Michael Shermer Denies Ophelia Benson’s Accusation
When will the witch hunt end? I’ll tell you. When atheists kick people like Ophelia to the curb just as people ended the real witch hunt in the 18th century. I read of one incident when a witch hunter came to one man’s door. The homeowner physically threw him off his property, sending him away from the man’s home and wife. Things like that. I’m speaking metaphorically. No physical violence is intended. We just need to stop listening to these extremists. They have lost all credibility when it comes to these things. They’ve cried wolf so many times before we should be less interested in what they have to say from now on. That’s a real shame but it’s true. You can read what Shermer said in Feminism Disconnected: A Response to Ophelia Benson and a Caution on Tribalism in Secularism. But here are a few good quotes:
Where do I say or even imply that women are, in Benson’s characterization of what I said, “too stupid to do nontheism” or that “unbelieving in God is thinky work and women don’t do thinky?” Clearly that is not what I said, as punctuated by my preface that I believe the actual sex ratio is 50/50. And for the record I don’t believe for a moment that women are not smart enough to do nonbelief thinking, or any other type of cognition for that matter.
As well, as in witch hunts of centuries past, we should be cautious of making charges against others because of the near impossibility of denial or explanation after the accusation. (Just read the comments about me in the forum section of Benson’s blog, where I’m called a “jackass,” a “damn fool,” and other descriptors that have become commonplace in the invectosphere. Is there anything I could say that would not confirm readers’ beliefs? Denial is what true witches (and bigots, racists, and misogynists) do. Many other examples abound. Harriet Hall, M.D., the SkepDoc columnist for Skeptic magazine (one of two women columnists of our three, I might add, the other being Karen Stollznow), who lived through and helped bring about the first-wave feminist movement, told me she “was vilified on Ophelia’s blog for not following a certain kind of feminist party line of how a feminist should act and think. And I was attacked there in a disturbingly irrational, nonskeptical way.”
Finally, there is a deeper problem here that I have observed over the past several years that I would like to address to the larger secular community, and that is the dangers of in-group fighting and inquisition purges of those who are not “pure” enough in their atheism, skepticism, or humanism. My partner and co-founder of the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, Pat Linse, was involved in the first wave feminism of the 1960s, and she recalls the lamentable in-group bickering about who were the “true feminists,” and how this led to witch hunts and purges that splintered the movement and made it a less effective political force.
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.”
So we should hang together in our fight against real discrimination, bigotry, racism, misogyny, and homophobia wherever we find it. But instead of looking for demons and finding the witch’s mark of Satan in secular inquisitions, let us note the advancements we have made and celebrate that our movement is making real moral progress in attenuating our inner demons and accentuating the better angels of our nature through science and reason.
As I have said before to the Atheism Plus advocates, apologize and then start over. At this low point you must. You have no other option.