If words were water, I would be paddling hard up to my ears being nibbled by piranha as an alligator came for me. So I haven’t said much here for a while. There’s this paper, this book, this contract, this report and this tendency for me to post comments elsewhere. So I recommend you all read these posts:

How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism

and this post

The campaign against Amy Davis Roth

on sexism in the skeptical and atheist movements. I reproduce my comment to the latter post below, but note the extensive expressions of support at the first post. Also, they asked for a new term for an inclusive atheist movement. I suggested Affirmative Atheism as I have before, but now I think the right term is


This is a movement that affirms rights, equality, humanistic values, liberty, and general good taste. I hereby declare it started.

Here’s what I said at the latter post, edited slightly:

This is why one should not try to make a movement out of negative views, views that are contrary to some other views. Inevitably the movement becomes about position and status, and defending those positions and statuses against perceived threats. Skeptical movements around the world, and most certainly here in Australia, tend to have a small circle of those who run them who are concerned that newcomers don’t get too strong influential.

Since most such movements were set up either in societies that are male dominated (including, I am afraid to say, many scientifically oriented subcultures) they tend towards the standard male chauvinism of the eras and contexts in which they began individually. It’s not surprising that they treat skeptical women like this: they treat all women like this.

There are other sidelined and marginalised groups too; ethnic, social, and personality types are also treated like this. The result is that the movements will start well in a cultural context but then slowly denature like molecules DNA left in a test tube over time.

For a movement to be both a positive force and adapt to changing cultural values such as egalitarianism for different or new groups than the ones that started it, the movement must have a positive set of values. Humanisms of various stripes do, but basically we demonstrate in this the fact about religion that we cannot emulate and which explains its successes: to be really successful, you have to exploit some primate cognitive biases, and set up arbitrary totems around which to dance to establish loyalties. If you can’t do that (and from principle skeptical and atheist movements cannot consistently do that), then your target audience (the human primates) will not stay true to the aims of the movement.


Now back to wrestling with Microsoft Word, which insists on writing my papers differently to me and then losing an hour’s work.

“Oh editors don’t let your authors use Microsoft
Don’t let ’em peck keyboards and drive them PCs…
Let ’em use Pages, or LaTeX for free”…

14 thoughts on “Urkkkh!

  1. I’ll echo some of your thoughts in agreement.

    I chose long ago not to be a ‘Bright’ or to self-identify as a New Atheist because I didn’t want to belong to any organisation or social movement that was so certain in their beliefs and so critical of others who were not so ‘right on’. I still consider myself ‘god free’ to the extent that I accept the possibility of a personal god is vanishingly small.

    Similarly I consider sexual equality to be a good thing, but wouldn’t brand myself a ‘feminist’. Mostly because it seems that Famous Feminists, like Absolute Atheists, consider any widening of points of view to be heresy.

    And so on with all the other -isms and -ists. I do my imperfect best to treat others equitably, learning along the way. I just don’t want to merge with the Borg.


  2. A minor quibble (sorry).

    Double-stranded DNA is much more stable than the separated single strands. A solution of single strands will spontaneously renature over time. A solution of double-stranded DNA will NOT spontaneously denature if left in a test tube at normal room temperature (or body temperature).


  3. I am appalled at the sexism I have been seeing (via blog posts) since elevator-gate.

    I have never self-identified with atheist movements. Since dropping religion (a long time ago), I have just called myself “non-religious”.

    I suppose I have been fortunate to be part of an academic community. While there is still some sexism there, it is relatively minor and usually not of the aggressive kind.


  4. Nice to see you comment on this expletive deleted from a very different perspective than other writers. I have been wondering if you figured there were enough sane voices out there and and no need for another +1 or “me, too”.

    I’ve been to one skeptics conference and that only so I could meet PZ, since I never considered being an atheist more than just who I was and not part of a social or political cause. Do I have to get active in the [Affirmatism] women’s movement again? I’m old and tired.


  5. I’m less than impressed with the “third wave” of atheism or “Atheism+” or what have you. I remember thinking, “Sheesh, isn’t Atheism+ reinventing a wheel already called ‘Humanism’?'”, and when I read “The difference between ‘atheism+’ and humanism”, my less-than charitable summary of it was, “No, really we’re not reinventing the wheel. Really we’re not.”


  6. I don’t care how a group labels themselves its what they do rather than what they say that is the important part.

    The atheist movement attracts a broad spectrum of people for a vast variety of reasons and it also fails to attract people who hold similar values and prefer to keep a distance.

    It seems to me that this is an opportunity not to change a name in some relaunch but to look critically at how a diverse community can function effectively.

    We attempt to look at the social and cultural effects of religion critically, diverse pool of talent within the community well versed in looking at these type of social, cultural group dynamics.

    Its about time these skills were used on ourselves identifying the faults and seeking solutions.

    Personally I find the atheist movement top down, non-inclusive and very unattractive, no way I would attend a conference or atheist event yet the beliefs and values are central to how I think and how I view the world around me .

    Something is very wrong, and change is needed urgently.


  7. p.s. I find it disappointing that I can accesses a wealth of detailed data on commitment mechanisms and absorption and induction into religious organizations in industrial societies, yet amongst a community which allegedly values critical thought and hard scientific data. For the most part (with a few notable exceptions) its folk observation or raw data you have to work with.

    Reading E.T for example illustrates on occasion how important personal relationships seem to play a a key role in encouraging wider engagement with formally organized activities.

    Monarchy worked well in the 6th century because society was so small scale that the king knew all his subjects and interacted regularly. Our society is different. Limit to how far a small pool of bearded gentlemen can interact (no matter how able some maybe in this role).


  8. Excuse my ranting John. I think the comment from the physics Prof comparing his lowly status to the exulted status of those working in the entertainment business (one that’s being doing the rounds for years) has made me finally lose all patience.

    In future will stick to reading round the rather interesting material you raise with regard to history and philosophy and ignore the skeptical freethinking atheist stuff. I find scientist going off topic and commenting on social and cultural issues a bit like watching a small child playing with a box of matches.

    Getting fed up, skeptical online community is rather repetitive and it is affecting the amount of science papers and H.O.S I read.

    Starting to ignore the subjects which is not a good thing.


  9. I agree with your main points too, but the reason I’m commenting is the last paragraph. There really should be set out a special punishment for editors requiring submissions in MS Word!


    1. There’s a circle in Hell about which Dante was uniformed by Virgil: The Circle of Paternalism, in which programmers and politicians who think they can decide for the rest of us what we want are constantly forced to watch Fox News.


      1. That might work better than what I suggested I while back: Make them set glosses (I’m a linguist) in MS Word for the rest of their working lives. Harsh as this may seem to us who have tasted LaTeX, those people probably wouldn’t notice since that’s what they’re doing anyway.


  10. — “I am in favour of not being sexist in the nonreligious community…” —{John S Wilkins]

    Does this mean its OK for me to be sexist in the religious community and will this help in my endarkenment?

    p.s. The phrase ‘Grow up’ will not be accected as a valid reply.


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