Where, Oh, Where Are the Atheist Women?

Last week, I noticed a pingback on my blog from a post on Ms. Magazine by Monica Shores, “Will New Atheism Make Room for Women?

There are some good things about this piece. I have to say that I’m glad to see the atheist movement making an impact in wider, more traditional media circles. The need to diversify the atheist movement and ensure that we encourage and fairly value the contributions of women and people of color is a valid one, and I’ve written about it before as well. I welcome more attention being paid to this issue and people being willing to point it out if we’ve fallen short.

However, Shores’ post isn’t written in the spirit of helping atheists improve on this issue. It’s more in the style of a hit job, taking the stance that we must all be sexists whom no woman would want to associate with:

If you’ve been following the rise of so-called “New Atheism” movement, you may have noticed that it sure looks a lot like old religion. The individuals most commonly associated with contemporary atheism — Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Victor Stenger – are all male, white and, well, kinda old (69, 61, 68 and 75). Sam Harris, another popular figure who bears mention, has the distinction of being in his early 40s.

Ironically, she spends all her time focusing on the white men who are prominent in the atheist movement, and then at the very end bemoans the fact that atheist women lack “visibility and name-recognition”! Well, Ms. Shores, why do you think that is? Could it possibly be because mainstream, traditional media outlets – even ones as allegedly progressive and feminist as Ms. Magazine – refuse to give atheist women the space and fair coverage they deserve?

What makes this even more bizarre is that Shores is clearly aware of the existence of many atheist women. She references Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and links to essays by Susan Jacoby, Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina and Jen McCreight, as well as a post by Sikivu Hutchinson right here on Daylight Atheism. Yet, again, she gives all these excellent writers and advocates only passing mention, so that she can continue to criticize us for the utterly inexplicable invisibility of women and people of color. (It kind of reminds me of this skit from the late, lamented Mystery Science Theater 3000.) To compound this, Shores writes that there’s “little indication that atheists are receptive” to the idea of diversifying – and to support this assertion, links to two posts arguing the exact opposite! This is clearly a case of the established media narrative driving coverage of the facts, rather than vice versa.

There are a few other annoying inaccuracies in Shores’ post I want to point out. She writes that atheists “can’t abide by tolerance of religion”, when what we actually say is that religion shouldn’t get special privileges or be immune from criticism. She writes that we “dare not hope for eradication of religion outright”, whereas many of us do hope for this (by victory on the battlefield of ideas, of course, not by coercion or violence) and have no fear of saying so. And she ridiculously and insultingly mischaracterizes this piece by my fellow blogger vjack of Atheist Revolution as “overtly sexist”, when it’s actually a thoughtful exploration of the reasons why women may not feel as welcome in the activist segment of the atheist movement as we’d like.

Thankfully, Ms. magazine gave a follow-up post to Jen McCreight, who corrected many of these inaccuracies and pointed out some of the atheist women who are making major, meaningful contributions to the movement. This was a much better piece that rightly highlighted the accomplishments of atheist women, rather than ignoring them and then inexplicably complaining that they’re nowhere to be found.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Dan

    A non-generalizable anecdotal bit to counter Shores: most of the atheists I have as close friends are women.

  • Katie M

    “Where, Oh, Where Are the Atheist Women?”

    *waves hand in the air*

    I have never found New Atheism to be off-putting. The only sexism I have ever encountered has been from Christians. I don’t know, maybe I’m just choosing good people to associate with.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    I identify a lot better with Sam Harris than Sarah Palin. Who cares what gender someone is? Maybe if Richard Dawkins started wearing eyeshadow and playing with Barbies then he’d attract more women to the movement.

    BTW: I read Jen’s blog BlagHag all the time. She’s awesome.

  • Wednesday

    I’m pleasantly surprised that Ms. offered a follow-up post. About a decade or so ago, a grad student at Caltech wrote a somewhat misinformed piece on how utterly miserable and awful it was to be a female _undergraduate_ at Caltech; when actual female undergraduates asked Ms. to publish a clarification letter, Ms. declined. (The next year’s freshman class at Caltech was 25% female, a drop from 36% the previous year.)

  • Alex Weaver

    It’s not inexplicable; as I commented on Jen’s first blog post discussing the matter, there are perfectly understandable ulterior motives for a magazine that sells advertising space for products aimed at women to want to make a movement that emphasizes individual worth and dignity, and critical thinking, seem as unattractive to women as possible. I’ve been told Ms. isn’t so much this type of magazine, but haven’t had the opportunity to verify and given the all-consuming nature of advertising I find that somewhat hard to believe.

  • http://tonyadoughty.squarespace.com Tonya Doughty

    Like mentioned before me, I’ve never experienced sexism except at the hands of theists. Seems to me the author at Ms. magazine had the angle she wanted the article to take already decided and either didn’t look for, or turned a blind eye to, the many women atheists.

  • Boudica

    I’ve never heard of Victor Stenger, yet the Ms. articles lists him as one of the new Atheists. And I thought I was pretty up on the big name atheists out there

  • Sarah Braasch

    I couldn’t stand the title. And, the title, usually chosen by the editor(s), says a lot more about Ms., as a magazine, than it does the individual author.

    In my whole adult life, I’ve never waited around politely, and submissively, for anyone to make room for me.

    I don’t see any reason to start now.

    The #1 reason why I want to destroy religion is because it is the institutionalization of misogyny.

    I don’t think you can properly call yourself a feminist unless you are a “new” atheist.

    Feminism is about fighting for gender equality.

    Religion is the antithesis of gender equality.

  • http://Godlesspoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Well, I guess it is another person to read up on, then.

    I don’t really see how atheism can be exclusive in the overt intentional sense, considering, as I enjoy refraining, the only thing linking us is that nothing is linking us. My tired refrain seems to go shorter than the media’s tired refrain, though, that the so-labelled “four horsemen” are male so therefore all atheists are male (some bad logic if I’ve ever heard it).

    The media only covers the Four, and then complains that only the Four have coverage. Really, it’s kinda stupid. Dawkins gets lots of airtime, so atheists are against people who don’t have biology degrees? Who aren’t professors? Who aren’t British? Who weren’t friends with Douglas Adams? Who aren’t clean-shaven? The list can go on.

  • http://centralmaineatheists.webs.com Laura Foster

    I for one am right here. I’m not interested in being “heard of”. I’m interested in results.

  • Steve Bowen

    The unfortunate thing about the media’s obsession with Dawkins in particular is that IMHO he isn’t that great an ambassador for atheism. I’d rather go see a talk by Greta any day.

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~trollefyan David Johnson
  • abadidea

    “Where, Oh, Where Are the Atheist Women?”

    Here! *waves hand*

    Just sayin’.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    The unfortunate thing about the media’s obsession with Dawkins in particular is that IMHO he isn’t that great an ambassador for atheism. I’d rather go see a talk by Greta any day.

    Amen, brotha.

    And Boudica: Stenger is a noted atheist, a physicist by trade, and while he has a good thought or two, strikes me as someone who begs the question in his arguments much too much. Why he’s considered representative, though, I cannot say.

  • bbk

    This sort of thing basically reinforces the negative opinion of mainstream feminism that I’m known for around here. I’ve been thinking about this article for days and still can’t decide if it’s more about male bashing for the sake of theism or atheist bashing for the sake of man hating. Jen McCreight was being very charitable when she suggested that it might just be the lack of journalistic integrity. It’s an intentionally sexist and bigoted article and there’s no need to pretend that it might have been some sort of a misunderstanding. It’s nice that they allowed a woman to write a response on their blog and I think that McCreight did a great job defending both the male as well as female atheists. But I don’t think it’s enough of a response to just defend the atheist community as if the onus is on us to get on the good side of some editors at Ms Magazine. They should write their own corrections and issue an apology.

  • http://daylightatheism.org J. James

    Hurm… It would seem as if Catholics are underrepresenting THEIR leadership as well, don’t see too many Hispanics or females there…

    At least the Atheists are overrepresented in the military, contrary to that awful saying…WHOO for brown skin and double X chromosomes in the ranks of the Rational!

  • Andrew G.

    I thought the promotion (in the original article) of Stenger to the “New Atheist” A-list and corresponding demotion of Harris to also-ran was a very revealing indication that the article was being written with a clear preconceived narrative in mind (as is unfortunately the norm in most of what passes for modern journalism).

  • Valhar2000

    Katie M:

    I have never found New Atheism to be off-putting. The only sexism I have ever encountered has been from Christians. I don’t know, maybe I’m just choosing good people to associate with.

    SuperHappyJen:

    I identify a lot better with Sam Harris than Sarah Palin. Who cares what gender someone is? Maybe if Richard Dawkins started wearing eyeshadow and playing with Barbies then he’d attract more women to the movement.

    Tonya Doughty:

    Like mentioned before me, I’ve never experienced sexism except at the hands of theists. Seems to me the author at Ms. magazine had the angle she wanted the article to take already decided and either didn’t look for, or turned a blind eye to, the many women atheists.

    Sarah Braasch:

    I don’t think you can properly call yourself a feminist unless you are a “new” atheist.

    Laura Foster:

    I for one am right here. I’m not interested in being “heard of”. I’m interested in results.

    abadidea:

    Here! *waves hand*

    Yes, very nice, thank you. But, seriously now: where are the atheist women?

  • Valhar2000

    So, what do you think? Will I be able to get a job writing for Ms? Frankly, I’m tired of working for a living.

  • Em

    The Atheist Revolution piece was definitely more thoughtful. The comments section was especially interesting, since it had a bunch of atheist women commenting about their experiences. It seems they range from “my atheist acquaintances are awesome and non-sexist” to “same old trolls.” So, context definitely matters! So does media coverage which erases the very people they claim to support. Maybe if there were more articles about atheist women doing their thing, more atheist-leaning women would want to check it out. We definitely don’t want our public image to be in the hands of guys who suggest making fancy atheist wedding ceremonies to attract women, because women “live for” ceremony. (As with Hitchens and his article on why women aren’t funny, I can’t tell whether he’s serious or brilliantly parodying the ridiculous “theories” on how women are strange alien creatures utterly unlike men. I can’t imagine anyone seriously using Kipling poetry as scientific evidence, but you never can be sure.) If we can’t tell whether it’s a joke or the same old garbage, that’s not exactly helpful!

    Several commenters also mentioned the additional pressure on many women to avoid upsetting anyone by having different beliefs, so socialization could be a factor too. For all we know, there are more atheist women than men, but they keep quiet about it. Then there’s the history of competing approaches to gender in Christianity: the oppressive one which wins a lot, but also the periodic anti-clerical movements which emphasize the equality of all believers and offer opportunities for women to hold prominent positions, preach, not be stuck at home all the time, and even get education. (In the US, evangelical movements were huge supporters of the first women’s and co-ed colleges in the 19th century. Oberlin even had the first black female BA in 1862.) When the same system can be both your harshest oppressor and your best chance for equality, things get complicated. That could still be a factor too.

    Too bad Ms didn’t do an article about that. It might have been interesting.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Several commenters also mentioned the additional pressure on many women to avoid upsetting anyone by having different beliefs, so socialization could be a factor too. For all we know, there are more atheist women than men, but they keep quiet about it.

    I think that’s a big part of it, Em. We’ve all heard the pontificating explanations that women are biologically more inclined to be religious, or that logical thinking and skepticism are intrinsically male traits. The real explanation, I think, is much simpler: women face greater penalties for noncompliance with social norms than men do. And this is especially true in intensely religious communities where gender stereotypes are even stronger than they are in wider society, which makes things even worse for women who won’t conform.

    Then there’s the history of competing approaches to gender in Christianity: the oppressive one which wins a lot, but also the periodic anti-clerical movements which emphasize the equality of all believers and offer opportunities for women to hold prominent positions, preach, not be stuck at home all the time, and even get education.

    Of which Anne Hutchinson is a good example of both. :) Still, I tend to think that religion is so much more often an enemy of women’s rights, rather than an ally, that vanquishing it completely would be a tremendous net positive for them.

  • bbk

    I think, is much simpler: women face greater penalties for noncompliance with social norms than men do.

    That’s mere speculation and might not be true. The opposite might be true. Women also have the most to gain, whereas men stand the most to lose in terms of social standing. But even if it were true, it’s still just an excuse. How can we ever get out of the dark ages if half of the world’s population is held to a different standard of intellectual integrity than the rest of us? So let’s look at it another way. Let’s actually ask the women who did become atheists if they really lost so much more than any man. Let’s ask someone like Scarlet Johanson or Jodie Foster what they think about more women becoming atheists. Are they going to say “no, it’s too tough, ladies: stay home”? You see where I’m going with this? You’re looking at submissive women who are likely to get stoned by their theist overlord masters instead of looking at the lives of women who actually became atheist.

    Atheism is a great opportunity for women and they’re not taking it. Here’s an even simpler explanation: Ms Magazine! The second part of your comment nails it. Most women view “equality” as the opportunity to be equally oppressive to others. Becoming a priest or a bomber pilot are laudable goals and Ms Magazine will bestow churches who let women join the clergy with lavish compliments while slandering the men who actually offer true equality and welcoming anyone who joins, regardless of their age, race, or sex.

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    FOR A LIST OF MANY WOMAN ATHEISTS,

    CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING

    http://www.blaghag.com/2010/11/does-media-really-care-where-atheist.html

  • Em

    Oh, I agree that religion has done us more harm on the balance, Ebon, even when some individual women might have benefited more from it at some times.

    Hey now, bbk, I’m all for trying to find out the real numbers and the causes – which as you point out, we don’t know – but let’s not jump to blaming the women before we actually know anything. If some women really are facing harsher punishments for leaving the fold, then sneering at them for not being twice as brave and resourceful as men isn’t constructive. And depending on those punishments, some women might not gain “more” all the time, even when non-metaphorical stoning isn’t involved. Getting rape/murder threats on the internet from strangers who find and post your name and address is something many women face just for blogging about computer stuff, let alone something like atheism. If that sort of thing is equally standard for men, then maybe you could hypothesize that women as a group are acting more cautiously or cowardly or whatever, but if not, expecting equal results from people starting in unequal places isn’t helpful or reasonable.

    And let’s look at this again:

    Most women view “equality” as the opportunity to be equally oppressive to others [...] Ms Magazine will bestow churches who let women join the clergy with lavish compliments while slandering the men who actually offer true equality and welcoming anyone who joins, regardless of their age, race, or sex.

    Most women? Really? Every woman I’ve talked to or read about equality was not, actually, eager to oppress anyone, and in fact often tried to figure out how they might be supporting some other group’s oppression and stop doing it. (Nor were they huge proponents of Ms.) The only women I’ve met or read who are gung-ho about oppression or hating men are the ones who bought into the whole schtick about how men and women are from different planets, not the ones thinking about equality. So while you certainly might have met some different people who do fit your description, it’s not as simple as you’re portraying. Also, some of those women at Atheist Revolution were saying that in their experience, many atheist men weren’t welcoming “anyone who joins, regardless of their age, race, or sex.” Some do. Some don’t. So it’s also not helpful to slam the women unfortunate enough to run into the unwelcoming ones for not being excited about being treated exactly the same.

  • Alex Weaver

    It’s bbk. He’s got some issues to work out on this one specific topic.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Yeah, he seems to think that everything revolves around his poor, oppressed penis.

  • bbk

    Em, I’m trying to appreciate where you’re coming from. You said we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but if that’s the case then why should we assume that women have to try twice as hard? I also did not sneer at or blame women, so I’m sorry you felt that way. And why in the world would you think rape has anything to do with it? Are there a lot of atheist rapists or something? Maybe Ms Magazine should write about that.

    But let’s just focus on the fact that Ms Magazine made an attack on the atheist movement and specifically on the men. They blatantly said that it’s the men’s fault that more women aren’t involved. Yet, the perplexing thing is that there have been innumerable female atheist leaders. In fact, here’s a quote by the founder of Ms Magazine:

    It’s an incredible con job when you think about it, to believe something now in exchange for something after death. Even corporations with their reward systems don’t try to make it posthumous. — Gloria Steinem

    Throw in Emma Goldman, Madelin O’Hare, Ayn Rand, and a whole bunch of others already mentioned and you’ll find that there dozens of outspoken female leaders every bit as influential if not more-so than the four horsemen that Ms was pouncing on.

    On top of that, I can start rattling of atheist movie stars from Katherine Hepburn to Angelina Jolie. I know so many women who admire Jolie and she’s on the cover of at least one tabloid every time I’m buying groceries. And she’s making a movie version of Atlas Shrugged. I think she serves as a good role model, proves that atheist women can have strong values, be successful, beautiful (contrary to theist stereotypes), and charismatic.

    So forgive me, but if it’s really the fault of atheist men, then why not just form their own groups? I just don’t buy the argument that atheist men are somehow not welcoming enough. It seems utterly irrelevant and stupid to suggest that it’s even necessary for the men to somehow roll out the welcome mat and beg women to join up.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Crap, Neil’s here.

    Also, bbk, you may not wish to make Rand references around here, unless you want another bulls-eye on your back.

  • bbk

    Thump, I am no fan of Rand. Check out my comments here: http://www.daylightatheism.org/2010/11/nice-job-breaking-it-democrats.html#comments

    But I respect that she was an influential female atheist who has innumerable followers. To that extent, she is extremely relevant to this discussion and shouldn’t be overlooked.

    I also think the idea of Jolie making a movie of Atlas Shrugged has a lot of potential. It will be a movie with female lead played by a famous female atheist based on a book written by a famous female atheist. Not that there’s ever been a lack of strong female characters in atheist movies, but hey let’s not mention that to Ms. Moreover, Jolie is a staunch liberal so I think that if anyone makes Atlas Shrugged, it might as well be her. I think it will be as important as Jodie Foster starring in Cosmos.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I was just advising you to grab your helmet and get in your slit trench, there’s bound to be incoming.

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    What’s wrong “THUMP”?

    Are you afraid of because I am both much more experienced as well as more knowledgeable than most my age (75) (much less younger whimper snappers like you) I will factually and logically prove you wrong?

    Is it because I am someone whom not you, or anyone else, has so far been able to prove is wrong on any subject I have made public comments on?

    Facts are, I not only want to be proven wrong, I like to be proven wrong! Also, at least once a month, I ask the some 400 others to please prove me wrong when I send them the latest issue of my “Quotes, Jokes, & Good Stuff”

    You see Thump, it is easy being right
    like I am as long as you make sure you there are sufficient facts to back you up before you reach your conclusions, and then comment on a subject.

    Of course, unlike you and the others who hide behind screen names, I do not do so as I am a very honest and open person.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    This is your last warning, Neil.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    What’s wrong “THUMP”?

    Are you afraid of because I am both much more experienced as well as more knowledgeable than most my age (75) (much less younger whimper snappers like you) I will factually and logically prove you wrong?

    Is it because I am someone whom not you, or anyone else, has so far been able to prove is wrong on any subject I have made public comments on?

    Facts are, I not only want to be proven wrong, I like to be proven wrong! Also, at least once a month, I ask the some 400 others to please prove me wrong when I send them the latest issue of my “Quotes, Jokes, & Good Stuff”

    You see Thump, it is easy being right like I am as long as you make sure you there are sufficient facts to back you up before you reach your conclusions, and then comment on a subject.

    Of course, unlike you and the others who hide behind screen names, I do not do so as I am a very honest and open person.

    Out of respect for Ebonmuse’s blog, I will limit my commentary to: I’m underwhelmed.

    You can email me at Yahoo.com if you wish to take this up further. I shan’t ruin his blog anymore by responding to you here.

  • http://www.mindonfire.com xJane

    As an atheist woman I will say this: the most visible “new atheists” (as the media has called them) are white males. I think this says more of the sexism/racism of the medial than of the “new atheists” (I’m using scare quotes because I don’t get what’s “new” about them). That said, most feminists I know are quiet atheists: their feminism is more important to them to speak up about than their atheism. So maybe it’s a matter of women-have-more-things-to-think-about-fixing.

    That said, I have met sexist atheists and sexist theists. I am more likely to assume that the sexism is theistic in nature because I know first hand how paternalistic theism is. And I don’t convey the sexism of the male atheists I’ve met who exhibit it to the broader atheist community because I know so many more non-sexist atheists.

  • http://www.mindonfire.com xJane

    I don’t think you can properly call yourself a feminist unless you are a “new” atheist.

    said Sarah Braasch (#8 above). Yes, yes, a million times yes!

  • bbk

    xJame (and others), how would you respond to all the surveys indicating that there’s a almost twice as many atheist men as women, while churchgoers are more likely to be female? I agree that the media pays too much attention to a select group of male cohorts, but but is that enough to explain the statistics?

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    BBK, you present a classic chicken-egg conundrum: Are there fewer atheist women because there are less visible female atheist leaders, or are there fewer visible female atheist leaders because there are fewer atheist women? Barring outside malevolence (such as the media trying to paint atheists as sexist for some reason), this duality can actually be quite important. One side would be easier to fix than the other, I would hazard to guess which one, but science is not about the easy route, just the correct observation, unfortunately. Of course, Outside Malevolence might actually be the right answer to this: There are plenty of female atheist leaders, but someone with lots of money and influence (the church?) doesn’t want them being heard. [I use might in the purely statistical sense, it is non-zero, though I hope for our humanity that it is a low probability]

    Most atheists come from churches, so it isn’t in the conversion to and fro, but singular direction, so you can look at it from that “what is the cause, what is the effect” perspective. An inequity in atheists will create an opposite inequity in theists.

  • bbk

    Zietlos, you make a good point. At first glance that’s exactly what it looks like and it could be just as you describe it. But my personal view is that we’re looking at a number of female atheist leaders that far outstrip the proportion of female atheists, so I disagree with you there and it changes my entire perspective from there on out. While it seems to me that men are more likely to write books about it, women have for a long time been taking up organizational roles. Which is exactly what the “new” atheist movement is: a recognition of the organizational and outspoken approach originally conceived by women like Madelyn O’Hare. And you can look at everything from American Atheists down to local chapters of CFI and Drinking Skeptically to see organizations headed by women. Like I was saying, I think it’s a blatant lie to say that there aren’t enough “prominent” female leaders. Whether Bill Maher invites them on his show or not is a different story: they’re out there.

    Moreover, my question was really targeted at the idea proposed by some people that women are really atheists in equal numbers but that they have “bigger problems” on their minds. It’s the whole issue of feminism pulling the rug out from female atheism. But for men, who for better or worse have dominated academic fields, there has always been Humanist question(started by Christians). The ideology that says everyone, no matter how atheistic, should advocate for science exclusively. The idea that science and religion can coexist and that the greatest service to mankind is to promote science while pretending that atheism doesn’t exist. So, men have been dealing with that kind of crap for a long time and it’s why “new” atheism is so controversial in the first place. Are we to say that feminism is a bigger concern to women than science is to men? If that’s the case, if feminists are right for shunning atheism, then there goes the whole New Atheist movement. We should just throw in the towel and go back to being good little scientists.

    To some extent there’s an equivalent controversy between feminism and atheism, but really not even close to that same level. That’s what I can’t reconcile with the statistics. Everything else being equal, if this narrative is true and female atheists are there in the feminist movement, I would expect equal numbers of men and women to self identify as atheist and even more importantly; I would expect this contingent of feminists to be a huge drain on the female church going demographic. I would expect to see a huge rift between atheist feminist leaders (they’re there!) and Humanist feminists who think atheists should shut for the sake of the feminist cause. I would expect to see the atheist feminists beating down the apologists and starting to dominate the feminist movement. I would expect atheism to be incorporated into feminist theory to a much greater extent. I would expect feminist theology, including the likes of which brought us the term “Kyriarchy”, to be seen as an oxymoron worthy of derision. I don’t see that.

  • Mrnaglfar

    We’ve all heard the pontificating explanations that women are biologically more inclined to be religious, or that logical thinking and skepticism are intrinsically male traits

    I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that one before. What seem to be the best theories currently revolve around the idea that religious belief itself is a byproduct of other psychological modules rather than an adaptation in its own right. If men and women tend to differ to varying degrees in those underlying modules – sensitivity and/or reaction to certain stimuli – we could expect varying patterns of religious self-identification accordingly.

    xJame (and others), how would you respond to all the surveys indicating that there’s a almost twice as many atheist men as women, while churchgoers are more likely to be female?

    Given the byproduct theory, it would pay to examine why women attend religious services more (are they being pressured or do they actively pressure others?) as well as what other domains we see similar phenomena cropping up in. That goings-on of religious membership are unlikely to be an isolated case. I’m sure there’s research that bears on the matter, I just don’t have it off the top of my head.

  • bbk

    Mrnagifar, ok, so that’s one theory… kind of sounds like a kinder softer evolutionary biology… but are you saying that these other “modules” are biological in nature or could they also involve education and discrimination? If so, I’m not sure if overall that’s very enlightening in its own right… it just says that there is a perfectly good explanation for it somewhere out there. And how are you sure they are the best? Just to be clear I don’t have a position on this issue besides the fact that most of the theories I’ve heard so far are full of holes and don’t make any sense. All I really want to know are some convinving reasons backed my evidence, not anecdotes and biased by preconceived notions and ideologies.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Best I’ve heard so far, anyway. Beats out the meme hypothesis by a mile and I’ve yet to see an author make a convincing case for religion being an adaptation in its own right. If you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy of In Gods We Trust by Atran, and maybe Society without God by Zuckerman (the latter is a much quicker read, those a bit less informative I feel). Neither book is perfect – far from it – but I found them stimulating and interesting nonetheless.

    are you saying that these other “modules” are biological in nature or could they also involve education and discrimination

    I can’t tell what you mean there.

  • bbk

    I mean, I’m not sure what a “psychological module” is. That is to say, are they things that women are predisposed to possess naturally or are they things that develop because women are subject to different treatment than men? Are they like OCD, socialization, hormone balance, or what? It’s such a vague, abstract term. It’s not like there are literally pluggable “modules” that get inserted into someone’s brain like a piece of JavaScript on a web page.

  • Mrnaglfar

    A module is an information processing mechanism that deals with a relatively specific group of inputs. The psychological modules that are likely involved in religious belief are shared by both sexes, though they may tend to differ between the sexes on average.

    As for their development, I’m hardly qualified at the moment to comment on their specifics (the vast majority of people are not qualified either, though that will not stop them from postulating and espousing views about it). What I can say is that setting up a juxtaposition between “natural” and “experience-dependent” isn’t the way to go on it or anything else. Everything develops, and all development is contingent upon genetics and experience (from availability of certain resources to inputs). There is no such thing as an “experience-independent” module – something that develops irrespective of environmental conditions – even if in some cases we are unsure of what the developmental requirements are or how they affect the end phenotype.

    What I would recommend is to not examine this phenomena in isolation with respect to religion. Those same modules are going to be at work in plenty of other contexts. Seeing how they work across a variety of contexts will yield better insight into how they function with regard to religion, as well as the contexts under which their functioning is likely to be affected. The range in which they vary, given different environments, however, is also beyond my current expertise.

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    So EBON,

    THUMP, FOR NO VALID REASON AT ALL. MAKES A NEGATIVE COMMENT ABOUT ME, I RESPOND, I DO NOT SAY ANYTHNG EVEN CLOSE TO BEING WORTHY OF A WARNING AND YOU WARN ME?

    A DOUBLE STANDARD?

    GOT IN FOR ME BECAUSE YOU DO NOT LIKE BEING PROVEN WRONG? OR HAVING FOLKS STAND UP TO YOU?

  • http://www.AtheistsUnited.org/ Neil C. Reinhardt

    The following IS Worse Than ANYTHING I said and Yet, I see NO Warning.

    “Yeah, he seems to think that everything revolves around his poor, oppressed penis.”

    Comment #26 by: OMGF

  • Larry Spencer

    When I was a church-goer, I noticed that the women in church were less likely to question prevailing evangelical beliefs than the men. For example, I took an informal survey at a church retreat and found that virtually no women believed in evolution, while about half the men did.

    We can also observe the raw numbers. There are substantially more evangelical women than men. The numbers are especially telling among singles (those people who have no spouse dragging them to church). My wife and I always felt sorry for the single women of the church, since there were so few men around to marry them.

    If women are less prone to question cultural norms, and more likely to go to church, is it any wonder that most atheists are men?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Alright: Since Neil has been warned multiple times and has not only not changed his behavior, but is now taking it upon himself to complain about moderation decisions that don’t even involve him, he’s banned for one week. I take this step in the probably forlorn hope that it will persuade him to be more civil in the future.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I must confess he gets my inner troll itchy.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Ebonmuse, your patience is that of a… Hmm… Saints weren’t really very patient people in general. Patience of a crocodile? They seem like patient folks…

    Thump: I’d scratch your inner troll, but that sounds dirty somehow. Interesting discussion on shared psychoses, though.

    Do you think being an atheist makes you more or less likely to be a troll? I must admit, most trolls I’ve met are male, so by simple logic: Most trolls are male. Most atheists are male. Therefore, most atheists are trolls. :)

    Perhaps the female atheists need to troll more?

  • Alex Weaver

    If women are less prone to question cultural norms, and more likely to go to church, is it any wonder that most atheists are men?

    Assuming that’s true and not a product of cognitive bias, and more broadly true than your personal experience would support by itself, are you not even slightly curious about why it might be so?


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