In a relatively recent post, science blogger Paul Zachary Myers made note of a few “sacred cows of the atheist worldview” such as “Science!” “Skepticism!” and “Scientific literacy!” I suppose these are all sacred in some sense, inasmuch as they are the core causes which bind the skeptical community together. Atheists are often fans of these as well, but not invariably so. I’ve met more than a few godless people who are content to subject themselves (and their children) to quack medicine while foregoing proven treatments, including vaccination. Alas, seeing one’s way out of theism does not ensure a thoroughgoing devotion to scientific reasoning.
Back to PZ’s so-called sacred cows, for a moment. The usual meaning of that idiomatic phrase is along the lines of something which may not be questioned or criticized. I am skeptical of whether a recursively self-correcting process such as the scientific method can possibly be made to fit the description of a sacred cow, seeing as it has questioning, testing, and criticism essentially baked in:
It is possible that someone could refuse to brook any debate as to whether science is a worthwhile endeavor, but I cannot think of why anyone would want to take that approach. I’m more than happy to put scientific inquiry up against any other method of discovering truth about the world. It can hold its own just fine without any taboos on discussion and debate.
Not every set of ideas is so robust, of course. Later in the same post Professor Myers makes it clear that he considers certain notions respecting feminism to be completely beyond question:
This is not a topic for debate. It’s time to stop pretending that it is.Here’s reality.You are not a feminist if you think an anti-feminist working for a far right wing, climate change denying think tank is your ideal feminist.You are not a feminist if you are judging women by their tone, and whether they agree with you or not. If someone is angry about an injustice, you don’t get to argue that they, and not the injustice, deserves ridicule.You are not for equality of men and women if you propagate the myth that feminism is a religion, that feminists hate men, that their goal is to exploit men. “Equity feminist” is not a real thing; it’s an imaginary distinction set up to allow anti-feminists to reject activists working to break down discrimination.If someone pushes that nonsense at me, I’m not going to calmly suggest that maybe they have some valid points that we should discuss in a meeting. I’m going to simply say, “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME“.
When it comes to PZ’s ideas about feminism, some issues are simply not up for debate. There really are such things as secular sacred cows, after all.
The power of our collective taboo against criticizing (certain varieties of) feminism has been on vulgar display most recently in the hasty removal of Richard Dawkins from the NECSS lineup for posting an offensive satirical cartoon:
Dr. Dawkins has deleted his tweet. We will not link to the video, but here is a screen grab of the tweet and video. pic.twitter.com/kzr1BqCTIG
— NECSS (@NECSS) January 28, 2016
This is just the most recent example of secular deplatforming for the sake of feminism, however. At least a couple others come to mind.
— Carbon Dating (@CarbonKyle) August 7, 2013
I was really looking forward to that workshop, but Skepticon’s dedication to intersectional feminism would not allow for this form of marginally edgy comedy. (Full disclosure: Years ago, Kyle and I created truly offensive satirical cartoons for the now-defunct eDoDo.)
Years earlier, PZ set the tone for no-platforming in the secular community when he announced that he would never share a platform with a specific woman scientist, because of her insufficient dedication to his idea of feminism:
— Aneris ✻ (@Aneris23) August 10, 2013
In the storied annals of freethought, there may well be something more bizarrely Orwellian than openly blacklisting an accomplished woman in STEM, for the sake of feminism, in a post entitled “There is no blacklist,” but nothing comes immediately to mind. We will never know how many conferences chose to host Dr. Myers rather than Dr. Smith, but we can be certain that they lost far more than gender diversity in the process.
There may well be other examples of effective podium-and-platform level blacklisting in the secular or skeptic communities, and there may even be examples which had nothing to do with feminism as a secular sacred cow. If so, I look forward to reading about them in the comments.