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Jun 01 2013

No god to hate women

Thelma Louise at Canadian Atheist discusses Dan Fincke’s attempt to discuss feminism and atheism with Vacula yesterday. I caught most of it; it was pretty interesting. Vacula still completely misunderstood the phrase “consistent with,” which seems odd – it’s not technical jargon, it’s an everyday phrase that is widely used. He still insisted that Amanda Marcotte’s claim that atheism is consistent with feminism is “a bunch of claptrap.” Of course it’s not. There is no contradiction in being both an atheist and a feminist. Dan patiently explained this, like the experienced teacher he is.

At 8:57 Valcula reads more from Marcott, “ if followed to its logical conclusion, atheism means abandoning the belief that women exist to serve men.” Then my favorite part of this debate, Vacula continues with, “I don’t get that.” So the one piece of literature that Vacula brought to this debate to reference, on his main point of argument about consistency in atheism, he. . . doesn’t get. Fincke put up with a lot from Vacula but managed to stand his ground and restate or modify his questions in order to try and pin Vacula down into giving a response.

Dan laid out for him how one can get there. The belief that women exist to serve men is a teleological belief, and that implies a “who,” and that implies a god. See?

This is something I naturally thought about a lot while writing Does God Hate Women? It’s a powerful belief, I think, much of it implicit and below the radar (which might explain why Vacula was so totally unfamiliar with it). You look at the world. You look at women and men. You see that on average men are stronger. If you think that all this was done For A Purpose, and done By A Person Who Has A Purpose, then you think men are stronger for a reason, and that therefore they are supposed to be dominant and women are supposed to be submissive. If you don’t think all this was done For A Purpose, by an agent, aka an Intelligent Designer, then you don’t think that. You’re free to conclude that larger muscle mass does not translate to permanent right to authority and dominance. You’re free to conclude that larger muscle mass has nothing to do with anything when it comes to the relations among humans and whether they should be hierarchical or not. You’re free to conclude that hierarchy should not extend into every area of life and that human beings have a better shot at living without festering resentments and hostilities if it doesn’t.

See?

In this sense there is some affinity between atheism and egalitarianism. There are connections between them. It’s still of course true that one can easily be an atheist and ferociously opposed to feminism. Both views, and other views in between and off to the side, are consistent with atheism. The only view that’s actually inconsistent with atheism is, obviously, theism. But atheism does do away with one massive obstacle to egalitarianism, which is the belief that inequality is part of God’s plan.

 

 

35 comments

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  1. 1
    Hershele Ostropoler

    I really do think there are people (I don’t know if Vacula is one) who conflate atheism and apisticism, and who think feminism is merely a form of dogma; if they were correct about those things, they would be correct in saying atheists should reject feminism.

    I mean, neither of those premises is correct, but the reasoning is sound.

  2. 2
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    It’s amazing how something this obvious can be so invisible to people like Vacula. Do you think he knowlingly ignores it?

  3. 3
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    Vacula reminds me so much of this troll on a website I used to visit years and years ago, who would obliquely insult someone, then when they said, “Hey, that’s insulting,” he’d respond, “No it’s not, but you’re an idiot to think it is.” Then one would respond, “Hey, you were insulting right there,” and he’d respond, “Well, if you think I’m being insulting, clearly you’re stupid.” It’s like a huge circular argument with absolutely no basis in any form of reality.

  4. 4
    Pierce R. Butler

    You’re free to conclude that larger muscle mass has nothing to do with anything when it comes to the relations among humans …

    Experience on most of the school playgrounds of my youth taught exactly the opposite, without any theological dimension whatsoever. :-P

    Maybe things were different on the girls’ side…

  5. 5
    bcmystery

    The more I see of Vacula, the more I think he’s simply a combination of profoundly self-absorbed and not very bright. He THINKS he’s clever, but he’s not. He’s a thirteen-year-old who memorized a thesaurus. His narcissism won’t allow the self-reflection necessary to recognize his failures of reasoning and the profound gaps in his knowledge and understanding.

    Of course, this is all speculation, and charitable speculation at that. Another reasonable conclusion based on the evidence is that he’s just an asshole.

  6. 6
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Experience on most of the school playgrounds of my youth taught exactly the opposite, without any theological dimension whatsoever.

    Indeed, which would be relevant, were we to be living in a hexannocracy, but as we are not yet ruled by six-year-olds… :P right back atcha.

  7. 7
    Zeckenschwarm

    What if you believe the “Person Who Has A Purpose” that created humans isn’t a god but some kind of alien? Wouldn’t that allow for a form of atheistic teleology?
    (Not to defend Vacula, if that had been what he meant, he would have said so.)

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    What’s the difference between a “Person Who Has A Purpose” that created humans and is some kind of alien, and god?

  9. 9
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Their passports?

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Hahahahahahaha

  11. 11
    Zeckenschwarm

    The Raelians for example have “Intelligent Design for Atheists” as the title of their homepage. I guess it depends on what you’re willing to call a “god” and consequently on what you’re willing to call “atheism”.

  12. 12
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    Alf created humans?

    *mind boggles*

  13. 13
    David Hart

    What’s the difference between a “Person Who Has A Purpose” that created humans and is some kind of alien, and god?

    To get really pedantic, if you define your god as eternal and all-wise, then you neither can nor should want to try to overthrow his pre-ordained hierarchy. If you think we were created by intelligent aliens then it is at least open to us to say “sod their hierarchy; they’re just evolved beings just like used to think we are”.

    But this is a distinction that need only concern those of us who are particularly concerned about inequality among the Raelians, and I don’t see many of them hanging out here :-)

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    Indeed, and “God” is a very expansive word as well as a very restrictive one. The rules apply or don’t apply depending on which is convenient. But even the conventional “God” is certainly an alien. If the Raelians really think an ID alien is radically different from “God” then they’re even more absurd than I thought.

  15. 15
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    if God’s an alien, then I wish the Earth had a Constitution, so we could say it was no longer allowed to be God, having not been born an Earthican, which would clearly make it an anchor baby of sorts, and automatically a socialist (as everyone not born in the US is!).

    And, well, even if it’s not true, I have this strange idea that that controversy might stick, dunno why.

  16. 16
    Thelma Louise

    Thank you so much for the reference. “Inequality is part of God’s plan.” – It really does come down to this. If a belief in God means a belief in his plan, then atheism rejects religiously justified sexism.

  17. 17
    maudell

    It’s all about size, might makes right. That’s why fat women are so revered and powerful.

  18. 18
    Pierce R. Butler

    CaitieCat @ # 6: … we are not yet ruled by six-year-olds…

    Yeah, the mental age of the previous Most Powerful Man in the World was closer to eight or nine.

    Somewhere in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, she describes a council of ~14th-century aristocrats making a Really Dumb Decision, then points out that a majority of the “men” involved were in their teens – apparently a common situation when even the elite rarely survived past their forties. A lot of our Venerable Traditions have their roots in societies run on the sacred principle of larger muscle mass, and are reinforced in schoolyards coast-to-coast.

    Old Man Fincke’s lucky that Vacula didn’t try to resolve their debate by ‘rasslin’.

  19. 19
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    Lager muscle mass; it’s more of a guy thing. ;)

    (Can’t believe nobody else beat me to it!)

  20. 20
    Dave Ricks

    Thelma Louise will write another post about the video:

    Further issues of how women can become more involved in the movement, proactively addressing women and issues of safety and harassment, I will address in a future post.

    That’s important to me, because at the end of the video, Vacula gave bogus reasons against conference harassment policies, and for the secular movement to grow, organizations need to see Vacula’s brand of nonsense and distance themselves from it.

  21. 21
    peicurmudgeon

    Just finished watching the video. Maybe I came into it with a bias, but I didn’t think much of Vacula before, and I think less of him now. He ducked and dodged and danced around trying to avoid some of the inconsistencies in his arguments and positions. He tried to deny and then agree and then deny that men in positions of power will abuse that power. I wasn’t taking notes, and there are just too many instances of these inconsistencies and misdirection to mention.

    Since this began, I have talked to women about being at conferences where men have approached them inappropriately. These are just the professional conferences, not in any way related to atheism. It happens at conferences, at work, at bars, on the street – everywhere.

    My daughter is a geophysicist and as an undergrad, she attended a session on how to deal with the comments, advances, and general sexism of the men. I have no idea if the men attended session on how to behave around women. As Dan kept pushing, this stuff happens everywhere and so the likelihood of it happening at an atheist conference is high. Even if there hasn’t been any specific instances, every workplace or conference needs to have rules of non-acceptable behaviour spelled out.

    I cannot understand how anyone cannot see that without complete wilful blindness.

  22. 22
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    I suppose an “alien” intelligent designer (as opposed to a deity) would themselves be biological organisms rather than supernatural, eternal, immortal, omniscient, non-corporeal, judging, ruling all-powerful entities. (Do you have any idea how hard it was to not succumb to the temptation to capitalize each item of that list of attributes to make them Important? Also how preposterous this list of attributes really is, capitalized or not) They would be more advanced meat machines, but more like us than like gods. Such aliens would certainly have power over their creations, but no particular moral superiority. We would be playing the role of the bugs in the Petri dish to their person in the lab coat, or the Monster to their Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein cobbled his monster out of bits at hand reanimating through the manipulation of material forces; he did not create from nothing, he did not initiate or constitute the laws and principals by which he was able to do what he did. In theistic schemes gods are responsible for putting the universe itself together and intervening in it. There are alleged to be terrible consequences for those who go against the Divinely Ordained Order of Things. By “demoting” holy books and making them just another human construct, they lose most of their power. Their power arises from the belief that they are the words of gods. These books are wielded as weapons. They lose this power if they are seen as no diferent than Homer or Moby Dick, or Nancy Drew. By “demoting” a creator god to a creator alien biological species, the idea of a creator also loses much of its power. The creator(s) may be older, more advanced technologically, whatever, but that does not make them “better” than us on a moral, ethical level. If they are themselves biological, then they are more like us than like gods and the order they manufactured has no divinity behind it, no eternal moral authority. The creators are, like us, like Victor Frankenstein, subject to the laws of the universe rather than authors of them.

    In some organisms males are bigger; in some females are bigger. We happen to have ended up in the former bin. If it’s not part of a “plan” but just a result of no particular moral, ethical or political importance, that surely is a point in favour of egalitarian relations between/among the sexes. It at least cannot be used as a point in favour of any pre-ordained, necessary male superiority. If you want to run some sort of male superiority racket then you have to come up with another justification for it ( maybe this is where bad evo-psyche steps in to take the place of religious explanatons?).

  23. 23
    Ophelia Benson

    “It’s a cook book.”

  24. 24
    Hank_Says

    5, bcmystery:

    The more I see of Vacula, the more I think he’s simply a combination of profoundly self-absorbed and not very bright

    Exactly. Hell, that’s all I’ve ever seen of JV since the first time I heard of him.

    I saw guys like that in high school: they seemed to talk a good game and were effective self-promoters (self-inflaters!), but to see them actually debate or give a speech or do a project or in some way follow up on their blather? Embarrassing failure or unremarkable mediocrity, which would be denied outright or blamed on other people or (usually unverifiable or implausible) factors. Those guys lived in a sort of vacuum – a videogame where they were the protagonist and everyone was either an expendable NPC or a device to further their character’s story arc. By definition they could never be wrong and never fail because it was literally all about them.

    20+ years later, those same guys are the middle-managers we’re all familiar with. They don’t keep their jobs or get promoted through their skill and innovation but through bullshitting their superiors with a combination of stock jargon, sucking up to people higher up than them and taking credit for other peoples’ work. It’s still all about them and the people around them are still either expendable or mere rungs.

  25. 25
    Ophelia Benson

    Thelma Louise – a pleasure!

  26. 26
    Marcus Ranum

    He ducked and dodged and danced around trying to avoid some of the inconsistencies in his arguments and positions.

    May I engage in a bit of the “no true philosopher” fallacy?

  27. 27
    MrFancyPants

    peicurmudgeon @ 21:

    I have no idea if the men attended session on how to behave around women.

    As a graduate student, I was required to attend a two-hour sexual harassment seminar as a precondition of being a TA, as were all instructors. I don’t remember much from it other than how mind-numbingly obvious what they were telling us was, but apparently there had been enough problems that the university put the policy in place.

    That being said, I had never before (and have never since) been required to do the same for a job. Which, now that I think about it, is disturbing, given the ubiquity of such harassment. Also, vis-a-vis your reference to professional conferences (I’m an academic computer scientist), I too have definitely witnessed inappropriate comments and behavior, so it is most definitely a problem even among somewhat stodgy and sober-minded academics.

    Just one anecdote: my research advisor once forwarded me an email that she’d received from a conference attendee after one of her paper presentations. That email had been written in latin, of all things, and since she was unfamiliar with latin, she asked me to translate it. It turned out to be a very creepy and risqué proposal, kind of a pre-elevatorgate elevator proposal, only written in a dead language and sent from the man’s university email address. I recall her response very clearly: “Oh, dear.”

    And yet certain people still insist that conference guidelines are unnecessary.

  28. 28
    kevinalexander

    I try to understand people like Vacula by putting myself in their skin (It’s OK, I’ve had my shots)
    He might be thinking,’I understand my mind but I don’t understand a woman’s mind, therefore I’m smarter’

  29. 29
    ibbica

    In some organisms males are bigger; in some females are bigger. We happen to have ended up in the former bin.

    Please don’t forget the on average part of such claims. As is the case with most “sex differences” in humans, there is substantial overlap and considerable flexibility. /pedant

  30. 30
    Eamon Knight

    @19: Lager muscle mass; it’s more of a guy thing.

    Was that a deliberate typo? Because it adds an additional layer of humour re stereotypical male drinking habits, and their effects on physique.

  31. 31
    lpetrich

    One has to be careful. One can believe that women ought to serve men without believing that women have the purpose of serving men. If one is a sexist atheist, one would have to believe something like htat.

    As to which sex is bigger, it is conditioned on various circumstances.

    Among solitary animals, females tend to be bigger, because they have bigger gametes than males. Spiders and mantids are predatory arthropods with that direction of difference, and that makes the female ones dangerous to their mates.

    Among more social animals, males tend to be bigger, because they have more resources to spare for competing with each other. They also tend to be flashier looking, because that impresses females and/or their male competition. We have some features that are consistent with this pattern, like men being bigger and stronger than women, and having lower voices than women, an auditory counterpart of a male lion’s mane, it seems to me. Men’s beards may be a more direct counterpart. However, women’s appearance being considered more important than men’s is a rather clear anomaly: it’s contrary to this pattern.

  32. 32
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    @12:
    Someone has to groom the cats.

  33. 33
    smhll

    Dan laid out for him how one can get there. The belief that women exist to serve men is a teleological belief, and that implies a “who,” and that implies a god. See?

    I thought that Vacula was almost making a Stopped Clock argument. In that, though atheists do not accept the Bible as true (much less inerrant), parts of the Bible might still be true, as a stopped clock shows the correct time twice a day.

    I appreciate that Fincke took the time to do this, so that a person who might have been more personally affronted didn’t have to.

    Despite all the ink that has been spilled explaining and explaining why being approached for sex by a semi-stranger in an elevator can be unpleasant, Vacula insists on not agreeing with that POV. Swell.

  34. 34
    hypatiasdaughter

    #31 lpetrich

    One can believe that women ought to serve men without believing that women have the purpose of serving men.

    The problem is that JV cannot seem to grasp that without a belief in god, the whole concept of something existing for a reason or purpose goes out the window.**
    At that point you have to find secular reasons (like biology) for your belief that women “ought” to serve men. And then convince women who will either laugh in your face or give you the finger if you demand they comply with your self-serving “ought”.
    (You can, of course, compel them by force – personal violence and government laws – but that kind of sounds like a patriarchy and JV doesn’t believe in patriarchy.)

    **I am sure that JV would agree that an atheist would reject the idea that “bees exist to pollinate flowers”; “water exists as a home for fish” and ” elands exist to feed lions” He would have no trouble recognizing that these are ridiculous statements for someone who doesn’t believe in a god, but tossing out “women exist to serve men” seems to require an elaborate philosophical proof.

  35. 35
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @22. Your Name’s not Bruce?

    I suppose an “alien” intelligent designer (as opposed to a deity) would themselves be biological organisms ..

    Unless they were super-advanced AIs perhaps a step removed from their biological creators / partners (i.e. Space Odyssey series) or, just perhaps evolved as electrical cascades in interstellar nebulae like one of Olaf Stapledon’s aliens (‘Starmaker’) or came from another dimension entirely or .. Yeah, a very minor nitpick I know.

    The creator(s) may be older, more advanced technologically, whatever, but that does not make them “better” than us on a moral, ethical level.

    Unless they designed us to be ethically inferior maybe?

    Because, well, who knows why! Also yeah, doing so would itself be ethically dubious like creating a deliberately evil clone of oneself.

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