New Atheism

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Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins speaking at the Global Atheist convention.

The term New Atheism which first appeared in the November 2006 edition of Wired magazine, is frequently applied to a series of six best-selling books by five authors that appeared in the period between 2004–2008. These authors include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Victor J. Stenger.[1]

The four most prominent writers of the New Atheist movement are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett and they have commonly been called "the four horsemen" of New Atheism. PZ Myers dubbed himself the fifth horseman of the New Atheism movement, but the term never caught on and he was mocked by some fellow atheists such as Michael Nugent.[2]

Jerry Coyne, Lawrence Krauss, David Silverman, Bill Maher, Matt Dillahunty and Kyle Kulinski are also widely seen as being part of the New Atheism school of atheist thought.

An irony of the New Atheist movement is that New Atheism is a militant form of atheism and Richard Dawkins has flip-flopped concerning whether he is an atheist or an agnostic (see: Richard Dawkins and agnosticism).

Dissent Magazine declared concerning the New Atheism:

A number of prominent authors and scientists have published books in the past year that advocate a "New Atheism." The books, which include Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great, have sparked considerable public controversy across the political spectrum.[3]

Social science examination of the new atheists and other examinations

Richard Dawkins
The atheist philosopher Dr. Michael Ruse declared concerning new atheist Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion: "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist."[4]

See also: Antitheism and antisocial behavior

New Atheism is a contemporary form of antitheism.

Social science research indicates that antitheists score the highest among atheists when it comes to personality traits such as narcissism, dogmatism, and anger.[5][6] Furthermore, they scored lowest when it comes to agreeableness and positive relations with others.[7]

Using special text analysis software, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt found that new atheists very often wrote in dogmatic terms in their major works using words such as “always,” “never,” “certainly,” “every,” and “undeniable.”[8] Of the 75,000 words in Sam Harris's The End of Faith, 2.24% of them connote or are associated with certainty.[9]

Despite the frequent expressions of certainty by new atheists. New Atheism has a reputation for shallow arguments. A frequent occurrence is that the works of new atheists often betray an amateurish knowledge of philosophy/religion.[10][11] For example, atheist philosopher Dr. Michael Ruse declared concerning new atheist Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion: "The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist."[12] Vox Day's book The Irrational atheist found multiple errors in reasoning and factual errors when it came to the works of new atheist authors.[13] See also: Atheism and irrationality

New Atheism movement and contention between atheist men and women

See also: Abrasiveness of Richard Dawkins and Atheism and arrogance

Founders of the New Atheism movement Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, have elevated the amount of contention between men and women within the atheist population and there are now frequently complaints from women that there is a significant amount of misogny within the atheist community and that its leadership is too heavily populated with men.[14][15][16]

Richard Dawkins and Elevatorgate

David Allen Green wrote: "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."[17]

Elevatorgate is a term commonly used to describe a scandal involving new atheist Richard Dawkins' 2011 comments made to atheist Rebecca Watson which are perceived to have been inappropriate by a sizable portion of the atheist community and to the public at large.[18]

Subsequently, Richard Dawkins was widely criticized within the atheist community and in various press outlets for his insensitive comments made to atheist Rebecca Watson about the incident which occurred in an elevator (see: Richard Dawkins initial Elevatorgate comments).[19]

According to Rebecca Watson atheist women are often punished for being outspoken - particularly when they speak about feminism.[20] In August of 2013, Watson said the harassment she received from male atheists skyrocketed after Elevatorgate. [21]

Furthermore, she said she still receives harassment from male fans of Richard Dawkins.[22] The atheist feminist Sikivu Hutchinson concurs with Watson and says that sexual harassment has been institutionalized within the atheist movement and that atheist men have an investment in censoring, controlling and policing women and also have an investment in "male privilege".[23]

Elevatorgate and negative press

The New Statesman reporter and fellow skeptic David Allen Green said he believed Dawkins was a misogynist and a racist.[24] In addition, Green wrote: "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."[25]

Elevatorgate created negative press for Richard Dawkins in a number of major news outlets (see: Elevatorgate news stories - Chronological order) and within the atheist movement/atheist population (see: Atheist movement). As a result of Elevatorgate, Dawkins popularity among atheists and the public at large plunged (see: Richard Dawkins' loss of influence).

See also: Decline of internet atheism and Google trends - Atheism and agnosticism terms

Sam Harris and charges of misogny

See also: Atheism and women and Atheism and sexism

Like his fellow new atheist Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris has raised the ire of feminists.[26][27][28] See also: Elevatorgate

In 2014, Harris said that atheist activism lacks an “estrogen vibe” and was “to some degree intrinsically male”.[29]

On October 3, 2014, Salon magazine published an online article titled, Atheism’s shocking woman problem: What’s behind the misogyny of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?[30] On September 20 2014, the feminist blogger Libby Anne wrote an article entitled Is Sam Harris Sexist?[31] Atheist Sam Fincke wrote a piece entitled On Sam Harris’s Reply to Feminist Critics.[32]

In his defense, Harris published an article on his website titled, “I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For”[33]

New Atheism and charges of Islamophobia

See also: Richard Dawkins and Islamophobia accusations and Atheism vs. Islam

According to Pew Forum, by 2030 Muslims are projected to make up 8% of Europe’s population.[34] See also: Atheism vs. Islam

The new atheists Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have received multiple accusations of engaging in Islamophobic behavior.[35] Dawkins is dismissive of the concept of Islamophobia and declared: "I’m always being accused of Islamophobia, that’s a non-word."[36]

On December 28, 2015, the Daily Express reported about Dawkins:

The furious academic walked out of an interview when a Muslim journalist confirmed he personally believed the prophet Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse.

Dawkins, 74, author of best-seller The God Delusion, told the New Statesmen's Emad Ahmed that his belief was "pathetic" before angrily storming off.[37]

On the other hand, defenders of atheist criticisms of Islam/Muslims indicated that New Atheists should be able to criticize Islam without being accused of Islamophobia.[38]

Christopher Hitchens displayed provocative rhetoric and bloodlust towards radical Islamacists.[39] At the opening of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Hitchens said of radical Islamacists, "It is a pleasure and a duty to kill these people".[40] Hitchens said of Iran, "As for that benighted country, I wouldn't shed a tear if it was wiped off the face of this earth”.[41]

On June 21, 2014 Harris published an article on his website entitled Response to Critics which was a response to his critics who accuse him of Islamophobia.[42]

New Atheism as a reaction to the failure of the secularization thesis

See also: Secularization thesis and Atheism and politics and Atheist movement

Eric Kaufmann, a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, using a 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.[43]

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.”[44]

New Atheism seen as a narrow and dogmatic religion

Richard Dawkins

See also: Atheism is a religion and Atheism and arrogance and Militant atheism and Atheism and anger

Using special text analysis software, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt found that New Atheists very often wrote in dogmatic terms in their major works using words such as “always,” “never,” “certainly,” “every,” and “undeniable.”[45] Of the 75,000 words in Sam Harris's The End of Faith, 2.24% of them connote or are associated with certainty.[46] In a 2014 New Republic article entitled The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins: His atheism is its own kind of narrow religion, the atheist philosopher John Gray wrote:

One might wager a decent sum of money that it has never occurred to Dawkins that to many people he appears as a comic figure. His default mode is one of rational indignation—a stance of withering patrician disdain for the untutored mind of a kind one might expect in a schoolmaster in a minor public school sometime in the 1930s. He seems to have no suspicion that any of those he despises could find his stilted pose of indignant rationality merely laughable. “I am not a good observer,” he writes modestly. He is referring to his observations of animals and plants, but his weakness applies more obviously in the case of humans. Transfixed in wonderment at the workings of his own mind, Dawkins misses much that is of importance in human beings—himself and others.[47]

For more information, please see:

Cultish characteristics

See also: Atheist cults and Richard Dawkins' cult of personality

The New Atheism movement, which has waned in recent years, was called a cult by the agnostic, journalist Bryan Appleyard in a 2012 article in the New Statesman in which he describes the abusive behavior of New Atheists.[48] Although the New Atheism movement does not perfectly fit the various characteristics of a cult, it does fit some of the characteristics.[49]

Most of the allegations around New Atheism being a cult have been due to the behavior of Richard Dawkins and his fans (see: Richard Dawkins' cult of personality).

Decline of New Atheism

See also: Richard Dawkins' loss of influence

On November 6, 2015, the New Republic published an article entitled, Is the New Atheism dead?[50]

In 2015, the atheist author Joshua Kelly wrote:

...since the death of Hitchens: angry atheism lost its most charismatic champion. Call it what you like: New Atheism, fire-brand atheism, etc., had a surge with the Four Horsemen in the middle of the last decade and in the last four years has generally peetered out to a kind that is more docile, politically correct, and even apologetic.[51]

In addition, New Atheism's abrasiveness/aggressiveness caused it to wore thin over time in terms of its public relations (see also: Atheism and public relations).

Impact of the New Atheism

The New Atheism has not had much of an impact in terms of gaining new adherents to atheism. In a March 10, 2008 USA Today article Stephen Prothero stated the following regarding the impact of the "New Atheism":

Numbers lie, but they also tell tales untrustworthy and otherwise. So the key question stirring around the much discussed U.S Religious Landscape Survey released in late February by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is what tale does it state about the state of the union.

For some, the story of this survey, based on interviews in multiple languages with more than 35,000 adults, is the strength of American Religion.

Not too long ago, I wrote that American atheism was going the way of the freak show. As books by Christopher Hitchens and other "new atheists" climbed the best seller lists, I caught a lot of flak for that prophecy. But atheist make up only 1.6% of respondents to this survey....[52]

Alister McGrath indicates that interest in the "God question" saw a surge due to the New Atheism movement.[53] Google trends data shows there was a significant surge for the search "God" in 2009 to 2012 in the United States and in the world.[54]

Stephen LeDrew wrote at Oxford University Press's Academic Insights for the Thinking World website:

The ten-year anniversary of the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion is approaching, and it has already been over ten years since Sam Harris published The End of Faith.

Social science in general has not yet fully appreciated the significance of the New Atheism and has tended not to take it very seriously, with the exception of those working in the new sub-discipline of secularity studies. But whatever one might think of the New Atheists’ ideas, an honest appraisal would recognize that they have had a significant and lasting impact.

They should be remembered for catalyzing a movement for religious dissent and inspiring atheists to come together and find a voice in American public life. But there’s a much darker side to the legacy of the New Atheism that stems from its imperialist and xenophobic tendencies, to say nothing of some thinly veiled Social Darwinism and arguments for eugenics. Sam Harris in particular is now known more for supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestine and ethnic profiling at airport security than for his science-based critique of religious faith. Richard Dawkins’ personal legacy has taken a heavy hit in the past few years, as his rambling criticisms of feminism and Muslim “barbarians” on Twitter have led to charges of sexism, racism, and general arrogance and intolerance. [55]

On November 4, 2015, Elizabeth Bruenig published an article in the New Republic entitled Is the New Atheism Dead? which declared:

Coming at a time of sharpening political divisions over the issue of religion, it would seem the stage is set for the kind of religious versus anti-religious antagonism that gave birth to the New Atheist movement in the early aughts. But in significant ways, New Atheism seems to be on the wane, suggesting a new era of growing conciliation between the two sides.[56]

A common criticism of the "new atheism" is the shallowness of its material. For example, even atheist philosopher Michael Ruse stated that that Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion made him "embarrassed to be an atheist".[57]

The "New Atheism" largely has a unfavorable view outside the United States as well. The liberal leaning British publication The Guardian stated the following regarding the "New Atheism":

Anti-faith proselytising is a growth industry. But its increasingly hysterical flag-bearers are heading for a spectacular failure...

These increasingly hysterical books may boost the pension, they may be morale boosters for a particular kind of American atheism that feels victimized - the latest candidate in a flourishing American tradition - but one suspects that they are going to do very little to challenge the appeal of a phenomenon they loathe too much to understand.[58]

Letter to Richard Dawkins from Oxford atheist and academic Daniel Came

In a letter to the agnostic and evolutionist Richard Dawkins which was subsequently quoted by The Daily Telegraph, Oxford University atheist and professor Daniel Came wrote concerning Dawkins' refusal to debate the Christian apologist William Lane Craig:

"The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part."[59]

One of the frequent criticisms of the New Atheism movement is that it avoids the strongest arguments of its opponents.[60] See also: Atheism and cowardice and Richard Dawkins and debate

Christopher Hitchens' debate against William Lane Craig

Christopher Hitchens debated William Lane Craig at Biola University in 2009 in a videotaped debate.[61] The atheist Luke Muehlhauser wrote concerning the debate: "The debate went exactly as I expected. Craig was flawless and unstoppable. Hitchens was rambling and incoherent, with the occasional rhetorical jab. Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child."[62]

Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate

See: Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate

Christian backlash against the New Atheism

An April 17. 2011 an atheist essay entitled Are atheists strengthening religion? declared:

The Christian backlash and response to new atheism is/was considerable, and neither can the consequences, changes, and foci which marked their response be ignored.

In the end, have we simply made the aforementioned goal more difficult to accomplish.[63]

Subsequent to the New Atheism campaign, the Christian apologetics organizations Ratio Christi and Trinity Graduate School of Apologetics and Theology were founded.

Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. commentary on the New Atheism

Dr. Albert Mohler Jr.

Dr. Alfred Mohler Jr. describes some of the key attributes of the "New Atheism":

Now, WIRED magazine comes out with a cover story on atheism for its November 2006 issue. In "The New Atheism," WIRED contributing editor Gary Wolf explains that this newly assertive form of atheism declares a very simple message: "No heaven. No hell. Just science."...

Wolf accomplishes a great deal in his article, thoughtfully introducing the work of militant atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. At the same time, he probes more deeply into the actual meaning of the New Atheism as a movement and a message.

At the beginning of his article, he gets right to the point: "The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking."[64]

See also

External Links


Video:

Notes

  1. http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/battle.html
  2. http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=928
  3. http://www.alternet.org/media/47052?page=entire
  4. Science Shows New Atheists to be Mean and Closed-Minded
  5. Why Sam Harris is Unlikely to Change his Mind by JONATHAN HAIDT, February 3, 2014 8:36 pm
  6. Science Shows New Atheists to be Mean and Closed-Minded
  7. Why Sam Harris is Unlikely to Change his Mind by JONATHAN HAIDT, February 3, 2014 8:36 pm
  8. Why Sam Harris is Unlikely to Change his Mind by JONATHAN HAIDT, February 3, 2014 8:36 pm
  9. The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion edited by Graham Oppy, Chapter 4, New Atheist Approaches to Religion by Trent Dougherty and Logan Paul Cage, page 52, see: Google books excerpt
  10. http://www.alternet.org/media/47052?page=entire
  11. http://www.alternet.org/media/47052?page=entire
  12. Excellent refutation of ‘new atheists’ flawed by heterodox open theism, A review of The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens by Vox Day, Benbella Books, Dallas, TX, 2008, reviewed by Lita Cosner
  13. Will “New Atheism” Make Room For Women?, Ms. Magazine
  14. Sharing a lift with Richard Dawkins by David Allen Green - New Stateman - 06 July 2011
  15. Calling All Female Atheists - Huffington Post - video
  16. Calling All Female Atheists - Huffington Post - video
  17. Calling All Female Atheists - Huffington Post - video
  18. Calling All Female Atheists - Huffington Post - video
  19. Sharing a lift with Richard Dawkins by David Allen Green - New Stateman - 06 July 2011
  20. Sharing a lift with Richard Dawkins by David Allen Green - New Stateman - 06 July 2011
  21. Atheism’s shocking woman problem: What’s behind the misogyny of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris? by Amanda Marcotte, Salon magazine, October 3, 2014
  22. Is Sam Harris Sexist? by Libby Anne at the blog Love, Joy, Feminism, September 20, 2014
  23. Atheist writer Sam Harris faces backlash over 'estrogen vibe' comments by Heather Tomlinson, Christianity Today, September 17, 2014
  24. Atheist writer Sam Harris faces backlash over 'estrogen vibe' comments by Heather Tomlinson, Christianity Today, September 17, 2014
  25. Atheism’s shocking woman problem: What’s behind the misogyny of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris? by Amanda Marcotte, Salon magazine, October 3, 2014
  26. Is Sam Harris Sexist? by Libby Anne at the blog Love, Joy, Feminism, September 20, 2014
  27. On Sam Harris’s Reply to Feminist Critics by Daniel Fincke, September 16, 2014
  28. “I’m Not the Sexist Pig You’re Looking For” by Sam Harris, September 15, 2014
  29. 5 facts about the Muslim population in Europe by Conrad Hackett, Pew Forum, November 17, 2015
  30. Richard Dawkins defends Ahmed Mohamed comments and dismisses Islamophobia as a 'non-word', Independent, 24 September 2015
  31. ['Pathetic': Richard Dawkins in extraordinary outburst against Islam] by Jason Taylor, Daily Express, December 28, 2015
  32. New Atheism should be able to criticise Islam without being accused of Islamophobia by Andrew Zak Williams, New Statesman, Published 19 April, 2013
  33. UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens By Richard Seymour, Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (January 16, 2013), page 92
  34. UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens By Richard Seymour, Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (January 16, 2013), page 92
  35. UnHitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens By Richard Seymour, Publisher: Verso; 1 edition (January 16, 2013), page 92
  36. Response to Critics by Sam Harris, June 21, 2014
  37. Eric Kaufmann: Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  38. [This just in from Oxford Press: Turning the intellectual tables on 'New Atheists'] by Richard Osling
  39. Why Sam Harris is Unlikely to Change his Mind by JONATHAN HAIDT, February 3, 2014 8:36 pm
  40. Why Sam Harris is Unlikely to Change his Mind by JONATHAN HAIDT, February 3, 2014 8:36 pm
  41. The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins, New Republic by John Gray
  42. The God wars by Bryan Appleyard, New Statesman
  43. How cultish is the New Atheism?
  44. Is the New Atheism dead? by Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic, November 6, 2015
  45. Uproar Against Dawkins Is Sign of New Atheism Retrogression by Joshua Kelly
  46. American Faith: A Work In Progress by Stephen Prothero, USA Today, March 10, 2008, page 11A
  47. 'Why God Won't Go Away' by Alister McGrath
  48. The legacy of the New Atheism by Stephen LeDrew wrote at Oxford University Press's Academic Insights for the Thinking World website
  49. Is the New Atheism Dead? by Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic, November 4, 2015
  50. http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/47052/?page=3
  51. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2074076,00.html
  52. Richard Dawkins accused of cowardice for refusing to debate existence of God, The Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2011
  53. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFamS4RGE_A Richard Dawkins says he won't debate William Lane Craig
  54. Christopher Hitchens vs William Lane Craig - Does God Exist - 2009.
  55. The Craig-Hitchens Debate by Luke Muehlhauser on April 4, 2009 in Debates,Reviews,William Lane Craig
  56. What is the third wave of Christian backlash coming against the new militant atheists. Will it come at the worst possible time?
  57. http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2006-11-21