Feminist 8 Ball and the Hard Questions

By Amy Cook

Dear Feminist 8 Ball,

Can you give the following questions the consideration they deserve?


Mike Buchanan*, UK

Dear Mike,

Thanks for writing! I received your list of questions and have provided the best answers available to me. Being an 8 Ball, the answers are, of course, succinct. Enjoy!


1. Are you a misogynist if you only hate feminists?

It is certain.

2. What is feminism in the modern era?

Outlook good.

3. How do radical feminists view the world?

As I see it, yes.

4. Are feminists less intelligent than normal women?

My reply is no.

5. Are feminists less attractive than normal women?

Why is this important to you?

6. Do feminists suffer from PPS (Permanent Premenstrual Syndrome)?

Very doubtful.

7. Why do feminists deny the different natures of men and women?


8. Why must taxpayers stop financing Women's Studies and Gender Studies courses?

You may rely on it.

9. What are the big fat feminist fantasies, lies, delusions and myths?

Very doubtful.

10. Are feminists delusional?

My sources say no.

10.a. Is the pope a Catholic?

Most likely.

10.b. Do bears crap in woods?

Concentrate and ask again.

11. How are feminists killing men and women?

Are you okay? Take time for yourself.

12. Are some feminists (e.g. Tracey Emin) a pain in the arts?

It is decidedly so.

About the Author:

Feminist 8 Ball knows that the world is at times disappointing and strange and may encourage supplicants to practice self care. Feminist 8 Ball also knows that we are all products of our experience and may encourage supplicants to challenge their beliefs and biases. Feminist 8 Ball also has a sense of humor which leans strongly towards word play and poop jokes.

*Letter fabricated from whole cloth, questions attributed to LW are excerpted from LW’s Very Important Self Published EBook.

Secular Woman Member Article

Ought Richard Dawkins be locked in jail? (Thought Experiment)

Secular Woman Member ArticleNow, obviously there is a taboo on the removing of fundamental human rights from anyone, but as freethinkers I think we should be able to ask this question without heated emotions but with cool logic.

Now let us assume that Richard Dawkins is growing senile in age, and what is more, through this causing a great deal of harm with his public outbursts. In particular, say, let us assume these outbursts are hurting the public image of atheism and thus strengthening fundamentalist religion. Well, there can be no doubt that the net harm done to Dawkins by locking him away and censoring his freedom of speech-in this one instance – would have a net positive if it caused more people to leave fundamentalist religion. What’s more, we could provide Dawkins with a Spartan existence out of his own wealth and donate the rest to much better causes, like the rights of oppressed Muslim women(let us call her Muslima for simplicity.)

Now it must be recognized that this is a restriction of Dawkins’s freedoms, but they are not nearly so bad as those conditions in North Korea. This is not a defense of course of incarcerating Dawkins, but rather a thought experiment that I think raises interesting questions about the rights of individuals versus that of the greater good.

Now I know many are afraid of a Stalin like crackdown on those asking this sort of question, legitimately, but I think as freethinkers we must have the courage to apply logic to these sorts of questions.

And if you disagree on my hypothetical involving Dawkins, please feel free to use Harris or Hitchens or whoever you like! It is only a philosophical thought experiment.

Insult Against Women

By Connie Torrisi

Recently, I read Greta Christina’s book, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? The book goes through a long list of things that make Christina angry toward religious believers. I must admit, that I also find many of the same things quite irritating. I become frustrated when people insist on believing in supernatural beings and a host of other superstitions that are totally lacking in evidential support.

But there is something else that makes me angry and irritates my feminist frame of mind: referring to god as a “pussy.” 

To call someone a ‘pussy’ is to say that the person is soft, weak, ineffectual, and inadequate. In other words, a pussy is not manly.

Men have used the term to describe women for centuries. While a pussy cat can mean soft, warm, cuddly and cute when referring to domestic cats, it has never been a term of endearment when referring to women. It is meant to designate women as less than equal, and less than desirable human beings.

When an atheist refers to god as a pussy, he is trying to make a specific point. I get that. However, I find the term “pussy” so derogatory, that I am not only infuriated, I take it as a personal insult. In reality, it is an insult to all women.

Men are in the habit of spitting out the word “pussy” at other men in order to degrade them as much as possible. It is an insult of the highest degree. To be a pussy is to be like a woman, and there is nothing lower on this earth than to be a woman.

Within the general category of Freethought, women need to elevate men’s awareness of such crude terminology. Freethought has no room for chauvinistic attitudes. 

I am no more comfortable with a Freethought male who regards women as subhuman than I am with a religious fundamentalist.

Freethought means to be open-minded, not locked into the assumption of   gender superiority. For this reason alone, such an organization as Secular Woman serves to isolate us from the vulgarities of men who are not yet totally freethinking.

Hiding Women’s History

By Connie Torrisi

Under the current educational standards across the United States, students are taught history in a plethora of omissions, egg aerations, out right lies and glossing over of the events that shaped America.

History, according to how we teach today, was created by men. Women have been virtually non-existent in terms of historical accomplishments.

 It is not as if women contributed nothing toward the development and betterment of our country. Granted, most women were chained to domestic roles that allowed little time for pursuits outside the home. Husbands and fathers and other male relatives strongly discouraged women from pursuits beyond the front door.

But there were, in fact, many women who managed to break free of restrictive, traditional roles and make impressive and lasting contributions to society.

If it were not for Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902), women may never been granted the right to vote or to own property. Anthony and Stanton were the pioneers of the long quest for women’s rights.

But, what have the schools taught us about Anthony and Stanton beyond their efforts to obtain woman’s rights? What have historians glossed over or avoided entirely about these two women?

Stanton was a freethinker. She was strongly resistant toward organized religion. She clearly believed women were discriminated against and subjected to second class status by Christianity. As she grew older, she became more outspoken against religious dogma and in 1895 published The Woman’s Bible. The book was not well received by the women’s suffrage movement and even Susan B. Anthony wanted to distance herself from the radical views of her lifelong friend.

Anthony, on the other hand, is depicted as a woman who chose not to marry in order to devote herself to obtaining the right to vote for women. Having freedom from domestic limitations and not being subjected to a husband’s rule may have been some part of Anthony’s overall strategy. However, evidence indicates that Susan B. Anthony was a lesbian. Her decision not to marry may not have been solely for the sake of personal freedom. No one knows whether her close friendship with Stanton included unrequited, romantic feelings. What is known, however, is that Anthony had a long term relationship with a woman named Emily Gross.

Although Gross was married, she managed to travel and spend a great deal of time with Anthony. Gross was not actually involved with the woman’s suffrage movement, yet was at Anthony’s side extensively. According to Lillian Faderman, author of To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America – A History, (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999) Anthony made her feelings for Gross known in correspondence to friends and referred to Emily as her ‘lover’.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Station are only two participants in the vast army of women who contributed to our history.  While the essence of their contribution is taught in schools, other aspects of their lives are hidden and ignored. Is it necessary to point out that Susan B. Anthony was a lesbian or that Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a freethinker?

We need to know such information in order to bring women’s history out of the closet.  By avoiding and denying the existence of lesbians and freethinkers, the truth about human diversity remains hidden.

All history is served up in bits and pieces. Events are sometimes taken out of context and facts are changed or eliminated. In practice, historical figures are often portrayed as adhering to the same social, political and religious beliefs. Except for some larger-than-life male figures such as George Washington, historians simply ignore anything that falls outside the expectations of the majority.  Common sense tells us that Lillian Faderman can not be the first and only researcher and writer to discover lesbians strewn throughout history. Common sense also tells us that Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder of Freedom From Religion Foundation, is not the first to discover a multiple of female freethinkers who sought to awaken the minds of the masses.

Women’s History is slowly being removed from the grip of bias, half truths, and indifference. Young women today have greater opportunities to learn about the hundreds of women who took active roles in forging history.

The fact that Susan B. Anthony was a lesbian and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a freethinker does not make their contributions to the world any less significant.  For me, in fact, knowing that some of my favorite female heroes were lesbian and/or freethinkers makes them all the more dear to my heart.

As we enter Women’s History Month this year, we have the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the women who came before us: we have the opportunity to view them at deeper level than ever before.

As cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead expressed it:

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”

The gifts that Anthony and Stanton (and others) left us are forever a part of our society and culture. To acknowledge their diverse human attributes is to thank them for all that they gave.

On the Loss of False Male Privilege

by Trinity Aodh

False Male Privilege is experienced by trans women prior to transition.  It only affects us externally, and only until our presentation changes.

Back in May, I traveled to Women in Secularism 2.  It was far from my first time getting somewhere by greyhound bus, but it was my first time taking one while presenting distinctly feminine, as I generally opted to travel while presenting androgynously even after my transition.  I arrived at the bus station early, only to find out it was running late, leaving me at the station for well over an hour and a half.  I passed the time listening to music and texting, generally trying to ignore the world around me.  A young man was sitting on the other side of the station on a laptop when I arrived, and he stayed for about half an hour before putting away his computer and getting up to leave.  On his way out he stopped in front of me and started to talk to me.  I looked up and took out one headphone, assuming he might be from out of town and asking for directions.  Instead he asked me what kind of music I like, and what I was listening to, even asking me to show him some, indicating the earbuds I was using (gross…).  Eventually he gave up and left, only to come back a minute later without his things to try again, asking me what concerts I had been to and other small talk before finally giving up again after too many single word answers.

The bus itself was fairly empty, and the ride uneventful apart from being late and nearly missing a connection.  I arrived in DC, found my way down to the metro and started reading the machine to figure out how to buy myself a ticket that will get me to my friend’s house.  Two men immediately came over, and started explaining the machine to me as if it were something I was incapable of figuring out, including asking such personal information as where I was going and why I was in town, stuff I didn’t think much of giving out at the time.  The metro ride itself, to my friend’s house and then to the conference and back everyday, was constantly full of stares.  One man, riding with what I assume were his wife and children, spent the entire thirty minutes we were on the train staring very intently at my thighs.  Other times I’d occasionally catch whispers between groups of men about the “chick with red hair.”


Arriving back in Pennsylvania, my ride from the bus station to home fell through, and I wouldn’t have another one for about six hours.  I decided to walk a couple miles to an area with some shops to pass time.  While walking next to the road I noticed an unusual frequency of people honking their horns.  For an area with such a small population, and so little traffic it wasn’t usual to hear it every couple minutes as I did.  It finally struck me as a single car honked passing by, with no other cars or people in the area: it was all being directed at me.  Why was more obvious when a man in a red convertible pulled over to offer me a ride, with an expectant “are you sure?” when I declined.

Not a single thing listed is something I had experienced while male-presenting, and none of it was pleasant.  An even worse set of events happened just a couple weeks ago, walking by myself on my way home through a more populated city.  I passed by a crowded bar with a few men outside smoking cigarettes.  One of them looked at me, his eyes obviously going straight from my breasts to my butt.  He said “Hey there, sweetheart” followed by something I couldn’t quite make out.  As I got past him I muttered “I’m not your sweetheart” under my breath, quiet enough he likely didn’t hear.  I got a few feet away and I heard him yell behind me “Hey!  Where the fuck do you think you’re going?”  I quickened my pace without turning around, and my hand instinctively rested on my knife.

As I got to the corner where I needed to cross, I heard two men coming up behind me laughing, both wearing tuxedos.  They looked at me and said “Don’t worry, we’re not going to creep you out… well maybe we’ll creep you out a little” and one stepped towards me reaching his arm out.  I backed up putting distance between me and him, and refused to blink until after they crossed.  The traffic light cycled once more before I crossed, and made my way to my bike, thankful the rest of the way wasn’t as populated.  Riding home, on the empty path I got one more comment, shouted anonymously from some home nearby.  “Hey good looking, going for a bike ride?”

In the span of ten minutes, I was persistently harassed in a way I never experienced previous to transition, by people treating me as they would any other woman passing by.  I never felt more terrified of the people I passed on the street previous to transition including when a man once pulled a switchblade and demanded my wallet while I was still in university.  These people weren’t interested in my purse or my jewelry, they wanted my body, and that made me feel incredibly small.

All else being equal, the levels of harassment from strangers on the street I experienced before and after transition went from a single attempted mugging to nearly every man I pass staring, whispering, or shouting about my body, or even outright threatening me.  To treat anyone this way is unacceptable even if it were just one incident, and the reality is far worse than any isolated encounter.  The world is teaching me that it does not value my comfort or safety as a woman, and I have little choice but to listen.

Thinking Freely

by Connie Torrisi

Long before I understood the meaning of such terms as freethinker, agnostic or atheist, I knew I could not buy into the concept of religion. I was only thirteen when I intellectually separated myself from the Catholic Church and its mumbo-jumbo dogma.

I hated parochial school with its emphasis on religion and the supernatural. Pointed questions about religious teachings were waved off with non-explanatory responses such as “God works in mysterious ways.” 

I resented the Church’s attitude regarding girls and women.  Emphasis was placed on what was assumed to be God’s plan: girls were to grow up to be mothers and housewives. Boys, on the other hand, were destined by God to explore, create and achieve. Long before the women’s liberation movement began, I was outraged by this overt discrimination against females.

Throughout my adult life, I rarely gave religion much thought except when it was involuntarily forced into my consciousness.

One day, after a discussion about the existence or nonexistence of God, a friend and I decided to embark on a quest, of sorts, in an attempt to discover the truth about God and religion. We began our individual quests and occasionally provided each other with brief updates on our progress toward personal enlightenment. About ten months later, – my friend reported that she had completed her quest. Her conclusion was that she was unworthy of salvation and condemned to hell. 

“I’m going to hell because I’m gay,” she said woefully. “The bible says so. God hates gays.”

“But you always say that God made you as you are,” I said. “He made you gay.”

“Yes, but, you’re supposed to fight against being gay. You’re not supposed to act on it sexually. If you do, you fail God’s test.”

“Isn’t he stacking the deck by creating you gay in the first place?” I asked.

“I guess so, but God has his reasons.” she replied.

“It doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“It’s not supposed to,” she answered.


My friend ended her quest, but I went onward, taking courses in religious studies and reading authors like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchins. I even read parts of the bible, only to find myself continuously disgusted by the bible’s depiction of women, not to mention the violence and questionable measures of justice. Eventually, I reached the point where I was no longer on a spiritual quest, but rather a search for others who shared my vision of a world without religious superstitions and dogma. While I don’t claim to have reached full enlightenment in all matters, I do believe I have found the answers I was seeking regarding religion.


Before I began my quest, I saw religion as detrimental to individuals and society as a whole. Religion placed too much emphasis on dependency on supernatural beings such as gods, angels and demons. Religion caused people to focus on the promise of an afterlife, rather than living in the present. Religion encouraged people to hate one another because of the “my god is mightier than your god” collective attitude. And, sadly, religion destroys the individual’s ability to think and to reason freely. Religion creates lazy minds; it is easier to accept on blind faith than it is to use the power of reason.

Religion is a destructive force in human history. The Crusades, the Inquisition and the witch hunts were all part of human intolerance for diversity and freedom of choice. In modern times, religion is the force behind 9/11 and many of the subsequent acts of terrorism that are becoming more frequent.

Reaching the point where it no longer felt freakish identify myself as an atheist hasn’t been easy. Friends have not always reacted well to my anti-religion sentiments. Coming out as a nonbeliever often draws a stronger negative reaction than does coming out as gay or lesbian. In the twenty-first century, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists, are the latest sub-group to be subjected to hatred and hostility.

History has shown that t intellectual laziness leads to the abuse of power. When people do not use their ability to think and reason they often become victims of that abuse of power by those who seek to maintain political, religious and societal control.

Human history is filled with examples of religion-based crusades and inquisitions that resulted in the torture and murder of millions. Such slaughters cannot be allowed to happen repeatedly. The way to prevent history from repeating such horrors is to encourage the demise of superstition and belief in the supernatural. Instead, our focus must be geared toward promoting critical thinking, starting in the schools. Just as religious leaders know that they must install their dogma into young minds, critical thinking skills must be taught at an early age in order for children to grow into free-thinking adults.

The fact is that our educational system does not teach critical and logical thinking. Students are not taught to evaluate the facts and form their own conclusions. Instead, they are handed ready-made conclusions that society expects them to accept without question. This is especially true for religion, where faith is valued above reason.

To be a Freethinker means to stand away of the crowd, not inhale religious nonsense and a host of silly superstitions. To be a Freethinker is to accept having only one life to live, and that is the life we are currently living.  To be a Freethinker is to let scientific evidence be the basis for drawing conclusions. And to be a Freethinker is to form opinions based on reason, not based on fear of retribution from an invisible supernatural being.

To be a freethinker, then, is to be truly liberated from the chains of religious dogma.

Member Article: Jesus and an Atheist Plea For a US Pathway to Citizenship

By Dr. Kristi Winters

This is my plea to Christians who would cite US immigration law as moral justification for opposing a pathway to citizenship. I will show how a teaching attributed to Jesus can be used by Christians and non-Christians alike to support a view that morally requires a pathway to citizenship.

During an August town hall meeting Congressman Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R- Tenn) was asked a question by 11 year-old Josie Molina, whose undocumented father is facing deportation. “I have a dad who’s undocumented, “she said. “What can I do so he can stay with me?” The Congressman thanked her for her question. He responded ‘the answer still kinda remains the same: we have laws and we need to follow those laws, and that’s where we’re at” (Lee, 2013).

After the media picked up on the exchange Congressman DesJarlais gave a statement which read, in part, “I felt I owed Ms. Molina an honest answer to her question. We are a nation of laws and breaking those laws have consequences. While this country has always had a generous immigration policy, we simply cannot condone individuals coming here illegally” (Marginol, 2013).

Later I saw this coverage on the Rachel Maddow show (Maddow, 2013). A crowd protested at a detention facility demanding the temporarily stop to all deportations while a pathway to citizenship is debated. After the protest finished a bus began to exit the facility. The crowd realized the bus carried people for deportation and the protestors spontaneously decided to sit in the road to stop the bus.

I was struck by the instinct of the protestors who empathized with the suffering of the families of those strangers on the bus. Their suffering was a direct result of the application of the laws that Congressman DesJarlais used as his moral justification. In that moment realized that Jesus and I shared a common view of how people should see the law. I would now like to show how Jesus and an atheist can find common ground on interpreting the law.

The teaching is found in Mark 2:27-28 (also Matt 3:1-8 and Luke 6:1-5).[i] Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field and some of his disciples began to pick the heads off grain, presumably to make food.  Some Pharisees are also hanging out near these fields and they question Jesus as to why his disciples are doing something unlawful on the Sabbath.  Answering a question with a question, Jesus asks them about King David and his companions who, when they were hungry, took the Bread of Presence and ate it even though that was unlawful for anyone but the priests. Jesus then says, “The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. Therefore, the son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”[ii] [iii]

I want to focus on these sentences: “The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. Therefore, the son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” I will first present a Christian theological interpretation, and then I will look at the passage from an historical Jesus perspective. 

In Christian theology one purpose of this passage is to establish Jesus’ right to interpret the Law. The other conveys that Jesus’ interpretation of the Law focuses on the spirit rather than the letter. I quote here from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology entry for ‘Sabbath’:

‘…by stressing that the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27) Jesus gives an indication as to its true meaning. That is, he places it against the universal horizon of God's intent that it benefit all creation and not just Israel’ (Elwell, 1996). What I want to highlight here is that the sabbath, as part of the law, was meant to benefit humans, not harm them.

How does this relate to immigration in America?  It goes to the use of the law as moral justification for tearing families apart. If American Christians look to the Bible for their guidance on how to interpret laws, what they will find is Jesus demonstrating an interpretation of Jewish law that promotes human good. I don’t think anyone, Christian or non-Christian, could watch this video and think that putting family members on opposite sides of a wall is good (Unitedwestand, 2013).

I also want to explore this passage from an historical perspective. Professor Bart Ehrman, an expert in the New Testament, points to this passage as one that scholars think very likely goes back to the historical Jesus. His argument is very compelling: this passage actually makes more sense in Aramaic than it does in the Greek translation.

“The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. Therefore, the son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”  Ehrman (2012) points out the confusing inclusion of ‘therefore’ which means ‘as a consequence’ or ‘as a result’ (Random House, 2010). He writes, ‘I sometimes tell my students that when they see the word therefore in a passage, they should ask, what is the therefore there for?’ (p. 89). The problem is solved by translating this passage back into the language of Jesus: Aramaic. Aramaic uses the same word, barnash, to mean both “man/human” and “son of man.” We can re-write the passage to get closer its original version: “The sabbath was made for barnash, not barnash for the sabbath. Therefore, barnash is lord even of the sabbath.” 

The ‘therefore’ now makes more sense.  Humans are lord of the sabbath because it was created for them; humans were not created to be slaves to the law. This interpretation puts the moral responsibility on humans to interpret the law in life-affirming ways.

These two interpretations, one based in Christian theology and one from an historical approach, converge on the same moral point: the law (or the sabbath) is meant to promote what is good for people; it is not a good in and of itself.  If questions arise as to how to interpret the law (or the sabbath) then we must be guided by the knowledge that it was made for humans, and it should be interpreted in a way that furthers human good.

Our laws are there to protect people, not to harm them.  When our laws are harming more people than they are helping, Jesus prods those who follow him to examine their hearts and conscience. I therefore cite Jesus in my plea to Christians and ask them to consider the moral consequences of opposing a pathway to citizenship. Is the law doing more harm than good when thousands of Josie Molinas are parted from their mothers and fathers? 

Hiding behind the law will not protect us from the moral responsibility of supporting policies that result in children and parents reaching out to embrace through the walls of a fence. As an atheist, I stand with Jesus on this issue. Do what is good for human life, for families and for the well-being of so many children. Support a pathway to citizenship.


Ehrman, Bart (2012) ‘Chapter 3: The Gospels as Historical Sources’ Did Jesus Exist? Harper Collins E-pub edition. Pp. 69-92 of 365 pages.

Elwell, Walter A. (1996) Baker's Evangelical Dictionary. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI


Lee, Traci. (2013) ‘Crowd cheers as GOP rep. tells girl her dad should be deported’ Martin Bashir, MSNBC. http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/08/19/crowd-cheers-as-gop-rep-tells-girl-her-dad-will-be-deported/

Margolin, Emma. (2013) ‘GOP rep insists 11-year-old’s undocumented dad has to go’ Thomas Roberts, MSNBC. http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/08/23/republican-still-says-11-year-olds-undocumented-dad-has-to-go/

Maddow, Rachel. (2013) ‘New generation of activists fight rights abuses’ The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC. http://video.msnbc.msn.com/rachel-maddow/52832652

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary. (2010) ‘Therefore’ http://www.thefreedictionary.com/therefore

Unitedwedream (2013) ‘Operation Butterfly Reunion at the Border’ YouTube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gGi21o5p6c

[i] Mark is the earliest of the four gospels, and therefore the closest in time to the historical Jesus.

[ii] I do not use modern practices of capitalization such as ‘Son of Man’ since these do not appear in the earliest and best manuscripts.

[iii] Webster Bible Translation.


Member Article: Why the GOP Should Worry About the Shutdown Gender Gap

By Dr. Kristi Winters

It is no secret that the Republican Party has a problem with women voters and an edge with men. President Obama won women voters by 12 percent and lost men’s votes by 8 percent in the 2012 election. That cumulative 20 point difference between men and women voters was the largest ever observed since Gallup began collecting data in 1952 (Gallup, 2012).

However, that aggregate data obscures important variation. Known as the ‘marriage gap’, single and married women’s voting patterns differ.  Romney did better among married women than Barack Obama, 53 percent for Romney to 46 percent for the President. The opposite was true for single women, 63 percent of whom voted for Obama (McDonnell, 2012).

Another socio-demographic cleavage between women’s votes is race.  White women were more likely to vote for Romney than the President, 56 percent to Obama’s 42 percent.  Women in every other racial category were far more likely to support the President: 96 percent of black women and 76 percent of Latinas (Wilson, 2012).[i]

These figures help up to build up a mental image of the women who are most likely to vote Republican: white, married women.  Add in the information on religiosity (especially belonging to an evangelical form of Christianity) and income (the higher it is the more likely you are to vote Republican) and we can refine the picture of the reliably Republican woman voter even further. 

That is what makes the results of a poll published this month so shocking to me. It seems that on the issue of a government shutdown, the GOP is manufacturing its own, unnecessary intra-party shutdown gender gap.  And it’s a big one.

David Winston conducted a national survey of 1,000 registered voters between July 31 and August 1, 2013 (York, 2013). Respondents were given the following question: ‘Some members of Congress have proposed shutting down the government as a way to defund the president’s health care law.” People were then asked to indicate if they were in favor of that idea or opposed to it.

For all respondents to the survey, 71 percent indicated opposition to the idea, 23 percent favored it.  For Republicans, 53 were opposed and 37 percent were in favor.  But what I found fascinating was the internal Republican gender gap the survey found.

Republican men narrowly support the idea of a shutdown, 48 percent in comparison with the 41 percent who oppose it. This number would indicate that the GOP is not wrong in pushing the idea of a shutdown, and this view reflects the plurality view of its base. It would seem to indicate that Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz reflect the views of the people who elected them.

And you might be right in thinking that until you look at the numbers for Republican women in this survey. A whopping 61 percent of Republican women oppose a federal government shutdown in this survey, compared with only 29 percent who support it.

The Mike Lees and Ted Cruzs of the Republican world are not speaking for all Republicans.  They are Republican men speaking to other Republican men and ignoring the views of, what this survey suggests, is the view of the vast majority of Republican women.

After the 2012 election, an election characterized by the phrase ‘war on women’ and the meme ‘binders full of women’, the Republican National Committee published the results of a deep introspection – some called it an autopsy – of their 2012 election cycle.  In their ‘Women’ section, they wrote, ‘…when developing our Party’s message, women need to be part of this process to represent some of the unique concerns that female voters may have’ (RNC, 2013:19).

If we compare the political strategies offered by radical Republican members of Congress to these polling, the results the obvious conclusion is that the GOP hasn’t yet begun to listen to the women who voted for them, let alone women who do not identify as Republican.

Republican women might favor smaller government and less regulation, but they still want government to function. Those Republican women’s voices might not be the loudest in the room in a town hall meeting, or the most radical on issues of shutdown but Republican women are paying attention. Based on these poll numbers, if the GOP attempts to play chicken with the daily operations of the federal government those silent voices of women could turn into disappearing support at the ballot box.

As Congress reconvenes after the summer recess, elected Republican men, you have been warned.  Defy the silent majority of women in your party at your own peril (and voter base).


Online sources:

Gallup. (2012) 'Gender Gap in 2012 Vote Is Largest in Gallup's History.’ Gallup.com. http://www.gallup.com/poll/158588/gender-gap-2012-vote-largest-gallup-history.aspx

McDonnell, Meg. (2012) ‘The marriage gap in the women’s vote.’ Mercatornet. http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the_marriage_gap_in_the_womens_vote

Republican National Committee. (2013) ‘Growth and Opportunity Project’ Republican National Committee. http://growthopp.gop.com/rnc_growth_opportunity_book_2013.pdf

Wilson, David. (2012) ‘The Elephant in the Exit Poll Results: Most White Women Supported Romney’ Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-c-wilson/the-elephant-in-the-exit_b_2094354.html

York, Byron. (2013) ‘GOP poll finds strong opposition to government shutdown.’  Washington Examiner. http://washingtonexaminer.com/gop-poll-finds-strong-opposition-to-government-shutdown/article/2534580

[i] In this dataset all other races were collapsed into a single category, of which 66 percent of women of all other races supported the President.


God(s) and the null hypothesis

God(s) and the Null Hypothesis
By Dr. Kristi Winters

 ‘So why don’t you believe in god?’

‘Because I accept the null hypothesis,’ is the reply I would like to give, but that might sound like a non sequitur. Yet the null hypothesis is the perfect starting point to investigate the existence of pretty much anything. It assumes that there is no relationship between x and y. An alternative hypothesis would posit that a relationship between x and y exists. Evidence is reviewed and we determine whether it is sufficient to allow us to reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternative.

Why is the null hypothesis so important? It keeps us intellectually honest.

Human beings are amazing, we really are. We have the innate ability to make observations of the world and connect different events together in ways that provide powerful insights and knowledge and can transform human life. In the 1906 Typhoid Mary case, George Soper used science and deduction to reveal the existence of asymptomatic disease carriers, a concept that hadn’t – until that moment in time – existed. In August of 2013, over 100 years later, a study was published that explains the mystery of how people can carry dangerous pathogens but not fall ill from the disease (Huffington Post 2013).

But humans are unreliable amateur scientists because of our natural biases. We have a tendency to think that correlation implies causation (Jaffe 2010) and that particular error produces no end of superstitious beliefs: never stepping on the foul line of a baseball field is an example of a sports superstition (Reuter 2011).

Humans think they intuitively understand probability, but sadly most people don’t realize how at it bad they really are. New York’s stop and frisk policy relies on the idea that associations between race and crime that are found at the geographic level will also be found at the individual level. In other words they assume because areas of higher crime rates also have higher minority populations that by stopping more minorities in those high crime areas they are more likely to find potential criminals. That is what is known as an ecological fallacy.

The resulting evidence even proves it is a fallacy: 2012 stop and frisk statistics show that whites possessed guns and contraband at far higher rates than either blacks or Latinos. The ratio of stops to gun possession was for 1:48 for whites 1:71 for Latinos and 1:93 for African Americans. For contraband whites topped the list at a rate of 1 in 43 stops compared with 1 in 57 for Latinos and 1 in every 61 stops for blacks (TV-Novosti 2013). Yet many people refuse to accept that this ‘logical’ application of aggregate level associations will not be found when you stop individuals, even when the evidence shows it doesn’t appear. Our emotional attachment to our fallacies can cloud our minds even when the empirical evidence is beyond dispute.

This is why people ought to evaluate the existence of gods using the null hypothesis. I mentioned that the null hypothesis is most often used to evaluate causal relationships between phenomena. It can easily be applied to the existence of supernatural beings such as gods. I will provide a null (HO) and alternative hypothesis (HA):

HO: Gods do not exist.

HA: Gods exist.

Simple enough, right? But the atheist’s job is not done there because a theist might want to take up the challenge. The issue, then, is what is to be considered evidence of a god or gods? Two things are important here. The first depends on the definition of ‘god’ the theist gives. I’m not going to engage with the various definitions of god here, I must leave that to the theists rather than attempt to speak for them. I want to focus on the second, what constitutes evidence of existence, and offer some thoughts.

One definition of evidence is ‘the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.’ (Oxford Dictionaries 2013, p. 2) In science all evidence must be observable. Inferences in isolation are not evidence in science. Consider this: science posited the idea of the Higgs-Boson particle in 1964, but that was not sufficient evidence of its existence. That was not confirmed until March of 2013 and it was based on observation. All claims about the universe requiring something supernatural to start it can be thrown out unless are accompanied by observable physical evidence of the supernatural starting the natural universe.

Another criterion is that any claim must apply equally to all those who make it. Theists might point to a holy book as evidence for their god. The problem is that there are many gods written about in many books. If the theists want to introduce a book as evidence of existence then ALL books about gods must also count as evidence of their existence. Science doesn’t allow for special pleading (Curtis, n.d.), so either all human works about gods are in and they are all equally valid, or they are all out.

I would also note that the natural world cannot be evidence of the supernatural. There is no valid reason to accept natural events as evidence of anything other than natural processes because the supernatural, by definition, is not natural. It is as non-natural as one can get. Therefore, pointing to the existence of the human eye is not evidence of the existence of supernatural gods.

Rare events, those that are highly improbable, are not supernatural events either. There are merely highly unlikely. Clearly a highly improbable event cannot be a miracle because we can and do we can estimate the probability of their occurrence. I’ll quote comedian Tim Minchin (2009) who joked about the idea that giving birth identical quadruplet girls – a 1 in 64 million chance event – was a miracle: ‘Things that have a ‘1 in 64 million chance of happening’ happen all the time. To presume that your 1-in-64-million-chance thing is ‘a miracle’ is to significantly underestimate the total number of things that there are.’

After establishing a fair and reasonable basis for what constitutes legitimate evidence of gods what one is left with is a lack of any evidence. Without sufficient evidence to the contrary, we must hold to the null hypothesis: gods do not exist. This is not an emotional decision. I’m not denying or rejecting anything. I’m merely observing the fact that there is no evidence of gods that allow me to accept the alternative hypothesis.

It is what science does every day. And it seems to me if gods really did exist, providing evidence of their existence wouldn’t be so hard.

Online Sources

Curtis, Gary. No date. ‘Special pleading at the Fallacy Files.’ Available online at:  http://www.fallacyfiles.org/specplea.html

Huffington Post. 2013. 'Typhoid Mary' Mystery May Have Been Solved At Last, Scientists Say.’ Available online at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/17/typhoid-mary-mystery-solved_n_3762822.html

Jaffe, Adi. 2010. ‘Correlation, causation, and association – What does it all mean???’ Available online at:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-addiction/201003/correlation-causation-and-association-what-does-it-all-mean

Minchin, Tim. Uploaded 2009. ‘Tim Minchin on Religion.’ Available online at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ_9dEPBHQQ

Oxford Dictionaries. 2013. ‘Evidence.’ Available online at:  http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/evidence

Reuter, Joel. (2011) ‘MLB Power Rankings: The 50 Strangest Superstitions and Rituals in Baseball.’ Available online at:  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/677898-mlb-power-rankings-the-50-strangest-superstitionsrituals-in-baseball-history

TV-Novosti. 2013. ‘NYC stop-and-frisk data: Whites more likely to carry weapons and drugs.’ http://rt.com/usa/stop-frisk-whites-drugs-weapons-667/

This article was edited on 05 September 2013.

Member Article: Reactions to Revelations

On August 8th, 2013, PZ Meyers did several important things.


First, he listened, without judgment, when someone told him they'd been assaulted. He didn't question her about her actions prior to the assault, or her motivations for confiding in him. Second, he confided in a mutual acquaintance that he needed confirmation that the source of this story was trustworthy. Third, he considered how to react to this information. Up until this point I don't think anyone will disagree with his choices. This is all Survivor 101.


Here are some of the items that he probably considered while deciding on a course of action:

  • The assault is not recent.
  • The perpetrator is very well known.
  • The person who had been assaulted told organizers at the event about the assault and they did nothing about it.
  • This person fears retaliation from fans of the perpetrator and even the perpetrator himself (reasonably so given the community's response to similar allegations).


It also sounds like he considered the possible damage of a false accusation (highly unlikely given what we know about reporting cases of sexual assault) and decided that the damage done by a potentially false public accusation (I'm not implying that this or this or this were false accusations, but that the damage done to the alleged perpetrator is minimal) would be less than the damage done by keeping a true one private (behavior self-reported by rapists indicates that most attacks are perpetrated by serial rapists). Finally, he posted this blog.

Among the many reactions to that blog (and others like it) that I've seen, I'm most perplexed (and angered, and saddened, and frustrated) by the refrain that "these are issues for the courts to decide, and there are protocols in place that address these issues". The idea that the only time someone should be held responsible for something they have done wrong is when we send them to jail for it is laughable. It's so clearly fallacious and so utterly departs from reality and human nature that I wonder at the rationality of anyone repeating it.


Of course, criminal laws are very important to human society, and in the U.S., incarceration is also very important. But the reality is that there are many ways people can mistreat one another which we will never have criminal statutes for.

For example:

I drive an automobile owned by the state I work for. Use of this vehicle is a privilege, but it is also crucial for my job. I am required by my employer to operate it in the safest manner I possibly can.


If I get drunk and hit a pedestrian in that vehicle, I will probably go to jail. But what if I just don't take care of the vehicle? If I drive it and notice the brakes are bad, but I don't do anything about it? Say I'm driving this vehicle without getting the brakes fixed even though I know they're not working right and I hit a pedestrian. I'm probably not going to jail. But I'm sure as hell losing my job, any friends who I told about the brakes, and probably any future job requiring the operation of a vehicle. Let's say, for the sake of argument, in both these scenarios, the pedestrians suffer identical severely broken legs. It doesn't matter if I hit them while drunk or while neglecting to repair my brakes, they both would bear the scars of this incident for the rest of their lives.

Yet we consider drunk driving to be a more serious crime than neglecting crucial vehicle maintenance.

Why? After all, I can reasonably assert that both described scenarios involve equally wrong actions, since both involved a conscious choice to act in a way that resulted in harm to another person where the alternative would not have caused me any harm and would have had the added benefit of resulting in no harm to another person.

We, as a society, have clearly determined that drunk driving is wrong and we can reliably determine whether I was drunk at the time of the incident. Without knowing anything but that I was intoxicated and operating the vehicle that struck the pedestrian, my guilt is obvious. Similarly, we as a society have clearly determined that sexual assault on a stranger, with the threat of violence, is wrong. In cases of violent stranger assault, it's clear to completely uninvolved parties that the attacker harmed someone. Courts are good (sort of, not really) at dealing with these situations.


The brakes are a different issue. If you didn't know me before the accident, there's no way to determine for sure that I knew the brakes weren't working unless I admit it, which I won't now that somebody is hurt. Additionally, under other circumstances I might have a reason for not having fixed them. I may have been genuinely unaware that the brakes were failing. Or, I knew but I may not have had access to enough funds for the repair. I may have even been on my way to work to earn the money, or to a friend's house to plead for a loan. Or, I may have been on my way to get them fixed when it happened and it was just unfortunate and unexpected that they failed at that moment. It may be impossible for a criminal investigation to determine why I was driving with bad breaks. But, people who knew me before it happened, the people who I joked with about "no brakes! no brakes!" know how exactly how awful I am. Context matters here. We don't write laws that say “You will go to jail for hitting a pedestrian if you knew your brakes were bad and you had the means to fix them but you didn't do it right away.” Law is lousy at dealing with context: it's hard to prove I was able to fix the breaks and should have because I knew they were bad but that I chose not to.

Assault and harassment are like reckless driving in important ways: these are choices made by perpetrators, their victims are in no way responsible for what happened to them, there are kinds that our laws handle well, and there are kinds that laws handle poorly. (Sexual assault and harassment are also very different from reckless driving in important ways: sexual assault and harassment are committed against a particular target not the community at large, victims of sexual assault and harassment are overwhelmingly female-identified persons or minors, people hit by cars are not, and perpetrators of sexual assault are overwhelmingly cis-gender man while stats on reckless driving show a greater corrolation with age than gender. When we cannot write laws to punish people whose behavior harms others the only solution is for a community to decide to protect itself from people who behave in harmful ways. There could be almost no cost to non-rapists in performing the communal, social maintenance required to prevent rape. There should be no argument against fixing this problem in the secular community.


So what can we do? Let's look at ways we as a group regulate negative behaviors.


Maybe you've taken a friend's car keys when you knew they were in no condition to drive. Maybe you've yelled at cars for speeding through crosswalks or past schools. Maybe you've honked when somebody changed lanes without signaling. Maybe you've grounded your kids for speeding or texting while driving. Maybe your interference or calling attention to a bad driver saved somebody a lot of pain and suffering.


Maybe, if we quit pretending that stopping sexual harassment and assault are solely the domain of human resource departments and law enforcement we can actually make our community safer.


Maybe we can all make sure our friends get home safe and go to bed alone after they've had a wild night out. Maybe we all should yell back when someone gets cat-called. Maybe we should tell each other to respect other people's personal space. Maybe we'll resolve to stop referring to losing badly in sports and video games as “getting raped”. Maybe we tell our kids that sex isn't a prize you get from (or give to) someone. Maybe we tell them sex is something we do with happy, coherent, consenting partners or we do it alone (because there's nothing wrong with that). Maybe, you've seen a friend buy somebody a drink, and then another, and another. Maybe your friend helped that person stagger home. Maybe it happens more than once. Maybe it was consensual, no harm done. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe all you had to do was make sure that someone got into a cab with your friend's phone number instead of with your friend. Maybe you haven't interfered before because it didn't seem like a big deal. Maybe, for somebody, it was.


Before you decide to condemn PZ Meyers for his actions, I would urge you to consider all the times our community has failed the people who are actually being harassed, who are actually being assaulted, who are actually being hurt, who are truly afraid because we're no better at shutting these predators down than any other community and we really ought to be. We should be rational: hundreds of studies have shown the frequency of sexual harassment and assault are astoundingly high, and yet nearly all claims are met initially with disbelief. We know we're just like everybody else in most ways, so it stands to reason that there are atheists who have been sexually assaulted or harassed, that there are atheists who commit sexual assault or who sexually harass members of our community. Given what we know about the pervasiveness off assault and harassment, our first response should never be, “Are you sure that's what happened?”


If we're going to be rational, if we're going to be skeptics our first response should be, “How can I make sure this doesn't happen again?”