Friday, February 27, 2009

Atheists Praise Darwin

The U.S.'s largest atheist foundation, Freedom From Religion Foundation, has responded to the lack of appreciation for evolution in America by raising billboards that state, "Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief". This move comes on the bicentenial of Charles Darwin's birth on February 12th, 1809.

It's a telling move. That is, atheism has started its own evolution from a philosophical viewpoint to a fundamentalist movement. When a historical figure -- who made no claim to deity -- can be lauded by his adherents 200 years later as one who should be praised, then a certain deification is blooming. No matter how small, or how ironic, or how innocuous it was intended to be, the fact remains that Darwin is now being elevated to a level he would probably reject were he alive.

On top of all that though, atheism is not about evolution. The evolutionary model is simply a naturalistic understanding of the emergence and development of the world and its species. Atheism is quite simply a lack of belief in deity, and/or a rejection of the supernatural. So while evolution provides an understanding, that understanding is simply a tool in a much wider perspective about the nature of reality. Atheism, if it is properly understood (and I don't claim to have exhaustive understanding) does not limit itself to evolution as its entire epistemology.

That being said, it would seem to me that the catchy notion to 'evolve beyond belief' ends up in a bit of a conundrum: why would an atheist believe evolution? I have reasons why I, as a theist, believe evolution. But those reasons come with a price: a belief that my reasons are reliable, that rationality is reliable. So if these particular atheists, the ones who are touting the 'Praise Darwin' billboards, are encouraging us to 'evolve beyond belief', how is it that they believe anything of what they're promoting? How do they know their rationality is reliable? They've taken the floor out from under their own feet by implying that human beings are more evolved, genetically superior, when they lack belief. But how can they say that and believe it to be true without also disbelieving it?

The only way it can be true is if it is false. And the only way it can be false is if it is true. Essentially, the billboard means nothing. However, the connotations it brings about will addle people's brains enough that it will seem like something.


Craig said...

I liked the bible quiz. I only scored 33 out of 50.

Joe McCraw said...

I'm an atheist, and I'm not a fan of the ad.
This group is not representative of all atheists, like you say, Atheism is a response to the theism question and does not address any other claims.
Many others within the atheist community see similar issues with a phrase like "praise Darwin".

Christopher said...


Thank you for responding here at St. Cynic. I appreciate your admission, "I'm an atheist, and I'm not a fan of the ad." I think I can sympathize with your dislike of those ads; I don't like it when I see billboards that say things like, Do you know where you'll spend eternity?, or The wages of sin is death. Repent and be saved! I personally think the use of billboards cheapens the message people are attempting to make known.

Anyway, I hope you come by more often. It's always good to engage in some good, strong conversation.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

I agree whole heartedly with Joe.

it is unfortunate that media concentrates on extremists.

Groups like Fred Phelps get the media spotlight to represent Christians, and these atheist groups get the limelight for atheist.

At least the Christians have an organized church to help represent more mainstream and less extreme beliefs.

Atheist just have nutjobs and extremists to represent us in the media.

Christopher said...


I think you might enjoy the moderate atheism of Daniel Dennett. He's quite considerate of others beliefs, but at the same time reliably gentle in his expressions of non-belief. At least, that is what I've encountered so far in his book Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, while I think you may be right my reading time is pretty much swallowed up between photography forums and your blog.