Sunsara said two things that stuck in my mind, even after several months.
The first was her answer to the question, "Is morality based on gods?" The answer is no. Because there are no gods.
Probably many people will first react by asking, "But what makes you think there are no gods?" Sunsara went on to explain, in brief, why she thinks there are no gods. In this explanation, morality is never mentioned.
I thought this was a simple and powerful statement, and I don't know if I can comment further without detracting from it. The point is that, whatever morality we currently have cannot be based on gods, because there are none. So every atheist knows it's silly to say morality requires gods. And even if morality did require gods, that would have no bearing on whether gods exist.
The second thing Sunsara said, I disagreed with. She was talking about a hypothetical person who believes there is an invisible heatless incorporeal dragon floating above us. She said that we would question such a person's sanity and perhaps institutionalize them. The implication was that we should have the same reaction to theists.
The invisible dragon is a classic skeptical example given by Carl Sagan. So I saw Sunsara's comparison as one between a skeptical issue and an atheist issue. I see these comparisons pretty often. It goes in three steps:
- Religious claims aren't really all that different from pseudoscientific claims.
- Therefore, we should treat them in the same manner.
- Therefore, we should mock religious people the same way we mock pseudoscience.
- Religious claims tend to be more tangled up with philosophy than with science. When countering religious claims, you have to delve much more into raw critical thinking rather than investigative skepticism. There are exceptions, and varying degrees in between, but it's true in general.
- There are many powerful organizations supporting pseudoscience (eg alt med, intelligent design), but they don't compare to the sheer cultural and political power of religion. This may call for different large-scale strategies against the two. Even PZ Myers thinks that there should be division of labor between skeptics and atheists.
- The thing is, I don't mock pseudoscience quite as bad as Sunsara mocks religion. That's not quite true, I probably do a lot of subtle mocking. But I don't go so far as to say people who believe in pseudoscience should be institutionalized. People usually don't believe weird things because they are crazy. They believe weird things because they are mislead by normal thought processes. So you see, if someone really believed that there was an invisible dragon floating above us, I would not think they were insane. Just wrong.