Taking Atheism Seriously
by Michael Egnor
Recently a man burst into a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and shot and killed 26 parishioners (including an unborn child). The killer’s former high school classmates described him as a militant atheist.
“He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism,” wrote former classmate Nina Rose Nava in a Facebook post, according to the Daily Mail. “I legit just deleted him off my fb cause I couldn’t stand his post.”
Which raises this question: To what extent was the killer’s rampage inspired by his atheist beliefs? Obviously, I am not making the case that atheists as a group condone his act, or would ever consider doing anything like it. All decent, normal people, atheist and theist alike, are horrified by this atrocity. Yet the question posed is still reasonable. If the tables had been turned — if, God forbid many times over, the victims had been atheists at a skeptics’ convention and the killer had been an evangelical Christian — the public square would be filled with speculation about the role that ideology played in his crimes. And properly so. We can’t get inside the Texas killer’s head (fortunately), but ideas do have consequences.
If you’re looking for reflection on the killer’s motives, don’t waste your time looking on atheist blogs, not least the ones with a focus on promoting evolution. Jerry Coyne mentions it briefly, with no meditations on why a fellow militant atheist would murder Christians. Larry Moran says not a word. Militant atheist Jeff Shallit posted nothing. Panda’s Thumb, a group blog devoted to atheism’s creation myth, put up a post mocking creationist Ken Ham the day before the shooting. Nothing since. The Richard Dawkins Foundation merely posted ridicule of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s request for prayers. Sam Harris, who has written that “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,” said nothing about a fellow atheist who killed people for their beliefs…
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