Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Maybe you’ve heard of this guy...

(Cross-posted at God is for Suckers!)

QuestionMarkPersonvspace="10" hspace="10"/>There's been a lot of complaints recently about how atheists never do anything positive. On it's face, this looks like a fair criticism, since even most atheists don't know of any fellow atheists who've done anything positive. For this reason, a number of atheists, such as Greg Epstein and Hemant Mehta, have begun arguing that atheists need to start doing positive things.

I think one small example of what they have in mind would be the advice column Sweet Reason, published for the last couple years by the Humanist Network News, and promoted as an atheist advice column. Here's an odd little tidbit, though: I think there's at least one column kinda like that already. The guy operates out of Seattle, but some people I know in Madison read him because his column is published in the back of a local paper, the kind that can often be seen lying around Madison in stacks to be taken for free. He doesn't talk about religion in every column, but he does criticize religious leaders fairly often. And one time, when somebody wrote asking about how to deal with his fear that God was watching his every action, the response began, "If there were such things as angels -- which there are not -- and if there were such a thing as God -- which there is not…" The guy's name is Dan Savage, if anyone wants to look him up. But I understand if nobody's heard of him, I mean, it's not like he's the guy who got Ann Lander's desk when she died or anything.

After this, I realized that if I thought hard enough, I could think of other people like Savage. Like for awhile, the American Humanist Association had a president who's public life consisted not mainly of attacking religion, but rather writing science books and science fiction. He was pretty serious about science fiction, even founded his own science fiction magazine. Again, if you want to look him up, name was Isaac Asimov, though I realize he's an obscure author known only to the most devoted science fiction geeks. Oh, and his successor was another little-known science fiction writer named Kurt Vonnegut.

Then there was this cyclist who won a bunch of bike races after recovering from testicular cancer, and tried to use his name recognition to raise money to fight cancer. Name was Lance Armstrong.

In business, there was this computer programmer who made an awful lot of money on a well-negotiated contract with IBM, went on to turn his tech start up into a really important company. After that he decided to give most of the money to charity, and he spends a lot of his time managing his foundation. Name was Bill Gates, if I recall correctly.

I can think of a couple scientists worth mentioning. One of 'em did a TV series in 1980 to present modern astronomy to the public. It was a little obscure, but it did pretty well for a PBS program. And the year he died he came out with a book on the value of reason and scientific thinking, "science as a candle in the dark" as he put it. I've read the book, and I thought it was pretty good. The guy's name was Carl Sagan.

The other scientist I'm thinking of spent most of his public career popularizing evolutionary biology, which I would argue is at least somewhat worthwhile, right? He wrote like a half-dozen books on the subject. Cool guy. Name of Richard Dawkins.

I realize the media only reports on the atheist fundamentalists who go around doing negative things, and therefore doesn't report on people like Dawkins who do positive things. But really people, atheists like Dawkins do exist, the idea that they don't is an incredibly silly misconception.

On the other hand, I confess that there is a sad shortage of really big, famous instances of good things done by atheists, and atheists do have a responsibility to fix that situation. And when the situation is fixed, we need to make sure that the atheists involved make sure to always tell everyone that they do what they do as atheists, because really, if we just went around doing good for its own sake, what would we be accomplishing?

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