Is ‘New Atheism’ a Religious, or Faith-Based Movement?

Is ‘New Atheism’ a Religious, or Faith-Based Movement?

Introduction

The pejorative accusation that ‘New Atheism’ is a religious, or faith-based movement is frequently made by ‘Classical Atheists’ and, ironically, by religious apologists [1] – those who fail to fathom the fallacies, cognitive errors, misconceptions and misrepresentations that beleaguer such a charge.  Firstly, what is ‘New Atheism’? And secondly, if we accept the premise that ‘New Atheism’ exists beyond vague, pejorative and discursive processes, in what possible way could one support the claim that it is somehow religious, or faith-based?

The religious attributes discursively ascribed to ‘New Atheism’ are in the same league as the militarism attributed to it – that is to say, it has become in vogue to label ‘New Atheists’ as being militaristic and religious about their lack of belief in gods and the supernatural – a lack of belief that is commonly misrepresented as a positive belief in the non-existence of the aforementioned supernatural phenomena.  This misrepresentation serves as an attempt to ascribe a religious label to ‘New Atheism’, by employing the ‘Tu quoque (‘you too’) fallacy’, which, in this regard, seeks to assert that ‘New Atheism’ is a belief system, too.  But more than being a religion, ‘New Atheism’, according to the proponents and propagators of the existence of this discursive category, argue that ‘New Atheism’ is a militaristic, extremist and fundamentalist form of religion,[2] thereby folding other fallacies into their pejorative allegations, such as the ‘poisoning of the well fallacy’ and the ‘weak analogy fallacy’.

This essay will briefly examine one of the cognitive errors inherent within the assertion that there is something new about ‘New Atheism’ – namely, the ‘recency illusion’.[3]  Further, this essay will discuss the aforementioned fallacies and misrepresentations associated with the claim that ‘New Atheism’ is a religious movement.  Finally, a brief discussion on the allegation that ‘New Atheism’ is a faith-based movement will be proffered to argue that this too is a flawed claim.

New Atheism?

According to the common discourse surrounding and describing ‘New Atheism’, ‘New Atheism’ is a science-orientated brand of outspoken atheism that first began in 2004 with the publishing of Sam Harris’ book ‘The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason’.[4] Internet journalist Gary Wolf first coined the term ‘New Atheism’ in 2006, in his Wired article ‘The Church of the Non-Believers’.[5]  Following Wolf’s article, four bestselling authors were identified as the core of ‘New Atheism’ – those authors being, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett (‘Four Horsemen’).[6]  As noted by Zenk (2013), these four authors all come from different backgrounds, hold different views, and approach the subject of religious criticism in different ways.  Hence, their discursive unification lacks any substantial value for the purposes of defining a single, coherent brand of atheism.[7]

The waters became even muddier as ‘New Atheism’ expanded its ranks to include a vast and varied collection of authors and commentators, from French philosopher Michael Onfray to American comedian Bill Maher.[8]  Absent this discursive classification, this diverse assortment of people probably never would have been placed under a single banner.[9]

Perhaps the biggest problem with the term ‘New Atheist’ is that the primary authors and commentators smeared with this pejorative nomenclature, do not identify as ‘New Atheists’, with the exception of Victor Stenger,[10] rendering it merely a derogatory label used to deride atheists who have publically promoted the virtues of atheism, science, secularism, reason and rationalism, and who, openly criticise not only the harmful beliefs and practices associated with various (predominantly Abrahamic) religions, but religion in general.  A cursory glance through the works of atheist authors from the ancient world to the late twentieth century, however, reveals that, contrary to the common claim that ‘New Atheism’ began in the first decade of the twenty-first century, there is nothing at all new about ‘New Atheism’.[11]

A Cognitive Error – The ‘Recency Illusion’ 

One possible explanation for why some commentators believe that ‘New Atheism’ is new, may be the result of a cognitive error dubbed ‘recency illusion’, a term first coined by linguist Arnold M. Zwicky.  Zwicky describes ‘recency illusion’ in the following words:

  ‘If you’ve noticed something only recently, you believe that it originated recently.’[12]

The intense media coverage surrounding the 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent attention garnered by the bestselling works of the ‘Four Horseman’ may have acted as catalysts that brought both the perceived dangers associated with religion into the spotlight, as well as the unapologetic criticism of said dangers, which may have caused people to erroneously view some of the discursive attributes of ‘New Atheism’ (criticism of religion, the extolling of the virtues of science and reason, etc.) as being somehow new, when, and as mentioned, there is nothing at all new about these discursive features of ‘New Atheism’.

 

Is ‘New/Militant Atheism’ a Religion?

Before assessing the assertion that ‘New Atheism’ is a religion, the term religion must be defined, yet defining religion is notoriously difficult.

Hood, Jr, Hill and Spilka note:

‘The best efforts of anthropologists to define “religion” are frustrated at every turn. Guthrie (1996) claims that “the term religion is a misleading reification, labeling a probabilistic aggregate of similar, but not identical ideas in individual heads” (p. 162). In other words, we select a number of ideas and observations that we think belong together and call it religion. The fact that we use one word to describe a complex of beliefs, behaviors, and experiences as “religious” is often enough for us to believe that religion is really one entity, and that we can expect to find the same or similar phenomena anywhere else in the world.’[13]

A way around this difficulty might be to apply Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’[14] approach – that is to say, if we can find common features that unite certain beliefs, behaviours and experiences, which enable us to identify a ‘family resemblance’, even in the presence of variations, then we may be able to at least establish a workable definition of religion for the purpose of analysis.

Following his concession regarding the difficulty of defining religion and his application of Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’ approach to producing a workable definition of religion, philosopher Michael Ruse argues:

‘Of course, some features are more important than others. Belief in God would surely be one. Which certainly leads into fields relevant to the New Atheism question. It seems to me that the negation of a claim is likely to be of the same type as the claim itself. If “eggs are good for you” is a claim about nutrition, then “eggs are not good for you” is a claim about nutrition. “God does not exist” seems to me a claim about a religious idea, perhaps even a religious claim… ‘[15]

This common misrepresentation of ‘New Atheism’s’ belief in the non-existence of gods, and it constituting a religious belief in and of itself is also echoed in an article by Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, who refers to atheism as a ‘double-negative’ religion, for the reason that it, according to Akin, positively rejects belief in both god and the afterlife.[16]  To arrive at this conclusion, Akin was forced to conflate positive and negative atheism, saying:

‘Also, for purposes of this post, we won’t be going into the difference between the “God positively does not exist” version of atheism and the “I can’t positively rule out the existence of God, but I don’t have convincing evidence, so I don’t believe in him” version of atheism.

For purposes of simplicity, we’ll treat them both as a rejection of the existence of God/the gods.’[17]

The crux of both Ruse’s and Akin’s claim, although Ruse doesn’t go so far as to apply the religion-label to ‘New Atheism’, may be enunciated as follows:

If a person makes a claim, or series of claims, about the divine, whether positive or negative, that person is religious.

There are two problematic features with the common allegation that ‘New Atheists’ are religious because they assert the non-existence of gods.  Firstly, it suggests that if one merely holds a negative opinion of the central subject matter of an institution, ideology or belief system, in this case the central subject matter is god and the institution is religion, one becomes a defacto-member of that institution, almost like Nietzsche’s truism about starring into the abyss for too long.  This is, at least in this context, a very strange contention indeed.

To illustrate the problem with this premise, imagine if Scientology were the only religion on the planet, and that it wasn’t called religion, but Scientology.  If a person expressed a categorical rejection of its central tenets, particularly with regards to the existence of the ‘Eighth Dimension’ (Supreme Being), would such a categorical rejection make that person a Scientologist?  The obvious answer to this question is no. Subsequently, the same can be said of those who believe that gods do not exist. Consequently, this feature of the argument appears to be illogical.

The second problem with the claim that ‘New Atheists’ are religious because they believe that no gods exist, is that it relies upon the assumption that all ‘New Atheists’ are positive atheists (those who believe in the nonexistence of gods), when, at least within the foundation of ‘New Atheism’ (‘Four Horsemen’), and in its peripheral ranks, this simply isn’t the case.

Sam Harris’ article ‘There is No God (And You Know it)’ appears to be advocating positive atheism,[18] although the caution with which Harris’ scientific worldview is underscored, may well be an invisible and ever-present caveat to what outwardly appears as the categorical denial of the existence of any kind of god.  If Harris is a positive atheist, however, it would further undermine the grouping of the ‘Four Horseman’ as a single, coherent brand of atheism.

Further, philosopher Daniel Dennett doesn’t go so far as to categorically rule out the existence of gods – instead, he betrays the eternal hopelessness of the philosopher, saying:

‘I decided some time ago that diminishing returns had set in on the arguments about God’s existence, and I doubt that any breakthroughs are in the offing, from either side.’[19]

In a debate with Dr William Lane Craig, the late Christopher Hitchens said:

‘It’s often said, it was said tonight, and Dr Craig has said it in print, that atheists think they can prove the non-existence of God. This in fact, very slightly but crucially misrepresents what we’ve always said…here’s what we argue: We argue quite simply, that there’s no plausible or convincing reason, certainly no evidential one, to believe that there is such an entity…’[20]

Further still, in ‘The God Delusion’, Richard Dawkins proposes a seven-point scale for theistic belief, with one being complete conviction that there is a god and seven, complete conviction that there is no god. Following the laying out of this scale, Dawkins writes:

‘I’d be surprised to meet many people in category 7, but I include it for symmetry with category 1, which is well populated…Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants.’[21]

Finally, in Lawrence Krauss’ ‘A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing’, this ‘New Atheist’, replying to the question of whether or not he is an atheist, says:

‘Not in the sense that I can claim definitively that there is no God or purpose to the universe.’[22]

Thus, the common allegation regarding ‘New Atheism’s’ categorical denial of the existence of gods is not only false, it appears to be a mischievous misrepresentation employed to substantiate the erroneous claim that having and expressing an opinion on the divine makes one religious.  To put this charge in the language of logic: The assertion that ‘New Atheists’ believe there is no god constitutes a ‘Tu quoque’ (‘You Too’) fallacy’, as it is utilized to fallaciously assert that ‘New Atheism’ is just like the ideologies it criticizes.[23]  Allegations of atheist extremism are also similar in this regard, representing not merely a ‘you too fallacy’ but also, a ‘weak analogy fallacy’, as there is a dramatic distinction between voicing opposition to inhumane religious beliefs and practices, and beheading those who do not share your particular worldview.[24]  The widely publicised violence associated with religious extremism has also become the poison fallaciously associated with outspoken atheism (See poisoning the well fallacy).[25]  In response to this common fallacy, Dawkins facetiously remarked:

‘Yes I’m just as bad as any fundamentalist extremist. Excuse me while I throw acid in a girl’s face and cut off someone’s head with a machete’.[26]

Is ‘New Atheism’ Faitheism?

The accusation that ‘New Atheism’ is a faith-based movement is tied to the slew of religious epithets applied to ‘New Atheism’,[27] all of which, appear to find their Genesis within Gary Wolf’s article ‘The Church of the Nonbelievers’. The claim that ‘New Atheism’ is a faith-based movement is just as fallacious as the declaration that it is a religious movement.  Firstly, ‘New Atheism’ doesn’t exist beyond extrinsic processes, thus making it a nothing, and secondly, ‘New Atheism’s’ faith in science is an accusation which again rests on a ‘weak analogy fallacy’ produced by a misunderstanding of science.  Put simply, faith in unsubstantiated notions such as gods and talking animals isn’t the same thing as trusting in the mountains of evidence validating the theory of evolution, for example.[28]

Krauss affirms the erroneous nature of this claim in an article entitled, ‘Why All Scientists Should be Militant Atheists’:

‘In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking.’[29]

Krauss also remarks:

‘Scientists change their minds, admit they are wrong, and are happy and eager to throw out ideas that turn out not to work…So yes, we have faith that the universe is comprehensible, but the greatest thing about science is that our faith is shakable. At any moment we can give up believing in anything we once believed in, if nature suggests otherwise.’[30]

So then, what do these non-existent ‘New Atheists’ have faith in?  They have a religious-like faith in a self-critiquing scientific method that makes it impossible to have a religious-like faith in ideas and beliefs.

‘New Atheists’ are also accused of having a religious-like faith in the ‘religion is harmful narrative’,[31] but such a narrative, being one that has existed since Lucretius’ time,[32] isn’t based on articles of faith, but articles of fact.

Take for example, scientific studies which have demonstrated a negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence,[33] positive correlations between social prosperity, harmony, and atheism,[34] the inability of indoctrinated children to distinguish between fact and fiction,[35] and the emotional and personality disorders strongly associated with belief in an Abrahamic-like god.[36]

Moreover, if the barbaric and misogynistic laws of overtly religious societies like Saudi Arabia,[37] Pakistan,[38] Egypt[39] and Myanmar,[40] for example, are examined and compared to the equally barbaric and draconian laws of pre-secular Christian societies[41] – and if all of the other atrocities, purely and partially inspired by belief and adherence in one religious doctrine or another, are factored into this charge, it can easily be demonstrated that the ‘New Atheist’ narrative is one supported by rational evidence, not religious faith.

Finally, if the dogma of unthinking tolerance of religious intolerance for tradition’s sake, propagated by religious moderates and pseudo-liberals, is added to the equation, such barbarism becomes untouchable, unchangeable and, most worryingly, unstoppable.

Conclusion

Is ‘New Atheism’ a religious, or faith-based movement? No. To answer in the affirmative requires too many logical fallacies, too many misrepresentations of fact, and too many misunderstandings of science. Also, should one wish to argue that ‘New Atheism’ is a faith-based movement due to the acceptance of the narrative that religion is harmful, then one is naturally forced to ignore copious amounts of evidence which suggest that religion, although not always or exclusively a harmful institution, is a great source of needless suffering in this world. Finally, that traditions, customs and social mores have made it taboo to criticize religion, and that outspoken atheists ignore such traditions, customs and social mores appears to have caused an almost feverous emotional reaction, which may have led to the creation of the pejorative label ‘New Atheist’.

End Notes:

  1. Frank Furedi, ‘How Atheism Became a Religion in All But Name’, cited at: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/12030#.VgUMhcuqqkp, ‘Spiked’, 2012, accessed on 21st Sept, 2015; ‘Debate: Is Atheism a Religion?’com, Cited at: http://www.conservapedia.com/Debate:Is_atheism_a_religion%3F, accessed on 21st Sept, 2015; Vincent Torley, ‘New Atheism: Not a Cult, But a Religion’, ‘Uncommon Descent’, 2015, cited at: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/new-atheism-not-a-cult-but-a-religion/, accessed on 21st Sept, 2015; Neil Godfrey, ‘Atheism, Cults & Toxicity’, cited at: http://vridar.org/2015/09/14/new-atheism-versus-old-atheism-and-what-is-a-cult/, ‘Vridar’, 2015, accessed on Sept, 2015; David Marshall, ‘The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity’, (*Harvest House Publishers) Oregon, 2007 p. 65; John F. Haught, ‘God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens’, (*Westminster John Knox Press) 2008, p. 30;
  2. Gary Wolf, ‘The Church of the Nonbelievers’, Wired Magazine, 2006, cited at: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html, accessed on 22nd Sept, 2015; C.J. Werleman, ‘The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists’, Great Britain, 2015; David Sloan Wilson, ‘Atheism as a Stealth Religion’, ‘Huffington Post’, 2007, cited at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sloan-wilson/atheism-as-a-stealth-reli_b_76901.html, accessed on 25th Sept, 2015; Chris Hedges, ‘When Atheism Becomes Religion: America’s New Fundamentalists’, New York, 2008, pp. 22, 27, 66, 71, 75; John Gray, ‘The Atheist Delusion’, ‘The Guardian’, 2008, cited at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/15/society, accessed on 25th Sept, 2015.
  3. Arnold M. Zwicky, ‘Why are we so Illuded?’, Stanford University, Sept, 2006, cited at: http://web.stanford.edu/~zwicky/LSA07illude.abst.pdf, accessed on 24th Sept, 2015.
  4. Steven Kettell, ‘Faithless: The Politics of New Atheism’, Secularism and Nonreligion, 2, 61-78, 2013, 72; Massimo Pigliucci, ‘New Atheism and the Scientistic Turn in the Atheist Movement’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XXXVII, 2013, p. 142.
  5. Gary Wolf, ‘The Church of the Nonbelievers’, Wired Magazine, 2006, cited at: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html, accessed on 22nd Sept, 2015
  6. Thomas Zenk, ‘New Atheism’ Stephen Bullivant & Michael Ruse (ed.), ‘The Oxford Handbook of Atheism’, Oxford, 2013, p. 251.
  7. Ibid. p. 250.
  8. Ibid. p. 251.
  9. Ibid. p. 254.
  10. Victor J. Stenger, ‘The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason’, New York, 2009, p. 38.
  11. Paul Henry Thiry, Baron D’Holbach, ‘Good Sense’, (Trans. Anon), Gutenberg (ed.), London, 1900, pp. 180-181; Robert G. Ingersoll, ‘The Gods and Other Lectures’, Washington, D.C., 1878, p. 80; Robert G. Ingersoll, ‘The Great Infidels’, New York, 1921, p. 393; Robert G. Ingersoll, ‘The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol. 1’, New York, 1909, p. 273; Arthur C. Clarke, ‘Childhood’s End’, New York, 1953, p. 25; Gora, ‘Positive Atheism’, Patamata, India, 1972, p. 14; Richard Dawkins, ‘The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals A Universe Without Design’, New York, 1986, p. 293; Carl Sagan, ‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark’, New York, 1996. p. 32; Lucretius, ‘On the Nature of Things: Book I’, (Trans. William Ellery Leonard), 50 BCE, cited at: http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.1.i.html, accessed 21 Aug. 2015; Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, Vol. 7 (1869), Georges Avenel (ed.), p. 105, cited at: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Voltaire, accessed 21 Aug. 2015; Thomas Paine, ‘The Age of Reason’, New York, 2005, pp. 29-30; Robert G. Ingersoll, ‘The Gods and Other Lectures’, Washington, D.C., 1878, p. 58; Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘The Anti-Christ’, (Trans. H.L. Mencken), New York, 1918, p. 47, cited at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/19322/19322.txt, accessed 20 Aug. 2015.
  12. Arnold M. Zwicky, ‘Why are we so Illuded?’, Stanford University, Sept, 2006, cited at: http://web.stanford.edu/~zwicky/LSA07illude.abst.pdf, accessed on 24th Sept, 2015.
  13. Ralph W. Hood, Jr, Peter C. Hill & Bernard Spilka, ‘The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach, 4th’, New York, 2009, p. 7.
  14. Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘Philosophical Investigations’ (Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe), Oxford, 1958, pp. 31-33.
  15. Michael Ruse, ‘Is New Atheism a Religion?’, ‘Huffington Post’, 2011, cited at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ruse/is-new-atheism-a-religion_b_837758.html, accessed on 15th Sept, 2015.
  16. Jimmy Akin, ‘Is Atheism a Religion?’, ‘Strange Notions’, cited at: http://www.strangenotions.com/is-atheism-a-religion/, accessed on 23rd Sept, 2015.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Sam Harris, ‘There is No God (And You Know It)’, ‘Huffington Post’, 10th June, 2005, cited at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/there-is-no-god-and-you-k_b_8459.html, accessed on 11th Sept, 2015.
  19. Daniel Dennett, ‘Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’, New York, 2006, p. 27.
  20. Debate: Does God Exist? – Christopher Hitchens vs William Lane Craig, cited at: http://winteryknight.com/2014/03/23/summary-of-the-william-lane-craig-vs-christopher-hitchens-debate-does-god-exist/, accessed 20th Sept, 2015.
  21. Richard Dawkins, ‘The God Delusion’, London, 2006, p. 51.
  22. Lawrence M. Krauss, ‘A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing’, New York, 2012, p. 172.
  23. Patrick J. Hurley, ‘A Concise Introduction to Logic, 7th,’ New York, 2000, p. 126.
  24. Ibid. pp. 147-148.
  25. Steven Novella, ‘Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills’ (Audio Lecture Series), ‘Lecture 8: Logic and Logical Fallacies’, The Teaching Company, 2012.
  26. Richard Dawkins, cited at: https://twitter.com/richarddawkins/status/337680085001842689, accessed on 10th Sept, 2015.
  27. Thomas Zenk, ‘New Atheism’ Stephen Bullivant & Michael Ruse (ed.), ‘The Oxford Handbook of Atheism’, Oxford, 2013, pp. 253-254.
  28. Patrick J. Hurley, ‘A Concise Introduction to Logic, 7th,’ New York, 2000, pp. 147-148; Jerry A. Coyne, ‘Why Evolution is True’, New York, 2009.
  29. Lawrence M. Krauss, ‘All Scientists Should be Militant Atheists’, ‘The New Yorker’, 8th Sept, 2015, cited at: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/all-scientists-should-be-militant-atheists, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015.
  30. Lawrence M. Krauss, ‘A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing’, New York, 2012, p. 170.
  31. Gary Wolf, ‘The Church of the Nonbelievers’, Wired Magazine, 2006, cited at: http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html, accessed on 22nd Sept, 2015; Steven Kettell, ‘Faithless: The Politics of New Atheism’, Secularism and Nonreligion, 2, 61-78, 2013, 63-64, 67; Neil Brown, ‘The New Atheism Debate’, The Australasian Catholic Record, 90 (2):147, 2013, p. 157; Christopher Hitchens, ‘God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’, pp. 52, 205; Sam Harris, ‘The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason’, New York, 2004, pp. 14-15, 21; Richard Dawkins, ‘The God Delusion’, London, 2006, pp. 151, 301-308.
  32. Lucretius, ‘On the Nature of Things: Book I’, (Trans. William Ellery Leonard), 50 BCE, cited at: http://classics.mit.edu/Carus/nature_things.1.i.html, accessed 21 Aug. 2015.
  33. Miron Zuckerman, Jordan Silberman & Judith A. Hall, ‘The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations’, Personality and Social Psychological Review, 10th Sept, 2013, cited at: http://psr.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/02/1088868313497266.short, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015; Richard Lynn, John Harvey & Helmuth Nyborg, ‘Average Intelligence Predicts Atheism Rates Across 137 Nations’, ‘Intelligence: A Multidisciplinary Journal, Vol. 37, 1, pp. 11-15, cited at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289608000238, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015.
  34. Phil Zuckerman, ‘Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment’, New York, 2008, pp. 24-28.
  35. Kathleen H. Corriveau, Eva E. Chen & Paul L. Harris, ‘Judgements About Fact and Fiction By Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds’, ‘Cognitive Science, A Multidisciplinary Journal’, 2014, pp. 1-30, cited at: http://www.bu.edu/learninglab/files/2012/05/Corriveau-Chen-Harris-in-press.pdf, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015.
  36. Silton, N.R., Flannelly, K.J., Galek, K. & Ellison C.G., ‘Beliefs About God and Mental Health Among American Adults’, ‘Journal of Religion and Health’, Oct, 2014, Vol. 53, 5, 1285-96, cited at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23572240?dopt=Abstract, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015.
  37. Terrence D. Miethe & Hong Lu, ‘Punishment: A Comparative Historical Perspective’, Cambridge, 2005, p. 63.
  38. Ibid. pp. 68-69; Sheemeem Burney Abbas, ‘Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws: From Islamic Empire to the Taliban’, Austin, Texas, 2013, p. 79.
  39. International Humanist and Ethical Union, ‘The Freedom of Thought Report 2014: A Global Report on the Rights, Legal Status, and Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Nonreligious’, pp. 91-96, cited at: file:///C:/Users/Sherlock/Downloads/FOT2014%20Full%2020141210.pdf, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015.
  40. John McManus, BBC Social Affairs Reporter, ‘Humanist Campaign Challenges Blasphemy Laws’, BBC News, cited at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31047401, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015; Wai Moe & Austin Ramzy, ‘Myanmar Sentences 3 to Prison for Depicting Buddha Wearing Headphones’, ‘The New York Times’, 17th March, 2015, cited at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/18/world/asia/myanmar-sentences-3-to-prison-for-defaming-buddhism.html?_r=0, accessed on 27th Sept, 2015.
  41. See: R v Taylor (1676) cited at: http://www.academia.edu/725087/The_Invention_of_Criminal_Blasphemy_Rex_v._Taylor_1676_, accessed 12th August, 2015; R v Woolston (1729), cited at: http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions62.html, accessed 12th August, 2015; People v Ruggles (1811), cited at: Ibid, accessed 12th August; David Nash, ‘Blasphemy in the Christian World: A History’, Oxford, 2007.

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Is ‘New Atheism’ a Religious, or Faith-Based Movement?

  1. I don’t think new atheists are a religion, so much as an secular religious cult.
    They don’t think of themselves that way. Neither do new feminists or libertarians. And not all atheists are part of this cult. New atheism though, I see as similar to radical feminism and I see the same kind of extremism or the Ayn Rand worshiping libertarians or among Islamophobes,
    There some feminists who just happen to believe that equality is worth fighting for
    There are some libertarians who happen to think that less government and regulation would be desirable,
    and some atheists, who just happen not to believe in a god, and can’t be bothered with it,
    That’s all cool by me.

    What distinguishes these form secular cults is a kind of splitting of the world into good and evil which pervades the discource – “women good / men bad”, “government bad / business good”, “religion bad / science good”.

    Freud described an ego defense mechanism he called ‘splitting’ going on in psychological narissist and borderline personality disorders. These people are at an infant stage, where they can’t integrate the good and bad qualities of a human being into a unified identity, so they designate them as friends or enemies.

    I see this operating in secular religious cults because they tend to be underpinned by a kind of splitting of culture into polar opposites, so that the dialogue I have with them tends to be guided by often unspoken generalisations of the form,
    “religion bad / science good” or,
    “Everything we have to be grateful for was the upshot of scientific progress”
    or, “The whole project of religion was evil”.

    These generalisations generally aren’t vocalised, because once they are, it’s very easy to think of major counter-examples. But they do, nevertheless, seem to be the compass which guides their argument, because nothing they say contradicts them.

    One thing that’s completely lost in the course of this black-and-white type debate is that the history of religion or the history of science shows that science, religion and funnily enough magical beliefs were all tightly interwoven. Galileo was a devout Christian. Newton was an alchemist. It was the Church preserved and integrated Greek philosophy into European culture.

    The result of the psychological splitting of “religion bad / science good” is the complete falsehood that these phenomena are particularly separable. So we have this distortion of history, a new atheist version of history, which believes that in the beginning, we were all happy hunters… But then religion came along and brainwashed everybody… and then science came along and sorted that out. And. That’s that. I mean it’s only possible if you throw away the history of science and the history of religion, but a lot of new-atheists really do think of history as having been like that. Because it fits their assumption – “Religion good / science bad”

    I’m still generalising, and above article by Mr. Sherlock is an obvious counter-example, but it’s not enough to register a difference of opinion. Enough people decide that they can’t be bothered going to church every week without even bothering to give up their religion. Enough people are capable of saying, I’m sorry, but I just don’t go in for all that god stuff. But what really distinguished the new atheists as a group was there’s also a tangible contempt for those who disagree with them, a real loathing of religion. So you hear phrases from secular cults like “Sounds like man-splaining” “Tax is just extortion – I earned my money and you people have a gun to my face!” “Without evidence, your beliefs are meaningless… Tell that to your god”.

    And I think that it’s this rather charged emotionality, a very hostile partisan mode of argumentation, which at the bottom of it, isn’t about objective examination of evidential facts or comparison of logical argumentation, but a kind of mixture of hatred and contempt for religious belief. That’s what really raised people’s eyebrows and got them thinking, Atheism was a philosophical attitude that the god stuff was bollocks. But they were normal people who pointed out that you don’t need religion, or what do you do after god died. The new atheists seem to be, in (Dawkin’s words,) much more evangelical and quite eager to cause offense.

    When you hear this kind of language, you’re not going to change them with evidence or argument. They’re not looking for concessions or compromise. You’re not going to learn anything useful. Either they’re going to notice that it’s a waste of their energy, or they’re on that trip and looking for someone to argue with. And you’ll do.

    I’m just tired of it.

  2. Somebody needs dictionary methinks !!!!!!!!!! – Aheism is a SINGLE position on a SINGLE question. ‘Do you believe a god exists’ answer ‘no’ , that is IT, you don’t get to redefine the English Language just because it suits you … sheesh

  3. Quote Hitchens as per your article:

    In a debate with Dr William Lane Craig, the late Christopher Hitchens said:
    ‘It’s often said, it was said tonight, and Dr Craig has said it in print, that atheists think they can prove the non-existence of God. This in fact, very slightly but crucially misrepresents what we’ve always said…here’s what we argue: We argue quite simply, that there’s no plausible or convincing reason, certainly no evidential one, to believe that there is such an entity…
    Unquote

    What “evidential reason” Hitchens had in his mind and why did he not ask the theologian who passed the information to him for the evidence required?
    He did, of course, but the theologian had none and he showed him the Bible, i.e. the words of the theologians of the past.

    Reading the Bible, which Hitchens did not, we realize that the writers of the Bible were not the ones to whom the God was revealed originally, because there are older texts mentioning God.
    So, to reach the persons to whom the God was revealed in order to know what sort of evidence the God provided, we have to reconstruct the history of religion, going back to the first human who spoke of gods/God.

    That, neither Hitchens nor Dawkins’ beloved Oxford University did because if they had done it, they would have to inform humanity that the God idea is just a hoax. Instead of that, they resorted to philosophical excuses, and funny theories produced by psychologists claiming that religion comes naturally to humans, in order to persuade humanity that the God idea is a product of the evolution of their brains!!

    The God idea therefore is, according to agnostics, not a hoax, not the product of an archaic joke, but the fruit of the higher intelligence of the human beings. Yet, it is not possible, according to agnostics again, to know with absolute certainty that as an entity God exists or not, and thus we are proud agnostic ignoramuses (actually secret accomplices of religion, or just brainless humans).

    As to proving God’s non-existence, that is plain sophistry. No one has to prove that. The only thing that has to be proven is that the claim “There is a God” is false, i.e. to prove that the God idea is a monumental hoax based on an archaic joke.

    Dimitrios Trimijopulos
    Retired Master Mariner

  4. IMO, the people who COINED this “new atheist” tag are trying to profile a newer group of OLD atheists that they can’t handle, because the NEW old atheists have updated arguments they can’t trump.

    Don’t know what to tell them…except, maybe, TOO BAD, SUCKAS.

    Hard as it may be, I’m more concerned with “definitively defining” the ‘atheist’ tag — one who does not believe (in) the claims of the existence of a god or gods. None of this “there is no god” misapplication. But it’s ubiquitous………..

  5. hmmm… no women in the picture? Just an observation.

    I enjoy your writing! Also, proper assignments and footnotes!

    Cheers!

    Jeff

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