National Review pronounces the death of New Atheism

 National Review, founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley, Jr., was a widely read magazine—probably the most important such organ for American conservatives. It has an online version, and I really should be reading it (all of us should read at least one site or magazine that opposes our own philosophy); it came to my attention only when it took out after me for my views on infant euthanasia.

Now, in a section called “The Corner”, which Wikipedia characterizes as representing “a select group of the site’s editors and affiliated writers”, there’s an interesting atheist-bashing piece,”What ever happened to the New Atheists?“, that makes three points, two of them half right and one dead wrong. Total evaluation: 1/3, or 33%, correct. Here are their points (in bold) and below them my responses; the article’s quotes are indented in my discussion:

1.) New Atheism is dead since it’s been rejected by both ends of the political spectrum.

2.) New Atheists are rejected by the Left because they criticize Islam, something that offends Leftist sentiments that favor the underdog and people of color.

3.) New Atheists are rejected by the Right because their arguments against God are silly and superficial.

Let’s take these one by one:

1.) There really isn’t a New Atheist movement; what we have are some people, like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and so on, who have gained renown (or, in the eyes of many, infamy).  What distinguishes New Atheists from Old Atheists is said to be that the former are anti-theistic: they explicitly criticize religion instead of keeping their nonbelief to themselves, and they give public talks and write bestselling books.

But the claim that anti-theism is dead is simply wrong; there are many people who criticize religion, and there’s plenty of evidence they’ve been effective rather than moribund. First, look at the testimony on Dawkins’s “Converts Corner“, which has 159 pages of individuals’ testimony on how Richard Dawkins not only helped people to accept evolution, but also to abandon their faith. These are more than just anecdotes: they’re data destroying the claim that Dawkins’s supposed “stridency” has actually prevented people from becoming nonbelievers. In contrast, there is not a jot or tittle of evidence for the claim that the New Atheists have, by their stridency, actually prevented “deconversion”, or hardened people in their rejection of evolution; there is no “Anti-converts Corner.”

And, as we know, America is becoming more secular over time; the religious believers who run the National Review are in the ever-waning minority. We can debate how much of this is due to the inevitable loss of faith in a progressing Western society (see Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature”), but I’m pretty sure that bestelling books like Dawkins’s “The God Delusion”, “The End of Faith” and “God is Not Great” helped this along, for many people cite these works as pivotal in destroying their religious belief.

But anti-theism is not new: many “Old Atheists”, like Robert Ingersoll, H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, and even Carl Sagan, were antitheistic.

At any rate, I don’t see “New Atheism” as a real movement. Yes, there are atheist meetings, but most of the organizations that actually accomplish things beyond mutually reinforcing nonbelief are secular and humanist organizations, and aren’t strongly anti-theistic. If “New Atheism” consists simply of its major exponents like Dawkins, Harris, and the late Chrisopher Hitchens, then it’s not a movement, but a collection of a few individuals.  If they vanished, anti-theism would remain. There are plenty of non-famous antitheists, for I’ve met them. These people, because they don’t have a public forum, are not demonized by the Left and have not been rejected by the Left. When people say that “New Atheism is dead”, they simply mean that its major figures have been vilified. That does not mean they’ve been ineffective, because they still pack meetings and talks, and their books remain best sellers. They are far more effective than the “non-strident” atheists who spend their time accusing New Atheists of white supremacy, racism, and misogyny (false accusations, by the way).

Now it is true that the major New Atheists have been demonized, with the possible exception of Dan Dennett: National Review says “The only actual philosopher of the bunch, [Dennett] is far too boring and ponderous to be noticed, let alone denounced, by anyone”. But that slur on Dennett is false. He’s neither boring nor unpopular!

It was inevitable that there would be criticisms of the New Atheists, for much of the “Silent Left” has a sneaking sympathy with religion, if for no reason other than faith is conceived as keeping the “little people” satisfied. Society, these people say, would fall apart without faith. (That’s false, too: viz., Scandinavia.)

I also feel that beyond this residual respect for religion, the accusations of stridency—along with the deliberate distortion of the words of people like Harris—are helped along by simple jealousy. Much of the criticism of New Atheists comes from those people who have not been successful in gaining the public ear (I won’t name them); and I think they’re simply envious.

2.) National Review is partly right when claiming that the Left has demonized New Atheists because they criticize Islam and see that faith as the most dangerous of going religions. As National Review argues:

Confirmation bias deserves at least a part of the blame. The New Atheists have long harbored an irrational fear of Christianity, but Christophobia doesn’t worry the Left. Combatting Islamophobia, however, is a progressive priority, and so it is noticed and addressed when it strikes.

However, the argument that the liberal obsession with Islamophobia stems from a healthy regard for the status of minorities only goes so far. As Michael Walzer, the socialist intellectual, has written in Dissent, “I frequently come across leftists who are more concerned with avoiding accusations of Islamophobia than they are with condemning Islamist zealotry.” There is a reason, after all, why many Democrats stubbornly and proudly refuse to say the words “Islamic terrorism,” preferring to speak of generalized “extremism.”

. . . New Atheism pleased the Left as long as it stuck to criticizing “God,” who was associated with the beliefs of President George W. Bush and his supporters. It was thus fun, rather than offensive, for Bill Maher to call “religion” ridiculous, because he was assumed to be talking about Christianity. Christopher Hitchens could call God a “dictator” and Heaven a “celestial North Korea,” and the Left would laugh. Berkeley students would not think to disinvite Richard Dawkins when he was saying “Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side: the side of faith and violence against the side of reason and discussion.”

Where the piece goes wrong is equating the Left as a whole with the Regressive Left. The latter folks do criticize people like Dawkins and Harris, but remain atheists. Yet there are plenty of Leftists who don’t criticize “New Atheism”, and it’s a flaw in the article that it doesn’t make the distinction between the Progressive and the Regressive Left. Also, while much of the vilification of New Atheist “leaders” comes from misguided Regressives who feel they’re virtuously protecting Muslims of color by attacking criticism of Islam, a lot of the public criticism is based on jealousy (indeed, Michael Ruse had admitted that he’s jealous, and that his books don’t sell as well as Dawkins’s.) Accusations of bigotry are confected to support the critics, leading to claims, always given without data, that women and ethnic minorities used to be fine with New Atheism but have left the “movement” in droves.

The unholy confluence between the progressive Left and the Right in criticizing Islam is real, but stems from different motives. The right doesn’t like Islam because it’s not Christianity, and because Muslims are said to endanger the American way of life. The Left doesn’t like Islam because it is both regressive and theocratic, and, for many adherents, promotes values inimical to social equality. (There is some agreement by both sides on the dangers that Islam poses to democracy.)

But this claim about why New Atheists are rejected by the Left is largely true, so long as we’re talking about the Regressive Left.

3.) The arguments of New Atheists against god and religion are neither superficial nor wrong; they’re based largely on a lack of evidence for the tenets of religious belief. The way National Review defends religion (they are, after all, conservative) is both interesting and familiar. They claim that New Atheists ignore Sophisticated Theology; that we don’t need evidence for God because it’s self evident; and that there is evidence for God in the “first cause argument”. I quote at length:

Truth be told, New Atheism was always fundamentally unserious. It does not even try to address the theistic arguments for the existence of God. Indeed, philosopher A.C. Grayling insists that atheists should not even bother with theology because they “reject the premise.” Our new “rationalists,” it turns out, will not even evaluate arguments that do not conform to their prejudices. Battering a fundamentalist straw-man with an equally fundamentalist materialism, New Atheism is one big category error. Over and over, its progenitors demand material proof for the existence of God, as if He were just another type of thing — a teacup, or perhaps an especially powerful computer. This confusion leads the New Atheists to favor the rather elementary infinite-regress argument: If God created everything, then who created God? But as the theologian David Bentley Hart replies:

“[God is] not a ‘supreme being,’ not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates. . . . Only a complete failure to grasp the most basic philosophical terms of the conversation could prompt this strange inversion of logic, by which the argument from infinite regress—traditionally and correctly regarded as the most powerful objection to pure materialism—is now treated as an irrefutable argument against belief in God.”

This is just an attempt to immunize religious belief against disproof by redefining god as “the infinite act of being”, but also to say that there simply has to be “a transcendent source of all existence and knowledge” because of the First Cause Argument.  Well, we already know the fallacies of the Infinite Regress (one being “Where did God come from?”), and the rest is the kind of gaseous piffle that Hart is prone to emit. And of course “New Atheists” do attack the theistic arguments for God’s existence; see “The God Delusion” or my own book, “Faith Versus Fact.”

The article continues:

The rest of the New Atheists’ arguments can be handled even more quickly. Dawkins sees God as a complex superbeing subject to natural evolution and then deems him to be statistically improbable. He may be right, but why he thinks he has in the process critiqued anything resembling “religion” is beyond me. Dennett, who endeavors mainly to show that religion is a natural phenomenon, seems to confuse his validation of a religious claim with its refutation. Hitchens offers no real argument and plenty of historical inaccuracies. He is generally content to list the bad deeds of believers, explain away or ignore the good deeds of other believers, and then pretend that he has somehow disproven Christianity. Harris, to quote David Bentley Hart once more, “declares all dogma pernicious, except his own thoroughly dogmatic attachment to nondualistic contemplative mysticism, of a sort which he mistakenly imagines he has discovered in one school of Tibetan Buddhism, and which (naturally) he characterizes as purely rational and scientific.”

This itself is a superficial and misleading analysis. If there’s one thing that really distinguishes New Atheism from Old Atheism, it’s the influence of science on the former. New Atheists say, “Where’s the  evidence that your religious beliefs are true, as opposed to the beliefs of other faiths?”

It is a perfectly valid critique of religion to ask “What’s the evidence for your truth claims?”, for at bottom all religions—save perhaps the numinous species espoused by people like Hart—are based on claims about reality.  If those claims are wrong—if Jesus wasn’t crucified and resurrected, if an angel didn’t dictate the Qur’an to Muhammad, if Joseph Smith didn’t really find those golden plates—then religion is based in lies and fairy tales. And where’s the convincing evidence for a divine being, one that takes a benevolent interest in our species?

That is a perfectly valid line of criticism, and one that National Review ignores. If religious truth claims are false, then religions are false, even though they usually come with a moral code that may be partly salubrious. Yet you can have an even better moral code without gods, and atheists—New and Old alike—do.

If New Atheism is really dead, why does it refuse to lie down? Religion will eventually go away, with a few pockets of resistance, and we see this happening before our eyes in poll after poll. People like David Bentley Hart and the editors of National Review may remain, bawling their faith in the wilderness, but the rest of us will find our solace in rationality rather than fairy tales.

119 Comments

  1. Ken Phelps
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Sophisticated theology is perhaps the most disingenuous act of obfuscation ever devised. At the bottom of near impenetrable layers of language, there is always the same thing: an argument from ignorance, however thickly plastered over with banalities.

    • Ullrich Fischer
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      … banalaties and pseudo-logic.

  2. Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I think the idea of ‘New Atheism’ was always rather daft. I see Wikipedia says it was only coined in 2006.

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      …speaking as an ‘old atheist’!

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        Let’s hear it for middle-aged atheism!

    • Ullrich Fischer
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      Yep. It was never new Atheism, it was merely a new generation of old, vocal atheists who refused to sit down and shut up about religion as demanded by the religious and their apologists.

  3. Kevin
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Politics is not a metric for atheism. Politicians are cowards until they renounce their own personal beliefs in superstitions (or at least tell the public honestly they are atheist, which many already are).

    Non-Christian right wing fanatics and libertarians generally like religion because they like having people around them remain ignorant and out of reach of money and power.

    I would say it is a valid point that the left has fallen to complete pieces with regard to atheism. Liberal politicians, in America, have become the shallowest of cowards, never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. So long as that continues New Atheism will have significant motivations to continue.

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      I had an instructive conversation with a self-described ‘left-wing’ atheist the other day. At one point, I said that a liberal democratic revolution in Saudi Arabia would solve a lot of the Islamic sectarian regional problems of the Middle East. He responded, “But it’s their country!” (meaning Muslims). The bloke couldn’t conceive that Muslims might want a secular state. (Mind you he did later approvingly draw my attention to a smear piece on Maajid Nawaz, one I hadn’t seen before. So he was that kind of a guy).

      • Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        This is an interesting observation about the evolution of the Left (I should really put it in quotation marks: “Left”). It’s relevant to Jerry’s point (2). My sense is, I could be wrong (I hope that I am wrong), that the greater part, the majority, of the Left has fallen for the arguments of the apologists of Islamic fundamentalism and sharia, and no longer is in favor of defeating Islamist extremism. There is, unfortunately, much evidence in favor of this assessment. Just one example: the popularity on campus for BDS and similar anti-democratic views cloaked in the mantra of “anti-imperialist”.

        • Historian
          Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

          Your statement that you think the majority of the Left does not now oppose Islamic fundamentalism is mere assertion. My view is the opposite, which is also an assertion. Unless there exists a reliable study or one is forthcoming the argument as to what proportion of the Left (which, by the way, needs to be defined) is a meaningless exercise. The views of some students on some campuses regarding the BDS tell us nothing about the larger population.

          • Historian
            Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

            I left out part of the sentence.

            … what proportion of the Left does not oppose Islamic extremism ..

            • Posted July 31, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

              Yes, we have two different assessments for which reliable data is hard to come by. And the problem of definition makes it more complicated. I’m not thinking, for example, of most people who voted for Hilary Clinton as “left”. Much of the left, including in her own party, despises her as right wing, same for the two terms of her husband. This, rather, in my estimation, is part of the “center” (even harder to define). I’m thinking of the left as that large and influential current that includes at one extreme the Evergreen Red Guards and like-minded all across academic, BDS, and then all the way over to the more mainstream that includes SPLC, and leading members of the Women’s March and like-minded who are oppose the fight against radical political Islam, calling it “Islamophobia”. The latter enjoys very broad support among people who self-identify as “left.” Like I said: I hope that I am wrong about my estimate.

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      “The Left” definitely has issues, but it is still orders of magnitude better than “The Right” when it comes to atheism.

      • Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        All it would take for the Christian Right to welcome sharia in the US would be for them to believe that thereby the Dajjal, the Islamic anti-Christ, had appeared. So bringing on the End Times. No doubt some Xtian in the world believes this. If not, I’ve just made up a new theology. Any followers?

  4. Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    A former (Christian) theist writes: I have found the so-called New Atheism incredibly, so to speak, helpful because of its embrace of modern scientific discovery and progress. Its emphasis on demanding evidence of the assertion-happy god-botherers is, in my view, the most powerful weapon at the disposal of humanists and secularists. As someone of a naturally liberal (and scientific) persuasion, the failure of some on the left to distinguish between attacking ideas and protecting the rights of those who disagree with us is an abject intellectual failure.

    • alexander
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      “the failure of some on the left to distinguish between attacking ideas and protecting the rights of those who disagree with us is an abject intellectual failure.”

      Should we protect the rights of people who aim to brainwash children at an early stage in their lives or the rights of people saying that religion gives them the right to subjugate women?

      • Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        I think they have the right to hold the views. They don’t have the right to have their views going unchallenged.

        • alexander
          Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

          So you agree they don’t have the right to implement those views. In this case we agree.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

            They have the right to try to implement those views through advocacy and the democratic process.

            What they don’t have is much chance of succeeding, not so long as those of us who oppose those views have the same rights of advocacy and access to democratic processes.

            • alexander
              Posted July 31, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

              Well, the do succeed, here in democratic Europe. A large number of immigrant women wear headscarves and the like, even at temperatures of 40 Celsius, and it is not their free choice.

            • Posted August 2, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

              It has been easy to circumvent the democratic process by PACs, Koch brothers, et al, and the supreme court decision that corporations are “people”. The amounts of money invested in far right politics in the last forty years is astounding, continues to grow, and seemingly can’t be countered by similar quantities of money from the other side. When fighting the wealthy energy industrialists such as coal, petroleum, etc. they’re hard to counter dollar for dollar at $5 to $25 a peon.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        Should we protect the rights of people who aim to brainwash children at an early stage in their lives or the rights of people saying that religion gives them the right to subjugate women?

        Rights belong to everybody; or else they are privileges, not rights. Notice that the alleged “rights” you mention come at the cost of someone else’s liberty.

        So yes, we should protect the human rights of everybody, including those we don’t like. We should also speak clearly about what is a human right and what is not.

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      “Old atheism” did the same. I recall when I first encountered the writings of Bertrand Russell, his passion for science, reason, the Enlightenment, sane argument and rational morality. Here was someone that had arrived at the same conclusions that I had, being a much more intelligent and articulate person. It was shelter from the storm.

      Atheism has always been moved by reason, but it was not until science came to be that it achieved full force. And I do believe that “the left” has no future if not in reason and science. The part that has been a prey to postmodernism is just the façade of the left without its truly humanistic bent. Much as Stalinism used the left as a façade to return to the darkest days of the czars starring Stalin.

  5. biz
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    “Religion will eventually go away, with a few pockets of resistance, and we see this happening before our eyes in poll after poll.”

    I’m not sure of this. Certainly there is a movement from Christianity to atheism in Western countries. However, consider this: by what factor do you think the Muslim birthrate is currently higher than the atheist birth + conversion rate a) worldwide and b) within Western countries?

    My guesses would be a) 4 and b) 2. Those are not long term winning numbers.

    The demographics of atheism are nuanced – the current value of the function itself is low, the current value of first time derivative rather high, but the second derivative is probably too low to ultimately win.

    • nicky
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Got a point, but it does not necessarily hold. Adhering to a religion is not an ‘inescapable genetic destiny’, it is nothing like, say, Huntington’s chorea. Many, if not most, atheists -new or old- were brought up as Christians or Muslims. Real lefties (as opposed to the Ctrl-lefties) should -and do-support ex-Muslims (and ex-Christians, even though they incur lesser threats).

      And shame on you Jerry! By not having children you have not only deprived some potential children of a fascinating father, but you have deprived the World of some fine little potential atheists! Shame on you! /s

  6. Craw
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    As I understood the term New Atheism, “New” just meant “Now more vocal about it”. In that sense NRO has a point. The deplatforming of Dawkins is clear proof. Strident atheism really is (now) unwelcome on the Left. It has never been very welcome on the Right. Sotto voce atheism is the new New Atheism.

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      You have read Mencken and Ingersoll and Russell, right?

      • Craw
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        I have read Russell and Mencken. I am not sure I understand your point. I believe both would be unwelcome in what you term the regressive left, and that those attacking Dawkins would attack Mencken and Russell.

        I think this is a real and substantive change in the nature of the left too, which was once welcoming of such forceful atheists and defenders of enlightenment principles.

        • Craw
          Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

          You wrote
          >>If there’s one thing that really distinguishes New Atheism from Old Atheism, it’s the influence of science on the former. New Atheists say, “Where’s the evidence that your religious beliefs are true, as opposed to the beliefs of other faiths?”<<

          I agree that the actual scientific content has changed as the science has changed, and that cognitive science for example plays a much larger role, but I think atheists have cited logic, reason, and science at least since Darwin. I recall Russell complaining about believing things there is absolutely no reason to believe are true. I am old enough to be an old atheist myself and to me the most substantive difference is the tone of the Four Horsemen: we should be out and proud and challenge religious influence more openly.

    • Posted August 2, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      “Strident atheism really is (now) unwelcome on the Left. It has never been very welcome on the Right.”

      Most of the atheists I know would not consider Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al “strident”.
      “Rational”, “knowledgable”, “passionate”: yes.
      They are open to information exchanges via discussion and debate whereas many on the other side are not.

      What is being called “stridency” in atheism is also present in the religious far right, and has been as long as I’ve been alive. In my younger years and in certain parts of the U.S. even now, verbalization of anything considered
      anti-Christian would have caused verbal attack, or worse. All that has changed is that more people are willing, and able, to be honest in expressing themselves, which may be viewed as “strident” by some who are used to, and prefer, silence from the non-religious.

  7. Randy schenck
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    The religious arguments will never change because their reasons grow smaller with every passing minute. So the game plan is attack the other side and demand proof that their spaceman in the sky is not real. Of course only their spaceman is real and all the others who demand their’s are real are just wrong. Believing in those others is just wrong but believing in none is evil.

    • Craw
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      It’s always struck me that as the gaps get smaller and more disjointed we should, if believers were consistent, see a polytheism of the gaps. What after all but a preconception says the god of the gaps in quantm gravity and the god of the gaps in neuro-biology should be the same god?

  8. Michael Watts
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    “… but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates”

    This sounds like something a four year-old would write.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      No, it sounds like a $40 word rephrasing of something a 4year-old would think.

      • Tom
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Perhaps we could auction it for charity?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          More like sell it off out of the remainder bin for a fraction of face value.

    • Carey
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      To me it sounds like something from one of those computer programs that generate sophisticated sounding nonsense.

    • Roger
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      A four-year-old who thinks that if they can define something, then that’s good enough. Good enough for religion maybe lol.

  9. Sastra
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    “New Atheism ” isn’t defined against anything called “Old Atheism,” it’s framed in opposition to what’s been called “Accomodationism.” An accomodationists believes there’s no inherent conflict between science and religion; that the problem with religion is confined to extremists who distort it; and that faith is a fine thing and ought to be respected as long as it doesn’t overstep its natural boundaries and intrude into the public square. Seems to me there are plenty of critics of the so-called Four Horsemen who would also be critics of accomodationism. You can’t say a movement is “dead” when you misidentify the body in the first place.

    [God is] not a ‘supreme being,’ not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates. . .

    So instead of claiming that a Mind came before the universe, the claim is that Reality itself is basically a Mind.

    This isn’t exempt from the same problem as the first assertion. As long as we think of minds as being transcendent, without parts, without gradual development, and in need of no explanation, the claims don’t jar with our primitive intuitions on what’s basic, first, and most important. The minute we start approaching minds scientifically, breaking them down and understanding how they got that way, the plausibility and reasonableness of claiming a primary starting place for one of them disappears.

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      “[God is] the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates…”

      … which is why we’re supposed to pray for its forgiveness, right? And confess our sins weekly, bow down to Mecca five times a day, proselytize door-to-door, not switch on the lights on Friday night, tithe, tithe, tithe, and all the rest? And above all, not ask questions? Because “the infinite act of being itself” expects and demands this of us — do I have that right?

      Or does Hart maintain that the only true religion is one with no religious trappings whatsoever? I wouldn’t believe in that one either, but it would be a distinct improvement over the ones we have to deal with now.

    • nicky
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      “…without parts, without gradual development… “. Not to mention, more basically, without physical substrate, let alone a complex one.
      I agree this talk is just vapour (well, vapour actually exists, but you get what I mean).

    • rickflick
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      “New Atheism ” [is] framed in opposition to what’s been called “Accomodationism.”

      Now, that’s a very refreshing way to see it.

  10. John Crisp
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I can’t be as sanguine as Jerry about the “withering away” of religion. It appears to be on the wane in the developed world: in fact, there seems to be a very clear correlation between the degree of security offered by secular society and societal levels of religiosity, with an almost inverse relation between religiosity and the strength of the welfare state, possibly explaining why the US remains the most religious of the developed nations. It would be an interesting experiment to see what impact universal healthcare in the US would have on religious belief.

    In the developing world, however, the trend is, if anything, in the opposite direction. In sub-Saharan Africa, both Christianity and Islam are growing in strength. Ethiopia, where I live, according to a Pew survey the world’s most religious country, still maintains its own brand of Orthodox Christianity, in – for the moment mostly peaceful – competition with Islam. In the south of the country, however, more evangelical forms of Protestantism are making headway, imported from Kenya. Further south in sub-Saharan Africa, evangelical Christian sects continue to proliferate, as do different forms of Islamic practice, the most notorious being Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Outside Africa, militant Islam is gaining strength in countries like Indonesia, militant Hinduism in India, militant Christianity in Russia… Of course, there is a political/ethnic/ nationalistic (and indeed financial) component to many of these movements, but the followers are “true believers”.

    If the link between religiosity and insecurity is more than just correlation, then it will be a very long time before religion withers away in these parts of the world. Indeed, my fear is that as climate change and geopolitical upheaval begin to have a real impact on the planet, religion – as well as irrational beliefs of all kinds – will not only maintain its grip on the developing world, but will begin to make a comeback in places where it is currently waning. Chaos, suffering, poverty, insecurity, unpredictability, have always provided rich breeding grounds for religion.

    • TJR
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Agreed, it is eminently possible that there are choppy waters ahead, geopolitically and economically, and this could easily lead to further rises in religion and nationalism.

      We were discussing possible causes of WW3 over lunch today, and the similarities between now and the 1930s. We’ve had the counterpart of 1929 already in 2008, so what would be the equivalent of the Nazi-Soviet pact? A military alliance so unlikely that it clearly foretells the End Of Days.

      Something like an alliance between USA and Russia, maybe! But that’s so ridiculous it couldn’t possibly happen, thankfully.

      • John Crisp
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        No, of course it couldn’t! Another candidate is Turkey. One of the big themes of today’s geopolitical rumbles is humiliation. Putin’s perception of Russian humiliation following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Arab and Islamic world’s perception of its historical humiliation at the hands of various Western powers. Is Erdogan dreaming of a restoration of the Ottoman Empire and vengeance for its dismemberment?

      • Tom
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Thinking of the possibility of a future atheistic world I note today that reports are emerging of Muslims are being “massacred” in Africa by christians and vice versa.
        Religion at this rate will eventually destroy itself.
        Regarding a coalition with Mother Russia the much vaunted christian “revival” is more smoke and mirrors than fact.

        • John Crisp
          Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

          Tom, I haven’t come across those reports. I will check them out. However, it is worth remembering that Europe’s history is very much one of Christians killing each other by the thousands (only stopping to breathe when plague killed them by the millions), over important matters such as whether or not bread and wine turn into meat and blood. Just as today’s reality is largely of Muslims killing each other by the thousands over who should properly have taken up Mohammed’s mantle after his death. And of course, Islam and Christianity ebbed and flowed across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East for centuries, without wiping each other out. I see no reason why today’s reciprocal massacring should lead to any different outcomes. The natural condition of humankind seems to be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, tit-for-tat, the blood feud, unless they are contained by some kind of overarching force.

          • TJR
            Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            Yes, an overarching force provided by our religion, once we’ve wiped out your religion!

          • Tom
            Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

            Please see Carbonated TV “the voice of the underdog”

          • revelator60
            Posted July 31, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            “Europe’s history is very much one of Christians killing each other by the thousands”

            There is actually some hope in that. After the trauma of the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the wars of religion (including the 30 Years War, which was sparked by religion) Europeans got tired of bickering over religion, and the ground was set for the rise of Deism and ultimately Atheism. The efforts of Catholics and Protestants to undermine each other’s religion ultimately undermined Christianity in general.

            I would not be surprised if the Middle East followed Europe’s course after the rampages of ISIS and self-wounding Sunni-Shia conflict. In fact, we know that atheism is on the rise in Muslim countries:

            newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4898/the-rise-of-arab-atheism

            newrepublic.com/article/121559/rise-arab-atheists

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      “… there seems to be a very clear correlation between the degree of security offered by secular society and societal levels of religiosity, with an almost inverse relation between religiosity and the strength of the welfare state, possibly explaining why the US remains the most religious of the developed nations.”

      Maybe that was the secret agenda of the TrumpDontCare Act — a religious revival among the millions of people tossed off Medicaid and out of the insurance exchanges and moved to pray for good health.

      And here I thought it was just to give tax cuts to fat cats.

      • bencbt
        Posted August 1, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

        I agree, too. Religion meets a lot of needs beyond belief in a higher power and uncertainty strengthens it.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      I agree with you here, especially the last paragraph. Religion thrives where there is chaos and helplessness.

  11. helenahankart
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Theology is worth taking a look at if only to remind oneself that really smart people (Like William of Ockham) can wrap themselves up in intricate knots trying to justify something that has absolutely no evidence whatsoever. This is a useful reminder of human folly #postmodernism
    Secondly, they are a bit mean about Dennett, but more importantly also incorrect. His project on clerics who are really atheists has colelcted lots of interesting data from Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders who no longer believe but are caught up to much to back out

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      I have to mention that Linda LaScola is a partner with Dan in the Clergy Project; in fact, Dan would probably say she’s the senior partner.

      • helenahankart
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        Good point. Yes, I should have mentioned that and linked to it
        http://clergyproject.org/
        (If its not too cheeky of me can I mention that I am planning to interview people who left religious cults with aview to documenting what led them to do so. Interested folk please contact me at r.king@ucc.ie If that is too cheeky of me to say this on your site then I’ll happily remove the post)

    • John Crisp
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Just to be somewhat provocative, it is also worth noting that really smart people (i.e. people working at the cutting edge of physics) can wrap themselves up in intricate knots trying to explain things that are profoundly counterintuitive in terms of our ordinary human senses (e.g. things, albeit very small things, that can be in two places at the same time, or quantum entanglement – what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” – or, more speculatively, the 11 dimensions of string theory). I hasten to add that the empirical evidence for these first two counterintuitive things is dimensions ahead of that advanced for any religious claims. An early Christian theologian said of Christian belief “Credo quia absurdum” (I believe because it is absurd). A modern physicist might say “Credo quia absurdum sed operatur” (I believe because it is absurd but works).

      • bencbt
        Posted August 1, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

        +1

  12. Historian
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    There does seem to be an alliance of convenience between the far left and most on the right (far or not). To wit, Salon has recently posted an article by Phil Torres in which he claims he is leaving the New Atheists because “For me, it was a series of recent events that pushed me over the edge. As a philosopher — someone who cares deeply about intellectual honesty, verifiable evidence, critical thinking and moral thoughtfulness — I now find myself in direct opposition with many new atheist leaders. That is, I see my own advocacy for science, critical thought and basic morality as standing in direct opposition to their positions.” He then goes on to give a few examples of what he considers bigoted or anti-scientific statements by a few atheist “leaders.”

    To claim that the vast majority of New Atheists are anti-scientific is absurd. Also, to assert that there is necessary connection between possible bigoted statements and atheism is a logical fallacy. As commenters to this site have demonstrated over and over, atheists may attack the tenets of a religion, but not its adherents. If you want to find bigotry, look to the comments of religious leaders on the right. Finally, I agree with Professor Coyne that to call New Atheism a movement is a stretch. You can call it a movement when a bevy of atheists run for political office proudly defending their their atheism. That welcome day is not on the horizon.

    Torres is but another supposed atheist that misconstrues statements by some prominent atheists. Worse, he assumes that those atheists who are not afraid to proclaim their atheism somehow necessarily agree with the political comments of atheist celebrities. For example, I have little in common politically with Dave Rubin. As often pointed out on this site, what unites atheists is their atheism and nothing beyond that.

    I want to be fair to Torres. The Salon headline implies that New Atheists are now an adjunct of the alt-right. Torres does not go this far and the headline writer for Salon should be ashamed of himself or herself.

    http://www.salon.com/2017/07/29/from-the-enlightenment-to-the-dark-ages-how-new-atheism-slid-into-the-alt-right/

    • Sastra
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I also have a problem with New Atheists who are proponents of X leaving New Atheism because there are no proponents of X.

      Yes there are. There’s them.

      If they think the core tenets defined New Atheism in a way which supports or entails X, then they ought to stay and fight for that inclusion. Represent the core values of New Atheism. If they’re right, then they’re not renouncing New Atheism. They’re taking it with them.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      “Also, to assert that there is necessary connection between possible bigoted statements and atheism is a logical fallacy.”

      Of course it is. Perhaps that is why Torres never said any such thing.

      • Historian
        Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        Torres says:
        ————
        Words that now come to mind when I think of new atheism are “un-nuanced,” “heavy-handed,” “unjustifiably confident” and “resistant to evidence” — not to mention, on the whole, “misogynist” and “racist.”
        ————–

        Torres says one reason he is leaving “new atheism” is because he associates the words “misogynist” and “racist” with it. If he didn’t think there is an association between these terms and the New Atheists, he obviously would not have mentioned it.

  13. Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    On Point One. The debate, whether an atheist (or atheist-skeptics) movement really exists goes on forever, and it annoys me for a long time. It always comes up when someone writes the word “movement”. I know that people who associate with the labels hate to be put together into a camp, preferring it to be seen as a Herd of Cats. But there’s bad news for you: You can’t always get what you want.

    Matter of fact, there is a shared audience of a number of authors, youtube channels, or blogs which form a social network, in which names like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens (and others) have some meaning. Because the audience has shared interests and is connected in some form, it is also possible to utter names like William Lane Craig, Dan Arel, Ray Comfort, or PZ Myers and there’s a good chance that people know what their beliefs are. You can call this social graph a “hodgepodge”, or just “movement”. As a matter of fact, it exists. The language games around this are unproductive.

    This is also true of other graphs, like the YouTube version of “Skeptics” or “Anti-SJW” which could be seen as a Venn circle located within the above circle, with some slight offset (there will be a few who follow a “Skeptic” YouTube channels and don’t know who Sam Harris is). Again, some people can deny until their face turns blue, but the same principle holds true in that “corner”, too. There is a statistical likelihood that people know who e.g. Dave Rubin or Jordan Peterson are, and so forth.

    A social graph (consisting of people as nodes) does not conserve information in a perfect manner. There’s a high likelihood that a node knows who Richard Dawkins is, probably knows of the recent de-platforming, and you can expect that knowledge is less conserved the more “obscure” some matter is. Not everyone will know who Ken Ham is, but the odds are still significantly higher than when you ask a random person.

    This also means that such social graphs are very fuzzy. And maybe this throws people off when a movement is described as if it were a club where you can easily distinguish between card-carrying members and those on the outside.

    Another reason why this denial is futile: Richard Dawkins and his organization once started the “Out Campaign”, making it at least understandable to call this a movement. Richard also appeared on stage numerous times and called for a “strident” form of atheism, and many heard that call and followed it. I’m of course very sympathetic to that idea. It must be possible to refer to a social phenomenon, whether they’re New Atheist, Postmodernists, Social Justice Warriors or the Alt Right without that always people play denialist language games. Shared features on a social graph make for a group of sorts, even if people in that group hate being seen that way.

    However you name it, it is in a crisis. It dissolved into a larger secular political context, but retains a few smaller clusters. The people who are associated with atheism and skepticism the most were subsumed by the reaction to the so-called “Social Justice Warriors”. The reason is simple. The Social Justice Atheist tried to launch their own thing with Atheism Plus, but failed. Anyway, they “quit” being New Atheists. Of course, such gestures seem silly, but that’s what humans are. They care a great deal about tribes and associations (also we can’t help but form categories, otherwise we couldn’t store information required to get by).

    The remaining rest that still associates itself with (new) atheism and skepticism was boarded and taken over by the Far Right. Most people who don’t like this, perhaps a silent majority, quietly moved away. In both instance, the attempted takeover by Woke Culture, and now the boarding from the far right Identitarian Movement have damaged the “movement” that once was.

    Because of this language game as discussed here, people in the movement have been incapable to shape perception in a way that is beneficial for their aims. Perceptions are now shaped by Richard Dawkins or other opinion leaders, but by a Far Right underbelly.

    It would be relatively easy for opinion leaders to regroup and make a few matters clear. All it takes is big names write a letter with one line e.g. “Trump followers, Breitbart readers, postmodernists, Woke Culture. F*ck Off. Thanks. — signed:”

    • Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Important error correction: Perceptions are now NOT shaped by Richard Dawkins or other opinion leaders, but by a Far Right underbelly.

    • Taz
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Perceptions are now not shaped by Richard Dawkins or other opinion leaders, but by a Far Right underbelly.

      I think perceptions are being shaped more by the far left – the people who label anyone who deviates slightly from the regressive leftist line as “alt-right”.

      • Posted July 31, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Not in New Atheism. The so-called Social Justice Warriors or Regressives etc typically set themselves in opposition to New Atheism. They are also variation of Accommodationist (who were the first who broke away), in regards to Islam.

        • Zane
          Posted July 31, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          Regressives and SJWs are not the same thing. It’s possible to be both, but a Regressive Leftist (term coined by a liberal Muslim reformer, sadly hijacked by the morons on the right at this point) is a left-winger who conflates criticism of Islam with racism/xenophobia etc. An SJW is a pink haired feminist who thinks that gender is a social construct, white people eating sushi or doing yoga is racist, or that a female video game characters with a good body is a form of sexism. You see most regressives will probably roll their eyes at the SJW nonsense I just mentioned, but will still accuse people criticizing Islam as bigots.

        • Taz
          Posted August 1, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

          Perceptions of a group are often determined by those outside the group.

  14. BobTerrace
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I think we should be pronounced death of the National Review.

    Their circulation is 142,000 and they publish semi monthly.
    The Washington Post has a circulation of 470,000 daily; 880,000 Sunday.
    Time magazine has a readership of 3 million monthly.
    The New York Times has a hard copy circulation of 570,000 daily; 1.1 million Sunday; plus 2.2 million digital only.

  15. Tom
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    New atheism is a term used to differentiate the old fence sitting (don’t scare the horses) agnostics from those who now demand evidence.

  16. Denise
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    The part of me that still believes in human progress towards reason and humanism thinks that religion will eventually go away, but that faith in progress is itself something of a religious belief. Lately it’s really been driven home just how wrong we could be about that.

    • Tom
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Be sure, progress does not need faith it has occurred despite faith.
      The christian/muslim ascendancy was only an interlude between the emerging rational mind of Classical Antiquity and today. I is an ascendancy that is now rotten to the core.

  17. John Crisp
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really have a big problem with the theism promoted by David Bentley Hart and his ilk. We don’t know and most probably will never know how the (our) universe started, though one theory is that the Universe (call it god) is eternal, and what we call the big bang is the propagation of a bubble that constitutes our universe within the Universe, or alternatively one universe within a multiverse.

    Hart’s theism is effectively the religious equivalent of multiverse or bubble universe theory. Neither suggests that we – the human race – are of the slightest importance to anybody/thing other than ourselves. “The infinite act of being itself” probably doesn’t mind about which bit of our anatomy we stick into which bit of other people’s anatomy, or whether taxation or property is theft. Either way, we are on our own, and there are arguments to be had and fights to be fought over the way we make our mayfly lives tolerable for each other.

    • Barney
      Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      The thing to remember with David Bentley Hart is that he is an Orthodox Christian (literally – he converted to that denomination as an adult). He does believe God is ‘another thing within or alongside the universe’. That’s why he writes about what he thinks Jesus said and will do. When he talks about God as some pantheistic idea, it’s not about what he believes at all. I think he’s basically lying, for the sake of participating in the argument, because he knows he can’t defend his actual beliefs philosophically.

  18. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    3.) New Atheists are rejected by the Right because their arguments against God are silly and superficial.

    Silly me. I thought it was because the Right had climbed into bed with Evangelical Christianity.

  19. Ian
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    This may have been dealt with in the comments already (tl;dr) but the last point could also include the converse argument to the “no evidence for gods”: that there is a whole deli of evidence for all religions being man-made.

  20. Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    My two cents:

    1) “New Atheism” is a slanderous concept created by Gary Wolf in an antiatheist piece in Wired Magazine, in 2006. People do not define themselves as “new atheists”, this is a canard.

    2) “The Left” is also a chimera. Alan Sokal and, quite arguably, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are leftists in their conception of society, as am I, and many more. The attempt of the right to encompass all leftist thought into its most abhorrent versions (from Stalinism to the Khmer Rouge) while ignoring its achievements (the European welfare state, the basic liberties and rights we now take for granted, public education, social conscience) is just another ruse to character-assasinate those they would never dare to debate in public, face-to-face. Yes, there is a very vocal idiotic left that has undertaken postmodernism as it undertook Marxism 100 years ago, but it is arguably not a majority.

    3) The “sophisticated theology” of this piece goes back to the more basic theistic arguments that were demolished in Ancient Greece. Actually, their worst problem is that atheist arguments now have a platform, a group of vocal defenders and a lack of fear that they can’t manage with their usual weapons. Their gods are still weak, and their case lacks credibility… and now more people than ever know it.

    Regards,
    Mauricio

  21. Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  22. Posted July 31, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Overall, this article (the National Review article) feels like someone is standing in the midst of a city wide conflagration and telling people that there’s no such thing as fire. Daniel Dennet is only boring if you don’t like to think or you don’t like the topic (or position on the topic being presented) in the onset.

    I think that the powerful anti-atheists learned that they can’t, as a whole, pick anymore singular targets to “destroy”/discredit since it just has a quasi-striesand(sp?) effect. Could you imagine just how much work could be done in their respective fields if the “four horsemen” didn’t have to spend time having these lectures, discussions, debates? I’m grateful for their contributions, don’t get me wrong.

    Also, do people forget that Hitchens was far and away one of the best communicators of our time? I mean, not to place him on a pedestal, but his craft of language is hard to match. It came as no surprise that his death was followed by lesser power in the public forum, but not so much less that the momentum of deconvertion and pro-intellectualism has stopped.

    And Sam Harris may be a neuroscientist, but his undergrad, from STANDFORD, was in philosophy. Talk about poor reasearch. He is a philosopher, regardless his lack of a university position as such (which isn’t a requirement to be a philospher, btw) because he, as Dennet would say, *does* philosophy rather than merely regurgitates philosophic excerpts, as many who have only taken Phil 101, but no more, do.

    Dawkin’s… c’mon, that’s like trying to take a crack at ICP or video games and expecting to been seen as ‘original’ in thought. It’s very much played out and not many people who aren’t already on that side of the fence are buying it. He’s an exemplary evolutionary biologist and science communicator that met resistance from the religous. And thus, he reacted. If there hadn’t been this resistance from the religious to science and the atheistic position on the existential question of god, then there wouldn’t have been a “God Delusion” or the many other well selling books aimed directly at the heart of various faiths.

    The religious are the cow that kicked the lamp in the barn and now they’re blaming the wood for burning. As the fringe becomes less populated, it gets louder. And the many, many, many years that the religous have had to gather wealth and power gives the fringe a bigger, more amplified megaphone through which to screech. Eventually, their spaghetti-to-the-wall style of argumentation will be drowned out by people desiring content with actual… well, content.

  23. Posted July 31, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    It’s amusing to observe that the language used in the article to ‘explain’ the superiority of the religious position shares an obfuscating density of expression with Post-Modernist pronouncements.

    A rational response to this guff is to simply say “no”.

    And there’s nothing ‘new’ about my unbelief. I arrived (unassisted)at a naturalistic world view about 58 years ago.

    rz

  24. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I was an atheist well before ‘new atheism’, but new atheism was a thing.

    It was becoming a vibrant forceful movement, gaining momentum, largely thanks to the internet and some charismatic voices, and a growing desire to hear those voices.

    Then, along came feminism, to derail and water down, fragment and devalue it.

    The rest is history.

  25. Richard
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    The theists always ignore the story in I Kings Chapter 18 where Elijah has a contests with the priests of Baal to prove which god is god…. Why can we not follow the biblical example today and demand proof?

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Hart’s condescending tone to those who don’t share his views is fairly grating. I’d like to see him tackle David Hume, the classic exponent of why the Thomistic God arguments don’t work.

  27. Posted July 31, 2017 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    The National Review article, like so many others like it–both smarmy and wrong–is yet another attempt to deflect facing the possibility that they could be wrong.

  28. Posted July 31, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I don’t refute that left and right exist, but i have no use for any of it in this context.
    In equality where is the left or right of it?
    What is clear, is patience is required for any semblance of an orderly cognitive life while theist and apologist come to grips with their truth being outed as a fairytale.

  29. Posted July 31, 2017 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Well argued.

    Science, scientific method, reproducible experiments convinced me when I was 15 that God was not the answer. Religions had no answers to the origin of man compared to Darwin (what a brave scientist) – the Voyage of the Beagle is a wondrous read for any boy seeking understanding for a civilized world.

    In recent years listening to Sam Harris and old discussions with Hirchens and Dennett, have only reinforced my view that Religion is a con job. Yes, they may do some good things. However, based on their history they do not have a monopoly on civilized thoughtful ways for folks to live in social harmony. I made Dawkins ‘God Delusion ‘ mandatory reading for my children.

    I would like to mention how science, astrophysics, experiments to investigate almost (at the moment) unanswerable questions by Lawrence Krause is an essential primer to understanding the world and the lack of divine inspiration.

    Keep up the critiques

  30. kelskye
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s always disappointing to see people declare the vacuity of the “new atheist” arguments against God at the same time as making a straw-man out of them. If the arguments are vacuous, then why not present them properly?

    Dawkins’ argument wasn’t that God is subject to the laws of evolution, but that for God to have the properties traditional theists ascribe to him, it requires a level of complexity. And for that to just exist would be much more improbable than a universe where complexity emerges.

    Whether this argument succeeds is a matter for debate, but it doesn’t make sense to completely misrepresent it as the article seems to. The debate of the argument starts with whether God can have the properties of traditional theism without the complexity that those qualities have in our finite world.

  31. Joe
    Posted July 31, 2017 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Atheism is not a movement. It is the natural state of being human and using reason.

  32. Robert Hunter
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that moral behaviour is a product of our biological and cultural evolution of our social species.
    yes, atheism just means a lack of belief in god[s], but any atheist who has taken the trouble to think about the implications of atheism would know that a lot of our natural morals [altruism etc] can be warped by religion and dogma.
    Most religions have a rigid set of morals that should be applied absolutely no matter what.

    My ethics,as an agnostic [unable to absolutely disprove gods] atheist is to look at lots of ethical guidelines, the evidence of the particular case or problem, and basic human feeling, and apply all this logically to the question or action required.

    Myths like the Great Chain of Being promote immoral behaviour IMHO. I mean, I think it is pretty silly to regard a horse as being a superior being compared to a human feeling. And I won’t even mention racism.

    True, many religious people reject some of the older and harsher ideas of their faith. They “cherry-pick” and say slavery or sexism, or bigotry towards LBTQI folks is no longer acceptable. So how do they cherry-pick? They think for themselves that a particular moral rule of religious dogma is bad.

    But most of the good stuff, they credit to this highly unlikely to exist deity, rather than a person.

    We know now, more than ever, that many social animals are cognitive, empathetic, and altruistic with each other. Chimps use tool to clean their dead, elephants mourn the loss of loved ones, and corvids are damn clever and aware. Perhaps humans are not the only social species with a theory of mind.

    So religion is not only myth from a fact point of view [the GCOB and other nonsenses], but also a very poor moral compass.

    Unfortunately some atheists have not thought any of this through.

    We can be good without god [and yes, sometimes bad also], but the great things about non-belief is that the buck stops with you. You cannot blame bad behaviour on devils or god behaviour on god[s].

    Realising that simple fact will make you a better human, an adult one.

    And we must be careful to attack religion and not the religious. Because we need people who believe that secularism is a good thing, allowing those that believe and those that don’t believe to live in harmony.

    Lastly, no one religious or not, should emotionally invest in any idea or belief. Most of the attacks on religion are misunderstood as personal attacks by some religious people.

    I suppose strong belief means heavy emotional investment, and that is where the trouble starts, because when silly ideas or myths are attacked, people take it personally.

  33. Lurker111
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I have a new atheist movement every morning, about 7:30.

  34. Mark O Driscoll
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    “[God is] not a ‘supreme being,’ not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates.”

    The reality is that Theologians know nothing more about the nature of God(s) than my 8 year old.

    “Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn’t there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything.” Robert Heinlein

  35. Posted August 1, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t buy the “New Atheism” trope and, like Mr. Coyne, remain skeptical of those who use it as platform for their own self-promotion.

    No doubt the definiens for the term atheism are piling on rapidly as scientific advancement and empirical consensus builds across a vast array of scientific disciplines, such as: neuroscience, archaeology, anthropology, mythology, ethnology, physics, cosmology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral science and even a few many of religious (Biblical) scholarship, as well. (See The Jesus Project) Dr. Richard Carrier, etc.)

    There’s an old adage Dennett himself uses from to time — a type of inside joke amongst ex-seminarians who claim it is impossible to graduate Seminary school without being an affirmed atheist. (See The Clergy Project). The same is said of reading the Bible being the fastest way to create atheists. Dennett adds to this by remarking: “It takes twenty years to grow a Baptist, and twenty minutes to lose one.”

    In classical Greece and Rome, it was widely remarked that “fools” tended to be religious, while the “wise” were often skeptics.

    According to the latest studies out of the University of Oxford, including the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis developed by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics:

    Religious belief is a by product of primitive cognitive instincts, whereas Intelligence means rationally solving problems as a way to override those instincts.

    Overcoming religious instinct means being intellectually curious, and thus open to non-instinctive possibilities,” according to author Edward Dutton, a research fellow at the Ulster Institute for Social Research in the United Kingdom.

  36. Posted August 2, 2017 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    National Review doesn’t really oppose your own philosophy as much as you think. When it comes to the most significant Left/Right ideological divide of our time, globalism vs nationalism, or borders vs no borders, if you will, it comes down firmly on the side of the Left. It devoted a whole issue to opposition to Trump before the election (Google “Against Trump” and view the images). It and those who support its ideological line, such as Glenn Beck,

    https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/430412/conservatives-against-trump

    are viewed with deep distrust by many conservatives (for example, Trump voters who take pride in the moniker “Deplorables”). This ideological divide was brought into sharp focus, at least for conservatives, by the behavior or many Republicans who opposed Trump in the period leading up to the election. (See the “Why Establish Republicans Hate Me”) chapter of Yiannopoulos’ book, “Dangerous.” The most conservative thing about them is their defense of religious faith. Beck actually converted to Mormonism. If you really want to read something that is more in line with what most conservatives are thinking these days, I suggest Limbaugh’s website, Breitbart News, and/or Instapundit.

  37. Posted August 2, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on jtveg's Blog.

  38. Posted August 2, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    The only thing new about the New Atheists is reach. Robert Ingersoll said all of the things we say now, but he had to tell it mostly face to face. With the advent of the Internet and on-demand publishing our words are distributed very much more widely indeed.

    As to arguments for and against the existence of any god, the name for whatever god the apologists are promoting could be changed for the name of another god and would be equally effective, that is … not. The current crop of lame apologists (Why aren’t they of better quality, it isn’t for lack of practice?) keeps trotting out the same old, long-disproved, tired arguments. When they come up with something new (The Universe seems designed for life!) they get it wrong. The universe is designed for vacuum and more and more of it is being created as we discuss this.

  39. Tony
    Posted August 2, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    So evolution is a fact:) That is just wishful, but predictably sad, thinking. It is in the tradition of those who believe that if you tell a big enough lie often enough (while actively suppressing the truth) eventually everyone will believe it.
    Consider Lee Spetner’s response (Evolution Revolution. 2014. Judaica Press pp. 121-122.) to Jerry Coyne’s predictable arrogance.

    ‘Jerry Coyne (2009, 66-67) ‘Why Evolution Is True’ Penguin Group USA.
    says that from evolutionary theory, ‘… we can make a prediction. We expect to find,in the genomes of many species, silenced, or ”dead” genes: genes that once were useful but are no longer intact or expressed. In other words, there should be vestigial genes.
    Funny thing. Coyne didn’t make that prediction ‘before’ pseudo genes were found. Darwinists like Coyne always seem to make their “predictions” after the fact. Instead of a ‘prediction’ it should be called a ‘postdiction’. Coyne continues with his naive theology:
    ‘ In contrast, the idea that all species were created from scratch predicts that no such genes would exist.’
    Dawkins also writes about pseudogenes. He also says they are utterly useless and contribute nothing to the organism. According to him, they are good for only one thing (Dawkins 2009, 332-333. The Greatest Show on Earth: The evidence for evolution. New York: Free Press.)
    What pseudogenes are useful for are embarrassing creationists. It stretches even their creative ingenuity to make up a convincing reason why an intelligent designer should have created a pseudogene – a gene that does absolutely nothing and gives every appearance of being a superannuated version of a gene that used to do something…
    Judging from the history of vestigial organs, you would think a smart scientist would suspect pseudogenes might have a function. The latest research actually bears this out. Wen et al. (2012) Pseudogenes are not pseudo any more. RNA Biology 9(1): 27-32. have reported, “Pseudogenes are not pseudo anymore.” In their conclusion, they write, ” We believe that more and more functional pseudogenes will be discovered as novel biotechnologies are developed in the future.”

    • rickflick
      Posted August 2, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      What? Because a few pseudogenes were found to have some residual functionality, then evolution by natural selection is a big lie? I’m afraid you have to develop your thinking skills beyond those of southern country preacher. You sound like Ken Ham. Are you Ken Ham?

      • Tony
        Posted August 3, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        I am not Ken Ham:)- though I have heard some of his defences of creationism.
        You say ‘a few’ and ‘residual’- hardly as gracious a retreat as that beat by Francis Collins:https://evolutionnews.org/2016/07/on_junk_dna_fra/,and Dawkins, who used to base his case for evolution on junk DNA, vestigial organs, and poor human eye design has said nothing, sulked and refused to debate with creationists. What kind of message do you think that gives out?

        • Tony
          Posted August 3, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          That link should be: https://evolutionnews.org/2016/07/on_junk_dna_fra/

          • Posted August 3, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

            What message does it give out when out of 20,000,000 scientific papers published over the last 20 years over 150,000 dealt with Evolution through natural selection? Out of those approx. 88 concerned Intelligent Design and were proposed by Christian mechanical engineers, NOT evolutionary biologists. 88 out of 20,000,000! Evolution is settled science. Intelligent design has been thoroughly refuted and to suggest otherwise is utter nonsense. If you claim you have such evidence the Nobel Committee would love to consider it, but predictably that will never happen either.

            • Tony
              Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

              The argument for a perfect original creation is boosted by the discrediting of the arguments peddled by Dawkins for years. Evolutionary theory has proved to have no predictive value; apart from Darwin’s observation about the absence of transitional fossils; echoed by Colin Patterson, Stephen Jay Gould. etc. Gould stated that the absence of transitional fossils was paleontology’s best-kept secret. I do not know of any note-worthy predictions realized as a consequence of invoking the T.O.E. but there are plenty of failures. It fails miserably when it comes to the solar system. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr8Az3QQZdI

              • rickflick
                Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

                Watching you mangle these ideas is like watching a toddler struggle getting shaped blocks into shaped holes. Every sentence in your comment is wrnog. You really should read more widely. Start with “Why Evolution is True”, by Jerry Coyne.

              • Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

                Ah, yes, the tired old Creationist canard aka The Fossil Fallacy (Shermer) “the belief that a “single fossil”–one bit of data–constitutes proof of a multifarious process or historical sequence. In fact, proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry–multiple, independent inductions, all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion.

                “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” Herbert Spencer

                “We know evolution happened not because of transitional fossils such as A. natans but because of the convergence of evidence from such diverse fields as geology, paleontology, biogeography, comparative anatomy and physiology, molecular biology, genetics, and many more. No single discovery from any of these fields denotes proof of evolution, but together they reveal that life evolved in a certain sequence by a particular process.”

                See: Shermer, Scientific American (2005) “Creationists’ demand for fossils that represent “missing links” reveals a deep misunderstanding of science.

                Also: Richard Dawkins’s The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) Dawkins traces numerous transitional fossils (what he calls “concestors,” the last common ancestor shared by a set of species) from Homo sapiens back four billion years to the origin of heredity and the emergence of evolution. No single concestor proves that evolution happened, but together they reveal a majestic story of process over time.

                Jennifer A. Leonard, an evolutionary biologist Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. November 22, 2002, Science Magazine, Leonard and her colleagues report that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data from early dog remains “strongly support the hypothesis that ancient American and Eurasian domestic dogs share a common origin from Old World gray wolves.”

                Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and his colleagues note that even though the fossil record is problematic, their study of mtDNA sequence variation among 654 domestic dogs from around the world “points to an origin of the domestic dog in East Asia” about 15,000 years before the present from a single gene pool of wolves.

                Finally, “The tale of human evolution is divulged in a similar manner (although here we do have an abundance of fossils), as it is for all concestors in the history of life. We know evolution happened because innumerable bits of data from myriad fields of science conjoin to paint a rich portrait of life’s pilgrimage.”

                The Fossil Fallacy https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-fossil-fallacy/?wt.mc=SA_Twitter-Share #science

              • rickflick
                Posted August 4, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

                Well put mchase. Let’s see if that rings any bells in his belfry.

              • Posted August 4, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                Thanks, Rickflick, but methinks he’s already too far gone. As Dennett writes: “If (some) religions are culturally evolved parasites, we can expect them to be insidiously well designed to conceal their true nature from their hosts, since this is an adaptation that would further their own spread.”

              • alexander
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:00 am | Permalink

                “If (some) religions are culturally evolved parasites, we can expect them to be insidiously well designed to conceal their true nature from their hosts, since this is an adaptation that would further their own spread.”

                This is spot on. In Germany you have the situation that the state delegates educational and cultural activities for the elderly and immigrants to the Christian churches (mainly the Protestants) and even pays them for doing it. This is in sharp contrast to for example Belgium where the University of the 3rd Age is strictly secular, and declares in its statutes that the display of religious attributes is not tolerated.

              • Tony
                Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

                @ Alexander
                ‘culturally evolved parasites..’
                Interesting! I came at it from a different angle; that in a meaningless universe Christianity was evolution’s greatest stroke convincing those fortunate enough to to have the right genes to believe that they were going to live forever, and advising them not to be too unnecessarily concerned about the present troubles, but to be forward-looking and optimistic; to be cool; and to spread the message, and to be like little children, expecting something ‘new under the sun’ every day forever. It may not work for you.

              • Posted August 5, 2017 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

                Well, Tony, you may want to snarkily misquote Ecclesiatstes 1:9 about “expecting something ‘new under the sun’”. But you, I and I suspect a lot of commenters know that you are referring to to the pericope, “…there is nothing new under the sun”.

                Epicurean, Greek, and therefore proto-scientifically influenced as the logion is, yes there is something new under the sun almost every day. It’s called scientific discovery. It’s why the writer of Ecclesiastes, imaginative as he was, semi-Hellenistic yet stupefied by Hebrew deuteronomism, would imagine his God as real, yet dihydrogen monoxide a hoax.

  40. Lee
    Posted August 2, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    There is plenty of evidence against the existence of God, even aside from the problem of pain and suffering. If there are two mutually exclusive hypotheses A and B, or even if the A and B are reasonably conditionally independent of one another, then evidence for A can be taken as evidence against B, and vice versa. Pretty much without exception, the weight of evidence is on the side of materialistic accounts of the origin of life, mind and the Universe; therefore that evidence weighs against accounts that invoke the Supernatural.

    The abysmal failure of religionists’ explanations for any and all natural phenomena to this point in time should in and of itself count for something. So they have been so badly beaten on every other front that they have retreated into imponderable deepities such as “the ground of Being” – this is reason to start believing them *now*?

    • Tony
      Posted August 3, 2017 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      ‘There is plenty of evidence against the existence of God, even aside from the problem of pain and suffering.’

      To my mind the purported evidence erstwhile evinced ‘for any and all natural phenomenon to this point’ has been reduced due to an increased scientific understanding of our world and the universe. Also would you regard poltergeist activity, hauntings, etc. as natural activity?
      You could read David Fontana’s ‘Is There An Afterlife? subtitled ‘A comprehensive overview of the evidence’. After 500 pages with an index which omits any reference to Christ, Christianity, or any major religion, he concludes with various comments, including (pp. 470-471): on page 470 ( Ch. 18. Conclusion.) he writes ‘But it is important to emphasize that all the evidence summarized in the book, from apparitions to NDEs OBEs, from mental mediumship to physical mediumship, from past-life experiences to ITC, is either evidence for human deception backed up by human gullibility or is evidence in part or whole for the existence of psychic abilities. Having studied the evidence for these abilities for over 30 years and seen a significant amount of this evidence at first hand, I am in no doubt that the existence of psychic abilities can only be rejected on doctrinaire grounds and not onthose of objective judgment. Psychic abilities are a matter of fact not of belief. What they are or what they mean for our view of reality is another matter, but one cannot dismiss them as fiction and yet maintain credibility as an unbiased observer.

      As regards the problem of pain and suffering the Judeo-Christian religion offers an explanation; genetic entropy being one of the consequences which challenges evolution.

  41. Jake Sevins
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris said recently that his podcast had become so popular that he could now attract big names due to the exposure his guests would get. I was surprised Sam was able to get Fareed Zakaria on the podcast, but I suppose this is why.

    Those poor New Atheists and their dwindling support… 🙂

  42. Tony
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    @mchasewalker
    ‘No single concestor proves that evolution happened, but together they reveal a majestic story of process over time.’

    So it’s just conjecture; an educated guess.
    Unfortunately the guess is prejudiced by the evolutionary bias which cannot be abandoned at any cost. And there’s nothing majestic about the ‘red in tooth and claw’ story if you have fallen for the Christian meme.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      My conjecture and educated guess is that you’re a troll who probably missed his nap time today.

      • Posted August 6, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        It might be salient to point out what Robert Oxton Bolt observed years ago: A belief is not an idea the mind possesses, but an idea that possesses the mind. As Gladwell, Dennett and others have written, some “ideas” , good or bad, can spread and infect whole generations of people like a brain virus or fungal Cordyceps that commandeer the hosts entire thought processes while diminishing their problem-solving abilities and reducing them to purely instinctual actors. In lieu of rational examination, reason, logic and science the infected actor is compelled to Identity Protective groupthink and wildly irrational belief systems that would otherwise be laughable.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 6, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          This is true.

    • Posted August 5, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      QED

    • Posted August 8, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      It’s been said that arguing with a creationist is about as fun and futile as playing chess with a pigeon — they just knock over all the chess pieces and crap all over the board. The unfortunate thing about the analogy is that it is a pigeon we’re talking about and not an adult human being. What makes the exercise so frustrating is that, Tony, presumably, is an adult human being with the skill set of a small child, with little self-awareness of it. ( See: Dunning-Kruger Effect)

      While this might be unfair to small children, as I have known a few who do understand the difference between “conjecture” and “scientific theory”. What’s disturbing is that it confirms what we know about religious belief systems having the power to seize up an otherwise rational educated person with most of their faculties, and replace it with a false, Prêt-à-Porter epistemology that deprives them of the most perfunctory skill set of reason, logic and curiosity. ( See Cognitive Dissonance)

      One may speak of The theory of evolution, or the empirically proven idea of descent with modification as factual. The NAS defines a fact as “an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as ‘true.’”

      The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling. All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists’ conclusions any less certain, speculative, or simple conjecture.

      Again, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.”

      No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution–or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, or Quantum Field Theory, they are not expressing reservations about its truth.


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