From the Huffington Post from 1/15/2014

Any thoughts ?

"As an atheist who is also a humanist, I find that in our efforts to point out the dangers and failings inherent in religion, we sometimes fall into the language of arrogance. I read arecent quote from famed evolutionary biologist and past Humanist of the Year awardee, Richard Dawkins, which, upon reflection, showed that even he can fall prey to this tendency. He stated that "religion is an organized license to be acceptably stupid." While Dawkins certainly has a valid point regarding mainstream religion's frequent opposition to critical thinking and empiricism, he makes his point in such a way that is likely to leave religious people offended by, instead of interested in atheism and rational thinking.

Dawkins did something similar when he stated that the combined number of Nobel Prizes won by Muslims was less than that w..., implying that the notoriously nonreligious achievements of academia are superior to those of adherents of an entire religion. Yet again, Dawkins has a valid point -- that the anti-science mentality of many religions has limited its adherents from learning about science and working in the scientific field, but by saying it in such a way, he is less likely to inspire mainstream religious people to care about science, and more likely to offend and antagonize them.

I know Richard Dawkins to be a self-effacing and warm person, but when he says things like that above, it harms more than helps. Unfortunately, he is not the only atheist to make these kinds of statements, as our movement has a history of sometimes blatant elitism. Past American Humanist Association Honorary President Gore Vidal once said, "There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise." Clearly, even humanists aren't immune from such arrogant behavior.

It's important to note that the subset of atheism I think is a problem isn't the so-called "militant atheism" that encourages evangelizing disbelief; there's nothing inherently wrong with promoting one's position to others. And I'm definitely not talking about the so-called "angry atheism," because the nonreligious should be mad about abuses by religious organizations and discrimination against religious and irreligious minorities. What's often holding us back is "arrogant atheism," which is seen when atheists speak as if their view is infallible, and act as if their unwavering non-belief makes them superior to those who do believe.

The problem with arrogant atheism is that it scares away those who would otherwise self-identify as atheists, and it prevents us from building the alliances we need in order to achieve our aims. This is an argument about tactics and attitude. Religion is by no means beyond criticism, so we should feel free to critique and even poke fun at the occasional absurdity. Most people appreciate humor, whether it's in the form of stand-up or just friendly banter. But when that humor is used to hurt others, it becomes a form of derision that is inconsistent with humanism's compassionate principles. When critique becomes belittling, when poking fun becomes ridiculing, the respect that is the foundation for any meaningful conversation is lost.

Encouraging is the fact that a new generation of nonreligious public figures from diverse backgrounds have emerged to spread the word about disbelief in a compassionate and unpretentious way, as exemplified by groups like the Secular Student Alliance. The emphasis on a less monolithic and more empathetic strand of atheism is one of the main reasons that the number of self-identified atheists is rapidly growing and relations between the religious and nonreligious communities have never been better.

If we ever want to truly reach the general public with our message of skepticism, scientific inquiry and a conviction about the importance of basic civil rights and liberties, we need to recognize that you can respectfully disagree, but you can't respectfully ridicule. Let's drop the arrogance and reemphasize the humanist values that appeal to so many people of varying faith traditions. We can still be vocal about our disbelief and should seek to challenge ignorance (be it religious or otherwise) whenever it rears its head, but we should do so in the way that opens minds instead of closes them."

By Ron Speckhardt

Executive Director, American Humanist Association.

Tags: Arrogant, Atheism, Huffington, Post

Views: 226

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion


Would it be OK if Dawkins had said "acceptably ignorant"?  There are tremendous variations in Christian belief, and many Christians don't accept everything in the Bible as true.  Humanism, the Enlightenment, and modern science have mad much of the Bible untenable, so what is left to believe in is the unfalsifiable, but there are influential religious leaders with millions of followers who insist on imposing Bronze Age law and morality on the 21st century.  How many times can you hear some ignorant backwoods preacher say that gays and lesbians should be put in concentration camps and kept there until they die off before you get angry enough to say "That's stupid!"  Consider all the idiotic pro-Christian, anti-science arguments you've heard or read, from the "something can't come from nothing" attack on the Big Bang, or the "why are there still monkeys if we came from monkeys?" or the "Second Law of Thermodynamics disproves evolution," or all the other crap before you start to think some of these people really are stupid, and their leaders, as Stephanie Miller et al used to say of the Bushies, are lying, stupid, or both?  Dawkins makes many public appearances and hears this crap all the time.  He's bound to get a little angry now and then.  I do, too.


I agree. Sometimes religious people become just too much on the nerves, and many times, maybe all of the time, we need to call them on it. We need to start telling believers to put up or shut up, i.e., substantiate their claims beyond a reasonable doubt, e.g., by emptying hospitals through prayer alone. You can bet they'll come up with some poor excuse as to why they can't, despite Jesus' promise that they would have the power to heal the sick and all that bunk.

What you say is true, Anthony, but we all know that prayer doesn't work all the time. Maybe there is some "secret sin" in the persons life, or they didn't hold their tongue in the left cheek while praying. Next time try holding the tongue in the right cheek. Maybe it will all work better if we stand on one leg. Maybe that was the wrong leg. Oh, you're Pentecostal. Well, let's hop around a bit then. There has to be some reason that this prayer is not working.

The only way I know to empty out a hospital today is a bomb threat!

Dan Barker told it like it really was. Follow the link to his letter to believers written in 1992. I kept a personal copy of this one.

Religious people have been accused of arrogance by atheists. 

The argument is that the religious person thinks the world revolves around them; that they thank God for little good things that happen to them while ignoring huge awful things that happen to other people. 

This seems like infantile narcissism. 

When religious people accuse atheists of arrogance, I wonder where they are coming from.  Is the attitude "how dare people think for themselves? How dare someone not accept my religion?"  A conformist attitude? 

To me, people thinking they know the answer to those huge questions, seems foolish.  I read something on WLC's website Reasonable Faith, where someone posted that they accepted the Kalam Cosmological Argument , i.e. there's a time sequence to reality and it can't go back infinitely, and God is identified as the "first cause". 

From a physics point of view there are a lot of flaws in that!  But I wondered - why the hell does this person think they're qualified to accept the Kalam Cosmological argument?  It seemed to reflect a profound ignorance of their own ignorance.  Probably true of WLC as well - ignorant of his ignorance. 

The biggest problem with that argument is obvious - it doesn't provide any reasoning that would lean towards any particular type of deity. The first cause could just as easily be a FSM as it could be a white-bearded anthropomorphic douchebag. The only reason for it being a friendly, human-centric deity is that that is the most convenient and palatable thing for it to be, for humans. If you could ask a squirrel or a fern what that deity would resemble, you would get a far different answer.


Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today



Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon



© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service