Atheist conferences

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The atheist Jerry Coyne speaking at a 2013 atheist meeting entitled The Amazing Meeting (TAM). TAM is an annual meeting. In 2011, Coyne said about the atheist conferences which he attended that they had an air of self-congratulation.[1] He also indicated about atheist meetings: "But to me the speakers and talks have often seemed repetitive: the same crew of jet-set skeptics giving the same talks."[1]

In comparison to many religious groups, which have many meetings in numerous places in a given day or week which are convenient to attend, atheist conferences and atheist meetings are sparse. The prime cause for this situation is the apathy of many atheists and the uninspiring nature of atheism (see: Atheism and apathy and Atheism and inspiration).

The atheist Jerry Coyne said about atheist conferences which he attended:

But to me the speakers and talks have often seemed repetitive: the same crew of jet-set skeptics giving the same talks.

...a few things bothered me, most notably the air of self-congratulation (which I excused on the grounds of enthusiastic people finding like-minded folks for the first time), the “fanboyness” directed at some of the famous atheists (they hardly let poor Richard alone, and I’m not sure he liked that!), and the lameness of quite a few of the talks. Again, how much new can you say about atheism?[1]

See also: Atheism and public speaking

In an essay entitled How the Atheist Movement Failed Me, an atheist woman noted that participation in the atheist community is often expensive due to the cost of attending atheist conferences and even local atheist meetings in restaurants and bars challenged her modest budget.[2]

As a result of the challenges that atheists commonly have in terms of socializing in person, many atheists turn to the internet in terms of communicating with other atheists (See also: Atheism and loneliness).[3] Often interaction among atheists on the internet turns acrimonious and contentious (see: Atheism and social skills and Atheist factions).

Gender imbalances at atheist conferences and meetings

The atheist PZ Myers giving a talk at George Mason University. In June 2010, PZ Myers commented that atheist meetings tend to be significantly more attended by males.[4]

(photo obtained from Flickr, see: license agreement)

Atheism is more prevalent among men than women (see: Atheism and women).

In June 2010, the atheist PZ Myers commented that atheist meetings tend to be significantly more attended by males.[4] In October 2012, the atheist Susan Jacoby wrote in The Humanist concerning atheist meetings: "When I speak before non-college audiences — that is, audiences in which no one is required to be there to get credit for a college course — 75 percent of the people in the seats are men."[5]

In 2016, atheist Kate Smurthwaite wrote in The Telegraph, " still isn’t remotely surprising to find an atheist event with an all-male line-up."[6]

2010 New York Times description of atheist meeting attendees

See also: Western atheism and race and Atheist nerds

In October 2010, an atheists' meeting was organized in the United States concerning the future direction of the atheist movement and 370 people attended. The New York Times described the attendees as "The largely white and male crowd — imagine a Star Trek convention, but older...".[7]

Beliefnews report concerning atheists' group membership and demographic makeup of meetings

In 2011, Beliefnetnews reported concerning the race and gender of American atheist:

From the smallest local meetings to the largest conferences, the vast majority of speakers and attendees are almost always white men. Leading figures of the atheist movement - Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett -- are all white men.

But making atheism more diverse is proving to be no easy task.

Surveys suggest most atheists are white men. A recent survey of 4,000 members of the Freedom from Religion Foundation found that 95 percent were white, and men comprised a majority.[8]

Sexual harassment at atheist conferences

See also: Sexual harassment at atheist conferences and Atheism and women and Atheism and rape

The Washington Post reported in 2012:

Other nontheists — both male and female — have shared stories of unwanted sexual attention at nontheist gatherings, including propositions for sex and unwelcome touching. Chatter has ranged from calls for more women to attend nontheist events to personal attacks on prominent female skeptics for discussing harassment...

The current hullabaloo can be traced to May’s Women in Secularism Conference, a first-of-its-kind gathering for nontheist women. On a panel examining feminism and nontheism, Jennifer McCreight, an atheist blogger, said women speakers at nontheist events warn each other privately about male speakers who make unwanted sexual advances.[9]

A 2011 portrait of Rebecca Watson

In an article about why she won't be attending an atheist conference sponsored by James Randi, Rebecca Watson wrote:

Over the past several years, I’ve been groped, grabbed, touched in other nonconsensual ways, told I can expect to be raped, told I’m a whore, a slut, a bitch, a prude, a dyke,..a twat, told I should watch my back at conferences, told I’m too ugly to be raped, told I don’t have a say in my own treatment because I’ve posed for sexy photos, told I should get a better headshot because that one doesn’t convey how sexy I am in person, told I deserve to be raped – by skeptics and atheists. All by skeptics and atheists. Constantly.

This is quite obviously not a safe space for me or for other women who want to be free of the gendered slurs and sexual threats and come-ons we experience in our day-to-day lives. But apparently, DJ thinks I am lying about that, since apparently my feeling that the freethought community is not a safe space is “misinformation.” I should apparently put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t happen, because by reporting on my treatment, I am creating “a climate where women — who otherwise wouldn’t — end up feeling unwelcome and unsafe.”[10]

For further information, see: James Randi Educational Foundation former staff member on prominent atheists and misogny

Atheists disparaging prominent atheists at atheist conferences

See also: Atheist factions and Atheism and love and Atheism and women

James Randi is a leader within the atheist community. Brian Thompson, former James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) Outreach Coordinator, wrote:

But I no longer identify with this community of benevolent know-it-alls, because not all of them are the best folks in the world. In fact, a good percentage of the top ten worst humans I’ve ever met are prominent members of the skeptics’ club. They’re dishonest, mean-spirited, narcissistic, misogynistic. Pick a personality flaw, and I can probably point you to someone who epitomizes it. And that person has probably had a speaking slot at a major skeptical conference.

I grew particularly disgusted with the boys’ club attitude I saw among skeptical leaders and luminaries. The kind of attitude that’s dismissive of women, sexually predatory, and downright gross. When I first started going to skeptical conferences as a fresh-faced know-it-all, I started hearing things about people I once admired. Then I started seeing things myself. Then I got a job with the JREF, and the pattern continued.[11]

Atheist events and inappropriate sexually related activities

See also: Atheism and morality

Atheist events and licentiousness

Commentary by Richard Carrier

The atheist Richard Carrier, who divorced his wife after committing adultery multiple times and now advocates polyamory, wrote in a 2013 blog post entitled Our Mythical Campaign against Sex:

Polyamory and swinging and even the attending of orgies requires more ethical behavior and more careful attention to boundaries and consent than traditional sexual relationships do. And people who are ethical enough to be accepted in those communities are the very people who get Atheism+ and why it is needed.

The bottom line is, we are already enthusiastically in favor of people pursuing all kinds of sexual activities, even at atheist events. Many of our most avid supports are wholeheartedly doing this. The only thing we are concerned about is that people do this ethically, that people don’t use their sex drives as an excuse to harass, harm, or cross boundaries.[12]

Commentary by PZ Myers

PZ Myers (photo obtained from Flickr, see license agreement)

The atheist PZ Myers wrote in 2013:

Except…I was really surprised the first time a woman at a conference offered me her hotel key. I know I’m not personally attractive or otherwise appealing in any physical way, and it was simply that eroticism of intellectual stimulation, as you mentioned, and the impulse to indulge in a fleeting crush. You know speakers get a little edge from that position when I’m getting sexual opportunities!

It felt like cheating, didn’t actually represent my ideal (all of my physical relationships have also been serious emotional relationships), and just generally seemed like something we might all regret when the first brief flush of enthusiasm wore off. So I’ve always gently turned down those offers.

I don’t want to give the impression that I turn them down, so everybody else ought to, too. I’m really just saying that there’s some weird primate psychology going on, and we ought to be wary of it.[13]

Myers further writes:

As for numbers, it doesn’t happen at every conference, it’s probably happened to me 8? 10? times? Thereabouts. A couple of times a year.

I suspect it’s much more common for younger, handsomer speakers who aren’t geeky bearded weirdos. And I would imagine most of them would also turn down the offers, but I don’t know — maybe I’m a horrible weirdo in another way too.[13]

Post-Elevatorgate anti-sexual harassment policies

See also: Atheism and women and Atheism and rape and Atheism and sexism

Elevatorgate is a term commonly used to describe a scandal involving New Atheist Richard Dawkins' 2011 comments made to atheist Rebecca Watson which are perceived to have been inappropriate by a sizable portion of the atheist community and to the public at large.

Specifically, in July 2011, Richard Dawkins was widely criticized within the atheist community and in various press outlets for his insensitive comments made to atheist Rebecca Watson about an incident which occurred in an elevator (see: Richard Dawkins' Elevatorgate comments).[14]

As far as the Elevatorgate incident itself, Watson was invited for coffee and a conversation late at night by a man who was a fellow atheist. Watson was upset by this and subsequently blogged about it. Following this, Richard Dawkins wrote an open letter to a fictitious Muslim woman, satirically equating Rebecca's plight with that of abused Muslim women. Watson has written about perceived widespread misogny within the atheist community and she has received threats of rape (see also: Atheism and women and Atheism and rape).[15]

Post Elevatorgate, atheist conferences frequently have anti-sexual harassment policies.[16]

Atheist Rebecca Watson and post Elevatorgate claim concerning harassment

See also: Atheism and women and Atheism and anger and New Atheism

Post Elevatorgate controversy, at an atheist convention, Rebecca Watson claimed:

Hundreds of atheists have informed me that either they wanted to rape me, someone should rape me so that I will loosen up or that no one would ever rape me because I am so ugly".[17]

In July 2012, Watson declared: "It get regular rape threats. I get regular rape and murder threats".[18] Furthermore, in August 2013, Rebecca Watson said that post Elevatorgate she received a flood of rape threats and she continues to receive rape threats (see: Atheism and rape).[19]

Reason Rally 2012

See also: Reason Rally and Reason Rally 2012 and American atheism

Reason Rally 2012 was a secular event held in the United States in Washington D.C.. According to the Religion News Service 8,000-10,000 people showed up for the rally.[20] The Atlantic reported 20,000 individuals were in attendance.[21] The documentary The Unbelievers purports that over 30,000 people attended the rally.[22]

Reason Rally 2016

Poor attendance at Reason Rally 2016

See also: Reason Rally 2016

YouTube atheist Thunderf00t

YouTube atheist Thunderfoot said about the atheist movement after Reason Rally 2016 had a very low turnout:

I'm not sure there is anything in this movement worth saving. Hitchens is dead. Dawkins simply doesn't have the energy for this sort of thing anymore. Harris went his own way. And Dennett just kind of blended into the background. So what do you think when the largest gathering of the nonreligious in history pulls in... I don't know. Maybe 2,000 people. Is there anything worth saving?[23]

Poor quality of public speakers at Reason Rally 2016

See also: Atheism and public speaking

The news website Vox reported about Reason Rally 2016:

It is clear, too, that almost nobody who takes the stage at Reason Rally was ever trained as a preacher. The whole thing is languid, urgent words in measured tones. The goal is an "end to bigotry," in the pitch of a polite request, to "reject" a supernatural worldview with all the force of tepid applause. Jamie Raskin says the job of politicians is to "listen to scientists" and closes with "Put your thinking caps on America!" Penn Jillette struggles to get a video playing, chokes up over Hitchens, then plays a Bob Dylan knockoff about his love for all people. The Amazing Randi devotes half an hour to a muted jeremiad against the obscure "facilitated communication" hoax. Peter says he does not know what "FC" is, but he'll look into it.[24]

Cancelled atheist conferences in 2016

Feminists cause Richard Dawkins to be disinvited to skeptic conference

See also: Richard Dawkins and women

In 2016, Breitbart reported:

Yesterday evening, after retweeting a video critical of modern feminism, the renowned professor and critic of religion had his invitation to a skeptic conference revoked. In a statement posted on their website, the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism said:
The Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism has withdrawn its invitation to Richard Dawkins to participate at NECSS 2016. We have taken this action in response to Dr. Dawkins’ approving re-tweet of a highly offensive video.
We believe strongly in freedom of speech and freedom to express unpopular, and even offensive, views. However, unnecessarily divisive, counterproductive, and even hateful speech runs contrary to our mission and the environment we wish to foster at NECSS. The sentiments expressed in the video do not represent the values of NECSS or its sponsoring organizations.

For the NECSS, it seems that some forms of skepticism are less welcome than others. Dawkins regularly posts tweets about Christianity, Islam, and assorted other faiths that could be perceived as “hateful,” yet it was his mockery of western feminists that led to his excommunication from this particular Atheist church.[25]

2010 Global Atheist Convention

See also: Atheism and cowardice and Atheism debates

In 2010, the prominent atheists who attended the 2010 global atheist conference, which included Richard Dawkins, were challenged to a debate by Creation Ministries International.[26] Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and other prominent atheists/agnostics refused to debate the creation scientists at Creation Ministries International.[26] Generally speaking, creation scientists tend to win the creation vs. evolution debates.

PZ Myers also refuses to debate Vox Day on the existence of God or concerning evolution [27]

Research on atheist conferences

See also: Research on atheist conferences

A 2014 research article entitled Increasing Diversity in Emerging Non-religious Communities by Christopher Hassall and Ian Bushfield declared:

The atheist movement originated with a small number of middle/upper-class white men, who still form the leadership of the majority of atheist organisations. As in academia, these men act as gatekeepers for the flow of ideas and the social movement of individuals through the movement (van den Brink and Benschop 2014). The atheist movement has also traditionally been driven by a small number of superstars travelling around lecture circuits, largely based in the UK and the USA, by whose particular ideas and processes become normative (Gibson and Klocker 2004). A good example of this phenomenon of superstars is the “Four Horsemen”: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, whose books have collectively sold millions of copies in multiple languages. All four are white, well-educated, male, and residents in the UK or USA. Finally, as in academia, conferences and congresses play a major role in the atheist community. These conferences can be on a similar scale to the larger academic conferences, attracting up to 1650 attendees (for The Amazing Meeting 9 in 2011). However, discussions of the representation of women and minorities (particularly with respect to race and disability) have involved little attempt at quantitative analysis of the community. In particular, there are questions of what constitutes “fair representation” of each group, what should be done in order to promote those groups that are considered to be underrepresented, and whether current and past attempts at encouraging underrepresented groups have been successful. This final issue of an evidence-based approach to increasing diversity is of particular interest (Pitts 2011). Miller (2013, p 221) defines three problems caused by the lack of qualitative and quantitative data on women speakers at atheist conferences: “It is problematic for the atheist movement in terms of attracting more female members; it is problematic for the women in the movement who are being rendered invisible; and it is problematic for researchers and writers who are not documenting and analyzing the full range of atheist communities and experiences.”

Over recent years, the atheist community has sought to resolve issues of diversity within the movement.[28]

Since 2008, atheist conference organizers have made efforts to invite more racial minority speakers and more women speakers.[28]

One hundred people walked out of an atheistic lecture at Oxford University

A hundred people walked out of an atheistic, evolutionary psychology/sociology lecture at Oxford University.[29] Richard Dawkins' website reported about the lecture, "By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard’s fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind’, the lecture hall was looking rather empty."[30]

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Are there too many atheist meetings? by Jerry Coyne
  2. Amanda (August 10, 2012). "How the atheist movement failed me–part 1: cost". Friendly Atheist blog. Retrieved on September 9, 2014.
  3. Norris, Chuck (May 21, 2007). "How to outlaw Christianity (steps 2 & 3)". WorldNetDaily. Retrieved on September 9, 2014. See Chuck Norris.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Myers, P.Z. (June 29, 2010). "The woman problem". Pharyngula [blog].
  5. Jacoby, Susan (August 16, 2012). "A woman’s place? The dearth of women in the secular movement". The Humanist website.
  6. [Atheism is an old boys' club. More women should admit to being Godless ] by Kate Smurthwaite, The Telegraph, 2016
  7. Oppenheimer, Mark (October 15, 2010). "Atheists debate how pushy to be".
  8. MacDonald, G. Jeffrey (2011). "Atheists’ diversity woes have no black-and-white answers". Beliefnet.
  9. Do atheists have a sexual harassment problem?
  10. Why I Won’t Be at TAM This Year
  11. Myers, P. Z. (March 31, 2014). "When will this situation improve?".
  12. Our Mythical Campaign against Sex, Richard Carrier,
  13. 13.0 13.1 The eros of the podium - see comment section below the blog post, PZ Myers, comment section, August 17, 2013 at 5:42 pm
  14. The Privilege Delusion by Rebecca Watson - Skepchick
  15. Thunderf00t’s inflammatory video of misleading personal attacks on atheist feminists is not helpful by Michael Nugent on January 3, 2013
  16. PZ Myers and the Art of Shameless Dishonesty
  17. FreeThoughtBlogs and PZ Myers
  18. Sikivu, Ophelia, and Rebecca — who says atheism lacks women stars?
  19. Winston, Kimberly (March 24, 2012). "Atheists Rally On National Mall; The 'Reason Rally' Largest Gathering Of Nonbelievers (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  20. Benjamin Fearnow & Mickey Woods, "Richard Dawkins Preaches to Nonbelievers at Reason Rally", The Atlantic, March 24, 2012.
  21. Gus Holwerda, "The Unbelievers" April 2013
  22. Even atheists bash 'Reason Rally'
  23. American atheists are on the rise. They have radically different visions of the future, Vox
  24. Atheist Civil War: Angry Feminists Get Richard Dawkins Disinvited from Skeptics’ Conference
  25. 26.0 26.1
  26. Speaking of Assiduous Absconders
  27. 28.0 28.1 Increasing Diversity in Emerging Non-religious Communities, Authors: Christopher Hassall and Ian Bushfield
  28. A hundred people walked out of Darwin/evo psych indoctrination lecture at Oxford?
  29. A hundred people walked out of my lecture