The Spectator has published an article, proclaiming the end of the New Atheist movement, and the rise of a group of atheist thinkers who see religion in a much more nuanced way.
As much as I’d like to believe this, I’m not convinced.
Yes, I’d say that the New Atheism, like any movement, must always face the choice between adaptation or death. And, yes, they will eventually need to acknowledge the complex realities of life, and transition out of this simple atheism-good/religion-bad narrative that they hammer so tirelessly if they want people to keep listening.
But it is a bit premature to say that the movement is dead. Some are starting to realize that its treatment of religion has been unfair to the point of propagandistic, and journalists do seem to feel that the novelty of hearing someone proclaim “the world would simply be better without religion” has worn off (as Coyne laments in his response to the article). But I think we still have a couple of years before taking a sophisticated view of religion is seen as more desirable than declaring one’s self too intelligent to study the matter.
Setting aside the strangeness of using (a claim of) intelligence as an excuse to remain ignorant, I agree with Hobson’s analysis to a point. The shift may not have happened, but it does seem to be starting. If journalists and writers are beginning to declare themselves too sophisticated to side with the simple narrative of the New Atheists, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that many of their readers will follow suit. This hardly justifies “Dawkins has lost”, of course, but is worth noting.
In fact, I noticed that Coyne couldn’t get through his response without reference to the inane “courtier’s reply”. If the choice is ultimately between appearing sophisticated and defending a self-imposed ignorance of the details, it’s obvious what people will favor. Eventually, this will happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s happened yet.
And, from my perspective, the longer the New Atheism lasts, the easier it will be to convince people that unreconstructed materialism is a philosophy for the simple-minded.
As such, I find myself rather ambivalent. I very much prefer my encounters with thoughtful atheists, but the New Atheists make my job quite a bit easier, and it is always tempting to play up the idea that all atheists are like Dawkins.
Apologies in advance, then, if I end up doing that.