The Happy Atheist?

Here’s another part from Richard Carrier’s interview with philosopher Susan Haack that is rather telling.  Carrier writes:

 Amen again. I would add that I think philosophy benefits the individual’s understanding of themselves and the world, which benefits society by making them a more thoughtful and informed citizen and neighbor (and by collectively improving each individual’s pursuit of happiness). And professional philosophers can (in fact, in my opinion, ought to) help them do all that. If they care to. That they often don’t is one of my own peeves with the field today.

I also think one of the biggest effects of this kind of philosophical reasoning is what it does as far as correcting and perfecting our worldview. Insofar as religion often causes interminable problems, humanistic atheism is to me a step toward a better society (a step, not the whole step). And philosophy is needed to make the case for that, and to build a positive worldview on the foundations left over once we get rid of all our superstitions (that’s the aim of my book Sense and Goodness without God, for example).

Okay, okay, so he pontificates with some more platitudes and even plugs his own book.  Get to the question, Richard:

Do you identify as an atheist, or with any particular religion or world-view?

Finally.  Haack replies:

 I’m not quite sure what “identify as” means here. If I were asked to describe myself, or my philosophical approach or views, “atheist” would be pretty far down the list. Still, in a paper I am proof-reading just now (originally presented at a big conference on the history of religion) I describe myself as “not a religious person, but a cheerful atheist.”[33] And in Defending Science, writing at some length on the relation of science and religion,[34] I made it clear that the currently-accepted scientific picture of the world and our place in it, though fallible and likely to be revised in at least some respects as science advances, seems to me far better-warranted than a theological pictured of human beings as the Chosen Creatures.

Fair enough.  But then she really begins to lay into the Gnu atheists:

I am not, however, like so many, an evangelical atheist. I will tell anyone who asks what my views are; but I’m not inclined to try to dissuade religious people from their convictions—in fact, I’m repelled by evangelism, whether for religion or against it, and allergic to atheism-adopted-with-religious-fervor. I’m especially disturbed by the recently popular (and disagreeably self-congratulatory) idea that atheists are somehow smarter than religious people—not true, in my experience: I know plenty of thoughtful and intelligent religious people, and plenty of shallow and none-too-bright atheists.

And in the course of my work on religion and the U.S. Constitution (originally prompted by the Kitzmiller case), I found myself writing that it’s important to remember that the religious impulse has deep roots in human nature, and that people’s religious beliefs, however weird they may seem to me, really matter to them; so that it matters to all of us, religious and non-religious alike, to sustain the balance of the First Amendment: allowing citizens the free exercise of their religious beliefs, whatever they may be, and at the same time preventing the state from imposing any religion, or lack of it, on its citizens. (No doubt that’s why too zealously religious politicians make me nervous; and so do fervid atheists who, making the opposite mistake, take a candidate’s attitude to stem-cell research, say, or to the teaching of evolution, as the only, or necessarily the most important, issue about his or her qualifications for office.)

Wow.  She is repelled by atheist evangelism.  She is allergic to atheism-adopted-with-religious-fervor.  She is especially disturbed by atheists presenting themselves as smarter than religious people.  She opposes trying to drive religion into the closet.  And it makes her nervous when atheists dismiss candidates solely on the basis of their views about evolution or stem-cell research.  In other words, she sounds a lot like an accomodationist. Given that Myers and Coyne have not tried to stir up another of their 10 minute hates about this, we can only surmise they don’t read Carrier’s blog very much.

So how does Carrier respond?

 I concur. I describe myself as a cheerful atheist as well. And freedom of religion (and of thought generally) is necessary to allow people to explore possibilities and test and correct them over time. We have to be free to explore the information space. What if, after all, some particular religion turns out to be true? We cannot suppress considering that–precisely because that is what would prevent us discovering it. We can’t trust in atheism if we are not free to ask or discover whether it’s wrong. I’m also a fan of (safe and responsible) social and cultural experimentation. Religion (as one form of worldview exploration) will be a part of that.

My goodness, so Carrier agrees?  Carrier is an accomodationist??   He also adds:

 Of course, my readers will know that I disagree with you on the matter of atheist evangelism (I think it’s as important as science evangelism, democracy evangelism, equal rights evangelism, etc., even , in fact, philosophy evangelism), but then by that I don’t mean dogmatic zeal or latent fascism, just promoting and stumping for the idea and defending it against detractors. It has to be honest, reasonable, and respectful of human liberty.

So he disagrees on the atheist evangelism part, but agrees with the rest?  And his evangelism is just “just promoting and stumping for the idea and defending it against detractors?”  I think not.

In 2010, Carrier sat on the panel at Skepticon.  He explained it here:

There is also a video of the panel I was on (on a different day), Confrontation vs. Accommodation. Me and P.Z. Myers on one side, Debbie Goddard, David Fitzgerald, and John Corvino on the other (although we were all pretty much on the same side when it came to the issue discussed), moderated by D.J. Grothe (who made a valiant effort at playing Devil’s Advocate).

So Carrier sat on a panel and found himself on the same side as PZ Myers when talking about the Gnus vs. the accomodationists.  Carrier is a Gnu.

If you check out the above video at 5:33 – 6:13, you’ll find Carrier contrasting himself with the NCSE’s Eugenie Scott by saying, “My objective is to make more atheists. I am an evangelist for atheism.”  He even envisions himself working with Scott by adopting the role of the bad cop, saying “The good cop bad cop routine works fine.”

In other places, he has referred to Christianity as a virus, a delusion, “the main bane of our existence.”

So which Carrier is the real one?  The one who agrees with Haack’s accomodationist views?  Or the one who agrees with Myers militant atheist?

Perhaps we will never know, for y’see, at 12:41 – 12:52 Carrier also says:

 I don’t mind politicians who lie to get things done as long as they are doing it in the interests of the people instead of their own interests.

There it is.  The end justifies the means.  Given that Carrier sees himself on some mission that is “in the interests of the people,” perhaps the “happy atheist” routine is just that – an illusion designed to serve the higher purpose of Gnutopia.

What we can know for certain is that he does indeed see himself as follows:

 My objective is to make more atheists. I am an evangelist for atheism. 

Is it mere coincidence the results of his supposed “scholarship” just happens to coincide with his social objectives?  That’s called apologetics, folks, not scholarship.


This entry was posted in New Atheism, Religion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Happy Atheist?

  1. Rob M says:

    Maybe Carrier’s view has ‘evolved’. There seems to be a lot of that going round lately…

  2. Cale B.T. says:

    Hey Mike, did you see P.Z. Myers’ guest appearance in The Simpsons?
    He even got to do the Courtier’s Reply!

  3. physphilmusic says:

    Looks like Carrier was desperate to legitimize his claim as a real philosopher, and ends up agreeing with whatever an established philosopher has to say. Oh, and his pedestalizing beta soul came as well. Of course he won’t dare to argue with a woman!

  4. Pingback: A Critical Look at Common Atheist Talking Points | CCF College

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