# Godless Perverts Book Club: Come As You Are

Godless Perverts Book Club is reading Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski. WEDNESDAY, Wednesday Wednesday Wednesday, October 18, Borderlands Cafe in SF. Please note that it’s on Wednesday this time. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. Please join us!

An essential exploration of why and how women’s sexuality works, based on groundbreaking research and brain science. Cutting-edge research across multiple disciplines tells us that the most important factor for women in creating and sustaining a fulfilling sex life, is not what you do in bed or how you do it, but how you feel about it. Which means that stress, mood, trust, and body image are not peripheral factors in a woman’s sexual wellbeing; they are central to it. Once you understand these factors, and how to influence them, you can create for yourself better sex and more profound pleasure than you ever thought possible. A New York Times bestseller. Continue reading “Godless Perverts Book Club: Come As You Are

# Frivolous Friday: The Coin Toss Problem

I was playing my flashcard game on my phone, and in the “Mathematics and Measurements” section, I got this question (paraphrasing): “If you toss a coin ten times and it comes up heads each time, is it more likely to come up heads the eleventh?”

And I started thinking.

I know the “correct” answer. The answer is No. If the coin is truly random, each toss is independent of the previous ones, and each toss has a 50/50 chance of coming up heads. In any random sequence of sufficient length, pseudopatterns appear, and if you get one of those it may seem like… well, a pattern. But it’s not. In fact, if you flip a random coin an infinite number of times, it’s essentially guaranteed that any sequence you can think of will come up at some point: ten heads in a row, a hundred heads in a row, the lyrics to “Never Gonna Give You Up” spelled out in Morse code (with heads being dashes and tails being dots). It doesn’t matter how many times it came up heads before: each flip is still 50/50.

# “Science is why I’m alive”: Meme from The Way of the Heathen

“Science is why I’m alive. I’m not going to embrace its results — the messy, uncertain, unpredictable, loaded-with-false-starts, “try a hundred things with no idea if any will pan out” scientific process — and then piss all over it because it isn’t perfect.”
-Greta Christina, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life
(from Chapter 24, “My Body is the Knife: The Reality of Medical Uncertainty”)

(Image description: above text, juxtaposed next to image of hand in latex or nitrile glove dispensing powdered medicine from a bottle.)

I’m making a series of memes/ inspirational poster thingies with my favorite quotes from my new book, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life. Please feel free to share this on social media, or print it and hang it on your wall if you like. (The image above is pretty big: you can click on it to get a bigger size if you like.)

The Way of the Heathen is available in ebook on Amazon/Kindle and on Smashwords for \$7.99. The audiobook is at Audible. The print edition is at Amazon and Powell’s Books, and can be ordered or carried by pretty much any bookstore: it’s being wholesaled by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, IPG, and bookstores can buy it directly from the publisher, Pitchstone Publishing. Check it out, and tell your friends!

# Colonoscopy Day

Content note: medical grossness.

It’s colonoscopy day. Oh, joy.

Today, I eat nothing but clear liquids all day: ginger ale, apple juice, broth, Jell-o (but not red, orange, or purple). This afternoon I take laxatives that should be banned by the Geneva Convention, laxatives that taste like citrus-flavored poison and feel like your insides have been sucked into a black hole and shot out the other side. This evening I spend all evening coping with the inevitable result. Tonight I sleep on the sofa, since it’s close to the bathroom. Tomorrow morning I take one more round of torture laxatives, and then go in for the colonoscopy itself, which is by far the least unpleasant part of this process. Tomorrow afternoon and evening I collapse on the sofa and feel sorry for myself.

And then I pencil in a reminder to make another appointment next year. I do this every year. Not every ten years, or every five. Every. Fucking. Year.

On the other hand:

I get to not have cancer. Continue reading “Colonoscopy Day”

# Greta’s Secular Students Week Blogathon! Episode 3: Neuropsychology, or, On Reading Science You Know Will Be Obsolete

I’m doing a mini-blogathon today for Secular Students Week!

This week is Secular Students Week, when people around the Internet are celebrating the fantastic work the Secular Student Alliance is doing to empower students. Their goal is to get 500 donations now through June 17th: if they do, they’ll receive a \$20,000 challenge grant! Help them keep up their amazing work by giving this week. A gift of \$5, \$10, or \$20 will go a long way towards helping them reach this goal and empower secular students: please give today!

In today’s mini-blogathon, I’ll post a new blog post once an hour, from now (a little after 9:00 am Pacific time) until 5:00 pm Pacific time. In addition, for every donation that’s made today via my blogathon, I’ll post a new cat photo!

This hour’s blogathon post: Neuropsychology, or, On Reading Science You Know Will Be Obsolete.

I’m a big fan of books on neuropsychology. I’m fascinated by how the mind works: I mean, how could you not be? Consciousness, thoughts, feelings, experiences — made out of meat. That’s so cool! And there’s something exciting about how much the science is still very much in its infancy. We’re pretty darned sure that consciousness is produced by the brain — but we’re just beginning to start to think about maybe getting a grip on how exactly that works.

But the very fact that this science is in its infancy means that much of it is almost certainly wrong. And that’s a little weird. It’s a little weird to be reading books about science that, in one or two hundred years, will almost certainly be looked at the way we now look at two-hundred-year-old books on biology or geology. They didn’t know about evolution! They didn’t know about plate techtonics! Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that they didn’t know about atoms! Their scientific explorations were lacking in the fundamental truths underlying their science, the fundamental truths necessary to truly understand it.

In one or two hundred years, our current understanding of neuropsychology will be seen like that: historically interesting, worth paying attention to for an understanding of how the science developed, but not much more than that. Some of it will possibly even be a source of hilarity or horror (“They thought THAT?!?!?”), and people will be fascinated by which things we happened to get right, and which things we got hilariously wrong.

This is not to dismiss or trivialize the science. Quite the opposite. That’s how science works: we explore things we don’t know, until we know them. The fumbling around in the dark that we’re doing right now is laying the foundation for the fuller understanding we’ll have in one or two hundred years.

It’s just a little weird, is all.

Once again — please support the Secular Student Alliance! Help them get their challenge grant of \$20,000 by reaching their goal of 500 donations now through June 17th. Even small donations help. Please support them today!

Greta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

# How the Issue of Death Affects Coming Out as Atheist

There’s an interesting piece up on Vice by Simon Davis, my friend and colleague and Vice’s death correspondent. He’s writing about the research that recently came out, suggesting that part of the reason for anti-atheist hostility is people’s fear of death. In these studies, a subtle reminder of death increased disparagement, social distancing, and distrust of atheists — and asking people to think about atheism increased the accessibility of implicit death thoughts. (For the record, I think the research is very preliminary — if for no other reason, the research only looked at a few hundred college students at one particular college — but I do think the findings are plausible, and are worth further study.)

Simon interviewed me for his piece on this question, asking how often the issue of death and mortality had come up in my research for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. He quoted me in the article, but was only able to quote a small portion of my response. I thought some of you might be interested in my full response.

*****

Yes. In the over 400 “coming out atheist” stories I gathered for my book, the subject of death came up a lot. When atheists come out (to Christians, anyway), the first reaction is often about Hell. Sometimes it’s manipulative or hostile, an attempt to scare atheists back into belief. More often, though, it’s genuine concern or fear — they sincerely believe atheists will burn in Hell, and they don’t want that to happen to the people they love.

Even if they don’t talk about Hell, believers do often respond to atheists’ coming out by asking about death. They ask what we think happens when we die, or how we cope with death, or how we think life can have meaning if it’s finite. Again, sometimes this is just hostile, a way to dismiss our humanity: in one of the ugliest stories I read, a military atheist taking a class was told that his grandfather had died, and the officer teaching the class told him, “Well, since you don’t believe in god I guess you won’t have any need to go to his funeral, I mean you believe he is just going to rot in the ground, right?” But more often, it comes from concern, or curiosity. If someone has used religion to cope with death for their entire life, it can be upsetting, or simply confusing, to imagine their friends or family living without that coping mechanism.

Interestingly, death or mortality is often the catalyst for atheists’ coming out. Death or serious illness is often the time people discuss religion and religious beliefs, even among people who aren’t very religious. It’s not the ideal time for the coming-out conversation, of course: in fact, this is one of the reasons I recommend that atheists come out sooner rather than later, if they can so so safely. When a family is stressed over death or serious illness, it can be extra hard on everyone to add the conversation about “Hey, by the way, I don’t believe in God or Heaven.” It’s generally better if that conversation is already behind you, and everyone’s already adjusted. But I understand why it happens. If atheists know that their coming out will be upsetting, they often don’t want to rock the boat — then all of a sudden, someone’s sick or dying or dead, and things like funerals or last rites become an issue, and everyone’s praying and asking you to pray, and you can’t just put it on the back burner anymore.

***

Here, by the way, is ordering info for Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why. Continue reading “How the Issue of Death Affects Coming Out as Atheist”

# 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 — 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.

# Four Reasons “God Made Evolution Happen” Makes No Sense

This piece was originally published in AlterNet.

“Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality — including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

In the narrowest, most literal sense, of course this is true. It’s true that there are people who believe in God, and who also accept science in general and evolution in particular. This is an observably true fact: it would be absurd to deny it, and I don’t. I’m not saying these people don’t exist.

I’m saying that this position is untenable. I’m saying that the “God made evolution happen” position is rife with both internal contradictions and denial of the evidence. You don’t have to deny as much reality as young earth creationists do to take this position — but you still have to deny a fair amount. Here are four reasons that “God made evolution happen” makes no sense. Continue reading “Four Reasons “God Made Evolution Happen” Makes No Sense”