Bonya Ahmed Connects the Global Dots on Religious Extremism


Just as we finished our Reason Rally coverage with Bonya Ahmed, so we do again as she closes out the fourth Women in Secularism conference.

Things have changed, even just since June. There was something quieter about her presentation at the Reason Rally, in this writer’s opinion, but today, she was fiery, newly invigorated, spurred by a purpose she’s in the process of discovering.

If you don’t know her story, it’s harrowing. She survived the attack in Dhaka by Islamists that claimed the life of her husband Avijit Roy, and would later claim several other secularist and progressive activists in similarly gruesome manners. Ahmed herself barely made it out alive, with multiple, horrible wounds, and a painful recovery. “Most of my fingers don’t work anymore,” she told us.

Now, she’s directing her efforts toward better understanding the rise of extremism in Bangladesh, getting a more nuanced understanding of why this is happening now. This was notable, because her address wasn’t merely an alarm, warning us all about the ongoing crisis of militant Islam in Bangladesh, but a global look at how myriad factors contributed to the current situation.

She talked about the vast garment industry in Bangladesh, 4 million workers strong, and mostly women, all working for meager wages and in horrid and dangerous conditions. She asked us to remember that global consumerism and the struggle for resources between the U.S. and Russia all impact and infect the climate of Bangladesh. She reminded us that Bangladesh hasn’t reaped the rewards of political and economic advances that the West has enjoyed over the past century. “How can I blame religion only without [also] blaming local and foreign powers who use religion as a tool to maintain their power?”

The problems Ahmed seeks to address are central to CFI’s work, especially now. Because of our mission, we tend to focus on the free expression and religious aspects of this human rights crisis, but it’s important even for us to take into account the global consumer economy, the corrupt regimes propped up by foreign powers, and the harrowing and fairly young history of Bangladesh as a nation-state. She helped us “connect the local dots to the global picture.”

But of course, religion is always there. “For me, it is very hard to separate feminism from skepticism, from atheism,” said Ahmed. She recalled her youth, discovering that religions — all of them — were lacking in sense, telling us, “I am so grateful to the Quran for making me such a strong atheist.”

We are so grateful for Bonya Ahmed.

Katha Pollitt talks Abortion Opposition and the Erasure of Women


Everyone was excited to see Katha Pollitt today. She’s been at Women in Secularism conferences before, and she’s always been evocative, enlightening, and funny. This was certainly the case today as she was interviewed on stage by Annie Laurie Gaylor about getting abortion “out of the closet” and out of the shadow of stigma.

“We have to start talking about abortion as a normal part of women’s lives,” Pollitt told us. “It always has been.” And in fact, even religions have not been, and are not always, tied to the notion that a fertilized egg is equivalent to a full person. She talked about the “wiggle room” that Southern Baptists allow for abortion, and how in Judaism, the woman is the “first person” of priority when there is a question of primacy.

A major stumbling block when it comes to abortion is the ingrained perception of women’s bodies as somehow being community property. Part of this is exacerbated by what Pollitt called the “baby-fication” of the fetus, treating a glob of cells like it’s a cute little infant in a onesie. But more to the point, the problem is that much of society views the woman’s body as violable. “If you’re looking at a fetus [in an ultrasound],” she said, “you’re erasing the woman.”

She brought up the fact that Christopher Hitchens had expressed his opposition to abortion, saying that to end a pregnancy must be a societal decision. Exasperated, Pollitt said, “Is society going to die in childbirth?”

In a quick aside toward the end, Gaylor asked Pollitt about why she is overt about her atheism, Pollitt said, “I think it’s important that that view be represented in the public sphere.” She’s an excellent representative, wouldn’t you say?


“Humanism Taught Me to Fight” – Secular Women in Other Movements


“Humanism taught me to fight, and to find purpose and meaning. It influences me every day.”

14468235_10154557672974868_3613273704925812523_oThose were some encouraging words from Kayley Whalen of the National LGBTQ Task Force. For the first session of Women in Secularism 4’s last day, CFI’s Stef McGraw moderated a panel with four activists on secular women whose work spans different movements and causes. For this writer, the takeaway theme for this conversation was a very hopeful one, that with humanism and secularism at one’s philosophical foundations, one can go forth and get active in other movements, creating a give and take between them that benefits everyone.

Whalen told her experience of coming out as a trans woman 11 years ago, and finding philosophy and humanism to be a path out of the religion that rejected her. “When I came out as trans, I was empowered by the humanist belief system,” giving her a new set of tools and a source of inspiration to fight against injustice.

14425345_10154557672984868_6077906768306558175_oSimilarly, Diane Burkholder of of One-Struggle KC talked about how reliance on the church was so limiting for back people in need, especially if they identified outside the community’s norms, and that a humanist alternative was necessary. “All my identities come into my work, and there’s a lot of overlap,” she said. Ecologist Kaberi Kar Gupta said, “Secularism made me what I am.” Hypatia Alexandria of Hispanic American Freethinkers spoke of the resilience she found by realizing that an “imaginary friend” won’t be there to make things happen for her.

The secular movement as phenomenon was revealed in this conversation as both a great source of strength and potential, as well as something that can be unnecessarily limited or narrow in scope and tolerance. “We’re used to talking to each other,” said Burkholder, “but because we’re marginalized, we’re afraid to call out shitheads in the movement.”

14500220_10154557672669868_9183519500139426643_oAnd the shitheads, as it were, are a real problem. As Alexandria pointed out, the secular community is no different from the rest of the population in that it has its ugly aspects and its arguments, and “trying to cumbaya all the time” isn’t productive anyway. But as Whalen made clear, “We have a men’s rights problem in the secular movement,” arguing that not every voice in the movement is equally valid and worthy of amplification.

“Do I always feel accepted? No. Do I feel accepted in places like this? Yes. I’m so glad we have Women in Secularism.”

14444867_10154557672679868_793505395781173880_o(At one point, Gupta discussed the phenomenon of gender-fluid lions, which was fascinating news to this writer.)

One particularly noteworthy theme that emerged was how the dreaded “mission creep” of secular organizations working on a wider array of issues (with admittedly limited resources) is in part addressed on a person by person basis. “We live in society,” said Alexandria, “so we need to work in different areas,” bringing the secularist point of view into other arenas, as individuals. Gupta discussed how she is able to enter non-white communities and make productive advances despite her atheism, and brings her critical and evidence-based thinking to bear on the task at hand.

14434992_10154557672979868_7761998698880121984_oBurkholder warned against the “mental masturbation” that can occur within secular convocations that fail to ask, “What is the work we’re doing to actually connect with people?” Given the limited resources of the “nonprofit industrial complex,” Burkholder said that the more we collaborate with other groups, the stronger our movement can be.

(At CFI, we do this all the time. We work side-by-side with groups across ideological and theological spectra on shared causes.)

There was so much more discussed here, so I’m not doing it justice, but it was very heartening to hear about all these often-overlooked opportunities to plant the secular point of view within other movements. But also the skepto-atheists as a whole need to open their minds to other points of view inside our own ivory-ish towers.

Alexandria said, “Don’t offer me a diversity photo op,” but bring people with different perspectives into the decision making process. And Gupta declared, “I make up [for] my height with my voice.” We certainly heard her.

Fault Lines for Free Speech at Women in Secularism 4


The debate over free speech and safe spaces advanced with an impassioned, heated panel discussion at the last session of the second day of Women in Secularism 4. It wouldn’t be correct to say that there were “bright lines” between opinions, because the core values were broadly shared among the panelists, but the differences within those values were strongly held.

14424718_10154555814484868_8570451716246779036_oThoroughly opposing the notion of safe spaces was Maryam Namazie, forcefully declaring that the rise of safe spaces is due almost entirely to identity politics, and that they are really a form of censorship. “Universities should be unsafe spaces for ideas you might not be comfortable with,” she said, arguing that identity politics have a homogenizing effect in marginalized communities, stifling dissent from within.

14435247_10154555814264868_1668352916876607448_oDiane Burkholder, cofounder of One-Struggle KC and American Humanist Association’s LGBTQ Humanist Alliance, had her Women in Secularism debut on this panel. She firmly took the position that given the white-dominated structure that universities exist in, one privileged community shouldn’t be telling another marginalized community what their spaces can and cannot look like.

14409444_10154555815874868_2811208722474884822_oMelanie Brewster advocated for something simpler, and it’s a theme she would return to: thoughtfulness. Rather than focus on censorship, she posited that it’s no big sacrifice to allow someone to be clear about what hurts them, and being open to hearing that if you’re in a position of power. Without having a place where they are safe to speak, she asked, how else can they have their voices heard when they are so often being told to keep quiet? (Burkholder expanded on this, saying that taking accountability for the words one uses is an exercise of emotional intelligence, which is something incredibly valuable in itself.)

14434838_10154555814254868_4607165581811822602_oSarah Haider, generally opposing the “safe space” model, often returned to the question of “who decides?” as in, who decides who is marginalized and who is privileged? Who decides what the rules of safety are? She pointed out that for herself, she is privileged and “safe” in some contexts, and marginalized in others.

A move to the discussion of trigger warnings showed similar fault lines. Brewster described them as a simple courtesy, a humane way to prepare people for kinds of content that could genuinely affect them on a physiological/psychological level. Burkholder, who preferred the term “content warning,” noted that in her own experience of being deluged with images of black pain, “if I can do something to protect by baby bubble,” there are times when such a warning is absolutely necessary for her well being.

Haider, however, was concerned about the precedent such concepts set, that these warnings might be “inculcating an attitude among students that they have a right not to feel disturbed or upset by something.” Namazie was also not convinced of their value, saying, “I wish I had a trigger warning for this panel!”

More clarity about the lines of disagreement emerged when the discussion addressed the dis-invitation of certain speakers, something Namazie has had first hand experience with. Namazie and Haider advocated for protest as a way to express opposition for unwanted speakers, though Brewster wondered aloud whether students’ demands for dis-invitations are not themselves an example of free speech. And there seemed to be an agreement that students have the right to ask. (Or, as Ashley Miller the moderator put it, “Isn’t telling someone to shut up speech?”) Burkholder raised the point that protest isn’t a blanket solution, particularly when it comes to black protests on campus, which are often met with hostility.

Everyone seemed to agree that universities are places where debate needs to happen, where protest and argument and challenging ideas are vital, but the clash comes when the discussion turns to where or whether partitions can go up to contain and protect certain identities and/or ideas. At what point does speech morph into, well, something else that warrants cordoning off? And who decides?

It may only be answerable one campus, one group, one person at a time. And even then?

Soraya Chemaly: The Internet’s Exploitation Marketplace


Soraya Chemaly is a veteran of the Women in Secularism conferences, and I remember first meeting her when she came to the first conference in 2012, not as a speaker, but as a journalist covering the event. Since then, she’s been a favorite go-to speaker and panelist. Today we were reminded why.

Chemaly has emerged as a renowned advocate and expert on the enormous disparity between the experiences of men and women online. Recalling some of what Wendy Kaminer was criticizing about “safe space,” Chemaly characterized the Internet the ultimate safe space for white males, built overwhelmingly at all levels by people just like them. It’s no wonder, then, that the very serious concerns of the woman denizens of the Internet are going either ignored or relegated to the status of niche concern. She would later say, “I can’t take the conversation about safe spaces seriously” until this uber-space is addressed.

Consider the rise of consumer-level artificial intelligence, in the form of digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, and the new-ish Google Assistant. The algorithms on which these assistants run are made by a fairly heterogeneous group of white dudes, which in turns creates a kind of ignorance on the part of this artificial intelligence. Siri, Chemaly pointed out, was unable to help a woman who told it “I’ve been raped” or “my husband hit me,” but did have meaningful responses to “I’ve been assaulted.”

Oh, and one A.I. project is getting the fuel for its natural language processing from Reddit. Shudder.

So the Internet as a “safe space” for guys also means that it more easily serves as a platform for backlash against women who dare to advocate for their own equality. It serves as a global, networked marketplace for profiting off of harassment and sexual exploitation. What’s to be done?

We refuse it. We refuse to agree to consider this stuff normal. We talk about it openly, and make noise when pro-equality advocacy gets censored and struck down either by algorithm or human. We use the Internet for it can be to build new platforms and tell new stories. Instead of censor, we get mad out loud.

Rebecca Goldstein: We are Matter that Wants to Matter


Rebecca Goldstein, in conversation with Ashley Miller, recounted an anecdote from a party where one Important Male Academic saw another Important Male Academic across the room, and in order to get to him, physically lifted the diminutive Goldstein like an action figure, and placed her out of his way.

In that moment, she did not matter. Not to this fellow, anyway. Toward the end of the session, she in a way returned to this kind of scenario. Expressing her admiration for men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker (who she happens to be married to), she also pointed out, “Have they ever had the feeling of walking into a room and not mattering?” Of course not. “They should shut up and listen to us on this!”

The conversation here was focused on Goldstein’s concept of “mattering,” a term she long ago became transfixed with, saying that “we are matter that wants to matter.” (Referencing religious belief, she added, “We want to matter so much that we deny that we’re matter!”)

Much of the discussion focused on how some of the lofty-seeming ideas of professional philosophers can be made accessible to the general public. Goldstein was very bullish on this prospect, because she feels that just by dint of being human, and having the luxury of not constantly battling for survival, the practice of philosophy is actually fairly universal. Everyone, as it were, thinks about thinking.

If anything, Goldstein said, it’s the non-philosophers that present her with some of her greatest philosophical questions. When talking to those outside academia, “people who don’t live in my little bubble,” which has its own jargon and shorthand, they will challenge her in ways her fellow philosophers simply can’t, “and I struggle.”

Back to mattering, though. As Goldstein put it, “a person who lacks a sense of mattering is in despair.” She described moral progress itself as the ongoing understanding that groups that we ourselves don’t belong to also matter. The “isms” that plague us (sexism, racism, etc.) are manifestations of the idea that certain groups matter more than others. “Comparative mattering is just epically wrong,” she declared. Humanism, really, is the idea that we all categorically matter.

Miller raised the topic of Black Lives Matter, and Goldstein agreed that this was a perfect framing for what they’re trying to achieve. “It’s these lives that are in dispute” after all, and the rejoinder from opponents, “All Lives Matter,” is a “ridiculous comeback.”

One more highlight. Goldstein was musing on mattering as a kind of immortality, and thinking about her own death, said, “Once the physical body is gone, maybe the ideas will be taken more seriously!” It was mainly a bit of humor, but let’s be clear: we’re taking her ideas seriously right now. She’s the Important Academic in the room we’re looking to talk to.


Wendy Kaminer on “The Mistrust of Free Speech”

14409531_10154555165734868_7234871992519842556_oWendy Kaminer comes to Women in Secularism to express a concern for the fate of free expression, not in places like Bangladesh or Pakistan, but on U.S. college campuses and in the broader discussions of social justice online, in academia, and elsewhere. A free-speech stalwart herself, authoring a magazine piece on atheism as “the last taboo” that was formative to this writer, Kaminer tells this conference full of the irreligious that free speech and freedom of and from religion are “inextricably linked,” and warns that there exists now there is a “progressive retreat from free speech.”

It’s an extremely touchy issue here, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Straightaway, it was clear that some folks in attendance were in full agreement with Kaminer, and others were aghast. Everyone, I think, has similar aims: a free exchange of ideas without anyone being oppressed or harmed. How we get there, well, there are some very different ideas about that, and the emotions on this topic run very high in both directions. One way to think about these differences that Kaminer posited was new to me, that those who seek social justice are results-oriented (working toward a specific, tangible end), while civil libertarians, the free-speech absolutists, are process-oriented (more concerned with the structure within which goals are pursued).

Kaminer says what we now have is an environment which has “encouraged generations of graduates to mistrust free speech as they go out into the world,” as hateful speech is treated as conduct rather than words. And if that’s the paradigm, Kaminer says, where unwanted speech is considered an aggression, where it is equated with violence, we wind up justifying violence as a response to bad speech.

14444744_10154555166494868_789875322884220766_oThings became even more interesting when celebrated veteran journalist Katha Pollitt, who will be speaking later herself, asked Kaminer to take into account the “constant barrage of low level harassment in public society” that women face, harmfully affecting their everyday lives in practical ways. How, Pollitt asked, are they expected to deal with this? Suck it up?

Kaminer agreed with Pollitt’s characterization of the state of things, and said she was less concerned about policing of real *macro*-aggressions as opposed to people, particularly women, being told in advance, “You will be traumatized by this, you will be intimidated by this. and if you are not, you are in denial.” And the only way out, Kaminer said, was to make this coarsened behavior less socially acceptable.

Nothing was settled here, of course, but I have to say as an observer, I was pleased that despite some of the very intense disagreements that clearly exist here, those disagreements were handled in a measured, respectful way, an acknowledgment I think that we all know we’re still figuring this out.

Annie Laurie Gaylor Honors Her Mom, “Lightning Rod” Anne Gaylor

14445190_10154554804384868_7647468763633424027_oThere should be a conference just for presentations about how great our moms are. My mom, Cynthia Grzywinski, for example, is super great. She works full time in a really tough job with the FAA doing something so complex that I don’t even understand it, and she also helps care for her elderly parents who live next door, and still finds the time to take part in civic activities, including her leadership of the South Jersey Animal Advocates.

A lot of us probably have within us a compelling my-mom’s-so-great presentation. Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has a great-mom story to tell that’s central to what all of us are doing here in the first place. Her mom was, of course, Anne Gaylor, the trailblazing activist who founded FFRF and made the country pay serious attention to the wrongs of religion, the problems of church-state intermingling, and the importance of women’s autonomy. We’re having a Women in Secularism conference today in large part thanks to Anne Gaylor.

I won’t recount the entire history of her life and accomplishments, but I think it’s important to note what a rare thing it was to see someone stand so firmly and unabashedly for things like contraception and abortion when religious attitudes still controlled access to such services. We still get squeemish in 2016 when someone advocates not just for the choice to have an abortion, but for the social positive abortion itself is. (Katha Pollitt is doing that, and she’ll be here too.) Anne Gaylor penned an editorial advocating affirmatively for abortion’s legalization when doing so was a thousand times more explosive than it would be today. That editorial helped her launch FFRF.

Anne Gaylor was, as one paper called her, a lightning rod. Another said, “Atheist Activist Fights Hard, Wins.” That’s some good posterity.

Annie Laurie recounted how her mother would frequently asked if she was too radical, being pro-abortion, pro-contraception (her state of Wisconsin was the last state to legalize contraception for unmarried women), and heading an organization calling for freedom from religion. “I never liked euphemisms,” she would say. “If you have something to say, say it.”

And so she did. On the broader movement for nonbelievers and the separation of church and state, Anne Gaylor would tell the doubters, “I think the world is ready for us.” Well, ready or not, there she was.

Gulalai Ismail: Blasphemy Laws Literally Govern Pakistan


Free expression is at the core of what CFI is all about. An ideal so simple, and yet in some parts of the world, it’s an alien concept at best, and a ticket to persecution and violence at the worst. The Women in Secularism conference got a first-hand account of the struggle for equality and free expression in Pakistan from Gulalai Ismail, Founder and Chairperson of Aware Girls…which she established at the age of 16!

She particularly highlighted Pakistan’s hostility to women, which she sees as a direct product of its rejection of free expression and secularism in favor of the Islamisation of society. Dr. Ismail discussed the Council of Islamic Ideology, which advises and guides official parliamentary legislation based on fundamentalist religious beliefs. It recently pushed for the rejection of a law written protect women from domestic abuse, something that seems like an obvious good.

Not to them. Instead they offered a new version, allowing a husband to “lightly” beat his wife if she refuses to dress as he wishes, refuses his sexual advances, interacts with strangers, and the like. This is a case in point, said Ismail, that “in nonsecular countries, laws inspired by religion are against women.”

“‘Free woman’ is the [worst] curse word in this society,” she told us. “This is an abuse. If you want to abuse a woman, you call her a ‘free woman.'”

It is Pakistan’s blasphemy law, said Ismail, that serves as a kind of keystone to the entire anti-woman, pro-fundamentalist apparatus now operating in Pakistan. “Pakistan is literally governed by blasphemy laws.” This is a sobering assertion.

But it bears out. From the Islamisation of education, to the assassinations of politicians who oppose the blasphemy law, to the persecution of religious minorities and nonbelievers. “Blasphemy is being used as an easy-to-get-away-with excuse to hamper freedom of thought and expression,” she said.

And women bear the brunt. “A woman is respected only when she is a mother, or obedient wife, or obedient daughter,” she said. “Secular women are seen as a threat, and their lives are always at risk.”

But take some heart. Ismail wants us to know that as we struggle against this kind of oppression, telling us, “We have amazing secularist women who beat the shit out of patriarchy.” Clearly, she’s one of them.

Starting Early to Be Taken Seriously: Women of Science Discuss Perceptions and Pitfalls of Expertise

14372082_10154554428969868_2117422313934938909_oGet ’em while they’re young, and meet ’em where they live. If there’s anything to take away from a fascinating and wide-ranging panel discussion on women in science, it’s that any changes we hope to see in how women are perceived and treated in the practice or the communication of science, people need to be exposed to examples early in life. And when they’re encountered later in life, when opinions are already solidifying, they must be met on their own ground, at least partly. A connection based on compassion must be made.

But, oh, there was so much covered in this discussion among five remarkable women of science.

Each panelist told of their experiences of living with a what I might call an uncurrent of diminishment, where their expertise or credentials are held in less esteem, or outright rejected, because of their sex.

14380021_10154554429494868_8384518400429414377_oJanet D. Stemwedel of San Jose State University is an authority on the philosophy of science, and said that she used to blog under a pseudonym, and readers assumed her to be male. “Once I decloaked,” she said, “all of a sudden I got less smart.” This is just one example of an endemic problem that even we smartypants skeptics have yet to fully come to terms with. As Stemwedel said, “It’s one of those biases that skeptics have trouble being skeptical about.”

14481805_10154554429419868_6545608346502441533_oSimilarly, science advocate Kavin Senapathy noted that many assume her to be male because of her name, and then find herself subject to criticisms based on her sex or being a mother, not on her actual arguments. Science journalist Emily Willingham would find her credentials doubted as a woman, with readers unaware or unwilling to accept that she also holds a PhD in biological sciences.

14480656_10154554429264868_7171640973641213963_oEcologist Kaberi Kar Gupta, originally from Calcutta, focused particularly on the challenge of being a woman of color in the United States. “As a woman, you are always subjected to questions as to whether you are [qualified],” she said. “For women of color, people think you are not probably capable of doing science, that you are not an authority.”

Something particularly new to this writer was an exploration of why it seems that women are a prime target for pseudoscience peddlers, the sellers of woo like Dr. Oz and the Food Babe. Senapathy noted that the “natural” movement that opposes things like GMOs and is wary of “Western medicine” is a movement that dehumanizes women. When women have medical complaints, of pain or discomfort such as migraines or the pain of childbirth, they are too often told by this group that “your pain isn’t real” and that is can be mitigated through mere meditation. “Women’s pain needs to be taken seriously,” she said.

14409439_10154554429359868_2910665372840626732_oYvette d’Entremont (aka “The SciBabe”), who moderated the panel, cited her own experience dealing with a chronic health issue that was not taken seriously by doctors, saying “There are holes in the medical system that let people who are really sick look for other [alternative] health care…and it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not when you’re really desperate.” The “natural” movement, she joked, would simply tell her, “I just needed to live on sunlight and shattering dreams.”

So what to do about these holes in the system that are leaving women desperate to be believed and treated? Willingham looked to her own experience teaching younger science students, and said that these students need to be reminded that much of what they will learn is “based on the norms of white dudes,” and that they need to be taught more about “people who are not them.”

Likewise, Gupta came back to the theme of starting early. As soon as elementary school, starting even with the teaching of basic concepts of evolution, students must be taught to show respect for women.

Something that really resonated with the attendees was Stemwedel’s idea of “epistemic humility,” which she described as “figuring out the limits of what you know and what you can know — what is it safe to conclude, and where is the ice very thin to skate on?” All the panelists found amusing the idea that many in the skeptic community and fans of science have somehow inoculated themselves from being wrong in almost any subject. As d’Entremont pointed out, this is especially absurd given that science is done by imperfect human beings, and “humans are giant fuck-up machines!”

14425523_10154554428844868_5732239181139361696_oNone of the panelists were particularly interested in the idea of atheist evangelism, convincing people out of their religion, even considering the disproportionate harm to women that religion can inflict. Willingham advised us to consider things from the reverse perspective, asking, “How do you feel when someone gets all strident up in your face about the sky daddy?” So it is for a believer who is having atheism thrown at them. Instead, Willingham said that she “walks onto their ground…so they stop rejecting evolution.”

Again, we start from the beginning, and we meet them where they are.

Senapathy noted the pushback she gets from atheists on the Internet when she refrains from being explicitly anti-religious in her work. “While I condemn the injustices of religion…I’ve had those strident atheists come after me,” she said. “All I’m trying to do is meet people where they live.”

It comes down to the goal we have in mind. Do we want to excise all belief in religion, or foster an acceptance and appreciation for science? “I’d rather women find joy in science,” said Stemwedel. “That would be my first priority.”

You can read a recent interview with Kavin Senapathy at the website of CFI’s CSICon Las Vegas, where she’ll also be a speaker. And Emily Willingham recently was a guest on CFI’s Point of Inquiry podcast.