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Posted by on Dec 12, 2012 in Uncategorized Posts | 22 comments

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.

  • ThePrussian

    There they go again.  I thought that I was done with this stuff, but apparently not.  Okay, time to pull out all the stops. 

  • Daniel Waddell

    The problem is that everyone that gets slandered by these arseholes  defends themselves on their own.If everyone were to band together we could squash them like a bug and be done with them.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

    And yet, the more of this sort of controversy they promote, the more traffic their blogs receive. My guess is that it is too profitable. If I’m not mistaken, PZ’s blog brings in more traffic than any other atheist blog out there. And the speaking invitations seem to keep coming.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/E353JCTXVTLW6ET2E5WDEESJT4 Jeff

     Michael Shermer? Who’s next? Any prominent atheists or skeptics they still haven’t attacked? I started to say James Randi but he’s inactive of late & they did target JREF & Grothe. Maybe Sam Harris?

  • http://www.justinvacula.com Justin Vacula

    Ignoring the nonsense, though, lets it go unchecked :

  • BethAnnErickson

     Nope. PZ Myers already got to Sam Harris. http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/wrestling-the-troll

  • Clare45

    I think this part of Michael Shermer’s post hits the nail on the head :

    ” 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.”

    The problem is with how to achieve this unity. The only solution in my mind is to let the outgroup (Benson, Atheist +, nutty feminists etc.) hang themselves. They seem to be doing a pretty good job of this by continuing to attack prominent and well respected atheists like Dawkins, Harris, Shermer and others.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    That’s the problem.  Atheism isn’t a culture or a group or a tribe or anything else.  It’s a philosophical belief.  That’s all.

    Everyone wanting to make it into a culture or a group of like-minded individuals is doomed to failure.

    It’s like saying that all engineers are creationists.  We all know it’s not true.  While a number of creationists have engineering backgrounds, we can’t say anything about engineers based on any of that.

    Yes, it’s true that atheists tend to be skeptics, college educated, politically and socially progressive, that’s not always the case.

    Groups are formed by like minded individuals in order to accomplish something.  The occupy movement had all kinds of people, but with a common goal.  The local church has a large group of very like-minded individuals.  Atheism has neither of those.  Atheists are massively diverse people with many differing (and apparently) mutually contradictory goals.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-De-Fleuriot/611844223 Mike De Fleuriot

     And yet since e-gate, bloggers have been leaving at an interesting rate…

  • bluharmony

     That’s why they do it, in my opinion. They’re not skeptical or reasonable, yet they’re invited to speak in the name of both.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com/ vjack

     You are right. This is why I have been so lousy at ignoring it.

  • An Ardent Skeptic

    Yup…

    My husband and I have been concerned about the calls for “activism and movements” since they first began.  Activism and movements generally require leaders and followers, with goal achievement advanced by engaging in sloganeering which oversimplifies what the activism or movement is about.  

    Sloganeering is the antithesis of good skepticism because it glosses over the nuance necessary to form well-reasoned, evidence based provisional conclusions.  Moreover, it emphasizes conclusions rather than the methodology for reaching conclusions.  

    If we want to maintain the ideals we claim to advocate while being active and making movements, it requires far more vigilance than we have proven ourselves willing to exercise.  As a result, the “movement” has become what one would expect, ‘Hypocrisy In Action’.  The continual demand that we must accept the conclusions (without question) of our most vocal “skeptic” spokespeople, while they refuse to respond to alternative points of view with well-reasoned, evidence based argumentation, is appalling and embarrassing to those of us who understand the ideals that the claim of being a skeptic entail.  I want no part of a movement founded on dogmatism and cults of personality.  

  • raskolnikov37

    Ophelia Benson’s writing style makes me want to puke. Who the hell uses a word like ‘thinky’? Seriously. That alone tells me all I need to know about her.

  • http://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue iamcuriousblue

    It’s always a dilemma whether to “pull out all stops” or try desperately to ignore them and treat them as the non-entities that they are. After all, these people stir up shit with any high-profile person they can find who isn’t in their narrow little clique every few weeks, all in the name of getting more attention for themselves. It’s an ongoing pattern, and it’s what keeps these non-talents from fading into justified obscurity.

    In general, if there’s an ideal way to deal with people who behave badly for the sake of attention, something that neither rewards the attention-seeking with more attention nor rewards bad behavior with lack of consequences, I don’t know what it is.

  • WetCoastAtheist

    It’s very difficult to remain ‘the reasonable one’ when encountering this.  For PZ, in my humble opinion, this is all about the money he can make by attracting traffic to his site.  I doubt that he gives a fiddler’s fuck about anyone there, he is a sociopath.

  • Zardoz

    The heading of this post

    http://www.skepticink.com/debunkingchristianity/2012/08/26/if-you-are-tired-of-the-freethought-blogs-drama-we-are-the-refreshing-alternative/

    is starting to look unintentionally ironic.  I stopped reading FTB because every second post was about this shit, now it is starting to feel like I am reading FTB by proxy.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Zardoz, I know, I know. However, there isn’t another major online voice akin to SIN that can speak out against this nonsense. It wasn’t/isn’t our intentions to do this. Sometimes we’re drawn into the conflict, in this case because they’re attacking a good friend of science and reason, Shermer. As the comment just prior to yours said, “It’s very difficult to remain ‘the reasonable one’ when encountering this,” but that’s what we’re trying to be. Keep in mind once again, that the over-all percentage of posts like this one are small. And they will get smaller as the time goes by. 

  • jbrisby

    There is one bright side to this. It shows that as a movement, skepticism has reached a level of success that allows the roaring mice to feel safe enough to emerge from the shadows and pretend to be activists.  We can at least be proud of that accomplishment, no matter how annoying these latecomers are.

  • Reason_Being

     You know Justin I am starting to come around to your way of thinking. I have largely ignored all of this stuff on my blog.  Not because I agree with what I am seeing, not because I am afraid to take stand, but more so because I wanted to avoid the drama…I want to write about atheism and causes that are important to me, like separation of Church/State, equality issues, etc.  However, it is becoming harder and harder for me to ignore what I am seeing…John’s comment below is about where I am at…I don’t necessarily want to hop in the middle of this, but too many good people’s names are being slandered for absurd reasons and either poor or no skepticism…

  • http://twitter.com/linneajoj Linnea Johansson

    Wow, I’m quite new to this whole scene but I was looking around the Freethoughtblog and found this ‘controversy’. I thought it seemed weird that someone would say that it’s a guy thing to speak about atheism. But I also read Michael Shermer’s side and he had some good points. And then I came here… Wow, just wow. Talking about things like: “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”, “time to pull out all the stops” and “we could squash them like a bug and be done with them”. Can you people hear yourself? You sound like fanatics!

  • http://twitter.com/linneajoj Linnea Johansson

    Wow, I’m quite new to this whole scene but I was looking around the Freethoughtblog and found this ‘controversy’. I thought it seemed weird that someone would say that it’s a guy thing to speak about atheism. But I also read Michael Shermer’s side and he had some good points. And then I came here… Wow, just wow. Talking about things like: “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”, “time to pull out all the stops” and “we could squash them like a bug and be done with them”. Can you people hear yourself? You sound like fanatics!

  • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    No more than the “Other side” sound like “fanatics”. This whole thing was started by people who’s main interest was radical Feminism (Not the Atheist movement) & if we want to keep what many good people have spent lifetimes campaigning & fighting for we need to adopt the same tactics of (what i’ve come to realize) those who’s actions are a bigger threat to us than the Fundamental theists ever were.