When I was in Whitewater, Wisconsin for Darwin Day, I spent an hour talking to the local Secular Student Alliance, which had just been formed. There were already about two dozen members, and it was heartening to converse with a group of such young, intelligent, and eager kids. One of their big questions was “How militant should we be?” In other words, they wanted to know whether to act like P.Z. or like Mooney. My answer was to be polite to opponents but never water down their beliefs for public consumption.
It was also heartening to learn that these college atheist groups are growing rapidly. About 30 new ones have been formed in the last six months, a fact confirmed by the national Secular Student Alliance (SSA). Here’s a graph of the number of chapters over the last four years.
The SSA has recently hit 250 chapters, and—even more amazing—the organization is appearing in high schools, with five new chapters in just the last months.
Can anyone doubt what this growth—180% in less than four years—really means?
I can’t prove this, but I attribute much of this growth to the books of the Gnu Atheists. The End of Faith, after all, was published in 2004. I suspect it touched off a wave of “out” atheism, since the more people express their godlessness, the more people become willing to break their own silence. I heard this from the students at Whitewater, who had been emboldened to form their chapter because some of them learned that their confrères had similar beliefs.
I like to think this wave is now self sustaining: we won’t need any more Gnu Atheist books to keep it going. And, when I say I want religion “eradicated,” this is what I mean: I want the young folk to realize that the superstitions of their elders are silly, and to cast them aside. Like Darwinian evolution itself, atheism progresses not by conversion of individuals, but by change between generations.