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On A+, with a comment about Richard Carrier’s intemperance

Wednesday, 29 August 2012
by Massimo Pigliucci


The buzz is on: the third wave of atheism is on the march. It’s called A+, and it has a nice logo to go with it. A+ is the brainchild of Jen McCreight, a liberal blogger and “perverted feminist” (her words) who writes for Freethought Blogs, and rose to fame initially for her very funny “boobquake” stunt a couple of years ago.

Jen is concerned about issues that have worried me for some time too, particularly the fact that the atheist community seems to me to be rife with misogyny and very little concern for social issues (not even when it comes to the freedom of speech of other atheists, see the abysmally embarrassing failure of the petition on behalf of Alexander Aan).

As a reaction, Jen has proposed a new type of atheism, a third wave after the “intellectual and academic” beginnings and the confrontational “New Atheism.” She proposes an atheism concerned with social issues, where the light of reason and critical scrutiny is directed not just at debunking creationists but also to illuminating questions of injustice about gender, ethnicity and the like.

Here is Jen’s summary of the programmatic points for A+, in a follow up to her original post (see also endorsements by Greta Christina and Nelson Jones):

We are…

Atheists plus we care about social justice,

Atheists plus we support women’s rights,

Atheists plus we protest racism,

Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,

Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

Perfect, I’m on board. But (you knew this was coming, yes?) I do have a couple of observations (before I get to Richard Carrier, as the title promises). One is historical in nature, the other philosophical.

Historically, what Jen, Greta and others are looking for already exists. It’s called secular humanism, and it has had (and continues to have) a huge impact on precisely the issues listed above. How huge? Well, just to cite an example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights is a quintessential humanist document, which has influenced international relations since its adoption in 1948.

Secular humanism has a long history, depending on how exactly one defines the concept, and it includes a series of Humanist Manifestos (the first one of which was published in 1933, the last one in 2003) that address precisely the sort of issues that A+ is concerned with, and then some.

So, my first point isn’t a critique of A+ as much as a reminder that, well, some of us (secular humanists) have been doing that sort of thing for almost a century (not I personally, I’m not that old...).