So, what has David Silverman been up to lately?

The Washington Post has a longish article on l’affaire Silverman. It’s a bit unsatisfying, because we still don’t know the specifics of what American Atheists considered a good reason to fire him, and he denies everything.

But where it gets interesting and more than a little dismaying is when it starts listing all the problems in the atheist movement. I remember the days when you’d go to a meeting and there all these enthusiastic, diverse people who were thrilled to just be there and meet like-minded peers…and now the ones who are most enthusiastic are dudebros who see it as an opportunity to bash feminazis with other dudebros. It’s taken a lot of joy out of the movement.

A couple of interesting points, though: 1) David Silverman is the first and only atheist to face any consequences at all for his behavior from an atheist organization. All the other sleazoids are still doing just fine, are still getting invited to speak at conferences, are still drawing a crowd. 2) All of the accused deny all wrong-doing, no matter how solid the evidence. The Bart Simpson approach seems to work: rape or harass someone, then just say, “I didn’t do it,” and among atheists, you’re golden.

Here’s the depressing section of the article.

Organized secularism has been struggling with charges of misogyny, sexism and sexual harassment for almost a decade. The problem went public in 2011 when a then-little-known atheist blogger, Rebecca Watson, described unwanted sexual advances from a man at an atheist conference who followed her into an elevator and to her hotel room.

Correction: Watson was a well-known atheist blogger, active on Skepchick and SGU, and frequently invited to speak at conference…like the international conference where this event occurred. Also, the man didn’t follow her to her hotel room. But the rest is deplorable truth.

She was flooded with both supportive and haranguing comments. World-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins told her to “stop whining” and “grow up.” Dawkins — whose appearances at secularist gatherings can make or break attendance — has been called out multiple times for sexist statements but remains much in demand as a speaker.

Richard Carrier, a science historian and popular secularist speaker, has both apologized for and denied accusations of unwanted sexual advances at secularist and atheist events. He has been banned from at least one conference.

Michael Shermer, organizer of the popular Las Vegas Skepticon event, has denied allegations of sexual harassment and assault from several women, and remains editor of Skeptic magazine and a top speaker at secularist events.

Most recently, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, another star speaker and best-selling author, was suspended in the spring by Arizona State University for what it described as a decade of inappropriate behavior, some of it at secularist events.

Sikivu Hutchinson sums it all up.

The alleged misconduct of these leaders, “was tacitly co-signed by an atheist leadership that is largely hostile to social and gender justice and complicit in the marginalization of women’s issues,” said Sikivu Hitchinson [sic], an activist who is often critical of organized atheism on the subject of women and people of color. “The atheist movement is no different from other male-dominated bastions in which sexual harassment and predatory behavior toward women are part of the culture.”

Ah, those heady days when I was blind to the injustices implicit in the movement, and could just think happy thoughts and be optimistic about the future. Why did you people have to open my eyes and ruin it all for me?

Maybe because it wasn’t so great for many people who didn’t happen to be old white cis heterosexual men.


  1. James Hammond says

    “Michael Shermer, organizer of the popular Las Vegas Skepticon event”


    Corrections sent to WaPo…..

  2. susans says

    I’ve been to one skeptics conference, in Orange County, CA. I sat next to PZ at a speakers table, probably against the rules, when I went to relay greetings from a mutual friend (Australian philosopher John Wilkins) and just never found a different seat. The majority of the speakers were men and I decided not to go to another conference; I did let the organizers know why.

  3. says

    The biggest takeaway I’ve had over the last several years as all of this has played out is that I no longer believe that religion & god-belief are our biggest problems. Maybe that was a foolish belief to have had in the first place. The problems run much deeper, because when some people jettison god-belief it doesn’t make them better people. In fact I wonder if it makes some people worse, since after managing to see through one of the most obvious and easy to dismantle cons of all time, they suddenly see themselves as a paragon of intellect who can never be wrong.

    I was incredibly naive, I guess.

  4. chrislawson says


    Also known as “I can give fifteen reasons why Bigfoot hunters are irrational, which is why I can state with confidence that there is no wage gap.”

  5. chrislawson says


    It’s a real shame the organisers didn’t take notice. They drove away the very people they needed to attract. And not just women. How many non-whites have any prominence in the movement? How many trans or non-binary people? How many from outside the professional classes? The atheist movement has resisted all of these groups entering the club. It’s been most obvious for women because they’ve been marginalised and harassed for expecting basic human courtesies like not being groped, but huge numbers of atheists still hold up The Bell Curve as a paragon of rational thinking about race, which is enough to put me right off atheist get-togethers. If they’re too far up their own butts to see through that blatantly courtier’s-racist BS then I want no part of their community.

  6. susans says


    That conference is still happening every year; they send me email, but I just delete it. Everything that has happened with the so-called atheist movement since has just confirmed that I made the right decision. The only conference I go to now is Netroots Nation, which has a vigorous commitment to diversity, albeit with only one panel on atheism, but that it is not the focus.

  7. lotharloo says


    I no longer believe that religion & god-belief are our biggest problems.

    I disagree. Religion and God are among the biggest problems and they are among the original sources of racism, sexism and patriarchy. The problem is just because some dood becomes an theist, it does not mean that he suddenly shakes off the ingrained sexism. Religion spreads racist, or sexist, or anti-woman propaganda which could also be absorbed by people who are not necessarily religious.

  8. Matrim says

    @10, lotharloo

    I think there’s a bit of chicken and egg going on. Certainly religion causes some of those things (racism, sexism, etc.), but I also think that it more often is used as and excuse for those things. What can be said is that theism doesn’t require those things.

  9. says

    #10 lotharloo:

    How do we explain, then, the existence of people who are theists but have the same social & economic justice goals, the same sexual equality goals that we have? They are definitely out there. I’m starting to think that for many people, theism is a veneer over pre-existing, far more deeply-seated prejudices.

    One of the most annoying things about this realization is that the fuckwits of atheism “thought leadership” have made me start saying things which could be construed as defending theism or religion, or claiming it’s harmless. I’m not.

    I’m no anthropologist, but I wonder if sexist and racist impulses pre-date (or are somehow or more fundamental than) theistic belief?

  10. says

    @Robert Westbrook

    Your last suggestion about sexism and racism perhaps being more fundamental than religious commitment is an interesting one.

    I can much more easily imagine someone changing their religion than I can imagine a misogynist becoming a feminist or a racist coming to recognize all of us as equally human.

  11. Saad says

    Since religions are man-made, the misogyny found in them is also man-made. So they can’t be the source of misogyny; they’re more like a very effective way of convincing people that misogyny is the right thing to do.

  12. screechymonkey says

    Trying to figure out if I am understanding this part of the article correctly:

    The first incident happened in 2012 at a Secular Student Alliance conference. Rose St. Clair, then a student and an atheist activist, told both BuzzFeed and American Atheists this year that she felt pressured by Silverman to have sex with him if she wanted a job in organized atheism. Her statement said she was intoxicated and did not “feel I could give consent.”

    Silverman says before the encounter, St. Clair asked for a job and he told her he could not hire her if they were going to have sex. He said “at no time” did St. Clair appear intoxicated. Silverman said when he learned she was upset about their encounter, he tried to contact her but was rebuffed.

    I’m assuming that the references to “encounter” mean that both parties agree that they had sex? Which means that, according to Silverman, their interaction went something like this:

    Rose St. Clair: I’d really like a job — is that possible?
    David Silverman: Well, I can’t hire you if we’re going to have sex, that would be improper.
    RSC: Oh, well then, if I have to choose, then forget about my request for a job — you are so sexually irresistible that I’d rather have sex with you than get a job.

    That seems dubious, with all due respect to whatever charms DS may have.

  13. =8)-DX says

    @10, lotharloo

    Religion and God are among the biggest problems and they are among the original sources of racism, sexism and patriarchy.

    Aaaaand, that is complete and utter bollocks. Racism, sexism and patriarchy have existed well before the current iterations of the various religions, throughout their various reformations and changes, and all over the world. I live in a country where almost everyone is an atheist and most people have been so for generations and I can tell you racism, sexism and patriarchy are still alive and well and although it is a benefit not to have people waving bibles around and proclaiming dogma, religions didn’t invent nationalism, feudal agrarian societies or tribalism, the real sources of those three.

    I’ve been saying this for years, but maybe even people from the US can finally understand that “getting rid religion would solve all the world’s problems” is total nonsense, both because these attitudes persist people leaving religion, but also because bigotry is independent of religion, following from greed, selfishness and ignorance.