Adam Lee has a post about the obfuscations and denial about Michael Shermer by some Big Names (he more politely calls them prominent individuals) in atheoskepticism.
One is Randi, because of what he told Mark Oppenheimer – you know, that whole thing about how Shermer’s a naughty boy, and if there had been any actual violence then somebody would have done something, but as it is it’s just a matter of getting drunk and boys doing what boys do, but hey if he gets many more such reports he might possibly ask Shermer to show up less often.
I quoted this statement in my previous post, but the more I reread it, the more damning it becomes.* This isn’t some innocent misunderstanding of the situation; Randi had been told by multiple people that Shermer had done something blameworthy, and he believed them. (He warned about what would happen if he got “more” complaints from “people I have reason to believe” – implying that he already had some.) He doesn’t even have the slender reed of an excuse that he didn’t think the complaints were credible. But because he didn’t have reports that Shermer had done anything “violent”, he dismisses it with a “ho ho ho, boys will be boys, what do you expect when people are drinking” attitude.
Quite. It’s horrifying.
Then there are Dawkins’s many insulting tweets about rape and being drunk.
Unless you choose to believe that Dawkins just happened to be idly speculating on the topic of drinking and rape at the same time this controversy was occurring – as one of my commenters put it, popping off random facts from “the lottery ball machine of his mind” – the obvious inference is that he believes the allegations against Shermer should be doubted on those grounds. Yet he says so without making it explicit who or what he’s talking about.
Another datum on that: before all this, before the Oppenheimer article, even before the “let’s rank kinds of rape and if you don’t like it go away and learn how to think” tweets – at the end of our email conversation that resulted in the joint statement, Dawkins asked me to dissuade people from spreading the “libellous allegation that Michael Shermer is a rapist or a sexual predator.”
I must say, I stared at the screen in shocked disbelief for quite awhile when that came in. What was I supposed to do, tell people who reported their own experiences to stop doing that? On what authority? On the basis of what knowledge? I don’t know that they are not telling the truth, do I.
I so badly wanted to reply with something along the lines of “How would that be different from what the bishops have been doing for decades?” But that would have been a bad beginning to the post-joint-statement situation, so I didn’t…quite. I pointed out that these were first-person accounts and that I didn’t know they weren’t true, so I couldn’t dismiss them. I did conclude with “It’s too reminiscent of the Catholic church and the rapey priests.” I haven’t heard from him since.
Adam goes on to Michael Nugent, and Jerry Coyne, and D J Grothe. The Grothe part contains the information that Pamela Gay confirmed that the “person B” in her account was Grothe, information that surprises approximately no one.
Adam concludes with that same comparison – which should, if there’s any justice, particularly sting Dawkins and Nugent.
There is, of course, no law obligating anyone in particular to discuss the accusations against Shermer, much less to believe them. However, our community has consistently condemned religious organizations that try to cover up misdeeds by one of their own – and with good reason, in my view. Secrecy leads to unaccountability, to corruption, and hence to harm. Conversely, the truth has nothing to fear from open and honest discussion. It’s this same principle which leads me to conclude that these allegations deserve a hearing, at the very least. Intellectual consistency demands no less.
There are many, many atheists who’ve condemned Catholicism and other religions for covering up allegations of molestation by clergy, shuffling predators from one parish to another or trying to pressure the victims into silence. If any of the atheists who’ve said this in the past are now taking the position that the allegations against Shermer shouldn’t be discussed, those people owe the Catholic church a very large apology. As for me, I don’t believe in a double standard, nor do I expect religion to abide by any moral rule that I don’t strive to live up to myself.
There is no “if” – we know that’s the case.