Getting near the end of Smalley’s “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Atheist”, we have this:
9. It is better to find your own answers and make an educated decision, than to intentionally remain uneducated and make a fearful one.
The most striking thing about this thought is how well the second option describes the bulk of the New Atheists. This is not to say that theists are never guilty of this. I completely agree with the idea that this criticism needs to be made of many religious groups, and probably all of us individually, from time to time.
Still, the fact that theists have behaved this way is no excuse for the New Atheists to do the same. They’ve directly advocated ignorance of theism, claiming that they need not read “fairyology” and other such memes. Apparently, they know that religious teaching is false, so they don’t have to bother learning what it actually teaches. The more important thing, on this view, is that one loudly proclaim the evils and horrors of religion.
This certainly seems like intentional ignorance and fear-based decision-making.
My second issue with Smalley’s statement is this: For as saturated as modern people are in the glory of individual philosophies, this is clearly a false dichotomy.
I’m aware that Disney, and everything else we watched when we were kids, told us that finding “our own answers” is the mark of enlightenment, but I find myself more than a little skeptical of the idea. The great minds of the past, and the wise people one knows, have many good things to say. Looking to them for help is far more profitable than fumbling in the dark as a lone-wolf philosopher.
It might be argued that Smalley wasn’t ruling that out. Yes, I’ve seen little to no effort on the part of the New Atheists to actually learn from past thinkers, rather than mock them. But one needn’t be a New Atheist to be an atheist.
The only problem here is that this is a New Atheist argument. Anyone who agrees that there is good wisdom to be found in past thinkers, even if she remains an atheist, has completely abandoned the false dichotomy Smalley presents here.
And that is the end of it. This argument only works if one is willing to claim that all religious people, everywhere, remain intentionally uneducated and base their choice on fear. So long as it is even possible for someone to take a third path–looking to religion as a source of inspiration and guidance, while learning in general–then this is no reason to be an atheist.