Atheist Tactics: A Panel Discussion

At the upcoming joint conference between the AHA, SSA, and IHEU, I have the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on a topic that’s important to a lot of us in the atheist blogosphere:

Making the Case for the New Enlightenment: What are the best ways to get people to value scientific and critical inquiry, naturalism, democracy, secularism, and human based ethics?

In other words, what are the best methods to get people to respect who we are (as non-religious people) and what we represent? For example, should we take a more aggressive stance or should we use softer rhetoric?

The panelists include:

What questions would you like to see them answer?

I’ll use your suggestions at the event and try to post audio/video/transcript — or at least a rough analysis of what was said — afterwards.

By the way, I’ll be on the Rational Response Squad radio show tonight to discuss the panel! You can listen in at 8:00 p.m. EST by clicking here.


[tags]atheist, atheism, American Humanist Association, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Secular Student Alliance[/tags]

  • http://thesciencepundit.blogspot.com The Science Pundit

    Do you think improving science education (to include critical thinking skills) alone is enough to eventually make the public appreciate science?

  • Awesomesauce

    How do we go about discussing sensative issues that are loaded with potential for religious prejudice without triggering the atheist alarm?

    If we discuss ideas such as population control, planned parenthood, stemcell research, gay marriage, seperation of church and state, are there ways to circumvent the dismissal of the topic by the religious? It would be nice if we could get people to think critically about these issues, but this is only possible if there are people who pay attention.

  • Tom

    I always recall the segment from the Beyond Belief 2006 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYBFqse7tiU) of a dialog between Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins, where I believe Tyson summarizes my point of view succinctly. In short, be educators, not evangelizers

  • http://www.embiggenbooks.com Mr Embiggen

    My Suggestion is that as with any specialist job, experts in the field should be employed. Its not rocket science/or biology/ or chemistry. As a group we should be hiring professional marketers/graphics/ad people. Not just someone’s cousin who’s done a course but the best in the business like Stefan Sagemeister, or Neville Brody. These people have risen to the top of their profession for a good reason, they excel at it. At the moment communication is basically leaked to the outside world like some dirty political secret. Occasionally it’s even done well but clearly not well enough.

    How do we get people to think? How do we get people to respond positively to science discoveries? You employ people who’s job it is to build lines of communication, interaction and finally behaviour. Its all well and good and satisfying to slaughter the opposition with reasoned argument and the facts but if Nike or Mercedes sold their product like this they would have gone out of business long ago.

  • Adrian

    What positive or negative effects do you see from anti-religion speech?

    Some vocal atheists are accused of being insulting whenever they express anti-religion sentiments. It is as if religionists do not distinguish between criticisms of god or religion, and criticisms of themselves. How do you think we should respond to this?

    When many countries in the world (including your Northern neighbour, Canada) can elect openly atheist politicians, why do you think proclamations of faith are regarded as essential in the US?

  • http://gaytheist.wordpress.com Reed Braden

    Hmm… how about:

    Kelly, why did you lie about Richard Dawkins’ relationship with his staffers, stating that he was having an affair with one female volunteer in particular? Is this because the Richard Dawkins Foundation decided to sever ties with your group and you were bitter?

    Seriously, why would Kelly O’Connor be chosen to represent any fraction of Atheist culture? She has proved herself time and time again to be a liar and she’s a horrible speaker. I would much prefer not to be represented by smut.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    If we discuss ideas such as population control, planned parenthood, stemcell research, gay marriage, seperation of church and state, are there ways to circumvent the dismissal of the topic by the religious?

    Um. Who do you mean by “the religious”? I have many religious, even born-again and evangelical Christian friends who agree with me about planned parenthood, stemcell research, separation of church and state, and so forth. Some even agree about gay marriage.

    I wish I could make it to this conference but I have way too much going on. :-(

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Reed Braden: “Seriously, why would Kelly O’Connor be chosen to represent any fraction of Atheist culture?”

    Unfortunately, she does represent a fraction of atheist culture. :(

  • http://www.evolvedrational.com Evolved Rationalist

    Yes, Ramsey. We are not all sheep like theistards are.

    Kinda sucks, doesn’t it?

  • Awesomesauce

    Um. Who do you mean by “the religious”? I have many religious, even born-again and evangelical Christian friends who agree with me about planned parenthood, stemcell research, separation of church and state, and so forth. Some even agree about gay marriage.

    Perhaps, but my point was that “the religious” I was referring to were well-aware of my atheist state. I find that those who don’t know are much more open to conversation about these topics though I feel sneaky; as though I am hiding my atheism from them in order to avoid dismissal.

    I’m not sure if that made sense.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I find that those who don’t know are much more open to conversation about these topics

    I haven’t found that at all. I’m no good at hiding anything. :-)

  • atheist

    OH. So sleeping around with married big-names in atheism and skepticism is a big no-no? That’d be an interesting issue to raise for not just ONE of the women.Assuming that every one of these people are representatives of everyone is a big ask and we shouldn’t think nor have pushed that they stand for everyone with their ‘role’, smut or not. It’d be good to have that asked – do you really think you represent a spectrum or think that you haven’t got clay feet? How can you improve?
    ME: “Its all well and good and satisfying to slaughter the opposition with reasoned argument and the facts but if Nike or Mercedes sold their product like this they would have gone out of business long ago.”
    Excellent point. When aggression, snide attacks and exaggeration from both sides is the norm for many in this arena?

  • atheist

    “Its all well and good and satisfying to slaughter the opposition with reasoned argument and the facts but if Nike or Mercedes sold their product like this they would have gone out of business long ago.”

    Excellent point. Questioning of the marketing is very good.

  • Darryl

    Ignorant people are suspicious. To overtly promote atheism will only trigger their suspicions. I’m all for atheism, but simply living well and letting stupidity suffer its own rewards is all we can hope for. Rather bleak, I know, but realistic.

  • 5ive

    What are their thoughts on individuals improving the general opinion of atheists? even if it means approaching local churches and offering to have an “Ask an atheist” session? How do you think it would be best to approach a minister or pastor of a church?If they think this is a good idea, how does one ensure one’s safety amongst the possible anger that can be expressed by those “hate-thy-neighbour-if-they-think-differently-than-you” type of christians?
    We can’t expect anyone to take atheism seriously if they come into it so ignorant. We need to humanize godless living so that they become accustomed to it and open to it. Then we can start in making science a popular way to make accurate predictions. It is only because people are unfamiliar with the fact that we can be perfectly good people without the police officer in the sky that they prejudge atheists.

  • http://gaytheist.wordpress.com Reed Braden

    J.J. –

    Unfortunately, she does represent a fraction of atheist culture. :(

    She represents the 14-year-old Atheists who are only Atheists to piss off their parents and only call themselves Atheists as one of many phases they go through. Of the Atheists who are old enough to vote, Kelly represents a very tiny percentage.

  • http://weekinhomeschooling.blogspot.com/ Anne

    5ive-

    We need to humanize godless living so that they become accustomed to it and open to it.

    Mr Embiggen-

    As a group we should be hiring professional marketers/graphics/ad people.

    I agree with much of what has been posted so far. The above two statements stand out, imo. Would the panel agree that the public image of atheists should be addressed first?

    (envisioning a billboard in upstate SC with the impact/longevity of “Got Milk?”)

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    If they think this is a good idea, how does one ensure one’s safety amongst the possible anger that can be expressed by those “hate-thy-neighbour-if-they-think-differently-than-you” type of christians?

    5ive… Oh, puhlease. Christians are not going to beat you up. Especially not if they invited you to come and speak at their church. Anger never hurt anyone. Have you ever actually met a Christian? You might be surprised that they are just people, hmmm, just like atheists are.

  • Jason

    A “Bill Nye, The Science Guy” type show, hosted by Scarlett Johansson. For two big, obvious reasons.

  • Adrian

    I don’t think that Scarlett Johansson has very big, obvious reasons. Perhaps you’re still thinking of Kelly O’Connor.

    (Oh come on, I can’t be the only one thinking that, can I?)

  • Jason

    Kelly O’Connor is the RRS Kelly in the Red Dress?

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    We need to “rational thinking” to reading ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic in school education. The fact is, kids spend much of their educations learning specific trivia without learning how to think critically or HOW to learn trivia as needed. A curriculum based on teaching kids to be critical thinkers and skeptical consumers of information would go a long way to a more rational populace AND make kids far far better essay writers, math literate, and so on.

    As someone who has had to read countless terrible essays, I’ve come to believe that the problem isn’t really sloppy writing: it’s sloppy/lack of thinking or knowing how to think about a topic, form a thesis, and defend it.

  • Awesomesauce

    We need to “rational thinking” to reading ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic in school education. The fact is, kids spend much of their educations learning specific trivia without learning how to think critically or HOW to learn trivia as needed. A curriculum based on teaching kids to be critical thinkers and skeptical consumers of information would go a long way to a more rational populace AND make kids far far better essay writers, math literate, and so on.

    As someone who has had to read countless terrible essays, I’ve come to believe that the problem isn’t really sloppy writing: it’s sloppy/lack of thinking or knowing how to think about a topic, form a thesis, and defend it.

    Amen.

    But Bad, if it’s atheists pressing for better education, aren’t they just trying to corrupt the minds of the youth and turn them away from God?

    I agree that reputation and image should be our primary concern before tackling any issues of substance.

  • 5ive

    Anne, sorry to disappoint, but I have had personal experience with the anger that ensues when someone’s belief system is questioned, such as when my son was cornered and yelled at for not believing in god or when another child at a different school was kicked and punched when he said he didn’t go to church. Also there are the items of vandalization that are only too common to cars that are adorned with something as benign as a darwin fish. Maybe it is just where I live, but people get really really upset at different views. I would hope that someone who invites an atheist into their church would be kind and open, but there is always some odd nut out there. I am totally not saying christians act like this, I am saying odd nuts do, and some happen to be christian.

  • Allison

    DD, most of them are just people, yes, but I hate to say that where I grew up, some of them (not most by any means, but they’re out there) are just people who will actually beat you up because of your difference. I do agree, though, that if they let you in their church to talk, you’re probably okay.

  • http://weekinhomeschooling.blogspot.com/ Anne

    5ive-

    I’m sorry to hear of what happened to your son and the other child. Perhaps you were responding to writerdd’s comment?

    I quoted you because I do think that any efforts from specifically atheist or humanist organizations would be well preceded by an image campaign.

  • 5ive

    Oh my goodness anne! I am so sorry… Yes, I was responding to writerdd… sorry about the mix up! Thanks for you nice words, anne :)
    and I just noticed writerdd also said “anger never hurt anyone”, perhaps the entire post was satire? hmmm… sorry if it was and I misunderstood. Maybe I was just angry. hehe….


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