There seems to have been a clear reduction in the severity of the New Atheist position. Not that I miss them, but I’ve wondered what happened to the bold, sweeping, unqualified claims about the unparalleled evils of religion. Whatever happened to the smug comments about how every person of any intelligence rejects God? They can be found, for sure, but do seem to be a quickly dying fad.
I’ve been told that all the earlier statements to these effects were never really meant to communicate this attitude, that theists have grossly exaggerated what the New Atheists have been claiming. If so, I can only reply that it was easy to do, given the words that were being used.
But, I’ve noticed that this seems to fit the group’s pattern of refusing to make or support claims. It almost seems to be a defining characteristic of the New Atheists that they can be counted on to deny making a claim rather than defend a position.
I’ve been told that Hitchens’ comments about Stalin were never meant to imply that his movement was religious, that Dawkins’ statements about the God of the Bible were not meant to refer to the God believed in by all Christians, but only some, and that Harris’ statements that it is sometimes ethical to kill people for their beliefs is not connected to his suggestion that the United States drop nuclear bombs on Muslim nations.
Obviously, I find these claims dubious, but that is not the point. Rather, I wonder what is left of the New Atheist platform when all these retractions (or, if you’d prefer, “clarifications”) are made. It seems to me that they are not making any of the claims that got them attention in the first place.
Instead, their position seems to be this:
1. They don’t believe in God, but wouldn’t say that he doesn’t exist
2. They don’t claim that society would be better if it were filled with atheists, but simply that religion can’t automatically be assumed to aid society.
3. They don’t claim that religious people are statistically any more violent than atheists.
4. They don’t claim that belief in God requires rejection of evolution.
So far, this hasn’t quite blown my socks off. After all the bombast, all the screaming, billboards, sacrilegious comments, mockery, and moral posturing, is this what we are left with? It really doesn’t seem any stronger a position than would be taken by the agnostics of a generation ago. In fact, if one removed “don’t believe in God” from the first item, this could describe my own position.
I’m not sure that there’s ever been a more horribly disappointing platform than this. I appreciate that these people are trying to be more reasonable, and try to be grateful for the change, but the degree of self-righteousness I’ve seen over a set of ideas which haven’t held up even to simple challenges leads me to wonder why these people are still passionate about atheism at all. Yes, the question of God is a live one, but it seems clear that this group can offer nothing in support of their philosophical assumptions at all like the evidence it insists of others.
Isn’t that, itself, a reason for them to seriously reconsider their basic position?