a very nice bloke, and I'm still hoping that my talk to the Crossway Conference next week will go well. I don't think that all Christians are nutcases, and I certainly won't be rude to them. I fully expect that they'll reciprocate. I'm actually grateful that they've invited me to address them.

Lev Lafayette said...

Although I had a prior meeting and couldn't attend I'm going to take a guess at who this person was. I suspect it was the same individual, a regular attendee of the Atheist Society, who after a Sea of Faith meeting in 2008, claimed that speciation had never been observed and there were no intermediate fossils.

When I suggested to the questioner that this was not the case and that references could be provided, the person got up from their chair, put their hands over their ears and started to make for the door crying out "No, I don't want to hear it! I don't want to know!" I am not paraphrasing either...

Russell Blackford said...

Well, there are some strange and often unpleasant people in the world. But as per my latest post, I can't complain about anyone on my current quick trip to Melbourne.