To: The Editor
Positive Atheism Magazine
As a long-time atheist, I have thought often about the goal of raising the dignity of the atheist position. It seems that many people in society view the atheist position as one of defiance or confrontation, rather than a thoughtful life choice and perspective.
One approach that I have found to work personally, and that should work generally in society over time, is to set out and defend a rational, reasoned, and consistent world view that allows for concepts such as value and goodness, kindness and selflessness. This approach undermines the knee-jerk criticism of atheists as nihilistic, uncaring or amoral individuals.
The difficulty with this approach, of course, is to first arrive at such a perspective and then to articulate it. But, in this day and age, we have at our disposal all of the intellectual tools and historical discoveries to do just that. We are much better placed than our illustrious precursors, who knew much by instinct and inference, but could point to very little hard evidence for their convictions.
We know a great deal about the processes that give rise to the manifestation of material objects (physical forces, the appearance and accumulation of physical matter in the universe), and we know a great deal about the evolution of life forms. Life is a form of existence, just as matter is a form of existence. As Darwin found, live evolves not according to mysterious forces, but because the successful living form can improve upon itself through adaptation.
Life then has a direction and end, a purpose, if you will: To survive. This is in complete accordance with the reality we perceive around us every day. And it is in complete accordance with our intuitive and rational desire to further our own survival and the survival of our loved ones, and, indeed, all living things. Once we have accepted this central truth, we have a template for analyzing and assessing all of life’s tough problems, no matter how personal or public. Will our choices and policies further the survival of life or hinder that survival, and how so? Immediately we see the wrongness of bigotry, intolerance, unlawful killing, oppression, needless destruction of natural resources, and the rightness of kindness, selflessness, cooperation, and tolerance.
An atheist perspective is, first and foremost, a rational perspective. Atheists are armed not just to play a dignified role in society, but to lead society forward toward an enlightened and peaceful age.
Best wishes, and many thanks for your work,
Martin G. Walker
Author: Life! Why We Exist ... And What We Must Do to Survive