Thank You, Richard Dawkins

Sean Carroll makes the case for Richard Dawkins’ approach to the defense of atheism, although I’m not sure I would use the word “arrogant” here.

In other words, by being arrogant and uncompromising in his atheism, Dawkins has done a tremendous amount to make the very concept of atheism a respectable part of the public debate, even if you find him personally obnoxious. Evidence: a few years ago, major newsmagazines (prompted in part by the efforts of the Templeton Foundation) were running cover stories with titles like Science Finds God (Newsweek, July 20, 1998). Pure moonshine, of course — come down where you will on the whole God debate, it remains pretty clear that science hasn’t found Him. But, within the range of acceptable public discourse, both science and God were considered to be undeniably good things — it wasn’t a stretch to put them together. Nowadays, in contrast, we find cover stories with titles like God vs. Science (Time, Nov 13, 2006). You never would have seen such a story just a few years ago.

This is a huge step forward. Keep in mind, the typical American thinks of atheists as fundamentally untrustworthy people. A major network like CNN will think nothing of hosting a roundtable discussion on atheism and not asking any atheists to participate. But, unlike a short while ago, they will eventually be shamed into admitting that was a mistake, and make up for it by inviting some atheists to defend their ideas. Baby steps. Professional news anchors may still seem a little befuddled at the notion that a clean, articulate person may not believe in God. But at least that notion is getting a decent public hearing. Once people actually hear what atheists have to say, perhaps they will get the idea that one need not be an amoral baby-killer just because one doesn’t believe in God.

For that, Richard Dawkins, thank you.