Ask a stupid question countdown... nine

TodayChristian.net posted a list of Ten Questions for Every Atheist. Since I count myself as one of the "every" and I'm far too snarky to leave rhetorical questions alone, I thought they would be interested in my responses. I'll tackle one a day, counting down from ten to one. I'll also be unpacking the questions so not only do I address them directly but also some of the hidden assumptions and fallacies behind them.

Before reading the answer, keep in mind that they have the rather absurd lead-in:

Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…

Someone out there imagines that no one ever thought to answer these, and I'm guessing from the general tone, they think they are unanswerable. So with my apologies for busting your bubble, here are honest answers:

9. What's your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

This is, by far, the silliest question on the list. Atheism isn't just a different kind of organized religion, it's the absence of religious convictions of any kind. So we don't have the same problem of hierarchy that's present in religion. I imagine it's very difficult for a Catholic to disagree with the pope or for a Muslim to say that a verse in the Qur'an is incorrect. We don't have that problem. If a prominent atheist says something we disagree with (and it happens often enough) we can simply gather some evidence and lay out the reasons we think they are wrong. (Recall from part ten that human beings being wrong about stuff is not all that surprising.)

I think it also says something about the questioner that his sample of three representative atheists are all authors. It's very interesting and encouraging that the first thing that comes to mind when you think militant atheist is someone who writes books.

That being said Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens are badasses of the highest order.

Richard Dawkins has been an outstanding communicator of science since the 1970s and the release of The Selfish Gene. The subsequent books in the "trilogy", The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable are probably the best resources extant on the theory of evolution written for the public. While people occasionally take issue with his Twitter posts, he is a brilliant author and an extremely valuable voice for reason and science in the public sphere.

Sam Harris has this uncanny ability to cut right to the heart of a complex issue and find a way to shine light on it that satisfies both your intuition and your intellect. His first two books, he was addressing a rather uncontroversial topic: believing things without evidence is bad. This was followed by the Moral Landscape was about something which was more uncertain. The secular community is divided between the style of morality in this book and "moral relativism". I personally believe that Sam has the right answer, although that book only scratches the surface. If you read his more recent material, which comes mostly through his blog, he is straying quite a bit from the safe domain of "religion is harmful" into areas where we're really not entirely sure what the right answer is. Most of the web-anger directed at him doesn't seem to be directed at particular things he's saying (like the rest of these authors, critics prefer to argues against them without actually reading what they wrote for fear that knowledge will get in the way of complaining) but rather at his audacity for asking provocative questions in the first place. (After all, religion survives primarily through it's ability to get people to stop asking questions, so I can appreciate how frightening Sam can be.) I don't agree with absolutely everything he says, but he's certainly not someone you can dismiss that easily.

I'm not sure what to say about Christopher Hitchens except that he oozed awesomeness out of everywhere.

It's interesting that they missed Daniel Dennett, the fourth horseman. It's unfortunate that his material is overlooked, probably because he gives far fewer public talks and there's less material out there for the lazy observer on YouTube. It's unfortunate because he is the most soft-spoken (and Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins were pretty darn soft-spoken to begin with) and the least antagonistic which makes his criticism of religion all the more eviscerating. He also earns the title of badass.

Stay tuned for question eight...