19 August 2007

Intellectual vs Social roles of atheism

Michael Shermer, the publisher behind Skeptic magazine (where I first heard about intelligent design creationism in 2001), has a new editorial up on Scientific American discussing what's next for the atheist movement. He says some familiar good things in the familiar bad tone. From the first sentence:
Since the turn of the millennium, a new militancy has arisen among religious skeptics...
(Damn to the depths whatever man what thought of the phrase "militant atheism"!)
Since the turn of the millennium, a new militancy has arisen among religious skeptics in response to three threats to science and freedom: (1) attacks against evolution education and stem cell research; (2) breaks in the barrier separating church and state leading to political preferences for some faiths over others; and (3) fundamentalist terrorism here and abroad. Among many metrics available to track this skeptical movement is the ascension of four books . . . that together, in Dawkins’s always poignant prose, “raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a
realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral and intellectually fulfilled.” Amen, brother.

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. I suggest that we raise our consciousness one tier higher for the following reasons.
He then goes on to talk about how we need to be positive and pro-something, not just anti-religion, and how we need to reinforce our commitment to freedom, and other stuff like that. Nothing really heavy to argue with. My question is, what makes Shermer think our exuberance is irrational?

EDIT: After having slept on it, it occurs to me that Shermer isn't coming down upon Dawkins et. al. so much as he's coming down on those who risk taking Dawkins too far. There are those who take the platform given them by rational atheists like Dawkins and use it to lash out unjustly against the religious, and they should be discouraged. There's a difference between telling the religious that they're wrong, and threatening to take away their rights because they're wrong. I urged for us to pick our battles and play it smart, and I now realize Shermer is pretty much doing the same (hence his advocacy of "rational atheism").

There are, however, those who
would have even the most rational atheists shut up for their own good. And you can expect me to say more about them in the future.

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