Here are a few of the books written by Michael Shermer currently sitting on my bookshelf (or in my Kindle):
- The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths
- Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time
- How We Believe, 2nd Edition: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God
Shermer was recently accused of sexism by Ophelia Benson, a columnist who is probably best known in the atheist community for her Butterflies and Wheels blog on the Freethought Blogs network. Benson wrote:
The main stereotype in play, let’s face it, is that women are too stupid to do nontheism. Unbelieving in God is thinky work, and women don’t do thinky, because “that’s a guy thing.”In his response, Shermer notes that he was quoted inaccurately and out of context. And he takes the additional step of pointing out the problems with some of Benson's more common tactics regarding labeling those with whom she disagrees as sexists and misogynists. I recommend that anyone not completely burned out by the "atheism plus" and "freethought bullies" stuff take the time to read Shermer's article. I do not imagine that you will agree with every word of it, but it is certainly thought-provoking.
Don’t laugh: Michael Shermer said exactly that during a panel discussion on the online talk-show The Point. The host, Cara Santa Maria, presented a question: Why isn’t the gender split in atheism closer to 50-50? Shermer explained, “It’s who wants to stand up and talk about it, go on shows about it, go to conferences and speak about it, who’s intellectually active about it; you know, it’s more of a guy thing.”
It’s all there—women don’t do thinky, they don’t speak up, they don’t talk at conferences, they don’t get involved—it’s “a guy thing,” like football and porn and washing the car.
Did Michael Shermer make a sexist comment, and if so, does that make him a sexist? And most importantly, should his comment - whether it strikes you as potentially sexist or not - reduce his worth in the atheist and skeptic communities to zero? Unfortunately, this does not appear to be a rhetorical question, as it appears that some are dismissing him entirely.
This is precisely the sort of thing with which I have such a problem. We can and should feel free to disagree with something Shermer says. And the same holds true for any figure in our community, regardless of his or her prominence. But to suggest that Shermer is "clueless" or that he belongs to such an emotionally-loaded category as "Clueless Privileged Skeptical White Dudes" is embarrassing. Are we really willing to dismiss the entirety of Shermer's contributions on this basis while calling ourselves rational?
Yes, it appears that this is the plan. Shermer's contributions can now be dismissed and all because he made a comment that looks like it could be sexist in nature when presented without the context in which it was made. But even that is not enough. Shermer deserves to be haunted to his grave, as nothing more than a social Darwinist douche and a "dipshit." And what of Ophelia Benson herself?
She's decided that labeling Shermer a sexist is not sufficient. He's also "an anti-feminist."
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