Having trouble commenting? Read below

I’ve gotten a lot of emails over the last week from readers saying that they are having trouble commenting, with the most common complaint being that the “autofill”—your name and email address being automatically filled in when commenting on this site—no longer works.

I’m working on this issue, but here’s one thing you can try. What you want to do is clear from your browser the “cookies” connected with this site, but only from this site. Reader Michael, who’s helping out here, says this:


Browsers store information from websites in the form of cookies and a cache. This stored information helps web pages you’ve already visited load faster and remembers your personalized selections between visits (e.g., search location, page format, themes, language selection etc.). There are also other less ‘friendly’ cookies called 3rd party cookies that store data about your internet habits such as what sites you visit or the searches you’ve made. Sometimes, all this stored information can cause interference because a site may introduce a new updated cookie & the old version is still hanging around,  or a cookie is corrupted. The best move then is to delete all cookies for that site and they will reappear next time you use the site.


An advantage of using cookies is that they can keep you logged in a website so that you can skip the login page and quickly get to where you want. Facebook and Twitter’s cookies will let you do this, for instance. But if you delete a sites cookies you might find the login fields no longer autofill next visit for that site [other sites will be OK], just manually enter your details this one time & it will autofill from then on.

Before deleting cookies it is best to make sure you’re running latest version of the browser.

Me: Why do you want to delete your cookies?
Because the cookies a user has stored now [before deleting] contain an old cookie that may be conflict with a new cookie for example. I’m surmising that your WordPress or global WordPress has changed one or more cookies in the last few days & bollixed things up for users.
So, if you’re having a problem with autofill, check on your browser about how to delete site-specific cookes. The next time you comment, the autofill should start again and work fine from then on—if THAT is the problem.

I use Chrome, so I just Googled “delete specific cookies on Chrome,” and this is what I got:

Then, I searched for the name of this website in step 6, and got this.  I didn’t remove the six cookies for my site as I’m not having any problems, but this is what you should try if you’re having problems.

If this doesn’t work, or you have some other problem, please describe it below or email me. I have been talking to WordPress, and while they’re not always that helpful, they may be able to fix some people’s problems.

—The Management

Michael Shermer’s take on the question “Is New Atheism dead?”

The haters, shade-throwers, and draggers continue to publish articles saying that New Atheism is dead because the “self-appointed leaders” are all old white males who are alt-right-ish and bigoted, and because the movement itself, having failed to wed itself with social justice and embraced misogyny and conservatism instead, has driven away its adherents.

As I said yesterday, I think these accusations are arrant nonsense. I asked three of the surviving Horsepersons, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins, as well as New Atheist Steve Pinker, to weigh in on the question “Is New Atheism dead?”, and I posted their answers yesterday. (All said “no”, but some say it’s simply moved on or been absorbed into mainstream discourse.)

As part of my non-assiduous but continuing effort to document atheists’ answer to the question above, I also asked Michael Shermer, who sent the answer below. He’s quite keen to tout the contributions of Vic Stenger, who he thinks should have been included in the Gang of Four. Michael:

There are actually a lot of “new atheists” out there besides the “four horseman,” not the least of whom is you! To the list I would also add the late Victor Stenger, not just because his book God: The Failed Hypothesis also made it on the New York Times bestseller list in 2007 around the same time as the others, but because he brought physics into the question alongside philosophy (Dennett), biology (Dawkins), neuroscience (Harris), and journalism (Hitchens). It was always a mystery to me (and to Vic too, as he revealed to me) that he wasn’t considered one of the club, although I suppose for journalistic style reasons the “five horsemen” didn’t have the right ring to it.

A lot of us in the organized skeptical movement had been writing on God and religion for many years before the so-called “new” atheists, such as the philosopher Paul Kurtz (see especially his magnum opus The Transcendental Temptation), who was one of the founders of the modern skeptical and humanist movements. And, most notably, George Smith’s 1974 classic Atheism: The Case Against God is still in print (by Kurtz’ publishing company Prometheus Books).

I have been defending atheism and religious skepticism since we founded Skeptic in 1992, both through the magazine and in my books, and have continued the tradition throughout my nearly 18 years as a Scientific American columnist, for example on the rise of atheism.

. . . and the death of God. 

One problematic aspect of the “atheist” label is that believers and “faitheists” (as you so effectively call atheists who believe in belief—for others, of course), is that we allow others to define us by what we don’t believe. That will never suffice. We must define ourselves by what we do believe: science, philosophy, reason, logic, empiricism and all the tools of the scientific method, along with civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, and moral progress as a result of these components of our worldview, which might better be described as humanism or one of its variants: secular humanism, Enlightenment humanism, or as I’m now suggesting, Scientific Humanism, the subject of my final Scientific American column.

Defining ourselves by what we do believe prevents believers and faitheists from calling us “atheists” and then attacking whatever that word means to them, instead of what it means to us (namely, a lack of belief in a deity, full stop).

Caturday felid: The saga of Matthew Flinders and his cat Trim (and lagniappe)

Instead of the usual Caturday Felid trifecta, we have only one piece today, as it’s long.

Reader Peter sent this note: “Thought you might be interested in two pages. One about the discovery in London of Matthew Flinders grave, and cos of that, another about his life with Trim, the cat.”

Here’s the first article from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (click on screenshot):

Flinders’s remains were discovered buried under Euston station, and he was identified by the lead breastplate on his coffin:

But who was Flinders? This ABC article tells his story (note the cat on the statue):
From the ABC story (my emphasis):
In short, [Flinders] was the first person to circumnavigate Australia. As the ABC reports (my emphasis):

He joined the navy at 15 and served under William Bligh on a trip to Tahiti in 1791. He fought against the French in the naval battle of the Glorious First of June 1794, according to the Australian Museum.

Flinders sailed to Australia in 1795 to begin his survey work.

Shortly after his most famous voyage, Flinders was captured by the French on his return to England and held prisoner for more than six years.

Just four years later he died of kidney failure at the age of 40 — the day after the book detailing his circumnavigation of Australia was published.

The Australian Museum says Flinders was “an outstanding sailor, surveyor, navigator and scientist”.

After it became known French explorer Nicholas Baudin was planning to circumnavigate Australia, Flinders was sent out with his good friend George Bass to do it quicker than his French counterpart.

Historian Dave Hunt described the circumnavigation as a race.

“[Joseph] Banks says to Flinders, ‘I need somebody to go out and sail around the continent quicker than him’, so Flinders and [his cat] Trim are actually racing Baudin and his pet monkey around Australia [between] 1801 and 1803,” Mr Hunt explained to the ABC in the Rum Rebels and Ratbags podcast.

In 1801 Flinders began his circumnavigation of the continent, and was later accompanied by an Aboriginal translator, Bungaree, who he had worked alongside in 1789.

By 1803, Flinders had won, becoming the first person to circumnavigate Australia and identify it as a continent.

Mr Hunt says Flinders was also the first to seriously propose and popularise the name “Australia”for the continent he sailed around.

Before his most famous voyage, Flinders also circumnavigated Tasmania, proving it was separate from mainland Australia.

But WAIT! Who is this cat Trim?

And here’s the answer, showing that Trim was also one of the first mammals to circumnavigate Australia, and certainly the first nonhuman animal. This article tells the story of Trim, the intrepid SeaCat:

The story is long, including a shipwreck when Flinders and his men swam to safety with Trim, and Trim keeping the men in good spirits for the seven days until they were rescued.

Trim was born in 1799 on board HMS Reliance on Flinders’ voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay.

He was an adventurous spirit from the beginning; early on Trim fell overboard and had to swim to the boat and climb up a rope to safety.

Rachel Franks from the State Library of NSW said it was this act of bravery that caught Flinders’ attention.

“I think that he always had that determination,” she told Sarah Macdonald on ABC Radio’s Nightlife.

“I think Matthew quite liked his spirit and I think Trim quite liked [Flinders] as well.”

Flinders gave the small black and white cat the name Trim after the butler in Laurence Sterne’s book Tristram Shandy.

He described his feline friend as:

“One of the finest animals I ever saw … [his] robe was a clear jet black, with the exception of his four feet, which seemed to have been dipped in snow, and his under lip, which rivalled them in whiteness. He had also a white star on his breast.”

When Flinders undertook a mission to circumnavigate the southern continent in the ship Investigator, Trim was by his side.

Trim was said to be a cheeky cat, who would join the captain at his table and try to swipe food off the forks of others as they ate.

“He only stole food once,” Ms Franks said.

“Apparently there was a large piece of mutton that was a bit too tempting and he teamed up with another cat — they didn’t get very far.”

Trim would not have been the only cat on board Investigator; most ships kept a few cats onboard to catch rats and mice that could cause havoc by eating supplies or gnawing on ropes.

But Trim’s personality appears to have been bigger than the other ship cats.

Trim was a faithful friend to Flinders until the cat disappeared on Mauritius, possibly eaten by a slave, and Flinders wrote the following memorial:

“Thus perished my faithful intelligent Trim! The sporting, affectionate and useful companion of my voyages during four years.

“Never, my Trim, ‘to take thee all in all, shall I see thy like again’, but never wilt thou cease to be regretted by all who had the pleasure of knowing thee.

“And for thy affectionate master and friend, he promises thee, if ever he shall have the happiness to enjoy repose in his native country, under a thatched cottage surrounded by half an acre of land, to erect in the most retired corner a monument to perpetuate thy memory and record thy uncommon merits.”

Besides an entry on Purr-n-Fur UK, Trim has his own Wikipedia page, which shows that there are now many monuments to Trim (and Flinders) throughout the world. Here are a couple.

Statue of Trim with Flinders, in Donington, Lincolnshire, Flinders’ birthplace.


Trim’s statue by John Cornwell behind Matthew Flinders’s own in Sydney, Australia.


Plaque dedicated to Trim at Mitchell Library, Sydney


Trim. Flinders’ faithful boat cat. Port Lincoln, South Australia.


Trim, the boat cat. Port Lincoln

Isn’t that lovely? Finally, one bit of a long entry on Purr-n-Fur:

RIP Trim!


Lagniappe: a tweet found by Matthew.

And a note from reader Darrell Ernst. I’m surprised that he didn’t expect this. As he said:

Thought this might be good for a grin. We recently bought a new chair (and a pillow for it), but I’ve yet to be able to sit in it because the cat’s always on it!

Seriously, what cat wouldn’t make a beeline for a cushy chair and a fluffy pillow like that?


Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we hear from Tony Eales in Oz, who, on a trip to Borneo with other “citizen scientists”, produced a paper that you can read about here.  We benefit, too, by getting these pictures of mantises and phasmids (stick insects) from the same area. Tony’s notes are indented.

Continuing the arthropods I encountered in Borneo. This time some mantises and phasmids. The diversity of phasmids was truly amazing. On every night walk I think we would see one to three species that we had not encountered on previous nights. Such a variety of sizes and colours too!

Lots of insects mimic ants as first instar nymphs. This tiny newly hatched mantis was no exception.

This next large spectacular mantis I believe is Rhombodera cf basalis the Shield Mantis. It was very calm and friendly and a great photographic subject.

Phasmids came in all colours and shapes green, red, striped spikey thin fat large and small. I was particularly taken with these knobbly male and female small phasmids, only around 45-60mm long.


Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s Saturday, February 16, 2019 and, thanks to Big Almond, National Almond Day. And in North Korea it’s the Day of the Shining Star (Kim Jong-il’s Birthday). Here’s how it’s being celebrated as we speak:

The holiday begins on 16 February and lasts for two days. Celebrations are observed throughout the country. The capital, Pyongyang, has observances such as mass gymnastics, music performances, fireworks displays, military demonstrations, and mass dancing parties. Boulevards are lined up with flags and banners. Millions of people visit the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun where both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lay in state. Exhibitions of the orchid Kimjongilia take place. The orchid is named after Kim and has been cultivated to bloom around the Day of the Shining Star. Outside of Pyongyang, commemorations are not as lavish. The North Korean government often allocates more food and energy to the people on Day of the Shining Star than normally. Children are given candy, and it is one of the few occasions on which new members are admitted in the Korean Children’s Union. Vitaly Mansky’s 2015 documentary film Under the Sun chronicles the run up to such a ceremony on the Day of the Shining Star.

Government and business offices, banks, and retail close for the Day of the Shining Star. Weddings are commonly held on the Day of the Shining Star.

Here’s a brief video of the celebrations, and a heartbreaking bit at the end when relatives separated by the DMZ get a rare chance to meet.

On February 16, 1923, Howard Carter and his men finally unsealed the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Exactly 14 years later, Wallace H. Carothers received the United States patent for nylon. And yet, checking on this, Wikipedia says “DuPont obtained a patent for the polymer in September 1938.” We are all awaiting Greg’s article, “What’s the matter with Wikipedia?”, which will check the accuracy of some chosen sites.

Yes, it’s a thin day for news, although “President” Trump continues to wreak havoc in the U.S. going back to this day in 1968, the first 911 emergency telephone system went into operation, and, exactly ten years later, the first computer bulletin board—CBBS in Chicago—came into being.  On this day in 2005, the National Hockey League canceled the entire 2004-2005 season, and, one year later, the last MASH unit of the U.S. Army (“Mobile Army Surgical Hospital”) was decommissioned.

Notables born on this day include three scientists: Francis Galton (1822), Ernst Haeckel (1834), and Hugo de Vries (1848), as well as Margot Frank (1926), Sonny Bono (1935), Kim Jong-Il (1941; see above), Natalie Angier (1958), John McEnroe (1959), and The Weeknd (1990; real name Abel Makkonen Tesfaye. I can’t stand writing “The Weeknd”).

Those who expired on February 16 were few, or at least not so notable; they include Eddie Foy, Sr. (1928) and Leslie Gore (2015).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Andrzej is trying to play with Hili using a cat toy. Hili warns him off: as Malgorzata says, “Hili is not interested in any cat toys at all.”

Hili: Don’t play with that.
A: Why?
Hili:  Because I say so.
In Polish:
Hili: Nie baw się tym.
Ja: Dlaczego?
Hili: Bo ja tak mówię.

Look! I’m a patron! Feline Friends London, a lovely no-kill cat rescue, fostering, and adoption organization, will now become one of this website’s Official Charities™.  (You can donate here.) This weekend readers Laurie and Gethyn, the staff of the late espresso-drinking moggie Theo, will adopt from them a pair of black sister kittens.

Tweets from reader Nilou. First, biologist Adam Rutherford throws shade on otters! I’m not sure, as he implies, that otters can drown harbour seals. Otter necrophilia is disturbing, but ducks do it, too (they also drown females).

A very rare eight-legged (octopod) avocet:

From reader Barry: an extremely rude fox.

Tweets from Grania: look at this blue fungus!

And have a butchers at this helpful sea cat!

This is terminally cute.

An anti-vax tweet from the woman married to Bill Shine, Trump’s Deputy Chief of Communications. Jebus!

Tweets from Matthew, the first one touting a must-have book:

If you click on the photo, you’ll see that there really is a Brexit pizza.

Can you spot the moth? (Yes, there’s one in the photo.)

And this is a splendid beetle. Darwin would have been blown away:


Sam Harris weighs in on “Is New Atheism dead?”

Sam’s been busy, as I thought, but he did take the time to answer the question that I asked this morning: “Is New Atheism dead?”  His answer is below, and so we have three of the four living Horsepersons all answering “no”—along with Steve Pinker.

Here’s Sam’s take, which I’ll also add to this morning’s post so they will all be in once place. I’m putting this up separately because, without a separate email announcing it, nobody will see it as an addendum.

I’ve always been skeptical about the utility of identifying as an “atheist,” because it rarely seems helpful to heap the false assumptions that surround this term upon one’s own head. For this reason, I’ve never been eager to wear the label “new atheist” either.

However, there was something genuinely new about the “new atheism.” The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience. The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery. We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.

The new atheism has not disappeared. It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values. In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.


Cheetah urine may help save the species

The song at the beginning of this cheetah video shows what it would sound like if Barry White got involved in saving wildlife. Here’s a cool video from VICE about breeding cheetahs (Acinonyx jubata), and I hope they’re breeding them for release. I still get queasy about saving a species by keeping it permanently in captivity—especially a species in which individuals are evolved to lope and run.

What they do here is determine which male a female likes by exposing her to urine samples from diverse males. That will facilitate pairings that produce cubs.  Note that they collect the urine by putting a cologne—Calvin Klein’s “Obsession” (LOL)—on a urine-catching receptacle. Also note the female’s flehmen response, which you may have seen in your own cat.

The YouTube video:

The global cheetah population has plummeted over the last century. While zoo programs have made captive breeding a focus of their conservation efforts for endangered species, successful mating is a tricky dance. But inventive research has found that it may only take a few sterile gauzes soaked in urine to find that special someone to share the dance floor with.

h/t: Amy

Americans’ acceptance of evolution: does it depend on how you ask them?

One thing you learn from looking at surveys of American acceptance of evolution: the statistics vary dramatically depending on which organization asks the question. And it also depends on how the question is asked. About a week ago, a Pew Survey tested this by assessing acceptance of human evolution in two ways. Read their summary—and the whole survey, if you wish—at the website below (click on the screenshot):

Pew used to ask the evolution question in a two-step process. First, they asked if people thought humans had evolved over time or had existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Then, if they answered that humans had evolved, they asked those people whether they thought humans had evolved through natural, unguided, un-divine processes, or through processes guided or allowed by God.

They now test a new way, in which all three alternatives are given to people at once.  The results, shown below, differ pretty strikingly:

As you see, if you give people three alternatives at once, pure creationism falls from 31% to 18%, theistic (guided) evolution rises from 27% to 48%, and, surprisingly, unguided, natural evolution falls from 40% to 33%. Somehow Pew sees this as good news, though I don’t: if you lump those who see God directing evolution (a watered down form of creationism, like Behe’s) with de novo creationists, the total of non-“naturalists” under the new protocol is 66%, while it was 58% before. And there are 7% fewer people who accept naturalistic evolution under the new protocol.

But Pew, like many accommodationists, likes to see theistic evolutionists, for although they see God’s working in the process, at least they accept evolution. I’m not so charitable! Naturalism is naturalism, and what we see now are fewer naturalists than we thought. That’s not good news.

That said, giving all three alternatives at once does seem a better course, and Pew explains why this might affect the data:

The results of the new experiment indicate that there are some people who do believe that humans have evolved over time, but who, for whatever reason, did not say so in our traditional method of asking about the topic. Perhaps without the opportunity to immediately connect evolution to God, some religious respondents may be concerned that expressing belief in evolution places them uncomfortably on the secular side of a cultural divide.

That purports to explain the reduced proportion of pure de novo creationists, but does that really explain the increase in number of theistic evolutionists—those who think that evolution occurred but God had a hand in it? After all, are those people not still expressing faith in God?

In truth, I have no explanation for these results, and they should be repeated, but I’ll grant that how you ask questions, or who or how you do a survey, does affect the answer. Here, for example, are the Gallup poll data for the same issue: human evolution, divided into pure naturalists, creationists, and theistic evolutionists. Here they asked the three-part question that Pew favors, and have asked the question since 1982:

Yet the data from the most recent year (2017) differ strikingly from the Pew data, even with the identical three choices:

Pure de novo creationism:  Pew 18%, Gallup 38%
Theistic evolution: Pew 48%, Gallup 38%
Naturalistic evolution: Pew 33%, Gallup 19%

I have no explanation for these discrepancies, since the questions are virtually identical.

There is other interesting stuff, too, but I have work to do and will probably post on it in the next few days. But I wanted to put up one more figure from the Pew survey, which shows that religion poisons everything and that atheists are, as expected, the most avid acceptors of pure, naturalistic evolution. We don’t even like Theistic evolution!

Also, women, as expected, are more keen on creationism, as women are more religious than men. And, as always, older people are less accepting of naturalistic evolution, as are the less educated. The age effect may be due largely to younger people being less religious.

If the data below show anything, it’s that religion impedes acceptance of evolution. But we’ve known that for a long time, though organizations like the National Center for Science Education don’t like to admit it. After all, it shows that religion poisons the mind.

Read and be enlightened:

Here’s the cat!

Did you spot the cat?

This was one of those cases, at least for me, when the cat is obvious but you miss it. I’ve circled it below; it’s reclining on a tree branch.

The cat’s name is Cupcake, she’s part Siamese, and here she is:

Is New Atheism really dead? Four New Atheists respond

Three articles bashing New Atheism have recently been published (here, here, and here). I already criticized the Guardian piece, and am not going to waste my time on the others. After all, we know the tropes, which have been repeated ad infinitum: New Atheism used to be a lively and going concern, then four old white men (Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris [who’s not old]) arrogantly proclaimed themselves leaders of the movement, with at least three of those men being bigoted and/or misogynistic, as well as adherents to the alt-right (Dennett manages to escape those labels). That, goes the narrative, drove people away from New Atheism, an egress that could have been avoided if New Atheism had properly aligned itself with social justice. Now, because of the fault of its leaders and its rejection of wokeness, New Atheism is dead.

I don’t agree with this narrative on several grounds. Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris never proclaimed themselves “leaders of New Atheism”. They became spokespeople for atheism because they all had bestselling books and were also eloquent speakers.  They are not bigots or misogynists, though I admit that Dawkins was sometimes hamhanded in his use of Twitter. And it’s not that I don’t call out misogyny or sexual misconduct when I’m convinced that it has occurred, for I’ve done that with one “big name” among New Atheists. Further, my take on New Atheism was that it wasn’t really “new”, but a revival of old ideas suggested (often vigorously) by earlier nonbelievers like Ingersoll, Mencken, Russell, and Sagan. The only “new” aspect was that it was a revival of atheism offered to a new generation, and perhaps had a more intimate connection with science than previous incarnations. (A reader below suggests, correctly, I think, that these ideas were spread more widely because of the rise of the Internet.)

Finally, I don’t believe that “New Atheism” or its proponents are more bigoted, sexist, or “alt-right”ish than any other group of educated people. In fact, I think they’re less so. Yes, of course there will be some atheists who are sexists or bigots. No large barrel is free of such bad apples. But, at least in my experience, I haven’t seen the pervasive bigotry that’s supposedly associated with New Atheism—either at meetings or among prominent New Atheists, some of them friends with whom I’ve spent a lot of time. Anecdotes simply don’t make the case that New Atheism is palpably afflicted with these problems.

Of course one bigot and one incident of sexism is too many, and we should always strive to call this stuff out and treat people equally, but I don’t see these issues as especially prominent in New Atheism, nor do I think that bigotry and conservativism have driven many people away from the “movement”—if it is indeed a movement. Rather, the New Atheists had their say in the four books, which all sold well, their publication lit a fire that helped promote secularism in the West and elsewhere, and that fire is still burning and consuming belief. New Atheism isn’t dead; it’s just becoming a mainstream idea. (I’ll add that I’ve never heard anybody say, “Well, I’m going back to religion because I didn’t like Dawkins’s last tweet.”)

When I looked at those three articles again, dosing myself liberally with Pepto-Bismol as a palliative, I decided to email four people and ask them, without responding to the articles’ accusations, to tell me if they thought that the thesis of the articles was right—that is “Is New Atheism dead?” I’ve gotten three responses (well, 2.5), and haven’t yet heard back from the fourth person. Here are the responses, which I have permission to publish (and thanks to the responders):

Steve Pinker was not one of the “Four Horsemen”, but he’s certainly seen as a prominent New Atheist. Here’s his response:

The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion. I think of it not as a movement but as the overdue examination of an idea: Does a supernatural deity exist, and should our morality and politics be shaped by the belief that it does? For various reasons—the intrusion of theo-conservatism during the presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of militant Islam, an awareness of the psychological origins of supernatural beliefs, sheer coincidence—a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.” (I would not downplay coincidence as the explanation—random stochastic processes generate clusters of events by default.) Judged by degree of belief, the “new atheism” is not only not dead but it is winning: every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world, and the dropoff is particularly precipitous across the generations, as compared to just drifting with the zeitgeist or changing over the life cycle. This is reflected in laws and customs—homosexuality is being decriminalized in country after country, for example. These trends are masked in the public sphere by two forces pushing in the opposite direction: religious people have more babies, and religious communities turn out in elections and vote in lockstep for the more conservative candidate. If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was “Atheists should have more babies,” or “Atheists should form congregations and vote en masse for the same candidate,” then yes, it was an abject failure. But if it is “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.

Dan Dennett is one of the “Horsemen”, and he answered briefly.

We have said our piece, and the tidal wave of those abandoning religion keeps rolling on, growing and spreading, without any need of further encouragement from us. That’s how reason works: once you’ve said something true and persuasive, you don’t have to keep saying it again and again.  Our critics keep writing books and articles by the hundreds that disappear without a trace after a few days, convincing few if any. We’ve gone on to other topics.

Richard Dawkins said he wasn’t keen on responding to all these attacks (though I didn’t ask people to respond directly), and so I asked him if he had any answer to the claim that New Atheism is dead. He simply sent me a figure showing the UK sales of The God Delusion between 2006 and 2018, noting that the recent trend seems to be a pretty straight line. That also seems true, he noted, for American sales, though he didn’t have the exact figures. I also learned that there have been 13 million downloads (3 million in Saudi Arabia alone) for an illicit pdf of the Arabic translation of The God Delusion.

Here’s the graph I got (crikey, I wish I could sell a million books in the UK!)


When I asked Richard if he wanted to say anything else besides showing that figure, he just noted that there were at least 22 books (which he calls “fleas”) that were provoked by publication of The God Delusion, and sent me a picture of some of the “fleas”—adding that the name comes from a line in a poem by W. B. Yeats: “But was there ever a dog that praised his fleas?”

Ten of the 22 fleas:

My own take on the fleas is that they show that New Atheism was and is effective, and frightened the faithful into these many responses.  I’ll add that these books seem to have sunk without a trace: none, as far as I know, have achieved anywhere near the sales of The God Delusion.

So there you have it. I may survey some other prominent people associated with New Atheism and get their take as well. Watch this space.

But there’s one more question. Why do these atheist-bashing articles, which are all the same, keep appearing over and over again when New Atheism already made its mark and its major proponents have moved on to other issues? I’m not sure, and readers may want to weigh in.

I think some of the bashers are motivated by jealousy or hatred, others by the desire to get an article in a public place (liberal websites are always glad to bash atheism, even if nearly identical articles were published elsewhere), and some people may really feel that New Atheism is ridden with alt-rightism and bigotry, though I disagree. I invite you to respond below.


Addendum: I heard this evening from Sam Harris, and has put his response (“no”) in a new post, but am adding it here for completeness. We now have all surviving Horsepersons weighing in, as well as Steve Pinker. Sam’s take:

I’ve always been skeptical about the utility of identifying as an “atheist,” because it rarely seems helpful to heap the false assumptions that surround this term upon one’s own head. For this reason, I’ve never been eager to wear the label “new atheist” either.
However, there was something genuinely new about the “new atheism.” The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience. The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery. We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.
The new atheism has not disappeared. It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values. In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.