This Saturday, March 24, on the National Mall in Washington D.C., atheists and secularists from all over the world will gather for a day of entertainment from guest speakers, comedians and musicians. The Reason Rally, which claims to be the “the largest secular event in world history,” features such notable figures as Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Dan Barker, David Silverman, James Randi, Lawrence Krauss, and PZ Myers.
But is the Reason Rally all that it advertises itself to be? I, for one, very much welcome the celebration of reason over superstition, delusion and irrationality. I am also very strongly an evidentialist inasmuch as I maintain that justifying belief requires having rational substantiation for it. Surely, genuine “skepticism” is not a position one takes, but rather an approach to evaluating claims.
Why is it, then, that I would in all likelihood not be a welcome attendee at the Reason Rally? The reason is that I do not share the atheistic secularist worldview. I have weighed the evidence and found the case for Christian theism — and design in nature — compelling. According to the philosophy undergirding the Reason Rally, my having reached a different worldview conclusion from that of atheism makes me unrepresentative of reason.
The Reason Ralliers have even seemingly developed a set of formal doctrines and heresies. According to one blog post published yesterday, discussing how those in attendance might respond if one of the invited speakers should say something on which they disagree:
[I]f they get up and say irrational things, if they get up and lie, if they get up on stage (or video) and betray the cause of science and reason, we let them know about it. We either withhold applause (can you imagine the national mall with thousands of people draped by an awkward silence?) or else we bring back the time-honored tradition of boo and hiss. Politeness be damned. Show the world how you feel.
Since the Reason Rally takes so much pride in exercising reason, we might expect that they would welcome respectful dialogue and conversation with people of viewpoints differing from their own. Not so. This became clear with the launch of “True Reason,” a Christian response to the Reason Rally (this group also produced a book responding to the event). When PZ Myers heard that Christians would be present at the event to interact and engage in dialogue with rally attendees, Myers responded angrily,
I’m beginning to feel like my long-standing personal policy of not intruding on their church services needs to be questioned, because man, is this ever arrogant and obnoxious.
If these people bother you at the rally, I recommend one of two choices: either tell them sternly to leave you alone and walk away, or — and this is the fun part — calmly and politely take their rubbish arguments apart with much soft-spoken malice and cruelty.
When David Silverman, president of American Atheists, was sent a polite and respectful invitation to co-sponsor a debate between Richard Dawkins and William Lane Craig, Silverman replied,
Make no mistake — you are not welcomed guests at the rally. We are not going to DC for “dialogue” with people who believe ridiculous things — we are going to have fun with other like-minded people. Those who proselytize or interfere with our legal and well-deserved enjoyment will be escorted to the 1st Amendment pen by security, which will be plentiful, where you can stand with the Westborough Baptists and shout yourselves hoarse.
Spreading out among the crowd is not a substitute for a permit. Indeed, I will be meeting with the Parks Commission on Thursday to discuss how to handle your infiltrative permitless counter-protest.
Dr. Dawkins has made it clear that he doesn’t want to debate Mr. Craig. I am not sure how much clearer he (or I) could be.
What makes this so ironic is that the Westboro Baptist Church were specially invited to the Reason Rally — presumably for purposes of contrast between the atheists (who wish to portray themselves as beacons of reason) and religious fanatics.
Quite apart from its being the height of arrogance to claim a monopoly on reason for one’s own “in-group,” the hosts of the Reason Rally seem entirely uninterested in having a reasonable conversation with those who disagree with them. They are, however, very happy to use ridicule when it suits their needs — as evidenced by the decision to invite the Westboro Baptist Church. Sadly, by registering to attend the Reason Rally, you are effectively saying “I am beyond the reach of rational persuasion.”
Photo credit: greyloch/Flickr.