As we all know, New Atheists have long had a problem with civility. Whether it’s Richard Dawkins encouraging his followers to mock religious people, who he routinely attacks as “faith-heads,” or Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne trying to thwart Francis Collins appointment to head the NIH with a public smear campaign, or PZ Myers looking for publicity by threatening to destroy a Eucharist wafer, or it’s just the hundreds of mean-spirited anti-religious memes New Atheists soldiers post, civility is something that New Atheists have struggled with. In fact, it’s so bad that many atheists distance themselves from the New Atheists, causing the New Atheists to lash out at them as “accomodationists” and “faiththeists.”
Perhaps because of the bad public image that follows from such incivility, atheist activist Peter Boghossian is trying to reign it in with his new app, Atheos:
Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, and a team of PSU students have created a new app called Atheos to facilitate respectful debates between atheists and people with different religious beliefs.
The target audience is clearly the New Atheist community and Boghossian identifies the need:
“There are ways to have productive, civil conversations about contentious issues such as religion, faith, supernatural beliefs, even politics,” says Boghossian
Boghossian recognizes that the New Atheist community is in need of learning ways to have productive, civil conversations and his app is part of the solution.
As an example of how Gnu’s need to have their uncivil behavior constrained, here is what one atheist had to learn from the app:
One of the first categories is “Time to flee,” which tackles the best way to respond to extremely emotional situations by backing off. For example, if someone says, “I was just diagnosed with cancer, but I know God will heal me,” DO NOT respond with, “Didn’t God give you cancer to begin with?” Instead, you should respond with, “I’m sorry you’re sick. Is there something I can do to help?” Being diagnosed with cancer is scary enough without adding a faith crisis on top of things!
Yes, trying to score debate points with someone’s cancer is not civil. If Atheos can teach just a few Gnu’s this basic lesson, there might be some good to it.