UPDATE: As alert reader Stan Pak notes in the comments, the Guardian has a poll on the temple in which you can vote in favor or against. As of a few minutes ago, sentiment was 84% against. You have two days to weigh in.
Alain de Botton, whom we’ve encountered before, is rapidly becoming an embarrassment to atheism. First he wants us to adopt many of the ritualistic trappings of religion, and now he wants to erect a £ 1,000,000 pound tower to atheism in London. Apparently he’s already raised half the money for this project. The Guardian reports:
The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre (151ft) tower to celebrate a “new atheism” as an antidote to what he describes as Professor Richard Dawkins’s “aggressive” and “destructive” approach to non-belief.
Rather than attack religion, De Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.
“Normally a temple is to Jesus, Mary or Buddha, but you can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good,” he said. “That could mean a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective. Because of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens atheism has become known as a destructive force. But there are lots of people who don’t believe but aren’t aggressive towards religions.”
What a stupid waste of money! Richard has responded:
Dawkins criticised the project on Thursday, indicating the money was being misspent and that a temple of atheism was a contradiction in terms.
“Atheists don’t need temples,” the author of The God Delusion said. “I think there are better things to spend this kind of money on. If you are going to spend money on atheism you could improve secular education and build non-religious schools which teach rational, sceptical critical thinking.”
In the article, various people weigh in on the boondoggle, with some humanists predictably objecting to a memorial to what is, after all, an absence of belief. Curiously, at least one wooly-brained priest is in favor of the tower:
Another Anglican, the Rev George Pitcher, a priest at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, and a former adviser to the archbishop of Canterbury, “rejoiced” in the idea. “He is referring to a sense of human transcendence, that there is something more than our visceral existence,” Pitcher said.
“Building a monument acknowledges that we are more than dust. Whether we come at that through secular means or a religious narrative, it is the same game.
“This is a more constructive atheism than Dawkins, who is about the destruction of ideas rather than contributing new ones.”
It’s just like a priest to try to claim an atheist monument for God! And really, more constructive than Dawkins? Dawkins has converted dozens of believers to rationality and naturalism, and I see that as quite constructive. After all, as Steve Gould always said, the destruction of bad ideas (he was referring to science) is a contribution just as real as the vetting of new ideas. And Dawkins has certainly made far more of a contribution to understanding nature than any priest—much less the Anglican faith as a whole—has done. One would have to be a moron to think that an atheist temple could convert anyone to disbelief.
The design of the temple is trite beyond belief:
Each centimetre of the tapering tower’s interior has been designed to represent a million years and a narrow band of gold will illustrate the relatively tiny amount of time humans have walked the planet. The exterior would be inscribed with a binary code denoting the human genome sequence.
Given that humans aren’t the apex of evolution, I favor the Natural-History-Museum solution of Steve Rose, who shows, in another Guardian piece, how silly the atheist tower is
What De Botton seems to be preaching is his own rather narrow definition of atheism, with its own unified philosophy, set of rules and even architectural brand identity. It feels rather like, er, a religion.
To answer De Botton’s original question, atheists do have their own versions of great churches and cathedrals. If the antithesis of religion is scientific rationalism, then surely its temples are the British Library, the Millau Viaduct and the Large Hadron Collider? If it’s about glorifying creation, then why not the Natural History Museum or the Eden Project? What about the Tate Modern? Or Wembley Stadium? Or the O2? Or the Westfield shopping centre? Perhaps non-believers should decide for themselves what a temple of atheism should be.