“These are Not the Atheists You’re Looking For”

these_are_not_the_droidsIn past entries, I’ve been very critical of the New Atheists. There’s good reason for that; they represent something of a (far too large) fundamentalist fringe of atheism. Much of the response to my comments was essentially what I’d expected, but there are two elements to it that I find interesting:

First is the frequency with which some challenge the idea that the New Atheism even exists. Some even seem to think that I’m discussing all atheists (and, otherwise rightly, think I’ve been unreasonable toward atheism in general).

I find this astonishing. While I agree that the name is very misleading, it is entirely valid to point out that the recent popularity of atheist groups, meetings, books, and activism centered around a small set of individuals is deeply out of step with many other atheists. Yes, social groups are never tightly defined, but to say that there is no such thing as the New Atheism is to say that there is no difference, for example, between Richard Dawkins’ fans and atheists who have a positive view of religion.

Saying that there is no difference is, in effect, saying that a few writers speak for all atheists, which strikes me as entirely strange.

Second is the fact that none of the writers I’ve mentioned as being New Atheists have been defended by the same people who deny the existence of New Atheism. To me, this would only underline the fact that there are different kinds of atheists, and that those I’m criticizing under the ill-conceived moniker “New Atheism” are indeed consistently saying things that not all atheists believe.

I’d think that most atheists would be eager to distance themselves from such people. As a Christian, I’m eager to distance myself from the lunatic fringe. I’m left assuming that those who want atheism treated monolithically simply aren’t aware of what these people are saying–or with what vitriol they’re saying it.

But I hope that more people see this. The New Atheists have managed to avoid a great deal of well-deserved criticism by insisting that we cannot speak about them unless our words also apply to the genteel and thoughtful atheist. They seem never to tire of trying to avoid being defined in order to avoid being held up to scrutiny.

And open-mined atheists should be at least as bothered by the lumping of them together with the New Atheists as I am.

Advertisements

27 responses to ““These are Not the Atheists You’re Looking For”

  • c emerson

    Good post. There is clearly a range of philosophies under ‘atheism’ from simple humanism, various forms of agnosticism, various degrees of accommodations with religious views, various types of non-monism religions (Buddhism for example), all the way to the more ‘aggressive’ atheists that include in their motivations the belief that humans need to grow up and just eliminate religion per se (other than theirs). I agree with you that one needs to distinguish which orientations one is dialoging with, else there is no dialogue.

    That said, take a look at Oerter’s current post, Supernatural Times Two, at
    Good post. There is clearly a range of philosophies under ‘atheism’ from simple humanism, various forms of agnosticism, various degrees of accommodations with religious views, various types of non-monism religions (Buddhism for example), all the way to the more ‘aggressive’ atheists that include in their motivations the belief that humans need to grow up and just eliminate religion per se (other than theirs). I agree with you that one needs to distinguish which orientations one is dialoging with, else there is no dialogue.

    That said, take a look at Oerter’s current post, Supernatural Times Two, at
    http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/2013/04/supernatural-times-two.html?m=1

    and his reference to Fishman and Boudry’s article, Does Science Presuppose Naturalism (or Anything at All)? – Oerter links to it in his first sentence – I think the topic, properly handled (with polemics) is fundamental to modern science and modern atheism.

  • theguywiththeeye

    This is typical New Christian drivel 😉

    I’m sure you understand that discrediting ill-mannered, punk atheists does not SUPPORT your position.

    • Debilis

      Yes, I am not trying to imply that this supports any position on God’s existence.

      But I’m not sure, however, how pointing out that these people are long on rhetoric and short on logic is “drivel”.

  • Logan Rees

    I think alot of atheists are antitheists and don’t know the difference. I haven’t heard the term ‘new atheist’ until recently, but it sounds like they have a similar problem

  • c emerson

    I hate errata, but I meant without polemics not with polemics … and I don’t lnow how I pasted that paragraph twice…

  • violetwisp

    I hope I’m a New Atheist, I’ve never been part of a punk movement before and it sounds rather exciting!

    “atheists who have a positive view of religion” It’s difficult to be positive about something that’s generally illogical, all about men and that frequently promotes discrimination and harmful ideas. I’m struggling to think of why any atheist would be positive about religion. Can you provide some examples?

    • Debilis

      Not every atheist agrees that religion is illogical, all about men, and frequently promotes discrimination and harmful ideas.

      This is not to say that you have to agree with those atheists who think religion is a positive (if incorrect) view, but only that the sentiments you express aren’t required in order to be an atheist.

  • Alexander

    “those I’m criticizing under the ill-conceived moniker “New Atheism” are indeed consistently saying things that not all atheists believe”

    1. Thanks for pointing out that it’s an ill-conceived moniker
    2. Atheists have never had the same underlying view-point, apart from the lack of belief they share
    3. The “movement” you describe is simply a thrust of anti-religion sweeping into the US that that has a stronger religious base than other places of less resistance. In Europe there’s a long tradition of speaking out against the religious unanimity of power (of which we’ve been talking about Russell of late, but there’s a long tradition of similar people).
    4. There’s nothing new about them. The “new” is only their recent thrust in the popular zeitgeist of the US, and not any unifying models or platforms.
    5. Richard Dawkins and Hitchens are not “new” in their country of origin; “New Atheist” is more or less a US term.

    • Debilis

      1. You’re quite welcome. I definitely agree on that point.
      2. Agreed.
      3. I’d agree with that as well. If you’d prefer the term “thrust” to movement, we can use that.
      4. Yes. I hate the term “New Atheists” for just that reason.
      5. Again, agreed.

  • Alexander

    “I’d think that most atheists would be eager to distance themselves from such people. ”

    First you need to clarify what you mean by “such people.” You are clearly comparing them to your own lunatic fringe, of which the New Atheist most definitely are not fringe in any meaningful way (given they are respected prominent figures of vastly popular notions, if not the most popular and most recognisable as such). You are either making a comparison error, or you’re talking about something not clearly stated.

    And please note that in the atheist “movement” there is no one who is outside the boundaries of harsh critique from their own ranks, unlike what you find in established popular religious groupings, which is a very healthy corollary.

    • Debilis

      I suppose you’re right, they’re far more mainstream than I’d like them to be.
      Still, they behave quite a bit like the Christian fringe.

      I also agree that atheists have criticized this group (but I’m not convinced that the New Atheist writers are willing to criticize one another), and that is excellent. I disagree, however, that there are religious people whom theists will not criticize.

      • theguywiththeeye

        Atheism is not a dominant force on this planet like Christianity. It would be a poor use or our time to be critical of other Atheists unless it was being done in a constructive and motivating way.

        • Debilis

          Atheism, in itself, cannot be a force at all. Still, I think the particular stances taken by a particularly vitriolic type of atheist is destructive enough to warrant some correction.

          But I like the idea of such criticism being done constructively.

        • Alexander

          “Atheism is not a dominant force on this planet like Christianity”

          Can I quote you on this? Because I hear all the time how influential they are, how powerful they are, how widespread it has become, but you now contradicts that right on.

          However, surely the massive uprising against it is because, well, it’s true?

        • theguywiththeeye

          Of course you can quote me, but I’m not sure where you’re going with it.

        • Alexander

          Sorry, I was juxtapositioning your statement against the fact that we’re even having these discussions. 🙂 If atheism wasn’t a force to be reckoned with, then we wouldn’t be talking right now. Atheism might not be as visible, recognisable and public as Christianity in the affairs of the world, but it’s still very much there, shaping it, changing it. The “New Atheism” is just that the force of atheism got a face or two.

        • theguywiththeeye

          “Atheism is not a dominant force on this planet LIKE Christianity”

          The like was important. 1 in 3.5 human beings are Christian.

          I frankly don’t care how crude the messages and the messengers are as long as the war is only being fought with words. Any press is good press at this point.

        • Alexander

          Not that I don’t understand your argument, but I’d say I’m highly and utterly skeptical of those figures. Where’s that from, and how is “Christian” defined?

        • theguywiththeeye

          Any Christian. 2 billion strong still, no? 7 billion peeps.

        • Alexander

          Sorry, but that’s just bad data. You can use them, of course, but I’d be more careful with such dreck as the threshold from Christian goes from cultural Christian all the way up through belief to fundamentalist. In a discussion like this all of the cultural Christians are irrelevant to the argument, same with a lot of the fringe, and probably huge swaths of the non-evangelicals and the non-leading ones. It’s a bit like the argument that the US has 360 million democrats (as opposed to those who are in the Democrat party) in it, yet the voting attendance for the 2004 election was 55%.

          I’m only being nitpicky because we’re talking about Christianity as an influence, as a force, not as a blob of loose ideas and concepts.

        • theguywiththeeye

          Let me digress, because I don’t type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts nor do I have the focus to address every point you just made.

          Do you consider yourself to be an atheist?

        • Alexander

          I’ll answer here so we can see what we type; hope you can find it.

          “Do you consider yourself to be an atheist?”

          Yes.

        • theguywiththeeye

          Well goood. I wasn’t sure if you were around just for the heck of it or not 🙂

        • Alexander

          A bit of both, but I never engage in any atheist “cause” as there isn’t one. I’m purely one because I pursue truth no matter where it leads me, which is also of course why I engage with believers in the most friendly way I can; the truth is out there, hopefully with good arguments and, eh, good data. 🙂

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: