Seeing through all the noise

I’ve mentioned this odd duck conference sponsored by Mythicist Milwaukee before…now Martin Hughes clarifies what bugs him about it, too. The meeting has been doing some unusual things. They’ve been advertising some well-known attendees — not speakers, just popular atheists who will be doing the hard work of showing up — which is the first time I’ve seen that.

On Saturday, September 30th, 2017, several atheist celebrities will be at the fourth annual Mythicist Milwaukee Mythinformation Conference. The more well-known names include Matt Dillahunty, Richard Carrier [Wait! I thought we destroyed his reputation and his career! At least, he claims we did that, and is suing us for one million dollars for it], Aron Ra [edit: Aron Ra has recently decided not to attend. His wife cited the reasons here), and Seth Andrews. Their presence at this conference is being well-publicized.

But the people coming to hear these people speak are going to be disappointed. Because none of them are giving a talk.

Which is…weird. I mean, Matt Dillahunty, the one exception, will only serve as a moderator for a debate; he’s not speaking.

Some of them, like Seth Andrews, have been awfully defensive (and offensive) about it, too. I’m curious about a couple of things.

  • Are you being paid, or at least having your travel costs covered, to be an attendee and to promote the meeting?

  • Are you comfortable being window-dressing?

No condemnation if they were to answer yes to either of those questions — it’s just that it would make me a little uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t accept an invitation to a conference on those terms.

But then the next question is, when you’ve got Dillahunty and Andrews and briefly, Aron Ra, why are they being sidelined? Who are the even more brilliant speakers being showcased at this meeting?

Why, in a conference attended by so many shining stars of the atheist movement, aren’t any of the celebrities speaking?

It’s a simple mystery. Here’s the clue: All the speakers at this skeptic conference are anti-SJWs who, for the most part, haven’t had a prominent voice on the atheist conference scene before.

A bit of background: See, the three YouTubers speaking were not given opportunities to speak at VidCon 2017, the major YouTube conference. In spite of the fact that they are fairly popular on YouTube, they have been unable to cross over into a legitimate, respectable level of status…possibly because their views were considered disrespectful to marginalized groups, and the organizers of the conference didn’t want to give those views a platform.

Now that anti-SJW YouTubers have failed to gain legitimacy in the arena of YouTube, it seems they need a stepping stone. Enter the much smaller American atheist community.

And honestly…the conference seems to be a way to give their views legitimacy in the atheist community. I mean, why else would you have these anti-SJWs (who aren’t known as much, these days, for criticizing religion) speak, and have atheist “celebrities” merely come to watch, acting as window-dressing, than to give their more sidelined views legitimacy?

That sounds a little too conspiracy-theorish for me — I don’t think it was a conscious plan by these rather unpleasant youtubers, but more of a conference organizer with anti-SJW leanings seeing an opportunity to both promote their personal ideas, stir up some publicity for their organization, and cheer on a couple of haters they like. That’s it. I suspect the rot is imbedded in Mythicist Milwaukee.

In spite of the well-publicized phenomenon of the atheist celebrities showing up, this is not your average atheism conference. These celebrities, it seems, are there as window dressing — a way to give additional prestige to these voices in a way that seems engineered to give anti-SJW thought greater legitimacy in American atheism, and to show that social justice ideals might be as ill-placed and mythical as religion. Perhaps this anti-SJW perspective failed when it came to the more respectable, “legitimate” corners of YouTube, but if its representatives can get a respectable, influential platform in the much smaller atheism community…maybe they can build on it.

And, so far as I can see, this conference is less about criticizing religion, and more about giving anti-SJW views that platform.

Which, admittedly, may make the atheist community more uncomfortable for me, but there’s no sense in denying the obvious…

Oh, gosh, suddenly a couple of more questions suddenly arise for the window-dressing.

  • Why are you willing to prop up an openly anti-social justice conference of the type that makes many women and minorities “uncomfortable” (to put it mildly) with atheism?

  • If your defense is Free Speech! and that you’re all about the open discussion of ideas,
    why is this conference so one-sidedly promoting anti-humanism? I mean, here’s Martin Hughes speaking about social justice and atheism — the kind of talk not represented in Milwaukee.

Again, for the Free Speech! dogmatists, this isn’t saying that Mythicist Milwaukee can’t hold a Nazi rally if they want, but it’s clear that they are trying to legitimize blatant anti-feminist, racist views as a respectable part of atheism. Why would anyone support that? Unless they’re sympathetic, of course.


  1. says

    I got an answer to my first question: Mythicist Milwaukee covered the travel costs of their window-dressing.

    Also of note: Aron Ra was paid to cover his flight. He bought his ticket, and now that he has withdrawn, he refunded the cash to them, but is still personally out the cost of that ticket. He’s actually made a financial sacrifice to avoid supporting this group.

  2. lotharloo says

    They have Sargon invited too? Wow, that a bunch of fucktards. Sargon is as stupid as he is toxic. Why would any decent human being opt to share podium with that guy? I mean, even if you are one of those “let’s debate the opposition” people (which I don’t necessarily disagree with), I am sure you don’t want to debate a fucking idiot.

  3. kellym says

    Matt Dillahunty may be a “brilliant speaker,” but I no longer have any respect for him as a person. For Matt to give his name in support of racism, misogyny, and harassment of rape victims, I never need to hear another word the man has to say. Perhaps he’s merely “tolerant” of these “points of view”? Whatever. There’s no possible excuse he could give that could justify his repugnant behavior.

    In contrast, Aron Ra showed surprising and unexpected integrity, given that he’s a Prominent Atheist Speaker. Sad that I’m amazed at the atheist acting with human decency.Years ago, I would never have predicted Atheism would become so rotten.

  4. Jeremy Shaffer says

    While I’ve long been pretty certain Sargon is a lost cause, I had some reason to think that maybe Armored Skeptic and ShoeOnHead were misguided, but perhaps reachable. Granted, I didn’t exactly hold out hope for it, but I thought it worth it for some, like ContraPoints or Hbomberguy, to try. Then AS made a response video blasting people denigrating him over this, which included Kristi Winters. After she pointed out that she only made criticisms about Sargon, not AS or Shoe, and made a request that he make an edit his video pointing this out, he replied with another video. In this video AS fully admitted Kristi was right, and he was wrong for blasting her like he did. He also agreed to make the edits, but only if she disavowed everyone else who criticized him.

    Yeah, a guy who uses the word skeptic in his name- suggesting that he unreservedly values truth and rationality- clearly stated he would hold truth and rationality hostage to get what he wanted.

  5. says

    Matt also has a confounding variable though: as the moderator of a debate, he may feel a professional obligation to honor a prior commitment. Aron was hired to clap, nothing more, so there’s less constraint.

  6. doubtthat says

    Must also be pointed out that this is yet another example of wingnut welfare. It’s the version of Affirmative Action that shares dream space with their Cuckold fantasy: inept, useless, ignorant, talentless people given access for reasons owing nothing to the merits of their work.

    It’s just a comedy of doofuses. It’s the conference version of right wing think tanks ordering conservative authors’ books in bulk to push them up the best seller list.

  7. tonyinbatavia says

    doubtthat @6, the first time I read that I nodded hugely in agreement … but then I just re-read it and I have a correction I’d like to offer up …

    The access given is entirely due to the merits of their work. They would not be featured speakers if they weren’t working hard to denigrate, ostracize, and minimize SJWs. I believe Mythicist Milwaukee views those as the merits.

    Outside of that, though, brilliant post.

    As to the OP, PZ, I think I’m in support of the more conspiratorial notions …

    In my opinion, Mythicist Milwaukee and the piteous speakers at this conference are just pawns on the bigger chess board, useful idiots ultimately in service of providing cover to the likes of kings like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, the truly heinous Peter Boghossian, the similarly heinous Michael Shermer, and the other dudebro heroes in this fetid movement. Putting folks like this on the agenda only increases the numbers of vile, unthinking subservients within the movement who will ultimately support the true celebrities while chasing away those who think the movement might or could be something more than white, male, and totally fucked up. Sure, they may have systemically chased away progressives in the movement over the last several years, but they have replaced them with asswipes carrying blind allegiance to their celebrity overlords.

    Props to Aron for backing out. And I’m glad Matt has a role to play and is not pure window-dressing.* But Seth, fuck, he’s simply perpetuating the worst in the movement, and defensively so.

    *Sadly about Matt, though … he will be sharing a stage with Krauss and Harris in February, not too long after sharing a venue with these fuckups. You have to imagine these assholes and MM will try to argue that the relationships established with Matt on this agenda will give some transitive links to the real celebrities.

  8. doubtthat says

    @7 tonyinbatavia

    I think it might just be you and I using terms slightly differently. I would agree with you that the invitation was directly do to their work – the CONTENT of the work. The subject, the political point of view…etc.

    But there is nothing at all unique or insightful or well-written or well-researched…about anything those knuckleheads produce. It’s just the condescending venom of post-Iraq War Christopher Hitchens minus the erudition.

    But I see what you’re saying and I agree. I mean, there’s a reason the Heritage Foundation didn’t buy 10,000 copies of PZ’s book…

  9. Hj Hornbeck says


    Wait! I thought we destroyed his reputation and his career! At least, he claims we did that, and is suing us for one million dollars for it.

    For a guy with a destroyed career, he seems to be quite popular.

    Attention all Canadians! I’ll be touring Canada from Vancouver to Toronto [in August]. I’ll be doing twelve cities in twelve days! Share this around. And if you’ll be near any of my stops, come say hi!

    In some places I’m giving a presentation; in others, just hanging out at a pub. But in every case, I’ll have all my books on hand, and I’ll be selling and signing anything you bring or buy (every title should be available, unless any sell out). I’ll be happy to chat about anything over drinks, too. For the presentations, sponsors may be charging at the door (to help cover the venue), but very affordably (around $10-20 Canadian). […]

    So that’s Canada! I’m also doing some tour stops in the U.S. on the way there and back. I’ll announce those next. And yes, in case you were inclined to ask: I do have in mind planning an Eastern Canada tour next year!

    Was that lawsuit he filed intended to silence people, by abusing the law? I dunno for sure, but the evidence is kinda favoring that hypothesis…

  10. kellym says

    Oh, if Matt has a good reason for supporting racism, misogyny, and the harassment of rape victims, then it’s all good. He might lose his place in the Brilliant Atheist Speakers pantheon! Nothing, no not-Matt person that is, could be important enough to threaten that.
    The Atheist Movement is garbage through and through.

  11. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I think Matt Dillahunty’s number one priority is Matt Dillahunty. He’ll do anything to promote himself as The Fifth Horseman.

  12. says

    Holy crap, I read the comments on the linked blog post an someone actually brought up Atheism+ again.

    Of course, I’ve seen his name over and over again since Elevatorgate, and frankly I’m surprised he didn’t manage to work “FTBullies” into his comment.

  13. unclefrogy says

    might be a function of the time we are living in. When the forces of reaction, racism and greed are touted as of supreme importance, there will be those who seek power by any means possible. They hang on the fringes and yell and holler trying to sound like they are great leaders hoping to be recognized as important and receive wealth and influence. they only care for themselves as the most important thing!
    uncle frogy

  14. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Tabby Lavalamp at 12- Yeah, Richard Sanderson can always be counted on to pop into any comment section to throw down the same shit he’s largely been copy-pasting for years. Apparently, he hasn’t just drank the Kool-Aid, he has it intravenously injected 24/7.

  15. says

    I’ve said something along these lines about so many people I’ve known over the years, and ultimately been disappointed, but hope springs eternal, and I’ll say it again. I know Matt, and I know Beth, and they’re both good people that are all on board with a progressive program. I would rather think for now that he’s abiding by his commitments and that he isn’t reluctant to call the big names out.

    Please, universe, let me be right for once.

  16. Jeremy Shaffer says

    PZ at 16- Still at it like the Energizer bunny. The only thing surprising about his comment there was that he didn’t name drop you directly, sticking only to calling out FTB*- which has collapsed, BTW, so I’m not sure how I’m leaving this comment here. Then again, the day is young and there were only 11 comments when I last looked.

  17. kellym says

    I’ve met Matt and Beth a few times and they might even recognize me. I don’t know them. But now I do know for certain that Matt won’t stand up against racism, misogyny, and harassing rape victims, if it means it might damage his standing in the Atheist Movement. Aron Ra is far less likely to in the future share a stage with Dawkins, Krauss, Harris, Shermer, etc, than Matt, because Aron Ra acted with integrity. This is because the Atheist Movement is garbage.

  18. grmic says

    “Aron Ra is far less likely to in the future share a stage with Dawkins, Krauss, Harris, Shermer, etc, than Matt, because Aron Ra acted with integrity. ”

    The two of them are sharing a stage at the Global Atheist Convention in Australia, in February.

  19. DanDare says

    Are folks trashing Matt D because he is moderating a debate or for something I didn’t get the memo for?
    I have always found Matt to be very clear and reasoned and if you are going to smear him some citations and specifics would be good.

  20. John Morales says

    DanDare, your suggestive attempt at loaded language weakens your claim considerably; if citations and specifics were in fact detrimental to his reputation, then no “smearing” would be going on.