Five most awful atheists?


Via Pharyngula, I came across this article by Ian Murphy naming the five most awful atheists. Who are they?

Answer: Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and S. E. Cupp.

What makes them so awful? Harris is there for his anti-Muslim and pro-torture reasoning, Maher for his misogyny and anti-vaccine attitudes, Jillette for his Randian libertarianism, Ali for her embrace of neoconservative warmongering and denial of global warming, and Cupp for her right-wing political views and antagonism towards atheists.

This list is quite meaningless, irrespective of whether the charges leveled against each person are justified or not. Atheism is not an economic or political or social philosophy so there is no reason to expect any correlation with views on topics unconnected with religion. Atheists can be expected to be all over the map on other issues. Basically what Murphy has done is select a bunch of atheists whose views on other issues he finds distasteful.

In general, these best and worst lists are just link fodder. It is easy to get people arguing about what belongs in lists of the best/worst books/films/etc. or who was the best James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. People (and I am as guilty as the rest) tend to be drawn to such rankings even though they have no objective basis whatsoever and are almost always merely the preferences of an individual or a group of people.

Promising a list of best or worst makes for more catchy titles than “Here is a list of people/things I like/don’t like”. By writing about this particular list, I too have been suckered into doing the exact thing I am warning against.

Comments

  1. slc1 says

    Basil Rathbone was the best Sherlock Holmes, Sean Connery was the best James Bond. End snark.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Cupp arguably earns her place by saying she would never vote for an atheist because nobody without a feeling of OmniDaddy looking over their shoulder can be trusted with power. She fails even on that one-dimensional axis.

  3. lpetrich says

    As to atheists with bad beliefs, Communists would have to be the champions.

    There another way to be a “bad” atheist, to accept atheism for bad reasons.
    – Conformity, like following a party line, wanting to fit into a group, or wanting to be like people that one admires
    – Rebellion, incl. wanting to be different
    – Trolling

    We can also ask about atheists who crave some religion, like Alain de Botton. In the 19th cy., Auguste Comte was more successful in that, founding a “Religion of Humanity” whose practice was a ripoff of Catholicism.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    Basically what Murphy has done is select a bunch of atheists whose views on other issues he finds distasteful.

    Vaccine denial is merely a matter of taste? I don’t think I can agree with you on that.

    irrespective of whether the charges leveled against each person are justified or not

    I don’t think it would undercut your main point to agree that all of the specific criticisms Murphy makes are justified. I certainly do.

  5. says

    Before I get to my main point, I have to say that SE Cupp is most likely not a real atheist, just a right-wing fraud posing as an atheist to give new life to some endangered stereotypes. If she was a real atheist, why haven’t her right-wing friends demonized and disowned her? I look for her to have a highly-publicized born-again experience rather soon.

    Now my main point…

    This list is quite meaningless, irrespective of whether the charges leveled against each person are justified or not.

    Actually, whether or not any of us think it’s fair, people tend to judge a movement by the character of those who appear to be its leaders. We judge the Christian Reich by the character of their leaders, so we’d bloody well better be prepared to have our own movement judged the same way.

    And let’s face it — all four of the real atheists on this list have serious flaws that make atheism in general look pretty bad. Harris, in particular, shows a huge amount of bigotry and willful stupidity when he pretends to be able to decide which subgroup of Muslims represent the “true face” of a religion that includes obver a billion people from Morocco to Malaysia to Dearborn.

    The world needs a robust and credible atheist movement to expose and attack all the evil and fraud that religious belief enables. These four prominent atheists may mean well, but they aren’t helping in the credibility department. We need to encourage them to clean up their respective acts.

  6. invivoMark says

    Anyone can be an atheist, and there are absolutely far worse atheists out there than these five.

    I think the point of including these ones specifically is that these are people who would be most likely to show up to an event promoting rationality (say, a Rally which advocates Reason) and embarrass the hell out of everyone in attendance by holding totally irrational beliefs.

    They’re not bad at being atheists. They’re bad at promoting atheism.

  7. astro says

    Nope. You’re only 1/2 right, Jeremey Brett was the best Holmes. And true: Connery was the best 007

  8. says

    Harris, in particular, shows a huge amount of bigotry and willful stupidity when he pretends to be able to decide which subgroup of Muslims represent the “true face”

    And a “true face” that you can pick out of a crowd, because of how they look and dress and the little signs that they carry.

  9. ArtooDeebag says

    The list is not meaningless. At least not entirely. While it is meaningless to associate atheism with anything political, economical or otherwise, it certainly is not meaningless to question a person’s ideals when they are considered an intellectual thinker among any group. Sam Harris, one of the most though provoking writers I’ve read, is very much for profiling people based on looks (especially in airports). This doesn’t mean that his writing on atheism has anything to do with profiling. But, considering most (from experience, but I could be wrong) atheists revere him as a great thinker, his other ideals should definitely come in to play. This doesn’t mean that atheists should agree wholly with any other atheist, but it does mean that if you idealize someone like Sam Harris, you should at least indulge in topics he cares to write about, whether or not they’re related.

    tl;dr Atheists love Sam Harris, they should hear what he has to say on taboo topics even though they’re not about atheism.

  10. Loqi says

    @invivoMark
    I don’t think Cupp is going to show up at the Reason Rally unless she’s there to tell everyone they’d be much better off if they recognized a higher power.

  11. lpetrich says

    We might call her a royal-lie atheist, after how Plato proposed that his Republic have a religion for making its citizens virtuous, a religion that he considered false.

    But at least Plato did not hate himself for refusing to believe in his royal-lie religion.

  12. Reginald Selkirk says

    On the other hand, she might be disqualified because very few people actually believe she is an atheist.

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