Harriet Hall Redeemed

Getting back to things I missed this past week and a half while I was away, I have good news to report on the infamous “big rifts” front. In my original post for Atheism+ I included what appeared to be the grossly callous behavior of leading skeptic Harriet Hall (although without naming her), which really shocked me and led me to conclude she must be rather heartless. I had then linked to a description of that and other actions against Surly Amy and the Skepchicks at the same event, and made these general remarks of outrage (though of the behavior of numerous people as a whole, not Hall specifically):

[A]s the Surly Amy story shows, there are clearly many of us who disregard the happiness of others just to hurt them, mocking or insulting (or even threatening) them merely to please one’s own vanity or self-righteousness, in complete disregard of the pointless misery it causes another human being. That is fucking cruel. And if you are complicit in that, or don’t even see what’s wrong with it, or worse, plan to engage in Christian-style apologetics for it, defending it with the same bullshit fallacies and tactics the Christians use to defend their own immorality or that of their fictional god, then I don’t want anything to do with you. You are despicable. You are an awful person. You disgust me. You are not my people.

Even the most rudimentary application of The Golden Rule would have caused any of the people who treated Amy as they did, or Rebecca Watson, or any of the many women and men who have been targeted by this shit, to stop themselves well beforehand. “Wait. Would I want people to treat me this way?” No, you fucking wouldn’t. So alas, you are a hypocrite.

Well, I am now glad to report I can (and will) add a retraction regarding Dr. Hall. I was quite wrong in her case. She has since apologized and explained that she didn’t realize the context of what she had done and how it had been misconstrued. She and Surly Amy have had an excellent correspondence over this, and Hall comes across as a great person and very concerned and on board with our goals and values (and not, as she had erroneously given the impression of, mocking and deriding them). Indeed her image is fully redeemed for me. She says she had no idea the harm she had caused, and would have behaved otherwise if she knew. That’s the behavior Atheism+ wants to promote and wants to see more of: recognition of moral responsibility, learning, and improving ourselves and our movement. And above all, listening and communicating in a reasonable fashion.

Surly Amy has written an excellent post on their reconciliation, with quotations of their correspondence, which is all very well worth reading: Chicks, Tough Old Hens and Roosters. Oh, and T-shirts at TAM. It explains a lot, and dispels a lot of myths, especially the notion that Hall has any sympathy for the people who were using her t-shirt protest as proof she was on their side. She quite clearly explains she was not then and is not now.





  1. PatrickG says

    I don’t mean to be rude, but your language choices here leave a lot to be desired.

    “Harriet Hall Redeemed”. Great use of religious language! Shouldn’t the title be “Retraction regarding Harriet Hall”? Or at least “Redeemed (for me)”, as you state in your post? Or are you speaking for the hive-mind (/sarcasm)?

    “as she had erroneously given the impression of”. Um, what? You press a seal into wax, the wax receives the seal. You press a seal into rock, not so much. The impression is dependent on the nature of the receiving material. She did something, you received an impression. She didn’t “erroneously” give an impression. You took the impression in error.

    I apologize if I’m being overly critical, but the language choices here really struck a chord with me. The reconciliation between Surly Amy and Harriet Hall has been a really bright spot in an otherwise sordid mess, and this seems unhelpful, at best. Particularly given the grade of people who quote-mined you over A+. No, I don’t mean you need to watch your language because of those [censored for civility], but do be precise!

    I feel this comment is overly hostile, and I’ll blame a near-sleep state for that, but I do want to stress that I’m thrilled with the reconciliation, and the apparent repudiation of the sordid members of the skeptical/atheist community. I’m just one person on the internet, so take it for what you will.

    • says

      Oh please. Next you will complain about my calling Saturday Saturday because it honors the god Saturn. Let’s stop this nonsense about atheists being unable to use or reclaim words that also happen to be used by the religious (the word and concept of “redeemed” was in not invented by religion anyway nor has ever been exclusive to it). Okay?

      As to your substantive point: that the impression she gave was erroneous is what she herself says. If she had known better, she would not have done it. That was her take on the matter. Not just mine.

    • coelsblog says

      It seems to me that both Amy and Harriet were gracious to each other in their reconciliation, and that Dr. Carrier was being gracious in this post, accepting the miscommunication. All three deserve credit for this. It’s a bit of a pity that another prominent FTB blogger wasn’t so gracious in his account, still (and erroneously) placing the blame entirely on Dr. Hall.

    • PatrickG says


      My interactions with you in other forums do not lead me to regard you as an honest interlocutor.

      That said, for the record: I am not accusing Dr. Carrier of being ungracious, or erroneously assigning blame. As my original post should indicate, I merely object to some wording choices. Please don’t attempt to use my semantic objection to cast aspersions on anyone else. It is not appreciated, and I’m only responding to you here because I do not care for any possible imputation that I agree with your position here.

      I don’t intend to respond to you further, as, again, I’ve engaged in dialogue with you before and found you to be dishonest and manipulative.

    • coelsblog says


      My interactions with you in other forums do not lead me to regard you as an honest interlocutor.

      That’s ok. My interactions with you do not lead me to regard you as a good judge of who is being honest!

  2. gwen says

    I’d had a lot of respect for Dr Hall up to that point, regularly enjoying her medically based blogging. I was disheartened by her actions at TAM. I’m glad the rift has been healed, and my respect had not been misplaced.

  3. JoshTheWhat says

    It seems like a lot of this drama could be avoided if people stopped assuming the worst possible interpretation of things and used the best possible interpretation instead.

    It’s like when you’re trying to come up with the best argument. To defend your position most rigorously, you need to be as charitable as possible to the opposing arguments. It seems like skeptics should be used to this.

    As a side note, I don’t think ‘redeemed’ is very applicable at all in this case. It implies the problem was with Ms. Hall, and not, as you point out, with youself. Or, as I can apply my own advice, it was due to a miscommunication.

  4. PatrickG says

    Ok, that’s a fair reading then. I thought the original language was somewhat vague, but I’m willing to admit I was wrong. But then, I was only trying to convey a personal reaction to language.

    But, and I’m sure this will be labeled tone-trolling….

    As I repeatedly said, I felt I was being overly critical, that I didn’t want it taken too seriously, that I was just one person on the internet/in the FTB community, that I was posting late at night and might have failed at conveying meaning, that I was merely expressing a personal, visceral reaction to your words. To which you came back with … Saturday and Saturn. Were you going for an argument from absurdity or something? The “oh please” was a touch, by the way. Argument from dismissiveness?

    By the way, I don’t agree with your position that atheist reclamation of words like “redemption”, “salvation”, and so forth is Just Fine and anybody disagreeing with you is Spouting Nonsense. A lot of people don’t like the HH approach of reclaiming religious terms and behavior, and your Absolute Certitude and Argument From Condescension on this topic are two things that will definitely give me pause when considering commenting here in future.

    Saturday? Really?

    P.S. Commenting through FTB via the Richard Carrier blog does not allow following of comments via email. At least, it didn’t work for me.

  5. says

    Richard, with all due respect you seem to be a bit out of touch with what this country stands for and the values it was built on. You remind me of believers claiming the forefathers were christians and we are a christian nation. Freedom to express our opinions Richard, it is important. We can not begin to allow restrictions on expressing critical opinions even if some cry babies try to impose them because they are so very hurt. Freedom Richard, many have fought and died so we can keep it and you are spitting in their faces. Don’t tell me that this example isnt what the framers had in mind because it is EXACTLY what they had in mind. Why didn’t you post a link to the Steven Novella post Richard? Were you afraid people would read about tolerance? Harriet herself says “Even when we pursue different strategies, we can respect each other and tolerate our differences for the good of the whole.” and Amy replies with “We are both feminists and skeptics after-all and while our approach may differ many of our goals can be in harmony. Let’s work together to promote the things we agree on instead of focusing on the negative.” Then we have you Richard “I don’t want anything to do with you. You are despicable. You are an awful person. You disgust me. You are not my people.” Do you think no one notices who is being a childish idiot Richard? Do you think your condescending tone is really all that is needed to support your positions? At this point Richard, after your continuous posts calling for a division of atheists/skeptics I think its time you excused yourself. You have no interest in communicating with anyone who has a differing view. When you don’t consider other viewpoints that causes stupidity. Mentally healthy people do not reject entire segments of society Richard. Most people do not subscribe to your narcissistic rhetoric. Quit being a part of the problem and shut up you idiot. Since you have made it clear you have no interest in conversation I will be showing you the same level of respect you show others and myself from this point on. That leaves only ridicule, don’t wonder why when you see an example.

    • says

      Huh? You seem to be out of touch with the context of all this. You also seem from this remark to be an asshole who likes to use insults instead of arguments, operates on imaginary conspiracy theories, and quite fails to grasp the actual point made here, that we should behave like better people (reasonable, honest, and empathic)–but instead, going out of your way not to act like one. Ironically, you just displayed the very behavior you claim here to be denouncing: you don’t even start with being reasonable in your discourse, or with trying to understand the perspective of others, but launch immediately, with your very first comment here, with complete, uncompromising, extremist dismissal, ending in childish insults. Isn’t that the very behavior you think you are against?

      I think the contrast between my behavior and yours here stands as a sufficient example of how people should, and should not, behave.

      For those who actually care about facts and reasonable discourse: the Novella post has nothing to do with the point I am making here (so this fellow’s trying to suggest I didn’t bring it up for some sort of imaginary nefarious reason is something we call “derailing”). And the remarks of mine he quoted were directed at a whole field of people (as my very post here said; but as should also be clear from the context there), not just one person, much less Hall, and those remarks remain wholly correct for them (and indeed saying things that are correct is not childish), but no longer correct with respect to Hall, who realized how she inadvertently gave the wrong impression–and even explains why, among the reasons she gave even being reference to her lack of skill in detecting the emotional impact of her behavior on others, and her reversal was based on her commitment to the value of compassion, which was precisely the point I was making in the context of the remarks of mine that this fellow just quoted.

      Thus, the facts completely affirm my point: we ought to act with compassion and a commitment to the Golden Rule, which includes correcting ourselves when we’re proved wrong. All of which I have done. And Harriet has done. But which many other people still refuse to do. And them I sternly denounce. So should you all.

  6. says

    Richard, I watched and loved your skepticon videos, but the fact that you others needed a reason to NOT jump to the conclusion that a T-shirt in support of TAM was directed at Surly Amy… I’m really scratching my head, dude.

    I have no doubt that you’re smarter and more educated than I, but there seems to be this over protective bubble around these parts tends to drive away the very people who would normally support your causes.

    • says

      I don’t know what you are referring to. Who are the people that my passionate stand for compassion drove away? Not Dr. Hall. She clearly agrees with what I said about that, and is happy to have made that clear, noting which is the point of this post. So if not her, then who do you have in mind?

  7. Steven C Watson says

    Thanks for this Dr Carrier. I had seen the t-shirt photo but wasn’t aware of Harriet Hall. All parties have behaved admirably putting this one to bed and even better new friendships have been made.

    I am saddened to see the very first comment in reply sets out to start another war and others jumping in to fan the flames. Dr Carrier has published a retraction and acknowledged a misunderstanding. Good on that man. I have been following Dr Carrier across various fora for a number of years. I have seen all your “handles” in those same fora. You may or may not have legitimate arguments to make but as I understand what I read here, they are secondary to your actual intent, merely something to legitimate pushing Dr Carrier’s buttons and picking a fight so you can look smug. Stop it. It just makes you look stupid.

    Dr Carrier, I reverse myself: having tracked this back through your links here and the links on the posts you linked to, I find the argument of andrewviceroy and my support for it at “Atheism+ : The Name for What’s Happening.” moot. Your anger and the stance you have taken is more than justified. The best is here clearly the enemy of the good enough, I am playing into the hands of the unreasoning and unreasonable opposition, and such will have to wait for quieter and less inflamed times.

    An aside: I have just received “Proving History”, the Preface is excellent and alone covers the cost of the book. I will be looking forward to “On the Historicity of Jesus Christ”. Many thanks.

    Steven C Watson

    • andrewviceroy says

      Steven, if you thought that my argument was in any way intended to promote INsensitivity to women (like Surly Amy), then you completely misunderstood what I was arguing for. It was exactly the opposite: I want MORE sensitivity, beyond these battles in the atheist community. It would be a false dilemma to think that arguing for neutral language in an ethical charter WOULDN’T allow for fighting against harassment. I think Richard understands this too. The middle is where we ALWAYS anchor when it comes to rights. ALWAYS. That means fighting for bringing it to the middle. The activism doesn’t go away, it’s just more firmly grounded- the MOST firmly grounded anti-sexism POSSIBLE. There’s no fighting against it. I’ve spent months reading comments where all the tribes completely fail to recognize their vitriol. You can’t convince anyone that their ‘camp’ is producing hateful language, but I’ve seen so many FUCK YOU!!s from everyone, I’m just sick of it. I’m convinced that deliberately neutral sexual polemics will help provide people with a better anchor, but you have to be really deliberate about it and stick to it. That’s all I’m saying. This is NOT moot, it’s completely relevant to the future of how people behave in ANY community.

  8. andrewviceroy says

    “I find the argument of andrewviceroy and my support for it at “Atheism+ : The Name for What’s Happening.” moot. Your anger and the stance you have taken is more than justified. The best is here clearly the enemy of the good enough, I am playing into the hands of the unreasoning and unreasonable opposition”-Steven C Watson

    Am I the “unreasonable opposition” now? The argument for less polemical language is “moot”? Don’t confuse a contextual battle with the ideal Steven. There’s nothing unreasonable about the phrase “gender equality” and there are more than two sides that are relevant here.

  9. Steven C Watson says

    andrewviceroy; apologies, my fail, you have misunderstood me. We are falling into the hands of the unreasoning and unreasonable opposition. You are not going to get your point over to Dr Carrier at this juncture. Make your point to others of Atheism+ and/or in more productive fora. Dr Carrier is close enough to Jazz, carrying this on just defeats your own puropse. I am going to leave this for the moment, I am taking the lesson it is useless waxing prolix in argument and explanation when cognitive processes have gone south. You either get what I am going on about or you don’t. No replies from anyone, thanks. This whole thing is now an Official Waste of My Time.