Michael Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society and is the Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic. He is also widely known for his writings on topics pertaining to science, pseudoscience, and religion.
An article he penned for Scientific American in 2007 seems quite interesting and it provides some useful advice from Shermer to his fellow atheists (1). His advice is also much needed for it seems to counteract some of the nasty rhetoric to come out of atheist camps. Shermer’s article is essentially advice he wishes to give to atheists, especially those who are inspired (or follow in the footsteps) of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others. These atheists are known for their open dislike for all forms of religion which they take pleasure in ridiculing.
Shermer opens his article by noting the rise of militancy within the new atheism and suggests why,
“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.”
Shermer, certainly no friend of religious extremism and fundamentalism, encourages his fellow atheists to reflect on their approach. He belieces that fighting fire with fire only serves to exacerbate the conflict between fundamentalisms.
Shermer provides several pieces of advice. First, he urges that atheists “must fight for something that they want to achieve, not simply reject an evil, however bad it may be,” and, secondly, they must continue championing “science and reason.” Thirdly, the atheist is not only to champion science and reason but to be practical about it through applying it to daily life. He also encourages tolerance especially “If atheists do not want theists to prejudge them in a negative light, then they must not do unto theists the same.”
Shermer advises that his fellow atheists “Promote freedom of belief and disbelief,” seeing these as essential freedoms,
“Rational atheism values the truths of science and the power of reason, but the principle of freedom stands above both science and religion.”
1. Shermer, M. 2007. Rational Atheism: An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens. Available.