It’s been flabbergasting to see kooks jumping all over Richard Dawkins, all claiming that Dawkins is softening in his views (do follow that link to Paula Kirby’s article, it is most excellent), when he’s actually just saying the same thing he’s always said.
Now I’m experiencing a similar discombobulation. Last week I had a discussion with Greg Epstein on the radio, in which I said all the same things I’ve always said about religion. The question was “How should atheists talk about religion?”, and here’s a summary of the main points I tried to get across:
The answer is obvious: any and every way they want to. There is no dogma here, so there is no “should”: let a thousand voices roar. So we can have angry atheists and conciliatory atheists, and since there is no central authority, no pope of atheism, no one can say that one or the other is “wrong”. So, ultimately, there can be no disagreement between Greg and I except to acknowledge that we belong to different schools of thought on tactics and priorities.
Those differences, though, don’t mean I get to tell him how to manage his humanism or vice versa. Most of the strain between atheist communities comes from a perception that someone is disparaging our way: we more militant atheists get a lot of flak from the milquetoast atheists that we’re wrong, we’re driving believers away, we’re too obnoxious, that sort of thing…and it works both ways of course: we do things like call milquetoast atheists milquetoast atheists, and have little patience for soft and fluffy approaches.
But I think the final answer has to be that we need all approaches. I wrote something today that pointed that out: that what I favor is the combined arms approach to changing culture, and where I personally might favor the artillery for the biggest bangs, I know we need engineers now and then to repair and rebuild.
But here’s a central issue of contention: FAITH. No one word personifies the absolute worst and most wicked properties of religion better than that. Faith is mind-rot. It’s the poison that destroys critical thinking, undermines evidence, and leads people into lives dedicated to absurdity. It’s a parasite regarded as a virtue. I speak as a representative of the scientific faction of atheism: it’s one thing we simply cannot compromise on. Faith is wrong.
So then we see this one subgroup of atheists and humanists cheerfully endorsing the umbrella of “interfaith” and it drives us into a rage: it’s a betrayal. It’s an abandonment of a core principle of our atheism. We wonder what the heck is wrong with these people — it’s like being a dedicated pacifist and seeing like-minded war haters working with the Pentagon and saying good things about military drones.
I know the usual arguments: there are good religious people doing good work, and it’s a way to join in to those causes as secularists. And it’s true, there is no denying that there are good religious people…but they are laboring under a delusion, this nonsense of faith, and it’s pandering to the bad in order to do good. I can’t do that, and I won’t do that, `and I’ll confess, it annoys me to see atheists doing that. If they are religious people doing good work in the real world, then do it as a secular effort…don’t give the most foolish part of the endeavor credibility by calling it “interfaith”.
So today I got an email from the Harvard Humanists. You wanna see dishonest spin? I’m gonna show you dishonest spin.
Speaking of Humanists and tradition, Greg recently debated biologist PZ Myers, one of the most popular science/atheist bloggers, on the topic of “How should the atheist movement talk about religion?” Myers has at times been a fierce critic of Humanist community work but in this forceful showing, Greg won some major concessions as the two found a surprising degree of common ground. Check out the debate on our website here.
Epstein ignored everything I said and just sailed on over me. And now he’s going to claim he won some major concessions”? Was he even listening to what I said?
I think what he really meant to say in that email was that he learned that his caricature of the New Atheist position was false, so he did manage to hear some things we’ve always been saying this time. Unfortunately, now he’s trying to turn his blithe ignorance our position into a triumph, and selectively turning a blind eye to our differences.
This press release sounds like something from the Discovery Institute. It’s a completely dishonest representation of the discussion. We have not reconciled. And their freakishly fraudulent spin makes me trust them even less.