Based on opening remarks presented in the debate "Science and Religion: Confrontation or Accommodation" on October 7, 2010, at The 30th Anniversary Conference of Free Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism," Los Angeles.
Belief in ancient myths joins with other negative forces in our society to keep most of the world from advancing scientifically, economically, and socially at a time when a rapid advancement in these areas is absolutely essential for the survival of humanity. We are now probably only about a generation or two away from the catastrophic problems that are anticipated from global warming, pollution, and overpopulation. We can expect flooded coastal areas, severe climatic changes, epidemics caused by overcrowding, and starvation for much of humanity. Such disasters are predicted to generate worldwide conflict on a scale that could exceed that of the great twentieth-century wars, possibly with nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable nations and terrorist groups.
This is a time, if there ever was one, when science is needed to lead the way. It won't do so by sitting back and letting irrationality rule the day. And make no mistake about it; the irrationality we see on today's political scene, as exemplified by the Tea Party, is fueled by the irrationality of religion.
It's time for secularists to stop sucking up to Christians -- and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and any others who claim they have some sacred right to decide what kind of society the rest of us must live in--what a human being can do with her own body. The good news is that young people are joining the rising atheist movement in increasing numbers. I have not met one yet who is an accommodationist. I have great hope that in perhaps another generation America will have joined Europe and the rest of the developed world in shucking off the rusty chains of ancient superstition.
Religious extremists in America have tried to argue that atheism and secularism would destroy the foundations of society. Televangelist Pat Robertson has asserted that when a society is without religion "the result will be tyranny." In her book Godless, conservative writer Ann Coulter says societies that fail to grasp God's significance are headed toward slavery, genocide, and bestiality. Influential television commentator Bill O'Reilly has said that a society that fails to live "under God" will be a society of "anarchy and crime" where "lawbreakers are allowed to run wild."
We can see here how Christian apologists ignore the evidence and make up facts to suit their own prejudices. That's the way faith operates, and that's why it must not be accommodated. Today we can find any number of societies where the majority has freely abandoned religion and God. Far from being dens of iniquity, these societies are the happiest, safest, and most successful in the world.
Atheists have long been telling us that we can be good without God. The new atheism says that we can be better without God.
In America "people of faith" are treated with great deference. They are assumed to be persons of the highest moral standards -- exemplars of goodness, kindness, and charity. But why should that be? How does faith qualify a person for such high esteem? After all, faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in light of contrary evidence. How can such a frame of mind be expected to result in any special insight? How foolish it is to build a society based on faith. And how foolish we are to respect the beliefs of people of faith.
While America remains a nation of believers, their profile is rapidly changing. As I have mentioned, young people especially are moving away from organized religion in large numbers. Proudly identified atheist groups are growing rapidly, especially on college campuses. In 2007 the Secular Student Alliance was composed of 80 groups. Today they have 219.
Now, on the matter of the matter of strategy in our campaign to have atheism and rational thinking become major forces for good in the world. I think there is room, indeed a need, for both the accommodationist and confrontationist approaches. If you look at the history of every great social movement--the abolition of slavery, women's rights, civil rights, gay rights--you will see both components. There are people who try to work within the system to make changes. They often succeed, but usually at a snail's pace--too slow to satisfy the millions who are impatient to have their inherent rights recognized by the power structure.
And that's where the rabble-rousers come in. They confront the system and eventually win the hearts of a majority that becomes awakened to the basic justice of the cause. They also give more power to those trying to work within the system.
So, the time has come to rise up against the unthinking, immoral acts that are brought about by religious views -- to state the case for science, reason, and honest compassion. We need to demonstrate that a nation no longer dominated by religion will be a better nation and that we must work to achieve that goal no matter how long it takes.