The abuse thread

I am so bogged down in work…I’m clinging on to the faint hope of liberation as all my deadlines are past next Tuesday (and they will be met! They must!), but until then, I’m thoroughly tied up and sweating over a gazillion things that have to be finished right now. So blogging will be light for a bit.

Until I’ve leapt past the work essentials though, I’d like to keep you occupied, so I’m open for insults. Vent over my failures and laziness by calling me names in the thread below. Try to be creative; zoological insults are particularly appreciated, and please avoid trite scatology.

I’m going back to the word processor, so the time to start is…NOW.

(Also on Sb)

Have you got plans for May?

Maybe you should make some. Visiting Köln looks like a good idea.

Atheists from Europe and around the world will meet in Cologne, Germany on 25 – 27 May for the “2012 European Atheist Convention: Perspectives of Atheism – national, regional, global”, co-hosted by Internationaler Bund der Konfessionslosen und Atheisten (IBKA, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists) and Atheist Alliance International (AAI).

The conference will cover a broad range of topics relevant to atheists, freethinkers, humanists,rationalists, skeptics, agnostics and secularists. Attendees will interact with leading personalities from the worlds of science, activism, literature, entertainment, philosophy and the media.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Carsten Frerk, author and editor of the German Humanist Press Service

  • PZ Myers,biologist and author of the Pharyngula science blog

  • Annie Laurie Gaylor, Founder and Co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF)

  • Dan Barker, former evangelical preacher, author and FFRF Co-President

  • Michael Schmidt-Salomon, Executive Spokesman of the Giordano Bruno Foundation

  • Taslima Nasrin, physician, author and international human rights activist

  • Michael Nugent, Chair of Atheist Ireland

  • Rebecca Watson, Skepchick blogger and promoter of critical thinking among women

Announcing the conference, IBKA Chairman René Hartmann said: “With this convention we want to bring people from various nations togetherto discuss atheism, secularism, and the separation of state and religion. There are many issues in Germany and across Europe – the privileged status of churches, women’s reproductive rights, discrimination against same-sex oriented people – where religion intrudes into our lives, even the lives of those of us that are not religious.”

Tanya Smith, President of AAI, said: “It is very exciting to build on the momentum of the successful series of AAI conventions in Europe, including the 2010 Gods& Politics conference in Copenhagen and the World Atheist Convention in Dublin earlier this year. These conventions are a fantastic opportunity to hear fromworld-class speakers and for non-religious people to get together and enjoy the company of critical-thinking, rational people.”

Further information on the 2012 European Atheist Convention can be found at the convention website: http://www.ibka.org/en/convention2012 and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=267296379958958. Tickets for the convention will go on sale later this year.

Urge to kill…fading…fading…fading

Steven Pinker has a new book coming out next week, and I’m very much looking forward to it. It is titled The Better Angels Of Our Nature: How Violence Has Declined, and its premise is that humans have been becoming increasingly less violent over time. I’m very sympathetic to this view: I think cooperation, not conflict, has been the hallmark of human evolution.

There’s an overview of Pinker’s argument at Edge.

Believe it or not—and I know most people do not—violence has been in decline over long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. The decline of violence, to be sure, has not been steady; it has not brought violence down to zero (to put it mildly); and it is not guaranteed to continue. But I hope to convince you that it’s a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars and perpetration of genocides to the spanking of children and the treatment of animals.

It’s full of charts — all kinds of graphs illustrating correlations and changing rates of war fatalities, homicide, slavery, etc. He identifies five causes of violence: exploitation, dominance, revenge, and ideology (I know, that’s four…I guess he left one out). He also identifies four forces that counter violence: the state as a mediator of justice, trade, an expanding circle of empathy, and reason.

I think the final and perhaps the most profound pacifying force is an “escalator of reason.” As literacy, education, and the intensity of public discourse increase, people are encouraged to think more abstractly and more universally, and that will inevitably push in the direction of a reduction of violence. People will be tempted to rise above their parochial vantage point, making it harder to privilege their own interests over others. Reason leads to the replacement of a morality based on tribalism, authority and puritanism with a morality based on fairness and universal rules. And it encourages people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, and to see violence as a problem to be solved rather than as a contest to be won.

It would be so nice to read a book that’s optimistic about humanity’s future. I’m definitely getting a copy.

(Also on Sb)

Atheism has a sexism problem

It’s rather like a case of acne; we’ve got it, people are pointing it out, and we’re trying out denial as a solution. It doesn’t work. I think Victoria Bekiempis is quite right in pointing out that New Atheism is a boys’ club.

But other female atheists are blunt in their assessment of why the face of atheism doesn’t necessarily reflect the gender makeup of its adherents. Annie Laurie Gaylor, who founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation with her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, in 1978, sums it up succinctly: “One word – sexism.” Gaylor’s husband, Dan Barker, who helms the organisation along with her, is usually the one invited to speaking engagements, despite her longer tenure as the organisation’s leader and her numerous books on atheism. Doubt author Hecht, too, identifies basic chauvinism in the persistent lower profile of female atheists, stating that in her own experience, the work of female atheists tends to be individualised, rather than contextualised as part of a watershed scholarly movement. “Nobody talked about [Doubt] as a ‘phenomenon’,” she notes. “They just talked about the book.” Finally, when well-known atheists also happen to be just as well known for their misogynist statements – like Hitchens, as well as fellow skeptic Stephen Fry, who once theorised that women “don’t really like sex” – it just adds to atheism’s existing public-relations problem.

Representation matters, and when various media reports combined to create the “New Atheist” meme without mentioning the contributions of the women involved in the movement, the result was that the meme itself became masculinised. And because contemporary atheism has become so synonymous with this initially identified group, women atheists may well continue to be overlooked by the mainstream (or will, as some female skeptics have, reject inclusion on principle). It’s a state of affairs very much in line with the history of women in other fields in which battling continued institutional neglect – as opposed to intrinsic hostility – is an ongoing theme.

I know what happens next. Hackles rise, men get all defensive, and get huffy and angry while simultaneously denying that they have a pimple and how rude of those nasty feminists (said with a sneer) to point it out. But the facts are all there. Women have been activists and leaders in this movement for a long, long time — I blame Susan Jacoby and her book Freethinkers as the catalyst that first really inspired me — and yet, somehow, they always get forgotten when it’s time to give credit or build a list of invited speakers for a conference or when the media, largely ignorant of atheism, tries to name a few atheists. I’ve seen it happen over and over. It’s a very real phenomenon that Bekiempis is describing, and what’s also real is how some people will get very angry if anyone mentions it.

I think that last line is mostly correct, though. It’s not an intrinsic hostility to women (although we’ve encountered a few people who are nasty haters — but they are a fringe minority and definitely not part of the leadership), but a pattern of blindness. The good news is that this is a problem we can easily correct: we have no shortage of talented women in atheism right now, most of the atheists I’ve talked to readily acknowledge atheist women’s existence with a little nudging, and every conference organizer is receptive to the idea of greater inclusion.

It isn’t just atheism, either. I’ve noticed the same phenomenon in my classes: I often put optional, extra-credit questions on my exams, and one I used many times is the simple, “Name a female scientist”…and students are often stumped by it. The most common answer I get is “Marie Curie”; the second most common is no answer at all. And this is in a department where half the faculty are women! There are other famous female scientists besides Marie Curie, and they ought to be at least aware of the local talent.

The solution is relatively easy: more of that consciousness raising. The women are here, the guys just have to notice…and that doesn’t mean noticing that there are breasts around, but that there are good minds without Y chromosomes, and that we can be equals without diminishing the male contribution.

Our one obstacle? The small number of indignant people who will be in denial, and take recognition of a common problem as an insult. Get over it. Appreciating women as partners actually doesn’t hurt, and the only insult here is the bizarrely obtuse attitude of some men and women.

Bob Enyart and Will Duffy, partners in idiocy

We’ve got another chittering weasel of a creationist raving in the comments, a fellow going by the name YesYouNeedJesus. He’s also sending me email.

PZ, I first heard about you on Bob Enyart’s radio show about the fact that you turned down an offer to debate Bob. I must say that my first impression of you is that you are smarter than most evolutionists. Smarter because the evolutionists that debate Bob get absolutely destroyed every time. Every evolutionist that I spoke to who was at the debate between Bob Enyart and Reasons to Believe willfully admitted that their side (evolution) lost. Bob’s debate with Eugenie Scott was just flat-out epic and is still my all-time favorite science debate. Of course they all made the mistake of debating Bob and you did not. You are smart, I’ll give you that. I think they made the mistake of underestimating Bob because he’s just a radio talk show host. Personally I think that Walt Brown is the greatest scientist of our day, but after Walt Brown, Bob is one of the most brilliant scientific minds I’ve ever listened to. I believe that the evolutionist’s new tactic is to avoid debating creationists because the arguments are just becoming impossible to refute. While that’s quite the tactical strategy and may work for a short time, it is encouraging to see the creation movement grow like a wildfire. And I do believe it’s just a short amount of time before we see evolution become the next ‘spontaneous generation’ and become obsolete. Don’t forget that if you dared question spontaneous generation, you were labeled as anti-science. Good luck to you. -Will

You read that, and apart from the creationist crazy, you get the impression that this guy is just someone with no ties to Enyart (other than his deep and abiding passionate love for him) who listened to the radio show, found out about these evilutionists, and ran over here to see what was up.

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They must like me in Ohio

I seem to be flying there a lot in coming weeks. I’m going to be at The 2011 Humanism Award Banquet, honoring Page Stephens for his work in skepticism, on 30 September (Friday! Soon!).

Then I’m flying down again on 15-16 October for the Free Inquiry Group 20th Anniversary Celebration in Cincinnati — although it looks like the actual event will be in Kentucky.

I don’t know what I’m going to say at either of these events yet. I better think of something quick.