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Posted on Jun 1, 2013 in arguments, blogosphere, critical thinking, gender, logical fallacies, philosophy, responding to arguments | 16 comments

Do atheist conferences reflect society-at-large?

In recent months, I have been engaged in ongoing discussions pertaining to atheist conferences – questioning bold claims including ‘anti-harassment policies are necessary for women to feel safe at atheist conferences,’ ‘rampant misogyny exists in the atheist community,’ and ‘atheist conferences are unsafe and hostile places for women.’

I have failed to see adequate evidence suggesting any of these above claims are true and find these claims to be extremely harmful to the health of the atheist community because women become driven away from conferences by the same people who allegedly want to increase the participation of women at atheist conferences. Men and male sexuality — additionally — are demonized; “certain male speakers” are viewed as “dangerous,” bloggers claim men oppose anti-harassment policies because they want to harass women (and believe they have the right to do so), and men are portrayed as monsters who have no concern about others’ personal space. A climate of fear is erected thanks to bloggers spreading false messages about alleged dangerous and “creepy” men at atheist conferences.

When evidence is lacking for these claims and good skeptics wonder why police reports have not been filed, conference organizers have not been alerted to these alleged ‘rampant problems,’ and numerous events ‘go off without a hitch,’ people attempting to defend their evidence-less positions employ character attacks in an attempt to, as it seems, malign people who ask for evidence or raise legitimate questions. “You think women are liars,” “you are invalidating the experiences of women,” “you lack empathy and should be more concerned about the plight of women,” “your privilege is showing,” and “you are a misogynist” are wails of those who lost the argument – those who cannot provide evidence to warrant their claims. Additional flawed reasoning mirrors that of a fundamentalist – ‘the evidence is out there, but you’re just unwilling to accept it,’ ‘you need to find the evidence for yourself,’ and ‘you are just in denial.’

More recently — diverging from the standard line of character attacks — people who cannot produce evidence to substantiate claims of rampant harassment at conferences have put forth a new line of reasoning: “Women, in society-at-large, are treated poorly; they are victims of sexual assault, harassment, and even rape. If women are treated poorly in society, and atheist conferences are in society, what makes you think women won’t be treated the same way at atheist conferences?”

This line of reasoning is a pretty clear example of a composition/division logical fallacy which is explained quite clearly on

You assumed that one part of something has to be applied to all, or other, parts of it; or that the whole must apply to its parts.

Often when something is true for the part it does also apply to the whole, or vice versa, but the crucial difference is whether there exists good evidence to show that this is the case. Because we observe consistencies in things, our thinking can become biased so that we presume consistency to exist where it does not.

Although women experience sexual assault, harassment, and rape in society-at-large, it does not follow that women experience sexual assault, harassment, and rape at atheist conferences; we need evidence beyond ‘it happens in society-at-large’ to suggest that sexual assault, harassment, and rape occurs at atheist conferences.

Armed robbery, murder, arson, forgery, computer theft, use of crack/cocaine, and consumption of child pornography occurs in society-at large. Because these crimes exist in society-at-large, should it follow that these crimes also occur at atheist conferences – at the same rate or at all? Shall we go about saying — although there is no evidence that arson, for instance, occurs at atheist conferences — that arson, because it happens in society-at-large, also occurs at atheist conferences? Armed robbery? Murder? Forgery? Computer theft? Crack/cocaine use? Consumption of child pornography? Since it is unfair to say these crimes exist at atheist conferences appealing to the fact that these crimes exist in society-at-large it is similarly unfair to say that sexual assault, harassment, and rape occur at atheist conferences.

As always, feel free to comment below.