Look at her!
Little did I know, when I sat down to write the following before going to the gym this morning, that this subject would be so thoroughly explored today in so many different places. Not only Butterflies and Wheels (as linked below), but also Russell Blackford’s Metamagician blog, Jason Rosenhouse on his science blog, Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, and even Jeremy — “Look at her!” – Stangroom (credit to Jerry for Jeremy’s new nickname!) is getting in on the action (from a contrary perspective, of course — shoving it one more time to “Dick” Dawkins). And there are others, including Jean Kazez (who, at this point, I’m not prepared to take seriously), unlike Jason Streitfield, who writes on public displays of atheism in response to Jean Kazez. — And yet one more: Camels with Hammers.
Just one comment in response to Jean’s point that atheism does not provide for an objective morality, and that discussing this in public will not make atheism more publicly acceptable. In fact, the religious already think that atheists have no moral compass, and cannot have one, so it’s not going to make a lot of difference anyway. But of course religion doesn’t provide for an objective morality either. Just because you say it is doesn’t make it so. So, the status of morality will be just the same, whether you are religious or not. Besides, it is abundantly evident that religious “morality” is often sub-human, however objective religious people think their morality is. In fact, that’s precisely what I argue again and again. When religious people tell us that stoning women to death. or allowing women to die rather than perform an abortion, or forcing people to die in misery, or mutilating the genitals of boys and girls are commanded by their gods, then we need to ask them to think a bit more about morality, and what it is. Supposing that you have an objective morality is almost always a disaster, because if it really is objective, then, like the laws of the Medes and the Persians (as the Bible says), it can never change, and we must go on doing these awful things forever, and call them good. I’d like a little less objectivity, and a whole lot more sensitive humanity, anyday.
Over at Butterflies and Wheels a discussion developed (while I slept, apparently) about atheism and politeness. If we want to make a change we have to make nice with religion … That’s the idea. We’ve met the idea before, from Phil Plait’s “Don’t be a Dick” campaign, to Mooney’s ridiculous posturing about the boorishness and unhelpfulness of the new atheism — no, the New Atheism: let’s stand proud! — done with all the artfulness of a boor — or a dick, as the case may be.
This simply misses the point. The whole point of the New Atheism was to oppose something intrusive and dangerous. It was, arguably, the religious atrocities of 9/11 that gave a fillip to atheism and made it new. Without that iconic event atheism would have gone on its boring way without making so much as a dent in the culture. But religion couldn’t stay put. It was losing ground. People were beginning to think of religion as well past its sell-by date. Church people watched with alarm as their numbers dwindled. Time for drastic action.