Is bioethics an ally of atheism?

From a professional bioethicist’s point of view, one of the disturbing facts to emerge from the heated debate over Obamacare is that “bioethicist” has become a dirty word for many Americans. Few had ever heard of bioethics before, but healthcare rationing is being justified by guys called “bioethicists” -- and they don’t like it. Furthermore, it is being associated with atheists, and many Americans are deeply suspicious of such people.

So is it good public relations for atheist bioethicists to trumpet their atheism and call for more petrol to be thrown on the fires of religious controversy? Apparently Udo Schuklenk, the editor of the leading journal Bioethics, and Russell Blackford, an Australian bioethicist, think so.

They recently published an article in the Guardian’s “Comment is free” blog, under the headline, “Stand up, stand up, against Jesus”. They reject accommodationist atheism which cozies up to religious people if they are prepared to support evolution. Schuklenk and Blackford, however, call for more robust criticism:

“Religion cannot be eradicated — that is not a realistic goal — but the many problems with religious dogma can and should be highlighted. As atheists, we should state clearly that no religion has any rational warrant, and that many churches and sects promote cruelty, ignorance, and civil rights abuses.”

Last month they released a 360-page book, 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. According to Blackford, it is “an exciting and extraordinarily diverse group of people”. And perhaps to confirm the worst fears of some Americans, it includes a number of well-known writers on bioethical issues: John Harris, Marc Hauser, Sheila A.M. McLean, Tamas Pataki, Julian Savulescu, Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, and, of course, Schuklenk and Blackford. They discuss the book in Schuklenk's blog.

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