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New Atheism

I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God [sic]. --George Herbert Walker Bush

'New Atheism' is an expression used primarily toLarry Moran distinguish secular thinkers who argue that religious faith and belief in gods are dangerous and destructive because they are essentially irrational and encourage irrationality and anti-scientific thinking. The term seems to have been coined by Andrew Brown to describe the thinking of those who find religion and faith to be mainly destructive cultural forces, e.g., Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, Bob Park, P Z Myers, Victor Stenger, and Larry Moran. Others would include Daniel Dennett in this list of writers who believe that religion deserves no special exemption from severe criticism and that there should be no blasphemy laws. The key ideas shared by the New Atheists that offend Brown, in addition to taking a no-holds-barred Sam Harrisapproach to religion, seem to be 1) science has demonstrated that a god is an unnecessary hypothesis; 2) religion has demonstrated that it is a destructive social force that brings about much more harm than good, including, but not limited to, anti-evolutionist ideas; and 3) atheists are sick and tired of being ignored or treated as if they don't exist.* (These notions are often distorted by theists who claim the New Atheists 1) claim science proves gods don't exist; 2) religion comforts people and PZ Myersleads to many good deeds, while atheism leads to Stalin and Hitler [see Ben Stein]; and 3) Christians and other people of faith are being persecuted.)

Those who are offended by the NewChristopher Hitchens Atheism seem to prefer having as their opposition what they call "Victorian atheism," or logical positivism. They seem to prefer the kind of atheism that restricts itself to polite arguments against the traditional arguments for the existence of the Abrahamic god [AG] or to polite arguments against belief in god. The "old atheists" seem content to provide reasons for not believingDan Dennett in god or for believing that metaphysical statements are meaningless. The New Atheists might be seen as responding, in part, to the New Creationists: the defenders of so-called intelligent design. The New Creationists are seen by the New Atheists as abusers of science whose main goal is to attack evolutionary science and break down the division between church and state. The New Atheists not only actively oppose religion wherever religion threatens science and society, but also actively promote the Bob Parkvirtues and value of secularism.*

Critics of the New Atheists see them as intolerant of religion because the New Atheists wish for the end of religion or at least the end of religion in public affairs. But, to be fair, the New Atheists are not calling for the persecution of religious people or the banning of religious institutions. The New Atheists are exercising their right of free speech, just as religious believers do when they condemn atheism. On the other hand, it is fair to describe the New Atheists as antitheistic.

If militant secularism and public activism against the evils of religion are the key qualities of the New Atheists, then Madalyn Murray O'Hair (1919-1995) Jerry Coynequalifies. She won the court case that ended organized prayers in public schools, an achievement for which she was demonized by politicians and the press. Reflecting on O'Hair's fate should remind usMadalyn Murray O'Hair how easy it is for politicians and the media to destroy the reputation of a person or a group. Rather than praise O'Hair for leading the way to the abolition of an ancient superstition, the politicians and press condemned her for opposing a sacred tradition.

Michael NewdowAnother person who might be considered a New Atheist is Michael Newdow, who has argued in court that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with "under god" included is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Newdow has also challenged the use of the expression "in God we trust," which graces much U.S. currency.

Since there is no club called "The New Atheists" and there is no creed that one must share to belong to this group the term will remain slippery and mean slightly different things to different people. There is, therefore, no reason to restrict usage of the term to authors and bloggers. It should be remembered, however, that no matter what the enemies of secularism say, not believing in gods is not a belief system any more than not believing in unicorns or the Easter Bunny is a belief system. If there is any unifying belief among the New Atheists, it is the belief that we should try to make the world a more rational place to live in and that the actions most likely to bring about such a world are 1) those that encourage science-based thinking and humane arts; and 2) those that bring an end to superstition, irrationality, and anti-scientific thinking.

New Atheists are like mathematicians: whenever someone makes an outrageous claim about the supernatural, they ask for the proof.

See also anti-theism, atheism, brights, god, theist, "Can Science Answer the God Question?" and my review of The God Delusion.

further reading

websites and blogs

God is attracting more debate than ever by Madeleine Bunting (The Guardian) "The New Atheists did not manage to dent the growth of religion across the world. Instead, they only fed our interest in it....From my rough survey I would suggest those with philosophical training are the most irritated by New Atheism, while the journalists seem to enjoy the opportunities the row provides; Peter Hitchens  explicitly does the 'in sorrow not in anger' approach....the main religions are currently experiencing massive expansion across most of the world. One of the biggest drivers of growth is China; by 2050 it could be the biggest Muslim nation, and the biggest Christian one. What numerous countries are now demonstrating from the US to Asia, from Africa to the Middle East and Latin America, is that modernisation, far from entailing secularisation, is actually leading to increased and intensified forms of religiosity....The great mistake the atheists made is to claim that religion started out as a clumsy stab at science – trying to explain how the world worked – and is now clearly redundant. That misses the point entirely: religion is not about explaining how an earthquake or flood happens; rather it offers meanings for such events....The second mistake made by the atheists is the assumption that faith and belief are mental processes akin to opinion....The paradox of New Atheism is that in its bid to make religion unacceptable, it has contributed to making it a subject that is considered worth talking about again."

Happy Wary Vigilance Day! - PZ Myers (another thing not to believe in) I don't believe in Thanksgiving Day....The universe is cold and uncaring. You may be grateful that you weren't vaporized by a meteor falling out of the sky this year, but there's no agent out there who will feel pleased that you noticed, and the fact of your general relief that your existence continues will not be a factor in the motion of space rocks in the next year. I am happy that the microbes didn't turn me into a pile of putrefying goo yet, but it wasn't an act of thoughtful kindness on their part, since the little bastards are doing their best to get past my defenses all the time, and all that's keeping them at bay is my constant expenditure of energy to keep my immune system at readiness.

The Reason Project Devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America.

the brights Defending a naturalistic view of reality.

The Rational Response Squad

Freedom from Religion foundation

Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers Yes, there are atheists in foxholes!

newatheism.org

blasphemy.ie

Atheism as a Stealth Religion by David Sloan Wilson

D. S. Wilson on atheism as stealth religion by Massimo Pigliucci

video

books and articles

Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion Houghton Mifflin.

Dennett, Daniel. (2006). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Viking Press.

Harris, Sam. (2005). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton.

Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion (1927).

Hecht, Jennifer Michael. 2004.  Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. HarperOne.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2007. The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever. Da Capo Press.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2009. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan (1651), ch. XII, "Of Religion."

Jacoby, Susan. (2005). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Owl Books.

Lalli, Nica. 2007. Nothing - something to believe in. Prometheus.

Mandell, David M. 2008. Atheist Acrimonious. Vervante.

Martin, Michael and Ricki Monnier. Editors. (2006). The Improbability of God. Prometheus.

Newberg, Andrew M.D., Eugene G. D'Aquili and Vince Rause. Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Ballantine Books, 2001).

Park, Robert L. (2008). Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Princeton University Press.

Paulos, John Allen. (2007). Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up. Hill and Wang.

Persinger, Michael. Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs (Praeger Pub Text., 1987).

Russell, Bertrand Arthur. Why I Am Not a Christian, and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (Simon & Schuster, 1977).

Smith, Homer. Man and His Gods, foreword by Albert Einstein (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1952).

Spinoza, Baruch de. Theologico-Political Treatise (1670).

Stenger, Victor. (2007). God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Prometheus.

Stenger, Victor. (2009). The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. Prometheus.

news stories

new Clergy told to take on the 'new atheists' A report endorsed by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, warns that the Anglican Church faces a battle to prevent faith being seen as "a social problem" and says the next five years are set to be a period of "exceptional challenge." [/new]

Christopher Hitchens Diagnosed with Cancer, Cancels Book Tour Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer of the esophagus and has canceled the remainder of his tour in support of his new memoir, Hitch-22. I am reading the memoir and can attest to its value as a record of the best and worst of our times, written by someone who cares about his subjects and the words he uses to vivify them.

Militant atheist Harry Taylor hit with ASBO for offensive images in John Lennon airport Taylor, 59, was hit with a five-year ASBO for putting "grossly offensive religious images" in a prayer room at Liverpool's John Lennon airport. Taylor claimed he felt faint and had to be given first aid after he was told by Judge Charles James his crimes deserved imprisonment and ruled he should pay £250 costs. James suspended a six-month sentence for two years, but imposed the ASBO, which bans Taylor from carrying religiously offensive material in a public place. An ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order) is a civil order made against a person who has been shown to have engaged in anti-social behavior in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland.*

The offending material included pictures depicting figures from Christianity and Islam in sexual poses. Taylor said he was simply practicing his own religion of “reason and rationality” and was hoping to convert people.

Lodi council prayers put city in the hot seat (The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the members of the Lodi, CA, city council about their habit of praying before council meetings. "The prayers currently given during Council meetings impermissibly advance Christianity and lead a reasonable observer to believe that the Council is endorsing not only religion over nonreligion but also Christianity over other faiths," the May 21 letter states. The mayor of Lodi said the prayers, always led by a Christian pastor, usually call on God to guide their government leaders and pray for the safety of law enforcement officials and for the community to work together.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is based in Wisconsin and it is opposed by a Colorado-based group called the Pray in Jesus Name Project, whose leader claims invoking Jesus' name to open a public civic meeting is a freedom of speech issue. A professor of constitutional law said that the invocations might be considered an endorsement of religion. Some might call praying for guidance on potholes and sewer lines a waste-of-time issue.)

McAleese signs Bills into law (Ireland's President Mary McAleese signs a bill that "aims to encourage quicker apologies from publishers and renews the offence of blasphemy provided for under 1960s legislation." The blasphemy provisions of the Defamation Bill make it an offense to cause outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of a religion by intentionally publishing material that grossly abuses or insults matters held sacred by their religion.*)

Lungren plan for 'God' inscription on U.S. building sparks suit (Rep. Dan Lungren wants Congress to spend nearly $100,000 to engrave the words "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance (including the words "under God") in prominent spots at the new Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. has filed a lawsuit to stop the engraving, accusing Lungren of trying to force his religious beliefs on millions of Americans who don't put their trust in any gods.)

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Sacramento Bee about Lungren. Note how the Bee distorts my point by its inflammatory and misleading header:

Keep your deity out of my face

Re "Sparks fly over word 'God' " (Capitol & California, July 21): I am writing about Dan Lungren's proposal to inscribe "In God [sic] We Trust" in the new U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. The sparks are flying not so much over the word "God" as the word "we." Those of us who do not trust in any gods are also Americans.

Lungren is welcome to trust in whatever god he wants, but those of us who don't share his views object to the government implying that we do.

– Bob Carroll, Davis

The Secular Coalition of America reports that its attempt to stop the engraving of "In God We Trust" on the walls of the new Capitol Visitor's Center has failed. Only eight members of Congress voted against the engraving.

Last updated 18-Feb-2012

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