Friday, July 09, 2010

New Atheism

A term bantered about. Over at the Parchment and Pen Blog a writer (utilizing Dr. Mohler) gave seven (7) points that differentiate the “New Atheist” from the “run-of-mill atheist” (her words):

1. Celebration of Atheism – no sense of mourning as seen in the “Victorian Loss of Faith”.

2. Changed and clear direction of attention – No longer the philosophical rejection of God but a rejection of the God of Christianity specifically. (*I question this one however, as it would seem there are objections to Islam and Judaism as well as polytheistic systems. But I do concede they are the most vocal against Christian Theism.)

3. Explicitly based in scientific argumentation - *Lack of philosophical discussion surrounding the existence of God. Also I would suggest that while a naturalistic framework (i.e a point of view that excludes the supernatural) is assumed they are not stating their’s as a philosophical position.

4. Attack upon moderate and liberal Protestantism - These theological movements are seen as “enablers” of theistic belief . *Which although not stated in the lecture, I have to think it is due to these movements denying foundational truths of Christianity in respects to not only orthodoxy (right belief) but orthopraxy (right practice). This in turn makes Christianity a less bitter pill to swallow to those searching for truth.

5. Belief in God is not to be tolerated – It is no longer a matter of objecting to the persecution of the skeptic or free-thinker or atheist (vying for a voice in the culture only to be persecuted by the Theist) but it is thought that those who do believe in God should not be tolerated in our society – essentially a move away from religious freedom.

6. Theism is seen as harmful to children – teaching a child theistic beliefs is tantamount to child abuse and on the same level as (if not worse than) physical abuse.

and finally…

7. Theism should be eliminated because of all the harm it has brought to humanity. *Theism simply should not be tolerated in any civilized culture. The Crusades, the Inquisition and even modern day terrorism indicate Theism is bad for humanity. It has done more harm than good as we see from history and we’d be better off ridding it from our society altogether. No longer is a “tenant” of Atheism that of merely objecting to theistic systems but rather there is a pressing need to pro-actively eradicate these systems from our culture in toto.

Now, before I deal with each of these seven points, my first broad thought can be brilliantly summed up in two words. “So what?”

Let’s assume—for the moment—there is this “New Atheism” that is somehow different from previous atheisms. Does “New” necessarily mean “incorrect”? The impression given is that atheism (like Christianity) must adhere to some sort of orthodoxy, and therefore the “older” atheism is somehow more correct. Better.

Why? Imagine I told you I obtained a new cell phone. Wouldn’t we want the “newest” available? Would you be impressed if I extolled orthodoxy and bought a bag phone? (And if you even know what a bag phone is—you just dated yourself!)

Or imagine we are presented with new information. Or a new situation. Should I have continued to live like a bachelor after begin married? Was there something inherently bad about the seven (or more) points differentiating “Old run-of-the-mill single me” to “New Married Me”? Of course not!

We live in a changing world. With new ideas, new concepts, new societal impacts, new words…all of which should collide with our previous thinking and perhaps cause us to modify it.

I want “New Atheism” because we know more than last year’s atheists. And next year I want even “Newer Atheism.” If some day we come across some proof or evidence…who knows?...maybe the Newest and Last Atheism would be theism!

Now looking at the points.

1. Celebration of Atheism. Yeah us! How terrible that we dare not be the miserable, hedonistic wretches the theists think we should be. How dare we be…happy. How DARE we be…moral! How dare we…actually admit to being an atheist without a sigh, a tear, a cry for help…

2. A changing and clear direction toward atheism as to Christianity. While I could argue most of that has to do with perspective and locale (and the author notes it is not limited to Christianity)…again…I am left with “so what?” This comes across as Christians whining about “Why are you picking on us?” Because we are atheistic to your God! Does it really matter if we pick one God as compared to another?

3. Explicitly based on scientific argumentation. Again, I could argue this point. Again, I find myself saying, “So what?” What sacred script, what orthodoxy requires atheists to argue from philosophy? Or science? Or _____? Or all aspects? Or none at all? Please, oh please, will someone tell me what I—the atheist—MUST use to make my point in order to qualify as a “run-of-the-mill” atheist?

4. Attack on moderate and liberal Protestantism. Bwahahahahaha…seriously? You were being serious there? Read that again without falling down on the floor. I dare you! This comes from a conservative (Dr. Mohler) who regularly (Oh, I listened to your show, sir) attacked and battled and stabbed and assailed in every way shape and form anything remotely “moderate” or “liberal” within Christianity. And he’s unhappy atheists…er…excuse me…”New Atheists”…are doing it?

What, are we stealing your thunder?

5. Theism is not to be tolerated. Well, this one depends on your definition of “tolerance.” I suspect Christians want more than the New Atheists are giving. Look, we think theism is wrong. As wrong as a geocentric solar system. As wrong as a 6000-year-old, flat earth, global-flood, demon-possessing, Mary-in-a-Grilled-Cheese, geocentric solar system.

Which, like people wearing tin-foil hats to protect themselves from government rays, we would normally laugh off and let live their lives in peace. But Christians don’t stop there. They take these beliefs and discriminate against homosexuals, and attempt to push prayers on those who don’t believe as they do, and demand money (oh the money) and privileges to maintain these beliefs.

At that point I say, “No.” And they cry, “Intolerance.”

6. Theism is seen as harmful to children. Er…yes. Again, we think theism is wrong. Teaching children incorrect things, I believe is harmful. Shouldn’t we teach children correct truths? Of course, I am not mentioning the fear of hell, the shame of sex, the stigma of sexual orientation, the scientific falsehoods….

7. Theism should be eliminated because of all the harm it has brought to humanity. Has this sunk in yet? We think theism is wrong. As in “not true.” Basing actions on incorrect truths has an inherent tendency to do harm. Yes, we can live a happy life on a lie. Even do “less harm” by believing that lie. Most atheists I read hope humanity can actually improve itself without the need of believing something incorrect. Call us foolish optimists.

In the end, I think the biggest problem they have with New Atheism is how vocal it has become. The old atheists (like the token house servant) kept their mouth shut and knew their place. These New Atheists have the audacity to write best-sellers and speak their mind and proudly proclaim “I am an atheist!”

And for that, even though I may not qualify as a “New Atheist,” I am thankful and supportive. They make it easier, even (dare I say?) legitimate, for some of us to also say, “I, too, am an atheist.” Maybe a run-of-the-mill; maybe not. But an atheist all the same.


  1. I don't have the time or inclination to listen to Mohler's original audio presentation, but the post you link to seems to describe these features as making New Atheism different from, not worse than, RotM atheism. As such, it seems reasonably accurate:

    1) New Atheists really are more positive towards atheism than before.

    2) New Atheism really does make more of a point of confronting Christianity directly, rather than focusing on abstract philosophical and metaphysical arguments.

    3) New Atheism really does take a predominantly scientific, rather than a philosophical, approach.

    4) There really is specific emphasis in New Atheism on confronting "moderate" and liberal believers. (The reason is precisely opposite Carrie Hunter's suggestion, however; we confront moderate and liberal believers because they affirm, not deny, certain foundational assertions of orthodox Christian faith we find objectionable.)

    5-7) As you note, New Atheists really are considerably less tolerant of theism and Christianity than before; Theism is no longer seen as a "taste" or preference, but rather as mistake, error, harmful in itself to children and humanity as a whole.

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  3. I also had a "so what" reaction to that post, however, I do not consider myself a new atheist. While I have little doubt that the propensity for magical thinking is an evolutionary adaptation enabling man to cope with the profundity of consciousness, I don't think we know enough about how the human mind works to categorically declare that man would be better off without faith. I don't think we know enough about the psychic needs that religion serves to be sure that we are ready to meet them in its absence.

    I personally think that liberal Christians should be allies rather than enemies. I think that tolerant theism should be tolerated. I am not convinced that moderate theism is any more harmful to children than belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

  4. Great post! I like your counter-arguments.

    That's funny that it offends them that we're intolerant of theism. Geez! I wonder how our "intolerance" has ever killed anyone or emotionally damaged anyone. Christianity has KILLED out of intolerance. They've persecuted, tortured, shamed, and abused their dis-agreers.

    But hey, our pacific "We think you're telling lies" is of great offence to them.

    How hyper-sensitive of them. It shows their intolerance, not ours.