New atheists/atheism


You probably have heard a caricature known popularly as new atheism. Yours truly does not know who these are and what this type of atheism is and so when I found an article that states proudly in the opening paragraph that

this whole ‘New Atheism’ movement is only a passing fad-not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County

one must needs know what is here being talked about. I contend I know of one atheism- that which is a lack of belief in [the existence of] gods. There is the old atheism of antiquity where a person was referred to as an atheist if they didn’t believe in the popular/ state gods- whichever your take and I think we have moved beyond this. And am certain when David Hart was writing his critique, he had the first group in mind and so we shall restrict our critique to that only.

For his central thesis, he takes 50 Voices of disbelief: why we are atheists[pdf] as his launch pad of a vapid attack of atheists and in particular a few popular atheists of the 21st century. About that later. We haven’t read the book and will not comment on its contents.

He writes

[..]would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God.

Assuming there are no such arguments in the book, one who insists there is a god would first have to say what they believe god to be for the atheist to say anything about it. To say there is no compelling argument for disbelief when the believer hasn’t told us what and why we should believe is to cleverly attempt to shift burden of proof.

I cannot, in the name of all that is reasonable, say what he is getting at when he writes

Michael Tooley does not like the picture of Jesus that emerges from the gospels, at least as he reads them

is that he expected M.T to like a picture he finds appalling? I hope not. This however is not the main issue. However, when he dismisses

 Christine Overall notes that her prayers as a child were never answered; ergo, there is no God

shows a lack of engagement on his part with the issue being raised here. What is the difference between a god who is touted to answer prayers but doesn’t and one that doesn’t exist. It seems to me, he has shifted the portrayal of god as one concerned with our affairs and answers prayers of its believers with a cosmic god who is indifferent to the prayers and appeals of mortals.

He tells us

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness

Maybe there exists such atheists as he describes but to make a sweeping generalization that this applies across the board is  dishonest in his assessment. I am interested in knowing the timelines  used to differentiate the writings of new atheists and their forefathers. Does he mean books written in the last decade, last 50 years, last century or how many years.

Joseph Lewis writing in 1928  writes

the belief in god is still generally accepted, not because the existence of one, but for the reason that it is the easiest way to account for our condition. But in light of the scientific discoveries and demonstrations, such a belief is unfounded and utterly untenable today.

d’Holbach writing in 1771, writes this about man

Man has always deceived himself when he abandoned experience to follow imaginary systems. He is the work of Nature. He exists in nature. He is submitted to the laws of nature. He cannot deliver himself from them, cannot step beyond them even in thought.[..] The beings his fancy pictures as above nature or distinguished from her are always chimeras formed after which he has already seen but of which is utterly impossible he should ever form any finished idea, either as to the place they occupy or their manner of acting- for him there is not, there can be nothing out of that Nature that includes all beings.

and in good sense, d’Holbach writes

Religion is handed down from fathers to children as the property of a family with the burdens. Very few people in the world would have a God if care had not been taken to give them one. Each one receives from his parents and his instructors the God which they have received from theirs; only, according to his own temperament, each one arranges, modifies, and paints Him agreeably to his taste.

Where is the difference between these early writers and us when we say, except for indoctrination with religious ideas, very few men would be with gods, or that gods only exist in the mind and beyond that a definite conception of the term is impossible unless one gives divinities human attributes or as Lewis said the existence of god hasn’t been demonstrated, only asserted. In what way are we thoughtless, in what way do we lack courage-moral or otherwise- we demand an answer or an apology!

There is no truth in his statement that

 their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

since this is a strawman he has created form where anything he says will pass as true. There is nothing absurd in hoping for a world free of religious wars, where every man is his own priest and king. It is a future to long for, a future where all men are reasonable- a time when myth is treated as such and not as sacred just because it has the stamp of antiquity printed on the cover. If he means we lack a sense of the tragic in the Dionysian sense, he is far from the truth. I don’t know in what sense we are not curious and why he has scare quotes around words such as truths and religion unless he is implying that he recognizes the fluidity of the words.

One would think that every critic of atheist would not fall in the trap of saying you haven’t read the religious sophisticates to say anything about what we believe. He tells us, by committing the No True Scotsman fallacy, that

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection.

Unless one has read the sophisticated arguments for belief in Santa or playing golf should one have an opinion. It is pretending here that the sophisticates in our case such as Platinga have something totally revolutionary to tell us about god that we should hold our horses. How incredible! How outrageous! What nonsense!

I don’t know who or what he has read. I don’t see how he could write without batting an eyelid in shame that

No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any.

He lies when he writes

the New Atheists’ concept of God is simply that of some very immense and powerful being among other beings, who serves as the first cause of all other things only in the sense that he is prior to and larger than all other causes

especially so since I have no conception of the word god.

He writes

These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself

but this ignores a major point that a thing that is is necessarily so. A thing is both necessary- that is there is an explanation for its cause- and contingent- a reason that doesn’t explain its being. If we are to get to anything beyond the phenomena, we are left only with Ideas in the Platonic sense or Will in the language of Schopenhauer or thing in itself in the language of Kant and nothing beyond that.

He has praise for Nietzsche whom he says and I agree had immense courage and foresight. A man I truly admire. But it is not true when he writes that

In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become

for the universe has always been meaningless, only, we were under some illusion created by ourselves that we had a cosmic overlord who minded our business. Our will, when trained on this life, on making it livable for all will do better than when trained in the hereafter, a life that makes this present one meaningless. And in the words of Nietzsche

The concept of “God” invented as a counter-concept of life — everything harmful, poisonous, slanderous, the whole hostility unto death against life synthesized in this concept in a gruesome unity! The concept of the “beyond,” the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is — in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality! The concept of the “soul,” the “spirit,” finally even “immortal soul,” invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick — “holy”; to oppose with a ghastly levity everything that deserves to be taken seriously in life, the questions of nourishment, abode, spiritual diet, treatment of the sick, cleanliness, and weather! In place of health, the “salvation of the soul” — that is, a folie circulaire [manic-depressive insanity] between penitential convulsions and
hysteria about redemption! The concept of “sin” invented along with the torture instrument that belongs with it, the concept of “free will,” in order to confuse the instincts, to make mistrust of the instincts second nature!

How can one think Christianity is a beautiful thing, that world will become worse off when we lose it. No, the world will and can only get better. A crime such as blasphemy will have no place in our language for to blaspheme is to oppose the priest.

As we conclude, we would like to say we don’t know the New Atheists and would like to be pointed to where they could be reached. I intend to have a word with them. I have not read Hitchens’ God is not great and so I didn’t comment on the observations made by David Hart. I contend here that he creates a caricature of atheists and proceeds from there. His polemic against atheism tells us nothing worthy of our time.

To end this long essay, allow me to quote Jean Messlier, the one person I grant is the first atheist in the true meaning of the word- that is without the belief in [existence of] gods.

Know, then, my friends, that everything that is recited and practiced in the world for the cult and adoration of gods is nothing but errors, abuses, illusions, and impostures. All the laws and orders that are issued in the name and authority of God or the gods are really only human inventions….
“And what I say here in general about the vanity and falsity of the religions of the world, I don’t say only about the foreign and pagan religions, which you already regard as false, but I say it as well about your Christian religion because, as a matter of fact, it is no less vain or less false than any other.”

David Hart’s article is found here

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

55 thoughts on “New atheists/atheism

  1. aguywithoutboxers says:

    A very thorough rebuttal, my friend. Like yourself, I’m not familiar with the book (nor do I care to be). It looks as though he’s resorting to the timeless tactic of attacking the individual and offering no evidence to counter their beliefs (or lack of). Someone needs to give these believers an updated script. Great job, buddy!

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  2. john zande says:

    Epic post, my friend! I’ve always liked Harris’s definition best: Atheism is the noise reasonable people make when confronted with unjustified religious interference.

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  3. exrelayman says:

    Just to second the opinion of the esteemable Mr. Zande. It is beyond me to endure reading the nonsense in order to produce its refutation. About as enjoyable as arguing with the inmates of an asylum. Would rather visit my dentist!

    But if no one counters their sophistry, then it goes unchallenged. Thank you for doing this.

    Oh, BTW, I became atheist on my own some fifty years ago. I had never heard of even Russell, Ingersoll, or Paine. Preparing meticulous lessons for a Sunday school class I was teaching, the inanity of the so called ‘evolution/creation debate’, the persistent experience of unanswered prayer, and the contemplation of a loving God creating a Hell for those S/h/it loved but who did not love It back were sufficient factors to effect my exodus from the faith. Nowadays becoming aware of the history of atheist thinkers is a pleasant way of cross checking conclusions I reached on my own. So thank you also for mentioning Meslier. It was interesting to look him up on Wikepedia and see why he is considered the first modern atheist.

    Also in passing – do not fail to invesigate what neuroscience has to say about belief. I checked out materials at Neuronotes’ site and was dumbfounded!

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    • makagutu says:

      Thanks for your kind kind words.

      Yes, Victoria says a lot about neuroscience of belief and it is quite interesting reading her blog.

      I find some if not all of the theists attacks or critiques of atheists to be so lame-duck. After one reads the article, you check out the author only to find he is an accomplished PhD and then you don’t want to do one!

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  4. “What is the difference between a god who is touted to answer prayers but doesn’t and one that doesn’t exist.”

    “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”
    — Delos B. McKowan —

    “Religion is handed down from fathers to children as the property of a family with the burdens. Very few people in the world would have a God if care had not been taken to give them one.”

    “If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.”
    — H. P. Lovecraft —

    “All the laws and orders that are issued in the name and authority of God or the gods are really only human inventions….”

    “Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves.
    Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.”
    — Robert A. Heinlein —

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  5. Mordanicus says:

    The idea that atheism is just a “fad” that will fade with time, is wishful thinking on part of theists caused by cognitive dissonance. The fact that there atheists who have strong arguments for their position, irritates the theist’s mind. And unable convince their opponents by reason, the theist defends himself psychologically, by fencing himself of from the arguments of atheists and strengthen his believes by repeating the mantra that atheism is flawed, that it’s a fad and so on.

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    • makagutu says:

      They behave like some insects that play dead in the sight of danger, in this case they cover themselves in a cloud of ignorance hoping no one will call them out on it. It will not be that way.

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  6. I am so tired of “New Atheism”. Thank you for debunking it so thoroughly.

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  7. tildeb says:

    Okay. A bunch of things…

    I have the book 50 Voice of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists edited by Russel Blackford (Metamagicians and Hellfire Club blog that I have followed for years and years) and Udo Schuklenk, and it is as advertised – 50 people who explain why they are atheists… from Peter Singer to Susan Blackmore, from Michael Shermer to Victor Stenger. It is collection of short essays each outlining a moment in life where the line of religious belief ended for each. It’s an excellent read and covers just about every argument ever produced by theists no matter how sophisticated.

    For example, David Hart’s essay can be summed up thus: “Atheists, yer doin it rong and not as well as them that older folk.”

    It’s bullshit.

    Sure, there have been many great atheist communicators… people like Bertram Russell and Robert Ingersol to name but two… but this doesn’t make them New Atheists.

    New Atheism is a direct response to 9/11 and it is a movement.

    It came about first by Sam Harris (The End of Faith), paraphrased as “Hey, all you ‘moderate’ religious folk: you’re part of the problem” – followed quickly by Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), paraphrased as, “Hey, we need to treat religious belief like any other field of study because religion is part of the problem”, and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), paraphrased as “Hey, you religious folk, stop deluding yourselves because promoting anti-science is part of the problem”. Pulling up the rear was Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great), paraphrased as, Hey, you imbeciles, religious involvement poisons everything and this is definitely a source of the problems all of us face.”

    These four authors sold a whole hell of lot of books and publishers jumped on the unknown public thirst for why atheism needed to be promoted in – and religious belief curtailed from – the public domain. These guys began speaking publicly to sold out venues, ostensibly to sell their books, and were soon asked to debate theologians in front of sold-out venues and overflow audiences.

    The message was singular: get religious privilege out of the public domain because it is more than a public nuisance; it’s a public hazard and here’s why.

    Quickly, anyone adversely affected by religious privilege directly – especially evolutionary biologists but scientists in general – jumped on board. National organizations of scientists began to demand that religion get out of their way and stop interfering with them doing their jobs. The biggest names in science began to enunciate their personal atheism and this led to a bunch of new books and pointed advocacy finding their way on to best sellers lists and panel discussions, from people like Coyne to Hawking to Attenborough.

    New Atheism is a movement of advocacy to respect reality and reason more than religious authority. Those who join its ranks are those who will not ‘just shut the fuck up’ but are willing to do the opposite: speak out against religious privilege and unearned authority. New Atheism speaks out against accommodationism, against apologetics, against tolerating the intolerable because it is religious. It advocates for secularism, for separation of church and state, for individual human rights and human dignity in the face of religious indignities excused as pious. New Atheism is active and much needed criticism of faith-based beliefs. It’s public, it’s loud, and it is sustained, and it is having a tremendous effect on the next generation because it’s available online (where religions come to die). Anyone who does this is a member of New Atheism, and it is something to be proud of.

    Anyone who has listened to Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens cannot help but be impressed with how articulate, firm, kind, and passionate these folk are in their message to join with them and make this world a better place by respecting reality to adjudicate claims made about it and not the traditions and authorities that have led us into believing the emperor reveals a depth of sophistication by supposedly wearing only the finest fashions and demanding we respect the call to applaud the invisible selection.

    Hart’s article is just this and applauding such bullshit is a mark of shameful ignorance That any atheist can still be legally killed in 13 countries and help libel in dozens more (including many European liberal secular democracies) for blasphemy is an indication that we New Atheists still have much work to do. Rather than fall for the mischaracterization that any of the four horsemen are too tedious and too militant and too strident to label ourselves as equivalent New Atheists in motivation, let us remember what New Atheism means and get back to work fighting the good fight and getting religion out of the public domain and back home under its tin foil hat.

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    • You write exceptionally well, tildeb, and make a lot of sense in the process.

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      • tildeb says:

        Thank you, archaeopteryx1, although those who disagree with a point I make more often than not describe my lengthy comments as long winded rants. I write as I do to try to explain why I hold some opinion, so if you find this tolerable and understandable, I suspect you’re in the minority! Nevertheless, it’s very nice of you to say so.

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    • makagutu says:

      Thanks for your insightful comment Tildeb. Now I know. I think most times when theists use the term NA, they use it in a pejorative manner and it is for that reason I prefer just ol’ atheism.

      It is sad that one can be killed for expressing disbelief in this current age. There really is still a lot that needs to be done.

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      • tildeb says:

        Yes, they often try to use the term negatively and then attach the opinion to a ‘militant’ Dawkins as if he were some kind of pope to the atheist hordes.

        But by far the most pejorative term attached to any atheist who dares to enunciate criticism of any kind against religion and/or religious beliefs in action is the term ‘militant’… as if this were an extreme position, a fundamentalist bookend to violent religious extremism. It’s a lie. There simply is no equivalent militancy. There is only reasoned criticism.

        And to add insult to injury, many atheists feel they must criticize New Atheists for ‘doin’ it rong’ before they can feel justified to slip in a gentle criticism of some very unreasonable religious intrusion. To hell with compelling evidence that sustained and firm criticism by New Atheists does indeed have far more demonstrable positive and lasting conversion effect than the kind of weaselly mewling done by the Chris Mooney/NCSE of this world (“…to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by creationists and antireligious atheists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views” Edit note: as if the difference between faith-based belief in the poofed-into-existence creationism and understanding why evolution is true is perfectly compatible when it’s not). This kind of of apologetic accommodationistic crap is legion and equally deserving of contempt that sways next to no one but allies itself in the name of compromise against the muscular principles of secular atheism… as if a half-truth is far more reasonable and compelling a position to take between what’s not true and what is, what is not known and what is.

        This is the kind of intellectually dishonest crap that people like Hart are pushing as if iot is an effective criticism of New Atheism. It isn’t. All it really is is a collaboration with those who don’t care about what’s true or knowable but want to pretend they do and have others respect them for this pretense. Hart can be fooled but most of atheists recognize an ethical capitulation when we see one that serves no other function than to osculate the rump of the pious. And these folk are welcome to that end of it. I prefer criticizing the opinions and beliefs that come out of the head and not the ass, thank you very much, and I don’t think I’m doing it wrong.

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        • makagutu says:

          You know, every time I read about militant atheists, I have to ask myself what is it that they do that can be described as militant. Do they write with guns, do they violently close church doors, kill priests and imams, what is it in their work that is militant.

          I find people like Hart to be painfully annoying, telling us but you haven’t read the best arguments from the best among us to reject our faith as if someone must be a great tailor to know a poorly done dress. It is also interesting that their vitriol is mainly aimed at Dawkins and Hitchens and then Darwin but veiled thinly as an attack on a major demographic. One wonders whether one of the great virtues of the death cult is lying for their god whenever they have the wherewithal to do so.

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  8. emmylgant says:

    Great post Mak! The “mauvaise foi” arguments do not come from atheists (the common variety since I don’t know the New ones) but from believers who willingly keep their blinders on while claiming they are the only ones with accurate and possibly x-ray vision.
    If there were such a thing as an unforgivable sin, it should be willful ignorance.

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  9. poor TrueTheists. Alas for them, their hopes and prayers always fail so atheism will always be around. They should read some Robert Ingersoll, a “new atheist” who was around more than a century ago.

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  10. Argus says:

    Interesting. But atheists have no need to prove anything to anyone. Certainly no need to prove that gods don’t exist. Some folks believe, some folks don’t; an atheist is one who doesn’t. So?

    But theism is Big Business and sees atheism as a threat to its various (competing) monopolies. Vested interests are entirely about self preservation—hence their stake, scimitar, whips, crusades, strappado, stones, and rack of times past and present. Not good, not nice.

    Why would atheists need a ‘movement’? This I don’t understand—I guess we are talking America here, in the Land Of The Free the independent have to seek security in numbers?
    Or is a movement the only thing the movement-ist can understand? Understandable … pathological conformists cannot comprehend independence and free-thought, terms simply not in their lexicon.

    Perhaps we should invoke the concept of “Live, and let live” and invite theists to do the same (sadly, though, an impossibility for them).
    We could start by leaving them to play with their little toys—what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own sanctis sanctum is of no concern to anyone else—whilst reserving the right to challenge their propaganda when and where it is thrust upon the innocent.

    May the best arguments (dare I say ‘facts’?) win …

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    • tildeb says:

      It’s not atheists who need a ‘movement’; it’s humanity who has reached a point where it needs to wake up and stop accepting and respecting the use of woo as a legitimate alternative method to justify knowledge claims. Faith-based belief is not a legitimate means to justify anything but maintaining ignorance and stupidity. The health and welfare of the species is at great risk because of this acceptance and we can’t afford the luxury of allowing such concluding delusions – in whatever form faith-based belief takes – a free ride from sustained criticism. There’s too much at stake. We must convince the next generation to leave such childish notions behind in order for them to grow up and face reality as it really is if we want to improve the human condition in the face of significant and very real problems our legacy of accepting and respecting faith-based beliefs has left in their way.

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    • makagutu says:

      Argus, how nice to see you here.

      Theism is big business and they want to control the minds of the most vulnerable- children and the poor- wherever they have the chance to do so.

      I don’t need a movement especially because am a majority of one but I think in the land of the free, there is a big problem. Theism there is making life unlivable for heathens in some states and that’s a sad affair.

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      • Argus says:

        Not free to ‘live and let live’ … ’twas ever thus.

        I read somewhere that “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king — the two-eyed man a monstrosity

        The answer to both one- and two- eyed folks is for the nice people feathering their nests to poke those unwanted extra eyes out. They do too, as best they can.

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