Some Ask if Atheists Are the New Fundamentalists

In explaining why religion is bad, critics argue, atheists leave little room for explaining how a godless worldview can be good.

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Addressing both meetings was biologist E.O. Wilson, whose book, "The Creation," urges the faith community to join the environmental movement.

Even as he complimented the "military wing of secularism" for combating the intrusion of dogma into political and private life, Wilson told the Harvard audience that religious people "are more likely to pay attention to that hand of friendship offered to them...than to have suggested to them, let us say, Richard Dawkins' 'The God Delusion,' which sets out to carpet-bomb all religion."

In his book, Dawkins likens philosopher Michael Ruse, a Florida State philosophy professor who has worked on the creationism/evolution debate in public schools, to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister best known for his appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany.

Ruse, in turn, accuses "militant atheism" of not extending the same professional and academic courtesy to religion that it demands from others. Atheism's new dogmatic streak is not that different from the religious extremists it calls to task, he said. Dawkins was traveling and unavailable for comment.


The suggestion that atheists may be fundamentalists in their own right has, unsurprisingly, ruffled feathers.

"We're not a unified group," said Christopher Hitchens, author of the latest atheist bestseller, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

"But we're of one mind on this: The only thing that counts is free inquiry, science, research, the testing of evidence, the uses of reason, irony, humor, and literature, things of this kind. Just because we hold these convictions rather strongly does not mean this attitude can be classified as fundamentalist."

Distinguishing between strong opinion and trying to impose atheism on others, Phil Zuckerman, associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., also finds "fundamentalist" a misnomer. Instead, he faults the new atheists for preferring black-and-white simplicity to a more nuanced view of religion.

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