Russell Blackford: why atheists must speak up

January 4, 2010 • 12:09 pm

Over at The Philosopher’s Magazine, Russell Blackford has a nice essay on the necessity for atheists to publicly criticize religion:

When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising – and totally justifiable – that atheists and sceptics question the source of this authority. If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be translated into socially-accepted moral norms, let alone into laws enforced by the state’s coercive power? When these questions are asked publicly, even with a degree of aggression, that’s an entirely healthy thing. . .

It doesn’t help when opponents of the New Atheism attempt a silly and unfair tu quoque! riposte – or perhaps just try to wound feelings, express spite, or incite anger – by branding forthright critics of religion as “fundamentalist atheists”. This expression should be contested vigorously whenever it appears. A fundamentalist atheist would be one who believes in the inerrancy of an atheist text – perhaps one of the New Atheist books, such as The God Delusion – even in the face of results from rational inquiry. However, I have yet to encounter such a person, and in any event such a label has nothing to do with the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens and the other Horsemen. Let’s be clear that the word “fundamentalist” does not mean “forthright” or “outspoken”. To use the word so loosely involves overlooking what is wrong with fundamentalism in the first place, namely its dogmatic resistance to all the findings of science and reason (as when Young Earth Creationists insist, against all the evidence, that the Earth is only six to ten thousand years old).

8 thoughts on “Russell Blackford: why atheists must speak up

  1. When asked why atheists should call themselves “atheists,” I point out the need for lobbying against unfalsifiable claims asserted in politics, medicine and education. Even if we’re marginalized in the public forum, at least the pressure to uphold the separation of church and state is subjected to a steady stream of selection pressure. Who else is gonna watch the 1st Amendment’s back? Certainly not the consensus.

    1. Historically (and in the contemporary era as well), people from various religions have stood together to help maintain a secular government. All the sensible ones know that once any of those satanic religions (all others but their own) gain control, that’s the end of the world. Of course there are many religions which would just love to usurp power.

      1. So true. It’s important to remember that people call themselves religious for reasons other than fundamentalist theistic views. I remember meeting Edward Erickson, author of The Humanist Way and former President of The American Humanist Association, who had no hesitation in calling Humanism a religion.

        One problem with the atheist/theist argument was noted by a Hindu Swami years ago. When asked if he believed in god he replied, “Are you speaking of the god with qualities or the god without qualities.

  2. Oh, I bought your book the other day. It’s really, really good. A heck of lot more of what I’m interested in than Dawkin’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” which… Well… It sucks, too colloquial and “rah-rah.”

  3. Ha, ha! The “inerrancy” of the god delusion!
    By the way I have seen a lot of “fundamentalist” Red Sox fans in my life…

  4. Accommodationists are fundamentally indistinguishable from all other liars for jesus. It’s as if the zealots have moved on from the lie “I used to be an atheist but …” to “I am currently an atheist but …” I would argue that “atheist but” is just plain wrong; these people are lapping at the asscrack of religion.

  5. “Let’s be clear that the word “fundamentalist” does not mean “forthright” or “outspoken”. To use the word so loosely involves overlooking what is wrong with fundamentalism in the first place, namely its dogmatic resistance to all the findings of science and reason”

    Of course, the same people try to redefine “dogmatic” to mean “not open to ideas with no basis in science or reason” or “resistant to OUR dogma”

Leave a Reply