Atheist Richard Dawkins appears to be leading the charge among non-believers in the U.K. who are appalled that a Swiss philosopher and writer residing in London plans to build a "temple for atheists" in the city's financial center.
Alain de Botton said he wants to counter Dawkins' "aggressive" and "destructive" approach to non-belief by building a 151-foot tower to celebrate a "new atheism," according to news reports out of the U.K.
"Normally a temple is to Jesus, Mary or Buddha, but you can build a temple to anything that's positive and good," said De Botton, according to The Guardian. "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."
De Botton, author of the newly released book Religion For Atheists, insists that atheists have as much right to build and enjoy inspiring architecture as religious people.
On Thursday, Dawkins spoke out against the project. The author of The God Delusion is one of several humanists that see plans for the structure as being "misplaced for non-believers to build quasi-religious buildings, because atheists did not need temples to probe the meaning of life."
"Atheists don't need temples," said Dawkins, as reported in The Guardian. "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, skeptical critical thinking."
De Botton said he wants the temple to symbolize more than 300 million years of life on earth. The tower's interior has been designed to show the staggering difference between the earth's age and the amount of time humans have existed. The Guardian reports that the exterior "would be inscribed with a binary code denoting the human genome sequence."
Half the funds for the project have already been raised by De Botton to be used by a group of developers who want to remain anonymous, according to the Guardian reporter. Construction could begin by the end of 2013 should the project be approved by the Corporation of London.
However, in addition to opposition from Dawkins and other prominent atheists in the U.K., London authorities are not moving forward with the project's approval because "they can't be seen to be connected to anything to do with atheism," the project's architect, Tom Greenall, said.
De Botton said he chose the country's financial center because he believes it is "where people have most seriously lost perspective on life's priorities."