So I just read in the New York Times that a wealthy atheist has donated a couple million dollars to the University of Miami -with the purpose of endowing the nation’s first academic chair for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics. Now, as an atheist activist as well as an advocate of reason in education, I am of course excited about that. But I am also conflicted and confused. I mean, what would an atheist study study? There’s science of course, natural history and cosmology, logic and rationalism in philosophy. But these should belong to everyone. Even Humanism and secular ethics should, I think, be encouraged in all students regardless whether they’re encumbered or restricted by religion or not. Theism is a religious belief in a god, and atheism simply means “lacking religion”. But everything else should be for everyone else. Atheists may have a lot more books to read than any religion does. But there is nothing that is specifically atheist nor limited to that. There’s no belief system, no body of dogma to rehearse: none of that. Just the things that everyone should already be studying anyway, minus all the volumes of imaginary nonsense that you get with religion. So it occurs to me that a professor of atheism wouldn’t actually have a field of study. At best they’d be an expert in not just making up bullshit and pretending that whatever impossible absurdities you imagine are really true, or that you have to believe it or else.
Personally I would love to teach atheism. But if I did, if I had that opportunity, I wouldn’t actually teach atheism, because that’s not even possible really. I would just teach critical thinking and science appreciation as well as concern for accurate information. That’s as close as I think we could ever get to teaching atheism.