Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A more respectful brand of Atheism

There has been a division amongst atheists on how to respond to the recent resurgence of religion. Whereas, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris et al. have gone on all out offensive, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss et al. have promoted a more tolerant (and perhaps a more reasonable) approach (check out discussion between Krauss and Dawkins here). Shermer's latest column in Scientific American is titled Rational Atheism, and is "an open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens".

He correctly states that:
Whenever religious beliefs conflict with scientific facts or violate principles of political liberty, we must respond with appropriate aplomb. Nevertheless, we should be cautious about irrational exuberance.
Shermer then lists five points that can be summed up as: Have a positive message and be tolerant of others if you want your beliefs to be tolerated.

Here are his 5 points:
  • Anti-something movements by themselves will fail
  • Positive assertions are necessary
  • Rational is as rational does (i.e. "It is irrational to take a hostile or condescending attitude toward religion because by doing so we virtually guarantee that religious people will respond in kind")
  • The golden rule is symmetrical (i.e. "If atheists do not want theists to prejudge them in a negative light, then they must not do unto theists the same")
  • Promote freedom of belief and disbelief (i.e. "As long as religion does not threaten science and freedom, we should be respectful and tolerant because our freedom to disbelieve is inextricably bound to the freedom of others to believe")
The last point, in particular, is crucial.

All of this may be more reasonable but it won't sell many books nor will it make for good television.