The atheist/skeptic community is busy tearing itself apart again.
I walked away from the organized atheist/skeptic community a while ago over the Atheism+ thing. The reasons I did so were complex, as usual. It’s not that I disagreed with the ideals of Atheism+. I agree with them 100%. I think perhaps it was poorly named, but that’s another story. I think I may have already blogged about that too. What turned me off was the vitriol which came so easily from both sides of the argument. Those opposed to Atheism+ demonized those who supported it. Those who supported it seemed to become instantly intolerant of any dissenting opinion. I’m not talking about the hate mail that Jenny McCreight received, that was despicable and she has my sympathy for what she’s endured. But I saw exchanges where one person was mocked, ridiculed, called disgusting names, and ultimately banned by a popular Atheist speaker that I normally respect simply for asking a (reasonable) question. Had somebody told me about that incident second hand, I would not have probably believed it, but I read the exchange myself. Like any good skeptic.
Rather than take sides, I walked away.
That entire incident came on the heels of a scandal where another popular atheist blogger was propositioned in an elevator at a conference. A huge shit storm ensued as soon as Richard Dawkins chimed in. I’ve already made my stance on that incident clear in a previous post, but that reason for bringing it up again is thus: The court of public opinion tried, convicted and sentenced Dawkins within a day because he dissented. Do you see a pattern emerging yet? Let me give you one more example.
A few days ago, PZ Meyers posted a bombshell. So far I haven’t posted any links to back up anything I’m saying (I don’t have to, it’s a fucking blog, so chill the fuck out) but I’ll go ahead and look this one up.
In case you didn’t bother to read it, PZ was made aware of an accusation of rape against Dr. Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine.
I’m going to have to choose my words carefully here, because the court of public opinion in the atheist community is fast and vicious.
First, let me say this: Rape is serious. Rape is never not-serious. *Every *Single *Accusation *Of *Rape *Should *Be *Taken *Seriously. Every one. I feel very strongly about that. Something like 1 in 3 women get raped, if I recall correctly. I know several victims personally, and some of their stories are the worst kind of horrific rapes you can possibly imagine. Stories that make you lose hope in humanity.
False accusations do happen. There is a difference between taking an accusation of rape seriously and just believing it blindly. Belief without evidence is called faith. That’s what the religious do. We’re skeptics. We need evidence.
The result of PZ’s little hand grenade is that the atheist community seems to largely have already convicted Dr. Shermer. To be honest, I’ve avoided this so far. Dr. Shermer is one of my favorite writers and speakers. I have an immense amount of respect for Dr. Shermer. On the other hand, I’m fully aware than whenever you set someone on a pedestal and make a hero out of them, they invariably disappoint you because they are, after all, merely humans just like you.
So let’s get this out of the way first. Did he do it? I don’t know. I truly don’t. To be honest, there’s only two people who do. One of them is Michael Shermer and the other one is anonymous. That’s because we don’t know all the facts here. In the American Judicial System (I can’t believe I’m about to defend that collection of clowns after what I’ve just been through, but…) you are (supposed to be) innocent until proven guilty. This is a good thing.
In the court of public opinion, the atheist community at large, and the most especially the Internet, You’re guilty. Period. One accusation and you’re done.
I just got done reading a post by a guy who managed to piss of Shermer via e-mail and proudly posted all the exchanges while mocking him. A slew of comments talked about what a scumbag Shermer is.
I think this is wrong. I want desperately for this accusation to be false. But it might not be. But I can’t go condemning Dr. Shermer until it is shown to at least likely be true. I don’t think that has been done yet.
This is what skepticism is all about, folks. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That’s how we work. Let’s all calm down on the judgmentalness until the facts are in. Keep in mind that Dr. Shermer’s reputation has all ready taken a serious hit whether the accusation is true or not.
We’re better than this, people.