In a fit of bloodymindedness, I purchased this. The Australian Book of Atheism demonstrates fairly conclusively that we atheists have given up on atheism as a social and intellectual project.
One of the articles in Salmon of Doubt discussed how Douglas Adams felt betrayed by comedy when he heard a comic ask an audience: ‘Why don’t they make the plane out of the same stuff that they make the black box out of?’ As the audience gaffawed in slack-jawed appreciation of the joke — signalling their sneering attitude towards the dumb scientists who made the black box indestructible but not the plane — Adams was shocked that it was culturally acceptable for the ignorant to sneer at the educated.
Given that Adams was a good friend of Richard Dawkins and dabbled quite a bit in social atheism, it seems slightly odd that I experience a similar feeling when reading the ‘works’ of modern atheists. The Australian Book of Atheism is possibly the worst of the books published so far.
While it would (and will) take me a vast amount of time to correct the litany of errors written by my fellow atheists, the first essay struck me as particularly stupid and odious. Written by Chrys Stevenson — ‘Historian, writer, blogger’ — it (again) compares the ‘suffering’ of atheists to the suffering of African Americans.
History is political. The portrayal of minority groups in mainstream histories, or their omission from the national chronicle, resonates through our sense of national identity […] It is no surprise that a key strategy of any social or nationalist movement is to reclaim the past — to seek out actors, events, and influences which have been omitted or downplayed in mainstream histories, and to stake a claim in the nation’s future through reference to the contributions of the past.
An early advocate for African American civil rights […] argu[ed] forcefully that African American contributions to America’s history ‘were overlooked, ignored, or even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.’ Racial prejudice […] was the ‘inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind. (As atheists, our historical contribution has been similarly dismissed.) [Source — Stevenson, C. ‘Felons, Ratbags, Commies, and Left-Wing Loonies: Atheism in Australia, 1788-2010’; emphasis mine]
The essay then goes on to discuss people most of us already know: Gough Whitlam and Henry Lawson, for example.
Wait… ‘People most of us already know’? That can’t be right. Didn’t Stevenson say that, like African Americans, atheists were ‘were overlooked, ignored, or even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them’? My religious high school spent several weeks discussing Gough Whitlam in history classes. My religious high school also got me to recite Henry Lawson’s Faces in the Street. Clearly, I must have imagined both of these things, given how overlooked, ignored, or even suppressed atheists are by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them. Atheists are totally like African Americans. Hell, we should mount a legal case to get reparations; that’s how similar we are.
The essay is classic and is worth it just for the laughs. For me, the two highlights were the discussion of Henry Rusden (who was the uber-atheist of the late 1800s — shame about the ‘It’s only scientifically moral to wipe out Aborigines and Maori; it’s evolution baby’) and the praise of Arthur ‘Two Wongs Don’t Make a White’ Calwell (despite being a Catholic, he was a good atheist Catholic).
It’s schlock like this that makes it increasingly difficult to argue that atheism is intellectually credible. The more that this dreck is published, the more difficult it is for intelligent, reasonable people to discuss atheism publicly.