Before I launched FTB, Ophelia Benson was at the top of the list of people I wanted to invite. I never actually did so because I thought we had no shot of getting her. Imagine my surprise, then, when on the very first day that this network went online, I got a message from her asking how she could join. I shouted hallelujah — or the atheist equivalent, “fuck yeah!” — and did a little happy dance. Now, sadly, she is leaving us.
Some of you have no doubt read of her many disagreements with Alain de Botton, Julian Baggini, Chris Stedman and other critics of “new atheists” (who aren’t actually new, of course) like her. She has steadfastly defended herself and many other leading atheists against accusations from erstwhile allies that Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and others like them are harming the cause of atheism by being too forthright in their criticism of religion. The arguments have gotten so fierce that a meeting was called recently between them all to clear the air, immediately after the QED conference in Manchester and the three of them met to discuss their disagreements.
And that’s where things seem to have gone awry. Apparently, de Botton and Baggini were so persuasive in their arguments that Ophelia has now become convinced that they were right all along. As a result, she told me that she can no longer, in good conscience, share a network with PZ, JT and various other sets of initials. She now considers them to be destructive and malevolent, it seems. She will be closing down Butterflies and Wheels immediately and is moving to England, where she will work directly with de Botton on his new temple.
I am very sad to see her go, of course, but I wish her well.