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Gazette Premium Content OUR VIEW: Atheist preachers, prophets and killers (vote in poll)

Wayne Laugesen Updated: September 3, 2010 at 12:00 am

Another atheist extremist went on a rampage last week, taking hostages at the Discovery Channel building and demanding the network do more to proselytize evolution and fear about environmental Armageddon. Before he harmed anyone, police shot the terrorist dead.

The violence and the response of atheist evangelists, such as American shock-scientist PZ Myers, illustrate how organized atheism increasingly resembles religion.

Writing for the Discovery Institute, David Klinghoffer pointed out that Darwinian theory has a strange effect on people who are “crazy, wicked, or both.” He’s correct, but he might as well have said “belief” or “philosophy” has a strange effect on people who are crazy, wicked or both.

Klinghoffer explained that Columbine High School shooter Eric Harris, Jokela High School shooter Pekka Eric Auvinen and Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter James von Brunn espoused an evangelical loyalty to Darwin and atheism.

Those who commit atrocities to fight for the cause of Darwin are similar to those who commit atrocities for the sake of Jesus or Muhammed. They are con men, striking out in hatred and justifying their acts with figures greater than self.

The vast majority of atheists lead peaceful, moral and humble lives. They love their children and help their neighbors. A small fraction proselytize with confrontation, just as a small percentage of religious faithful proselytize and demonize others. Of the few atheist proselytizers, a tiny fraction kills people and blows things up for the cause.

Just as religion has prophets and proselytizers, so does atheism. Conventional wisdom conflates Charles Darwin with atheism, and some atheists embrace the late great scientist as a prophet — even though Darwin wanted nothing to do with atheists and understood the ultimate limits of science. Darwin didn’t waste time trying to disprove creation theory, just as smart religious leaders don’t waste time trying to disprove scientific discoveries that reveal how God’s creation evolves.

Just as James Dobson and other evangelists cultivate audiences in order to spread their beliefs, so do atheist evangelizers. The bigs are Britons Christopher Hitchens, who is battling cancer, and Richard Dawkins, who turns 70 in March. Myers, who grabbed attention by vandalizing sacred religious property, is a young and energetic American evangelist on track to become the James Dobson of atheism.

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As some Christian evangelists have fought against the teaching of evolution theory in schools, Myers preaches with fire and brimstone against the mere tolerance of religious beliefs of students. At the recent World Atheist Conference in Copenhagen, Myers called himself “a loud and militant atheist” who is accused of proselytizing. He refers to the faithful as “intellectual cowards.” He said any suggestion that atheist teachers respect the religious beliefs of students angers him, and “you do not want to see me when I’m angry.” Remember Hulk? He told the Copenhagen audience it would be a strain to be sensitive to the religious beliefs of a school student’s family without saying “bulls---.” He called prominent British biology philosopher Michael Ruse, who promotes reconciliation of faith and evolutionary theory, a “Clueless godshite.”

“I made him cry,” Myers boasted in Copenhagen.

Whenever a Christian zealot bombs an abortion clinic, Christian leaders quickly defend the religion and the vast majority of believers who go through life doing no harm.

“We categorically condemn the act of vigilantism and violence that took his life. … Our condolences are extended to the Tiller family,” said Dobson, then-leader of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, in response to the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller in 2009.

Now listen to Myers, who was quick to defend his followers after atheist James J. Lee took hostages at Discovery in an effort to force more atheist televangelism.

“There’s basically no way anyone can argue that James Lee was representative of any significant subgroup of evolutionary biologists, fans of Darwin, or freethinkers; he’s a sad, lonely outlier,” Myers wrote in his blog, sounding like a preacher after an abortion-doctor shooting, in response to Klinghoffer.

Myers listed 19 reasons why atheism differs from religion, including this: “They (atheists) don’t make claims that taking courses in Darwinism will clear up your mental health issues.”

Really? Here’s Myers’ blog headline from April 28: “Sometimes, it really is hard to tell faith from a mental illness.” So, if believers in God would learn from Myers, they would lose the signs of mental illness.

The more atheists push their beliefs — through terror or preaching — the more they appear as another evangelical movement with faith in a philosophy that can never be proved or disproved. Atheists, welcome to the club. All you’re lacking are orphanages, AIDS hospices, missionaries, and thousands of charitable foundations. Get on it.

- Wayne Laugesen , editorial page editor, for the editorial board. Friend him on Facebook

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