The Guardian: We can save atheism from new atheists

"As a philosophical tendency, the New Atheists were popularisers rather than innovators, using advances in biology and neuroscience to illustrate pretty well-worn arguments against religion.  Indeed, in some crucial ways, they represent an intellectual step backward from a left that had recognized atheism as necessary but scarcely sufficient.

"As early as 1842, Marx dismissed those who trumpeted their disbelief to children as "assuring everyone who is ready to listen to the that they are not afraid of the boogeyman".  For him, intellectual disproofs of God were trivia; what mattered was building a world that didn't give rise to mystification of any kind.

That is, if you investigate the material basis of religious belief, you immediately confront a phenomenon that operates on many different levels.  In particular circumstances and particular settings a faith may function as a guide to morality, or an aesthetic, or a social network, or a collection of cultural practices, or a political identity, or a historical tradition, or some combination of any or all of those things.

You don't have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available) and that what it provides is neither inconsequential or silly.

By contrast, the New Atheists engage with religion purely as a set of ideas, a kind of cosmic rulebook for believers.  On that basis, it's easy to point out inconsistencies or contradictions in the various holy texts and mock the faithful for their gullibility.

But what happens then?  You're left with no explanation for their devotion other than a susceptibility to fraud.  To borrow Dawkins' title, if God is nothing but an intellectual delusion then the billions of believers are, well, deluded; a collection of feeble saps in need of enlightenment from their intellectual superiors.

That's the basis for the dickishness that so many people now associate with the New Atheism, a movement too often exemplified by privileged know-it-alls telling the poor they're idiots.  But that's only part of it.   For, of course, the privileged know-it-alls are usually white and those they lampoon the most are invariably Muslim.


The problems of the Middle East stemmed, nt from imperial meddling in an oil-rich region but from Islam itself, a faith that resulted from (and then fostered) delusional thinking.  On that basis, Hitchens was increasingly able to ally himself with the worst elements of the American right while insisting he remained progressive.

You can see how the argument works.  If belief in God stems from intellectual inadequacy, then all believers are feeble-minded and the most devout are the most feebleminded of all.  All religions are bad but some religions - especially those in the Middle East by sheer coincidence - are worse than others.

In the name of enlightened atheism you thus arrive at old-fashioned imperialism:  the people we just happen to be bombing are simple-minded savages, impervious to reason and civilization.  That was the secret of Hitchens' success: he provided a liberal rationale for the "war on terror."


I'm curious what folks think of the article, and particularly the sections I quote above. 

I confess that I find his critique of some aspects of what I find here at TA to be quite cogent in terms of the attitudes and "intellectual step backward" from Marx and other old atheists. 

Aside from Dawkins who left science behind quite a long time ago and became a polemicist against Islam, I'm not sure that I buy into his argument vis a vis New Atheism and the American right.  I confess I'm well out of my field, though, since I never really paid any attention to Hitchens or the rest because I found them boorish.   Were they really making arguments that aligned with intellectual/social imperialism?

Do you find that within your communities there's support for Middle East interventionism on the grounds of atheism / "bad Muslims"?  Or opposition to Islamic refugees?   I really don't see that at all, and I think his argument is overstated.  But I may just be clueless.

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Simon...New Atheism is an aggressive form of humanism...learn your do not seem to ever get them clear.

Second...Dawkins is the most famous biologist. Does than mean he reflects badly on biologists? No. Your claim that Dawkins is the most famous atheist again reveals your own biases. Brad Pit is far more famous than Dawkins...he also talks about why he doesn't believe in god yet no one really associates him with atheism. The only time a personality is associated with when theists get their knickers into knots when some atheists calls them out on their bullshit. You are buying into this Simon.

Does Kim Yung Ils way of speaking about Gods non-existence reflects on us? No...of course not because he doesn't challenge insecure frightened Christians in English speaking countries. Atheist speakers only "influence" the image of nonbelievers when they ruffle the feathers of, challenge the hegemony of and break down the taboos of religion. The only reason you apologise for Dawkins is because you believe atheism is more than not believing in God (even though it is only not believing in God). You care how theists see western white intellectuals who are atheists...and you care about theists becoming atheists...and you worry people like Dawkins will stop theists from becoming atheists. That is the mirror view of insecure theists and you as an atheist seem to define yourself by the way Christians and former Christians approach a godless world and reconstruct a similar world without God but still a common morality, spiritualism, customs, songs, recitations, love. Your view is a reflection of theirs. This is a problem for atheists who have this view. Its not for me, nor millions of disengaged atheists and especially for the millions of atheists who have never heard of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. Now...does Dawkins and Harris reflect badly on humanism? Yes...they do...and there are many articles in humanist journals that talk about it at length because most humanists do care about their image, about their views being properly understood and hope that more people will willingly become humanists.

The same cannot apply to atheists because atheists like you who are image conscious worry about what God believers think of them and the stupid shit some atheists polemicists say, you who want atheism to form a larger identity, attract insecure and offended theists and tip toe around the harsh reality of the poison that is religion...are a minority.

Second...Dawkins is the most famous biologist. Does than mean he reflects badly on biologists?

Dawkins is by no means the most famous biologist, at least within the scientific community.

And yes, he does reflect badly on biologists and science in general.  I have a number of colleagues in the life sciences who are embarrassed by him.

Does Kim Yung Ils way of speaking about Gods non-existence reflects on us?

Do fundamentalist Christians' way of speaking about God reflect on us as Catholics? 

Yes, even though we have no control over them and don't share their approach, folks who are outside of Christendom like many here tend to lump us all together.

If you want other people to make fine distinctions between subgroups of folks who don't believe in God, it seems like you should also be open to intelligently making fine distinctions between those who do believe in God.   If you expect people to see that atheists are not a "group", then in turn recognize that theists are not a "group" either... and almost none of them believe in a "sky-god". ;-)

Dr. Bob, one day a light bulb will go off and you will understand how singular negative beliefs work.

Theists are a group because together they make certain claims...and these claims are bound to influence how they live to one extent or another. I can list positive qualities that all Christians share. You are a group. I cannot list a single positive quality that atheists share. They are not a group...they are non-participants.

Those who dont make these claims...are not a group. Why? Because all they have in common is not making a claim. You simply dont participate in the group. You cannot infer anything else at all about this person/ Their non participation does not necesarily influence their lives.

Take it to another extreme. You dont believe in Allah...neither do I. We are both a-muslims. Not believing in allah does not direct our lives...nor can you infer that you and I have anything in common other than not believing in Allah. We arent a group. What you say about Allah doesnt make me look bad as a non-allah believer. It would be pure nonsense to claim that Sam Harris's ranting about allah reflects badly on you as a person who doesnt believe in allah. Why would it? Youre just some guy who doesn't buy into the allah are not part of a non-allah group with Harris and Dawkins with any definable qualities. Non-allah belief doesnt define you nor place you in a special group of other non-participants. This is no different than with atheism...yet somehow you won't accept this in the case where it is non-belief in YOUR superstitious silly narrative.

I assume you dont believe in poltergeists. I dont. Not believing in ghosts does not make me part of a group of -poltergiesters. We have nothing iherantly in common with our non-poltergeist views. If some radical skeptic hosts a television show railing and screaming against people who try to scam gullible people out of money to hold seances...this does not reflect badly on me as a non-poltergeist believer nor on you as a non-poltergeist believer. Why? Not believing in poltergeists doesn't influence any of my behaviour, I never think about poltergeists and I dont get together with other non-poltergeist believers to turn non-poltergeistism into a value system or ideology or an institution.

Claiming a series of people who dont believe in an outrageous belief...form some sort of group in which the strangbe behaviour of one reflects badly on the rediculously aburd when you take examples of non-Allah belief, non-poltergeist belief or non-unicorns dancing on the moon belief.

You think that your own ridiculous childish supernatural claim is somehow on a much higher level. That with God you are with the in group or the outgroup...and that God talk so pervades the world and peoples personalities and actions and morals and other nonsense that this particular negative belief qualifies you in some way. It doesnt. Your sky god is nothing special. Your silly childish belief is no more or less worthy an-extraordinary-non-belief-out-group than with poltergeists or santa claus or elvis is alive.

Atheists dont participate in your childish games. Thats all. You claiming that non-belief in god is more than non-belief just reveals your own biases, your theist-centrism, your western-world-centrism, your intelectualism-centrism and your belief that sky-god non-belief is somehow more group-defining than any other non-belief in silly outrageous claims. What dawkins says or does...doesnt reflect in any way on me as a non-participant. It only does so for participants who find non-belief threatening. I have the feeling you find our atheism rather threatening Dr. Bob.

There goes my plan to found the Church of God Doesn't Exist And Neither Do Unicorns Dancing In The Moonlight :(

But you see, we do share things as a group. The following of the four horsemen, radical humanism as you just said, the liberalization of islam (i.e. the export of american ideology), the eventual disbelief in religion, and so on; we even gather in sites like this, there is are even atheist assemblies. There is a reason that those on the right think that we are reconstructing religion and those on the left that we are creating a secular version of religious justification for imperialist wars.

Atheism CAN be spread and thought, there are entire threads over the entire internet, including this site, where people mention how they lost their faith and how $site, $book, $person assisted them in their deconversion. You also need to remember that the biggest spreaders of atheism during the XX century were the communist, the red scare being the reason why 'In god we trust' was added to american currency, so it can be spread.

I'm actually trying to reply to Cesar Deicide's comment, but there's not 'reply' link there :-S

Cesar, we share some beliefs, but which beliefs we share cannot be predicted just by the fact that we're atheists, whereas all JWs will share one set of opinions, all Mormons another.

The fact that we share some beliefs comes from random chance combined with the selection of individual intellectual i9nvestigation.

The beliefs of religious people conform to those of the group.  If they fail to do so, they are ostracised - they are no longer part of that group.

Contrariwise, you'd be hard pressed to find any 3 people here who agree on more than 3 issues, and no-one is universally ostracised - not even the people who really, really annoy me. We share a few things, but mostly we disagree.

No Cesar that is totally wrong. Most thinkatheist members are humanists.. that isn't the case of atheism. Can you honestly say millions of Chinese atheists are humanists who put human rights and individual autonomy above all? Do all my Spanish friends hate religion and post bitter articles against religion on Facebook? No. They give it all little thought and several find anti-theism unpleasant and bore easily if the topic comes up.

Most atheists have never heard of the four horsemen.

Its not just theists like Dr. Bob who over genealise atheism...but atheists as my experience...English speaking ex Christians living in places hostile to. Atheism. Not believing in god infers none of these qualities. Zero.

It's just that Dawkins, as the original and best known New Atheist, makes me look bad as an atheist. 

"You care how theists see western white intellectuals who are atheists...and you care about theists becoming atheists...and you worry people like Dawkins will stop theists from becoming atheists. That is the mirror view of insecure theists. Your view is a reflection of theirs."

- I don't care about those things. 

You obviously do care because you just said Dawkins makes you look bad as an atheist. No. He makes you look bad in the eyes of Western Christians who are fearful of atheism and whose knowledge of atheism is limited to loud polemical atheists like Dawkins. You care about what these people think. I dont. Chinese atheists dont. I doubt most continental-European atheists care that much either. Its a reflection of what you care about...not on the broader phenomena of atheism (nothing more than not believing in God) and atheists (of which Americans and Brittons are a tiny minority). New atheism is a broad ideology practices mostly by a narrow group of atheists (and even theists) in a geographically restricted part of the world and intellectual sphere. New atheism is a world view. Atheism is a mere singular negative belief. They share the word "atheism" but they could not be more different classes of things and they are both of entirely different scopes.

You obviously do care because you just said Dawkins makes you look bad as an atheist. No. He makes you look bad in the eyes of Western Christians who are fearful of atheism and whose knowledge of atheism is limited to loud polemical atheists like Dawkins.

I believe that arrogant theism is more destructive to the world than arrogant atheism, but it's still important to me to present to theists a credible, desirable, non-arrogant atheistic perspective/alternative. I care what people think of me, but mostly about my credibility, especially in the eyes of theist who I'd like to influence. In-group vs out-group mentality is at the very root of our problem, and I really don't want to mirror their exclusionism. Inclusion and tolerance are the ideals I want to nourish.

Notice, I'm not saying that arrogant atheists should just shut up. I'm saying they make my endeavors harder to pursue and achieve. 

There is no ingroup outgroup with netative beliefs. There are participants and non-participants. The participants clearly have at least one positive quality in common...the non-participants have no positive qualities in common. That means what one non-participant says or does about non-participation...does not reflect on other non-participants because none need define themselves by what they dont participate in. I dont define myself or group myself with non elvis is alivesim, or with non zeus belief or witgn non alternative medicine belief. Non god belief is no different.

Dawkins reflects badly on antitheism, he reflects badly on humanism. That is because humanists have positive qualities in common...the same with anti-theism. What Dawkins says or does can sabotage anti-theism or humanism. It can sabotage atheist-conversion-groups. It cannot sabotage your non-belief-in-God...because your non-belief is nothing but your non-belief.

Atheists have no endeavors or particular achievements to pull off. Humanists, anti-theists, atheist-converters, anti-zionists and contra-jihaddists do. To say otherwise is to generalise, fabricate qualities in common, ignore millions of Asian atheists who dont give a shit about God nor ever think about God and it invents a false identity.

I just don't want people in general to think I'm a dick because I'm an atheist. 


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