By James A. Haught
Physicist Lawrence Krauss, a brilliant hero of the freethought movement, fell into disgrace because several young women accused him of unwanted sexual advances, crude gropings and molestations.
His downfall came after years of dispute over whether Dr. Michael Shermer – founder of Skeptic magazine and a Scientific American columnist – took advantage of a tipsy young woman at an atheist convention.
Next, David Silverman was fired as president of American Atheists after he was accused of forcing himself onto unwilling women in hotel rooms during the group’s meetings.
And Dr. Richard Carrier of Internet Infidels was accused of similar predatory sex.
These messes spotlight the touchy problem of sex abuse in the mostly male skeptic field. Outnumbered women – even though liberated from bluenose church taboos – sometimes feel like targets for predatory men at freethought gatherings. It’s a blight that damages our crusade against supernaturalism.
Backlashes can be fierce. For example, Dr. Krauss was banned from Arizona State University’s campus pending an investigation. He also was banned from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario. The American Physical Society canceled his talks. The Center for Inquiry severed relations with him. So did the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I wonder if the American Humanist Association will revoke his 2015 Humanist of the Year award.
All the accused skeptics deny misconduct, but their rebuttals are questioned. Anger against them is seething.
However, I have a different reaction – pity. I think it’s sad when some men can’t find happiness with willing women – in bed and out – but instead make themselves repulsive through clumsy affronts to unwilling ones. They degrade themselves and their life’s work.
America has plenty of notorious gropers: President Trump. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, Roger Ailes, etc. To me, they’re all pathetic.
We agnostic-doubter-atheist-freethinkers are free from religion’s Puritanical sex taboos, but most of us have empathetic decency. We respect the feelings of others. We don’t force ourselves selfishly onto those who aren’t interested. Secular humanism strives to make life better for everyone – and young women’s lives are hurt by crass abuses by domineering men. It’s disgusting. Women deserve complete equality. Their wishes carry the same weight as men’s.
Intimacy between consenting adults requires affection, or at least desire, from both sides. That’s missing when a predatory male abuses an unreceptive female.
America’s culture changed last year. In a remarkable upsurge, women fought back against crudities they had endured in silent frustration. The dam burst on Oct. 15 when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Overnight, more than 30,000 women responded. The “me too” protest swelled into an avalanche that spread through scores of nations. Time magazine gave its Person of the Year title to women who became “The Silence-Breakers.”
Meanwhile, sexual harassment lawsuits forced powerful corporate executives and celebrities to resign in disgrace. Victims collected millions in damages. The 2017 Women’s March on Washington was partly a rebuke of President Trump’s vulgar treatment of females. Around 20 women have sued him personally for his adolescent outrages. The whole world remembers his “grab ’em by the pussy” tape recording.
Krauss, Shermer, Carrier and Silverman have joined the ranks of accused males. They were my heroes – but now I pity them.
(Haught is editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry. This article previously appeared in The Human Prospect, summer 2018.)
Sherman image by Loxton CC BY 3.0
Krauss image by Mike via Flickr CC BY 2.0