What’s new about the Gnus

Over at Choice in Dying, Eric MacDonald, ex-Anglican priest, offers his take about why the New Atheism is new.  As expected, he’s exercised about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s frantic call for Anglicans to pwn New Atheists.  Be sure to read Eric’s whole post; I’ve put just a few excerpts here:

What we think is there is no confident knowledge of ultimate reality to be had. It even wonders whether there is a decent use for that word ‘ultimate’ until someone has spotted it, and has given us some reason for thinking it ultimate (whatever Shook takes ‘ultimate’ to mean). Indeed, this is just where I see the newness in the New Atheists. We no longer think it makes sense to speak in terms of ultimacy. What would ultimate reality look like if we found it? There’s no way of telling, because one person’s ultimate reality is another person’s mystery. And mystery, whatever else it is, does not even suggest reality. It just means that we don’t know. . .

. . And this is also why the kind of thing that Jerry Coyne objects today about the American Association for the Advancement of Science getting involved in accommodation with religious beliefs is a particular concern of the New Atheism. As we know from so many attacks on New Atheism, this concern about accommodationism is taken as evidence of New Atheism’s intransigence and stridency; but it’s really about protecting the realm of the rational from contamination.

I always sound so much smarter when Eric paraphrases me!

His stirring close (I like the title of the book!):

It is, I think, significant that the Archbishop of Canterbury should speak about the New Atheism. He suggests that this is an intolerant form of atheism. It is certainly, at least, on his radar screen. But what he says is simply wrong, and the archbishop has misunderstood. What seems to him to be intolerance is a fairly new and fairly blunt claim, and that is that there is simply no basis at all for making the metaphysical or moral claims that religions make. We are not saying that there is insufficient evidence, but that we have seen no evidence on which to base religious claims. Religion has human fingerprints all over it, but so far no one has come close to showing that there might be more than this world and ourselves in it, with all the other animals, plants and inanimate objects of which is composed. We may always, with good reason, since this is the way reason works, keep an open mind about this. It may be that in time to come, evidence will be found which will indicate that the New Atheism was all a mistake, and, if there are any of us left, we will have, abjectly, to apologise; but none of us really thinks this is a remote possibility, and most would probably be willing to write a book with the title: Why Atheism is True. And that, gentle readers, is why it is new.

76 Comments

  1. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    “And mystery, whatever else it is, does not even suggest reality. It just means that we don’t know. . .”

    Yes. This is where the preternatural vs. supernatural distinction is worth noting.

  2. Veronica Abbass
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I like the fact that he has called us “gentle readers.”

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      So do I–a more gentlemanly writer is not to be found. I dare the accomodationists to fault Mr. MacDonald for his “tone”, or call him “shrill”.

  3. TheBlackCat
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I personally disagree. As far as I am concerned, the only thing “New” about the “New Atheists” is that people are listening. The claims being made are the same that have been made for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But most everyday people didn’t pay attention before.

    However, they are paying attention now. Books that used to released quietly and posthumously are now at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. Atheists that used to keep their opinions to themselves out of fear are now speaking out. Self-declared non-believers are the fastest growing “religious” denomination in both the U.S. and the world (although this is probably a combination of legitimate changes in demographics and non-believers being more comfortable about speaking out).

    I think that is what bothers religious people so much. The message doesn’t matter, the evidence doesn’t matter, the arguments don’t matter, even the tone doesn’t matter. What matters is that people are actually paying attention.

    The absolute last thing religious leaders want is for people to find out you can be a happy, motivated, moral, well-adjusted person without religion. They have been trying to portray atheists as the exact opposite, and believers have accepted it because they never heard otherwise. For people who don’t have strong religious feelings, this is the only way to keep them around, to make them think that they will be miserable without religion.

    That, I think, is the reason for the focus on tone. The message isn’t important, religious leaders know and have known for a long time that they have no answer to the atheists claims. Their only choice is to demonize their opponents. That was easy to do when atheists kept to themselves. That meant there weren’t any real examples that people could compare to in order to see if the claims of their religious leaders were true.

    But now that people can actually see what atheists are really like, the old arguments don’t work anymore. Focusing on tone is really all their is left. It doesn’t matter how nice atheists were to actually behave, as long as they are visible tone is really the only thing that religious leaders can pin on then.

    And that, I think, is why accommodationism can’t work. The only way to actually satisfy religious leaders about tone is to not be visible at all, because that would allow them to go back to spreading any lies they want about us.

    So to me at least, the choice is not between having a nice tone and have a not nice tone, the choice is between being criticized for having a nasty tone, or being criticized for being nihilistic, depressed, amoral, unmotivated, unhappy, and without hope.

    • eheffa
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Great observations Black Cat. I appreciate your comments.

      -evan

    • sasqwatch
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Another “new” bit seems to me to be that gem from the 5th Gnu of the apocalypse, Victor Stenger — and that’s the idea that absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence. (at least when you can expect evidence)

      Perhaps this is way older than the Gnus as well…? In any case, it’s a great tool to wield against those that say science can’t touch religious claims. It can and does all the time.

      • locutus7
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        I consider Vic the 5th Horseman. He has done much in his books to dismantle the need for belief.

        His book on New Atheism serves as an excellent primer for those (no one in this audience, I’m sure) who are dipping their toes into the Gnu phenomenon.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        the idea that absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence. (at least when you can expect evidence)

        That is an excellent way of putting it!

        This, like the likewise false idea that “you can’t prove a negative” is a deepity – one meaning trivially true (if you don’t have any a priori expectations respectively if you want to prove) but the profound sounding meaning false (since in science we test on predicted expectations, instead of “prove” axiomatically).

        [So I learned a new word today, deepity. Had to take it for a test drive. :-D]

        I have no idea if they stem from philosophy, theology or “common sense” descriptions confused with the former. However these and other stuff you positively have to wade through before you can get to descriptions of what actually happens in science. I assume there could be many books written about these hindrances for basic understanding.

        • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

          “Deepity” is an *awesome* word– and religious-speak is full of Deepities…(thank you, Dan Dennett–at least, that’s where I heard that word first).

        • sasqwatch
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

          Exactly — “God: The Failed Hypothesis” encapsulates this argument. However, I cannot recommend highly enough his book “Timeless Reality”. It touches on the same theme, at the same time applying it to the failed premises (?) of John Polkinghorne.

          It absolutely decimates all the fine-tuning junk, and does so for anybody with a pretty good knowledge of advanced high school algebra. Some stuff has to be taken by faith for people with inadequate training in physics, but the path to adequate knowledge is provided in the appendices – and without having to know math better than high school algebra. It is really a phenomenal work. If you really want to work on it, faith is not required.

          Essentially, the fine-tuning argument gets torn apart due to Polkinghorne’s (unwitting? let’s be charitable) deceptive use of apparently deep decimal-place precision that depends mostly on choice of units. The upshot is that symmetry-breaking and choice of units, in and of itself (and the point in macroscopic history that we find ourselves), is responsible for the appearance of fine-tuning of parameters that supposedly “allow” things to exist.

          In reality (hello Occam, Ockham, etc.) we seem to exist in a path-of-least-resistance (low energy consequence) of a reality due to various kinds of symmetry-breaking and little else.

          An even-cooler part of this is that you can do away with higher-dimensional (superstring) and multiverse gibberish merely by giving up the concept of TIME, as currently modeled on the quantum level. If time is a consequence of entropy, that leaves you with only entropy as a guiding principle – the result of which is an illusion of time on the macroscopic level.

          It’s great shit. And he admits that none of what he presents in “Timeless Reality” (the timeless math symmetry-breaking part of it) is anything new. It has all been worked out since the mid seventies or so (mostly by Feynman).

          It’s like a user’s manual of the universe… it presents a consistent way of modeling reality without invoking multiverses, reverse-causality craziness, or uber-dimensional string gobbledygook — leaves you with a plausible 3D(micro)-4D(macro) scenario of a universe, timeless on the quark level. And it looks exactly like the shit had to happen that way by itself.

          http://www.amazon.com/Timeless-Reality-Symmetry-Simplicity-Universes/dp/1573928593

          • sasqwatch
            Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

            Now THAT’S Gnu, methinks.

    • JS1685
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Preach it!

      I wouldn’t say there’s a “New” atheism, and I thought most of us agreed about that – hence the flippant, pun-y re-appellation “gnu.”

      And that, I think, is why accommodationism can’t work. The only way to actually satisfy religious leaders about tone is to not be visible at all…

      I’ve been saying this for as long as I can remember. When religionists call for respect, they are in fact demanding total acquiescence.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Excellent observation, BlackCat, and great handle to boot. (Puss ‘n’ Boots, that is!)

      I was raised to be “polite” about religious sensibilities, which equates to shutting up to teh KraZy. Religious criticism is, in their eyes, intolerance.

      Well, I, along with Bishop Spong, by the way, believe it’s time to put up our childish toys.

    • Marella
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      On the Atheist Experience on Sunday a bloke rang up from a local church to talk to the presenters saying that kids from his church were being led astray by the show and he wanted to complain. Unfortunately they were having trouble with the audio so it got cut short but I think this is what the anxiety about the Gnus comes down to. The kids are listening.

      • Posted February 8, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        I was in the studio during Sunday’s show, and although we were having trouble with the audio, this guy didn’t get disconnected. He hung up, probably because he sensed impending pwnage at the hands of two of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. I hope The Stone Church in Austin continues to call the show, and it’s always good to know the kids are watching. 🙂

        • Andy Dufresne
          Posted February 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

          As soon as the guy invoked Matt Slick, regular viewers of the show knew that pwnage wasn’t far away. Too bad he hung up.

          It is nice to know the kids are watching, though.

    • Ivo
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      “Books that used to released quietly and posthumously are now at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. Atheists that used to keep their opinions to themselves out of fear are now speaking out.”

      Well, mainly true, but don’t forget that such an Old Atheist like the author of “Why I Am Not a Christian” got the Nobel for literature (23 years later). I guess *European* Gnu Atheism made an earlier start 🙂

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      “The absolute last thing religious leaders want is for people to find out you can be a happy, motivated, moral, well-adjusted person without religion.”

      Precisely.

      No corporation with a monopoly wants their consumer base to become aware of an alternative product that performs the exact same function but more efficiently and at a considerably lower cost. Said corporation might not even believe their product is the best; they just want consumers to think it’s the only product of its kind.

  4. daveau
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I think what’s new is that we’re demanding actual evidence now, instead of a philosophical discussion. I imagine that after centuries of having it their own way, and never having to support their thesis with more than wand waving, they are quite put out. Liars.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Gnus are exposing the lemons at the non-corporeal car dealership. We’re witnessing religion’s last ditch effort to gussy up the nonventory before it disappears on the showroom floor.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        The “nonventory”–HA! I am so stealing that… 🙂

  5. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    As far as I am concerned, the only thing “New” about the “New Atheists” is that people are listening.

    Amen.

    Me and my banging of the zombie intestines drum? Jefferson banged that same drum when he wrote to Adams, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” A couple millennia earlier still, Epicurus destroyed the concept of theodicy centuries before the fabrication of Christianity.

    Of the Four Horsemen, for all their collective eloquence, only Dawkins has had any significant original contributions — and those have all been in biology, not atheism. Harris might bear fruit with his efforts at formalizing morality. But their atheology? Not a bit of it is even remotely original.

    And why should it be? Theology evolved not one whit between the Bronze Age and Spinoza — at which time Spinoza utterly destroyed it.

    Cheers,

    b&

  6. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I think I’ve written here before that I was a Believer– I mean a real hard core believer most of my life. I had a friend in high school who was an atheist and I just couldn’t believe he was happy. He died in a car accident and I was riddled with guilt (he was in hell after all and it was my fault!). Years passed and I went to seminary– Denver Theological Seminary where I began to find out how much of what I had learned as a child and young adult was really a lie that they twisted around or made up or just covered up… (I was already quite liberal for a conservative seminary so that only exacerbated things). I was studying Old Testament Theology and was finally astounded by the lack of evidence for anything. I was pretty undone by it all but I woke up and found out that I was okay. What finally gave me steady ground was the so-called New Atheists speaking out. I read “Letters to a Christian Nation” and “god is not Great” and I finally realized I was okay and I would be okay. I had always been told I’d fall into some kind of horrible chasm without religion as a foundation and I had no other reason to really believe otherwise. So, thank the god I no longer believe in for the “new” atheism that is now more vocal!

    • Dean Buchanan
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Thank you for sharing your experiences Danette. I am always heartened to read stories like yours…the struggle can seem impossibly hard and scary, then, one day, we look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

      I think we must carry our new understanding out to the greater society, hopefully helping some others free themselves of religion, and improving their thinking skills.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      In my liberal Christian days in my early 90’s, I remember visiting relatives who were in a fundie preaching school and, when I’d had enough of the incessant church talk, going to a local B&N bookstore and finding a copy of “The Book Your Church Doesn’t Want You to Read”. It was well titled, and it made me question even the watered-down Christianity that I still held to. But the holding didn’t last.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        You’re in your late 90s now are you?

        I’m guessing you actually meant ‘the’ late 90s.

        :- )

        • daveau
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          Ray is clearly just rejecting the Julian calendar. We need to be more tolerant of people who are different from us.

          • Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

            Who’s we, kemosabe?

            • Dominic
              Posted February 8, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

              The royal “we”!

    • Dominic
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Not everyone who loses ‘faith’ as they call it, feels able to openly change as you did. I hope that you were not rejected by lots of people because of your changed world view.

      “Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.” Epicurus. A wise man.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        I was actually rejected by most everyone I knew. Initially there were family confrontations and then the family cut me off. Now we don’t speak. Friends definitely weren’t interested in my and the one friend who hung around was quite bizarre for a long time. It was tough for a long time but I have new friends and a new life now and I don’t care anymore.

        • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

          That took strength and courage, Danette, and I salute you for it. Thank you for sharing your experience–the more that people with experiences like yours share them openly, the easier it will be for others behind you on the path to continue down it to freedom.

        • Dominic
          Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:15 am | Permalink

          So much for christian bloody charity. Seems to me they don’t even get the message they preach – ‘god is love’. You are better off without them.

  7. Wildhog
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Theblackcat said what I was going to: there is nothing new about the new atheists. Read robert Ingersol, for example. He even went so far as to say that science and religion cannot “be friends”, an idea that many seem to think is new.

    what’s new to the equation is the Internet, which allows ideas to be discussed, evaluated, and attacked with an ease and frequency that didn’t happen before.

  8. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    [S]o far no one has come close to showing that there might be more than this world and ourselves in it, with all the other animals, plants and inanimate objects of which is composed… It may be that in time to come, evidence will be found which will indicate that the New Atheism was all a mistake, and, if there are any of us left, we will have, abjectly, to apologise; but none of us really thinks this is a remote possibility

    (emph. mine)

    Bravo! Yes! This is exactly what I would say. All “facts” are tentative, in the sense that evidence might overturn them, but the evidence supporting philosophical naturalism is so ridiculously strong, it would be easier to convince me, say, to accept a geocentric model of the universe than to get me to reject the materialist worldview. I don’t take materialism on faith, but I feel that there is stronger evidence of that proposition than virtually anything else in my life.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      I also have to say, one thing I love about that quote is the way that Eric has inserted “abjectly” in a rather awkward way. It would have flowed more easily as “we will have to abjectly apologize” — but the thing about this statement is that we are committing ourselves so fully to this (seemingly obvious) approach that if we turn out to be wrong, we’d really have to apologize for being wrong if we were. The awkward placement of “abject” emphasizes it in a really nice way.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        And yet I’ve just commented there that in fact we wouldn’t have to apologize. It’s not our fault that we haven’t seen any evidence. If there were any to see, we can be sure the goddists would have made damn sure we saw it.

        • locutus7
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          Precisely. No apologies required on our part.

        • Marella
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          Yes, this is related to the old question ‘What are you going to say to god if you get to heaven and there he is?’

          The best answer I’ve heard is ‘It depends how good his apology is.’ There is also ‘Not enough evidence god, not enough evidence.’ But my answer would be ‘What the fuck were you thinking?’

          • Posted February 8, 2011 at 5:12 am | Permalink

            God: “I have sent my Son for the Remission of Sins…”

            Me: “You wish to apologize to me? Very well, I accept.”

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Or perhaps he was just trying to avoid splitting the infinitive. (Not that I think there’s anything wrong with splitting infinitives. But Eric might.)

        • Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

          Sadly, some of us avoid splitting infinitives, not because there’s anything wrong with them, but to avoid attracting comment from people who object to them. In this case he could have more smoothly said “to apologise abjectly”.

          But I agree with those who say we wouldn’t need to apologise, any more than pre-Darwin creationists need to apologise.

          • Andy Dufresne
            Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

            Sadly, some of us avoid splitting infinitives, not because there’s anything wrong with them, but to avoid attracting comment from people who object to them.

            Me too. I think that’s very common. Splitting infinitives—like ending a sentence with a preposition—is one of those rules that some grammarians look upon as almost unnecessary, a rule (seemingly) without a reason.

            • Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

              I split infinitives and end sentences with prepositions. I fear not the obloquy of the mob.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

              Way off topic, but regarding sentence-ending prepositions, there’s a bit in David Carkeet’s novel The Full Catastrophe about a kid whose dad has started upstairs with the wrong bedtime reading, so the kid says, “Dad! What are you bringing that book I don’t want to be read to from out of up for?”

              • Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

                …delighted by the sudden grammatical swerve this conversation has taken–I feel like I’m sitting down to a nice, family dinner :-)) I *like* Mr. MacDonald’s placement of “abjectly”–you have to pause before you say it, which makes the word pop out.

      • JS1685
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Split infinitives ALWAYS seem more awkward to me. I suppose, however, that it is I who needs to really loosen up. 😉

  9. Dominic
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Well said Eric.

    Rowan Williams seems an affable enough chap but surely with all that facial hair & those EYBROWS the Archbishop must be some sort of hybrid!?

    His cri de cour is a mark of the desperate situation the Anglican church finds itself in; clergy leaving to join the Romans; churches splitting off because thay hate gay people (vide Kenyan David Kato’s funeral – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/28/gay-activist-david-kato-funeral ); declining attendances in the UK etc etc.

  10. sasqwatch
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Is it just a coincidence that “Archbishop of Canterbury” is an anagram of “hypocrite for a subbranch” ?

    I think I might be on to something here.

    • daveau
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Is that an app, or do you have a lot of time on your hands?

      • sasqwatch
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        🙂 Way too busy to figure that out. I nav’ed to a website, looked for a few keywords, saw hypocrite, then rearranged the other words it found. Fits him nicely.

        • Dominic
          Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:16 am | Permalink

          Very good!

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      But the poor man is not a hypocrite. He really believes whatever it is he says he believes.

      • sasqwatch
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        He was hypocritical about being tolerant of Dawkins in an interview with him. Then the pissant just reared up and went pfffzsst, pfffzsst the second the bandwagon presented itself.

      • Marella
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

        How do you know? He has a huge vested interest in ‘believing’. Do you really think he would announce his error if he lost his faith? I don’t.

        • Dominic
          Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink

          Maybe he’s a hypocaust?! Full of hot air…

  11. Scott
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    “Why Atheism is True” is a great name for a book, who is going to write it????

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      I dibs!

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        Waiting in line!! (for Ophelia’s book…)

    • Andy Dufresne
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      How about a gnu atheist children’s book? Just think: A fun-loving wildebeest forms an unlikely friendship with a crocoduck, and the two proceed to learn critical thinking from their efforts to evade the evil poacher named Pascal. I wonder what the title should be…

      • TrineBM
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        A fun-loving wildebeest forms an unlikely friendship with a crocoduck, and the two proceed to learn critical thinking from their efforts to evade the evil poacher named Pascal.

        Shouldn’t it be:
        …forms a friendship with an unlikely crocoduck… ?

        • Andy Dufresne
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          Indeed.

      • Marella
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Obviously the crocoduck and Pascal try to inveigle the Gnu into gambling with them, Pascal offers the Gnu a wager … the Gnu realises that gambling is immoral because it leads to a diminution of his welfare and goes off to help his friend the archeopteryx who is trying to learn to fly. 🙂

  12. Egbert
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    The Anglican’s argument is for special rights, that they somehow deserve the special privilege of being centre stage in the life of Britain, while the culture of secularism wants to take away special privileges, for equal rights and rightly so. What the new atheists want is a kind of muscular liberalism or muscular secularism (perhaps neo-secularism), which pushes religion out of public life altogether and make it a private concern.

    If I could use the example of smoking, smoking (in Britain) is banned in public places but individuals are still free to smoke in private if they so wish. Society recognises that smoking is harmful, but recognises the right of individuals to do harm to themselves if they choose. People are beginning to realise a conflict between individual freedoms and the freedom to inflict harm on others.

    Our basic argument against religion concludes that it’s harmful as well as untrue and therefore religion is an anti-social activity that is damaging to society. Anglicans seem to be arguing from the untenable position that they deserve special privileges, a position that appears doomed intellectually and practically.

    This realisation of the harm of religion and other forms of irrationality does not have to be philosophical or intellectual, and so Eric Macdonald and myself describe the newness of new atheism as like a new culture or global social movement, not only concerned with science and philosophy but a much broader movement concerned with the wellbeing within societies and between societies in general. That is why we disassociate ourselves with accommodationists who don’t recognise religion and other irrational forms as harmful, and why accommodationism contradicts a muscular secularist or neo-secularist agenda.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I like the smoking analogy. We should always and everywhere remind the religious that we fight superstition because it’s bad for people. Whenever someone starts handwringing about eternal souls, we should remind them that religion is ravaging corporal minds and bodies. We don’t fight religion just for shits and giggles. We fight it because it hurts people.

      For that matter, we should always remind ourselves of that fact when our empathy for the religious begins to flag a bit.

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

      Great analogy indeed.

      They make you helplessly addicted by creating an intense need which wasn’t originally there, which they then satisfy with a product of high cost, very little substance, no redeeming qualities and the potential to do great harm (though they do bring people together – four times a day, out back of the office in the stinky little area next to the bins).

  13. stvs
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Gnu atheist Socrates (5th c. BCE):

    What Jupiter? Do not trifle. There is no Jupiter. —Aristophanes’ The Clouds (5th c. BCE, tr. Hickie 1853, vol. 1, Perseus)

    There is, of course, nothing new about the “new” atheism. And since Machiavelli, there is nothing new about outspoken, open critiques of religion.

    What is new is the intellectual environment created by the spectacular confirmation of the material origin of human beings and the universe itself. I no longer must ward off the superstitious with a copy of Hume—I can just give them a web link to WMAP or the human genome, with all that that implies, and ask what their counter-evidence is. Hume is wonderful, but a picture of the Big Bang is a LOT more powerful. This is new. And obviously terrifying to religious leaders.

  14. Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    “the Archbishop of Canterbury’s frantic call for Anglicans to pwn New Atheists.”

    Isn’t that a little like planning a spontaneous demonstration? Can pwning be called for? Can you even recognise pwnage before it has happened? I’d have said there has to be an element of (schadenfreudian) surprise in pwning.

    I’m open to correction but I think you meant the Archbishop of Canterbury’s frantic call for Anglicans to nom New Atheists.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      I think Coyne has demonstrated over and over that either he doesn’t understand pwn, or he pwn its use (by destroying its meaning).

      • Marella
        Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        18 year old geek son;

        “you pwn someone by beating them either repeatedly and effortlessly or by beating them with an obscenely complicated and risky manoeuvre”

        I think the first method of pwnage is the relevant one in the case.

        • Marella
          Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

          And apparently it requires a worthy opponent too, it’s not pwnage if the opposition is a noob or just crap at the game.

  15. launchernet
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Please consider this my request for an advance copy of Jerry Coyne’s new book, “Why Atheism is True”.

  16. Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    The atheism is new because the conversation is so old. It doesn’t take a genius anymore. I guess it never did, but it takes special knowledge of sales tactics and peer pressure to understand the dark side of religion. These days, that knowledge is more accessible. So that’s why it’s new.

  17. Dean Buchanan
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    ‘Why Atheism is True’

    Benson, Ophelia
    Coyne, Jerry
    Dawkins, Richard
    Dennett, Daniel
    Egbert
    Grayling, Anthony
    Harris, Sam
    McDonald, Eric
    Myers, Paul
    Pinker, Steven
    Soup, Singularity
    Stinger, Victor
    Stollznow, Karen
    Thunderfoot
    Watson, Rebecca
    Zara, Steve

    Ok, I am tired now.

    • Dean Buchanan
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Hitchens, Christopher

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted February 8, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        Dillahunty, Matt
        Peeples, Jen
        Harris, Tracy
        etc…


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