A Few Remarks On the Roles of Race, Sex, and Ethnicity in the Skeptic Movement

This shall be a quote-by-quote set of remarks. Most quotes come from this post.

You know what? That is a great big hairy naked sexist remark. It’s a plain assumption that men are intrinsically better suited to leading skepticism and atheism. You can’t get much plainer than “It’s more of a guy thing.”

-Agreed. Though Shermer’s statement is true in a sense, calling attention to arbitrary differences in the composition of individuals known to be intellectually active in the Skeptic movement and the fact Shermer is, himself, a ‘guy’, makes his statement look like a piece of self-backslapping, and as meaning to cause deliberate offense against all non-male Skeptics. He should have added a “the above remark should not be construed to mean that I claimed the very condition of being non-male causes one to have a lower likelihood of being intellectually active in the Skeptic movement-intellectual activity in the Skeptic movement is almost certainly wholly dependent variables other than sex”.

A good response would have been to admit that he’d made an unthinking, stupid remark and that he’d like to retract it. But that’s not what he does. Instead, he argues that he really does think the split in participation is 50/50, and points to TAM as having roughly equal numbers of men and women speaking.

-Or at least, explain the remark so as to make sure it did not mean sex alone determines one’s level of intellectual activity in the Skeptic movement.

Oh. So I guess it’s not a guy thing, and you were wrong, Michael. It might have been cleverer of you to just say, “I was wrong, I made a sexist remark, the evidence shows that it’s not a guy thing.” A column in which he recognized his own sexism and talked about conscious efforts to improve would have been a good and respectful step forward.

-I agree with the above quote.

Shrugging your shoulders and saying that there is nothing wrong with our values being different than those of the black community, or the Hispanic community, or those of women is an open admission that you aren’t working under the banner of Secularism, but under the banner of White Man’s Secularism.

-The ‘black community’, being based on an arbitrary characteristic (whatever ‘race’ happens to be) should not exist, though it apparently does (see the exit polls). Ethnicity (‘Hispanic community’) should play a role where it is useful (in the United States, this would be southwesternmost Texas, S. Florida, California, NM, and parts of Colorado and Washington State) to the spread of Skepticism. PZ’s apparent implication that ethnicity or race determines values is bizarre and preposterous. There is no ‘White Man’s Skepticism-such a thing almost self-evidently does not, and, as long as the white population remains above ten thousand or so, cannot, exist. I agree with Michael Shermer’s assertion that

Given this tribal propensity in human nature to divide people into In-Group/Out-Group and Us v. Them cohorts, we would be wise to not let our various affiliated movements (skeptical, atheist, humanist) be rent asunder. As Ben Franklin admonished his fellow freedom fighters, “we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” There is still very real discrimination to be combatted in our society, with gays and atheists as two of the last minority groups to be targeted.

As ‘race’ is one of the most arbitrary of arbitrary characteristics, it makes sense there should be no such thing as ‘White Skepticism” or “Black Skepticism” or “Western North American skepticism” or “South American skepticism”-ideas should stand on their own.

You are making an implicitly sexist/racist remark when you blandly insist that what ought to be a truly catholic movement to improve humanity is just fine if it somehow fails to engage the concerns of non-white non-male people as much as it does us.

Every one of us has preconceptions about people made on the basis of sex and race. You don’t progress by pretending that stereotypes and perception don’t shape how we judge people.

These are implicit biases in our views. This is racism, classism, sexism.

-Accepting correlations between race/ethnicity and certain behaviors does not equate to accepting that race as an independent variable has a causative role in certain behaviors. I define only the latter as racism. A truly catholic movement should not determine niches in its research on the basis of race, and should strongly limit specialization in its research on the basis of sex.

I could go on at length about Shermer’s other complaint: that the “invectosphere” called him names. He doesn’t get to complain about that at all with respect to Ophelia, who has been under a ferocious invective assault for the last few years; that he complains about being called a “jackass” is pathetic and feeble when you compare it to the non-stop abuse Ophelia, Jen, Greta, Rebecca, and just about every woman participant in this argument gets flooded with online.

-I call tu quoque fallacy.

There is nothing inherently bigoted, racist, or misogynistic in the fact that the demographics of the secular community do not reflect those of the general population (in gender, in age and socio-economic class, or in height, weight, or any number of other variables for that matter), so short of some other evidence of bigotry, racism, and misogyny, there is no need to go in search of demons to exorcise.

-I strongly agree with Shermer on this one.

Atheism∞: The Logical Counterpart to Atheism+

Perhaps the most poignant criticisms of the ideas of Atheism+ I criticized almost a month ago come from this parody:

The video above describes the introduction of Atheism∞, a third movement of New Atheism that includes not merely LGBT-and-women-and-blacks should be protected by the Government and the rest of society issues, but issues nearly all Atheism+ers consider to be of importance, such as Global Warming, non-human-life rights, nutrition, declining bio-diversity, the “re-emergence of tuberculosis” and gun control. While I don’t know of any sane Skeptic who isn’t concerned about nutrition, Global Warming, and declining bio-diversity, it is clear that, as Atheism+, Atheism∞ is all about introducing not-clearly-necessary baggage into the Atheist movement. The video above also satirizes the idea that organized blogging collectives do not create divisions between those collectives and other bloggers and blogging collectives (thankfully, there are no organized YouTube collectives!)

C0nc0rdance’s reply to Atheism+, however, misses the whole point of the movement. Atheism+ is all about purifying the atheist movement from the lack of complete agreement with the FTB positions on LGBT-and-women-and-blacks should be protected by the Government and the rest of society issues the Four Horsemen of New Atheism have. It is all about naming & shaming, ideological tests, and restricting speech in comment threads. To ask its founders to oppose ideological tests is like asking them to oppose religious tests, or tests of belief in an old earth and the safety of vaccination. Also, on the Internet, the community chooses its command structure-all popular decisions made by the command structure are by definition supported by the community.

Evolution With A God, Evolutionary Creationism, and When The Boundary Between Them Blurs

As I have pointed out on the Vridar blog, there has been a trend in recent years to attempt to re-brand “theistic evolutionism” (that is, evolution with divine guidance) as “evolutionary creationism”. Today, Fred Clark wrote a post entitled “Why I am not a theistic evolutionist and why I do not ‘believe in’ evolution”. This post makes the perfectly legitimate point that there is no such term as “theistic chemistry” (or, I might add, a “theistic history of Israel”). I suspect this is due to the idea, commonly held in practice, that God does not influence that which can be explained by science, and that this is due to the traditional practical separation of the ‘divinely explained’ and ‘naturally explainable’.

Few creationists of any stripe would claim that God is directly involved in the process of changing the states of chemicals, but, if they are logically consistent, they will recognize that they believe that God created each and every bit of matter in the Universe in the beginning and has a plan for each and every bit of matter, and that this plan is not necessarily consistent with the laws of chemistry or physics. However, this recognized belief can not be classified as “theistic chemistry” (except if the word is interpreted as below), as divine intervention is the exception in the creationist view of chemistry, not the rule. This is the case for all fields of science that do not deal with the origins of the Universe, Earth, the continents, animals that look similar or a nation said to be divinely-chosen.

Thus, events that are explainable by science, excepting those I have pointed out above, are typically viewed by theists as unconnected with the god they believe in. It appears that Fred Clark views all natural phenomena, including those I have mentioned above, as explainable by science, and views God as being mostly unconnected with the Universe or has a view of God that is equivalent with the above view in practice/terms of observable reality. This would make him not an ‘evolutionary creationist’, but merely and a believer of evolution with a practically unconnected belief in a god.

Let us now analyze, as New/Gnu Atheists, the importance of the distinction between those like my interpretation of Fred Clark and the Evolutionary Creationists.  Those who have seemingly practically unconnected beliefs in evolution and a god still need to be dissuaded from their theism, though at first glance, their beliefs may seem less harmful than those of the evolutionary creationists. However, the god of those such as my interpretation of Fred Clark still may provide an interpretative framework for what happens in nature. While my interpretation of Fred Clark may state that to him, “theistic evolutionism” is as nonsensical as “theistic chemistry”, as long as either chemistry, gravity, or evolution is viewed through the interpretive lens of a plan of a god, this provides ammunition to the accommodationists, who claim that religion is compatible with science. Thus, a museum placard stating that, say, gravity, can be viewed through the lens of a god, quite offensive to us New Atheists, would cause no offense for my reconstruction of Fred Clark. Viewed this way, a “theistic chemistry” does emerge, in practice no different from “atheistic chemistry”, but in theory being very different, indeed.

Fred types:

We might guess that “theistic evolution” refers to the perspective of Christians and many other theists that God is ever-present and that nothing is separate from God’s over-arching providence — that by God “all things consist,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. Perhaps this is all this adjective signifies here.

But I’m afraid that won’t do. If the word is simply meant to express something that all Christians believe to be true of every process and phenomenon, then we must somehow account for the fact that we do not use it in reference to any other such process or phenomenon.

-Yet, I fear that the accomodationists will use it in reference to every other process and phenomenon. Thus, with the help of accomodationism, the line between ‘evolution with a god’ moves much closer to that of ‘evolutionary creationism’.

Noting this, it is clear that those who believe in both a practically passive god and evolution may, while thankfully not believe in a ‘god of the gaps’, still believe in an imaginary omniscient male who lives in outer space. Though they may not support creationism of any stripe, their belief in this imaginary omniscient male may still provide fodder for the creationists (what’s to stop this omniscient male from becoming omnipotent?)

The evolutionary creationists, of course, are the true drivers of conflation of religious doctrine and modern science not just in theory, but in practice, and, thus, they must be opposed. Science combined with Occam’s Razor does not allow for a creator god, or a god of any kind.

Why I Partially Oppose The Intolerance of Atheism+

In recent days, a group of New Atheists, led by Jen McCreight, have been calling for an addition of social issues to the atheist agenda. While I agree that, in the long run, Dictionary Atheism will do little to stop the tide of stupidity and nonsense in this world, I do not think social issues should be made an absolutely necessary component of the mainstream atheist movement. This is due to a number of factors. The first of these is that it is not clear whether adding baggage to the atheist movement will help it become more effective at spreading itself. While it is beyond doubt that promoters of atheism treating underprivileged groups with respect will encourage the spread of atheism, it is not at all clear that the refusal of one group of atheists to cooperate with another will lead to a more robust atheist movement.

The second of these factors is that Atheism+ is largely, though not entirely, promoted by Freethought Blogs, a blog collective with no editors, but very strong common intellectual ties, among these being Progressivism, a strong support for anti-harassment policies, and a strong support for government-mandated anti-discriminatory policies, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act here in the U.S. Bloggers who persistently question even one of these positions are swiftly kicked out of the blog collective. The encouragement of Atheism+ will further cement this blog collective’s place in the Atheist movement, thus making the Movement one more of people than ideas. As this blog collective is extremely hostile to large swaths of non-bigoted skeptical atheists, most notably, libertarians, the rise of Atheism+ and Freethought blogs will further alienate large swaths of the atheist population from the mainstream atheist movement.

In short, I conclude that atheist movement should be primarily focused on atheism and skepticism in order to avoid further Deep Rifts. In order to continue its existence as an effective, potent, and robust movement, douchebaggery, assholery, and dickishness must be, in most situations, tolerated, though never promoted. While calling out and opposing racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry in members of the atheist movement is good and praiseworthy behavior, it should only be done to the extent that all major members of the atheist movement can still cooperate with each other when opposing religion and anti-skepticism. As I am on friendly terms with George Grena (a Young Earth Creationist Christian Conservative) on matters of archaeology, so should the misogynistic and feministic atheists be on friendly terms on matters of combating anti-atheist and anti-skeptical elements in our society.