Humanist Network News published my letter to the editor based on reaction to the essay published last week titled “Humanists and the Trap of Atheism”
At the end of the letters responding to that essay was this editor’s note:
Editor’s Note: Acclaimed skeptic Michael Shermer tackled the topic of “aggressive atheism” in “An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens” just published in the September edition of Scientific American.
Setting aside the unnecessary fighting word “aggressive atheism” the editor used lets look at what Shermer says:
Unlike Narain’s essay Shermer at least tries to express something positive and makes a few points that could apply to anyone. He just doesn’t say “atheism bad humanism good”.
Although I will point out I disagree with his first point as it applies it to atheism.
1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail. Atheists cannot simply define themselves by what they do not believe. As Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises warned his anti-Communist colleagues in the 1950s: “An anti-something movement displays a purely negative attitude. It has no chance whatever to succeed. Its passionate diatribes virtually advertise the program they attack. People must fight for something that they want to achieve, not simply reject an evil, however bad it may be.”
Atheism isn’t “anti” anything and giving rational reasoned arguments opposed to some conventional thinking – like theism or religious belief – is not being “anti” anything either. Just because I can express some arguments against a flat earth doesn’t make me “anti-flat earth”. If it did then that would give validity to a wrong view of the earth that it didn’t deserve.
Atheists are fighting for something that we want to achieve – a rational non-theistic world. We might fail but not because we are “anti” anything but because we have to try and undo 2000 years of indoctrination and religious brainwashing.
Shermer ends his essay with:
As King, in addition, noted: “The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”
Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.
Of course no atheist that I know is advocating taking any person’s freedom away nor do we distrust all religious people. Unlike most believers and the general public, atheists are able to separate the beliefs from the people who hold them and oppose the beliefs and actions that result.