I ought to be getting used to atheists embarrassing me

One of the ways religious offenders defend themselves is by falling back into the arms of their co-religionists. “Why, when they attack me for molesting that girl, they are attacking the sanctity of Jesus Christ and his Holy Church!” It’s a way to gather allies by telling them that the criticisms against you are actually assaults on your entire belief system and all of your fellows.

Keep that in mind while reading Krauss’s response to accusations of sexual harassment. He is openly recruiting us atheists and skeptics to side with him.

On February 22, reporters from BuzzFeed published a libelous story defaming me specifically, and by association the skeptical and atheist community in general. To those friends, colleagues, and others who have written me kind notes of support, I want to thank you sincerely. To those who have expressed anger, I understand the disappointment you may have experienced upon reading the story. It has been very hard to remain silent thus far as my integrity and the integrity of the academic and skeptical communities, which I care about deeply, have been impugned.

My first thought is to defend myself — #NotAllAtheists, Dr Krauss! It’s you that is being accused, not me or my friends, so how dare you drag me into your community.

But then…damn. I think I’m being too optimistic about the quality of this community. I have to stop that. It ought to be easy to be cynical, since atheists are so happy to help. For instance, self-labeled atheists are proud to step forward and pull this kind of crap.

Some of you will dismiss this blatant sexism by saying it’s just one guy, one particularly repulsive guy. That’s true. Except…

TJ Kirk AKA the “Amazing Atheist” has been around for over a decade, and he’s been this repugnant since he first popped up. He has over 100,000 followers on Twitter. He has a million subscribers on YouTube.

You want to defend the skeptical and atheist community? We’re going to have to face up the fact that the popularity and persistence of terrible people who wave the banner of atheism has already compromised us, and realize that when some of our ‘heroes’ go further and commit sexual harassment, that doesn’t mean that they’re exceptional, but are perhaps more representative than we like to admit. At the very least, we have to recognize that being a misogynistic scumbag does not disqualify you from claiming to be an “amazing” atheist.

Further, that so many atheists insist that no moral stance can be assigned to atheism means that the awful people can not be repudiated as atheists; we can do so as individuals, as human beings, and as humanists, but the lack of any principle but “there is no god” in atheism means there are no grounds for forswearing or dismissing these people within the atheist movement.

So what’s the point of the atheist movement? There is none. It’s killed itself.


  1. says

    ‘Buzzfeed isn’t real journalism and besides the accusations in there are no big deal anyway’ seems to be the main refrain of the reasonable rational totally-supporting-equality dudes.
    As long as you say you support sexual assault victims and #MeToo first, dismissing the Krauss accusations is totes fair and not at all defending Krauss or harassment.


  2. Rob Bos says

    there’s an excellent Chinese term for that kind of collective response to an individual grievance: “Glass heart”, when you insult someone, and they use it to create a collective response – a wolf pack – to something done to an individual, no matter how justified it is. If you as a foreigner tell someone in China on the street, “you are a bad person”, they might turn around and shout at bystanders, “this foreigner says that China is bad!” and you might end up at the centre of a mass beating.


    Evangelical Christians have a glass heart, if you insult one of them, however much it may seem to be justified, you often see a collective response.

  3. madd says

    I’m doing this cause I need to reach out to someone. I was one day away to get deported by to my country and was incarcerated for three months with ICE and got out and now I’m waiting for my interview to become a US citizen.
    My family tells me GOD made this possible. I was never a church going christian but use to believe. In jail I started reading the Bible and praying for help, even promise to become a real follower. Once I got out I found hitchens, Matt, Barth Ehrman and others. This actually enforced my disbelief in a God.
    But been pressed by all my family that since I don’t need him no more I’m just simply forgetting what he did for me I still feel some guilt. I know my lawyer did the actual job and can’t accept that a god helped me but doesn’t do anything for others in actual terrible circumstances and painful situations. It doesn’t make sense. Just would like to hear an opinion from someone about this feeling of guilt.

  4. says

    The lack of any principle but “there is no god” in atheism is why it is such a terrible ideology to identify with especially when “god” means many different things some of which obviously exist.

  5. says

    Well I think the category error here is presuming that there was, is, or could be an “atheist movement.” There can be communities of people who are atheists, but why would we expect atheists as a category to constitute a single movement of any kind. Religious people aren’t a “movement” or a single community either. I certainly don’t feel impugned about anything anybody might say about Laurence Krauss. I have no connection with him. I’m not part of any movement that has destroyed itself because of people like Krauss or A.A.G., they have nothing to do with me.

    I’m happy to join with like-minded people who largely share my values. Just because somebody happens to identify as an atheist doesn’t mean I would necessarily expect them to be in that category, and if some aren’t, it doesn’t diminish the cause of reason, it just means that some atheists are jerks. Why would that surprise anyone?

  6. says

    10-15 years ago, we had this hope that atheism would inspire a global movement, one that would displace religion with an evidence-based philosophy.

    We were wrong.

  7. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    On the one hand, Krauss is full of shit. Read this comment again:

    reporters from BuzzFeed published a libelous story defaming me specifically, and by association the skeptical and atheist community in general.

    No. Even if the article was wrong in fact, I am not defamed because Krauss and I have some common acquaintances.

    On the other hand, there’s something important that we shouldn’t miss: Krauss has been operating in skeptical and atheist circles unimpeded by his history of sexist and sexualized misdeeds. Those of us who have been inviting him to speak or who paid money to hear him speak should actually question our own actions.

    But we’re not tarnished by Krauss’ misbehavior. No one is responsible for the choices of another person. But if we made our own choices to ignore information in our possession about sexist and sexualized misdeeds, then we get to be accountable for those choices. How unethical those choices were, how much they tar us is decided by how much information we had at the time and precisely what we did to support Krauss’ traveling shitshow.

    No, we’re aren’t implicated by association every time someone who knows someone we know turns out to be guilty of morally terrible behavior. But if we have supported someone that turns out to be guilty of that behavior, it’s a good idea to investigate how and why we supported that person, to see if we ourselves might have fallen short morally or even been guilty of morally terrible behavior ourselves.

    There is an opportunity here for self-examination. We should take it. But that is something entirely different from being made guilty for someone else’s behavior.

    If Krauss was actually any good at skepticism, he’d recognize the difference.

  8. Porivil Sorrens says

    I think at least part of why that’s a somewhat lofty goal is because of people that grew up with backgrounds like me.

    While I grew up as an atheist in the “did not actively believe in any god or gods” sense, it wasn’t because I like, believed in the power of evidence-based philosophy. My parents were just ambivalent about church and didn’t see any reason to talk about it or make me go.

    As such, I fell into non-religious woo pretty damn easily, and courted religion quite a bit as well. When I did actually begin to give a shit about my personal epistemology, it was five years into college and I was in my late twenties, and even then it was only because I didn’t have people around stoking my beliefs in woo.

    I’d imagine quite a lot of regressive atheists are the same way – they’re non-theists that didn’t arrive in that position out of well-reasoned thought, and as such are just as susceptible to ideologues (ie Petersonians or Harrisites) as your average bible-thumping Evangelical.

  9. mnb0 says

    “You want to defend the skeptical and atheist community?”
    Why would I if I even never recognized such a thing, let alone it representing me?

    “We were wrong.”
    You (evt. plural) were wrong. Since more than 15 years ago my 20th Century heroes have been Ghandi, King and Mandela. At least two of them never belonged to any atheist community.

  10. says

    PZ@7: We can still promote the cause of reason. I don’t see why the existence of atheist assholes is much of an obstacle, if any. As for philosophy, while we want our philosophy to be consistent with evidence, philosophy cannot solely be based on evidence because it is also dependent on values. People will always have different aspirations and different moral priorities. I like Habermas’s construct of the three worlds of:
    intersubjective reality — the objective world “out there”;
    values and norms — social reality;
    and the internal world of the speaker — what people find aesthetically or otherwise pleasing to themselves.

    Or, in Plato’s terms, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Atheism as such belongs only to the first, although it has implications for the second, particularly vis a vis religion.

  11. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    There is such a thing as a non-universal “we”. Otherwise I support your comment.


    I’m sorry that happened to you, and more sorry that it’s led to tension or estrangement from your family. Don’t have time to add more now, but I might try to come back to this thread later to see how you’re doing. In the meantime, there’s an Endless Thread for more personal discussions like yours. It’s offered, hosted, and maintained by Caine. It’s on FreethoughtBlogs, but over at her space, called Affinity.

    Here’s a link.

    Good luck.

  12. Raucous Indignation says

    Your hope for the atheist movement was misplaced. It’s okay to deal with that. I notice that the name of this network invokes Free Thought not atheism, whatever that is. Why didn’t you place your hope in Humanism? Because you were being led by old white men. How did that work out? Not perfectly. But you know you were wrong about some things. Moving away from atheism towards Humanism is a good course, no?

  13. doubtthat says

    I always used to get upset at the survey results that would place atheists at the very bottom of the “who would be an acceptable president” list. So, I had an immediate annoyed reaction to the survey in this tweet:

    But then I thought…shit, I might prefer Muslims to atheists, in a general sense. Especially in the United States or “West,” in general. I think your odds are much higher of landing on an asshole if you just select a random self-described atheist, these days.

    It’s really sad. I naively thought casting off religion would result in a more ethical and just society. Turns out it’s really easy to replace barbaric religious notions with barbaric secular notions.

  14. chrislawson says

    Atheism is an epistemic opinion and the only moral position that can be drawn from it is in rejecting received theological morality. That is, it works more as a filter against certain classes of bad moral argument than an actual positive moral belief system. We need humanism for that side of the coin.

    As such, the only great purpose I can see for an organised atheist movement is to combat anti-atheist prejudice. And on that metric, the current movement is failing badly. It’s even making atheists more prejudiced against atheism.

    Plus, you don’t need an atheist movement to fight anti-atheist prejudice. A good humanist movement will do the same thing. While including sympathetic theists!

  15. coffeelife says

    I’m new here. I agree entirely with the post. I really don’t know what to call myself these days, a man who formally identified himself as an atheist. The atheist movement has been reduced to only a few White Men, we all know the names, their books are all we need, all that needs to be said, everyone else just sit back and enjoy the talks. Of course, the internet atheists are the worst kind, I’d be hard pressed to think of two more repulsive human beings utterly lacking in self awareness that the likes of TJ Kirk or Stefan Molyneux, both atheists, both with armies of followers, and we know there are countless others. Then there are the softer types who write tomes on how reason is making the world perfect, like Pinker who are masters at filtering data to project their naive Panglossian scientism upon the world, but don’t seem to live in a world remotely like the one I seem to experience or anyone else except perhaps people in his social class. And he’s not the only one with this delusion by a long shot.

  16. consciousness razor says

    Atheism is an epistemic opinion and the only moral position that can be drawn from it is in rejecting received theological morality. That is, it works more as a filter against certain classes of bad moral argument than an actual positive moral belief system. We need humanism for that side of the coin.

    This just doesn’t sound right at all. When you say something like “gods don’t exist,” that’s an ontological statement, not an epistemic one. It’s a statement about the world. The statement is true if there aren’t any gods. If we really mean it that way and intend it to be taken seriously/literally/etc., we’re committing to everything that’s logically entailed by the statement, even if that isn’t immediately obvious or explicitly contained in the statement itself. There are after all other facts to worry about, and it’s important that we can consistently make any of the true statements and not merely this particular one.

    You can also make epistemic statements, related to the one above. Here are some options: (1) you don’t believe there are gods, (2) your epistemic probability that there are gods, conditional on what you do know, is close to zero, (3) you don’t know of sufficient evidence that there are gods, and (4+) many other such statements telling us about your knowledge. However, you don’t simply “know” things with respect to nothing at all — you know them about the world or about reality. There are things, independently of what you do or don’t know, and you know about some of those things.

    If you say, “murder is harmful to people, I’m in a position to know such facts about people, and that’s why we have good reasons to think we should behave in non-murderous ways,” then I understand what you’re saying just fine. It’s clear, simple, doesn’t confuse matters in any obvious way, doesn’t misuse the language, etc. The moral is basically just “don’t murder people.” It looks to me like we have no problem getting there, by making use of the facts and our knowledge of the facts.

    But I don’t understand how we would get there, if I’m supposed to believe that we don’t need to talk about our knowledge or what the world is actually like. Where is the conclusion supposed to come from, and what is the process of getting there supposed to be like? Why am I supposed to think this is somehow a better way to do it?

    If those things aren’t relevant to how we ought to behave, why not? And what is relevant, if not that? On the other hand, maybe you think those do matter, at least as essential parts of the argument if not the entire thing. But is it true that there is some extra ingredient that we need to sprinkle on top, if we’re going to cook up a proper moral claim? If so, what exactly would that be? And why does that particular recipe, whatever it is, go by the name of “humanism”? If the idea here is about “rejecting received theological morality,” and if what we need is not in fact a gift of the gods that fell from the sky like manna, then where would these extra ingredients come from?

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    I like it that atheistic organizations exist to fight back against mandatory prayers in schools, crosses on city property, etc.

    That these organizations need work to maintain integrity, and sometimes fail, no more invalidates the advantages of grouping together for mutual purposes than do the parallel failures of labor unions, political parties, professional associations, or other shared-interest societies facing problems beyond the scope of individuals to counter on their own.

  18. eleanor says

    “Amazing Atheist Guy”‘s tweet makes total sense once it’s clear that “have” means “want”.

  19. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Maybe someone can satisfy “Amazing Atheist” by CGing a couple cloth covered boxes onto Vikander and then downscale (via nearest pixel, not anything good) the entire movie down to 256×224 so that it’s truly faithful to the source material. Yet, somehow I suspect he’d be unsatisfied with that.

  20. Khal Draugr says

    You supported Bernie Sanders, a rape fetishist. The same candidate that the guy you quoted, The Amazing Atheist, supported. You’re in no position to be “embarassed” by other atheists, you’re one of the embarassing ones.

  21. ck, the Irate Lump says

    @Brony, Social Justice Cenobite
    Khal Draugr is probably referring to this: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/bernie-sanders-essay/

    The essay is pretty awful for a variety of reasons, but to call it a rape fetish is a complete stretch. It’s pretty obvious that it was meant to address gender stereotypes, but it badly misses the mark and isn’t terribly well written. However, its first two paragraphs been great for political propaganda for those who hate Bernie (or those who have supported him).

  22. says

    Thank you, I’ll look at it. I’ve no problem with the idea that Bernie is problematic somehow, lots of us are in one fashion or another and that’s worth addressing.

    But when I see the sort of comment that I do in #23 with this awful thing that’s so awful that the accuser can’t bear to link it I start suspecting the motivation isn’t about the problematic thing but more about manipulation of fear about rape and intercommunity gossip. But just in case…

  23. says

    I don’t visit Pharyngula that much. Why is it, however, that whenever I do it’s painfully easy to find PZ misrepresenting someone’s words?
    To anyone who has read both the BuzzFeed article and Krauss’s response, it should be obvious that Krauss is not saying “An attack on me is, necessarily, an attack on all skeptics/atheists”. It is the BuzzFeed article itself that impugns the community that has held Krauss in high regard, and Krauss is responding to that.

  24. says

    Did you read the BuzzFeed article? If you did, you would have read that the movement of which Krauss is a member is marked by “online abuse from men”; it is “fracturing” and “sliding into the alt-right”. With respect to Krauss’s behavior, “conference organizers seemed reluctant to act’ and “none of them were interested in doing anything about what was happening” because “he was a popular speaker” … and so on.

  25. Porivil Sorrens says

    I’m not sure how listing blatantly true facts is “impugning” people.

    The atheist community is swiftly turning into an alt-right cesspool via ~skeptics~ like Sargon or TAA, and elevatorgate is all the proof you need to write it off as a hive of aggressive, misogynist men.

  26. says

    Look up the definition of “impugn”. The word is equally appropriate whether one is using “blatantly true facts” or blatantly false nonsense.

  27. Porivil Sorrens says

    Then I fail to see a problem with regards to the Buzzfeed article. Reporting facts is kind of the job of news media.

  28. says

    #29: That’s just accurate and honest reporting. The atheist movement has long had a growing problem with these sorts of people.

  29. says

    @Eric Ross
    I don’t have a problem with any of that. 1)Online abuse from men is a bad thing and has been a problem, 2) there have been social and political differences that have included harassment campaigns, 3)I dislike behavior among the alt right, and 4) your quotes about Krauss similarly don’t bother me because you don’t say why they are bad things. Feel free to get more specific about any of that.

  30. says

    PZ (#33) has now implicitly acknowledged that I was correct in my original assertion (#27) that he misrepresented Krauss. The honorable thing for PZ to do would be to acknowledge this explicitly and apologize; I have only the faintest hope that will actually happen.
    To those of you who want to assert that the “atheist movement” is guilty as charged by BuzzFeed — perhaps you are correct; it’s irrelevant to the point I started with, which, again, is that PZ misrepresented Krauss. Reread comment #27, and learn how to follow an argument.