Two-thirds to 93 percent of natural scientists say they are atheist or agnostic. Not surprising then, that the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is one of the most militant advocates of atheism.

According to him, religion has no place in the realm of science because its religious claims are not supported by evidence. He also thinks that religion is an inherently evil phenomenon, since it often serves to legitimise oppression and conflict.

I can highly recommend Dawkins’ work on evolution. I also heartily agree with him about containing the scientific pretensions of religion. However, the idea that religion only causes misery is, for me as a sociologist, one step too far. Moreover, Dawkins reserves his harshest criticism for Islam and its followers.

Etnisch profileren en marteling

Another proponent of this kind of atheism is the neuroscientist Sam Harris. His argument basically implies that of all extremist religious views, radical Islam is the worst because it is violent in its essence. He draws comparisons between heavily armed Muslim men and peaceful Buddhist monks and Hindu temple visitors until he is blue in the face, thus appealing to the Western stereotypes of these religions.

Harris conveniently ignores the fact that, during the race riots in Gujarat in 2002, the current Prime Minister of India stood by and watched the Hindu population massacre the Muslim minority and that, in Burma, monks led the way in the killing of the local Muslim population. Furthermore, Harris often uses his personal distrust of Muslims to justify questionable policy, for example, heavy-handed military action against Muslim populations by the United States and its allies, and ethnic profiling and torture.

Intellectual hygiene

By allowing only one interpretation of the Quran, he ironically commits the same mistake as the fanatics he claims to be combatting. New Atheists like Harris and Dawkins like to confront the obscurantism and irrationality of religious apologists in the scientific community. But when the discussion turns to the social role of religion, all regard for intellectual hygiene suddenly goes out of the window.

If I compare the intolerant atheism of Harris and Dawkins with inclusive organisations like Al Fatiha, which stands for the emancipation of Muslim LGBT people, or the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King, then this atheist’s mind is very quickly made up.

Giorgio Touburg is a PhD student at the Rotterdam School of Management

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