Aug 262011

Richard Dawkins and Paula Kirby have struck again! They have independently launched attacks on the competence of Texas governor and Republican candidate Rick Perry.
Richard Dawkins
: Attention Governor Perry: Evolution is a fact.
Paula Kirby
: Evolution threatens Christianity.

Is this wise? Jamie L. Vernon thinks not, (via PZ Myers). He appears to be an “accommodationist”, like Chris Mooney. They are not arguing with the fact of evolution. (They are not that stupid). They simply don’t understand the nature of the discourse. See an earlier comment of mine at

We are engaged in a war for enlightenment, being fought over generations.


I am using this word as in Dimensions of enlightenment. In other words, identifying directions to improve the typical way we think, the evidence we use, our attitude towards others, and the way we run our affairs.

It is not mainly about atheism, but that is one end-point as the human species becomes more enlightened in coming generations.


There are creationists alive today who will still be alive, and still be creationists, at the end of the Century. This really is a long-term war. And like all wars, sometimes the weapons and tactics needed in one battle will be different from those in another. (In a real war, the front-line troops may be trying to kill the enemy, while the medics coming after may be trying to save the lives of wounded enemy! At the detailed level, there may be apparent contradictions).

This war is being fought across generations, with several different “battles”: “god versus no god?”; “religion – good or bad?”; “science – right or wrong?”; “where should we find our ethics/morals?”; “how should we govern?” For each battle, we need to advance where we can, and at least hold ground where we can’t advance.

Imagine the Commander-in-Chief assigning tasks to his/her generals one by one:

  • Your mission is to propagate the meme “God is a Delusion”; try to ensure that the enemy actively aids this task by being unable to resist giving extra publicity to the concept”.
  • “Your [1, 2] mission is to secure high quality science education in schools; remember that those children are potentially the freethinkers of the future who will continue this war”.
  • “Your [1, 2] mission is to ensure that freethinkers and non-believers know they are not alone; perhaps spend a bit on advertising, and let the enemy spread the message further by attacking the advertising”.
  • Your mission is to show how silly the Old Testament is; how you do it is your business, but I suggest you simply stand up on stage and recite from Genesis”.
  • Your mission is to reinforce the concept that the Catholic Church is not a force for good; this is only a warm-up mission, so you are only taking on a crackpot African Bishop and a shrill MP who is a relatively new convert to Catholicism”.
  • Your mission is to achieve the disestablishment of the Church of England; this is a probably a long-term mission, so you may ignore anything else going on”.

Militant enlightenment

I believe we should be using whatever weapons and tactics are needed at the time. (There are limits – we violate the UN Declaration of Human Rights at our peril). And we shouldn’t judge the weapons and tactics being used in one battle according to criteria more appropriate in a different battle.

“Militant enlightenment” is more like “militant atheism” than “militant Christianity” or “militant Islam”!

The weapons of militant religions are guns and bombs. The weapons of militant atheism are microphones and keyboards. You get physically hurt (or killed) by the bullets and shrapnel of militant religious people. You get mentally hurt by the words of militant atheists, especially when they are spoken with such clarity that you can’t dodge them and they get through your desperate mental defenses.

Militant enlightenment obviously uses education, science, politics, comedy, and the law to make progress or hold ground. But behind these are ideas and values shared via words.

The battle that Richard Dawkins and Paula Kirby are fighting isn’t to cause Rick Perry nor those of like-mind to believe in evolution. (Those are probably hopeless cases, unless their stated views are just political posturing). Instead, they are helping to create a climate in which adults who are still open to reason may realise that there are alternatives to the nonsense they hear daily, and to create a climate in which children will be able to grow up to make their own informed decisions. In fact, given that this is a war fought over generations, the latter is one of the most important objectives.

But this doesn’t mean that all enlightenment activism must be militant in this way. It would be a counter-productive technique for NCSE and BCSE to use while working with parents to keep proper science teaching in schools and keep creationism/ID out of science lessons. There are those who say that NCSE and BCSE should emphasise the incompatibility between religions and evolution, even if this may sometimes cause religious parents not to fight for science. But that is using children as cannon-fodder. Children’s exposure to evidence-based reasoning, which obviously includes science, is not to be sacrificed for lesser objectives such as promotion of atheism; the latter will often follow from the former anyway.

Patience is needed! Not procrastination; activism is needed all the time. But visible results will sometimes take decades. (Daniel C Dennett has speculated that there will be a “tipping point” in the USA sooner than this). The gradual loss of religiosity, and increasing secularisation, of any country will probably occur mainly because the latest generation(s) have different attitudes, not because their parents are converted. An estimate is that it takes about 2 generations for the long-term population of the UK to become half as actively religious. Christianity won’t suddenly disappear; but its attempts to linger and cause problems while doing so need to be thwarted.

A letter to MPs
Replies to my “Letter to MPs”
Science versus religion
Religions in future

  2 Responses to “The war for enlightenment”

  1. If I read you correctly, you are saying that there is no one correct approach and that all methods should be tried. I agree with that, for some people the gentle way will work, for others a kick up the backside is required. What I don’t like is being told that only one method is correct and we should all be following that way.

    It will take time for the majority to become atheist and secular, and as the the religious become the minority they will kick out against that. I believe that that is why the fundamentalists appear to be on the rise, they can see which way the wind is blowing and they don’t like it.

    • Yes. Not only isn’t there one correct approach, we need lots of approaches to cover all the ground. And anyway we don’t all think the same way and have the same knowledge and skills.

      A typical response as society becomes more secular is that religious organisations and spokespeople complain about being under attack and losing their rights. In fact, what they are losing are privileges; their rights are being equalised. A more positive response (from their point of view) is to be innovative in attracting and keeping new recruits, across the spectrum from strict to lax adherence to doctrine.

      I think fundamentalism isn’t so much a response to the changes in amount of atheism/secularism, it is a response to a range of changes in society that they don’t like. “I don’t like all this equality for both sexes and for all sexual-orientations; the only way to recover is to get back to the fundamentals, which we can deduce from our holy book”. It is more of a purification method than a recruiting method.

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