Let’s Keep Things Neat

(Trigger Warning: vulgar epithets directed at vulgar people.)

For reasons known only to himself, Richard Dawkins recently agreed to issue a joint statement with Ophelia Benson.  A brief, tepid platitude, the statement observes:

“It’s not news that allies can’t always agree on everything. People who rely on reason rather than dogma to think about the world are bound to disagree about some things.

“Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not. If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.”

It goes on to call for “no death threats, rape threats, attacks on people’s appearance, age, race, sex, size, haircut; no photoshopping people into demeaning images, no vulgar epithets.”

Benson acknowledges that she crafted the statement, with Dawkins appending his expressed disavowal of “[a]ny person who tries to intimidate members of our community with threats or harassment….”  And fine sentiments these all are — except the spirit of it has already breached by Benson, and is, in fact, anathema to Benson and her fellow advocates of “Atheism Plus.”

 

It’s OK When We Do It

The joint statement was roundly applauded by the social justice warriors (“SJWs”), who perceived the admonishments therein applicable only to their ideological opponents, a vast group who they place under the rubric “slymepitters”  (regardless of whether these persons are in fact members of The Slymepit discussion board.)

In true SJW, ‘its-ok-when-we-do-it’ fashion, the Atheism Plussers conveniently ignore things like the incessant spew of crude invectives from the mouth of PZ Myers, or Benson’s own mini-crusade against Dawkins, in which she baselessly accused him of being a racist, a sexist, and an apologist for child molestation.

Atheism Plus’ ‘horde’ of followers, meanwhile, were quick to express their disinclination to accept Dawkins’ olive branch, at least until he dons sackcloth for sins like: promoting the anti-radfem vids of Jacqueline Glenn; ‘punching down’ on po’ widdle oppressed moslems, and worst of all, for calling out slacker/alcoholic/attention whore, Rebecca Watson, for whining about her first-world problems.  Lost on the SJWs was the irony of them having enjoyed a good ole’ time lampooning Dawkins for his own first-world, honey-pot problems.

Proving themselves deficient in both skeptical tools and introspection, the SJW-atheists employed wishful thinking to interpret the joint statement as indication that the Slymepitters’ antics had grown too foul for even Dawkins to swallow.  For the record, no actual member of the Slymepit has ever issued rape or death threats at that discussion board.  As for “photoshops” — satire is a venerable and respected form of dissent, while caricature is valid if it underscores the subject’s foibles or character flaws. If such scrutiny hurts your fee-fees, then stay out of the limelight.

 

But again, ‘its-ok-when-we-do-it’, and one may compare the satire & ridicule found at The Slymepit with the steady stream of ad hominem insults emanating from the keyboards of the bloggers & commentariat at FreeThoughtBlogs (“FtB”).  Benson and her colleagues have no compunction deriding opponents based on their race (white), age (old), sex (male), or sexual orientation (die, cis scum, die.)  The hate-filled, mentally unstable Taslima Nasreen rants on about the inherent evilness of the male sex, while celebrating accounts of amputated penises.  But the position of Party Propaganda Minister goes to the equally unbalanced, though somewhat less bloodthirsty, Miri Mogilevsky, for expounding non-stop on the unfalsifiable radfem constructs of Rape Culture™ and Teh Patriarchy™, and for her rabid attacks on the “poisoned” men (i.e. all men) they engender.

And from the dark depths of PZ Myers’ impotent rage and repressed sexual violence boil up regular threats of anal rape against any who dare disagree with him, foul-mouthed obscenities for his myriad foes, not to mention his recent threats to throw Slymepitters off a pier, or to disembowel any Christian who approaches him.

Note well that when an SJW complains of “harassment”, they really mean ‘general disagreement’, while “stalking” constitutes such horrific deeds as following them on Twitter, or the mild-mannered Justin Vacula sitting quietly alone as he attended a skeptics’ conference open to the public.  In contrast, that scheming misanthrope, Stephanie`Svan, felt entirely justified in her vendetta to get Vacula fired from his position with his local atheist org.

 

Creating The Rift

At FtB, the ponderously slow-witted Dana Hunter muses whether the Joint Statement represents the first step toward building a ‘bridge’ to span the ‘chasm’, which would allow properly contrite Slymepitters to cross over and submit to SJW rule.  Before considering this further, we ought remind ourselves that it was the SJWs who created the rift in the first place.

It was the SJWs who cooked up a bogus sexual harassment epidemic at conferences — a Reichstag fire to facilitate co-opting these conferences which, through the blinkers of their slackivism, they mistakenly identified as the crux of the A/S movement.  It was they who took a molehill — a certain party girl’s minor miscalculation of her Jameson-fueled flirting — and turned it into a mountain of non-existent sexism among the community, which, of course, they and they alone, were capable of rooting out.

The formal Atheism Plus movement was birthed in August, 2012, when the lovely and talentless Jen McCreight called for: “a new wave of atheism …  a wave that isn’t just a bunch of ‘middle-class, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men’”; rather, one that “cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime.” (McCreight’s emphasis.)

As for those who’d dare resist McCreight’s glorious revolution, she added this warning:  “no amount of reason will ever get them to admit that they’re wrong. So to them, all I have to say is have fun as you circle jerk into oblivion….  I want Deep Rifts…. I want the misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and downright trolls out of the movement for the same reason I wouldn’t invite them over for dinner or to play Mario Kart: because they’re not good people.” (McCreight’s emphasis.)

FtB blogger and renowned narcissist, Dick Carrier, next upped the ante.  By declaring, “either you’re with us or against us,” Carrier (parroted by fellow FtBers such as the painfully irrelevant Greta Christina), left no room “to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other”.  Carrier, et al., cast the conflict between Atheism “Plus” vs. Atheism ‘Neat’ as a fight to the death.  Ever since, the Plussers have acted like Maoist revolutionaries seeking a rapid, radical overthrow of the establishment. Though a small minority of the A/S community, the Plusser cadres are intent on browbeating the recalcitrant masses into accepting the universal truths they have divined.  Atheism Plus would better be known as Shining Path Atheism.

 
To date, the revolution has been an epic failure, but has succeeded in deepening and widening the rift, while tying up limited bandwidth that otherwise could have been applied to expanding and strengthening the A/S movement.  Occasional efforts to bridge or at least narrow the gap have been stymied by the Plussers themselves.  The large majority of FtB bloggers stifle open debate by heavily moderating their comment sections and maintaining extensive lists of banned commenters, especially the reviled “slymepitters”.  This makes it impossible to even define the parameters of our disagreements.  Like many who reject Atheism Plus, I myself was banned from Benson’s blog.  After suggesting, in the most polite and deferential manner, that we just go our separate ways, Lucy van Pelt then blocked my follow-up comments, allowing her commentariat to insult me and twist my words with abandon.

When the prominent atheist activist, Michael Nugent, attempted to mediate a dialog between the opposing camps, the mendacious, conniving Stephanie Svan intentionally sabotaged the effort, before publicly admitting that had been her intention from the start.  When it comes to perfidy, Steph, the Provos got nothin’ on you.

 

Widening the Rift

The very philosophical foundations of Atheism Plus place it at odds with skepticism. Not only do Plussers espouse fringe social & political positions, their core tenets, especially radical feminism, are derived from postmodernist woo incompatible with Science and Reason.

Thus we find Christina insisting that organized atheism expand its mission to assist young black American males oppressed by the “school-to-prison pipeline” and “racist police and drug policies”, even though a skeptical review of the evidence exposes these as non-existent, merely fabricated bits of SJW agit-prop.

FtB also promotes, via its website and online conference (sic), PoMo, anti-science rhetoric, such the assertion by the droll gonk, HJ Hornbeck (seconded by the insufferably prolix prat, Alex Gabriel), that binary sexes and sexual reproduction are mere social constructs.

Witness, too, PZ Myers and his protégé, Rebecca Watson, rejecting out-of-hand the entire field of evolutionary psychology — not on scientific, but rather, political dogmatic, grounds — only to have their case savaged in detail by none other than Stephen Pinker.  By embracing neo-lamarckism, Myers only distances himself further from mainstream science.  Myers’ recent disavowal of skepticism as a practice speaks volumes of his allegiance to postmodernism and radical feminism, and his determination to co-opt the atheist movement on their behalf.

 

Deepening The Rift

How could the chasm ever be spanned, so long as the Plussers — led by Myers, but aided & abetted by the demented fabulist, Carrie Poppy, by McCreight, by that dung beetle of gossip, Svan, and others  — spread slander and anonymous tales of serial rape and sexual harassment about A/S luminaries such as Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, and DJ Grothe?    When cooperation with the Plussers is contingent on blindly believing without question these evidence-free accusations?  On accepting the ludicrous claim of attention-whore and professional victim, Melody Hensley, that Twitter either triggers PTSD and/or is the source of PTSD, all while she twitters eight hours a day about her twitter-induced PTSD?  How can Plussers and Neats coexist, when the former declare the latter “hyper-skeptics” and “rape-enablers” for questioning the vague, unsubstantiated claims of sexual harassment by Karen Stollznow, even after she’s been exposed as a proven fabricator of false accusations, and an arrested domestic abuser who exhibits alarming, violent borderline behavior in public?

How is a ‘big tent’ to be erected in the face of the constant howling which bemoans the presence in A/S of libertarians, Republicans, old cishet white men, “chill girls”, “sister punishers”, “gender traitors”, “MRAs”, and assorted demons?  Indeed, how can Plussers and Neats ‘agree to disagree’ and focus on the narrow, common ground of ‘not believing in gods’, when the Plussers repeatedly insist that is not acceptable?  For just this week, Myers reiterated that atheism must  “stand for something more than just making fun of god….  We can either make atheism mean something … or we can fade out and die away….”
Myers is just grasping at straws to justify his Kulturkampf. indeed, the surest way to kill the momentum of the atheist movement — momentum sparked, as it so happens, by those same ‘old, white men’ the Plussers seek to dethrone — is to saddle it with a controversial political agenda that most everyday atheists reject.

Myers leaves no doubt about his refusal to coexist:  “I’m not making the choice that says we ignore the hidebound dogmatists and stiflingly loud haters in our midst. I’ve got lines that I won’t cross”  — the “dogmatics” and “haters” being, in Myers manichaean worldview, anyone who disagrees with him in the slightest.
 

No Bridges, Please

The truth is, the rest of the A/S community cannot ‘agree to disagree’ with the Plussers, cannot coexist with them.  And that is entirely their fault, for having launched Atheism Plus as a revolutionary movement bent on total, dictatorial domination of atheist activism.

Ophelia Benson has already revealed how she intends to make use of the joint statement — as a cudgel to silence any opposition.  When Slymepit member Phil Giordana
warned on Facebook, that the joint statement would prove to be “another excuse for the mob to do as they please and cast away any semblance of rationality or honesty”, Benson replied, “[s]o people should keep on with death threats, rape threats….?” After Phil, a genuinely civil & even-tempered fellow, reminded Benson that he had never made any such threats, the vindictive Benson flat-out lied“He’s thinking that because I don’t let him comment on my blog, he’s entitled to punish me with death threats, rape threats….” Utterly despicable behavior by Benson, yet entirely consistent with the Plussers’ penchant for bullying.
 

So please — no more joint statements, no more mediated dialogs, no ‘bridges’ to span the ‘rift’. While Atheism Plus and Atheism Neat may both share the word “atheism”, we are not talking about the same thing, do not have anywhere near the same ideals or objectives.  The Plussers will never be content with a truce. Even if they were, they are an uniformly talentless, lazy, mentally & emotionally unbalanced crowd.  They offer no value-add to the atheism movement, and their dogma is anathema to skepticism.  The Plussers wanted this to be a fight to the death.  I say, let’s finish it.

 

(c) 2014 by Matt Cavanaugh.  All rights reserved.

PZ Myers and the Dream Girl

PZ Myers was so pleased by a recent piece of fan mail, he shared it on his blog. He ought to have been tickled pink, as it almost reads like he wrote the letter himself.

Myers post, The Best Kind of Letter, consists of an image of the correspondence. In an unsteady hand in pencil on three-ring filler paper, an admiring young fan offers effusive praise for The Happy Atheist (“THA”), Myers’ collection of old blog posts, and credits it for making her life, as a liberal atheist among the “closed-minded republicans” of Indiana, bearable. bestkindofletter __

A Girl Unlike Any Other
What an exceptional person is this mystery Indiana Girl! So unlike teenagers today. For starters, here’s a child of the 21st century, an Age of Tweets and PMs and Facebook, of iPhones and tablets and thumb-typing, sending an hand-written note. We can imagine her sitting in study hall — lanky, fresh-faced and demurely-dressed, her flaxen hair bundled in a neat pony tail, placing her dog-eared copy of THA on a corner of the desk before opening her notebook to a blank page, then sharpening her pencil, blowing away the shavings, and carefully setting down the words, “Dear Mr. Myers, get me out of here.”

Sounds more like a 15 year-old from, say, 1972, but who knows — Indiana Girl might be a walking anachronism. Or perhaps Indiana Girl consciously eschewed computerized, electronic communication, knowing a hand-written note would coddle the heart of her 57 year old savior, kindling memories of his own teen years as an outcast.

That might explain the enigmatic, uneven handwriting style. Starting in an upright, almost childlike block print, the letter soon switches to a more flowing hand, with bits of cursive here and there, before returning in the final sentence to the upright print with which it began. I amING6 Our scribe has some trouble consistently forming the letter “W”. Some have rounded ascenders, some straight. Some of the “w”‘s are symmetrical; in others the trailing half rises above the base line, perhaps indicative of Indiana Girl’s rising excitement. Wwww Similar discrepancies can be found throughout, especially in forming ligatures. ligatureE Surely, all this can’t be indication of someone struggling to fake a hand — there must be another explanation. Perhaps midway through her composition, Indiana Girl wrapped her arm around her notebook, to shield her heretical missive from the prying eyes of her teacher and classmates, theist dolts all.

The letter takes up precisely one side of one sheet of paper, leaving just enough room for a signature — a dash followed by a name that’s been whited-out. Sheer coincidence that 8 1/2″ x 11″ exactly sufficed to carry the entirety of Indiana Girl’s thoughts on THA. Or was it another conscience decision — the admiring young fan anticipating that her atheist champion might wish to scan her note and post it at Pharyngula? True, she seems unaware, not only of Myers’ blog and copious online material, but of the entire internet, but this has to be the explanation.

In what sort of envelope did Indiana Girl mail the letter? A crease line indicates it’s been folded once across the middle. In the upper right corner can be seen a faint impression of the last few words from the bottom right of the page. The signature can be just barely made out.

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Great Minds Think (and Write) Alike
The Happy Atheist must have exerted a great influence on Indiana Girl, for she writes so very much like PZ Myers himself. She laments over being surround by oblivious brain-washed children”. Myers often echoes this frustration with “the dominant, oblivious majority in the US”, as evidenced by blog post titles like:

  • A Perfect Picture of Oblivious Entitlement
  • The Problem of the Oblivious White Male Atheist Brit Hume
  • Yet Another Oblivious Religious Kook
  • Obstinate and Oblivious
  • More Oblivious Irony From The Religious Right

Ah, yes, the irony! PZ sees it in the Religious Right, and is especially “blinded by the irony” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In an anecdotal blog post, Myers tells of “a rich, deep kind of irony that must be shared.” Like her hero, Indiana Girl is struck by “the whole irony” of her situation.

How nearly identical their predicaments! Indiana Girl, a well-read “liberal atheist, generally hated-upon”, surrounded by god-believing morons ignorant of “the outside world.” And the “godless liberal” PZ, “swimming in a sea of superstition”, since an early age more intelligent and knowledgeable than … well, everyone — now battling fools on all sides: “clueless thick-skulled Christian idiots”, “zombie” libertarians, Republicans who range from “pretty damned stupid” to “really incredibly stupid”, not to mention the “vile, hateful” MRAs who pollute atheism itself.

Myers’ brand of humor clearly struck a chord with her, as she found the jokes he cracked “pretty hilarious”. A shame she didn’t mention one or two of her favorites, but Indiana Girl’s appreciation is in stark contrast to professional reviews of THA, one which found that “the humor to which he pays lip service rarely lightens the repetitive load”, and another remarking “[f]or a book billed as humorous, there’s a lot of material that is primarily angry and confrontational.”

Eyebrow raising incidents are another commonality of these kindred spirits. For the lonely, teenaged atheist, it was her very possession of THA that “got a couple of raised eyebrows from teachers”. For the lonely, middle-aged Fifth Horseman, a comment by George F. Will certainly “will raise a few eyebrows.” Myers also shares a fictional tale of a confrontation between a scientist and a philopsoher, the former who incredulously “raises an eyebrow” at the assertions of the latter.

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A Chance Granfalloon
It’s no surprise that Myers’ recycled essays resonated with a Hoosier. PZ spent his freshmen year of college at DePauw University in Greencastle IN, and occasionally returns to that very red, very christian state to speak. Indiana is often promient in Myers’ thoughts, such as when when he posted an anonymous letter from “an Indiana high school science teacher”, and when he spoke of “moron” Hoosiers in his post In Indiana, It’s Not Just The Lawmakers Who Are Idiots, It’s The Media, Too.

In I’m So Sorry For You, Indiana, Myers’ sheds a crocodile tear over the state’s passing of an Intelligent Design law, before sneering, “[b]ut then, you elected this profoundly stupid man to be your governor.”  PZ cracks one of his trademark hilarious jokes at the expense of Elwood Indiana, suggesting the proud “Heart of Hoosierland” rename itself “Peckerwood” for erecting a nativity scene.

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Like Two Prodigies in a Pod
Indiana Girl displays a maturity well beyond her years. It’s almost as if she perceives herself an adult. Instead of referring to ‘the other kids’, she describes her fellow (albeit vastly inferior and stupid) classmates as “brainwashed children” and “confused teenagers.” Take also Indiana Girl’s choice of “cool”, an especially thoughtful way to praise Myers by adopting the antiquated slang of his own teenage years.

Most 15 year olds would’ve included mundane details of their daily routine, mentioned how they came upon the book, and given specific instances of how it inspired them. Indiana Girl is unique. She thoughtfully crafts her note to inspire PZ Myers, lauding his virtues while downplaying the many, many criticisms leveled against him. Indiana Girl realizes, too, it’s not about her. What’s most important is that PZ continues to voice his opinion to the world.

Here we have a young teen, just embarking on a life journey full of trepidation and uncertainty, giving a pep talk to a 57 year old at the slag-end of a disappointing career, discouraged that his only published book, a compilation of old blog posts, was thoroughly trashed by reviewers and has sold only 4,000 copies. It’s okay, Mr. Myers, she reassures him, I think you’re cool. I’m just like you, and if I can make it through, so can you. Keep spreading the word. Oh, and come rescue me from Indiana — I’ll be legal in 2016.

Should we really doubt that this young prodigy reached out to the author of the book that saved her, and with whom she shares so many, many traits in common? Bravo, PZ Myers — this letter is a testament to your true writing ability! All we can do is “just laugh.”

(c) 2014 by Matt Cavanaugh. All rights reserved.

The Verbose Tao of Obscurantism

(440 words)

I’ve been following the protracted discussion between Eric MacDonald and Jerry Coyne & his readers. Sparked by MacDonald’s post, In which I take my leave from the new atheism, it spreads overs hundreds of comments at Coyne’s site and MacDonald’s Choice in Dying.

Out of the initial dispute, a broader conflict has arisen: MacDonald complains that many new atheists refuse to engage sophisticated theologians on a philosophical level; the new atheists complain sophisticated theologians make no sense. Read more theology, MacDonald urges; make more sense, the new atheists reply.

One salient aspect of the debate: a whole lotta words. MacDonald’s comments are rarely less than a few hundred words while a few, nearing 1,000 words, exceed his original post.

I spent many years in corporate marketing, frequently performing copy writing and copy editing. We’d create the ‘elevator speech,’ a standard, brief spiel about the company, its products & services, that every employee could use. A ‘pyramid’ principle allowed us to coherently & comprehensively relate a message or story in a thousand, 500, 250, or 25 words, with the apex a slogan of a few words. I wrote or edited hundreds of customer success stories, each with 1,000, 500, and 125 word versions. A big-name client might earn 1,500 words.

Before internet self-publishing and blogging, print production provided the hard constraint of limited column-inches to drive economy of words. A standard three-fold brochure, capable of describing an entire product line or service, should contain no more than 800-900 words with visual elements.

Nowadays, as a professional horse trainer & riding instructor, I find clarity & conciseness in communication just as vital. Western koans are often employed. The guiding principle of my school of training is: do as little as possible, but as much as necessary.

Eric MacDonald’s maxim seems to be: write as much as possible, and more than necessary. It seems a near-universal trait among contemporary philosophers and theologians to be intentionally verbose & obscurant, to toss about undefined neologisms, then to complain that us plebs ‘just don’t get it.’

MacDonald’s willingness to engage us indicates his earnest desire to help us comprehend his positions. But for many sophisticated philosophers, I suspect it’s just a way to condescend and feel smug.

This doesn’t have to be. Buddhist teachers, writing for a western audience, seem capable of clearly & concisely conveying ineffable concepts such as impermanence — even ineffability itself. Where is the sophisticated theology version of: ‘If you ever meet the Buddha, kill him’?

Parsimony in writing is a virtue. If MacDonald is unable to get across his point in twenty-five words or less, more words from more authors will not improve matters.

(c) 2014 by Matt Cavanaugh. All rights reserved.

Sex-Free Evolutionary Biology

In his recent Youtube video, Atheism-plus adherent, HJ Hornbeck, made the astonishing claim that male and female sexes — not just gender, but sex — are just a social construct and don’t physically exist. In his comments responding to my critique of his video, Hornbeck boasted that he could provide an explanation for all phenotypic expressions in animal life, including physical traits and behavior, that did not require the assumption that binary sex exists.

As Hornbeck’s understanding of genetics & evolution seems to have come exclusively from the writings of existentialist philosophers, gender studies classes, the Transgender Manifesto, and cursory skims of wikipedia entries, Hornbeck can’t realize the full magnitude of the task he’s taken on. The entire body of work done on genetics & evolution for the past 155 years will need to be discarded. A-Plus theorists like Hornbeck will need to find new solutions to the riddles previously unraveled by darwinian evolutionary biologists.

It’s only fair, then, that those of us more science-literate than HJ help him identify especially problematic areas of his endeavor. I have begun by posing three questions on subjects, the orthodox solutions for which invoke binary sexual reproduction. There are many others, and I encourage my science-minded readers to submit more in the comment section. It is also hoped that Hornbeck (or his fellow Atheism-plus activists) take this opportunity to tackle these questions directly and succinctly, as otherwise, his claims will be perceived as the ignorant ravings of an anti-science crackpot.

Note: For the purposes of this discussion, I ask that comments be confined to either posing or answering of this line of questions.

Now for the questions…

*
1) Evolutionary Biologists identify one great advantage that sexual reproduction has over asexual, despite the greater costs inherent in the former.

Q1a: What is this one great advantage?

Q1b: Why, in your opinion, is Science wrong about this?

*
2) Ethologists explain animal behaviors such as altruism and kin selection via genetics. In social insects like bees, female workers do not reproduce, rather devote themselves to raising the queen’s offspring, even sacrificing their lives — when stinging — to protect the hive. This behavior perplexed Darwin, but R.A. Fisher first formulated an explanation, based on the particular mechanics of sexual reproduction in eusocial insects.

Q2a: What was Fisher’s solution?
Q2b: Provide an explanation for this behavior that does not involve sexual reproduction.

*
3) In humans, hemophilia is observed to affect only male offspring, while passed down matrilineally. The scientific explanation for this involves the sex chromosomes.

Q3a: Briefly explain the mechanics of the orthodox explanation.
Q3b: Provide an alternate explanation that does not invoke sex.

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Update March 6, 2014: Question #4

Over at the lively discussion on gender graciously hosted by Ally Fogg, commenter Guestus Aurelius poses the followying question for HJ Hornbeck:

All or almost all gonochoric species, including humans, exhibit a statistically very significant binary clustering of genotypic and phenotypic sex characteristics. There’s nothing arbitrary about this clustering—biologists have explained it as a secondary evolutionary byproduct of gametic dimorphism, and this big-picture view is crucial for understanding much of the planet’s biodiversity. Naturally, it’s useful for biologists to define terms in ways that enable them to discuss these phenomena. According to the biological definitions of terms like “male,” “female,” “sex,” and “sexual dimorphism,” our species has two sexes—male and female—and is sexually dimorphic, even though some individuals who constitute a small proportion of the population aren’t unambiguously one sex or the other.

Question: Do you dispute anything in that paragraph?

To date, Hornbeck has declined to reply.

Evidence-Free Feminism

It’s that time of the year again, when A-plussers gather to lecture the rest of the world on how to be good atheists with a conscience. The online chats  FtBconScience event allows them to showcase their amateurish presentation skills, the idiocy of their PoMo constructs, the vapidity of their silly little minds. Like last year’s inaugural FtBcon, the 2014 edition featured a range of talks having little or nothing to do with atheism, skepticism, or science, but a whole lot about pretentious, privileged fools rambling on about social injustices, real or imagined.

More than a few minutes of such droning & mewling is torture to any reasoning person. One presentation, however — Evidence Based Feminism by HJ Hornbeck — caught my eye, so I decided to watch it in its entirety.

I wondered whether Hornbeck, a podcaster and former college freethought activist, might attempt to substantiate rad fem concepts like Teh Patriarchy™ and Rape Culture™, considering, not only has no real evidence ever been presented for their existence, they are, as currently defined, unfalsifiable. To my disappointment, Hornbeck merely sought to prove that men & women are equal. Not under the law, mind you, but equal because there are no real differences between men & women. Not in performance, cognition, behavior, nothing. Much to my surprise — and contra everything I’d previously been taught from high school biology on — I learned from Hornbeck’s talk that there aren’t even any substantive physiological or genetic differences between males and females. Mostly due to the fact that males and females don’t actually exist.

_
A  Brief  Truncated History of Sex Research

Hornbeck begins his presentation by stating “For over 100 years science has been studying culture and gender. For twice as long, feminism has also been making claims about culture and gender.” (Note: when quoting, I will primarily draw on Hornbeck’s prepared script.)

For this “feminist view of gender,” Hornbeck quotes Simone de Beauvoir, who “the vast majority of the feminist movement still agrees with:”

“The biological and social sciences no longer admit the existence of unchangeably fixed entities that determine given characteristics, such as those ascribed to woman, the Jew, or the Negro. … But does the word woman, then, have no specific content? This is stoutly affirmed by those who hold to the philosophy of the enlightenment, of rationalism, of nominalism; women, to them, are merely the human beings arbitrarily designated by the word woman.”

We’re already off to a bad start, as this is somewhat obtuse to serve as a formal assertion of claims. It’s also peculiar that Hornbeck has chosen a philosopher to bat lead-off in what was promised as a scientific inquiry. De Beauvoir’s quote comes from her introduction to The Second Sex, and if we explore further there, we find “[a]ll agree in recognising the fact that females exist in the human species; today as always they make up about one half of humanity.” As de Beauvoir also acknowledges the physiological dimorphism between the sexes, we can surmise (though Hornbeck never clarifies) that ‘womanhood‘ is a social concept distinct from anatomical ‘femaleness.’

Hornbeck next takes us on a herky-jerky survey of almost a century of research into sex-based differences in performance and behavior. He begins with Helen Woolley’s 1914 study of fifty individuals, which found several sex differences, followed by the 1927 survey by Florence Goodenough (inventor of the pseudo-scientific Draw-A-Man Test) who found different differences, but concluded: “the practical import of sex differences in mental traits is negligible, since the amount of overlapping is so great that the small differences between the sexes are completely overshadowed by the great variations found to exist between members of the same sex.” Then on to a 1930 review by Harvey Lehman and Paul Witty, critical of methodologies of previous studies. (Lehman’s own methodology has been criticized as “flawed” and “unsophisticated.”)

Hornbeck is thrown off track a bit when he gets to Lewis Terman’s 1946 Psychological Sex Differences. Terman (mentor to Goodenough, btw) proposed a biological, hormone-fueled cause for sex differences, which Hornbeck “senses” must have been a “minority position” for the time. Hornbeck appears unaware that Terman was a eugenicist, that the US was the birthplace of eugenics, or that, according to the Cesspool of Lies, during the first half of the last century “[e]ugenics was widely accepted in the U.S. academic community. By 1928 there were 376 separate university courses in some of the United States’ leading schools, enrolling more than 20,000 students, which included eugenics in the curriculum.”  (Dude — Google is your friend.)

We then fast-forward to a 1974 study by Maccoby & Jacklin, The Psychology of Sex Differences, which apparently found none, and 1981 & 1988 papers by feminist and Gender Studies lecturer, Janet Shibley Hyde, corroborating said lack of findings.

His exhaustive survey completed, Hornbeck can only scratch his head (which he does, for effect.) “Whatever your stance, we find ourselves in a very weird place. It’s been over one hundred years since Woolley’s crack at the subject, yet we still don’t have a consensus on gender differences. Even the meta-analyses I’ve covered don’t always agree.”

“How can we conclude anything from this mess?” he muses, before launching into an obtuse, completely non-sensical, & ballistically inaccurate analogy about firing ranges. “If we were unbiased and accurate,” Hornbeck surmises,

“we’d have long settled the sex difference question. If we were biased, or the differences were small, or our tools were inaccurate, then we’d have results all over the map. But the vast literature and use of meta-analyses rule out inaccurate tools, and the wild clusters of different and shifting conclusions point to significant bias. So De Beauvoir called it; either the differences are so small they can be treated as non-existent, or we’re biased and in need of a shrink.”

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Hornbeck’s Razor

Such is what passes for a logical thought process in A-Plusdom. Behold Hornbeck’s Razor:

‘Conflicting evidence is evidence of your preferred conclusion.’

Apart from this horrific illogic, Hornbeck relies too heavily on an handful of meta-studies.  For one, analyses of crap studies will yield equally crap results. Second, “wild clusters” of data points are to be expected when one compiles 80-, 90- 100 year-old studies by everyone from eugenicists, to New Deal reformers, to radical feminists, all of whom employed shoddy methods, were prone to profound observational bias, and collected data from minute sample sizes.

Most egregious, Hornbeck’s cursory review examined only psych & humanities studies, and stops in 1988. Had Hornbeck looked at any of the copious behavioral research of the past quarter century, performed by real scientists using proper methods, he’d have uncovered a strong consensus that significant sex-based differences in cognition and behavior do exist. For example:

  • A 2103 University of Pennsylvania study showing “striking differences” in how the neural nets are wired in male vs. female brains;
  • A 2012 University of Turin study of 10,000 individuals which “using new and more accurate methods to measure and analyze personality differences” found differences that were “extremely large … by any psychological standard” and concluded that “the true extent of sex differences in human personality has been consistently underestimated…. The idea that there are only minor differences between the personality profiles of males and females should be rejected as based on inadequate methodology”;
  • A 2008 Northwestern / University of Haifa study using fMRI to study language abilities: “For the first time and in unambiguous findings, researchers show both that brain areas associated with language work harder in girls during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on very different parts of the brain when performing these tasks. Language processing is more abstract in girls, more sensory in boys”;
  • Multiple studies documenting “robust” sex differences in spacial ability, including at least one, by UCLA in 2008, detecting significant differences in children as young as five months of age.

As a rule, Hornbeck automatically rejects as invalid any research reporting sex differences. Why? Because, pace Feyman, the science industry only publishes “spectacular” findings. Barring any examples (and Hornbeck provides none,) this is just desperate special pleading for his favored results.

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FtB Con(tra)Science

Having dismissed conventional scientific practices, Hornbeck expounds on his own methodology for exploring the very existence of sex-based attributes. Unlike tallness — which displays distinct dimorphism — Hornbeck claims things like math skills, spatial ability, behavior, are too inchoate to correlate with one sex or the other.

“How would you establish their existence? Suppose I assert that all women possess vaginas, and find that out of 100 women, 100 possess vaginas. Have I demonstrated that the 101st woman will possess a vagina? Nope. How about a million? A billion? For what value of X do I demonstrate that example X+1 possesses a vagina, and why do I fail at example X-1?”

The antithesis of evidence-based reasoning, one might note, but Hornbeck is on a roll. On a shakily held tablet thrust at the camera, Hornbeck flips through a series of unlabeled, unexplained graphs to expose every statistically significant sex difference as irrelevant.

Hornbeck invents a new measure of sex differences, which I’ll call Guessability. “[I]f I was to hand you someone’s height, you should be able to predict their sex,” Hornbeck informs us, with 83% accuracy, as 83% of the time a given man is taller than a given woman. Leaning on his handful of favorite meta-studies, Hornbeck exposes alleged cognitive differences as unguessable:

  • Mathematical skill — 51/49 (&/or 60/40)
  • Spacial ability — 54/46
  • Risk-taking — 58/42
  • Sexual indiscretions — 56/44
  • Nurturing behavior — 54/46
  • Mental rotation — 61/39

Hornbeck is shocked that the Guessability “failure rate” for the latter is 39%. “How can they state ‘men are significantly better at mental rotation,’ then?” Umm, because the data were statistically significant? Oh, pshaw! Statistical methods are irrelevant, avers Hornbeck. What really matters, he informs us while patting his heart, is whether something is “personally significant … in our messy everyday lives.”

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No Causes

Next comes a systematic debunking of all possible non-social causal factors for sex differences.

Brain Structure
The fMRI studies mentioned above are worthless, Hornbeck opines. Why? Because the Guessability quotient is only 60%, and besides, neural imaging is shit as it provides too much data. Hornbeck correctly notes that one possibility is that social roles might “[cause] our brain’s to rewire and adapt.” Employing Hornbeck’s Razor, he decides that because this hasn’t been ruled out, it must be so.

Hormones
Hornbeck cites two examples proving that hormones can’t be a factor:

  • Of 40 studies on PMS, 24 found a “relation between mood and menstruation” and 16 didn’t. Per Hornbeck’s Razor, “PMS probably doesn’t exist”;
  • The “streak gonads” of intersex XY females (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) “pump out the same level of testosterone compounds you’d find in a man — and yet, no-one would dare call these people men.”

Genes
Genes are ruled out as possible agents, because: evo psych. Hornbeck commences by trashing evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers’ groundbreaking work on parental investment and sex ratios in animals, for his “unnecessary” assumption that “there are only two sexes, fundamentally different from one another.”

Trivers is a well-respected contributor to the field of ethology, and it’s unclear exactly what Hornbeck’s real beef is beyond the violation of the Social Justice dogma of Gender Spectrum™. Perhaps it was Trivers’ glowing introduction to the first edition of Satan’s Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene? Or his enthusiasm for evo psych? Maybe what rankles Hornbeck most is Trivers’ writings on self-deception.

The origin of Hornbeck’s loathing for evolutionary psychologist David Buss is more obvious. For Buss makes strong assertions that behavioral differences between males & females are adaptive.  Hornbeck also takes issue with Buss’ claim that significant sex differences should be found in spatial ability. Buss’ “cherry-picking”, Hornbeck insists, “completely ignores” cognitive psychologist Daniel Voyer’s 1995 meta-study “which as I showed earlier found a difference small enough to be explained by social factors.” Voyer’s paper lies behind a paywall, but the abstract states: “Results showed that sex differences are significant in several tests but that some intertest differences exist. Partial support was found for the notion that the magnitude of sex differences has decreased in recent years.” (My emphasis.)  On his professional page, Voyer cites his own research showing significant variations in guessing behavior, accuracy in self-perception of performance, and on certain spatial tests.

A few minutes are spent indulging in a gratuitous pummeling of a straw man Hornbeck labels “evo psych”. As a ‘gotcha!’ he presents a study (Conley et al., 2011) which “found that women preferred attractive men to wealthy men [and] that men ignored whether or not a woman was fertile when deciding to share the sack,” something Strawman McEvopsych says can’t be true.

Schmitt, et al. (2012) point to serious mistakes in Conley et al.’s statistical methods, and their failure to properly understand the claims of evolutionary psychologists. For example:

“Sexual-strategies theory does not predict that most men will seek large numbers of partners or that few women will seek short-term mates …. Rather, it predicts that when men are actively seeking short-term mates, they should tend to seek larger numbers of sexual partners than women should when they are actively seeking short-term mates…. When examined in this proper context, repeated cross-cultural tests have shown that men’s and women’s desired number of sex partners are not the same; for example, … about 25% of men but only 5% of women want ‘more than one’ sexual partner in the next month.”

“But there’s a bigger problem here”, Hornbeck trudges on. “No other animal has the genetic code I do, and given how many possible genomes there are, none probably ever will.” Meaning every individual is unique. So lumping people into binary categories is wrong. And since Hornbeck’s body contains X chromosomes, how can you say he’s male? “On the flip side, you don’t need a Y chromosome to make a man,” he reveals. For, though exceedingly rare, XX males (de la Chapelle Syndrome, birth incidence 1:20,000) do exist. By this point, Hornbeck’s concept of what constitutes a sex is even more foggy than de Beauvoir’s.

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No More Sex!

Having disposed of any possible physiological causes for sex differences, Hornbeck brings his talk to a climax by disposing of physiological sex entirely.

First, he scolds hard scientists for shifting the goal posts: “Contemporary research has abandoned gender differences in favor of sex differences.” People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, HJ. While the humanities may have endlessly hemmed and hawed over terminology and the relation between ‘woman‘ and ‘female‘, ‘sex‘ and ‘gender‘, real scientists have been talking about just sex all along. Mendel studied sexual reproduction. Haldane and Fisher calculated sex ratios and sex selection. WIlliams and Hamilton explored the cost:benefit payoffs of kin selection and mating behaviors.

A bit earlier, Hornbeck presented a fantasy version of the history of sex, beginning with Plato, where either hermaphrodites were accepted as an (extinct) third sex, or there was just one sex, with women being defective versions of men whose heads were genitals. “The assertion that there are exactly two sexes is pretty new.” Hornbeck does not share his sources for his data on the sex concepts of prehistoric humans or early hominids.

While “some branches of feminism [are] content with sex differences,” all the folks HJ hangs out with are not. So he accepts the assertion of the Transfeminist Manifesto “that sex and gender are both socially constructed; furthermore, the distinction between sex and gender is artificially drawn as a matter of convenience.”

There can be no sex differences, Hornbeck concludes, because there are no different sexes. Feminism is true, QED.

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Cleaning Up the Mess

After such a total bollox of a good topic, is there any way we can sort out the mess? We must first begin by reviewing where Hornbeck went wrong.

– Hornbeck is overly enamored of meta-studies. While they can be helpful when dealing with surveys of miniscule samples (as behavioral studies so often are), meta-studies have their own drawbacks. They risk skewing or blurring results by averaging across demographics, combining antipodal biases, and mixing good methodologies with the bad. Culling and weighting the subject studies is prone to the bias of the person conducting the meta.

Hornbeck was also remiss in relying exclusively on research from the social sciences and humanities, and older ones at that, while ignoring more recent research conducted under more rigorous standards. He fails to address meta-analyses contrary to his premises, like Reilly & Neumann’s (2013) which casts doubt on certain models of social-based sex differences.  Most peculiar is his neglect of the mother of all meta-studies, Ellis, et al.’s Sex Differences: Summarizing More Than a Century of Scientific Research (2009) which reviews all 18,000 sex difference studies ever conducted, and examines over fifty parameters, including: aggression, altruism, competitiveness, conformity, emotions, language. mental illness, motor coordination, neurotransmitters, odor discrimination, pain perception, self-assessment, sexual desires, spatial ability, substance abuse, etc.

– Seemingly driven to find evidence that any observed sex differences are purely the result of social factors, Hornbeck forgets it’s rarely an either-or proposition. While social factors do seem at play in many cases of sex differences, social science researchers have yet to glean them out of the raw data. Brain science researchers are tackling the problem from the other end, by trying to quantify the extent to which a given difference is caused by physiological factors. Hornbeck also neglects that social constructs don’t form in a vacuum. Stereotypes of male vs. female abilities likely originated as exaggerated, codified versions of natural, observed differences.

– Hornbeck displays a glaring ignorance — common for SJWs — of genetics and embryology. Especially naive is pointing to intersex conditions as evidence against two sexes. I’ve previously discussed intersex disorders at length, but suffice it to note here that these are malfunctions, not variations, of sex determinant processes.

– The assertion, that the concept of binary sexes is new, is absurd. For the past 900 million years, there have been but two sexes in our lineage. Before that, there was only one. Female and male bodies must perform numerous disparate tasks. Any differentiation by sex would be adaptive, thus favored by evolution. And forget about hunters vs. gatherers, pal: binary sex is ancient.

– By dismissing statistical significance, a bedrock of sound research, as irrelevant to his ‘messy personal life’, Hornbeck reveals himself as anti-science at heart. His narrow perspective — the nuances of contemporary culture, and but a slice of that — blind him to the broader, evolutionary perspective. And minute, relative advantages are what drive evolution. A gene that conferred a .05% greater chance of survival than its alleles would rapidly proliferate. Some of the variances found in recent studies, which Hornbeck poo-poos, are massive in comparison. Natural selective pressures on humans have waned considerably in modern times. It would be interesting to see if sex differences in performance and behavior aren’t even more pronounced among animals.

– Hornbeck conflates sex and gender, using both terms interchangeably. Even if he intended to argue that they are interchangeable, he’d need to state that at the outset, and still employ the terms in a consistent fashion to avoid confusion.

– Finally, Hornbeck never made a formal assertion of his claim, accompanied by definition of terms and grounds for falsification. Any good skeptic would know to commence their argument with such a statement. But HJ Hornbeck is not a good skeptic.

What are sound arguments for equality? Ironically, the strongest may be the sex differences, for they describe overlapping bell curves. So, while most men may be better suited than most women as firefighters, for example, or fighter pilots, not all men are, and not all women are unsuited. Such exceptions to the rule preclude institutionalized restrictions or segregations. Similarly, woman may tend to be more nurturing, but that does not mean every mother should be awarded child custody over every father.

As important is simply recognizing that, while men & women may differ in certain attributes (whether due to nature or culture), those respective attributes are not necessarily objectively superior or inferior. If men & women tend toward differing styles of leadership or communication, we are doubly enriched. We can learn from each other, with a man perhaps sometimes employing a ‘female’ method of communication, while a woman might chose a ‘male’ style of leadership, and vice versa. But we first need to determine which sex differences we can change and which we need to work around, before we start discussing which ones we ought to change. The A-plussers want none of that.

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Bad Science

Having devoted five recent posts to the poor science comprehension of SJWs, (the others on predictive models, quantum mechanics, statistics on racism, and gender identity.) I can only conclude that to be a social justice warrior, you have to be bad at science. Commencing from emotionally-driven, a priori conclusions, SJWs then forage through research just long enough to pick out friendly data. Relying almost exclusively on findings from the ‘soft’ sciences & humanities, which are often little more than philosophical musings or doctrinaire polemics, SJWs rationalize away any data that conflict with their dogma (as does Hornbeck with fMRI research.)

Hornbeck worries that the research conducted by feminists will be deemed “cargo cult science.” Truth be told, Social Justice Science is little different than Creation Science. A-plussers are an embarrassment to skepticism, and we can only be thankful they go essentially unnoticed outside their online chats & little echo chambers.

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(c) 2014 by Matt Cavanaugh. All rights reserved.

 

Miri’s Sacred Models

In her recent post On Not Holding Our Models Sacred: Some Feminist Theories And Their Flaws, the blogger known as “Miri” attempts a constructive critique of “three models commonly used in social justice “ — Gender as Performance, Rape Culture, and Privilege, These are bona fide scientific models, Miri assures us:  “[a] theory or model in social science is like a theory or model in any other science. It is developed based on evidence and used to explain various phenomena.”

Acknowledging that, while quite useful, no model can ever be 100% precise, Miri encourages social justice warriors to look for flaws in these three models/theories, in hopes of improving their accuracy. Still, Miri is quick to emphasize that she comes not to bury Caesar, but to praise him:

I am not–not–saying that I think these models are completely flawed and should be thrown out. I think privilege exists. I think rape culture exists. I think gender is largely a social construct. 


Let’s first look at Miri’s critiques before offering our own.

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Gender As Performance

Miri attributes (incorrectly) the origin of the idea that we ‘perform’ or ‘do’ gender to Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, “a rather dense book” that Miri hasn’t gotten around to reading. Just as well, for Butler is a disciple of Lacan; that is to say, a purveyor of verbose, pseudo-intellectual gibberish. Besides, pretty much all you need to know about Butler’s harebrained idea can be found on her Purdue web page:

JUDITH BUTLER questions the belief that certain gendered behaviors are natural … “one’s learned performance of gendered behavior … is an act of sorts, a performance, one that is imposed upon us by normative heterosexuality….”

“… Gender reality is performative which means, quite simply, that it is real only to the extent that it is performed…”

“… Because there is neither an ‘essence’ that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender creates the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all….”

… sex is not “a bodily given on which the construct of gender is artificially imposed, but… a cultural norm which governs the materialization of bodies” …. the body becomes its gender only “through a series of acts which are renewed, revised, and consolidated through time….”

Now, just because one mentally ill person writes stuff like that does not disprove Gender as Performance (“GAP”).  Miri, however, is fairly thorough in highlighting its many shortcomings. While she feels GAP “works very well to explain why many people who do not identify particularly strongly (or at all) with masculinity and femininity feel compelled to act in masculine or feminine ways,” she admits it cannot explain “the people for whom their assigned gender role feels fitting and appropriate…” — a group also known as “most people.” Miri cites a study showing significant variances in spacial skills between boys and girls as young as four months, far too early to have developed via socialization. This is but one of a host of empirical studies that show socio-biological differences between the sexes.

GAP is also at a loss to explain trans people:

” if all gender is merely performance, the existence of trans identities makes no sense. Being socialized as a boy should make you a masculine man. Being socialized as a woman should make you a feminine woman. End of story.”

Apparently rejecting GAP after all, Miri endorses the view of MtF and activist, Julia Serano, that gender identity is a product of multiple factors, including social, biological, and environmental.

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Rape Culture

The “great introduction to rape culture” (“RC”) Miri links turns out to be a “101″ by misandrist and all-around whacko, MelIssa McEwan. McEwan begins by quoting radfem author, Emilie Buchwald:

A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm. In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes.

McEwan expressly refuses to provide “something more comprehensive and less abstract: What is the rape culture? What are its borders? What does it look like and sound like and feel like?”  Oh, you know — the kind of answers a scientific model could give you. Instead, she launches into a rambling iteration of putative manifestations of RC. They include:

  • “Fight-fucking” in movies
  • Cover art on romance novels
  • War
  • ANIMAL HOUSE
  • “Telling girls and women to be careful about … where you walk, when you walk there”
  • Self-defense classes for women
  • Pedophilia
  • Any & all rapes committed by parents, teachers, doctors, clergy, soldiers, or those evil self-defense instructors
  • The mere mention of false rape reports
  • Demanding evidence that a rape occurred
  • Roman Polanski
  • Pit bulls
  • Video games
  • Rape jokes
  • Amazon’s search feature
  • A baby’s arm holding an apple

Fem Geek Wiki adds to the list:

  • Dungeons & Dragons
  • “Almost all of Joss Whedon’s works”
  • Women in refrigerators

In other words, pretty much everything is Rape Culture. Even Buffy.

Miri admits that, prima facie, “the central premise on which the model of rape culture rests–that our society trivializes, accepts, condones, encourages, or even at times celebrates rape” does not seem to fit our western society. Neverless, she still believes we live in a RC because “it takes a lot to be considered a rapist. Often, not even undeniable evidence of rape will do it, because we keep shifting the goalposts of what rape is.”

Here, it would have been helpful for Miri to give examples and to contrast her definition of rape with society’s allegedly shifting one. Especially since feminists seem to be ones continually redefining rape, by including in their already dubious rape statistics any sexual assault and even attempted-but-failed sexual assaults. A few of Miri’s comrades have also extended the definition of rape to include verbal flirting, pouring someone a glass of wine, and OB exams.

Miri believes RC “explains the fury with which many men respond to the reminder that rape is a real horror that affects real humans.” This assertion is meaningless, as Miri fails to quantify “many men”, or provide any benchmark to measure either the intensity or prevalence of such male fury in our society. There are, of course, any number of alternate explanations why a particular man may recoil from the strident lecturing of a particular woman.

Miri sees RC in action “every time a victim of sexual assault is asked what they were wearing at the time, or when a man expects sex from a woman because she smiled at him or because he bought her a drink.” Again, quantify how often this occurs, and rule out all other possible explanations before invoking RC. Any man who expects sex just because a woman smiled at him, is not only a misfit & a freak, but an extreme rarity. And, although the purchase of drinks is a universal cue indicating sexual interest, only a cognitively-challenged person would perceive it as a guarantee of sex.

Miri’s bizarre tangent, musing whether compelling children to hug their grandparents is equivalent to rape, merits no response.

Miri is on the fence as to whether rape jokes per se are evidence of RC. “It’s the response that people get when they criticize rape jokes,” Miri believes, “that makes the strongest case. When women speak up against rape jokes, they are often ignored, ridiculed, or literally threatened with rape.”

Here, Miri errs in multiple ways. First, do not judge a culture by its trolls. Rape threats are most definitely not condoned by our society, and Miri would be hard-pressed to provide evidence beyond a smattering of examples.

Second, when women “speak up against rape jokes”, they are invariably calling for censorship of rape jokes. Their plaints will as a matter of course be “ignored or ridiculed” (read: “refuted”) by anyone who finds them unfounded.

Finally, Miri believes that when a man says he doesn’t think rape jokes are a problem, that’s proof of Rape Culture. When Miri says it, it’s constructive criticism.

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Privilege

Since Miri’s “great introduction to privilege” links to a poem, let’s turn to the ever-so-droll Geek Fem Wiki for a definition:

[A] concept used in anti-racist, anti-sexist, and similar anti-oppression movements. Anti-oppressionists use “privilege” to describe a set of advantages (or lack of disadvantages) enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess.

A feminism 101 blog elaborates on what a disgusting fuck you are for having Privilege:

Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.

Privilege strikes Miri as largely devoid of practical utility. Aside from but limited value “at the individual level”, the concept “may also fail as a model when you try to use it to explain why some people understand certain things and others don’t”, such as when women “slut-shame” other women. “But they also lack male privilege. What then?”

Though useful when discussing “other axes of marginalization”, Privilege runs into trouble when applied to gender. “Namely, there are very real disadvantages … men face because they are men.”
Male privilege is inextricably linked with The Patriarchy, an important social justice concept that Miri doesn’t address here, but enthusiastically endorses. She seems unaware that feminists long ago pulled out of their collective ass developed The Kyriarchy to compensate for The Patriarchy’s inability to explain female-over-male or male-over-male Privilege. (h/t JacquesCuze.)

Miri seems less worried about Privilege’s imprecision than its tendency to spur competition in the “oppression olympics”, with people vying to be less privileged (hence, contextually more privileged) than their peers. Her remedy is to strictly constrain how we express the concept: ‘“You have the privilege of being perceived as white, so cops don’t profile you.” Or “You have the privilege of having been born into a family with lots of money.”’

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Blue Book Value = Zero

Confident that these social justice theories can be salvaged despite their many & profound shortcomings, Miri recommends an ongoing process of critique and revision. Sadly, Gender as Performance, Rape Culture, and Privilege deserve to be sent to the scrap heap, as they are not even scientific models, much less scientific theories, to begin with.

A useful model is “a description of nature that can predict things about many similar situations.” It is based on observations, and explains those observations with as much accuracy and parsimony as possible. All models are by nature inexact, but they must be robust & flexible enough to undergo refinement & expansion to accommodate new data.

Scientific theories are no mere hunches or wild guesses, rather comprehensive explanations of the natural world, supported by copious evidence, repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.

Both models and theories are testable and make falsifiable predictions. The strength of a model or theory is largely judged by its ability to predict.

Miri’s models do not match these definitions in the slightest.

Gender as Performance fails to predict biological differences between the sexes, or the existence of trans people, and is resoundingly refuted by an extensive body of empirical data. Further, though sex-specific behavior is definitely innate in animals, GAP does not even attempt to explain how or when those traits were lost, to be completely replaced by cultural cues in humans.

Rape Culture, as formulated, is less a descriptive model than a litany of complaints, clichés and hackneyed stereotypes. It’s alleged affects cannot be quantitatively measured, nor its mechanism described. Its predictive ability is non-existent.

When attempting to apply in practice the theory of Privilege, it rapidly devolves into a tangle of relative advantages and disadvantages. In terms of predictive or descriptive powers, it offers nothing of value beyond what a modicum of social aptitude and common sense already provide. To my knowledge, it has never been used other than to browbeat opponents or to claim victim status.

LIke Rape Culture (and Patriarchy), Privilege is tautological and unfalsifiable. For, when a person questions the existence of RC (or Patriarchy), or denies that they have Privilege, that itself is taken as evidence for the existence of RC, Patriarchy, or Privilege. Further, providing “everything” as evidence is no evidence at all.

A Miri herself notes, “[a] model that is not developed based on evidence (but rather introspection or assumption) is probably not very useful, and neither is a model that can’t explain much.”  Consequently, all three social justice models should be rejected as false.

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Cargo Cult Science

It is unsurprising that social scientists — or at least those in Humanities like “Women’s-” and “Gender Studies” who fancy themselves scientists — have failed to develop functional models or theories, as they do not, on the whole, adhere to the Scientific Method. At best, they manage a sort of cargo cult, emulating the trappings of hard science without comprehending their purpose. At worst, charlatans like Butler engage in polemics or Aristotelean musings utterly divorced from the real world.

In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, E.O. Wilson’s masterful ode to the Scientific Method, he describes science as “the organized, systematic enterprise that gathers knowledge about the world and condenses the knowledge into testable laws & principles”. The hallmarks of science, as Wilson & others see them, are: 1) Repeatability; 2) Economy; 3) Mensuration; 4) Heuristics; 5) Consilience. The last meaning, not only is evidence within a field accretionary, findings in one field of study ought corroborate and enhance findings in others. Thus is biology understood through chemistry, which in turn is understood through physics. The bulk of the work being done in the social sciences fails to meet any of Wilson’s five criteria.

However earnest her desire to apply sound scientific principles, Miri falls short when she shields the sacred pillars of social justice doctrine from full scrutiny. Until she is willing to demand of them the same empirical evidence, the same descriptive & predictive powers, as real scientific models & theories possess, she’ll remain a cargo cult practitioner and promoter of baseless dogma.

(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh. All rights reserved.

“I Have Training in Historical Methods”

Young Ashley F. Miller of ThoughtFreeBlogs has written a review of Reza Aslan’s Zealot. Miller decided to give Zealot a try because: 1) Aslan is a moslem; 2) Fox News was mean to him.

Reviewing a serious work like Zealot is a bit of a departure for Miller. The usual fare at her eponymous blog consists of lists of heroines in young adult fiction, obsessing over zombie movies, and talking about how icky her period is.

But Miller feels she’s up to tackling such a grown-up subject. “I have training in historical methods” she reassures us, picked up at some point during her course work in Film Studies and Mass Communications. She’s also read “most of the popularly available books about the history of Jesus and the New Testament” and she “love[s] the history of religions.” I think we’re good to go.

For the uninitiated, Miller begins with an outline of Aslan’s/Luke-Acts’ plot, before delving into some rarified literary criticism:

“Christianity is Paul’s reimagining of historical Jesus, a sort of fanfiction version — the Fifty Shades of Grey to Jesus’ Twilight.”

Miller next applies her vaunted historical acumen. “Aslan doesn’t really address the question of Jesus’ existence,” she observes, “partially because it’s not really much of a controversy among historians”, a point on which her fellow ThoughtFree blogger, Dr. Richard Carrier, Ph.D. Columbia, OBE, Pour le Mérite, etc., etc., would surely concur.

“The book is not really new in terms of the history it offers,” Miller laments. This may have something to do with Aslan’s obdurate reluctance to stray from all extant material on the historical Jesus.

Miller is silent on Aslan’s treatment of the Jesus-Essene-Zealot connection, though she may just not care: “Unlike some, my particular atheism has no investment in the idea that a Jesus of some sort did or did not exist…” In her comments under the review, Miller does indicate her belief that Jesus was an historical figure, based on his mention in the Testimonium Flavinium, universally accepted by scholars as concrete proof. Jesus had to have been real, Miller further reasons, as “it was really James and Paul who made him a thing, and there’s decent evidence for James and Paul”, especially seeing as “James was still alive during Josephus’ life — and Josephus talks about him.” I mean, Duh.

“[B]ut it is the most readable history of first century Jerusalem that I’ve come across,” Miller happily announces. “I cannot emphasize enough how fun it was to read.” Yeah!

It’s a pleasant surprise to discover such an erudite book review coming from someone whose CV includes a gig at Dragon*Con. It compares very favorably to that of one John L. Murphy, for example. I urge all of you to read Murphy’s review of Zealot, and see for yourselves whether this college instructor’s Ph.D. in Literature, or his three decades of specialization in religious culture in Irish & Medieval fiction, can top the extensive “training in historical methods” Ashley Miller received at film school.

(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh. All rights reserved.

Carrier’s Theory of Quantum Incoherence

 
Sing the paeans!  The smartest man in the world is on the verge of solving the greatest mystery in the universe.  Dr. Richard Carrier, having definitively answered the question of whether Jesus really existed (he didn’t), having perfected atheism, now applies his inquiring mind to Cosmology.

I Think, Therefore I’m Right
Though an historian by training and a free-lance bible lecturer by profession, Carrier has divined the essence of the very structure of the universe.  He’s written a physics paper about it, and only needs a friendly physicist or two to read it over and add the physics part.

In Philosophy, Relativity and Quantum Entanglement,  Carrier, by virtue of one ontological argument, clears up all the ambiguity and paradoxes that plague Cosmology, in particular, physicists’ “inability to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity, despite nearly a century of trying.”  All we need to do is “entertain theoretical possibilities that we presently reject,” specifically:

“… that spacetime is a real entity, an object in the same way particles are objects. An objective spacetime would not have a “location” in spacetime (there need not be any “other” spacetime in which spacetime resides), but otherwise it would be a thing, subject itself to the laws of relativity and quantum mechanics.”

Fortunately, there’s a philosopher in the house to handle the ‘spacetimes within spacetimes’ recursion, as physicists can be so cavalier about causa sui.

It might seem strange to you that someone bereft of any formal training in science could so quickly unravel conundra that have vexed cosmologists for so long.  But remember that Dr. Carrier is gifted with an immense brain, ever active, relentless in its search for the truth.  What takes lesser men years of dedicated research to determine, Carrier can deduce while dunking his coffee cup into his morning donut.  Having conquered his own discipline, Dr. Carrier is gracious enough to lend his superlative cognitive abilities to others.

On a recent flight back from a New Testament roundtable in Des Moines, where he’d once again made Bart Ehrman cry in public, and scathingly corrected Acharya S on her Greek, Carrier had the opportunity to peruse a back issue of Science News, where he found three articles on quantum theory.  A twenty minute delay before landing gave Carrier the required time to ruminate on the content of these scholarly pieces and formulate his Theory of Quantum Incoherence (“QI”).

Tangled Logic
When Quantum Mechanics (“QM”) first took off in the 1930s, many of its strange predictions conflicted with Relativity, Einstein’s model of the universe.  In 1935, Einstein and two associates published a thought experiment (known as “EPR”) to expose what they saw as the absurdity of QM.  When particles become entangled via quantum interactions, they seem to exhibit what Einstein disparagingly labeled “spooky action at a distance”.  This apparent violation of causality, a cornerstone of Newtonian and relativistic physics, has been confirmed by actual experiment.  It’s all a bit confusing to the lay person.  Thankfully, Carrier gives us a very wordy primer on EPR experiments, as popular authors like Gribbin, Greene and Kaku (not to mention the Science News staff) have made such a hash of it.

QM, of course, has proved amazingly accurate, able to solve many riddles Relativity cannot.  And, the incongruity exposed by EPR has been largely mooted by quantum decoherence.  Carrier’s QI goes one step further by eliminating the need for QM entirely:

“it is theoretically possible to deductively predict all entanglement phenomena including the results of every EPR experiment, without recourse to any special theory of quantum mechanics.”

“It should be a simple matter for a physicist”, Carrier assures us, to predict the result of every entanglement in the universe by factoring certain attributes of massless bosons (not to be confused with lightweight former bosuns.)

Among the icons of the History of Science,  Carrier’s Jet Blu napkin will join Newton’s apple.  For on the back of it, Carrier first scribbled:

EP1: Relativity theory is true.

EP2: If relativity theory is true, then objects traveling at the speed of light relative to other objects pass zero time and are contracted in the direction of motion to zero length.

CN1: Therefore, spacetime always travels at the speed of light relative to a massless boson.

CN2: Therefore, on a boson’s entire path from emitter to detector, spacetime passes zero time and is contracted in the direction of that boson’s motion to zero length.

CN3: Therefore any entangled pair of massless bosons simultaneously occupies every point in space from emitter to detectors and any signal between them passes instantaneously.

Carrier’s stunning discovery:  the entire universe is one giant Einstein-Bose condensate.

The Great Brane
Dispensing with Kaluza and Riemann, rejecting the seminal work of Veneziano, Schwarz, Green, Susskind, Nambu and others that indicated either 10 or 26 space-time dimensions,  Carrier observes:

“it is known that spacetime allows motion in only three dimensions of space and one of time, yet there is no known reason why this restriction should obtain. Theoretically the number of dimensions can and should be infinite (in the absence of anything to restrict the number, the principle of indifference entails the number should be unrestricted).”

Witten’s M-Theory, which adds precisely one additional compacted spacial dimension to elegantly merge all five working string theories, therefore does not obtain.

The Principle of Indifference is a bit of epistemology stating that, in the absence of any reason to expect one event rather than another, all the possible events should be assigned the same probability.  A key component of Bayesian analysis, Carrier’s forté, it’s virtually unknown to physicists. Which explains why their research has been dead in the water these past 78 years.

Out Riding Fences With The Spacetime Cowboy
Carrier can identify “only three logically possible explanations” why spacetime is “restricted to only a specific number of dimensions.”

The first, that particles possess properties prohibiting them from traveling into all but three of the infinite dimensions, he rejects as a “completely novel ad hoc hypotheses for which there is no evidence.”  Those messy Dirichlet boundary conditions can now be ignored.

The second, that the objects in the other infinite dimensions coordinate to ‘push’ our particles into place, “entails an improbability that is beyond astronomical.”  (Or, by definition, precisely astronomical.)  Carrier is engaging in some fairly complex number-crunching here, so It’s unclear to the lay reader whether Carrier has just disproved Wheeler’s multiverse, or is merely a bit queasy about contemplating Hilbert spaces.

The only logically possible conclusion resulting from Carrier’s Aristotelean examination is:

“[S]pacetime is an objective entity and thus can, like any object (e.g. the surface of an apple), have a fixed number of dimensions as an innate property of its structure. This requires no novel ad hoc hypotheses, since the one entity being proposed (a real spacetime) is observed, and therefore is in evidence. It is also vastly simpler than the other two alternatives.”

Only four (or perhaps ten) dimensions can exist “because dimensions are objectively real and, as with any objectively real objects, there can therefore be a finite number of them.”  Thus through philosophy does Carrier neatly reconcile Einsteinian spacetime with QM, something the p-braned Wang, Polchinski, et al. could never have sorted out.

Having first stated “Relativity theory” as a given, Carrier then cleverly disproves General Relativity:

“In any event, there is no logical connection between spacetime being shaped a certain way, and objects being thereby forced to move along that shape a certain way, so positing that gravity just is the shape of spacetime is actually a non-explanation of gravity as a force.”

Whether Carrier’s intention was to also to cast doubt on the existence of Calibi-Yau manifolds is unclear.  In any event, String theory is just a minor embellishment of Cosmology, a sprig of parsley to its rib-eye, so Carrier wastes little time discussing it.

Savior to Science
It is indeed odd that entire generations of great scientists, from Bohr, Fermi, Heisenberg, Dirac & Pauli, to Wheeler, Feynman, Gell-Mann, Weinberg & Hawking, to today’s talented young crop, were unable to figure out any of this.  It can’t just be that their brains weren’t as big as Dr. Carrier’s  — no one’s is.  One common denominator jumps out:  all of these physicists had degrees in … Physics!  In contrast, Dr. Carrier holds a Ph.D. in Ancient History from Columbia, the most prestigious school in America.  Now we see how it was possible for Carrier, in the time from when the stewardess took his empty cup to the lighting-up of the fasten seat-belts sign, to recognize that the missing piece to the puzzle was philosophy!

We are privileged to live in the Age that gave birth to the brightest star ever to grace the firmament of great minds.  We stand before the door leading to complete understanding of the universe.  Dr. Carrier’s theory of Quantum Incoherence is the key that will unlock it.

All QI needs is some impressive-looking formulae to lend an air of authenticity. Say, something like

bayes_formula

Any number of physicists, grateful for Carrier’s gift of Salvation to their inept, rudderless field, would surely do the maths gratis.

 

(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh.  All rights reserved.

On Trusting Experts

Over at our sibling site, Skepticism First, the ever-stimulating Metalogic42 raises a fascinating question — on what basis do we accept or reject the authority of academic experts?   How does the reliability of theology, biology, climate science, philosophy, feminism, evo psych — all fields comfortably ensconced in academia — compare?

As children, we laughed at the pun concluding that an expert is “an unknown drip.”  But rejecting all expert opinion simply because some proclaimed (or self-proclaimed) experts are unreliable, is specious.  It becomes a form of solipsism, little more than an excuse for wishful thinkers to ignore inconvenient evidence.  Unquestioning deference to “the authorities” is no better.

How, then, can a reasoning person evaluate the expertise of an academic field?  Following are a few suggestions:

1) What methodology the field is grounded on.  Biology, climate science, are based on the Scientific Method.  In contrast, Theology is but free-wheeling reflection on unproven, a priori assumptions.  For most of its history, psychology relied on aristotelean musings completely divorced from physiology.  Only in recent years have an handful of economists attempted to apply rigorous scientific practice;

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2) Concurrence within the field.  Much hay has been made of famous rows between scientists.  Yet Gould & Dawkins still agreed on the fundamental principles of Evolution.  Biologists don’t debate the existence of meiosis.  Even Hoyle believed in the phenomenon of red shifts that so rocked his world.

In contrast, economics has as many incompatible schools as religion has sects.  Theologians might all agree that it’s a good use of time to ponder the mind of God, but they’ll never agree on which God’s mind, or what God is thinking.  I have an history book on my shelf saying Grant was a genius, next to one that Grant was a bumbling fool.  (The former is far more persuasive.)

A good rule of thumb: If a particular field produces wildly incompatible claims, then not just any expert in that field can be trusted without question;

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3) Motive.  Good inquiry looks for answers to explain data; other fields look for data to support a priori conclusions;

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4) Rigor.  Are all the experts in a field playing by the same rules, and are those rules designed to foster precision and accuracy?  Can conclusions be falsified?  As a litmus, contrast what one must do before publishing a paper on field theory in physics vs. one on field theory in sociology;

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5) Results.  The ability to predict is a measure of reliability.  Climate scientists have been depressingly accurate.  Climate change deniers have no predictive model whatsoever; they only nitpick.  Quantum physicists were dead right about what would happen if you blew up an atomic bomb.  Not only did they correctly surmise that the Higgs boson existed, they knew where to look for it.

In contrast, psychiatry (& ur-psych) spent a century or more taking random shots in the dark attempting to cure a disease, the cause of which they were clueless about.  (See Jonathan Miller’s mini-series, Madness, for the gory details of their crude fumblings.)  Then followed in succession: immersions; the talking cure; crude surgery; shot-gun administering of drugs; on to rolfing, gestalt, & regression therapies — all essentially pulled out of the practitioner’s ass.  Only now are recent advances in chemistry and physiology unlocking the secrets of mental illness, thus rescuing ‘the only medical profession to have never cured a single patient’;

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6) Consilience with other fields.  Biology is explained by chemistry, chemistry by physics.  Caporael’s thesis that rye ergot caused the ‘possessions’ in Salem Village neatly merged biology, climate study, horticulture & pharmacology with history & culture.  On the other hand, when postulating motives of individual actors, most economists run afoul of the established findings of human behaviorists.  Gender Studies willfully ignores genetics & embryology, for starters.  Pseudo-sciences conflict not only with established science, but with each other.

 

Now for some general observations on social sciences:

* They’re largely interpretations of facts, and interpretations vary in merit.  No historian questions whether the battle of Marathon took place.  Most uncritically accept the testimony that a tiny Greek army defeated a vast horde (up to 1,000,000) of Persians.  Delbrück, applying his critical methodology, estimated the Persian strength at c. 6,000, or slightly smaller than the Greeks;

* Archeologists both uncover evidence and interpret it.  That Crete was home to a thriving, neolithic culture is irrefutable; Gimbutas’ fantasies about it, laughable;

* Extreme, controversial positions sell books.  Goldhagen insists every German knew about the Holocaust, Irving denies that even Hitler did, yet neither adds much to our understanding of the subject.  Hard science grants far less latitude for enfants terrible.  Gould liked to twist the tiger’s tail with iconoclastic postulates.  But he never proposed something as outlandish as neo-Lamarckism;

* Any field with the word “Studies” in its name is suspect, almost certainly a legacy of the 60′s & 70′s, and usually little more than a grist mill for identity politics resentment.  Why no “Southpaws’ Studies” or “Ginger Studies”?

* Philosophy once meant any inquiry into the nature of things.  Whereas modern Science in its 400-odd years has solved every riddle it’s tackled, philosophy’s had over two millennia and still hasn’t gotten a damn thing right.  Science is rapidly sorting out emotions & human nature, too, leaving philosophy jobless and pointless;

* Po-Mo and its bastard children, such as deconstructionism and gender feminism, are tautological shams perpetrated by charlatans with their proof of concept limited to ‘because I say it’s so.’  They dismally fail to meet any of the criteria above.

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Finally, a word on Creationism. (No one, btw, refers to it as Creationology.)  The other day on the radio, I heard some biblical literalists tackling the question of dinosaurs in scripture.  Turns out, the hebrew word used in Genesis to describe “great sea creatures” also sometimes refers to “fearsome dragons.”  So yes, they concluded, with a great sigh of relief, the bible does indeed mention “terrible lizards.”  With reasoning like that, they’d be better off sticking to blind faith.


(c) 2013 by Matt Cavanaugh.  All rights reserved.

Why “Neat”?

For most non-believers, a lack of religious beliefs is a simple fact about them, like being left-handed or green-eyed.  Far from embracing some complex belief system, they are a-theist: without belief in deities.

Despite the frantic efforts of religious apologists to frame atheism as ‘just another dogma’, atheism is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.

While atheists are becoming increasingly vocal about their beliefs, and encourage others to question the existence of gods, this is not the same as faith-based proselytization.  A skeptical assessment of the evidence for deities will invariably lead one to the conclusion that deities do not exist.  One arrives at atheism via reason and logic, not blind acceptance.

Surprisingly, there’s a tiny group of non-believers who, like the apologists, wish to define atheism as a dogmatic crusade.  They call their movement “Atheism-Plus”, the “plus” being the addition of certain political & social causes, which they insist no true atheist can fail to advocate.

We reject the propositions put forth by religious apologists and A-plussers alike.  Hence, “Atheism Neat”, as in not diluted or mixed with other substances.  I take my atheism like my bourbon: neat.

“Neat” has a second connotation: marked by ingenuity and skill.  We hope the reader will detect at least a splash of those qualities in the words and ideas presented here.