It’s not clear.
The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it. Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement: parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership – and that’s before you get to the vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off, that’s designed to intimidate women into silence.
Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better – as with his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation. There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies.
But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment; he even apologized for the “Dear Muslima” letter. On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist and said that everyone else should be, too.
Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an “estrogen vibe” and was “to some degree intrinsically male”. And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over. More.
Hey, wait a minute.
Most of what is said against Harris in this context seems false, provided of course, you think that truth or reality matters. No new atheist can think that, because the mind is merely what the brain does, right? But the rest of us can.
The four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse are falling victim to their own hordes, whose separate, individual truths compete for power in an arena where no true truth rules.
The whole point about the new atheist movement is that humans are merely evolved primates. So statements about “reality” are merely statements about our neurons.
How many times do we have to say this to get it across? If you sign on, that is what you are signing on to. It is not science or anti-science or non-science. It is simply a-science.
The pack has decided to savage Dawkins and Harris. The grant machine and the PR machine and the oppo research machine roll on, but evidence is irrelevant and in principle there is no one to care.
Note: Dawkins’ Twitter feed is here.
One thing new atheism won’t be good for is a civilization. Maybe that’s why women found other things to do?
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