Causes of the New Atheism movement

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The ex-atheist Alister McGrath wrote about New Atheism and the failure of the secularization thesis:

Why did the New Atheism arise when it did? As we have seen, one contributing factor was the suicide attacks on Manhattan. Yet there is another factor, often overlooked by cultural commentators, that needs to be highlighted here. When I was growing up in the 1960s, there was a pervasive belief within the social elite that religion was on its way out. The future would be secular, and religious belief would play a minimal role in public life or private existence. It just has not worked out like that. While religion remains in the doldrums in Western Europe, it has resurged throughout the rest of the world.

Now this is more than just an inconvenience for atheism. It is not just that the continuing presence of religion is an irritation and annoyance. The real problem is much deeper than that. Suppose you have a metanarrative that tells the story of the triumph of reason and science and the erosion of religion. Suppose this metanarrative predicts that religion will disappear. What happens to its plausibility if things turn out very differently? What happens, that is, if religious belief bounces back? It is precisely this anxiety about the public credibility of atheism in the light of continuing religious belief in the U.S. that gives the New Atheism its sense of anger, and its almost evangelical zeal to crusade against religion.[1]

Eric Kaufmann, a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, using a wealth of demographic studies, argues that there will be a significant decline of global atheism in the 21st century which will impact the Western World.[2] See also: Decline of global atheism and Desecularization

Richard Osling wrote about the book The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement published by the Oxford University Press:

The tables are turned in a new book, “The Evolution of Atheism: The Politics of a Modern Movement” (Oxford University Press). Journalists: It’s heady stuff to be a hook for news treatment, but worth the effort.

The book analyzes atheistic causes in North America over the past century, including its internal schisms and contradictions. The work is based on Canadian author Stephen LeDrew’s doctoral dissertation at York University in Ontario and post-doctoral study in Sweden at Uppsala University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.

Religion newswriters are well aware that those aggressive “New Atheists” sometimes suggest faith is not just stupid but morally evil or a sort of mental illness, such that parents should be forbidden to infect their own children with it. Journalists may be surprised to learn that for LeDrew and others, this sort of anti-religion thinking is outdated and “utterly out of sync with contemporary social science.”

Social scientists long embraced the “secularization thesis,” according to which religion will inevitably decline as modern science advances. But now, says LeDrew, many acknowledge that scenario was “a product of ideology” rather than empirical fact. Thus, the New Atheism could be seen as a promotional effort to defend against “a perceived failure of secularism in practice in late modern society.”... When examined closely, he sees the New Atheism as “secular fundamentalism, a modern utopian ideology” that’s “essentially political.”...

To LeDrew, current atheism is much more than a mere critique of religious faith or absence of belief. It “ignores the reservoirs of knowledge offered by the social sciences, which add complexities to our understanding of religion that the New Atheists prefer to ignore, indulging in the kind of willful ignorance that they disparage religion for promoting.” Therefore, it’s “an ideology,” defined as “a schematic or rigid framework of preconceived ideas that shape, and thus distort, understanding.” It must exclude social scientists’ thinking about religion and obscure “social reality.”[3]

The rise and decline of New Atheism and the role of the media

Fellow skeptic David Allen Green wrote in the New Statesman: "Can Richard Dawkins still credibly pose as a champion of rational thinking and an evidence-based approach? In my opinion, he certainly cannot, at least not in the way he did before."[4] See also: Elevatorgate and the media

See also: Atheism and the media and Decline of New Atheism

The Media Research Center released a study in 2008 reporting pro-atheism bias by major press outlets in the United States.[5] The study found that 80% of mainstream media coverage of atheism was positive and that 71% of Christian-themed stories had an atheist counterpoint or were written from an atheist perspective.[6] The study is not surprising given the liberal bias that commonly exists in the major media outlets.

The new atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins had prior experience dealing with the media and used the media to promote their best-selling new atheist books and to create a high level of media interest in the New Atheism movement.[7]

On the other hand, the media and social media greatly contributed to Richard Dawkins' post-Elevatorgate large loss of influence and the decline of New Atheism movement as a whole (see: Richard Dawkins' loss of influence and Elevatorgate news stories and Richard Dawkins and Islamophobia accusations).

See also:

New Atheism as a reaction to the religious right in the United States

See also: Decline of New Atheism and Religious right

Elizabeth Bruenig wrote in her New Republic article Is the New Atheism Dead?:

New Atheists were especially incensed by the dominance of the Christian right in America, with sociologists George Yancey and David Williamson arguing in a 2013 book that GOP-centric Christian conservatism had helped shape its own antagonist through its prominent place in American politics. For a time at least, it seemed that tensions between the stridently non-religious and the ardently faithful would only continue to rise.

Which makes today’s relative placidity between the non-religious and religious so remarkable. [8]

New Atheism as a reaction to creationism

See also: Global creationism

The new atheist Victor J. Stenger wrote:

The message of new atheism is that it is time to take a far less accommodating attitude toward religion, including moderate religion, than had been exhibited in previous years by atheist authors and, in particular, non-believing scientists.

Science, in the United States, is locked in a battle with conservative Christians over the teaching of evolution and creationism in the schools.[9]

In recent years Britain, the birthplace of Darwinism, has seen a large influx of Muslim immigrants. Most religious Muslims are creationists.[10] In the UK, between the years 2001 and 2009 the Muslim population increased nearly 10 times faster than the non-Muslim population.[11] See also: Islam and belief in creationism

The British newspaper The Telegraph reported in an article entitled Richard Dawkins: Muslim parents 'import creationism' into schools:

Prof Dawkins, a well-known atheist, also blamed the Government for accommodating religious views and allowing creationism to be taught in schools.

"Most devout Muslims are creationists so when you go to schools, there are a large number of children of Islamic parents who trot out what they have been taught," Prof Dawkins said in a Sunday newspaper interview.

"Teachers are bending over backwards to respect home prejudices that children have been brought up with. The Government could do more, but it doesn't want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come."[12]

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins is upset because a large number of children of creationist, Muslim parents tell their teachers and fellow students what they have been taught about the origin of life and the origin of the various kinds of plants/animals. And British teachers are bending over backwards to respect Muslim creationist beliefs due to the British government promoting multiculturism.[13]

Johns Hopkins University Press reported in 2014: "Over the past forty years, creationism has spread swiftly among European Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims, even as anti-creationists sought to smother its flames."[14] See also: Evolutionary indoctrination

Since World War II a majority of the most prominent and vocal defenders of the evolutionary position which employs methodological naturalism have been atheists and agnostics.[15] Evolutionism is an ideological supply line to atheism/agnosticism.[16] The new atheist Richard Dawkins often invokes evolutionary pseudoscience in order to attempt to justify the notion that God is an unnecessary being.

On February 24, 2015, the Science Nordic website declared:

Creationism, the belief that a god -- not evolution -- shaped life on Earth, is ... spreading in the very stronghold of evolution, Europe. That’s the conclusion of five years of research that’s been put into new book on creationism. The book details how creationism is on the march throughout most of Europe.

"Creationism is most dominant in Eastern Europe and Turkey, but even some schools in the Netherlands are teaching creationism," says one of the book’s authors Hans Henrik Hjermitslev, University College South Denmark. "Politicians in some German federal states are advocating that schools use creationist books alongside those about evolutionary theory in their lessons. This kind of struggle is going on on a small scale in many places."...

"Over the last ten years we’ve seen the emergence of big-city creationism. London is a good example," says Kjærgaar.

Here, noticeably more young people have been signed up to various local and religious groups.

"And this doesn't just apply to young Muslims as many people might think. Christian groups are also recruiting young people...

Creationism has particularly been on the rise in step with the internet, which according to Peter Kjærgaard has made it much easier for people to become activists...[17]

Much of internet creationism is generated in the United States as the largest young earth creationist organizations are based in the United States (or have an office in the United States). The three largest creationist websites, which have thousands of web pages each, are the websites of Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International and Institute for Creation Research.

Dr. Carl Wieland was a founder of Creation Ministries International, a Christian ministry which is in four continents.

On October 4, 2014, the Vancouver Sun reported that evolutionism is rejected by hundreds of millions of evangelical Christians and Muslims around the world.[18]

Specifically, the Vancouver Sun declared:

Creationism, a religious world view that adamantly rejects Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, is on the rise among evangelical Protestants and most of the world’s Muslims.

It is not only the majority of residents in Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Turkey who strongly reject the teaching that humans and other species evolved over millions of years from less complex creatures. So do tens of millions of evangelical Christians in North America (as well as South America and Africa).

Overall, [Nidhal Guessoum, a Middle Eastern physics and astronomy professor] who teaches at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, estimates roughly 60 per cent of the world’s Muslims are creationists, including many living in the U.S. and Canada.

Even though poll results about evolution vary based on the questions asked, Salman Hameed reported in the journal Science that strong anti-evolution majorities exist in Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt and Pakistan. The latter is among Canada’s top six source countries for immigrants...

An Angus-Reid survey found 43 per cent of Americans accept the creationist teaching that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, which means they reject the...view the universe began roughly 13 billion years ago.[19]

New Atheism, growth of conservative Christianity/religion and declining liberal Christianity

In the latter part of the 20th century and continuing in much of the world today, there has been a shrinking of liberal Christianity which supports evolutionism and a growth of conservative Christianity/religion which rejects evolutionism.[20] Therefore, as far as creation vs. evolution controversy, the New Atheists had less to lose if they took a more aggressive stance against religion and offended religious liberals/moderates. See also: Evolution, Liberalism, Atheism, and Irrationality

Michael Brown wrote:

Several decades ago, church statistician and demographer David Barrett began to report the surprising news that around the world, the most rapidly growing faith was Spirit-empowered Christianity, marked by clear gospel preaching, belief in the literal truth of the Scriptures, and the reality of God’s presence. (The data were compiled in the prestigious “World Christian Encyclopedia,” published by Oxford University Press.)...

This is confirmed in the new Pew Forum report, which showed that evangelical Protestant churches in America grew by 2 million from 2007 to 2014 whereas the so-called mainline (liberal) Protestant churches declined by 5 million, meaning that evangelical Protestants now make up the largest religious group in the nation. (Although this is not part of the Pew Forum survey, my surmise is that the evangelical churches that are most Bible-based and make the most serious, grace-empowered demands on their congregants are, generally speaking, the ones that are growing rather than declining.)[21]

See also

Notes

  1. Reflections on the New Atheism by Alister McGrath
  2. Eric Kaufmann: Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  3. This just in from Oxford Press: Turning the intellectual tables on 'New Atheists' by Richard Osling
  4. Sharing a lift with Richard Dawkins by David Allen Green - New Stateman - 06 July 2011
  5. "Smoking gun proof that there is an atheist media bias" (July 17, 2008). YouTube video, 2:56, posted by Atheism Sucks! Retrieved on July 25, 2014.
  6. "Smoking gun proof that there is an atheist media bias" (July 17, 2008). YouTube video, 2:56, posted by Atheism Sucks! Retrieved on July 25, 2014.
  7. Faithless: The politics of new atheism by Steven Kettell, Secularism and Nonreligion website
  8. Is the New Atheism Dead? by Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic
  9. WHAT’S NEW ABOUT THE NEW ATHEISM? by Victor J. Stenger
  10. Hameed S (2008). "Bracing for Islamic creationism". Science 322 (5908): 1637–8.
  11. Muslim population 'rising 10 times faster than rest of society' 30 January 2009, Richard Kerbaj, The Sunday Times
  12. Richard Dawkins: Muslim parents 'import creationism' into schools, The Telegraph
  13. Richard Dawkins: Muslim parents 'import creationism' into schools, The Telegraph
  14. Creationism spreading in Europe
  15. Atheism needs evolution
  16. Scientists warn: creationism is on the rise in Europe, Science Nordic
  17. Evolution rejected by hundreds of millions of Muslims and evangelicals, Vancouver Sun, October 4, 2014
  18. Evolution rejected by hundreds of millions of Muslims and evangelicals, Vancouver Sun, October 4, 2014. 9:12 am
  19. Why conservative churches are still growing