How Dare You Show Me My Mistake! My Reply to Phil Zuckerman About the Global Gender Breakdown of Atheism

So when I wrote that globally, there’s no gender split in atheism, and that men being more likely to be non-believers than women is a localized phenomenon — was I mistaken?

Phil Zuckerman
Phil Zuckerman — professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, author of Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, and the upcoming book Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions (scheduled for publication in December) — thinks so. Here’s a link to his article. The tl;dr: He says most of the current data supports the conclusion that men are more likely to be atheists than women, pretty much around the world. How much more likely varies — the gender difference in non-belief varies from country to country — but with a couple of exceptions (example: self-designated agnostics in Japan and Belgium are about evenly split between women and men), men around the world are, on average, more likely to be secular than women. The poll I was citing in my piece — WIN-Gallup International “Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism 2012,” August 6, 2012 (PDF, Table 8, page 20 of 25) — is an outlier. To quote Dr. Zuckerman about this poll, “It may very well be valid. But for now, it is such a major outlier — so much so, that until we have more studies and more data confirming these unique and exceptional findings, we should remain skeptical.”

For the record, Dr. Zuckerman doesn’t think this gender difference in non-belief comes primarily from innate differences between the sexes. He doesn’t know where it comes from, although he posits a number of possible explanations, mostly sociological (although he’s “not going to totally, utterly discount or disregard biology outright”). And he says, “Of course, none of the above means that this gendered difference is fated and eternal. In 25 years, we could find different results.” But he does think that the poll I was citing is an outlier, and that when I said there there’s no global gender split in atheism, I was mistaken.

A number of people have pointed me to Dr. Zuckerman’s piece, and have asked me to respond. Here’s my response:

How. Dare. You.

HOW DARE YOU?!?!?

You’re deliberately misunderstanding what I obviously meant! You’re going out of your way to twist my words and make me look bad! You’re determined to be offended! You’re looking for people to be angry at! You’re trying to stir up controversy! You thrive on drama and attention! You’re trying to get rich through blog traffic and book sales! You’re being politically correct! You’re on a witch hunt! You’re the thought police! All those people who say how horrible you are, the people who harass you and threaten you and spread disinformation about you and keep re-registering new Twitter accounts when you block them so they can keep harassing you — they’ve got it right about you! You are a horrible person, and you’re destroying atheism and freethought!

Or, to put it another way:

You’re probably right. You have more experience, more expertise, and more knowledge in this area than I do. My mistake.

I’ll say that again, and I’ll put it in boldface and italics so readers can’t miss it, and I’ll clarify for the irony-impaired that this is what I actually mean and the “How dare you?” rant was a snarky jab at public figures who respond poorly to criticism:

You’re probably right. You have more experience, more expertise, and more knowledge in this area than I do. My mistake.

I still think the bulk of my criticism of Harris was correct and fair. I think his original statement about the supposedly innate causes of the gender split in his followers was sexist; and I think his follow-up statement supposedly clarifying his original statement was sexist. As I wrote earlier: I think these statements were sexist, even if you do accept some degree of innate gender difference between women and men. And I think they’re still sexist, even if there is a global gender split in atheism (which I’m now convinced there probably is, although it’s interesting that it varies so much from country to country). Given how massive and pervasive gender policing is (and how extensively well-documented this policing is), I think it’s sexist to immediately reach for “the difference is innate, manbrains and ladybrains are born so different” as the default explanation for gender differences. (I’ve written a more thorough explanation of why this is elsewhere.)

And as Dr. Zuckerman himself stated, there are lots of possible explanations for this gender split. Possible causes that he cites are that having less power and privilege and agency (as women do) can make people turn to religion for consolation and support; that women are socialized to be less assertive and less independent, making them more vulnerable to religion; that it could have to do with women’s expected roles as caregivers, or with the greater expectation that women work inside the home. I would add to that list of possible causes: the cultural expectation that being religious and passing religion on to children is women’s work; a culture that equates being religious with being civilized and moral (especially sexually moral), and that sees enforcing civilization and morality (especially sexual morality) as women’s work; the fact that religion is one of the few arenas where women traditionally have some power and social status (women often do much of the day-to-day running of religious institutions, even though men are usually the most visible leaders); the pervasiveness of sexism and misogyny in organized atheism. Given that we know all this, and given that the gender split in atheism does vary so much from country to country, and given that the evidence for significant innate gender differences in behavior and psychology in humans is tenous at best, I think it’s extremely sexist to immediately reach for “innate differences between manbrains and ladybrains” as the explanation for this gender split in atheism.

But when it comes to the specific question of whether there really are more male atheists than female atheists worldwide, it seems likely that I was mistaken, and that the study I was citing was an outlier. My apologies.

Now. How hard was that?

Richard Dawkins
That “How hard was that?” was not aimed at Dr. Zuckerman. It’s aimed at Richard Dawkins, at Sam Harris, at Jerry Coyne, at Ben Radford, at Marty Klein, at everyone in organized atheism who has been criticized over sexist or racist words or actions, and who has responded by lashing out at their critics, doubling down, and/or refusing to apologize.

Guys: When it comes to sexism, you are not the experts. Unless you’re a sociologist or something who specializes in sexism and gender roles, you are not the expert. Other people have more experience, more expertise, and more knowledge in this area than you do. (Ditto with white people and racism, middle-class people and classism, cisgender people and transphobia, etc.)

And even if you disagree about whether a particular thing you said or did was sexist, it does not behoove you to impugne the motives of the people criticizing you about it. Feminists — especially women feminists — who speak out about sexism routinely get a huge backlash of contempt, hatred, harassment, bullying, abuse, threats, and worse. We’re not doing this because it’s fun, or because we’re making big bucks as freelance writers. We’re doing it because we think it’s important. We’re doing it because we’re trying to make organized atheism more welcoming to women. You can disagree with our criticism without impugning our motivations in making it.

One of the most disappointing things about the Richard Dawkins meltdown is that, in the past, he’s been such a champion for the importance of admitting when we’re wrong. In his essay Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, Dawkins famously tells a story of the value, and even the delight, of being proven wrong:

A formative influence on my undergraduate self was the response of a respected elder statesmen of the Oxford Zoology Department when an American visitor had just publicly disproved his favourite theory. The old man strode to the front of the lecture hall, shook the American warmly by the hand and declared in ringing, emotional tones: “My dear fellow, I wish to thank you. I have been wrong these fifteen years.” And we clapped our hands red.

I read that story, and I thought, “I’m home. Atheism is the community I want to be part of. This is a community made up largely of people who have had to admit we were wrong, about something really important. This is a community that, at least in theory, values truth over wishful thinking or previous prejudice. I want to be part of this.” This ideal — the ideal of being willing and even eager to acknowledge when we’re wrong, to embrace it as an opportunity to expand our minds and our experience — means a huge amount to me. It has been deeply disappointing to see Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, and so many other highly visible leaders in the atheist movement, fall so far from this ideal.

And because this ideal means so much to me, I will say one more time: Dr. Zuckerman is probably right. When it comes to the global demographics of atheism, he has more experience, more expertise, and more knowledge than I do. My mistake.

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How Dare You Show Me My Mistake! My Reply to Phil Zuckerman About the Global Gender Breakdown of Atheism
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48 thoughts on “How Dare You Show Me My Mistake! My Reply to Phil Zuckerman About the Global Gender Breakdown of Atheism

  1. 1

    Ah, but you are now of course turning your admission of mistake into yet another attack at all these oh-so-brightly shining luminaries.

    Note: message may contain trace amounts of sarcasm.

  2. 2

    Heh heh, there should be a little pop-up on Twitter or Google Mail every time a public persona tries to send out an outraged How Dare You Question My Throne bit of defensive vitriol, where this essay pops up, with a warning saying “are you sure you wanna keep digging deeper?”

    The money line: how hard was that?

  3. 3

    Brava, Greta! This, exactly. I was (and to a decreasing but still present degree still am) willing to cut Dawkins in particular a little slack for having been brought up in a less aware society – but that is only extenuating circumstance for the initial error in his thinking. It does not excuse the doubling down, or the refusal to admit even the possibility of his errors, and nothing at all excuses the frankly juvenile smearing of those who called him on it. It’s particularly disappointing, as you say, coming from a scientist who is supposed to know the value of questioning and testing his own biases.

  4. 4

    Thanks for writing this. Since I posted my comment on your earlier blog that referenced Zuckerman’s book (before he posted the Friendly Atheist piece), I have finished reading Society Without God. Fascinating book, and I’ve actually renewed it from the library so I can look up some of the studies in his extensive footnotes – not just on gender, but on atheism and the phenomenon of “secular Christianity” which I did not think was possible.

    More to the point of your current post, it is great to see a writer willing to admit when they’ve made a factual mistake. And I agree that your mistake does not mean the tone of Sam Harris’s writing is any less sexist.

  5. 5

    I’ve been telling my students that admitting you’re wrong or admitting you don’t know something will not kill you. I await your next post, at which time I will know that you are still among the living and can assure my students that, yet again, someone has managed that feat without any noticeable harm.

  6. 6

    This seems to be to be a very apple to oranges comparison. His comments were not based on studies they were based on his beliefs about his audience(and as any good skeptic will admit, belief is a VERY weak argument).

    Although i will happily take your word that his “I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For” post is sexist, i have trouble seeing it. If he is to be believed(which i don’t think anyone has reason to believe he is lying), he gave more context to the quotes and implied they were somewhat tongue in cheek. And it seems his “sex appeal” comment is a bit of proof in this area. He gives several reasons, but he happens to think that there are innate differences. And then he goes onto weaken his “belief” even more by saying he has given it almost no thought. This all seems to me that he thinks very little about the gender makeup of his audience but if one wants to ask about it he “believes” the most likely candidate to be an innate difference in gender.

    So from his perspective, he doesn’t think about gender at all – which sounds like pretty much the definition of equality.

  7. 7

    @ddowdle #6:

    So from his perspective, he doesn’t think about gender at all – which sounds like pretty much the definition of equality.

    Nope, that means he’s almost certainly internalized and is supporting any number of sexist ideas. In a sexist culture, if you’re not thinking about gender, you’re going to wind up implicitly supporting sexism becasue those are norms. Same for racism – this is why claims of “racial colorblindness” might well represent a lack of personal bigotry but still usually results in support of racist policy.

  8. 8

    The Pew poll may be an outlier. But it IS out there. The subjective impression that religion, superstition, and woo are ‘chick things,’ or that reasoned debate is a ‘guy thing,’ are just impressions. Like the impression that tapdancing and cotton-picking are ‘black things.’

    The real intellectual cesspit is the calcifying of such impressions via Human Nature/evo-psych ‘just so stories.’ It is ALWAYS worth pointing these out, preferably with a snigger.

  9. 9

    For the record, Dr. Zuckerman doesn’t think this gender difference in non-belief comes primarily from innate differences between the sexes. He doesn’t know where it comes from, although he posits a number of possible explanations, mostly sociological (although he’s “not going to totally, utterly discount or disregard biology outright”). And he says, “Of course, none of the above means that this gendered difference is fated and eternal. In 25 years, we could find different results.”

    That sounds suspiciously reasonable, and not really all that different from different most of the criticism I saw leveled at Harris.

  10. 10

    “Guys: When it comes to sexism, you are not the experts. Unless you’re a sociologist or something who specializes in sexism and gender roles, you are not the expert.”

    Doesn’t the same go for women? I find your comment sexist. Apologize.

    Greta, please answer this question about feminism. How is it not sexist to focus more on the feminine?
    Feminism seeks gender equality by focusing on women’s issues. What justifies this overshadowing? Aren’t male gender roles just as sexist? Men between 18 and 25 are forced to sign up for the draft, but women aren’t. How is that not sexism against men?

    You often cite Lewis’ Law as justification of feminism, but trolling is a serious problem on the internet and people say things they don’t mean all the time just to be funny. You have no idea who you’re talking to on the internet,or whether they mean what they say.

    ” Other people have more experience, more expertise, and more knowledge in this area than you do. (Ditto with white people and racism, middle-class people and classism, cisgender people and transphobia, etc.)”

    I’m a white male, so my views on sexism or racism can’t be valid. How oppressive.
    I’m sorry but this seems like the epitome of political correctness.

    political correctness- the attitude or policy of being excessively careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have a disadvantage.

    ‘If you’re not especially careful not to offend the easily offended, then you’re a bigot.’ Fuck that mentality.

    Every individual is different and generalizations based on race and gender have no meaning in the light of this fact. If that’s how I feel, then I’m not a bigot, would you agree?

    I agree that sexism is a problem, but I don’t think feminism is the answer. Maybe I’m wrong.

  11. 11

    Greta, please answer this question about feminism. How is it not sexist to focus more on the feminine?
    Feminism seeks gender equality by focusing on women’s issues. What justifies this overshadowing? Aren’t male gender roles just as sexist? Men between 18 and 25 are forced to sign up for the draft, but women aren’t. How is that not sexism against men?

    jakup3 @ #10: I have no patience for MRA talking points in my blog. Yes, sexism hurts men as well as women, and I have written abut this elsewhere, at great length. But if you can’t acknowledge the extensively-documented fact that sexism hurts women MUCH more than it hurts men, then get the hell out of my blog, and stay out.

  12. 12

    Is it really surprising that a sociologist would look for sociological causes to explain something while a cognitive neurologist would look to innate differences between male and female brains? Sam Harris may have less experience with sexism than you do but surely he’s had more experience with and knowledge of Sam Harris?

  13. 13

    jakup3, no one said that your views on racism and sexism are invalid. Really, why do you people get so emotional about this? What was said is that when it comes to racism and sexism, you’re not the expert, unless it’s your field of study. In other words, it’s not that you know nothing, but it’s almost certain that other people know more than you do. Why are you people so sensitive about this? It must be som kind of testosterone vibe.

  14. 14

    Is it really surprising that a sociologist would look for sociological causes to explain something while a cognitive neurologist would look to innate differences between male and female brains?

    chris61 @ #12: I would expect a cognitive neurologist to know a little more about the limits of explaining differences between female and male brains as innate — and I’d expect them to know a little more about the deep problems that come with doing so, and the ugly history behind it.

    Sam Harris may have less experience with sexism than you do but surely he’s had more experience with and knowledge of Sam Harris?

    What does this have to do with anything? Unless you’re dragging out the old “he didn’t intend to be sexist” line. As has been explained many, many times: Intention is not magic. Not consciously intending to be sexist does not magically make the things you say and do not sexist. In fact, acknowledging that we are all sexist, that we all have sexist ideas and that we all say and do sexist things without meaning to, is a necessary first step in becoming less sexist.

  15. 15

    Just today I made a comment and a woman said: “That’s a sexist remark.” I thought about it and replied: “You’re right, it is sexist. I apologize and will try to do better in the future.” That’s how mature people respond to valid criticism. Sam Harris et al, please take note.

  16. 16

    [email protected]:

    Is it really surprising that a sociologist would look for sociological causes to explain something while a cognitive neurologist would look to innate differences between male and female brains? Sam Harris may have less experience with sexism than you do but surely he’s had more experience with and knowledge of Sam Harris?

    Did I miss the evidence Sam Harris provided for this estrogen nurturing vibe that isn’t present in atheism in sufficient amounts to attract women? Surely as a skilled cognitive neurologist, when making claims on traits inherent to one gender or the other he’d present some evidence to support his claims, no?

  17. 17

    I love it when I can say, “I was wrong,” because it means I don’t have to be wrong anymore. “I was wrong,” is synonymous with, “I have grown, I have bettered myself.”

  18. 18

    Great article.

    It’s sad that the current state of communications among supposed rationalists requires you to include so many caveats to your writing.

  19. 19

    @Al Dente- exactly! You would think that any good skeptic (or anyone interested in learning) would be aware of the fact that there’s always gonna be things that you don’t know as much about, as the next person. In the realm of privilege, it’s even more important to shut-up-and-listen sometimes and admit that maybe something that doesn’t seem sexist/racist etc., to me can still seem that way to somebody else. And after I listen to them explain why, usually I agree and drop whatever word/phrase or assumption I was making. Such is learning.

  20. 20

    I just don’t see how Harris’s defense gets him anywhere, even if you do charitably grant his points. Even if you grant him the preposterously dubious claim that there is something inherent in women that is turned off by the atheist/skeptic movement, then you have to look at the flipside: there is something inherent in the atheist/skeptic movement that is unappealing to women.

    How do you suppose that happened? If women had been equally valued, respected, and included from the beginning, how likely is it that we would now be stuck with a movement that women find unappealing? And how much responsibility do the leaders of that movement bear for creating an environment that is (supposedly inherently) unappealing to half of the human population? That’s not what you want in a movement.

    My fellow atheist leaders and I aren’t sexist, we simply lead a political movement that women would not be particularly inclined to participate in.

    Oh. Okay … well I guess you’re off the hook, then.

  21. 21

    How is it not sexist to focus more on the feminine? Feminism seeks gender equality by focusing on women’s issues. What justifies this overshadowing?

    It’s an oversimplification, but here it goes:

    A girl gets one cookie, because she’s a girl. A boy gets three cookies, because he’s a boy. Magical Equality Fairy comes down from heaven and, upon seeing this, gives the girl two cookies. Now both boy and girl have three cookies each.

    Everyone is happy!

    Well, not everyone. Because this particular boy is crying because the girl got two cookies and he got none, and whining that the world is so unfair to boys.

  22. Rob
    22

    Well, for what it’s worth, here’s some anecdata.

    I live in a pretty secular country (New Zealand). I’ve always considered myself atheist (note the small ‘a’ – I’m not part of a movement, I just don’t believe in God[s]). However, of the non-religious I know, which would be 80% plus of the people I know. Few self identify as atheist or indeed Atheist. Most who do are men. Of those who did not identify as atheist, there did not seem to be a particular reason. Many, like me, had been brought up without religion, did not believe on God(s) and it had never occurred to them that by that definition they were atheist. Many felt a label did not matter and a few were uncomfortable with the atheist label because of what they perceived as the rude and abrasive behaviour of some public atheists.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the current explosive growth of US influenced evangelical churches here. So far the growth seem to have come by cannibalising support for established churches. maybe as these evangelical churches gather steam and start to push for involvement in public life there will be push back.

    Great post Greta.

  23. 23

    My fellow atheist leaders and I aren’t sexist, we simply lead a political movement that women would not be particularly inclined to participate in.

    They can’t help it. Being a counter-productive, irrational jerk is more of a guy thing, cf jakup3. 🙂

  24. 24

    The confidence to admit a mistake (to admit what we otherwise call “learning”!) is very impressive, and made me read the other post, focused on Harris, with a sympathetic ear after my qualified defense of him earlier. I don’t agree with every word, but I agreed with a lot of it, and learned from it, and that’s what this whole “discussion” thing is for. So again, well done.

  25. 25

    chris61 @ #12: I would expect a cognitive neurologist to know a little more about the limits of explaining differences between female and male brains as innate — and I’d expect them to know a little more about the deep problems that come with doing so, and the ugly history behind it.

    For that matter, he ought to keep in mind that brains, you know, develop… in response to input from the world, not merely the contents of their cellular nuclei in isolation. The brains you get in the end come out of both influences. We’ve got excellent and specific reasons to be aware of the influences life, social life particularly, have on our psychological development; we’ve got plausible theoretical reasons to suppose that genes have some influence; jumping to the genetic explanation for anything in particular from that kind of background is bonkers, without a lot more to go on.

  26. 28

    What a wonderfully progressive and amicable world this would be if everyone could be more objective about their beliefs and assumptions. Thank you for being you, Greta Christina.

  27. 29

    OK, let’s go with a token assumption of good faith for the moment and see how far it gets us…

    I’m a white male, so my views on sexism or racism can’t be valid. How oppressive.

    Nobody said that your views can’t be valid. The point is that people with direct experience of the matters in question are likely to have a better understanding than you, so if you find yourself in disagreement with them, the odds are that it’s you that’s wrong. It’s a matter of experience and expertise (as Greta said), not identity. You lack the relevant experiences. You can make up for that by making an effort to learn from people who do have the relevant experiences, but you can’t just expound on a topic you have absolutely no direct experience or knowledge of, in the company of people who do have the relevant experience and knowledge, and expect to be taken seriously.

  28. 30

    You are reacting to criticism by thinking “someone says something I wrote is untrue”, checking that and responding adequately – just as I expected of you.
    Harris and other people in the news lately have vociferously defended themselves against criticism, themselves being the operative word. Notably, Harris’ title (apart from the irony about the droids) was “I’m not the sexist pig…”, not “My remarks were…”.
    I’d say Harris (and others) are still stuck with the old concepts of sexism as “hating women” or racism as “hating PoC”. Certainly they aren’t thinking about actions and outcomes, but constantly talking about their own misunderstood intentions or inner states.
    The sad thing is that this makes rational discourse all but impossible.
    I admire your patience in dealing with it.

  29. 31

    pervasiveness of sexism and misogyny in organized atheism

    How does sexism within “organized atheism” affect the evidence against the existence of gods? That almost sounds like “ladybranz are so tiny that they’ll turn religious if menz gives them a sad”.

    Plus, I think this explosion of overt sexism is a relatively recent thing (Elevator-gate and after). The trends are all still moving in the direction of less religiosity, even if there is a gender disparity. If sexism within organized atheism were a reason for the gender disparity, we’d see a reversal in the trend, wouldn’t we? AFAIK, none of the polls are showing that.

    I think we give “organized atheism” way too much credit for the movement away from organized religion in any event. I think that the major books (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris) about atheism came out at a time when more and more people were coming to their own understanding about the lack of existence of gods. In essence, I think they rode the wave that was already there — maybe amplifying it and giving atheism greater legitimacy. But they didn’t create it. It was already there.

  30. 32

    At the risk of sounding like an unabashed fan, I must once again applaud you for demonstrating just how easy it is to be a reasonable human being if one so chooses.

    Whether there are, at this moment in history, more or fewer women who are nontheistic, I can’t imagine that it has anything to do with biology or innate differences. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that more than ten thousand of years of cultural history have a great deal more to do with determining our gender roles. And if culture is responsible, well we invented it and we can damn well re-invent it to reflect our better understandings of the human condition. As for feminism, I believe that we should fully advocate and support it as one of the best routes to that re-invention.

  31. 34

    Possible causes that he cites are that having less power and privilege and agency (as women do) can make people turn to religion for consolation and support; that women are socialized to be less assertive and less independent, making them more vulnerable to religion

    It strikes me that these are also factors in an individual’s choice to accurately self-report or not. I suppose that if you construe such polls as by definition an attempt to estimate the number of “out” atheists, those who will accurately self-report their nonbelief, then it’s a moot point. But if the methods involve error bars for the inevitable “closet” nonbelievers, I would say that some of the variation across societies could be attributable in part to infelicitous self-reporting on the part of women in conservative and patriarchal households.

    I read that story, and I thought, “I’m home. Atheism is the community I want to be part of. This is a community made up largely of people who have had to admit we were wrong, about something really important. This is a community that, at least in theory, values truth over wishful thinking or previous prejudice. I want to be part of this.” This ideal — the ideal of being willing and even eager to acknowledge when we’re wrong, to embrace it as an opportunity to expand our minds and our experience — means a huge amount to me. It has been deeply disappointing to see Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, and so many other highly visible leaders in the atheist movement, fall so far from this ideal.

    A light came on for me when someone made clear the distinction between being right and having been right. I’m an intelligent, educated, reasonably self-aware person. Of course I want to be right: I want my beliefs about the world to accord with how the world in fact is. But too easily this perfectly reasonable desire morphs into an inflexible attachment to one’s beliefs in the face of contrary facts or opposed sound reasoning. When you find yourself clinging to opinions or attitudes that are “just common sense” or that you have always held without much reflection, it’s time to take stock and make sure that you’re not over-invested in having been right in the past, rather than properly concerned with being right, right now. There is not a human being alive who doesn’t hold some incorrect beliefs; there’s no shame in it. The shame is over-identifying with a past self and becoming intransigent.

  32. 35

    I have long said — mainly to myself, but sometimes to others in other contexts than the one at hand — that one thing really smart people know is that they don’t know everything. They also know they’re going to be wrong from time to time, and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, because homo sapiens sapiens.

    Of course, the subtext of forming this statement to myself in the first place was dismay in dealing with folks who would admit no error, and the negative material consequences that would flow from digging in, doubling down, or even just denying. My hypothesis is: this speaks to what Foucault might have called a warping of the “powerknowlege” thing. Folks (mistakenly) see admitting any mistakes as a reduction in power and authority, and thus resist doing so, either because they are insecure and relatively powerless and imagine any sign of weakness will make their false front of authority-at-anything collapse like a house of cards, or because, well, their massively over-inflated egos are just riding a runaway asshat train.

    But the OP here is kind of a new one for me: Greta Christina’s statement that she was wrong expands out into being wrong in way’s I would expect Greta to have recognized. What’s wrong is this:

    “Phil Zuckerman has more experience, more expertise, and more knowledge in this area than I do.”
    OK, I’m using my actual Poetic License, and I’m not looking at the whole of this but just one thing:
    Zuckerman is doing studies with polling data broken down by self-identification along a biology based gender dichotomy as if that was somehow meaningful and something valid or valuable could be learned from studying it. It would seem Greta Christina knows better:

    Gender, and gender differences, are incredibly complex, and do not easily line up with birth genitals or chromosomes. And importantly: Any gender differences in humans, whether innate or learned or both, are very much an “overlapping bell curve” thing… The noticeable differences are on the far ends of the bell curves: gender is only a useful predictor in very large populations, and the majority of women and men fall into a range where gender is a largely useless predictor of behavior.

    In the word of Ed McMahon, “Yessssssssssssssssssssssss!”

    So while my little IMHO Thumbs-Up goes to Greta for admitting she made a mistake about data, I gotta paste a Thumb’s Down on the suggestion that quantitative sociologists, and (ughh) demographers in particular, necessarily know anything about anything other than bogus categories they’ve made up so they can have something to count.

    As I lack the ‘energytimepower’ to unpack the social-intellectual history of quantitative sociology I’ll use the figurative mode permitted by my Poetic License to say the field came into being as a means of getting people to buy shit they didn’t need and getting people to vote for politicians and policies against their best material interests, has never escaped that cloud, and is nowhere either a proper skepticism nor an interest in social justice ever really wants to go…

  33. 36

    I would be tempted to say there are more OUT atheist men than women. Whatever many women believe, they’re more cautious about making themselves targets of social approbation in their communities. For damn good reason when you look at the assaults leveled on women in strongly secular circles.

    Also too, disparity of extra cash earned by many women who can choose between atheist gatherings and other expenditures. Who wants to pay for the privilege of being insulted by celebrities and those they enable?

  34. 38

    “jakup3 @ #10: I have no patience for MRA talking points in my blog. Yes, sexism hurts men as well as women, and I have written abut this elsewhere, at great length. But if you can’t acknowledge the extensively-documented fact that sexism hurts women MUCH more than it hurts men, then get the hell out of my blog, and stay out.”

    I’m know nothing about MRA, and brought the point up about the draft because it was relevant to me.
    Why do I have to call myself a feminist, when egalitarianism seems more fitting? Fuck it, I’m a feminist. There’s no point in being all petty about it when I agree with all of the principles. I’m not your enemy. I was just skeptical because having an ideology that focuses more on one sex seems inherently sexist. I agree that more attention needs to be placed where there is more of a problem, but I like the masculine too.

    “jakup3, no one said that your views on racism and sexism are invalid. Really, why do you people get so emotional about this? What was said is that when it comes to racism and sexism, you’re not the expert, unless it’s your field of study. In other words, it’s not that you know nothing, but it’s almost certain that other people know more than you do. Why are you people so sensitive about this? It must be som kind of testosterone vibe.”

    I thought Greta was directing that comment at men. I shouldn’t have reacted so quickly, and what I said about political correctness was irrelevant. I’m not afraid to say I’m wrong. I was one of those people who agreed with the goal of equality, but didn’t like the title of feminist. I’ve since decided that the title really isn’t worth fighting about. I’m sorry for wasting everyone’s time.

  35. 39

    I’m know nothing about MRA

    jakup3 @ #37: If you’re going to get into conversations and debates about feminism, sexism, misogyny, and related topics, I strongly urge you to get familiar with MRA’s. Here’s a good source about them.

    Why do I have to call myself a feminist, when egalitarianism seems more fitting?

    Because “feminist” is the word that means “egalitarian in the arena of gender equality.” Yes, it’s nice to be generally egalitarian — but often that means fighting for equality in the specific arenas of race, class, sexuality, gender identity (i.e., transgender people), gender, and more. It is often useful to specify which arena we’re talking about. And getting pissy about the word “feminist” is another way of making it marginal and invisible. Feminists are commonly treated with hatred, contempt, harassment, abuse, threats, and worse. It doesn’t help when people who are supposedly our allies spit on the word.

    I shouldn’t have reacted so quickly, and what I said about political correctness was irrelevant. I’m not afraid to say I’m wrong.

    Thanks. It’s not easy to admit that we’re wrong. I appreciate you doing it.

    I was one of those people who agreed with the goal of equality, but didn’t like the title of feminist. I’ve since decided that the title really isn’t worth fighting about.

    Thanks. I hope you get to a point where you not only see the word “feminist,” not just as not worth fighting about, but as worth fighting for.

  36. 41

    Some people have alluded to it, but I would like to say it straight out: the underlying problem with Dawkins, Harris, et al, is not their sexism but that they are that particular type of man (often an engineer or scientist) who simply cannot conceive of the notion that they might be wrong about anything. I was raised by a man like that. He had a one liner he loved to tell over and over. Thought it was freaking hilarious: “I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong!” Get it? Whenever you suggest to a man like this (and I say man specifically because while I’ve met some stubborn women in my time, never anything like this particular type of man, who does not seem to be uncommon) that he might be wrong about something, he interprets it not as an opportunity to examine his view from a different angle, but precisely as a challenge. And usually as a challenge to his authority. At this point in life, I just try to avoid such people, as interacting with them is usually a no win situation.

  37. 42

    Ms. Christina,

    I obtained the data from the survey you referenced. I can forward you the data I received if you want it.

    The survey appears to be weighted toward female majority atheists by the survey from China, presumably weighted by population. Besides China, only Palestine (not Israel), Serbia, South Sudan, and Tunisia have majority female atheists.

    For China, 49% of women are atheists, versus 44% of men. In South Sudan, the next most atheist nation where women predominate atheism, 8% of women are atheist versus 4% of men.

  38. 43

    Allow me to give you a cookie and a gold star for doing the right thing even though you should have done your due diligence in the first place. I read the post in question when you posted it, immediately googled your study, and it didn’t take me but a few hits to see you posted the outlier. Question is: Why didn’t you do that?

    This is a great example of the fallacy of incomplete evidence. You cherry-picked the study that backed up what you needed to be true to support your feminist position, disregarding that which did not. Goes to show you that even those of use who claim to be rational thinkers are susceptible to this sort of bad thinking.

    But again, cookie and gold star. I’m so proud of you.

  39. 44

    [email protected]:

    It’s widely acknowledged that it can be difficult for folks to admit they’re wrong.

    I humbly suggest that comments like yours are one of many reasons it is sometimes so difficult to do so.

    I can’t help but observe that your “kudos” for admitting being wrong in this instance seems insincere while the rest of your comment seems to be altogether extraneous criticism. Not only that, you make uncharitable assumptions about the OP’s author’s motives!

    Most, if not all, statements have an audience and an intent. Your audience is clear but your intent is not. What is it you think to contribute to the discussion by:
    1) assuming that the author “cherry picked” — i.e. looked at all the evidence and chose that which supported their case (rather than simply based their comments on the evidence they had to hand)
    2) insincerely congratulating the author on correcting a misconception (should the author have not bothered to post this? What, short of time travel, could the author have done to earn sincere congratulations rather than thinly-veiled scorn?)
    3) emphasizing what the author should have done long after it was too late do have done so (i.e. imply that the author should have corrected her mistake using time travel rather than an admission of error)?

  40. 45

    I wonder if turniphead will ever find it in themself to admit that they were wrong for being needlessly jerkish to Greta Christina about this. Or that they were wrong if they thought that their comment came off as anything but condescending and hostile.

  41. 46

    Arguing over global stats about the prevalence is a bit of a non-sequiter.

    We normally think of culture as a random variable; some religions are more attractive to women than others, and absent any external factors we’d expect them to vary randomly across the globe and thus nullify one another when blended all together. The only external factor that could work on a global scale is biology; therefore, if there are any differences in likelihood of atheism along gender lines, globally, it must be due to biology.

    Except that’s not quite true, there’s another factor that has a global impact: trade.

    In another forum, someone posted a scientific paper that they claimed showed an inherent difference in math ability. As the dataset was international, they argued that any difference that remained after averaging must be biological. I pointed out that the sample was biased, skewed toward rich counties that heavily traded with one another. As a fair chunk of that trade was cultural items, this would tend to homogenize their cultures and de-randomize them.

    There was even evidence to support this in the paper: a chart that broke the dataset into two (high-trading OECD members and less-high-trading “partners”), had the former group cluster together with a greater gender gap, while the latter were much more random and on average had a lesser gender gap.

    The same may be happening for global atheism prevalence. Some countries trade heavily with one another, homogenizing their cultures and skewing the results. A similar effect may come from imperialism, where the invading country leaves a cultural imprint that violates this assumption of randomness.

    While the global numbers are a better indicator of biological difference than local ones, even they are contaminated by cultural influence. So you can’t conclude much from the global stats, either way, unless you really dig into the data and try to tease this effect out.

  42. 47

    Keith @41 — that seems consistent, and explains the difference between surveys. Most other global surveys underrepresent China for various practicality-related reasons. But with its huge population, China can sway the entire world average.

  43. 48

    Good post, I am glad you are intellectually honest unlike Sam Harris. The leadership in the atheist community is disappointing. Mainly because his sexism annoys me I have to note a reason a minority of atheists got that way has less to do with critical thinking and more a difficulty in making imaginary friends-men more at risk by far. http://www.livescience.com/20654-autism-belief-god.html This isn’t a critique of atheism, but a note that not all atheists got there by critical thinking-some just weren’t able to play with god as their imaginary friend.

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