It seems the media loves to attack the most popular atheists and criticize everything they say. From Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris, they come under fire and are often called “damaging” to the atheist movement.
Regardless of the truth behind these claims, the negative attention is bad for atheism to some degree at the very least, as there are many people who are looking for any reason to destroy any sense of respect atheism has in this country or around the world.
Yet now atheism has a new face to put behind the name, a face of one of the most intelligent and well respected people on the planet; Stephen Hawking.
Hawking who many have always simply assumed was an atheist having written and spoken about god not being necessary, but many Christians did hold out belief that he could be on their side when he wrote in his best-seller A Brief History of Time that if we could reach the theory of everything we then could know “the mind of God.”
Well Hawking has set the record straight for the first time telling an audience:
“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”
So now there is no more mystery or speculation, we know where Hawking lands and he is openly an atheist.
Could Hawking be the face that atheism needs right now? With Dawkins and Harris being the most famous atheists until now there was no one person who had the power to unify a movement, yet Hawking could have this very ability.
But even if Hawking has the ability to unify a movement, would he want to? At 72, and alive for decades longer than any medical professional could have predicted does the scientist want the role? I say it is unlikely, and I don’t think we will see Hawking as the center piece of atheist conferences around the world and I don’t even expect to see him discussing it much further beyond this interview, however I don’t think that means he cannot be a new face of what atheism can be.
I have heard countless stories of people who claim to not want to come out as atheist because they think all atheists have to be firebrand like Dawkins and Harris, and while I think there is a much needed place for this brand of atheism in the public arena, I don’t think this is the only brand of atheism we need. I think having more naturalists who focus only on the science and evidence based reasoning to their atheism, that spend little time focusing on religion is much needed for a global secular movement to grow.
With a persona like Hawking behind the atheist movement, I believe more and more people will feel comfortable to come out, I mean who wouldn’t feel comfortable aligning their beliefs with arguably the smartest man on the planet?
I hope that Hawking’s announcement leads others who were to shy or scared to open up about their non-belief to finally step out of the closet and declare their atheism. Atheism needs their numbers, we need their representation, atheism is growing and growing fast and I suspect the numbers are much higher than any poll predicts simply because of the fear so many people have about coming out and being labeled an atheist.
I hope that Hawking’s coming out plays a major role in changing what many think that labels means.