7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren’t Old White Guys


You’ve heard of Richard Dawkins. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. … There are some amazing atheists who just don’t get the same credit.

Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens. Sam Harris. Charles Darwin. Mark Twain. These are the names and faces many people associate with atheism. And apart from their atheism, they all have something in common: They’re all white guys.

Atheism is often seen as a white men’s club — by believers, and by all too many atheists as well. But for as long as there have been atheists, there have been atheist women and atheists of color. Some have been vocal and ardent about their atheism; for some, their atheism has been much more incidental to their life’s work. And some of that life’s work has been incredible. Some of it has changed the world… not just for atheists, but for everybody. When you’re imagining the face of atheism, I hope some of these faces — faces from history, or alive and yelling today — will come to mind.

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 Amazing Atheists Who Aren’t Old White Guys. (UPDATE: FYI, AlterNet changed the title of this piece from my original one, 7 Inspiring Atheist Women and Atheists Of Color. This is pretty standard in the publishing world: in magazines and newspaper, writers commonly don’t write their own headlines, or get the ones they do write changed.) To read about some awesome atheist women and atheists of color — and to talk about who else might have made it onto the list — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Andre says

    Yah I hate old people, and white people, and guys… but I am going to get a little crazy here and throw out heterosexuals as well. When those powers of privilege combine into one Old, white, hetero, guy it can be scary.
    When confronted with an argument from one of “those” I find comfort in fallowing Skepchicks example and dismissing them based on sex, age, and race.

    Richard Dawkins… Much like Mindy said “I look forward to watching your legacy crash and burn.” I to can’t help but feel the same thing.

    Who is with me in finding new hero’s that fit the racial profile we are looking for here in this post!

  2. says

    I’m going to have to take issue with including Ayaan Hirsi Ali on that list. She’s said some very problematic things, such as the things in this interview by reason.com:

    Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?

    Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to have them all closed, but my party said it wouldn’t fly. Top people in the party privately expressed that they agreed with me, but said, “We won’t get a majority to do that,” so it never went anywhere.

    Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, which guarantees that religious movements may teach children in religious schools and says the government must pay for this if minimum standards are met. So it couldn’t be done. Would you in fact advocate that again?

    Hirsi Ali: Oh, yeah.

    Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—

    Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle. I’ve been saying this in Australia and in the U.K. and so on, and I get exactly the same arguments: The Constitution doesn’t allow it. But we need to ask where these constitutions came from to start with—what’s the history of Article 23 in the Netherlands, for instance? There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists. They had no idea.

    Notice how she’s not calling for Jewish or Christian schools to be closed down, which by the way also teach sexist and racist garbage? Only Muslim ones?

    Not everyone who is an atheist should be recognized as a hero. And I definitely don’t consider Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s reactionary policies of banning Islam (and not any other religions, I guess she’s okay with all the other ones) to be compatible with social justice or freedom of expression. One of her buddies, Geert Wilders, explicitly says that the Quran should be banned, likening it to Mein Kampf. When asked if he would also call for the Bible to be banned, he said no.

    Sorry but I don’t feel comfortable holding hands with racists, bigots, and cultural chauvinists. Just goes to show, just because someone is an atheist doesn’t mean they’re not a horrible person.

  3. ladyaliara says

    I don’t think Andre was trolling. It looked like the guy was being a total smartass, but not a troll. Did you ban the guy because he disagreed with you? I only see his one post & it wasn’t particularly trolly. He was on topic & pointing out something I happen to agree with.

    This article manages to sound ageist, sexist, & a little racist all at once. Honestly, it’s kind of impressive. A+ for effort! =P

    This is directly from your A+ link:

    ” Atheism+ is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty, and crime.”

    I find it a little disconcerting that a group that is supposed to be including social rights would post in such a discriminatory tone. Why does age, sex, & skin color matter? If I had a penis & was old would my opinion be worth less? If I happened to be black, would it be worth more? That’s a little Affirmative Action of you.

    Don’t get me wrong… I think it’s cool you’re offering up additional role models. However, you are making it sound like being white, male, & old is substandard. When you talk about a group of people with disdain because of a certain descriptor, you are treading on the ground of bigotry.

    I just started following your blog because it’s associated with this A+ thing. So far, this blog isn’t living up to the standard set by it’s own A+ mark.

  4. says

    @ ladyaliara

    I don’t see what Greta wrote as in any way portraying white old male Atheists as substandard. She didn’t say forget about Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Darwin, or Twain. She didn’t say don’t bother with them, they’re only old white men.

    What Greta said was:

    Atheism is often seen as a white men’s club — by believers, and by all too many atheists as well.

    And then proceeded to provide some examples of non-white-male atheists who are less famous, but still deserving of our attention.

    Saying that old white men aren’t the only people in the atheist club is not saying that old white men are substandard.

  5. says

    This article manages to sound ageist, sexist, & a little racist all at once. Honestly, it’s kind of impressive. A+ for effort! =P

    I myself am an old(ish) white man.

    If I point out the undeniable fact that people with these characteristics I share are vastly overrepresented and catered to and wield disproportionate power in society, am I being bigoted against myself?

  6. coelsblog says

    Jason Macker:

    I definitely don’t consider Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s reactionary policies of banning Islam (and not any other religions, I guess she’s okay with all the other ones) to be compatible with social justice or freedom of expression.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is certainly a hero of mine (anyone who has not read Infidel should do so). On your comment:

    She is not calling for “banning Islam”, she is advocating that in The Netherlands the taxpayer should not fund Islamic schools. What is wrong with that? Note that such things would not be accepted in the US, France and other countries with explicit secularism. So she only talks about Islamic schools, well, firstly, it’s what she knows, and secondly, she doesn’t say she approves of Christian or Jewish schools.

    I would also like to ban taxpayer-funded Islamic schools in my country (the UK). They are clearly aiming to indoctrinate children, and children sent to them have very little freedom to dissent from Islam. That’s apart from the issue that tax receipts should not be used to promote religion (not to mention the issue of social apartheid).

    If it makes that opinion more palatable to you, I would also ban taxpayer-funded Christian and Jewish schools in the UK. In my opinion the UK needs to end such schools and instigate rules preventing any taxpayer-funded school (or taxpayer-funded anything else) discriminating on the basis of religion or promoting religion. An opinion poll a while back showed that 66% of the British agreed that “the government should not be funding faith schools of any sort”.

  7. StevoR says

    I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a hero deserving a huge amount of respect – and one who having been there really knows what she is talking about.

    Also in that category are Taslima Nasrin and Maryam Namazie.

    Think its a pretty safe bet that those criticising Ayaan Hirsi Ali have NOT been through what she has and don’t come from her background and thus lack her direct, indepth, personal understanding of the things and culture and ideology she attacks. IOW : they don’t know what they’re talking about anywhere near as well as she does.

    Plus I’d like to add the names Ophelia Benson, Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina to the amazing female / non-old-white-guy atheists list as well.

  8. StevoR says

    @4.”zzwarszz” so called :

    Not Dennis Markuze – but a FAN!

    I doubt that very much. Obvious “Mabus” is Markuze and will no doubt promptly disappear in due course.

    Give it up buddy, you’re not fooling anyone and are breaking your parole.

  9. StevoR says

    @9.coelsblog : Seconded by me.

    Wonder how many of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s critics have actually read her books themselves?

  10. says

    She is not calling for “banning Islam”, she is advocating that in The Netherlands the taxpayer should not fund Islamic schools. What is wrong with that? Note that such things would not be accepted in the US, France and other countries with explicit secularism. So she only talks about Islamic schools, well, firstly, it’s what she knows, and secondly, she doesn’t say she approves of Christian or Jewish schools.

    If you read her other writings and listen to her other talks, it’s clear that she only thinks Islam is bad, she even encourages Muslims to convert to Christianity. And again, her association with Geert Wilders and other people who do want to explicitly ban only Islam and leave other religions, is incredibly troublesome. She has never distanced her self from that. Instead, she distances herself from Robert Spencer, noted Islamophobe, and say that he is too moderate. Uh what?

    I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a hero deserving a huge amount of respect – and one who having been there really knows what she is talking about.

    Where is “there”? The poorest nations of Africa? And what exactly are her credentials that allow her to speak on behalf on Muslims worldwide and say that there’s no such thing as “moderate Islam”, there’s only extremist Islam which is the true Islam? That’s bullshit hatemongering. I’m sorry but just because someone is black doesn’t excuse them from being racist towards other blacks, someone who is a woman doesn’t excuse them from being sexist towards other women, and AHA being a former Muslim doesn’t exclude her from being bigoted towards Muslims.

    Plus, she lied about a lot of the alleged troubles she went through in her book, and when these got brought to light it was a huge scandal where the Netherlands contemplated taking away her citizenship.

    Also in that category are Taslima Nasrin and Maryam Namazie.

    Uh, there’s a reason why those women are also bloggers here at FTB, and AHA is not, who has chosen instead to play the role known as “being a mouthpiece for everything white racists wish they could say but can’t”, and allying herself with the far right.

    Also, Maryam Namazie has spoken out critically against AHA, so no I wouldn’t consider Maryam Namazie to be in the same league as that hate monger. You can watch the 50 minute video of her at the conference in Ireland where she talks about how important it is for atheists to distance themselves from the far right and demagogues like AHA.

    >i>Think its a pretty safe bet that those criticising Ayaan Hirsi Ali have NOT been through what she has and don’t come from her background and thus lack her direct, indepth, personal understanding of the things and culture and ideology she attacks. IOW : they don’t know what they’re talking about anywhere near as well as she does.

    Um… not everyone that come from the same background as her agrees with her…

    And, please tell me, what exactly has she said/done that’s groundbreaking or novel? She’s not an academic; she’s a politician. So beyond her life story (which, isn’t a unique experience), what exactly does she have to show for? Did she bring up new criticisms of Islam? Did she develop new critiques of religion? I’m genuinely curious here.

    Wonder how many of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s critics have actually read her books themselves?

    Can you name any of AHA’s atheist critics, btw? Have you read their books?

  11. Bruce Gorton says

    @Jason Macker

    Where “there” happens to be is Somalia, where she was raised in an Islamic household – and Kenya where she worked with refugees.

    There also happens to be working with refugees in the Netherlands, after she fled there from an arranged marriage.

    There would also happen to be on the recieving end of death threats, and her neighbours going to court to get her evicted from her home on the grounds that her presence was a threat to her neighbours.

    You may not prefer to mix with the people she mixes with, but then you didn’t end up with a letter threatening to kill you, attached to the corpse of one of your friends.

  12. says

    Where “there” happens to be is Somalia, where she was raised in an Islamic household – and Kenya where she worked with refugees.

    She was raised in a Somalian household. Please explain to me how her third-world experience can also be a meaningful examination of Muslims in say, southeast Asia, where they have had women as prime ministers?

    It’s like looking at Christians in Uganda and then coming back and saying that Swedish Christians are just like that and equally bad.

    Her book is a condemnation of the poverty in Africa… but I don’t see how her experience has any relevance to the life of Muslim women in the rest of the Muslim world…

    There also happens to be working with refugees in the Netherlands, after she fled there from an arranged marriage.

    Try reading this…

    Ms Hirsi Ali sounds less frank when she tells the convoluted story of how and why she came to seek asylum at the age of 22 in the Netherlands. She has admitted in the past to changing her name and her age, and to concocting a story for the Dutch authorities about running away from Somalia’s civil war. (In fact she left from Kenya, where she had had refugee status for ten years.) She has since justified those lies by saying that she feared another kind of persecution: the vengeance of her clan after she ran away from an arranged marriage.

    However, last May a Dutch television documentary suggested that while Ms Hirsi Ali did run away from a marriage, her life was in no danger. The subsequent uproar nearly cost Ms Hirsi Ali her Dutch citizenship, which may be the reason why she is careful here to re-state how much she feared her family when she first arrived in the Netherlands. But the facts as she tells them about the many chances she passed up to get out of the marriage—how her father and his clan disapproved of violence against women; how relatives already in the Netherlands helped her to gain asylum; and how her ex-husband peaceably agreed to a divorce—hardly seem to bear her out.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not the first person to use false pretences to try to find a better life in the West, nor will she be the last. But the muddy account given in this book of her so-called forced marriage becomes more troubling when one considers that Ms Hirsi Ali has built a career out of portraying herself as the lifelong victim of fanatical Muslims.

    From here. Bold mine.

    There would also happen to be on the recieving end of death threats, and her neighbours going to court to get her evicted from her home on the grounds that her presence was a threat to her neighbours.

    While it’s tragic that she is receiving death threats, that doesn’t justify any of her opinions. The Westboro Baptist Church also regularly gets threats of violence & death and usually have to protest under heavy police protection.

    I’m still waiting for an actual defense of the merits of what she has said.

    You may not prefer to mix with the people she mixes with, but then you didn’t end up with a letter threatening to kill you, attached to the corpse of one of your friends.

    And why is this exactly the same argument that white racists use to justify hating blacks?

    “This one time I got beaten up by black people, so now I hate all blacks. My hate is completely understandable.”

    Do you think it’s fair to criticize protestants for things catholics do? How about criticizing mormons for what the amish do? So why is it okay to criticize all 1.5 billion plus Muslims (notice how he explicitly rejects the concept of “moderate” Islam, she paints all Islam with the same brush) for the things that some Muslims in one of the most poverty-stricken and war torn regions in the world?

    This is an explicitly racist argument you’re using. Trying to blame Islam for what is very obviously a relic of imperialism and the exploitation of the African continent… by the way, don’t think I’ve ever seen AHA talk about how evil imperialism is and how bad Christianity was for Africa… again, in fact she says the opposite! She wants Muslims to convert to Christianity!

    Still waiting for someone to explain to me why I, as a secular progressive (in contrast with AHA’s regressive anti-liberty policies) who is an atheist, should ever tell a Muslim to convert to Christianity.

  13. Greta Christina says

    Why does age, sex, & skin color matter?

    ladyaliara @ #5: The question of why age (although, as I pointed out, I did not address age in the piece), sex and skin color matter, and why we have to pay conscious attention to diversity, is one that has been addressed many times. I therefore ask that you take it to the Atheism Plus Educational forum, where introductory questions will receive civil responses.

    However, you are making it sound like being white, male, & old is substandard. When you talk about a group of people with disdain because of a certain descriptor, you are treading on the ground of bigotry.

    Please tell me where, exactly, I made it sounds like being white and male (again, I did not address age in this piece) is substandard, or treated white people and/or men with disdain. I said that atheism is often seen as a white men’s club, but that there are, and always have been, many inspiring women atheists and atheists of color. How is that disdainful of white men?

    Finally: The fact that you keep bringing up the age issue makes me think that you didn’t read past the title of the piece. I specifically said that AlterNet had changed the title, which had originally been 7 Inspiring Atheist Women and Atheists Of Color. The fact that you keep bringing up age makes me think you didn’t even read that disclaimer.

  14. says

    she is advocating that in The Netherlands the taxpayer should not fund Islamic schools. What is wrong with that?

    It’s sectarian. If she were advocating that the taxpayer not fund religious schools, then she’d be holding the higher ground.

  15. sambarge says

    I respect Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s struggle to free herself from Islam but I don’t respect her politics.

    Ladyaliara @ #5

    Why does age, sex, & skin color matter?

    Because, in our world, there are gross inequalities based on those very characteristics. Ignoring that fact would be disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst.

    If I had a penis & was old would my opinion be worth less?

    If the world has shown us anything, it is that if you had a penis and were old your opinion would be assigned greater value than if you didn’t. White skin helps too, if you’re looking for instant respect. That is actually the point of the article that Greta wrote. Did you read the introduction? Or, for that matter, have you read anything about the intersection of privilege and inequality?

    Because you really should.

  16. Erp says

    Strictly speaking Charles Darwin in 1879 disclaimed being an atheist and instead preferred agnostic. ‘Weak atheist’ might be the term we use now.

  17. Bruce Gorton says

    She was raised in a Somalian household. Please explain to me how her third-world experience can also be a meaningful examination of Muslims in say, southeast Asia, where they have had women as prime ministers?

    If her experience had been restricted to that – then you would have a good point. However it was not – which is the point I am making by talking about her work with refugees. She isn’t just drawing on her own experience.

    It’s like looking at Christians in Uganda and then coming back and saying that Swedish Christians are just like that and equally bad.

    Funnily enough I view Uganda as being largely down to American Christian trends, and note that the rising rates of homophobia over there were down to funding and preaching from American fundamentalist churches. In fact there is a fair amount of myth-sharing between the groups. So your ad absurdum isn’t so absurd where I am concerned.

    While it’s tragic that she is receiving death threats, that doesn’t justify any of her opinions. The Westboro Baptist Church also regularly gets threats of violence & death and usually have to protest under heavy police protection.

    They don’t justify her positions, they justify her associations. Each move to the right she has taken has been in response to the left not being willing or able to pay her security costs (the first because her party lost that election so she switched to a rightwing one to get a seat, the second because she resigned from Parlaiment).

    She is going to feel more friendly towards people who view her as a useful tool, people take care of their tools.

    I hope this clarifies things enough to see why the rest of your post is irrelevant to my point.

    Now as to her actual argument there:

    I can see where she is coming from given her background, so I won’t call her a bigot.

    That said, I think she is completely and totally wrong. Not because I think madrassas are a good thing, but because I think religious education builds divisions amongst children right as they should be learning to live in a diverse world.

    We cannot seperate our kids from ideologies we don’t agree with, because how then will they learn to deal with those disagreements in a non-violent manner?

    With American fundementalists we see gay children being bullied by kids who are taught that it is okay to bully gay kids by their parents. Those bullies are not getting that education from their parents, now think of them in a setting specifically chosen to never give them that education.

    She restricts her criticism to Islam, and I can see why. Many former Christian atheists, or atheists from Christian cultures do the same with Christianity, but it means she has a gaping blind spot on how she percieves religion and the impact of it beyond Islam.

    She naively at a point argued that Islamic nations would improve if they became Christian – as if the problem with extremism could be summed up to the specific teachings of a religion, why is it the most extreme Christians I know haven’t read the Bible?

    And that girl in Pakistan who was being charged with blasphemy? Turns out she was being framed by the local Imam who burned pages of the Quran himself to incriminate her. He didn’t give a shit about a few pages in a book, he gave a shit about the power it gave him.

    http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/2012/09/02/pakistan-imam-held-for-evidence-tampering-in-blasphemy-case

    It isn’t Islam, which like any religion is basically bad on paper anyway, it is the authority Islam grants. The authority that breeds all the sects that deny each others’ existance, because each is a threat to the authority of the holy man in charge.

    If you change that to Christianity, or Marxism or any other authoritarian ideology nothing really changes except maybe the dress code.

    It is the push against the submission/dominance paradigm that will take us forward, where we gather as equals. People are people first, the label we belong to before any other is human, and we need to treat each other as such.

    When we start singling each other out we create solidarities, we breed extremisms, we build the bloc, and that is precisely what we want to avoid. We want individuals to be free to examine their ideas and ours.

    Singling out a single group the way she does with Islam I think would be counter productive to this, as it would be injustice.

  18. mnb0 says

    Good list. As a professional nitpicker I have to point out that Theo van Gogh was not a colleague of AHA. The first was a movie director and AHA a politician.
    I do think AHA belongs on the list even if I vehemently disagree with her political views. She never has been positive about any religion, unlike Wilders.

    “she even encourages Muslims to convert to Christianity.”
    Citation plus source requested.

    “she lied about”
    About every single refugee does. It’s incredibly hard to find asylum in The Netherlands.

    “what exactly has she said/done that’s groundbreaking”
    Before AHA the Dutch hardly knew anything about extremist Islam. So yes, she broke some Dutch ground. Where I disagree with her is that according to AHA extremist Islam as she experienced it is typical for all muslims over the world. And I can judge that:

    “they don’t know what they’re talking about anywhere near as well as she does.”
    My female counterpart is member of a local mosq board. So yeah, I know what she is talking about. And some of it is bollocks.

    “I don’t respect her politics.”
    Neither do I. But I don’t think that’s a valid reason to remove her from GC’s list.

  19. mnb0 says

    @12: AHA has been around in Dutch newspapers long enough for me to know what her thoughts are. Plus I have seen Submission.

    “you are making it sound like being white, male, & old is substandard.”
    As a white old male I am amazed about nonsense like this. The fact is that wmo atheists get all the attention. In a previous article GC mentioned a few, including one who she should have removed. She specifically makes clear it’s not a best of list. Are some people so sensitive that GC in every single alinea has to make clear that she adores tons of wmo atheists?
    Go ride a bike, as we Dutch say.

    Now I do have something to gripe. The list is dominated by Americans. Next time I expect a list of non-Americans and preferably a historical one. Carvaka from India is an excellent starting point

  20. Bruce Gorton says

    “she even encourages Muslims to convert to Christianity.”

    She defends her argument to that effect here:

  21. Kels says

    However, you are making it sound like being white, male, & old is substandard.

    Isn’t this the same formulation that the religious use when they complain about not automatically being given respect because they have faith? In fact, it’s a demand not only for unearned respect based on a simple trait, but more respect than one would normally give to others.

  22. says

    As a secular humanist who happens to be the father of a 15 year old girl, I applaud any reasonable effort to raise the profile of courageous women in order to inspire the next generation. Too many outstanding women have been excluded from our written history for far too long.

    On the topic of ‘privilege’, I can’t resist to comment that it was because of Darwin’s and other “old white men” statuses, that we find ourselves here today.

  23. says

    Thanks for writing, Greta. Of the people on the main list, the one I hadn’t heard of before was Frida Kahlo. Natalie Angier, I’d heard of, but haven’t read much of her writing. Thanks for speaking up about this, Greta. It’s greatly appreciated.

    Concerning Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I very much respect her courage and think that she makes many valid points against Islam, but I do not agree with all of her suggestions.

    @Jason Macker (#14): Thanks for the link. I hadn’t previously listened to that speech by Maryam Namazie.

  24. says

    Well as a horrifyingly rebarbatively shockingly itshouldn’tbeallowedly old person myself, I wish everybody would drop the fucking “old” label. Apparently Alternet added that to Greta’s title, which is another reason added to my list of reasons for disliking Alternet. (The others are all: because it helped itself to an article on my website without asking and without a word of acknowledgement that it had found it there. For all anyone could tell Libby Anne had actually written the piece for Alternet, and she didn’t, she wrote it for B&W. They didn’t even apologize when I said.)

    “White” and “men” aren’t inherently pejoratives, and the idea is just that they shouldn’t be the only people running all the things. “Old” – that’s a pejorative.

  25. llewelly says

    Ace of Sevens says:
    September 2, 2012 at 7:52 pm:

    This may seem a bit pedantic, but isn’t Salman Rushdie an old white guy?

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salman_Rushdie :

    The only son of Anis Ahmed Rushdie, a University of Cambridge-educated lawyer turned businessman, and Negin Bhatt, a teacher, Rushdie was born in Bombay, India, into a Muslim family of Kashmiri descent

  26. Jessica says

    I heard you say that people always tell you to tone down the movement. Don’t, please. I thought I was alone in believing what we do, I thought no one cared about the social injustice going on and hearing you speak and reading your blog makes me have something to stand behind and for. Let’s get it done!

  27. Birdterrifier says

    I wish that we wouldn’t draw lines politically. You disagree with Ayaan because of her associations and her political views then critique those particular views but do not so easily toss aside someone as courageous and inspirational as her. We should be able to inspect her views, take what we like and discard what we don’t after inspection because that is what skeptics do. We don’t look for a reason to discount them and focus on people who always agree with our personal views. She has an extremist view on Islam. Why? I think we all know and maybe we shouldn’t adopt her same fiery emotions towards all things Muslim but we should try to understand that she may have insight that we want to be blind to. She rails against multicultaralism and not because it’s bad to accept people for who they are but because this has allowed Muslims to not assimilate in to the western world and adopt modern standards (feminism, equality, secularism) and she feels like this will only back fire on those wanting to accept every view as equally valid. There is something there to learn but if we pick out her worse traits and use this to forget her then we are losing the battle for truth and discovery.

  28. Greta Christina says

    Missed this the first time it came around (my apologies — I’ve been traveling, and am also somewhat more overwhelmed and distracted than usual). But I want to say: Let’s please stop using the phrase “has a penis” to mean “man.” Remember trans people. Not all men have penises; not all people with penises are men. Thanks.

  29. Rieux says

    Have to applaud the Stanton shout-out, because she’s an all-time favorite of mine. Though Greta left out that Stanton was a full-throated abolitionist as well as one of the major historical wellsprings of feminism.

    As I said on a Stanton-related Skepchick post some months ago, Stanton is arguably the top atheist of all time, as measured by quantity of productive ass-kicking performed in the service of major justice causes. Woot!

    Who said A+ only began in August 2012? (T-shirt idea—Over/beneath a picture of Stanton, the text: “Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Feminist. Abolitionist. Atheist Plus,” with the A+ graphic. Rinse and repeat with other historical heroes.)

  30. says

    Hello people!

    I have recently become agnostic after a long period of hesitance. I was a Catholic most of my life and then became an atheist for almost a year. To really confirm my agnosticism I wrote a piece called “The Greatness of Agnosticism” in which I deal with the inherent problems of believers and atheists and conclude with a paragraph on why agnosticism is a union of opposites and the better choice.

    Check it out, I promise it’s worth it.

    http://livinginthebalance.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-greatness-of-agnosticism.html

  31. lirael_abhorsen says

    Do the people who go on about how inspirational and courageous AHA is and how her extremist views are sympathetic because of her lived experiences, think the same thing about Ayn Rand (incidentally, another influential atheist who isn’t a white man)?

    It’s a similar idea, except that Rand was reacting to Communist rather than Islamic persecution. Person has traumatic formative experiences with an extreme and violent form of an ideology, flees, spends her subsequent life promoting incredibly extreme ideas, that have significant detrimental real-world sociopolitical consequences, about anything that remotely reminds her of the thing that traumatized her (i.e. Rand was an extremist about any left-of-center ideology, AHA about moderate/peaceful Islam).

  32. mnb0 says

    Oh, Ayn Rand imo also could have been on the list, despite me disagreeing vehemently with her political views.
    Then again, inspiring Romney’s running mate is something holding against her – she apparently inspires religious people as well.

  33. mnb0 says

    @Living in the Balance:

    “Atheists have failed …..”
    That’s not the task of atheists, it’s the task of biologists. The field of research is called abiogenesis. This is just your version of the god of the gaps: you can’t explain, thus there might be a god or not. It’s lame.
    Same for consciousness and mind. I refer to neurobiology.

    “There is zero probability…”
    How do you know? Have you done statistical research? In exactly the same way as you do I can maintain that the probability is one. You see, it happened. Life is an empirical fact.
    That leaves:

    “Who are we ….”
    Try Occam’s Razor. The valid question is not yours, but: “why should we assume ….?”
    We can even reverse your question.

    “Who are we to assume any supernatural entity?”

    I have been an agnost myself, when I was a teenager. When I realized it was just a matter of choice it took me less than an hour to call myself an atheist.
    I’m sorry, your piece was not worth checking out. I haven’t read anything I didn’t know before.

  34. says

    Orphilia @ 30 says:

    “White” and “men” aren’t inherently pejoratives, and the idea is just that they shouldn’t be the only people running all the things. “Old” – that’s a pejorative.”

    When used together, ie: ‘old white men’, – it is all pejorative.

  35. schweinhundt says

    Attention atheists: Mark Twain was AGNOSTIC. (It’s on Wikipedia so it must be true!) Please stop trying to claim all the cool/fun agnostics as atheists. Especially Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s ours. Hands off!

  36. Hitch says

    Plenty of names come to mind. Take George Eliot, where of course the pen name itself illustrates part of the problem.

  37. jc88 says

    Greta – Let me give a shot at explaining some of the perceived “tone” issues of the title and article…from my perspective.

    If find it odd that, apparently, many atheists see the atheist “movement” as a white man’s club? I’m a second generation atheist and haven’t had that experience. White guys, yes there are quite a few. Old guys (over 40?), some. Club, huh? To me the term “club” in this context implies an organized effort by white men to form some sort of exclusionary or self-promoting group. This tone seems awkward in relationship to the rest of the article. If I used language like that in the workplace to acknowledge the non-white-male employees I’m sure that HR would be having a serious sit-down with me. Typically (not always, depends on the setting and my goal) my litmus test for comments regarding race, gender, age, etc. is “Could saying this at work result in negative ramifications?” If the answer is “yes” or “maybe”, then I try to find a better way.

    And thanks for the list, I wasn’t aware of several of these folks.

  38. Bruce Gorton says

    Atheists have failed to give a good explanation of why life exists.
    Irrelevant. Why life exists is currently an open question, that is not an invitation to make shit up. Simply assuming a God would be making shit up. It is not a weakness to atheism that when faced with an unknown we don’t pull answers from our backsides.
    As to whether or not there would be a small chance of life occurring randomly (and it would only have to do so once, and in a much simpler format that it exists today might I add) such a possibility would be necessary even for the god hypothesis to hold any water.
    Any given god would still be working with the forces and substances of the universe in order to make life happen. If life is possible as a non-random event it would have to be possible as a random one.
    Further how much more likely would it be that an infinite intelligence would arise first than a extremely basic imperfect replicator capable of surviving just long enough to produce ‘offspring’ capable of imperfect reproduction?
    Your entire argument is shamefully bad, and you know it is shamefully bad because you had to quickly erect a personal shield against relevant academia (your sneering reference to atheist biologists) when you made it.
    The same goes for your neuroscience argument. You state that the mind seems to go further than the brain – yet it really doesn’t. If you die that is it, there is no “place” you go, you’re dead. We can trace physical changes that affect the mind, and changes to the mind are reflected by physical changes in the brain and to some extent the rest of the body.
    We do not fully understand the workings of the brain but from what we do understand it is clearly based on natural processes. That you cannot imagine how this could possibly be doesn’t demonstrate the limitations of those processes, but rather the limitations of your own imagination.
    Finally, even if scientific and natural explanations are found to the previous questions, who are we to deny with certainty all supernatural entities because we haven’t experienced them?
    Honest people, instead of bullshitters. We treat all unevidenced claims with the null hypothesis until evidence is provided to the contrary, because it gives us a reasonable basis upon which to make future plans, as opposed to subjecting us to wild conjecture that is ultimately based on nothing.
    If we were to take the “agnostic” approach, we would all be trying to make our roofs pegasus proof, because while we have not experiences winged horses, who are we to deny with all certainty that avian equines don’t exist simply because we haven’t experiences them?

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