Is Intolerant Atheism A Good Idea?


Wired is running a fascinating article in the current issue (not yet available online) on The New Atheism. The article profiles three leading "new atheists": evolutionay biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennet, and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

In the article Dawkins says, "[T]he big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The "sensible" religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side."

In addition Dawkins muses, "How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It's one thing to say people can believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?" (Comment: Parents are the worst way to bring up children, except for all the others.)

A provocative Sam Harris quotation from his new book Letter to a Christian Nation that caught my eye: "The President of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive."

Gary Wolf, author of the Wired article, concludes with this liberal (libertarian) thought: "If we reject the polemics [of the New Atheists], if we continue to have respectful conversations even about those things we find ridiculous, this doesn't necessarily mean we've lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or you might say our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confidant we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance that we could turn out to be wrong."

Bailey comment: The crowning achievement of the Enlightenment is the principle of tolerance, of putting up with people who look differently, talk differently, worship differently, and live differently than we do.

Disclosure: I used to be an evangelical atheist, but I've since relaxed a lot. Or as I now put it–I am an atheist the same way that I am a-unicornist–show me a god and or a unicorn and I'll change my mind about their existence.