Much has been made of late of the issue of feminism, and social justice in the wider sense, within the sceptical and atheist communities. I think the problems some people have are to do with ladders. One of the issues that is brought up is that “feminism” (or whatever social justice topic has arisen) has nothing to do with atheism or scepticism. The problem with this claim is that it ignores ladders. Intellectual ladders.

Imagine a huge wall, perhaps the imposing ice wall in Game of Thrones springs to mind. Momentarily ignoring the physics of the Young’s Modulus and sundry things aside, imagine you can see the tops of ladders poking above these walls. Atop these ladders are many happy people, comfortable in their positions at the top of the ladders. The wall, however, blocks the sight of the lower parts of the ladders. Are they short or long? What do they rest on? No one who simply looks at the top of the ladders and doesn’t probe what is behind the wall can know. The tops of the ladders are prominent.

It’s easy to see the top of the Atheist or Sceptic ladders from our distant viewing point. We can see the atheists and sceptics comfortably atop their ladders, with the wall obscuring their paths to that lofty point. The casual eye is satisfied with a simple glance at the top rungs. It’s easy to see that those rungs lead to those apices. It’s also easy to see, a little further down the wall, a ladder marked “Feminism”. It’s easy to assume that these are independent intellectual ladders, long, straight, rising majestically to peak above the wall. It’s easy to assume, as the occasional theist is want to do, that there are no lower rungs than those visible to the Atheist zenith (for example). However, any intellectual atheist knows differently. Such an atheist is aware of the long and erudite philosophical underpinnings that allow one to claim that ladder, step by careful step, to arrive at the point of atheism. The routes to that peak are a few well defined, well constrained intellectual paths. The conclusion, the top of that specific ladder.

There are other ways to get to that point, for example some atheists climb a path of personal vicissitudes and opposition to religion, but the intellectual ladders form a narrower path. A smaller range of possible ladders to climb. The peak of this Atheism is an intellectual conclusion when following those ladders.

Now let us look behind the wall that obscures our view of the lower rungs. What we find is not a series of unconnected, enormously tall ladders. Such ladders would, reintroducing the physics of collapse under compression and tensile strength, break and fall. What we find is, in fact, a series of platforms, a series of shorter, connected ladders resting on various surfaces, some steadier than others. There are way stations, major gathering points, nodes in an enormous network that spans the breadth of our gigantic wall’s back surface. The back of the wall is a hive of activity as people travel the plethora of linked routes of intellectual platforms and ladders, occasionally rising to occupy a spot on one of the tops of the ladders that poke above the wall. Maybe even to lay down a marker there and go off exploring again.

Behind the wall is this grand network. A network of consilient ideas, data and methods which is completely obscured from view by the wall of prejudice and shallow analysis. To immerse oneself in that network, to follow its paths is to find that the self same paths of valuing evidence, reason, philosophical rationality, sceptical analysis of observed phenomena lead directly to the Feminism ladder’s apex too.

As with many walls this one is under assault. There are people who like to ignore the materials science behind ladders and pretend huge ladders can stand alone, unsupported and not collapse under their own weight. There are people who like to pretend the network behind the wall doesn’t exist. There are people who are avidly trying to brick up the wall by the Feminist ladder to hide the peak. There are people jumping up and down and pointing at the tops of the ladders and getting quite excited that they appear apart, if you ignore everything behind the wall. There are people who think the top of the ladder is the most important thing, and the route to the top is unimportant. Me? I’m in the morass of moving parts behind the wall. It’s more fun in there, and apart from the occasional visit to a well supported ladder top or two to lay a marker, or a holiday at the distant viewing point, there I shall remain.

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