The Skeptic & Atheist Movements: A Word of Warning for Newcomers

August 16, 2013

It is with a sense of foreboding that I make a statement here about the hateful culture that has been exposed in the skeptic and atheist communities. I have long avoided addressing these issues on this blog, but I have to do it. This blog is not a “skeptic blog” nor is it an “atheist blog”. But the fact is that many people coming to this site for the first time may possibly find themselves exploring the atheist and skeptic communities. 

I have a responsibility to warn them of the dangers.

Sadly this must be a blanket warning about these movements.

  • Do not donate any money to organizations unless you have thoroughly checked them and observed them for one year at the very least.
  • Nor should you attend any events at all without doing a thorough background check AND finding a safe reliable contact who can warn you in private about the dangers of being harassed, abused or raped by specific community members (often well known), or publicly humiliated for many years online and anywhere else you can be traced. 
  • Before even thinking of commenting on any forums, read several hundred comments.

It is probably only a minority — a sizable minority — who are guilty of creating such a poisonous culture, but the situation is so extreme, and the poisons so varied and numerous, that a blanket warning is necessary. The easiest and perhaps the only way to identify the good people there is by checking if they have already vocally condemned this culture of rape, harassment and bigotry.

I decided to label myself an atheist (rather than a secularist or pseudo-buddhist) because I liked the current resurgence of atheism into the popular culture and wanted, at least implicitly, to support it. Also, I thought the label “atheist” was the most accurate one word label for my views, and one of the few labels which I don’t feel like I need to fit a particular mold in order to wear.

And it was a label which I very nearly dropped last year when I read this comment, originally posted on a skeptic/atheist forum:

Would it be immoral to rape a Skepchick?
Post by Pappa » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:46 am
Not for sexual gratification or power or anything like that, just because they’re so annoying.
I’m really torn on this one. :dunno:

Now, as a message to newcomers and potential future skeptics, if you don’t want to hear that kind of thing then keep away from the skeptic and atheist movement. A Skepchick, by the way, is a member of a particular group set up to promote women in the skeptic movement. They were probably expecting to help promote critical thinking to the general public. Instead they discovered they need to educate and socialize the skeptic movement itself in the most basic forms of human decency and manners that can actually be mastered without problem by the average five-year old..   

The skeptic community has worked out that Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster most likely do not exist — or at least there is no good evidence for their existence (we must be exact about the wording here); but it is still undecided about whether or not rape or harassment is wrong.

The atheist movement has worked out that there is no good evidence that Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs, but is still debating whether men are inherently superior to women and have the right to use, abuse and publicly humiliate them.

if you don’t want to see a photoshopped or cartoon image of yourself hog-tied against your will and covered in the sperm of men who hate you for speaking out, then don’t join the skeptic or atheist movement. If you feel drawn towards being active in these movements and have the stomach for a bitter fight against a horde of sexually incontinent internet trolls, famous serial abusers, and an entire culture that supports them, then I wish you luck and I will speak out in support of you. But nothing like the amount you will need.

The only reason to even have a skeptic or atheist movement is to strengthen the ways that reason can be promoted in society at large. Now, internal conflicts about how best to do this are to be expected. But a massive and bitter struggle about whether or not rape jokes are funny, or whether known serial harassers, abusers and rapists should be allowed to maintain their prominent status and paid positions simply has no place in any movement that wants a public voice.

The skeptic movement should have been dealing by now with difficult issues like manipulative persuasion by motivational speakers, and the tricky relationship to their victims. Instead, they are defending the “right” of famous people in positions of power and authority to get unsuspecting women drunk, and possibly wind up having sex with them without their consent. Obviously it’s the victim’s fault if they suddenly find themselves too drunk to consent, after being swept off their feet by a slimy but charismatic fellow like Michael Shermer. (Message to Shermer’s lawyers and hordes of infantile trolls: I am not accusing Shermer of rape here. I am referring to skeptic Brian Dalton’s defense of his behavior as reported in the previous link.)

They could have been debunking dangerous religious teachings about human sexuality. Instead the leading skeptic organizations in the US are complicit and even active in this insane bigotry and rape culture.

How dare they even open their mouths about any issues at all until they realize that rape and sexual abuse are wrong and must not be tolerated? 

Now it should be fucking easy as hell for anyone with half a fucking brain to oppose this. How embarrassing it is for two movements that consider themselves the intellectual elites of society to have stumbled at such a fucking simple problem. I am at a loss for words, so I will try this for a statement:

Rebecca Watson, (one of the Skepchicks who “Pappa” wants to rape) wrote a post linking to this video.

It’s from Lieutenant General David Morrison of the Australian Defense Forces. Why would a Skepchick be posting a video made by a member of the Australian armed forces? It’s because Lt. Morrison made a straight forward easy to follow, completely and utterly rational statement about this issue. It is exactly the kind of statement that prominent people and institutions in the skeptic and atheist movements have failed to make.

I have stated categorically many times that the army has to be an inclusive organization where every soldier, man and woman is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army.

Our service has been engaged in continuous operation since 1999 and in its longest war ever in Afghanistan. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others. Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work.

If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian army. I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those who by their rank have a leadership role.

Listening to that statement I’m reminded that members of my family served in the Australian armed forces. I feel, to be honest, kind of proud to have even a second-hand connection to an institution that is taking such a clear and unequivocal stand on this issue.

On the other hand, I feel utterly ashamed and humiliated that such a message from such a source needs to be directed not only at abusive soldiers, but also at atheists and skeptics. Have you guys noticed that your cardboard cut-out “man-hating Feminazi” is telling you exactly the same message as a high-ranking male soldier, who is stating basic policy for the armed forces? 

Do you guys really think your boys’ club is so important that you should be left free to harass any woman or man who comes within your range? Go ahead, debunk dowsing all you want, write about Why Other People, Not Me, Believe Weird Things… Go on, have your pathetic tiny minded smug little careers. But I will do everything I can to make sure that anyone who hears from me about your movement will be warned about you.

Some Links and Resources

From my own blog roll, see Bronze Dog‘s recent post.

Also from my blog roll, Dubito Ergo Sum has covered events and spoken out on these issues.

The Lousy Canuck blog has a timeline of events of recent exposure of rape and harassment, as well as regular detailed coverage and activism.

Skepchick is a good place to start to get a picture of what is going on here, as well as being an excellent all round resource for skepticism.

There are plenty more, but that’s a start.

Needless to say, comments here will be strictly moderated.

Posted by Yakaru


  1. Harsh, necessary, and well-said, Yakaru.

  2. *Applause*

    We could also use officers like Lt. Morrison here in the US, since our military has the same problems and probably even worse.

    I haven’t seen the full scale of the problem in the skeptical community since I’ve largely hung around the healthy parts of the blogosphere, but it’s still sickening to see the bigots ruining a good thing. They use the rhetoric of skepticism for the sake of easy denialism and maintaining a bad status quo without understanding the core lesson of skepticism: they are subject to irrational biases and fallacious rationalizations just like everyone else.

    Something comes to mind with how a skeptic should deal with woos probably applies here. There’s plenty of “skeptics” who are simply dismissive, jumping straight into ridiculing stereotypes when a woo makes a claim. The real skeptical approach involves asking critical questions and paying attention to what is actually being claimed and what course of action is actually being suggested. There are plenty of woos who’ll live down to our expectations, but sometimes there are some who need a bit of extra work and might change their mind if we pinpoint where their thinking went wrong. Or they might actually have a good point, remote as that chance is. Whatever version it is, we should be willing to listen and exercise our critical thinking instead of idly feeling superior.

    On that point, we’re not asserting that all men are pigs. We’re not suggesting a bureaucratic approach where you have to sign a paper in triplicate to flirt with someone. In the recent accusations, I haven’t seen anyone suggest person X be arrested.

    We’re acknowledging that some men are pigs and that they should be criticized. If you’re accused of being one, spend some time listening to the reasons for the accusation and consider changing the relevant behaviors. I’ve been paying attention and though I haven’t done anything horrible, I’ve had a few issues to correct, rather than take my self-image as a good guy for granted.

    No one is trying to make obtaining consent into a bureaucratic process. We just want people to be aware of and respect basic social conventions. If confusion happens, just ask plainly if it’s okay. If someone refuses, don’t keep pushing. This is the sort of thing we’re supposed to be instinctively good at as social animals. We’re talking about the fundamentals of casually hanging out, not the formal use of arcane cutlery. It doesn’t help matters that feigning ignorance of basic social conventions is a textbook tactic for bullies and rapists. It gets worse when other people show up to offer rationalizations for bad behavior.

    With a lot of the recent accusations, I haven’t been hearing calls for arrests, except from people who didn’t read the relevant posts. We’re advocating reasonable suspicion as a social action. We want to keep our eyes on these people if we encounter them. We have corroborating testimony about their behaviors and people who emerge to defend, rationalize, or minimize such behaviors. Given that input, being cautious around the accused or avoiding them seem perfectly reasonable responses to me. The consequences of being wrong aren’t nearly as severe as a false criminal conviction, so I don’t think we need to meet criminal court standards.

  3. @Doubting Tom,
    And I really appreaciate that you’ve been speaking out so strongly about all this for ages. I see your comments everywhere.

    @Bronze Dog,
    Likewise, thanks for speaking out about this. After reading your most recent post (I’ve fixed the link to it now in the footnotes) I realized it’s time I made a statement about it here too.

    I don’t think I’ve ever really harassed anyone, but there have been times when I realized later that I went over a boundary. I was never happy doing it, and it never had good results. If attraction isn’t mutual, it’s not attraction. I think we men just need to get used to the idea that we can very easily go over boundaries and make women feel uncomfortable without even realizing it. Actively trying to create an atmosphere that perpetuates that kind of thing is just mind-blowingly stupid.

    One thing these bigots are doing exactly right is making themselves easy to spot.

  4. Thanks for this post, Yakaru. Honestly, I’m shocked by what I’ve been reading, specifically people’s refusal to take sexual harassment seriously. You guys (literally guys!) give me hope!

  5. @Mariah,
    I must admit I’ve avoided discussing it simply because I didn’t want to risk getting this blog attacked by the hordes. I started this site to oppose New Age exploitation, and want people new to applying critical thinking to spirituality to feel comfortable here. I didn’t want their introduction to skepticism to involve an encounter with hordes of rape apologists. But sadly, I now realize it’s they will see it sooner or later anyway and they need to be warned.

  6. […] Källa: https://spiritualityisnoexcuse.wordpress.com/2013/08/16/the-skeptic-atheist-movements-a-word-of-warni… […]

  7. […] followed, such groups may either dwindle to insignificance or possibly clean up their act. “The Skeptic & Atheist Movements: A Word of Warning for Newcomers,” Spirituality is no Excuse, August 16, 2013: […]

  8. While much of what you say is true, I have to point out that much of it is extremely biased in that you base your entire assessment of a movement on outliers (rape jokes and horrible threats) and a complete lack of objective evaluation of the issues that plague these movements.

    First and foremost, there is no debate about whether it is okay for anyone to harass or rape anyone else. That is a complete fabrication. The debate centers around a group of feminist activists who have brought to light issues of misconduct and possible criminal behavior. The extreme opposition to these people isn’t around whether women should be treated well or whether they should be harassed. It is centered upon certain dogmatic tendencies that are perceived within that group. Dogmatism, as you might imagine, is a much larger issue in an atheist/skeptic community than it would be in most, because the entire reason for the movement to exist is to fight against the dogmatism that persists in the form of religion.

    You alluded to rape. To date there has been no credible accusation of rape. One woman who chose to remain anonymous, told a friend, who told a prominent atheist blogger that a prominent skeptic “coerced her” into a place where she was unable to consent and then had sex with her. She gives no other details, and it is acknowleged this happened “a few years ago”. Obviously an allegation of this type must be taken seriously and should be investigated. But this group of feminists has taken this allegation on the flimsiest of evidence and used it as a war cry to announce that skeptic conferences are some type of hunting ground for patriarchal male sexists looking for victims.

    You must understand that people like me, a skeptic, see this as fundamentally unfair, exhibiting a committment to ideology over the use of reason, and find it irrational to make conclusions about a man’s guilt or innocence based on a few lines of text completely devoid of detail. Many of the feminists for their side have radicalized to the place that they refuse to ask for more details and harass those who do. Anyone who brings up the fact that we don’t know enough about this woman to determine whether this is a credible accusation are termed, “misogynists” or “rape apologists”. Any dissent in a discussion forum on their sites results in being banned from posting. So, you see, the problems in our movement are much more complex than you indicate, although I’m sure over simplifying makes posting easier for you. It is also highly irresponsible.

    Perhaps it would be better if you did some actual research before you wrote something of this nature in the future. Certainly this movement has plenty of need for criticism–and I have done my share in that regard–but posting about something you have no real knowledge about is not the proper way to go about it.

    Your blog post represents an excellent case study in intellectual dishonesty and laziness that is one of the problems that have to be overcome if we are to build a sustainable future for mankind.

  9. you base your entire assessment of a movement on outliers

    From my post: “It is probably only a minority — a sizable minority — who are guilty of creating such a poisonous culture” You want to argue about proportions? I don’t.

    a complete lack of objective evaluation

    The post was a warning to readers of my blog and not an objective evaluation of the skeptic movement. If you read the list of recommendations near the top, you’ll see that it’s simply advising caution. The examples I gave are things that have already happened. For my values, such things happen frequently enough for me to feel obliged to issue such a warning to the readers of my own blog.

    You alluded to rape. To date there has been no credible accusation of rape.

    Yes, I alluded to it. And, obviously, I found the accusation credible. But as this is not discussed in the post it will also not be discussed in the comments on this thread.

    This post is not a contribution to the arguments within either of these movements. I already distanced myself from the atheist and skeptic communities at the start of the post. I am not interested in discussing the proportion of members of these communities that do or don’t indulge in rape jokes or harassment.

    Incidentally, you started with “While much of what you say is true” and ended with “Your blog post represents an excellent case study in intellectual dishonesty and laziness”. That doesn’t make any sense at all, does it.

  10. […] 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, […]

  11. The poisonous dudebro/right wing/libertarian current that runs through the skeptical and atheist communities, and my own run in with a somewhat known online skeptical blogger, are basically the reason my own blogging has reduced to almost zero in the last few years. It’s been so depressing to discover and watch that it just made me think, “Why bother?” You’ve put one part of this into words much better than I could have with this post Yakaru.

    And the sort of fingers in ears “I can’t hear you but you are wrong lalalala.” responses from people like hatchetmaniac just reinforces my “why bother-itude”.

    Some try to dress it up in a nice suit whenever they bring it out, but it comes down to “Why don’t these women just shut up and let the men get on with it?” Trying to pretend there is a serious intellectual issue for both sides is laughable. What kind of serious intellectual issue is resolved with rape threats and online harassment, exactly? When your opponent is talking about raping you then you aren’t having a debate – you are receiving threats from toxic morons who should face criminal charges. If the threat of violence is imminent, you’ve committed assault under US law. How is that debate?

    Who in their right mind tries to sound intelligent and reasonable whilst defending that?

  12. Very happy to hear from you JB!

    I was also disappointed in the behavior of the skeptical blogger you mentioned. I often thought I should have said something, but I didn’t really have a grip on the issues and also didn’t know what to say. I’ve witnessed the same behavior in other contexts from the same fellow and have also stopped participating there. There are things deserve to be attacked with vitriol, and there are possibly even times when it’s worth hounding someone a bit, but “which logical fallacy is that?” is not such an issue.

    I’ve often wanted to write something here about all this rape lunacy, but I also don’t want to turn the blog into a pigsty. I didn’t set it up to oppose elements of the skeptic/atheist community. I don’t mind the insults from New Agers – they say it and then run away. I’ve also been happy to get a remarkable amount of support from New Agers too, who also want to see more protection for spiritual seekers — it’s not about “belonging” to a certain group, or not belonging. It’s about doing ones best to understand things and communicate about it. And thankfully, New Agers have at least a higher degree of emotional maturity than many skeptics & atheists, so I’m happy to have a discussion with them.

    Anyway, I hope you’ll find a way to continue sharing your insights and wit, JB. I’m still a fan!

  13. Not to derail this post with my own tale of unimportant nonsense, but it relates somewhat to what your original post was about – my run in left me with the very clear impression that the skeptical and atheist communities are really not what you would think – or what I hoped – or what they should/could be. I had one notable skeptical blogger just flat out lying about what he had said, and what I had said, right there on the blog where we’d said them – where anyone could look to see for themselves! I started to look a lot harder at the personalities within it, and started to notice a lot of arrogance, unpleasantness and eventually misogyny that I had not noticed before the veil was lifted – and a lot of it did need pointing out too because I’d been oblivious and star stuck. Not long after the first run in I criticized another fairly well known skeptical blogger and was met with the same stuff – lies and evasion. I came to the conclusion then that in many cases we’re really no better as a movement than some of the ones we ridicule, and our feeling smug is thoroughly undeserved!

    In other words, like you said at the start – this movement is not what newcomers might think it is.

    Think about it, this great unraveling/revealing of the sexism in the atheist/skeptical communities all really came out because one woman told guys she didn’t think it was cool for them to hit on women in an elevator. How is that controversial? How is that worth rape threats? How is it we have tolerated sexual predators in the movement? How is it we’ve covered this up for so long – and whilst we criticize the Catholic church?!

    I completely understand your reluctance to say anything about this – I’ve basically tried to do the same. I know I’m on the right side, but there’s so much potential for misstep it’s better just to keep my gob shut. I tried to comment on Pharyngula once – on the infamous hand grenade thread, right near the beginning – and said something I thought was reasonable, but then had it pointed out that it was really a douche thing to say (by the commenter “Caine,Fleur du Mal” – who used more patience and class than I probably deserved). I thought about it, apologized and have shut up since then. Minefield is putting it mildly, even when you are on the right side of the argument. Attracting the slime pit, MRAs, dudebros and rape apologists is the last thing you need when its hard enough being on the side of the good guys and not screwing up!

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