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Thu Jan 16, 2014, 11:22 AM

An End to Arrogant Atheism [View all]

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roy-speckhardt/an-end-to-arrogant-atheis_b_4602404.html

Roy Speckhardt
Executive Director, American Humanist Association

Posted: 01/15/2014 1:55 pm

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 a recent 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 won by a single English university, 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.

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