Have “Atheist Fundamentalists” Taken Over CFI?

October 21, 2009

He has a list of 57 card-carrying atheist fundamentalists at CFI

I welcome discussion of differences of opinion, as do most staff and supporters of CFI. We readily admit that we are not infallible, and if we are to avoid making mistakes, we need to learn from others.

But an exchange of views is only helpful if evidence and reason are used to support one's points. One doesn't learn anything from name-calling -- except perhaps that the person resorting to insults really has nothing to say.

In this regard, I am troubled by recent claims, strewn over articles, blogs, and other sites on the internet, that "atheist fundamentalists" are now directing policy at CFI. To begin, exactly what is "an atheist fundamentalist"? A religious fundamentalist, as most of you know, is someone who adamantly adheres to a key set of beliefs -- regardless of the evidence. For example, Christian fundamentalists accept as dogma the bodily resurrection of Jesus, his virgin birth, the inerrancy of scripture, and so forth. But that is one problem with the term "atheist fundamentalist." All atheists I know demand evidence for their beliefs. They do not accept doctrines blindly.

I suppose it is theoretically possible for atheists to be as unquestioning and dogmatic as some of the religious, but then we come to the factual question whether any of the staff at CFI can be accurately described as incurious dogmatists. I must say I have failed to encounter any such individual at CFI. Far from being dogmatists, all the staff with whom I work regularly at CFI are open to questioning their beliefs -- sometimes to a fault (yes, as CEO sometimes I wish a little less work time was spent on self-examination). I do not want to embarrass our dedicated staff, but given the serious accusations of "fundamentalism" that have been made, let me just run through a few examples. Are the staff in Outreach, D.J. Grothe, Debbie Goddard, Lauren Becker and Dan Riley rigid dogmatists? I do not think so. How about Norm Allen, the Director of AAH or Nathan Bupp, our VP for Communications? To the contrary, both are intellectually curious individuals. John Shook? He makes a living by studying arguments pro and con, for goodness sake. Derek Araujo? He rigorously cross-examines everything, especially his own positions. Tom Flynn? Read his editorials. Tom unfailingly provides reasoned arguments and evidence for his views, and he may be the most cogent advocate for secular humanism around. Barry Karr, Joe Nickell? Heck, I do not even know if the skeptic side of the organization would describe themselves as atheists let alone "atheist fundamentalists." Our center directors, such as Reba Wooden, Jim Underdown, Jeff Seaver, Justin Trottier, Michael De Dora, Melody Hensley, Clare Wuellner, and Rick O'Keefe? There is not a dogmatist bone in their bodies.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. None of the individuals recklessly hurling accusations of "fundamentalism" at CFI staff have any evidence that would allow them to identify a single staffer as an "atheist fundamentalist."

But perhaps by "atheist fundamentalist" one means someone who is "mean-spirited" and "anti-religious," as one critic of CFI recently claimed. The "mean-spirited" knock is nothing less than a gratuitous slap in the face of the dedicated staff here at CFI, who put in long hours at low pay to advance our mission. We do not usually seem to have much of a problem being pleasant, cordial, and charitable -- although when people who should know better throw insults our way, it can be a little dispiriting. But being temporarily dispirited will not convert us into mean spirits. We are confident in our outlook, and we can leave the bitterness to others.

And speaking of our mission, any of our critics who would actually take the time to read our mission statement could tell at a glance that we defend the free exercise of religion. Yes, we maintain that religious beliefs (and nonreligious beliefs) should be open to unsparing criticism. That does not mean we do not respect the individual believer. So if "anti-religious" implies that we want to suppress all religious expression, that accusation is just false.

In short, there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that "atheist fundamentalists" are now running CFI. That claim falls somewhere between windy rhetoric and a desperate, unprincipled slur. Whatever its appropriate characterization, that charge has no place in reasoned debate. If you disagree with CFI, its positions, or its tactics, by all means let us know and, more importantly, let us know why you disagree. But if you have any respect at all for the staff of CFI, please drop the insults. You're wasting our time and yours.