News & Politics

An Atheist 95 Theses? Stephen Pinker Protests Atheist Group's Excommunication of Richard Dawkins

Raul R. Rubiera

This week, the American Humanist Association (AHA), which advocates for a “nontheistic worldview,” proved just how dogmatic atheists can be. In high dudgeon over a tweet about transgenderism from prominent atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, AHA excommunicated Dawkins for heresy, finding his browbeating confession insufficient. On Wednesday, however, prominent atheist and psychologist Stephen Pinker came to Dawkins’ defense, citing the bedrock principles of Humanism in an act of defiance against the Humanist church.

Pinker didn’t nail his letter to the ACA door on October 31, and it seems unlikely his protest will launch the creation of a new church, but to some degree, his defense of Dawkins read like an atheistic 95 Theses.

On Monday, AHA rescinded the Humanist of the Year award it gave to Dawkins back in 1996. The organization claimed that Dawkins — the author of The Blind Watchmaker in 1986 and The God Delusion in 2006, leading the New Atheist movement — had betrayed “humanist values.”

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In particular, the organization cited a tweet in which Dawkins told readers to “discuss” any potential connection between Rachel Dolezal’s fake black identity and the men who identify as women. He later clarified that he had not intended to “disparage trans people” and he condemned “Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue.”

Yet the AHA excommunicated him, anyway. Pinker, who won the Humanist of the Year Award in 2006, and Rebecca Goldstein, who won the award in 2011, responded with a powerful rebuke.

Pinker and Goldstein wrote that it would be “completely appropriate” for AHA to criticize Dawkins and to explain where the biologist went wrong, “but to seek to punish, dishonor, or humiliate a writer rather than engage with his words is a betrayal of humanism.”

“The Humanist Manifesto declares that ‘the lifestance of humanism [is] guided by reason,'” Pinker and Goldstein explained. “Since no one is infallible, reason requires that a diverse range of ideas be expressed and debated openly, including ones that some people find unfamiliar or uncomfortable. To demonize a writer rather than address the writer’s arguments is a confession that one has no rational response to them.”

“This illiberal response is all the more damaging to an organization that claims to repudiate the repressive practices of religion,” Pinker and Goldstein charged. “It has not been lost on commentators that an association of ‘freethinkers’ has deemed certain thoughts unthinkable, nor that it is enforcing dogmas and catechisms by excommunicating a heretic.”

“The AHA is turning itself into a laughingstock,” Pinker charged.

Yet the prominent atheist had not finished eviscerating the AHA for its hypocrisy.

“This will only intensify when critics discover that past Humanists of the Year, whose awards have not been withdrawn, include Margaret Sanger, a proponent of eugenics, and Alice Walker, who advances lunatic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” OUCH.

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“Many other awardees have aroused controversy in their day or ours, sometimes endorsing positions we now recognize as pseudoscientific,” Pinker and Goldstein admitted. “If every Humanist of the Year could be canceled by someone who took exception to a sentence in their work, we would have a new Inquisition that would earn the mockery of every defender of traditional religion.”

Many who have covered the transgender movement’s terrifying attempts to enforce its orthodoxy on society would heartily agree with Pinker’s statement here, and insist that transgenderism has already established its own kind of Inquisition.

Pinker and Goldstein concluded with a powerful defense of Richard Dawkins.

“Richard Dawkins is one of our greatest living scientists, writers, and humanists. We call on the American Humanist Association to reverse this regressive decision and undo the damage it has brought upon itself and the humanist movement,” they concluded.

This letter is not just remarkable for its clarity and its devotion to the principles of humanism and free inquiry — it is laudable for its humility, as well.

In this letter, Pinker and Goldstein have admitted that humanism, the worldview of atheism and free thought, is not immune to the repressive traits that prominent atheist critics have long used to condemn religion in its entirety.

This letter suggests that even atheists understand that atheism is no respite from the darkness in human nature. The desire to control others and silence dissenting opinions does not go away when “free thinkers” throw off the shackles of religion. The Terror of the French Revolution should have sufficed to prove that point, once and for all.

Religion is not the source of oppression — the dark desire for control is universal in human nature. From the oppression of the kings in ancient Mesopotamia to the slave ships that crossed the Atlantic to the gulag archipelago in the Soviet Union to the killing fields of Pol Pot, oppression is a recurring theme in human history.

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America is great because its tradition of classical liberalism held oppression of thought and oppression in deed at bay for so long. Now, many are uprooting the flower of America’s freedom merely because it is planted in imperfect human soil. If we erode the safeguards that protect us from the perennial human instinct toward oppression, we have only ourselves to blame if we lose the freedom our ancestors cherished.