Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris Have Awful Reputations for Misogyny


National Geographic was once something I regarded as a relatively reputable source. At least, I assumed that they engaged in real journalism most of the time. A recent feature article by Gabe Bullard is making me rethink this assessment. While it does contain some worthwhile information on atheism, the author appears to have an agenda that is becoming all too familiar to atheists.

In "The World's Newest Major Religion: No Religion," Bullard refers to "atheism's diversity problem" by noting that only one person of color showed up to a recent "Drinking Skeptically" happy hour event hosted by the Center for Inquiry in Washington DC that was attended by approximately 12 people overall. I realize that journalists are encouraged to use stories like this to make their points more vivid for the reader and bring more of a personal touch, but 1 in 12 hardly seems sufficient for a meaningful anecdote here. By itself, this would just be unconvincing and easy to overlook. Unfortunately, Bullard was just getting started.

Bullard goes on to note, "The general U.S. population is 46 percent male and 66 percent white, but about 68 percent of atheists are men, and 78 percent are white." Okay, now we are getting somewhere. Assuming these numbers are accurate, women and persons of color appear to be somewhat less likely to identify as atheists, on average, than do White men. This is interesting and certainly worth exploring. What might some of the reasons for this difference be? Bullard appears far more interested in making the following point:

Religion has a place for women, people of color, and the poor. By its nature, secularism is open to all, but it’s not always as welcoming.

Okay, so the cause of the disproportionate numbers by gender and race is that secularism is less welcoming. Does this mean that atheists are not sufficiently welcoming of women and persons of color? Are we to believe that this the only reason for the discrepancy? Is there any evidence that this is the case?

All of this was just a warm-up. Bullard swings for the fences with the following paragraph:

Some of the humanist movement’s most visible figures aren’t known for their respect toward women. Prominent atheists Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have awful reputations for misogyny, as does the late Christopher Hitchens. Bill Maher, the comedian and outspoken atheist, is no (nonexistent) angel, either.

If you click on the links in this paragraph, you will notice that two of the three take you to articles by Amanda Marcotte, a woman with quite a reputation of her own. Thus, Bullard is claiming that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins "have awful reputations for misogyny" because Amanda Marcotte says they do. And he's claiming that Bill Maher "is no (nonexistent) angel" because Marcotte says so. I guess Bullard's readers are just supposed to listen and believe.

I have to admit that this is not the sort of thing I expected to see from National Geographic. It strikes me as deliberately misleading in the hit-piece sort of way. If Bullard has compelling evidence of misogyny from Harris or Dawkins, let him provide it.

Much like "racism," "misogyny" used to mean something fairly significant (i.e., hatred of women). It was not a label to be thrown around lightly or without evidence. I am not sure why we have sat idly by and watch some label anyone who dares to disagree with them as a "racist" or a "misogynist" without providing sufficient evidence of either. Simply linking to someone of Marcotte's caliber does not cut it.

I assume that most atheists who are familiar with Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Maher know better. And yet, we probably aren't the intended audience for the National Geographic piece. Readers of Bullard's article who are not familiar with these men are likely to come away with the impression that they are widely perceived as misogynists. Aside from a small but vocal group of divisive bloggers, radical feminists, and social justice warriors, this does not seem to be the case.