Evangelical atheism

Evangelical atheism is a term sometimes used to describe the lack of belief in deities and other supernatural beings by those who are assertively outspoken about their atheism. The term has been used both pejoratively as well as descriptively.


Harvard botanist Asa Gray, a believing Christian and one of the first supporters of Darwin's theory of evolution, commented in 1868 about the more worldly Darwinists in England having "the English-materialistic-positivistic line of thought".[1] Such thought was likely associated with Thomas Huxley's skepticism and free inquiry at the time.

Janet Browne would equate the nature of Huxley's questioning and skepticism with "religion" in her biography of Charles Darwin:

Huxley was rampaging on miracles and the existence of the soul. A few months later, he was to coin the word "agnostic" to describe his own position as neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but one who considered himself free to inquire rationally into the basis of knowledge, a philosopher of pure reason [...] The term fitted him well [...] and it caught the attention of the other free thinking, rational doubters in Huxley's ambit, and came to signify a particularly active form of scientific rationalism during the final decades of the 19th century. [...] In his hands, agnosticism became as doctrinaire as anything else--a religion of skepticism. Huxley used it as a creed that would place him on a higher moral plane than even bishops and archbishops. All the evidence would nevertheless suggest that Huxley was sincere in his rejection of the charge of outright atheism against himself. He refused to be "a liar". To inquire rigorously into the spiritual domain, he asserted, was a more elevated undertaking than slavishly to believe or disbelieve. "A deep sense of religion is compatible with the entire absence of theology," he had told [Anglican clergyman] Charles Kingsley back in 1860. "Pope Huxley", the [magazine] Spectator dubbed him. The label stuck."[2]

Recent activism

Richard Dawkins, famed evolutionary biologist and Professor at Oxford, and other intellectuals have recently aggressively challenged supernatural beliefs and religious beliefs of all kinds. In addition to Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, the late Hitchens and Sam Harris have been the most visible public critics.

Paul Kurtz, editor in chief of Free Inquiry and the founder of Prometheus Books, has written about the criticism by religionists of outspoken critics of religion like Dawkins and Harris, where the critics use the term "evangelical" in a disparaging context, to reduce atheism to the level of religious belief and dogma.[3]

What disturbs us is the preposterous outcry that atheists are “evangelical” and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion. Really? The public has been bombarded by pro-religious propaganda from time immemorial—today it comes from pulpits across the land, TV ministries, political hucksters, and best-selling books. Indeed, at the present moment, the apocalyptic Left Behind series, coauthored by evangelist Tim LaHaye, is an all-time blockbuster. Other best-sellers include The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren and a slew of books attacking liberal secularists and humanists by religious conservatives such as Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly.

Let’s be fair: Until now, it has been virtually impossible to get a fair hearing for critical comment upon uncontested religious claims. It was considered impolite, in bad taste, and it threatened to raise doubts about God’s existence or hegemony. I have often said that it is as if an “iron curtain” had descended within America, for skeptics have discovered that the critical examination of religion has been virtually verboten. What is often overlooked by the critics of “evangelical atheism” is that skepticism about the existence of God does not by itself define who and what we are. For there is a commitment to the realization of human freedom and happiness in this life here and now and to a life of excellence, creativity, and fulfillment. [...] To label us “evangelical atheists” without recognizing our affirmative commitment to secular humanist morality is an egregious error.

Dan Barker is another leading American atheist who has written extensively on the topic. He is also the founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In 1993, Barker wrote an article on "Evangelical atheism" in which he provided advice to atheists interested in approaching indoctrinated believers with the goal of having them think independently:

Freethought is worth sharing with the world. If the conditions are right, it is possible for a freethinker to successfully evangelize a believer. "Evangelism" is a perfectly good word. The Greek word "angel" means "messenger." Evangelism is simply "good news." "Atheism" is positive. Although it is constructed with the privative prefix (negative in the sense of "without," not "against"), it should be viewed as a double negative. By comparison, "non-violence" is considered to be a positive word. Since "theism" is unreasonable and even dangerous, the message that we can be free of it is good news. Atheism is like having a large debt cancelled.

I am not suggesting that every atheist should be an evangelist. Some are better off temporarily keeping their views to themselves for job security or family harmony. Some freethinkers wisely wait until they retire, when they have little to lose, before they become vocal. In certain communities, open unbelief can be costly. [...] The purpose of an evangelistic atheist should be to make a friend. To win them over to the reasonableness of freethought. You can't browbeat a person into friendship. "Onward, Atheist Soldiers" is the opposite of freethought. [...] If any of your religious friends or relatives eventually becomes a freethinker, it won't be because they were humiliated. It won't be because you are angry, concerned, or knowledgeable. It will be because they are thinking for themselves.[4]

Edward Tabash, an attorney based in California, is also an American evangelizer of atheism. On his website, he states his purpose as follows:

The arguments against the supernatural are powerful both from a philosophical and scientific standpoint. These arguments must be put before the public so that everyone will have access to the compelling reasons for coming to an Atheistic worldview, before deciding whether to believe or not believe. [...] My ultimate goal is to help Atheism become so widespread and universal that when people state that they do not believe in God, we will not be able to tell, from that statement alone, what a person's position may be on a wide array of political issues. I am hoping that people from all over the political spectrum and from many diverse points of view will be able to come together and agree on the naturalistic reality that prevails in our world. It is long overdue for Atheistic arguments to be given a seat at the table of the marketplace of ideas in today's world. I have established this website in the hope of providing a platform for the dissemination of these arguments.[5]

See also


  1. Browne, Janet The Power of Place, Volume 2 of the Biography of Charles Darwin (Alfred Knopf, 2002), page 310
  2. Browne, Janet The Power of Place, Volume 2 of the Biography of Charles Darwin (Alfred Knopf, 2002), pages 309-310
  3. Kurtz, Paul. "Religion in Conflict: Are 'Evangelical Atheists' Too Outspoken?". Retrieved 2007-03-28.
  4. Barker, Dan Evangelistic Atheism: Leading Believers Astray in Freethought Today, 1993
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