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Dr. Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Baylor University, attacks atheism (but not atheists) in an opinion piece for The Lariat newspaper:

We have to recognize atheists’ full freedom to believe God does not exist, but we don’t have to embrace atheism as a social good. In fact, I would argue that atheism has no redeeming social value.
Atheism undermines values. How? Let’s look at care for others. Yes, an individual atheist might care for other people. But when have you heard of an entire atheist organization serving the poor, the sick or the hungry?

For [Baylor and universities like it] atheism is not benign, but the enemy — even if atheists themselves are not.
Finally, let me repeat that I have nothing against atheists as persons and neither does Baylor University.
But in my opinion, they are people of character and virtue in spite of their philosophy of life — not because of it.

There are mistakes all over the place and many responses to give.
First of all, atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in God. Period. End of story.
I know I sometimes make the mistake of saying otherwise, but being an atheist doesn’t entail living your life in a certain way. It just means you don’t believe in a God.
A Humanistic philosophy, on the other hand, is more than mere atheism. The Humanist Manifesto III lists what followers affirm, like this item:

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

So for all of Olson’s attacks on “atheism,” he’s not really getting anywhere due to the definition. You can’t argue whether atheism has redeeming value or not. It’s not a position, rather a state of mind. Some of us just like calling ourselves by that label.
But let’s get back to his intention. He means to say that not believing in God undermines one’s values.
When have atheist groups helped the poor, sick, hungry?
Well, there was a concerted effort to get atheists around the country to donate blood.
Several local groups across the country raised money for Katrina victims, tsunami survivors, and various other worthy causes.
And I don’t know if Olson would accept this, but atheist groups have been in the courts for decades fighting against civil rights violations.
Alonzo Fyfe also makes this excellent point:

Atheists can do good deeds, he said, but unless they hang the term ‘atheism’ on their good deeds and does them in the context of an organization that has ‘atheism’ in the title – it doesn’t count.
So, it does not matter that Bill and [Melinda] Gates and Warren Buffett decide to spend $60 billion on the world’s problems. They did not put the word ‘atheism’ in their name, so it doesn’t count.

Still, I wish we did a better job with the volunteering. Not for the PR value, but because it’s the decent thing to do.
Olson also makes this comment:

… what answer can an atheist give (that is consistent with atheism) to the question, “What if I figure out a way to be personally happy and fulfilled while oppressing other people?”
There is no answer to that without appeal to someone transcendent to whom we are all accountable.

That is “consistent with atheism”? Again, that makes no sense.
I would argue, though, that most atheists I know wouldn’t be happy and fulfilled if others were being oppressed, but that’s not what Olson is referring to.
He means to say we’re selfish by nature, and if we can find a way to be happy, we have no obligation to help others achieve that same type of happiness.
Austin Cline provides an elaborate answer to the question of why atheists are moral here.
I’m still not hearing any good reasons to deny “official” status to the atheist student group at Baylor. If Olson supports discussions on these issues and fails to see atheist organizations doing anything meaningful, why not allow a registered student group to form on campus and prove him wrong?
(Thanks to Bjorn for the link!)

[tags]atheist, atheism, philosophy, Christian, religion, Jesus[/tags]