They say we’re a movement now, we atheists and skeptics.  They say that people in the new millennium have grown tired of antiquated tropes, magical preachers, and virgin mothers.  I can see that.  I can feel that.  But are we a real movement?  Are we really something like the civil rights marchers of the 50’s and 60’s, or the AIDS activists of the 80’s?  Isn’t there something missing?

After all, movements denote…well…movement.  Going from one place, the here and now, to another place we have set in our minds.  When Martin Luther King gave the I Have a Dream speech, he wasn’t just being poetic, he was describing a final destination—the place to which he dreamed his movement would…move us.  But we don’t have that, or anything like that.  When people reject organized religion and look at us, what’s the best thing that we can say to them?  “Yeah, you’re right.  Religion sucks”?

I know there are some of you radical independent anarchists out there who eschew the entire idea of an atheist movement altogether.  I have to admit, you have a point.  After all, there’s really no unifying message or philosophy amongst us.  We can’t exactly issue a statement of faith, and even if we could, we would never stop arguing about the details long enough to get anywhere with it.  I suppose that there are a handful of ideas that we could ascribe to most atheists—in America, at least: the conviction that we must do all in our power to protect the wall of separation, the idea that anti-intellectualism will be our doom, and perhaps to a lesser degree, the idea that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and equality; cis or trans, male or female, gay or straight, racial heritage be damned.  I think most of us believe that problems should be solved by use of reason, after discussion and thoughtful debate, and that no problem should be viewed as insurmountable.  Maybe that’s where we should start then.

What if, instead of bickering about what Thunderf00t said in his latest YouTube posting or what crimes against humanity the feminists are bewailing, we just turned our attention to those simple yet all-encompassing goals?

Think about it.  For the first time in the history of the world we have significant numbers, and new atheists are being made daily with very little effort on our part.  What kind of impact can we have on the world if we simply focused our attention on the things that we all agree are important and let the petty, insignificant, ego-inspired feuds fizzle and die?  If we are a movement we have to have direction and a King-like dream of what our version of the world will look like.

Sometimes I like to imagine what the world would look like if we woke up one day and all the religions of the world had disappeared overnight.  If everyone were suddenly an atheist, what would that world look like?  I’m sorry to say that I can draw no conclusion other than that it would look an awful lot like the one we live in today.  People would be talking at each other instead of discussing.  The political divide would still be there, just with a different face.  We’ve seen already how varied the opinions and passions of modern atheists are, and we’ve all read the horrible things the different sides say about the other.  No matter what you may think of yourself, you are no better than the theists.  You’re made of the same stuff, you have the same hateful attitudes, and you vomit up the same egocentric bile as your theist neighbors, it’s just a slightly different color in the end.  If the entire world were atheist, there would still be trouble in the Middle East, Russia would still be in the Crimea, and people would still fight wars of conquest and brutally kill others because of the color of their skin or the geographical origins of their ancestors.  An atheist world in today’s climate would be perhaps only a little better off than the one we live in today.

The fact is that the evils in the world—even those that we can reasonably lay at the feet of religion—don’t come from an ideology or a wicked preachment.  They come from inside the hearts of men.  And the hearts of men are too often petty, cruel, and selfish.  Religion just gives people a justification for bad actions by placing the blame on an invisible, mysterious lawgiver.  Religion in the end isn’t the evil we sometimes make it out to be, it’s just a lubricant that makes it easier for evil men to accomplish evil deeds.  When religion is gone, the evil men will remain, and they will find new lubricants to replace it.

Atheists are better educated and more intelligent than theists on average.  We read, and we read widely.  We value the idea of free-speech and free-thought, and we know that if mankind has a hope in achieving a sustainable global civilization it will be because we have found a way to harness the power of our minds to do more than create better televisions and ever-niftier cellphones.

It is time for this atheist movement to grow up and move beyond just being anti-religion.  That’s passé. Everything we can say has been said and it’s been heard by every theist on the planet.  They know there’s no empirical evidence to support their fantastic claims.  They just don’t care.  Many people continue to adhere to their religion for the same reason that most football fans in Chicago root for the Bears, it’s an accident of geography and they refuse to let go of the traditions and beliefs that tie them to their ancestors.  They’ve allowed an arbitrary system of belief with no solid foundation in reality to become part of their self-identity, and they will fight tooth and nail to keep any infernal atheist from sinking the holy ship on which they sail.  I say we forget about them.  Let’s just stop arguing with them and start…moving.

I’m not saying we should immediately start some sort of political movement that might spread around the world as atheism resonates with more and more people.  I think we should start by learning some manners and behaving like adults.  We should have some class, and avoid denigrating the religious.  We should consider it immoral to do so.  The religious are victims of a cruel hoax, and they’ve had the tenets of their faith permanently imbedded in their minds since they were old enough to walk.  They have spent their lives in a soup of faith and fantasy and everything they know is intricately intertwined within it.  We all taste like the soup in which we swim, after all, and many of us once bathed in the same foul sewage.  The religious should no more be denigrated than we would put down the mentally ill for hearing voices or mentally deficient individuals for not being able to do basic math.  They are victims, and in my version of the dream, they are all future atheists.

We need to start behaving as though the world we want to see is already here.  We should speak circumspectly and with civility, attempting to never offend people unless absolutely necessary, no matter the nature of the provocation.  When we speak or write, it should be with purpose and forethought with our ultimate goals always in mind.  In short, we need to walk away from the pointless fights against the religious and get busy preparing the world for the real tests that await us in the next several decades.  Once we walk away from that fight, theists will stop viewing us as a threat and will start listening to what we have to say with more open minds.  And perhaps at the end of the day some of them will acknowledge what they know in their hearts to be true, that their faith is a dangerous lie and mankind is on the brink of self-annihilation.  You can’t convert a person’s thoughts until they listen to what you have to say.  And once they hear it, they can’t unhear it.  Sometimes those little seeds sprout, and the deconversion you can’t create out of whole cloth comes about organically because you’ve created an environment where it becomes inevitable.

For those atheists who are so filled with hatred that this will be seen as a lame and sentimental attempt to tone troll, I have this to say.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  You condemn the religious for their failure to accept homosexuality as a valid lifestyle, you condemn them for their vitriol and black-hearted negativity, and in the end you condemn them for the same reason that they condemn others—because they believe and live differently than you.

 

Make no mistake about it, if religion disappears tonight, you will be the people I will most fear in the morning.

Intellectual Sins: Templatic Thinking and Duck Dynasty

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As I mentioned in my last post, I want to start addressing what I consider to be prevalent intellectual sins, both within and outside of the atheist community.  One of the greatest and most dangerous of such sins is Templatic Thinking.

Templatic Thinking is a term I use to address people who use ideology for the purpose of drawing conclusions.  It is especially prevalent in politics and in the more controversial social issues of the day.  These templates exist in varying forms.  Sometimes they are bumper-sticker slogans, and other times they are overly simplistic ideas that are a foundation for the actions or stances of particular groups.  Here are a few examples of templates that people use to this end:

GUN CONTROL:

“Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.

Gun restricting legislation is the only way to avoid mass shootings in public places.

ABORTION:

“Life begins at conception.”

A unborn fetus is just a mass of human cells.

ATHEISM:

Atheists are immoral because they deny the existence of an absolutely perfect moral (divine) source of moral law.

[Religious] people who assert [any of a myriad of asinine assertions] are hate-filled bigots.

You’ll notice that I’ve tried to list statements that address both sides of these controversial issues, and some may even already be questioning the illegitimacy of some of them.  We’ll address that issue a little later.  First, let me explain why I consider these to be harmful.  Any of these statements could technically be valid conclusions, and the validity is subject to debate.  What makes them harmful is not that they are conclusions, per-se, but that they are used as premises for drawing further conclusions.  If you were to make a valid, well-reasoned argument and then were to draw one of these statements as a conclusion, I have no issue there.  But the use of one of the above blurbs as a starting point for a logical argument, constitutes an intellectual sin.  It is a shortcut that should never be condoned or allowed to stand.  In effect, the argument uses one of these templates as a premise to an argument.  To use legal parlance, it assumes facts not in evidence.

Sometimes the templates may only appear to be so due to a lack of proper definition of terms (the lack of which is another gross intellectual sin in itself when making any valid argument).  As a timely example, I’ll use the recent controversy in the US about the popular television series Duck Dynasty.

For those of you outside of its broadcast range, Duck Dynasty is a reality television show about a family of backwoods (conservative Christian) hunters who made a fortune selling duck call devices to hunters.  The charm of the show seems to be that this group of somewhat ordinary people have become multi-millionaires, and yet retain most of the trappings of their humble origins.  Although I’ve never watched the show, I’m told that the patriarch of the family still lives in a mobile home in the woods and drives an old pick-up truck.  Recently, this same patriarch made some statements about his Christian faith in a magazine interview that were not well received by many, and has resulted in his indefinite suspension from the television show.

What were the controversial statements?  Basically, he said that homosexuality (particularly anal sex between homosexual men) was a sin according to his religion, and pointedly placed it in the same category as bestiality.  The atheist community in the US came alive with rapid (and well-deserved) criticism.  However, in many of the scathing crtitiques I detected one of the templates that I referred to above: “People who assert that homosexuality is immoral are hate-filled bigots.”

By starting with that as a premise, the overly harsh criticisms were justified.  They were an attack on bigotry and hatred, after all.  As one person I encountered claimed, “I will never apologize for being intolerant of intolerance.”*

My objections aren’t to criticisms as to the erroneous nature of the statements, which I believe they obviously were.  My objections were that people—many people—automatically concluded that this man is an intolerant, hate-filled bigot towards homosexuals.  The problem stems from the fact that depending on how you define intolerance and hate speech, this conclusion is questionable based on the statements published in the interview.  While it may be true that this individual does hate homosexuals, I found no evidence in the GQ article to indicate that.  It was well-known that he is a conservative Evangelical Christian, and this knowledge is what brought the subject up in the first place.  The man was asked about his religious beliefs and he answered very directly.  He believes homosexuality is immoral and a sin.  He does liken it to bestiality.  What his detractors failed to notice, apparently, is that he also placed it in the same category as adultery and swindling.  Are we to understand that his objection to adultery is a statement of hate and bigotry against adulterers?  That wasn’t my impression of the article at all.  In fact, what I found remarkable is that a man from his background didn’t direct any real hate-speech towards any of the groups he mentioned.  He merely stated that he didn’t understand homosexual attraction (pointing out his opinion that a woman’s vagina has so much more to offer a man than another man’s anus), and that his religion taught that people who engage in these and other sinful acts were not going to make it to his exclusively heterosexual heaven.  What he didn’t say was something like Pastor Worley of the Maiden, NC Providence Road Baptist Church preached from the pulpit earlier this year:
“Build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there…Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out…do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”

Taking that statement as an example of bigotry and hate is justifiable on its face.  But in this magazine article there were no diatribes against gays as being evil or bad.  There was no expression of ill-will towards them, or a fervent hope that they would somehow be eradicated.  The Duck Dynasty patriarch merely stated what every American atheist knew he believed: Homosexuality is a sin, and God doesn’t approve.

Starting out with the template that anyone who disapproves of homosexuality is full of hate leads one to make conclusions that may or may not be true, but that, based on the available evidence, are not demonstrably true.  These ardent critics took the mental shortcut by drawing a conclusion that didn’t fit the evidence available.  This is harmful to atheism’s credibility, in my opinion.  To express disagreement—even fervent disagreement—with his statements is justifiable and honorable.  But to do so in a hateful way, based on poor reasoning while demonstrating an even greater level of intolerance and hate towards him is also hypocritical.  That’s right.  Some atheists criticized this man in very strong and deplorable ways, and in doing so demonstrated the very characteristics that they were criticizing.  The use of hate-speech to criticize a person for hate-speech is bad enough, but to use it while criticizing a man who didn’t actually engage in hate-speech is embarrassingly lazy.

Were his comments hateful?  That’s where the conversation should begin.  Many would think that they were, and there’s a discussion to be had on those grounds.  But to automatically assume that any statement that disagrees with your template automatically amounts to such is unforgiveable.  Please define what you mean by hate-speech and demonstrate why this is definable as such.  Templatic Thinking causes shortcuts in reasoning.  To be quite honest, I would much rather have a beer with this bearded backwoods Christian than I would with many of the spiteful atheists who attacked him.

In short, Templatic Thinking is an intellectual sin because it makes assumptions that have not been adequately demonstrated as factual.  As long as atheists continue to make this mistake, which is quite similar to the template we commonly condemn: “The Bible is true…” then the world would be no better off if religion disappeared tomorrow and left atheists in complete control.
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*Which is in itself another intellectual template, and is potentially dangerous to boot.

A Conversation on Intellectual Sins and the Atheist Community

There are hundreds of atheism blogs on the internet ranging through a broad spectrum in terms of quality.  Some of the more popular blogs, such as those on FtB, seem to be popular for the same reason that tabloid news shows are popular—they feed the atheist community’s voracious hunger for controversy.  Others are more measured in their approach, and approach blogging in a more objective manner, such as Mehta’s blog.  I’m not criticizing anyone for being controversial, by any means. Some of the things I’ve posted might even be considered as such.  But controvery for controvery’s sake is cheap and hollow.  It also encourages what I call “intellectual sins”, which are basically lazy and irrational ways of thinking.

 

After my initial foray into blogging, which largely focused on the Shermer rape allegation posted on the deplorable PZ Myers blog, I have decided to change the focus of my posts to address those intellectual sins.  In the wake of these internet wars among fellow atheists, I have drawn the inescapable conclusion that if religion were to disappear tomorrow and the world were to be inherited by atheists, that the world would be no better off for it.  Atheists continually demonstrate that they fall victim to the same mental laziness and adherence to dogmatism that has resulted in the very religions we so enthusiastically criticize.  The lack of objectivity that is harbored and nurtured among many in this community is disturbing and disappointing.

Since there is so much material on atheism to be had in the hundreds of other blogs on the internet, I will change my focus to address that trend wherever I may find it.  I would like to point out that some of my opinions will be roundly criticized by my fellow atheists, and I look forward to such criticism.  My aim is more to start a dialogue about these trends rather than to assert any absolute truths.  I have found that I have a somewhat different approach to atheism than most, and many of my views may seem quite unconventional.  However, just the very act of pointing out potential areas of intellectual failings may be enough to nudge the atheist community toward a more objective and constructive end.  I welcome disagreement because it requires critical thinking and questioning of assumed truths; endeavors in which I believe every atheist should desire to partake.

The name of this blog (and probably the url, too) will likely change in the coming months, but I’ll leave it as is for now, while the new format is being arranged, for the sake of continuity.

Evaluating Myers’ Hand Grenade: Part III

Some of the information about hearsay evidence was also covered briefly in my earlier Part II post.

I haven’t been able to post recently due to an abnormally high work-load.  I’m taking classes that require a lot of writing, so after homework I’m not in much of a mood to do hours and hours of additional research and then to try to write a somewhat legible post.  However, there is one aspect of the Dr. Shermer issue that has been bothering me since this all came up, and it is the concept of hearsay evidence.  It seems to be grossly misunderstood, so I’d like to clear up exactly what constitutes hearsay and what doesn’t.  I’m taking a few moments today to clear up these misunderstandings.

Throughout the debate the term has been bandied about incorrectly by both sides.  People have (again, incorrectly) said that the infamous “Hand-grenade” post by Dr. Myers featured hearsay when he quotes the person who accused Dr. Shermer of rape.  Then the opposition LibFems go and respond that it isn’t hearsay, and they tack on “the evidence in this case” which includes the many cases of third party accounts that I have detailed in the Evaluating the Evidence Part 2 post.  These people are also incorrect.

First, let’s examine hearsay in a legal context.  The Federal rules of evidence have an entire section dedicated to this topic.  It defines hearsay as:

“…a statement made, other than one made by the declarant [accuser]…offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”

In other words, a person can’t get up on a witness stand and say, “Susan told me that Mike hit her.” If the actual hitting was the matter being adjudicated.  There are a couple of very good reasons for not accepting hearsay.  One is that we don’t know that this is precisely what was said.  A second is that we don’t know if it is true, and neither does the witness. But the real issue, in the U.S. at least, is that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the accused in a criminal matter the right to confront his accuser(s).  If we allow hearsay, that accuser gets to testify via surrogate.  This means that the jury can’t evaluate the credibility behind the claim, because the actual witness is not present.  It also means that the defense cannot cross-examine the absent witness.  “What do you mean by ‘hitting’?  Please tell us what exactly happened.  Isn’t it true that you physically attacked him with a hammer and that he hit you in self-defense?” So hearsay is not allowed in U.S. courts except under isolated and very specific circumstances.

But this debate hasn’t centered on the courtroom.  In fact, many of the LibFems seem not just content, but even happy to admit that the Shermer issue will never see the inside of a courtroom.  The focus has been on what Greta Christina calls, “the court of public opinion”.  So how is hearsay being defined by my fine LibFem friends?

One of my favorite LibFems to pick on here is Jason Thibeault from the Lousy Canuck blog.  In the comments thread (item 19) in his August 10 post about why he believes Shermer’s accusers, Mr. Thibeault says the following:

“Hearsay isn’t even that.  It’s heard from a friend-of-a-friend.”

Please note the lack of ellipses.  There are no missing words.  That is actually Mr. Thibeault’s working definition of “hearsay”, and I submit that this seems to be the working definition used by most of the LibFems involved in the discussion.  But what is the real definition of hearsay?  Let’s take a look at the dictionary.

The Free Dictionary:

 Unverified information heard or received from another; rumor.”

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hearsay

Merriam Webster (online dictionary):

“Something heard from another person : something that you have been told. Rumor.” Merriam Webster (online)

For synonyms this same entry gives the following words: buzz, dish, gossip, rumor, and scuttlebutt.

For related words: tale, disinformation, propaganda, urban legend, dirt.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hearsay

Dictionary.com:

“An item of idle or unverified information or gossip; rumor” Dictionary.com

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hearsay

So we can easily see that something is hearsay if the sharer is not witness to the events in question and if the information that is being shared comes from someone other than the person sharing it.

Now, as to the “Hand grenade” post.  I don’t consider this to be hearsay, for the simple reason that this is a direct quote, allegedly written by the hand of the accuser.  Yes, it was shared by a third party, but it was shared in such a way to leave little doubt as to who said it.  If Dr. Myers had said, “I spoke to a woman who said…” that would be hearsay.  But when he says, “Here is what the accuser wrote to me in an email…” is a firsthand account of events (such as it is).  So this statement doesn’t qualify as hearsay.

I do know that there is some question as to how this information made it to Dr. Myers.  It seems to be a matter of contention as to whether the information was forwarded to him via Carrie Poppie, or whether Ms. Poppie put the accuser into contact with Dr. Myers directly and the email was sent to him without being routed through a third party (Dr. Myers doctored the original post to make it sound like the latter, but the original has some indication that the email was forwarded).  I don’t see much of a difference if we assume that the wording in the original email was not doctored in some way by Ms. Poppie, which I suggest is improbable.  So this statement would not be hearsay.

What is hearsay in this case, however, is most of the other evidence that has been amassed against Dr. Shermer as is detailed in my Part II post.  Any time someone relates a story about something they heard from another person, it is hearsay by definition.  So, referring to the evidence, Naomi Baker’s story is hearsay, as are the stories from  Delphi_Ote, Brian Thompson, Carrie Poppie (in part), and US2 (in part)*.

These stories are rumors by definition and do not deserve to be given credibility as evidence until or unless the parties that told the original first-hand story of the events come forward.  If you are not a witness or in some way a firsthand witness of the events and your knowledge comes from the person or people who are, you are a hearsay witness and what you are saying is not evidence in any way, shape, or form.

Now, as to the “Hand-grenade” post itself.  It has been suggested by a number of people that we should consider Dr. Myers’ post as a random act of journalism; an argument not without its merits.  True, he goes through much trouble to paint himself simply as a conduit of information, points out that he has no direct evidence of its truth, and claims to merely be repeating it because of some moral decision he has made that it is better to speak up in the concern for safety than to remain silent.  Greta Christina writes somewhat extensively on this theme, even likening Dr. Myers to Woodward and Bernstein in the Watergate scandal.

But was it journalism really? The University of Iowa ethics in journalism curriculum quotes the Elements of Journalism, p. 71 as saying: “The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.”  The curriculum goes on to say:

“Journalism is not about simply asserting something is true (or not).  It is about following particular methods to verify the truth (or falsity) of the information.  These methods are the core of “objectivity” in journalism.  Again, it’s not about the journalist (an unavoidably subjective human being…It is about the ways in which the journalist goes about gathering, organizing and disseminating information.”

Based on these facts, we have some questions that must be asked:

  1. Was Dr. Myers objective.  No.  Although the beginning of his post made much ado about his inner struggle as to whether or not to post this information, and that he decided to do it because it was the right thing to do, later in his post he shows the true biased nature and obvious subjective motivations for doing so.

“ Do I stand up for the one who has no recourse…or do I shelter the powerful big name guy from an accusation I can’t personally vouch for, except to say that I know the author, and that she’s not trying to acquire notoriety.”

Here we see Dr. Myers giving a personal (subjective) opinion about the motivations of the accuser, trying to forestall the inevitable questions as to the credibility of a statement made from an unnamed source.

Again:

“. I will again emphasize, though, that I have no personal, direct evidence that the event occurred as described; all I can say is that the author is known to me, and she has also been vouched for by one other person I trust. “

Now he is giving character references based on his own subjective view of some other unnamed person (Carrie Poppie, perhaps?) telling the readers that he trusts this other person’s judgment as to the motivations of the accuser.  This is not something a reputable journalist would do.  A person’s credibility is based on that person alone, not on the opinions of unnamed character references.

2.    In the preamble to the statement by US2, Dr. Myers says the following:

“Further corroboration: a witness has come forward. This person has asked to remain anonymous too, but I will say they’re someone who doesn’t particularly like me — so no accusations of fannishness, OK?”

In other words, “This woman has no motivation to lie because she doesn’t even like me, so her motivation must be the simple dissemination of the truth.”

Again, we’re dealing with a subjective opinion given by Dr. Myers with the sole purpose (as he states himself) of removing doubts as to her motivations for writing.

3.       And finally, in his preamble to my favorite story, that of the Wine Drinking Woman (WDW):

“Women are still writing into me with their personal stories. This one isn’t so awful, but it’s mainly illustrative of his tactics…there’s nothing here that would form the basis of any kind of serious complaint, but most importantly, I think, it tells you exactly what kind of behavior to watch out for with him.” (Italics his)

Notice that we’ve moved from the ostensibly objective “I don’t really know if it’s true, I’m just sharing what she told me” attitude of the beginning of the post to a more activist approach.  Now he’s telling us what tactics are being used by Dr. Shermer and what women need to watch out for.  There is a notable lack of the objectively requisite “if true” type of qualifiers.  Here, he is a true believer and is so eager to support the rape allegation he has recounted the story of a woman getting so drunk she can’t walk and then blaming it on Dr. Shermer.

4.          Also notably absent in this post is any attempt to verify the information.  As we saw above, “The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.”  Is there any verification involved in the reporting of this story?  None that is shared, as it certainly would have been had it been attempted.  What would a journalist have done?  First, the journalist always tries to get verification of the information.  But as we see, he doesn’t even have any real information to verify.  So the first thing a journalist would do would be to question the US1 accuser further:

-        Where and when did this occur?

-        Who were the people to whom you reported this incident?

-        Were you in a bar?  Were there any witnesses around who saw you interacting with Dr. Shermer prior to the incident?

-        What do you mean when you say that he “coerced you into a position” that you were unable to consent?  Do you mean that you were intoxicated?  Did you drink too much, or are you alleging that he surreptitiously gave you a drug of some type?  Why do you suspect that?

-        Do you remember the sex act itself?  If you were unable to consent, was it because you were unconscious?  If so, how do you know that you had sex and that it was with Dr. Shermer?

And so forth.  Now, I can already hear my detractors firing up their word processor applications to point out that the woman already said she didn’t want to give details out of a fear of reprisals.  That’s a fair enough statement on her behalf, and it is admittedly something that any true rape victim will take into account.  It is also a very prevalent reason for rapes not being reported in the first place, and may be the very reason she didn’t take this further at the time of the incident.  However, a journalist asks the questions.  If she doesn’t want to answer, the journalist will report that as well.  All of this goes towards creating an objective story.  All of this is missing from Dr. Myers’ post.

The second thing a journalist would do—every single journalist in the Solar System—is to try to reach the accused rapist for comment.  And if the accused chose not to respond, a journalist would include that in the story as well, “Dr. Shermer declined to make a statement,” or “Emails to Dr. Shermer for comment were unanswered.”

These things were not done.  Dr. Myers is not now, and was not then, acting as a journalist.  Woodward and Bernstein would not approve.**

It is clear from this evaluation that the characterization of Dr. Myers as a journalist is a fanciful one that doesn’t stand up to any sort of real scrutiny. It also cements the fact that most of the “evidence” against Dr. Shermer is hearsay/rumor and therefore not true evidence at all.

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*US2 and Carrie Poppie have value as corroborating witnesses only to the place that they can tell when they were told the story and what the story was that they were told at that time.  In a court of law, this might be allowed if the purpose is to show what the story was at an early time frame and to demonstrate that it has (or has not) changed substantially since that time.  The evidence they give is not directly pertaining to the incident itself, but to the state of mind of the accuser at a particular time.

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** Greta Christina pushes the analogy in talking about the difference in “unnamed sources” and “anonymous sources” in that she brings the notorious “Deepthroat” source of the Watergate story up.  It must be noted that the analogy is quite weak in that “Deepthroat” wasn’t a victim anonymously reporting a crime that had been perpetrated against him personally.  He was a source of information telling the reporters where to look to get the scoop on what actually happened.

False Rape–Social Justice?

EDIT: 09/11/13 1819 pdt

Thanks to some constructive criticism , I feel the need to reorganize this list and to stipulate a couple of facts at the outset.

My list includes both men who were mistakenly accused and convicted of rapes that actually happened, and cases of men who were victims of malicious false accusations.  To clarify the differences, I will rework the list to label the cases appropriately in the following manner:

MAL will identify malicious false accusations

MIS will identify men mistakenly convicted of committing rapes that actually did occur.  This will also include cases where there was prosecutorial or police misconduct in the case.

I also want to be clear that even if we were to double the accepted numbers of maliciously false accusations, they still will represent only a small fraction of actual rapes.  It is not my intention to contribute to a “blame the victim” mentality, or to scoff at the real and horrible damage that real rapes cause for hundreds of thousands of women.  In a perfect world, every rapist would be caught, convicted, and sentenced to a long prison sentence.  I would welcome that.

However, this list is compiled as a way of demonstrating that there are other real victims who have suffered unimaginably due to being falsely accused and sometimes falsely convicted of rapes that they did not commit,  sometimes with no more evidence than the word of their malicious accuser.  I want this fact to be taken into account in this debate in a meaningful manner, and I fear that many on the LibFem side feel compelled to dismiss these victims as insignificant statistics.  These are not statistics.  These are victims who are every bit as entitled to social justice as any other victim in our society.

My list is not exhaustive, but I will add to it as time permits.

END EDIT

MAL False accuser convicted.  Maximum sentence allowed , 364 DAYS in jail.  Published in Bangor Daily News 08/01/13.  http://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/01/news/midcoast/jury-convicts-rockland-woman-of-making-false-rape-report/?ref=polbeat

MAL 18 month sentence for admitted false accuser in Norway–called “extreme”  Published in The Local on 08/30/13  http://www.thelocal.no/20130830/norway-woman-gets-18-months-in-jail-for-false-rape-claim

MAL Accused served 11 years in prison.  Woman made accusation so she could sue several parties to pay off gambling and IRS debts. She can’t be prosecuted because 4 year statute of limitations on perjury has expired. Published in Chicago Tribune 09/10/13   http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-09-10/news/chi-daley-center-rape-20130909_1_carl-chatman-2-cases-russell-ainsworth

MAL Kanin scholarly study–VERY SMALL SAMPLE: found that 41% of forcible rape reports to police in a nine year period in one police department were maliciously false reports.  Criteria for determining false reports was that the reporter admitted to it.  Probably not representative due to small sample, but it shows the extreme variability of the stats.
http://ia600406.us.archive.org/1/items/FalseRapeAllegations/false-rape-allegations-archive.pdf

MAL  Tracey West accuses her son’s father of torture and rape (including faking a severe beating) due to ongoing custody squabbles.  Published in the LA TIMES 06/27/11

MAL (multiple) Sara Ylen, multiple false accusations against different men, one man served ten years in prison.  She also falsely claimed to have cancer. Published in the Huff Post 06/18/13

MAL(multiple) Leanne Black of the UK sentenced to two years in prison after making five false rape accusations against five different partners since 2005.  Published in the Mail Online 07/09/13

MAL (multiple)   Brian Banks –   NFL player exonerated after spending six years in prison for rape.  Falsely accused.  He was exonerated after the victim friended him on Facebook wanting to “let bygones be bygones” Published in 4ABC online 08/09/13

MAL-scholarly paper from Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1994

MAL-Scholarly evaluation of the statistics

MAL US STATES penalties for making a false rape accusation.  Illinois and D.C. – 30 days in jail

MIS Thomas Webb.  14 years in prison for rape.  Exonerated

MIS Dennis Williams. 17.5 years in prison on death row for rape and murder.  Convicted at 21, exonerated at 38, dead at 46 a broken, scared, and paranoid man.

MAL Gary Dodson.  12 years in prison.  A teenager made up the rape because she was afraid she had become pregnant while having consensual sex with her boyfriend.  FIRST DNA EXONERATION in the US.

MAL Four men arrested and accused of raping a Hofstra University student were released after a cell phone video showed the sex was consensual.  She reported the rape because she was ashamed at having sex with four men in a public mens room.  She received probation and community service.

MIS Steven Tonney.  13 years in prison after a rape victim misidentified him.

MIS Perry Mitchell.  14.5 years in prison due to misidentification from the victim 

MIS David A. Gray.  20 years in prison.  Exonerated by DNA evidence

MIS/MAL Project Innocence Special Report–issued after their 250th exoneration. Not all of these are rapes, but many are.

A quote from the Atlantic Online article from November 1999:

“Just how often the police actually get the wrong man is nothing short of astounding. A 1996 Justice Department report, Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, found that in 8,048 rape and rape-and-murder cases referred to the FBI crime lab from 1988 to mid-1995, a staggering 2,012 of the primary suspects were exonerated owing to DNA evidence alone. Had DNA analysis not been available (as it was not a decade earlier), several hundred of the 2,012 would probably have been tried, convicted, and sentenced for crimes they didn’t commit.”

Evaluating Myers’ Hand Grenade: Part II

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sherlock holmes

I addressed the generalities of the kinds of evidence against Dr. Shermer in my first post.  Now I want to dig a little deeper and evaluate the quality of the evidence we have.    As I stated there, I’m mainly writing this to address statements made last month in blogs by Greta Christina and Jason Thibeault (the Lousy Canuck), both of which are firmly in the LibFem camp over at FtB.

Actually, on the surface Ms. Christina and I agree about a few important issues.  It is disturbing that with a situation as serious as a rape allegation that so many people are clamoring to dismiss it outright just because the accuser has kept her name private.   As I pointed out in my first post on this topic, to make a rash decision either way about Dr. Shermer’s culpability in this sordid affair is very UN skeptical.   And I can see where a lot of the LibFems are coming from.  One of the basic arguments they make is that there is so much evidence against him from so many different people.  He must be guilty! 

 

Ms. Christina’s approach (blog entry Aug 12, 2013):

“So the kinds of evidence we’re likely to find supporting an accusation of sexual harassment…we are likely to find are:

* Multiple similar claims made against the same person from different people. Especially when these claims show a similar pattern of behavior.

* Other people saying that the victim told them about the harassment/ assault shortly after it happened — with stories that are consistent both with the accusation and with one another.

* Other people corroborating behavior that falls short of harassment/ assault, but is consistent with it. Example: If an accused assailant is accused of getting victims drunk first, and someone says they’ve seen this person deliberately getting people drunk while hitting on them, or have experienced this themselves — that would support the accusation.”

Well, yes.  IF that’s what we had here, she has a definite point.   I went through her later post that itemizes the evidence so that I could compile it.  There are ten individuals referenced in her post, and I’m including an eleventh which she mysteriously omitted but was found in Thibeault’s timeline, nonetheless.  I am summarizing in the following list.  Please note that these are not arranged either chronologically or according to their mention in Ms. Christina’s blog.

I’ve categorized them so they are either grouped by incident or type of incident.  The catalogue of evidence:

First Person Accounts: “Michael Shermer raped me.”

US1 (unnamed source 1), the woman who made the nonconsensual sex allegation against Dr. Shermer as “reported” by PZ Myers in his now infamous Hand Grenade post of August 8.

  • US2, a woman who claims that US1 told her of the incident “immediately after said incident”.  She reports that US1 was distraught and that US2 was present when US1 “told the management of the conference (sometime later).”
  • Carrie Poppy  reports that like US2, US1 related the story to her prior to it being made public on Myers’ blog.  Poppy puts US1 in contact with Myers.  No details as to when US1 first shared the information with Poppy.

First Person Accounts: Michael Shermer harassed me / my wife.

US3, aka pseudonymous poster “Miramne” reports Shermer harassed her. [Note: this is Greta Christina’s phrasing.  The actual quote from US3 is that “Shermer is the worst offender I’ve heard of and experienced personally…I don’t want to be Monica Lewinskied and be known as the girl who is only a sexual victim…” ]

Naomi Baker-no assault, reports Dr. Shermer was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual. [Note: I can’t find this sourced anywhere.  Harassment of Ms. Baker isn’t mentioned in Thibeault’s timeline, but there is a comment in the Myers Hand Grenade thread by Ms. Baker which doesn’t mention her ever meeting Dr. Shermer much less being harassed by him.   She had an email exchange with Shermer’s wife who told Baker that he had admitted to repeated adulterous affairs]

naomibaker text

Elyse Anders-no assault, reports  Dr. Shermer was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual. [Note: this references a tweet by Elyse “Mofo” Anders where she claims Shermer was beside her at the TAM9 reception buffet when she bent over after dropping salad tongs and he said, “You’re a NAUGHTY NAUGHTY girl” [emphasis hers.]

elyseanders tweet

US4, pseudonymous poster “rikzilla”-no assault, reports that Dr. Shermer was inappropriately and univitedly sexual. [Note: references a post on the JREF forums where he recounts Shermer whispering in Rikzilla’s wife’s ear and telling her she was sexy and inviting her to his room for a drink.]

rikzilla

First-Person Account: Michael Shermer poured wine in my glass

US5 as reported in the Myers Hand Grenade post reports that at an unreferenced event that she helped to organize and where Dr. Shermer was an honored guest, at the post-speech party, “Shermer chatted with me at great length while refilling my wine glass repeatedly.  I lost count of how many drinks I had.  He was flirting with me and[…] I just laughed it off.  He made sure my wine glass stayed full.”  She recounts that she was so drunk that she didn’t remember leaving and that one of her friends had to help her home.  She is very clear that nothing else happened in terms of harassment.

Various Third-Party Reports 

 

US6, aka pseudonymous poster “Delphi_ote” who reports in the JREF forums on August 9, that, “Either a) I’ve met this woman or b) two women had similar experiences.”

delphiote

Brian Thompson reports via twitter that, “I know enough women that have been harassed by…@michaelshermer to know its not ‘gossip’”  And then in a later tweet, “I know two women who have been generally creeped at by him, one woman who was groped by him.”.
Something that seems to have been entirely overlooked in the statement of US1 is that not only is she reporting that Dr. Shermer raped her.  She also reports that “…5 different people have told me they (sic) did the same to them…[referencing Shermer].”

brian thompson

The Dallas Haugh Affair

And now we come to one of the more interesting pieces of evidence.  I have to ask why Ms. Christina doesn’t include this in her (almost exhaustive list).  On August 13, PZ Myers posted on his Pharyngula blog asking if anyone knew the person behind the Tumblr account “Creative Pooping”, as a post there seemed to be a long suicide note.  Eventually Myers posted word the man, identified as Dallas Haugh, had been contacted by the authorities and was in the hospital.  What makes this situation noteworthy is that his suicide note/blog post included the following allegation:  “I am fairly certain that Michael Shermer had nonconsensual sex with me….”

dallas haugh

Evaluation

Third party accounts.

This is not a court of law, but there is a very good reason why courts don’t allow hearsay evidence.  Legally, something is hearsay if it is a statement made outside of court that is offered in court as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  In common parlance, hearsay is, “information received from other people who one cannot adequately substantiate, rumor, gossip, idle talk…”

This does not mean that these third person accounts are untrue, but it raises questions exponentially.  Any unsubstantiated third-person account must be highly scrutinized.  To evaluate this type of evidence we now have even more questions to ask:  did anyone actually say this, or is this person making it up?  Is the story being recounted by this third person substantially the same as the one that was recounted to him/her?  Is this truly a third-party account?  Does this person actually know the accuser, or has it been reported through one or more intermediaries?  We end up with a situation where, as one writer put it, we have accusation by Chinese Telephone.

Third party accounts have no value as primary evidence.  Let’s not be mistaken about this (in this discussion, “third party” refers to recipients of hearsay and not witnesses to the actual incident).  They can’t bear witness to the actual incident, so their opinions as to its veracity are just that, opinions.  Their evidentiary value is limited to two things: 1) reporting the demeanor of the accuser, and 2) reporting the story the accuser recounted at that time.  When important details of a story change over time, it is a signal that the incident may be a lie.

specifically, US6, known only by pseudonym refers to a “similar experience” recounted to him by a woman who may or may not be US1.  Do you see how convoluted the evidence gets when we don’t know who we’re talking about or what the details are?  “Similar experience?”  How would you know since there are no details of the experience to compare?  He has heard a rumor.  He believes the rumor, and now he is sharing the rumor with the world.  This is worthless as evidence.

Brian Thompson in a Tweet reports, “I know two women who have been generally creeped [sic] at by [Shermer]…one woman who was groped by him.”  Generally creeped?  I have to place that in the great vague wasteland of generic “sexual harassment”.   It sounds like it might have been leering and/or suggestive comments?  As is common in this discussion of evidence, we don’t have the details to make any determination.  This is a rumor.  This is not evidence.  As to the woman being groped, it still qualifies as a rumor, but at least we have a chance of hearing from a person who will stand up and say, Michael Shermer did this to me.  These seem to be quite rare.  It’s always, a-woman-I-know (AWIK), very rarely ”me”.

Conclusion: there is no reason at this time to take any of the above third-party stories as anything other than rumor and gossip without additional information.

US2 and Carrie Poppy.  At the very least, US2 has significant evidentiary value based on when she became aware of the allegation.  Recall she said: she was in her [US1’s] presence “immediately after said incident” which I would suggest must have meant the next morning.  She reports that US1 was “extremely distraught:  and that US2 was present when US1 “told the management of the conference (sometime later).”  She obviously has the issue of being unnamed.  But should US1 ever reveal her identity, US2 could be a very strong witness as to at least the consistency of her story  (or lack thereof) and the behavior of the accuser immediately after the incident.  Even though this is a third-party account, it isn’t hearsay or gossip because we have the statement of the accuser in this case.  This has value as corroboration, but still we have a problem with the credibility of an unnamed source.  This is one of the better pieces of information, despite some serious flaws.  Everything that is true about US2 can be said to a lesser degree about Carrie Poppy.  Poppy was told about the incident, but we have no indication as to when.  It would be a reasonable assumption that it was shortly before she put US1 in touch with Myers, which means Poppy can only bear witness as to what US1 told her several years after the event, which is basically what the rest of the world could say at this point.  Poppy’s value is limited in this instance.

First person harassment claims:

US5, aka Wine-Drinking-Woman, is another enigma in this strange tale.  The enigma isn’t in the story she recounts, but in the fact that it was repeated at all.  The significance is lost on me.  The argument is made that this demonstrates a pattern of behavior, which may be true.  Perhaps Dr. Shermer is a flirt, a person who likes to drink with women, a womanizer, a sexist, go on and fill out the list.  The point is that even if I grant you all of that, you still haven’t shown any information that flirting and buying women alcohol—even in copious amounts—is predatory behavior.  I also have to point out that “getting a woman drunk” is a concept one would not expect to find coming from the LibFems.  Are we to believe that women are too intellectually feeble and emotionally weak that they can’t make even the most basic decisions as to how much is enough and when to stop drinking for an evening?  She got so drunk she doesn’t remember leaving the event.  She accuses Dr. Shermer of “filling my wine glass repeatedly”, but apparently finds no irony in that she also emptied that same glass repeatedly as well.  No wonder WDW remains anonymous. Giving her name would lend no evidenciary value to a case against Dr. Shermer, and it would also subject her to well-deserved ridicule as a vacuous person, so irresponsible as to need a man’s permission to stop drinking.  This doesn’t belong in the conversation.

Now, let’s dispel some myths about consent and a pattern of behavior that have been floating around on both sides.  It is not illegal to have sex with a drunk person.  I know that’s what some of the more extreme people have been saying, but that just makes them extremely wrong. It is very rare that a jurisdiction even mentions liquor or drugs in rape statutes.  They virtually all have the description of a person who is mentally incapacitated , and that the accused should have known was mentally incapacitated.  If those criteria are met, the person is unable to consent and it is rape to have sex with him/her even if that person is the initiator and verbally consents

Some have questioned why a person who is drunk can be at once considered legally incapable of making an informed decision, and at the same time legally culpable for anything they do while intoxicated.  I’m no legal scholar, but I speculate it has to do with the nature of the law.  If you are incapacitated, the law exists to protect you from being victimized—even if you became voluntarily incapacitated.  However, if you do something illegal, you’re now on the other side of the fence and as the actor in the crime are considered responsible regardless of your impaired state.  Basically, if you’re the victim you aren’t responsible.  If you’re the criminal, you are.  The interesting scenario suggests itself where a woman can be so drunk that she is unable to consent.  She is conscious and verbally consents, but because of her mental impairment, she has technically been raped.  Her mental impairment is not held against her.  But after the rape, she gets into her car and attempts to drive home and is arrested for DUI.  Suddenly the fact that she is mentally impaired becomes something that is held against her because she was now a criminal from whom the law protects potential victims.

Also, some people have indicated confusion about sexual harassment and the law.  Outside of the workplace or the confines of an educational institution, sexual harassment is not illegal on its face (in the US).  This is because sexual harassment encompasses a wide range of activities.  As a result, some of the activities are illegal while others aren’t.  For example, sexual harassment encompasses things that I would classify as rude behavior of a sexualized nature.  Leering, lewd comments or gestures, telling dirty jokes, and so forth could all be considered sexual harassment (depending on how the victim perceived it, that is).  These things are not illegal or even actionable. However, touching a woman’s buttocks while passing her is also sexual harassment, and it is against the law.  In many jurisdictions it is a “battery” because it is intentional physical contact with another person done in a rude, insulting, or angry manner.  So, to say a man is a criminal because he is guilty of sexual harassment is too imprecise.  If this discussion continues, we should make sure that the term sexual harassment is never used without a qualifier when referring to specific incidents.

As to Greta Christina’s description of some of the non-assaults, I found the following description disingenuous, and probably deliberately misleading:

“…We have one named source, Elyse Anders, reporting on behavior from Shermer that wasn’t assault but was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual. We have another named source, Naomi Baker, reporting on behavior from Shermer that wasn’t assault but was inappropriately and uninvitedly sexual.”

Well, no, we don’t have that at all.  If you actually read what we do have.  Ms Anders reported that Shermer said she was a “NAUGHTY NAUGHTY girl” when she bent over near him to get something.  Technically its sexual harassment in that it is rude behavior of a sexualized nature, but Christina’s description makes it sound so…aggressive.  It was a rude comment.  It wasn’t criminal.

To the best of my knowledge, the Naomi Baker incident is described inaccurately by Greta Christina.  Well, not inaccurately, that would lead you to believe that she got some details wrong.  I think fictitious would be more the word we’re looking for here.  Unless she is party to some information I am not, Ms. Baker reports no contact with Dr. Shermer either directly or indirectly.  The only thing Ms. Baker adds to the conversation is that she had an email exchange with someone who claimed to be his wife who told her that he had had extramarital affairs in the past.  End of story.  We don’t know if the person she was writing to was Mrs Shermer, and we don’t know what was said, but even if we assume everything she said was true, then SO WHAT?  He had affairs.   Maybe he’s a jerk!  Having an affair is not predatory behavior, and to claim otherwise would show that the zeal of ideal has overcome the clarity of wit. [SEE EDIT BELOW FOR CLARIFICATION]

As an aside, I also want to point out that in a way, Greta Christina has issued a false accusation against Dr. Shermer.  It may or may not have been malicious, and I tend to believe that it is a mistake due to the complexities in this information. But it is false nonetheless.  Greta Christina is an example of why hearing from third persons is dangerous.  If we did not have Naomi Baker’s actual statement, we would be discussing this as though Dr. Shermer was accused of harassing her.  If this is an incorrect statement, Ms. Christina should immediately retract it and apologize to Dr. Shermer and her readers.

And finally we have rikzilla, US4.  He and his wife met Dr. Shermer and had him sign the book they had purchased.  A few moments later, Shermer allegedly whispered something in the woman’s ear, while US4 was standing nearby.  Later she told her husband that Shermer had told her she was sexy and invited her to his room for a drink.  Again, rude and inappropriate behavior, anonymous source, no evidence of predatory actions.

A pattern may be emerging, but it’s not necessarily of a predator, it is of a man who is at best indiscreet, rude, and arrogant.  But again, this isn’t illegal, and isn’t anywhere near the quality of evidence upon which to base a conclusion that Dr. Shermer is a serial rapist.

Why we should be skeptical of non rape allegations as evidence that Dr. Shermer is a predator.

Let’s pretend that Dr. Shermer lives up to his reputation.  Let’s say hypothetically that he tries to have sex with a different woman at every conference.  Let’s say that he is prone to excessive flirting, occasional bouts of making inappropriate sexual comments, and even tries to seduce women by encouraging them to drink and lower their inhibitions.  From descriptions, he sounds like a horn dog constantly on the prowl for hotel sex.  I submit to you that none of these things is illegal, and that one could argue that they aren’t immoral either.   His detractors in this debate have painted him as a oversexed pig who rapes women to satisfy sexual urges.

But it is a very well established fact that rape is not about sex at all.  Rape is about violence, dominance and control.  To quote Mary Ann Peavler, a certified advanced level domestic violence advocate in Florida:

“Rape is an assault against a person as a person. Rape is a dehumanizing and demoralizing act against an individual. Rape is about turning an individual into a nonperson, a piece of meat to be used and abused[…]Rape is not about sex; it is about violence.”

If you want to find evidence that Dr. Shermer is a predator, you’ll have to find something more in line with a cruel abuser and less in line with a horny, over sexed, frat-boy.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

[EDIT]

greta clarification

The explanaton

greta clarification text

The update

EDIT: 9/8/12  2000 PDT
I pointed out the Naomi Baker misstatement to Ms. Christina in the comments section of her blog, and she clarified that she meant to refer to Baker’s allusion to an anonymous person she knows who claims to have been  harassed by Shermer.  Greta calls that a first-hand report, but it is a third person report, hearsay, and therefore a rumor coming from an unnamed source.

EDIT  09/09/13  2019 pdt

I’ve received two admonitions about the “rape is violence” statement, and I wanted to include a comment from the Slymepit from earlier today because it gives citations to show that this may not be the case:

http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=351&start=8625

Thank you for the correction.  I also found the link in Wikipedia that discusses several alternative theories.  It seems that the reasons for rape may be as varied as the statutes that we have to prevent it.  I stand corrected.  Thank you for pointing out my error.

sex is rape comment

Evaluating Myers’ Hand Grenade: Part I

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Last month, in the wake of the PZ Myers rape accusation leveled at Michael Shermer, three very informative blogs were posted at the FtB  (from Greta Christina and Jason Thibeault) which deal with actual evidence to some degree.  I found several problems with their assessment of the evidence, and have decided to review it in as thorough a manner as possible.  It will take at least two, and probably three posts to do this completely because I will have to deal not only with the evidence itself, but with the conclusions these bloggers have drawn from it.

This first post will be to clarify and define terms prior to beginning a more thorough examination of the evidence.  The following are the premises I’m using to make my evaluation.  Most of them should be axiomatic, but you’ll see as you read that some of these issues will turn on very important and minute details.  I apologize that following list is not organized in any particular logical order.  I hope each point speaks for itself.

Rape is a serious charge and believing and disseminating unverified evidence of a charge of this nature is irresponsible.  This should be considered true of any serious allegation.

The fact that a rape or sexual misconduct is not reported to authorities should not automatically lead us to believe that it never occurred.Those that hold this “denialist” view (for the above reason) may or may not be misogynists as the LibFems claim, but they are certainly lacking in empathy.

The fact that a rape or sexual misconduct is not reported to authorities should raise certain questions in an objective mind.  If those questions are unanswered for whatever reason, that is a reason to dock it credibility points.

Statements made by third parties should be looked at with extreme prejudice.  There are a host of reasons why they could be either untrue or inaccurate.  There are very good reasons that courts rarely allow this hearsay evidence into a trial (in the USA).  A third party not present at the time of the alleged offense cannot bear witness as to the veracity of the accusations.  All they can do is to offer support as to when they were told the story, what the story was at the time they were told (has it changed since then?), and the demeanor of the victim.

 If evidence is given as a first hand report with such insufficient detail that readers can’t be certain of what exactly the alleged assailant is guilty of (what is “harassment” and “inappropriate”?), we have insufficient evidence to determine what, if anything, occurred.  Furthermore, since we can’t determine what occurred in the immediate instance, we certainly can’t use it to bolster the veracity of other claims. domus aedificavit cards.

False rape accusations are rare, we are told ad infinitum.  Okay, I’ll stipulate the fact.  But it is unforgivably fallacious to say that because they are rare that any one particular accusation is therefore probably true.   non sequitur et simulans ad intelligendum prohibere Latinis

 It is unjust to convict a man, even in the court of public opinion, based solely on statistics which are a report of events in the past, not probability predictors.

False rape accusations occur, and often result in convictions and lengthy prison sentences.  Even in those cases where the accused is found not-guilty, they suffer great expense, unbelievable stress, the loss of trust from their friends and neighbors, loss of employment, and sometimes significant damage to their family relationships.This is the LibFem version of denialism.  They don’t deny that the false convictions and accusations occur, they just don’t seem very concerned.  It also shows a serious lack of empathy.  iterum Latine quia nescis quid melius

Any system of thought that would automatically condemn a man simply because he has been accused by several anonymous sources, without knowing any details whatsoever, is not only unfair, but it is unreasonable.

The voluntary consumption of alcohol or other controlled substances is not an automatic consent to have sex.

Consent to have sex can be given and withdrawn at any time—except after the fact.

Lack of consent is a very fuzzy area of the law, being defined differently in all 52 US jurisdiction.  However, in my research, it seems most tend to follow this basic premise, if the victim is intoxicated to the place they are mentally incapable of making reasonable decisions, they are unable to consent.  A few examples:

  •      North Carolina:  ” A person is guilty of rape in the second degree if the person engages in vaginal intercourse with another person…who is…mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know the other person is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless”
  • Virginia:     ‘”Mental incapacity’ means that condition of the complaining witness existing at the time of an offense under this article which prevents the complaining witness from understanding the nature or consequences of the sexual act involved in such offense and about which the accused knew or should have known.’
  • California:   “‘Consent’ shall be defined to mean positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will.  The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved.”Sexual harassment outside of an employment or educational environment is not necessarily illegal.  Frequently it is a matter of opinion.Sexual Harassment is also a very fuzzy area.  Outside of places of employment, education institutions, and healthcare relationships, definitions of harassment are painfully vague.  Relatively innocuous behaviors such as whistling, leering, saying “Hey, sexy!” or “Hey, Stud!” when a person walks into a room, telling a dirty joke, etc. are combined with more severe actions such as groping, stalking, and forced kissing.  It is also explicit in most definitions of sexual harassment that the state of mind of the victim is where the harassment is decided.  In other words—and this is the horrible part—we can’t tell you what the behavior is exactly, but if it offends a woman and has any remote connection to sexuality, you are guilty of harassment.

    I’m going to pull out a variant of what I call Ross’ Law of Conspicuous Omission which states that when a person is relating a narrative, they will tend to remember, recount, and often even emphasize, the more prurient, exciting, or explosive details of the story.  The omission of these details justifies the conclusion that they didn’t happen.  EXAMPLE: “When driving to work today, I swerved my car to avoid hitting a dog and I crashed into a tree.  The tow truck took three hours to get to me, and my car will cost $1500 to repair.”  When we hear this story, we can be reasonably sure that there are no pertinent details missing, such as “oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I had picked up a band of mariachis who were hitchhiking.  Turns out they were wanted for robbery.  When the police came to take my report, there was a shootout and three of the men were killed.”  You just don’t leave out something that huge.

    So, when a woman is doing something as difficult and serious as reporting this type of behavior, it is reasonable to assume that if their allegation was that Dr. Shermer raped or groped them, they would have featured that detail prominently in their story at the outset (which at least one of the victims did).  The use of a very general and vague term like sexual harassment in this context is, I think, probably more in line with saying things that were sexual and inappropriate as opposed to any violation of an individual’s personal space.

    Logically, any conclusion that is drawn based on insufficient evidence is no more valid than any other conclusion that can be drawn.  It may be “denialism” to automatically assume Shermer is not guilty based on the accuser’s anonymity, but it is equally a case of denialism to assume his guilt based on the same flimsy evidence.

    In the absence of compelling evidence, the proper skeptical stance is one of caution,avoidance of drawing a conclusion, and an objective search for more evidence.

    More will be said on the actual evidence in my next blog post

Gray People of the Atheist Community, Unite!

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One of the main principles of skepticism is the necessity of evaluating available evidence prior to drawing a conclusion.  This principle seems to have been consistently overlooked in the continuing debate on sexism, harassment, and allegations of sexual assault in the A/S community.  I find this to be very unfortunate because this lack of skeptical evaluation has not only driven a wedge between two large segments of our community, but in that it has deprived many of us of the knowledge and experience of atheist feminists who could educate us on feminist principles and thus enrich the entire group.  I am dismayed at the fact that in order to get to the bottom of what the feminists claim, I have to slog through thousands of pages of abusive, divisive, insulting drivel.  As I stated in my last post, I don’t think this rift can be healed, but the idealist in me holds out hope.  I’ve seen glimmers of this hope coming from both sides of the fence.  Some of the people who have commented on some of my blogs (which are pretty much 70% against the LibFem agenda) have shown a willingness to use skeptical principles and have championed skeptical ideals.  I mentioned in a recent blog post that I went on an FTB blog and asked questions and was fairly brutally eviscerated for my efforts (partially due to my own clumsy words that were misinterpreted as misogynistic vitriol).  But even there I found some people who were (eventually) willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and actually gave me some answers. I want to be clear that I wasn’t attacked by the blogger herself, although she did remain quiet while the gleeful bloodletting was going on, and her answers to me were less than cordial.  But it was in the replies of several of her followers that I found the real hatred.  Still, there were signs that some of the people reading may have felt that I deserved at least a modicum of respect and  actually took some time to share with me some answers and information.

This tells me that there aren’t just two sides in this war, there are at least three, and, as I argue, there are more likely four.

1. Pro LibFem, die if you don’t agree. 

2. Anti-LibFem, die if you don’t agree. 

3. Pro LibFem here are my reasons.

4. Anti LibFem, here are my reasons. 

It seems to me that most of the first two groups are comprised of very vocal and very passionate people who make up the bulk of the postings on the matter.  I happen to feel that it is quite likely that the bulk of the community, however, falls into either groups 3 or 4 and remain fairly silent, for the most part.  I have no evidence for this, of course, since there isn’t any polling data or any actual records to suggest this.  But this is my opinion based on how I’ve observed the world working for my entire life.  There are always the extremes on either side of a controversial issue that get all the press, make all the noise, and manufacture righteous indignation like a dairy produces manure.  But most of the people are like me, somewhere in the middle of the road; maybe a little closer to one of the two extremes, but in the middle nonetheless.  These are my people; the people who live their lives in the blessed and holy gray areas.  We are people who are sincere and have the integrity of our convictions, and we are able to change our views if and when evidence comes along to show us our views are incorrect.  It is time that we Gray-People took our movement back and sent a message to the extremes on either side that we won’t stand for their hateful, dogmatic, and hurtful words or actions any more.  Gray people please, we have to make a stand against these forces that have allowed their emotions and ideologies get in the way of true skepticism.  We have to make a statement.

I have no illusions that my brand-new, teensy tiny blog could rival the information power of the larger and more established organizations that have been engaging in this war.  However, I am very encouraged at the growth of this blog and I hope that it can grow to become something of lasting substance; a place where the Gray People can come to agree to disagree.  So I want to issue this request to all who visit this blog.  Please, please, please, help us to send a statement to the giant powerhouses that we simply won’t stand for their childish nonsense any longer.  Engage here; help me to build this into a community where real discussions can be had, passionate debates can be undertaken, and information be shared for the benefit of all.

There is no god, we all agree on that point.  Let us work together to find other points that we can agree upon as well.  In that journey, we will repeatedly find ourselves at odds. This is not a bad thing, though.   We have different beliefs and passions because we come from such varied and rich backgrounds. By living in the gray area, which is actually where any good skeptic resides, we have a greater chance of enriching each other with insights that only our personal life-experiences can provide.  If we just act like adults and discuss and debate passionately, and fairly, and remember that all men and women are deserving of at least a modicum of respect, I think that we can accomplish something great.  Let’s not forget that this entire debate started on a disagreement about social justice.  That irony should be such a huge pill for all of us to swallow that we need the Heimlich to extricate it.  Our views of social justice are ostensibly rooted in the desire for fair treatment and a good life for all of humanity.  Let’s start at home.

I will be posting this as a blog post on September 5, 2013 under the heading “Gray People of the Atheist Community Unite!  Because this is the closest thing to a mission statement I can come up with, I will also post this as a static page on my site under the heading: “IMPORTANT! READ THIS NOW!”  I will send this to anyone and everyone in our multifaceted community that has had the misfortune of sharing their email address with me.  I will be sending the link to various “leaders” in our community on Twitter.  Your comments—even those that disagree—will act as a sign of unity to show the world and our black/white atheist co-conspirators—that the time has come for a change.

I have a few simple requests to ask of anyone who is reading this.  If anything in this post rings true with you, even in part, and you feel that things have spiraled out of control on this divisive issue, please support this initiative and help by posting a reply on the blog post (if you’re reading this on the static page, you’ll have to find the actual blog post in the archives).  It would be helpful if you would identify your place in the spectrum as a 1, 2, 3, or 4, as detailed above, and give a (brief) statement of your feelings on the subject (of this post, not the feminism issue).  If you have a lot to say about it, even if you disagree with me wholeheartedly, please consider my open invitation to submit a guest blog post to express that opinion.  I will post anything that is reasonably well-written, and that I feel makes a valuable contribution to the discussion regardless of whether I agree, and regardless of whether it is harshly critical of my “mission”.  Please take me up on that.  And finally, for those of you who are true Gray People and are tired of the constant bickering, if this idea of mine rings true to you, share the link with anyone you can.  I can feel the cynicism taking hold already, but please accept my assurances that this isn’t a ploy to generate hits to the site.  I’m not making any money here, despite the fact that I’m spending enormous amounts of time writing and researching.  I want the message to get out that there is a third option and that it is the only one that has a true chance of rebuilding this wretched, horrible, and much maligned house that we all live in.

I have my opinions and so do you all.  The idea is not to further any other ideological claim than this: that we all work together to discuss and debate in order to find the closest approximation of “truth” available to us: the mere mortal citizens of this vast, glorious, and godless Universe.  Thank you for your time and attention.

 

EDIT 9/6/13:

Not a huge rush of people to proclaim themselves Gray as of this writing, but I have faith that my fellow Grays are out there.

To become a true Gray Skeptic, Rule #1  Disavow yourself of the hateful rhetoric that has been leveled at the opposition (whichever side that may be) and commit to attacking arguments–not the people who make them.

How Rebecca Watson Got it Right, but for the Wrong Reasons

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woman-podiumYes, I know.   I’m rehashing stuff that’s been debated for over two years now, the dreaded Elevatorgate fiasco.   And please don’t get me wrong.  I’m no fan of Rebecca Watson or the ideologue liberal feminists* in her camp.  My opinion of this young woman is that she seems full of herself, arrogant, unprofessional, and completely without empathy.  I can’t say much about her critical thinking skills one way or the other because basically the only thing I know about her is what she’s said about feminism.  I think she represents what is wrong with the feminism in the atheist community in that she has a habit of thinking rather rigidly and not seeing other viewpoints.  So, no.  Not a fan.  She needs to do some growing up, although this could probably be said about all of us to a certain extent.

However, when I first heard the infamous video where she first described the elevator incident I saw nothing at all wrong with it.  Her “Guys, don’t do that,” remark rang true to me right off the bat.  And I have to admit that I was baffled at what it was about that video that sparked such a huge tidal wave of emotional expressions from both sides.  In this regard, I agree with Rebecca Watson.  What the man did in the elevator was inappropriate, and I could never see myself doing something like that.

scaredwomanNow, I know there are a lot of differences of opinion on this subject, and people are likely to say, “But Mark, the man did nothing wrong.  He didn’t touch her.  He didn’t even overtly proposition her.  In fact, the way she describes the incident, he sounded rather polite.”  And I concur with all of those statements.  Where I think he made his bad move was related to the Schrodinger’s Rapist scenario.  I absolutely hate that term, by the way, because it sounds like someone named Schrodinger got raped.  But I trust that most of the people reading this will understand the scenario which was described in an excellent blog post by Phaedra Starling from way back in 2009. 

So where did this guy go wrong?  Well, he went wrong with context.  For some reason I seem to be a minority in my thoughts on this matter, but I can’t think of any reasonable way for an empathetic person to see the situation.  Women get raped.  That’s a fact of life.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  And they get raped a lot, statistically, and most often by someone they know.  So here’s something that is in the back of every woman’s mind:  if the neighbor down the street who I’ve known for fifteen years is capable of rape, then how can I trust this stranger I just met, or this person I’m encountering in a secluded spot late at night?  The answer is, you can’t.  And I don’t want you to.

Maybe part of my thought process here comes from something that happened not far from my some years back.  In 1982, which was the year I graduated High School, I was living in Fresno.  My mother’s family is from Bakersfield, CA, which is about two hours to the south, so I was familiar with the city and visited frequently.  So, when all hell broke loose in Bakersfield, I was paying attention.  During that year a wave of child molestation prosecutions began in which numerous children were testifying about large Satanic Cult child molestation rings.  Now, Kern County is not the stereotypical California County in that it is very conservative.  I used to say it was the Western Annex of the Bible belt.  Several convictions were handed out in the course of this modern-day witch hunt.  Of course, eventually some justice was done and many of the convictions were overturned, not at all unlike what happened in the wake of the Salem Witch Trials.  Understand, there was no evidence at all that any sexual misconduct had occurred.  This was basically satanic hysteria, and it spread.  We’ve all heard of the McMartin Preschool trial.  Kern County was where the Satanic Ritual Abuse trend began.

I suppose this was part of the issue for me in that it taught me that the best scenario would be to avoid any appearance of impropriety.  I have it ingrained in me that I won’t be alone, for example, with a child that is not my own.  Why?  Because to the world I’m Schrodiinger’s Child Molester.  All it takes is a few unsupervised minutes with a child, and a parent or loved one with a list of “did he touch you there?” questions, and an innocent man ends up in prison and on the sex offender roles for life.

As I said, this became habit for me, so watching my surroundings in this regard became second nature.  I think that’s why eventually I realized that just as any man who is alone with a child is subject to certain suspicions that those suspicions must also translate into the entire female gender.  They see me and they see a potential rapist or serial killer.  Now, I don’t think I look like a rapist or serial killer, but that’s kind of the point.  It’s an axiom for me that I’ve shared with my teenage daughter upon occasion: the most successful serial killers are the ones that don’t look like serial killers.  The same can be said of rapists.  Ms. Starling says that guys who have a certain look (or odor) to them are going to engender a certain amount of caution on the part of strange women they encounter.  My feeling is that every man should be viewed through that same lens.  If you’re more likely to be abused and/or raped by your boyfriend than the tattooed guy hanging out on a dark street late at night, then it might be that the tattoos or rape-joke t-shirts are not where the main danger lies.  It lies with the guys who look ordinary, clean cut, nice guys.   Guys like me.

So, without ever making a real conscious decision, I began to also look out for situations in which my presence might make a woman uncomfortable. I’m a pretty good sized guy, so a lot of women might tend to be intimidated by that alone.  And I’ve never gone so far as to walk across the street to avoid walking past a woman.  But I would probably move over on the sidewalk as far as possible just to indicate that I mean no harm.  It wasn’t some kind of paranoia or anything like that.  It was just that I had developed an acute awareness of the effect that I might have on some women in some contexts, and I took steps to minimize their concerns whenever possible.

So, when I heard the elevator story, I immediately thought, “Bad move, guy.”  Because I know what I would have done in that situation.  Just out of empathy and kindness, if I were about to get into an elevator at four in the morning alone with a woman, I probably would have stopped to look at a particularly interesting poster in the lobby to give her the chance to go up alone.  I would have taken the next elevator to come down.  As I said, this is out of politeness and empathy for a woman’s feelings and acknowledgement that there are some scary things women face that men rarely bother with.  This is an etiquette issue, not a sexist one.

So, initially I didn’t see the issue with Watson’s statement.  To me, it was simply bad form for him to make that approach, at that time, and under those circumstances.  To be quite blunt, it was rude, but probably unintentionally so.  Did the man do anything wrong? Not really.  He was just doing what guys do.  He took his opportunity, got shot down, and apparently took no for an answer.  It was the odd situation and environment that damned him in my mind.  In that regard, I agree with Ms. Watson.  “Guys, don’t do that.”

Where I begin to differ with Ms. Watson and her LibFem cohorts is when she brings feminism into it.  Suddenly this wasn’t about a man unnecessarily alarming a woman.  This was a sexist act of objectification.   To point, she said in the infamous speech where she quite rudely and unprofessionally called out Steph McGraw:

 “I also pointed out that approaching a single woman in an elevator to invite her back to your hotel room is the definition of “unsolicited sexual comment.” But those are unimportant details in comparison to the first quoted sentence, which demonstrates an ignorance of Feminism 101 – in this case, the difference between sexual attraction and sexual objectification.”

Now she’s lost me.  Why does it have to be objectification?  Why did she have to go uber feminist on what was basically an etiquette faux pas?  Well the answer is quite simple.  When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail  Rebecca Watson is not just a feminist, she is a very particular type of feminist.  She considers herself an activist.  So every interaction between the genders is evaluated in those terms.  As an activist, she’s constantly on the lookout for evil patriarchal attitudes.  And in some instances she may even be correct.  But, unfortunately, not all men are patriarchal sexists, or rather, the entire world may look like nails to her, but some of us are quite un-nail like.  She will hammer all the same.

Rebecca Watson is largely responsible for this entire unending mess that will probably never be healed.  Is this going to lead to a split in our community?  Yes, it will.  It has.  And it will never be mended.  There will forever be two camps on this issue.  And that divisiveness came about when Ms. Watson chose to interpret an innocent mistake as a sign of an evil undercurrent in our midst.  The irony is that she has hurt her cause much more than if she had just kept her mouth shut.  Wait.  Did I just suggest that a feminist activist shut up?  Why yes.  I think I did.    And why should she have shut up?  Because one cannot engage in a dialog when one is constantly talking.  She could have used that opportunity as a teaching moment for people like the elevator guy, and instead of a divided movement, we’d instead have a larger, thriving community.

But Rebecca Watson isn’t the type to know the wisdom of silence and subtlety.  She is, by all appearances, enamored of her own voice, and would never pass up the opportunity to pontificate from her speaker’s podium and try to sell her dogmatic version of feminism.  The violent reaction to her didn’t have anything to do with “Guys, don’t do that.” But it had everything to do with her arrogance and inability to try to accomplish something with encouragement, gentle explanation, and education.  So Rebecca Watson was right about the elevator guy.  It was an idiotic thing to do.  But she blew it the day she got up at a conference and criticized a student feminist atheist as a clueless misogynist.

If you want a feminist that can unite people, I suspect someone like Steph McGraw would get much more respect from the movement at large, and could have used an incident like this as a springboard for discussion about attitudes that have subtly shaped us.  But in the wake of the battle lines being drawn after elevatorgate, and things like SurlyAmy’s suggestion that rules be in place at conference to ban “fake jewelry” that offends people [please read Amy’s explanation of why she made that suggestion, as her statement has been grossly mischaracterized], we saw the beginnings of a dogmatic movement that seemed bent on establishing their socio-political beliefs as atheist orthodoxy.

What can we do to fix this?  As I’ve already said, I think its well beyond fixing at this time.  I predict that as time goes by, either the LibFems will tone down their rhetoric, or they will become more and more a marginalized group within the atheist movement.  I’ve been told that I’m wrong and that most people support the LibFems.  That may be right, I don’t know.  But the only thing that could save us from a fragmented future would be to go back to the mouth that started this whole thing and have her take one for the team.  If Rebecca Watson were to come out with a statement like:

“I’m deeply sorry for the harm that has been caused to this movement in recent years and feel that I am at least partially to blame.  When met with a huge and sometimes threatening reaction to my innocent remarks about the elevator incident, I was defensive and reacted in ways that I now regret.  Although I still feel strongly that my stances of feminism and the presence of sexism in the A/S community, I would like to try to mend the rift.  I would like to propose a series of moderated podcast discussions with people who have been my biggest critics, such as…in the hopes that we can find our areas of disagreement, come to an understanding as to how we each arrived at our conclusions, areas where we agree, and to find a common ground for the common good.”

If Rebecca Watson were to do this, she would certainly go a long way towards redeeming herself in the eyes of the entire movement, and would show herself as a true and selfless leader; one who is more interested in the message of skepticism and atheism than she is about the ability to sell trinkets at DragonCon.

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*From now on, I have decided to call this group of people—the FTB feminist bloggers and their supporters–“LibFems” as a descriptive term.  It isn’t some sort of insult since I dare say that most would identify themselves as both liberal and feminist.  If I’m wrong, kindly point it out to me.  Until that time, “LibFem” is what I will use to describe these people in order to differentiate them from the more mainstream feminists who don’t think asking a woman back to your room for coffee is sexual objectification, for example.

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For the Sins of Their Fathers

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Kenneth Copeland

Kenneth Copeland

James Chapter 5:
“14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

This past week brought word from Newark, Texas that 21 parishioners of Kenneth Copeland’s Eagle Mountain Church had contracted Measles after forgoing vaccinations.  A visitor to the church had caught the disease overseas and infected the congregation during a visit.  Although the church steadfastly denies preaching against vaccinations, former pastoral staff describe a pervasive culture in the congregation where medical care was frowned upon as a sign of weak faith.  Exacerbating the issue were situations where Copeland on at least one televised occasion made statements to the effect that “…it [vaccination] is criminal…”  while his wife proudly proclaimed on another occasion that she and her husband don’t need prescription drugs because God takes care of all of their healthcare needs.

Allowing children to die because of religious prohibitions against seeking medical care is nothing new, unfortunately.  In June of this year, Catherine and Herbert Schaible of Philadelphia, were charged with third degree murder after their eight month old baby died of pneumonia after they refused to get medical care.  They are members of a strict fundamentalist church that forbids medical care in favor of faith healing.  The couple was still on probation for the death of a two year old son in 2010 under similar circumstances that also died of pneumonia.

In a 1998 study entitled “Child Fatalities from Religion Motivated Medical Neglect”, Dr.’s  Seth Asser and  Rita Swan studied 172 deaths of children who were denied care based on religious convictions from 1975 to 1995, and found that 90% of the children most likely would have survived if care were provided.  In an article for Free Inquiry magazine, Dr. Swan also reported about a church in Oregon called the Followers of Christ Church where so many children have died since 1955 that the church has its own cemetery.

One of those children was Zachery Swezey who died in 2009 from appendicitis after a painful three day illness.  His parents were charged with second degree murder in his death in 2012 for neglecting to provide medical assistance.  They claim they offered to take him to the hospital, but he declined.  The church, which reportedly sometimes shuns congregants who seek medical attention, was reported by a former Oregon state medical examiner to have an infant mortality rate of 26 times greater than that of the general population.

The list is heart-wrenchingly endless.  Dr. Swan, herself a former Christian Scientist who left the church after her 16 month-old son died of untreated spinal meningitis, now heads CHILD Inc., an organization devoted to having laws repealed that protect parents from prosecution for failure to seek treatment for their sick children.  Their website lists dozens of recent cases where children died as a result of this neglect.  It is a valuable resource for any atheist who is ever asked what the harm of religion could possibly be.  Just have them click on the link and read the dozens of stories described there and no further words will be needed.

Many of these parents have been steeped in their religion from birth.  The  Schiables from Philadelphia, for example, are not just  lifelong members of their church, but are both third generation.  Dr. Swan and her husband were also raised in their Christian Science church as well..  She recounts a story of how while she was still a Christian Scientist, she had a cyst removed due to excessive pain, and was subsequently asked to step down from her positions within the church because of her lack of faith.  While there is never an adequate excuse for people who let their children die these horrible deaths, it is important to remember that the parents are also victims of religious indoctrination that will leave them guilt ridden and grieving for the rest of their lives.  And now it is increasingly more probable that they will face stiff prison sentences as well.

grieving parents

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Pastafarian dog tags in the U.S. Military

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This just in…(well, not really, since this apparently happened sometime prior to 2011)

FSM holy book

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Jason Griffith’s official holy book that he took with him to boot camp

Atheist-in-a-foxhole soldier, Justin Griffith, tells the harrowing ordeal of how he got approval to put “Pastafarian/FSM” on his dogtags, and how he brought the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to bootcamp as his one approved holy book.  And how the whole thing made his drill sergeant actually smile.

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Jason Griffith’s official US military dogtags which list “Atheist/FSM” as his religious preference

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A New Feminist Manifesto

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As I near the end of my tolerance with this divisive issue, I realize I have at least one more post in me on the matter.  There is some debate as to what true feminism is and what it is not.  I would like to suggest a radical approach, not just to feminism,but to all areas of social discourse.  The following is my New Manifesto:

  • Treat everyone with respect regardless of gender, race, age, or sexual orientation.  Yes, that includes white middle-class men.
  • Be nice.  If you don’t like being called vile names, please remember that neither do the people that you are attacking.
  • Be mature.  Stop acting like spoiled children and act like adults.  Discuss the issue.  Don’t shout your detractors down.

End of manifesto.

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Suspension of Reason: how the feminist debate has made theists of us all-Part II

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(Continued from an earlier post)

The fourth thing I learned was that we should be very careful in how we categorize this debate.  It is typical, even in my writing here today, to characterize these bloggers as feminists, as though they are some sort of oracle that speaks the true words of modern feminism.  Feminism in fact has many faces, and some of them have been openly critical of this group.  One such occasion was during the early days of the Elevatorgate scandal (I use the term facetiously), when university student Steph McGraw criticized Rebecca Watson’s statements about the incident with this thought provoking statement:

“My concern is that she takes issue with a man showing interest in her. What’s wrong with that? How on earth does that justify him as creepy? Are we not sexual beings? Let’s review, it’s not as if he touched her or made an unsolicited sexual comment; he merely asked if she’d like to come back to his room. She easily could have said (and I’m assuming did say), ‘No thanks, I’m tired and would like to go to my room to sleep.’

Rebecca Watson’s rebuttal was made at a conference speaking engagement (where McGraw was present in the audience, as luck would have it), where she publicly took her to task as being ignorant of “Feminism 101”.  In a later blog post, Watson characterized McGraw as an example of a young woman repeating “ancient anti-woman rhetoric” who won’t stand up for women who are actually assaulted or harassed.  By most accounts, it was this exchange that put the Elevatorgate incident into high-gear in the blogs as fellow feminists joined her in a touching act of solidarity.  It also had quite the opposite effect on many other atheists as an internet war erupted over this and a host of related issues.

A friend pointed out to me the other day an important fact: Atheism as a movement has certain obstacles that other movements don’t have to overcome.  We’re united not by a central belief, but by our lack of belief.  This means that we are a very disparate group and we bring our world-view baggage along with us.  Expression of opinion on important social topics is valuable, and should be encouraged.  However, it is a mistake to think or to try to establish some of these worldviews as a sort of orthodox dogma, while shouting down or humiliating the opposing viewpoint.

Lesson 4: This version of “feminism” is not indicative of all feminist thought.

The fifth thing I learned is that ideologues in the atheist community are not above human sacrifice.  This is a very tricky part of the debate, because some of those who have been sacrificed may, in fact, have deserved it.  I’m speaking, of course, of the character assassinations that have become commonplace on both sides, but predominantly from the feminist side.  It is one thing to call a feminist an ugly bitch, it is quite another to publicly accuse prominent figures of rape in a disturbingly irresponsible manner.  If you haven’t been involved in these debates, you should know right now that my last sentence actually defines me as a misogynistic supporter of rape culture according to some of the more strident feminists.  I don’t have time or the inclination to go into the many irrational arguments that have come out on both sides of the rape accusations (I touched on a few of them in an earlier post), but suffice it to say that while I agree that this information needs to be provided to keep women safe, I also believe that we should safeguard the reputations of the accused by sharing this information in a responsible manner. PZ Myers’ accusation of Michael Shermer may be legitimate.  Mr. Shermer may, in fact, be guilty.  I have no reason to believe either way.  But portraying it in the manner he did, Myers betrayed the trust of his readers.  If someone comes forward with explosive information, it is incumbent on a reasonable, empathetic, and professional adult to vet the information before posting.  Questions should be asked of the victim regardless of whether she is comfortable answering them or not.  I’m sorry, that’s the way the grownup world goes.  If you make an accusation, you will be (or should be) asked some pertinent questions.  And the questions should have been posted along with her responses or non-responses.  Mr. Shermer’s guilt or innocence is not the point here.  The point is that as skeptics we are supposed to be committed to objectivity.  Mr. Myers was not objective, and his selective posting seems to indicate a certain hateful aspect to his personality  which can be described at best as unbecoming.  Another figure, Professor Lawrence Krauss, was subjected to something similar.  One of the lower echelon feminist bloggers repeated a rumor of him being guilty of sexual assault, and another feminist blogger repeated a third-hand account of Dr. Krauss making a pass at a woman at a CFI event.  Although the first blogger retracted the statement after receiving a letter from Dr. Krauss’ attorneys, she has yet to apologize or take back the statement.  She now refers to him as “Famous Skeptic” instead of by name.  What an incredibly juvenile response

Lesson 5: Feminist ideologues are not above repeating rumors to bolster their claims and they don’t care what the fallout is for the subjects of their unfounded assertions.

Some of the more general questions that arise in the wake of this childishness (on both sides) is the question of ethics.  I realize that blogging is a relatively new phenomenon, and that ethics are difficult to enforce because some people simply don’t want to abide by them.  But the fact is that, unlike traditional print media or television, internet blogs are ostensibly eternal and available to anyone who wants to see them.  In a way, blogs are more like billboards than newspapers.  You have to buy a newspaper, but a billboard or a blog are there to see just for the average uninterested passerby—forever.  As an atheist/skeptic community we should have sexual harassment policies at our conferences.  Unequivocally yes.  However, we should also be discussing ethical guidelines for skeptical bloggers as well.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but there should be a very general list of guidelines about how to post certain types of information (such as something that is potentially just a rumor), so that it is presented in a way that is least objectionable and harmful to all parties involved.  There should also be a list of guidelines regarding how “respectable” blogs are moderated.  These should not be places for excessive name-calling, for example.  This isn’t a free speech issue, as some have claimed.  It is more about the elimination of noise pollution that detracts from rational discussion, ruins the fun, and encourages emotion laden responses by people who may have short circuited their critical thinking circuitry.

Disclaimer: I want to be forthcoming in saying that I realize my blog may not be considered as completely objective.  That may be true since I have struggled with my emotional responses to some of the things I’ve read.  And yes, I am particularly critical of the attitudes that seem to pervade the feminist camp.  I have sincerely striven to understand their point of view.  I have asked for feedback and was met with a violent and hateful response as has become so typical in their blogs and threads.  I want to be clear though that everything I’ve said about the feminists is also true to varying extents of their opposition.  I don’t want to be seen as someone who is unfairly critical of offenses by one party and ignores equally offensive acts by the other.  I prefer to think of myself as standing somewhere in the grand gray area where most of life is lived.  If I am living in a fantasy concerning that, at least I have one thing going for me that most of the ideologues on both sides don’t.  I see that I may be wrong.  I understand that I am human and I make mistakes in judgment.  However, I hold skepticism as my guiding star, and I prefer to think of things less in terms of absolute right or wrong, and more in terms of a journey I’m taking to perfect my skepticism and arrive at a more complete approximation of what is, and is not, true.

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Suspension of Reason: how the feminist debate has made theists of us all-Part I

I haven’t posted for a few days because I’ve been immersed in the feminist debates trying to get to the bottom of what exactly is happening and what exactly these feminists want.  I met with only mixed results.  But in my mainly fruitless search, I learned a lot about other things. Instead of wading into the muck any further than I already have, I’d like to report out on some of my impressions and some of the general lessons I’ve learned from following this debate (here, I use the term loosely, as it more closely resembles a drunken brawl).

The first thing I learned was that skeptics aren’t all that skeptical.  It seems that skepticism is used by many primarily only when dealing with religious people or paranormal phenomena.  A case in point is the debate that rages over whether anonymous rape and harassment allegations should be posted on blogs without any attempt at verifying the source or credibility of the accuser.  Arguments seem to run on one side that false rape allegations do happen and that something like that can ruin a man’s reputation needlessly.  On the other side is a statistical argument that claims since false rape accusations are extremely rare, that it is justifiable to post these allegations, as though the relative rarity of the false accusations is a statistical justification for spreading what might be spiteful or idle gossip.  The best allusion to this type of argument is that of self-described male feminist, Jason Thibeault In a recent post on his blog, The Lousy Canuck.  He does some statistical evaluation of 5000 imaginary rapes and comes up with the end result of 398 actual rapists convicted and imprisoned with only 71 innocents convicted of the rapes and imprisoned.  See what he did there?  Its okay to automatically believe the rape victim because statistically she is probably telling the truth, so to hell with the poor schmucks that get sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.  They’re victims of statistics, you see, and probably victims of rape-culture, as well.  The disturbing thing is that nowhere in his blog does he mention that even one innocent man being sent to prison is unacceptable.  He accepts it.  He’s just willing to take the chance, presumably since the odds are in his favor that he won’t be the unlucky falsely accused.

Lesson number 1: Many skeptics are not skeptical about anything except religion.

The second thing I learned was that emotion is a big part of any discussion, and left unchecked it will ruin any chance of reaching a valid conclusion.  I want to be careful here, because certainly there are many issues which elicit high emotions, and justifiably so.  I’m not advocating for an elimination of emotion, merely that we should make every effort—or at the very least, some effort—in subjugating the emotion to reason.  Women have been raped, after all, and many others have been subjected to a lifetime of derision, harassment, and dismissal at the hands of men.  These are situations where only a robot would be able to set emotion aside.  However, in a rational discussion, emotion should be used as a tool to motivate our reason, not as a replacement for it.

Lesson 2: many skeptics are unable to control their emotional responses.

 

The third thing I learned is that language is important, and failure to carefully craft one’s assertions or rebuttals is a sure way to engender automatic and absolute hatred.  This is directed to both sides of the issue.  Both sides are guilty of keying on certain words which elicit an immediate and visceral response.  A term like “male privilege” automatically shuts down the critical thinking circuits of the oppositions’ collective brain, for example.  Any suggestion that rules be put in place to regulate the behavior of people at atheist conventions is met with equally polarizing claims of dogmatism and autocracy.  Not all of these interpretations are completely invalid, but the proper way to demonstrate a poor argument is with a better argument, not with threats of rape or violence, or calling people vile names like cunt and bitch.  Yes, this happens.  A lot.  I want to emphasize that.  It happens with alarming frequency, and there is no ideological rationale for it, despite the attempts of some to do just that.  The other side has, in my experience, even more key words that must be either avoided completely or used in a very careful manner.  A recent comment of mine on a blog-post used some unfortunate (and unintentionally insulting) language (nothing vile, and nothing designed to upset anyone), and I was immediately and violently categorized as, among other things: an asshole, a misogynist, a liar, disingenuous, an entitled wanker (I liked that one), and some other colorful descriptions.  One woman outdid herself and issued eleven identifiable insults in a 140 word response, which should entitle her to some sort of trophy or an honorary t-shirt at least.  The point is, I was trying to ask a valid question from an objective standpoint, but my use of trigger phrases immediately shut down the conversation which turned into a very careful dissection of what I said and what they could infer about my motives from my remarks.  Their inferences were incorrect, but I can see where they were coming from.  My uncareful use of language had pushed a button that has been pushed too many times since this discussion started.  If my relatively innocent comment could elicit such immediate withdrawal from civil discourse, I can imagine the response received by people who are violently opposed to this movement’s philosophies

Lesson 3: Un-careful use of language in emotionally charged discussions is a sure way to turn the discussion personal and short-circuit any further meaningful discussion

(to be continued)

 

A Pastafarian Primer for the Uninitiated

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pastafarian painting

A common rendering of the FSM in the act of creation

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:  A Pastafarian walks into the DMV…

For those of you who have been living under a rock, there’s a fairly recent religion on the cultural landscape.  It is the worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  No, I’m not kidding.  It’s a real thing, depending on how you define real.  And given the recent beatings  (and arrests) that Russian police administered to a group of adherents in a recent Pastafarian unity march, it looks as though religious persecution of this minority has already started. Here’s a brief snippet of the movement’s origins from Wikipedia:

“The “Flying Spaghetti Monster” was first described in a satirical open letter written by Bobby Henderson in 2005 to protest the Kansas State Department of Education decision to permit teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. In that letter, Henderson satirized creationist ideas by professing his belief that whenever a scientist carbon dates an object, a supernatural creator that closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs is there “changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.” Henderson argued that his beliefs and intelligent design were equally valid, and called for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism to be allotted equal time in science classrooms alongside intelligent design and evolution.  After Henderson published the letter on his website, the Flying Spaghetti Monster rapidly became an Internet phenomenon and a symbol used against teaching intelligent design in public schools.”

And Pastafarianism, or The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM for short), is truly an international phenomenon.  It has grown beyond its beginnings as a satire on Intelligent Design, because quite frankly, the USA is the only developed nation on Earth that finds evolution to be a source of debate.  It has grown to become a fun and satirical atheist symbol–poking fun at not just religion in general, but at the pervasive attitude that religious beliefs should be considered valid, no matter how ridiculous they  obviously are.

Now, back to the DMV.  In 2008, an Austrian man named Nico Alm attempted to get a driver’s license photo taken while wearing a pasta strainer on his head as a hat.  Apparently they took his photo without question, but when he didn’t receive the license he assumed it had been denied due to his eccentric headgear.   But three years later his license—with the photo—showed up in his mail.

austrian pastafarian

But our story doesn’t end in Austria, dear reader; not by a long shot.  Nico was only the tip of the iceberg.  Bolstered by Mr. Alm’s (meat)ballsy move, a spate of his fellow Pastafarians followed suit.  Earlier this month it was reported that a citizen of the Czech Republic, Lukas Novy, was also awarded an official ID card wearing the sacred headgear.  It prompted no less than an official government pronouncement that:

The application complies with the laws of the Czech Republic where headgear for religious or medical reasons is permitted if it does not hide the face.”

 czech pastafarian

In February of this year, New Jersey Pastafarian: Aaron Williams was denied the right to wear his colander in a driver’s license photo.  This incident ended with a visit by the local police, who politely explained his headgear wasn’t accepted and that he could take it up with city hall.  “I guess since they hadn’t heard of the religion, that’s why they opposed it. But that’s not really acceptable to me. They’re not in a position to discriminate against religions that are mainstream, or not mainstream, just because they may not have heard about it.”

In May, Donald Hoover of Illinois made an attempt at wearing a colander and was flatly denied, being told that there was no exception to the no-hat-in-pic rule for what the officials termed, “satirical headgear”.  Although Hoover’s reply that the State had no legal right to question the validity of his religious beliefs, he has yet to receive the colander clad license.

And in today’s news, from no less a bastion of religious conservatism as Lubbock, Texas, a Texas Tech student by the name of Eddie Castillo was granted a license wearing the now-ubiquitous colander headgear.  Castillo declared it “political and religious milestone for all atheists everywhere.”  But that victory may be short-lived in that a Texas official indicated they would be contacting Mr. Castillo so they could “rectify the situation.”

Texas Pastafarian Eddie Castillo

Yes, Pastafarianism is fun.  I don’t know exactly what these stunts accomplish in the long run, but they are definitely in the FSM tradition at using ridicule to expose ridiculous beliefs and policies.  Oh yeah, and they’re funny as hell.

DISCLOSURE: I am a self-proclaimed Pastafarian and I stand in solidarity with my brethren who have also been touched by His Noodly Appendage.  However, I am a member of the mainstream Pasafarians who eschew the wearing of the colander as an unnecessary impediment to drinking beer.  Its so hard to find a colander that fits properly, and they keep falling off whenever I take a particularly long draft.

Pasafarian image

An artist’s rendering of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

 

Russian Pastafarians 2

Pastafarians march earlier this month in Moscow, just moments before being attacked by police and Russian Orthodox Christians. No serious injuries were reported. The police arrested 8 marchers for an unlicensed assembly.

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Amusing vandalism in Massachussets

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I just read this article in the HuffPo religion section about a religious radio station’s billboard ad that was “vandalized” recently.  Although I don’t condone doing things like this (just because I think it’s disrespectful and ultimately confirms biases religious people have about atheists), I also admire a good, clever practical joke.  You have to admire the cleverness, the planning, and the sheer testicular fortitude this one does.  If you have the urge to do something disrespectful, I suppose the best thing is to do it in such an amusing and professional fashion.  Now, all the atheists in Massachusetts, go stand in the corner and think about what you just did.   AND NO SNICKERING!

BEFORE:

Mass billboard before

AFTER:
Mass billboard

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Seems like a pretty nice guy…[updated]

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As an atheist blogger I could literally fill up the internet with writing about the downfall, shortcomings, and abuse of religion.  In the sense of fairness and unity, I’d like to give some measured praise to the newly minted Pope.

I read this story today with an eye especially fine-tuned to find something bad in even the most positive headline concerning religion, but one part made me relax and say, “Okay, so maybe he’s really a compassionate human being who truly cares about people.”  I’m referring to the fact that not only did he call this Argentinian rape victim who had written to him, but that he spoke to her for a half an hour and actually listened to what she had to say.

Yeah, I know.  The initial atheist reaction is typically going to start out with, “Yeah, but what about…”  And its a good point.  There are still people in Africa who are dying of AIDS because the Church forbids the use of Condoms.  And those that don’t die are having children that they cannot afford to feed and care for.  I know that the ongoing sexual assault scandals make this act look like a molecule of kind-hearted water in an ocean of dogma.  And I don’t see this as having any long-term affects on the Church and its doctrines.  But when the Pope comes out and makes comments that are just shy of accepting of atheism and homosexuality, and then he reaches out to a woman in her darkest hour, I think kudos are in order.

Did you ever have one of those fantasies where you thought about what you’d do if you woke up one day and were suddenly enormously rich or powerful?  Did you think to yourself about all the good you could do with that power and wealth to touch lives and bring some light into some otherwise dreary lives?   I know I have.  Every time the lotto gets up into the hundreds of millions of dollars, I start thinking of what I would do with the money, and in my mind it gets spent in rapid fashion.  I think that maybe, just maybe, this Pope had similar fantasies and has the opportunity to make them come true.

I’ll still be critical of religion, which we’re told by the late and great Christopher Hitchens, “poisons everything“.  And I’ll still call out the Church for abuses and hypocrisy.  But let it be known to all that–at least for today, and maybe just this once–that this atheist thinks that the Pope might be a pretty good guy at heart.  Now, if he would just sell a few of those fancy dresses he wears on Ebay, he could feed and clothe entire impoverished nations in Africa…

In other Pope Francis news, watch what he does with his holy booger.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF-MRr6SI9o

EDIT UPDATE 9/2/13:

In the interests of keeping things balanced, the Pope issued his First Papal Encyclical.  I know.  I didn’t know what that was either, but according to good old Wikipedia it is: “…a letter, usually treating some aspect of Catholic doctrine, sent by the Pope and addressed either to the Catholic bishops of a particular area or, more normally, to the bishops of the world; however, the form of the address can vary widely, and often designates a wider audience.

The Friendly Atheist breaks it down in detail.  Basically, although he doesn’t use the word “atheist”, he describes attributes of people not having faith, which is what atheists are, so the shoe fits well.  It isn’t anything we wouldn’t expect from a Pope, although based on earlier statements, we may have had hopes this one might be a little different.

Pope Francis I

Pope Francis I

Evaluating the Sexism Debate

I suppose I should just assume most readers have already been witness to the fireworks taking place in the skeptic community surrounding sexual harassment and sexual assault.  If you aren’t, you can get a decent thumbnail sketch of the sordid events here and here.  The real impetus for any action or comment on my part was a post by noted atheist PZ Myers on his Pharyngula blog accusing prominent skeptic, Michael Shermer, of rape.  In that post he posts a few nebulous sentences from an an anonymous woman who says Shermer raped her at an anonymous event at an undisclosed time “a few years” ago.

It was this issue that brought me to blogging in the first place, so I wanted to at least address the issue early in my blogging career.

I have some very strong opinions that have been formed and shaped from reading various blogs, and reading and participating in the comments threads where the blood runs so very, very deep.  It is a rare person who can wade into that muck and not come out upset, disillusioned, and feeling the need for a long, hot shower.  This is a good thing, though, because when emotions run deep it gives the skeptic an opportunity to self-examine and focus his or her objectivity.  I could do the natural thing and write about what it is about the specifics of this situation that alarms me, but I have a more pressing concern of a general nature.  When I read the blogs and the ensuing comments I am utterly flabbergasted at the lack of objectivity, arguing skills, and objectivity in the so-called skeptic community.  I’d like to address a few of the major types of arguments I’ve witnessed in the threads and point out what I feel are the many and serious flaws from a skeptic’s perspective.  Here are some of my favorite worst arguments in no particular order:

arguing pic

“We don’t have evidence because the accuser remains anonymous, so there’s no reason to post this.”

Its true that an objective look at the evidence would indicate that there’s no reason to really suspect a man of being guilty based on one anonymous accusation.  But it is fallacious to say that the lack of credible evidence means that nothing should be said or that we should behave as though the allegations were not made.  Evidence may not have been presented, and a good skeptic withholds judgment until the evidence reasonably supports a conclusion, but the fact that a person may be a danger to those around him should be considered carefully and critically.

“But there were other people who claim that Michael Shermer: plied women with alcohol and flirted inappropriately, tried to sleep with a different woman at every conference, etc.”

It sounds like stories abound about him being a womanizer.  And if there are many stories, there may be a kernel of truth at the bottom of it all.  But then again, rumors have a way of propagating themselves in the fertile ground of the minds of those eager to believe.  But wanting to have sex isn’t a crime, and neither is flirting or pouring wine into an empty glass.  To assert that anonymous allegations of womanizing are evidence of rape is not just a logical case of begging the question, it also belies one of the most commonly cited truisms about rape: “rape is not about sex.  It is about power and violence”.  So, wanting and actively seeking sex (if he even did that) is not evidence of anything except wanting and actively seeking sex.


“Your disagreement with my position makes you a misogynist, dudebro, rape apologist, etc.”

Flatly not true. This is a case of emotion getting the better of reason.  The idea that we should not automatically assume a rape allegation (or any allegation, for that matter) without some form of credible evidence is the natural and default skeptical stance.  To label someone as a [insert emotion-laden keyword here] is not just unjustified, but it is a clear-cut ad hominem fallacy. “ Instead of attacking the argument, I will label you as someone who’s opinions are invalid, and thereby will avoid the unpleasant task of answering your challenge.”

“Your disagreement with my position makes you a radical feminist who is just trying to cause trouble, a cunt, a troublemaker, etc.” 

Same as above.  Ad Hominem attacks are so frequent in the threads that I understand Mr. Hominem is seeking a restraining order.  Whether a particular blogger is an over-zealous ideologue has no bearing on the accuracy of the facts they’re asserting or the truth of the conclusion they’re drawing.

 

“There’s no problem with sexual assault or sexual harassment in the atheist movement.” 

That one at least is a clear statement of fact and thus subject to verification.  Unfortunately, its probably also incorrect.  There have been instances of sexual assault and harassment cited by named individuals who are also respected and known in the community.  This raises questions.  The allegations don’t make them true, but they’re certainly more credible than the Pharyngula assertions, and should be considered in the debate.  Let me repeat myself and be clear:  THIS RAISES QUESTIONS.  To flatly deny that any of these allegations are true just because some of them are ridiculous or are almost completely devoid of factual detail is a serious error.  Did I mention that some of these allegations are made by people who publicly identified themselves and described the setting and the incidents in detail and the this fact alone raises questions?

“All men are inherently rapists.” 

Yes, I’ve seen a person actually defend radical feminist statements that hold even consensual sex as a form of rape.  I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the size of the void in a person’s critical thought process that would allow them to make such a ridiculous statement.  Rape is by definition “any act of intercourse that is forced upon a person.”  How can consensual sex fit into that category?  I so want to use the word idiot right now, but that would probably get me labeled as a misogynist. [NOTE: this is not a common argument at all, since I’ve seen it precisely once, and then it wasn’t in a thread, but in a tweet.  And I can’t find the tweet to save my life, so I can’t document it. Thought I’d throw it in for shits and giggles.]
Various treatments of feminist dogma that use key-words like “male privilege” and “patriarchy”.

This is also a subtle ad hominem in that it attacks the arguer by addressing his or her motives for making the argument instead of the argument itself.  I may have been programmed by society to feel certain ways about certain issues, but unless I allow that programming to override my critical thought processes, it is fallacious to hang that label on me to try to discredit an otherwise valid point.  The fact that I disagree with you doesn’t mean I’m biased.  That you may simply be wrong about the subject could be the cause of our disagreement.

Various treatments of the “Schroedinger’s Rapist” concept.

I find the concept to be a true and accurate description of women’s plight in our society.  They do have to be ever mindful of sexual assault.  I have a teenage daughter and I’ve been teaching her this type of awareness since she was old enough to walk.  But its not anywhere near relevant to posting anonymous (and strangely worded) accusations in a blog read by thousands of people.  Yes, Schroedinger’s Rapist is true, but so what?

Trolls be trollin’. 

Apparently some of these women have been subjected to threats of rape and vivid descriptions of fantasies that they will be raped by others.  Its not an argument.  It is obscene and disgusting.  I fail to see any reasonable justification for such comments.  But the presence of these ugly people among us doesn’t prove anything except that some trolls didn’t get enough hugs when they were children.  It also opens up a “guilt by association” type of fallacious argument where one troll says he wants to rape a blogger and then the blogger uses that horrible statement against others who offer rational arguments.

“All we’re asking for is that policies be put into place at conferences so women feel safe and respected.”

Well, that’s not all they’re asking for, really.  They’re asking for complete and utter capitulation by their perceived enemies too.  That sounds like a judgment on my part, but after reading so many gleefully dogmatic statements from some of these people, it seems justifiable in my opinon.  Some of the policies suggested even define certain modes of dress (described vaguely as “sexualized”) as violations of policy.  And while I agree with the fact that these organizations should all have well-defined (and well-enforced) policies in place, I do not condone the request for any draconian measures. Am I the only one who sees irony in atheist feminists instituting dress codes?  Can an atheist burkah be far off?  In fairness, the proposed dress-codes are supposedly only for vendors and employees, not the attendees of the conferences, but since few of these policies have been formalized, it remains to be seen what these rules will look like.  We should withhold judgment.

Also, the “All we’re asking for is…” claim seems factually incorrect.  The discussion has moved from women’s safety at conferences to encompass appropriate behavior towards women with proscriptions, for example, not to converse with a woman on a subway if her arms are folded, not to politely invite a woman back you your hotel room for a cup of coffee in the middle of the night, and not to pour wine into a woman’s empty glass.

I will have more to say on this later, and hope to have time to address these issues in more detail then.

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