Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Oxymoron that is "Evangelical Atheist"

Over at neurontic she writes:

My goal was to carve out a space for those of us in the middle: Non-believers who understand that faith can play a healthy role in the lives of others. Atheists who oppose evangelizing on principle, whether it's practiced by fundamental Christians or the Anti-God Squad. People more interested in building bridges of understanding then in fortifying their own position.

The only definition of "evangelical" in my dictionary that could apply to an atheist is "marked by fervor or zeal". Sounds like enthusiasm to me, why would anyone oppose that in principle?

Speaking as a strict Dawkinsmyerserist, I oppose the more common definitions of "evangelizing", not because they want to convert me to their views. In subtle ways, we all do that all the time, and in some ways it merely marks intellectual integrity. I oppose traditional evangelizing because the certainty of their position often requires ignoring the facts or torturing logic, and they are not shy about attempting to force these ill-derived views on me through the laws. This can hardly be compared with a straight face to a scientist or philosopher pointing out that religious views have no justification in those areas, and ought to be treated as such.

They want to catalyze a total ideological conversion.

Are you sure about that? I agree with your argument against that ever happening. However, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect significant movement as a society to tolerance for religous views only similar to the tolerance we have a for a friend in a tight spot who rubs his rabbit's foot, or who tries to find guidance for life in his horoscope. It is the free ride given to religious idiocy that would never be granted to other idiocy of similar caliber to which I object. Let religion be treated as the quaint psychological folk remedy it is, rather than some sort of alternative path to knowledge, and I predict Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Myers amd I will become a lot less concerned with what religious people think.

I also challenge anyone chanting the Dawkins-atheists-do-more-harm-than-good mantra to produce evidence of it. My money says they are doing far more good than harm. Their effect on the Overton Window seems inevitably positive. Also, the impact they will have on young atheists who are surrounded by belivers and consequentally doubting their views and themselves will be far more dramatic than the effect they will have on most Christians. As has been been solidly documented, many attitudes towards atheists rise to a level that would be called "bigotry" were it aimed at any race or gender. What could be worse than that?

And as for the educated middle, I'd say the "vitriolic" Dawkins et al will have little effect on them at all. Such people base their views on their personal evaluation of the evidence. Dawkins' personality isn't going to change their views.

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