August 19, 2010
Mean Atheists (of the big-A variety)

I am an atheist, in that I do not believe in the existence of supernatural “gods”. While I deny the existence of Gods in the traditional sense, I have reasons to accept the existence of higher purposes and spirituality. If people must apply a label to me, I am a Theravada Buddhist (for the most part).

I am NOT an Atheist (note the capital “A”), a subset of atheism associated with a dogmatic adherence to the writings of Christopher Hitchens & Richard Dawkins. I find big-A Atheism distasteful for many of the same reasons I reject religions like Christianity — in particular, these groups have a nasty bias against anyone who asks questions (no matter how polite.)

When anyone criticizes or questions the motives or actions of big-A Atheism, one of its defenders inevitably brings up this XKCD cartoon:

The cartoon is an ad hominen attack on Atheism’s critics… which seems a tad ironic, considering how often Atheists complain about the use of ad hominem tactics by their “opponents.” They’ll even attack one of their own “superstars” when that person steps out of line, if only for even a moment.

A recent example: Phil Plait gave a talk asking big-A Atheists to be nicer and more polite.

Plait, Part 1 (with video)
Plait, Part 2 (with links to pro and con reponses)

Critics of Plait’s talk ask for examples of “Atheists being dicks”, a request easy to answer. For example, this morning’s news contained the following article:

Federal appeals court says highways’ crosses are unconstitutional.

Posting ad hominem attack comics as a response to criticism seems a tad… well, childish at best.

Religion looks for evidence to back up preconceived answers; science looks for the answers that arise from questions. If you can’t accept reasonable questions or make measured criticisms, you aren’t being rational or scientific.

I fully and completely support anyone’s right to believe whatever they want, so long as they give the same freedom to others. It’s a version of the golden rule… and yes, it is possible to find good advice and philosophy in religious texts. :)

If the government required me to put a cross on my own gravestone, I’d object. If the government prevented people from making memorials with other religious or philosophical symbols, I’d object. When religion says my children must be taught creationism, I object. If the law stated that I must send my kids to church, I’d object.

But I don’t care if someone wants to personally believe in Odin or take Genesis literally. My beliefs are not threated by crosses and minarets and idols, as long as I am not required to venerate such symbols. I don’t see anyone imposing Christianity on me with a roadside memorial.

When Atheists make small-minded attacks on religions and critics, they hurt the cause of rationalism by creating a purely emotional conflict. Such tactics are counterproductive, and should be rejected by truly scientific minds.

Phil Plait made an excellent and valuable point in his talk: Atheism needs to be nice. Doing so is only rational.

  1. scottrobertladd posted this