Articles you don’t need to read because you’ve already read them: New Atheism-dissing in the Guardian

Good Lord, when will places like the Guardian stop publishing the same article over and over again? Do people ever get tired of dumping on New Atheism or, in this case, the “Four Horsemen”? I haven’t heard of author Steven Poole, a British journalist and author, but here he reviews a book I’ve already read, The Four Horsemen: A Conversation That Sparked an Atheist Revolution.  And he uses his review to try to eviscerate Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins. Click on the screenshot to read:


My own short review: This is a transcript of the well known “Four Horsemen” conversation that took place in Christopher Hitchens’s apartment in 2007. There is a full video that you can find here. What’s new is simply the addition of a foreword by Stephen Fry and, as I recall, short commentaries by a few Horsepeople. But the meat of the discussion is already on YouTube. If you want to buy the book, you’d be buying it for the forewords, and to me it’s not worth it. Caveat emptor.

Now about the review: well, it’s the same pap that all liberal venues put out about the New Atheists, including smarmy but untrue remarks like these:

Contrary to the book’s subtitle, the “atheist revolution” was not sparked by this cocktail-fuelled pre-dinner round of chat and backslapping, which took place in 2007. By then the participants could already salute one another for the impressive sales of their books, boast about how willing they were to cause “offence”, and reminisce about how brilliant they were when they befuddled this or that bishop with some debating point.

That’s not what these guys did, although I’ll admit that the “brights” thing was misguided. But I’ve hung around most of these guys a fair bit (Hitchens I met only once), and I’ve never heard anything like the kind of boasting and back-patting that Poole reports. Those things, like the dumb atheist-dissing in Salon, are just character assassination.

Then there’s the obligatory claim that that that 2007 discussion is “dated”, and maybe it is, but so what? To answer Poole’s title question, what happened to the New Atheism is that it won: it exposed a new generation to old arguments about atheism (and some new ones based on science), and thus helped with the increasing secularization of the West. Their books were best-sellers, and for a reason; it wasn’t the Dawkins haters who bought millions of copies of The God Delusion. Finally, none of the Horsemen write about atheism any more because they don’t need to: the ball is rolling and it’s going to suck up religion with it.

Poole then makes the familiar argument that New Atheism was not sophisticated about religion and also neglects the benefits of religion. But would we have algebra even if Islam hadn’t existed? Of course we would, although the word for it might have been different. Newton and Lemaitre: well, yes, some religious people made scientific advances, but in most cases religion had nothing to do with it, as nearly everyone in the West was religious two centuries ago (yes, I know Lemaitre is more recent). Was the Human Genome Project the result of Francis Collins’s religiosity? I doubt it, and the other contributor, Craig Ventner, is an atheist.

Poole goes on:

New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word “algebra”. The Horsemen assume that religion has always been an impediment to science, dismissing famous religious scientists – such as Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest who first proposed the big bang hypothesis, not to mention Isaac Newton et al – as inexplicable outliers. At one point Harris complains about a leading geneticist who is also a Christian. This guy seems to think, Harris spits incredulously, “that on Sunday you can kneel down in the dewy grass and give yourself to Jesus because you’re in the presence of a frozen waterfall, and on Monday you can be a physical geneticist”. Harris offers no reason why he can’t, except that the combination is incompatible with his own narrow-mindedness.

This is irrelevant, of course, to the point made by these four men: that religion is a melange of foolish and unsubstantiated superstitions, that it doesn’t belong in this era nor in any rational mind, and that, by and large, it is harmful. And even if it does some good things, it’s simply not TRUE and there are ways of getting those good things without having the bad things.

Poole’s review continues, with Sam getting the worst of it, as he always does, in the end being accused of flirting with the alt-right. That’s simply not true, as Sam is on the Left. He’s just not woke enough for Poole.

In the end, these men did us a big favor by acquainting a new generation with arguments about why religion is false and harmful. They are the Ingersolls of our generation; and each generation, indoctrinated with religion by parents and peers, needs to hear the arguments anew. What people like Poole are trying to do,  by discrediting the Four Horsemen, is to somehow justify and vindicate religion. Even if they be nonbelievers, they somehow can’t bear to say bad things about faith. But they are on the losing side, for in two centuries religion will have waned to a small band of superstitious holdouts. Or so I think.

88 Comments

  1. Andrew
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    “In two more centuries religion will have waned to a small band of superstitious holdouts.” – I sure hope to god you are right about that! I’m not so confident as education is declining in some places and the rise of Trump shows how gullible we humans continue to be. But I do hope you are right and we continue to make 4horseman type progress.

    • Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      I think we’ll always have some level of religion unless we’re able to eliminate the God gene from our DNA or advanced aliens visit, whichever comes first.

    • Charles Minus
      Posted February 3, 2019 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      I just hope we make it two more centuries. Seems optimistic at this point.

  2. Frank Bath
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Ridiculous and appalling and all too predictable. It’s why I no longer read The Guardian.

  3. Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    🐜

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure what this guy has to say is even worthy of comment. He seems to understand almost nothing and wants to complain about the success of some pretty fine books written by this group. If what they have done in the first part of the 21st century is old or outdated what do we suppose happened to that 2000 year old fiction he wants to preserve. The damage done by religion over the past thousand years alone is enough to lay waist to the planet and it continues to set this country back with every spin of the clock. That is a main point of the four he does not see.

  5. jeff Kessen
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    My cat bats off the table only those things I put before her (outside of food, ofcourse). As if to say, “This is of no real sustenance to me”. Or, as Dr.Johnson might put it,”Give us no more of this”. Such is the impatience I feel when presented with yet another New Atheism-bashing article in, “The Guardian”.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    The Guardian seems to be doing a lot of begging for money on line – sounds more like a church than the rag it is.

    • Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t criticise it for that; it means their articles aren’t hidden behind a paywall.

      /@

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

      • revelator60
        Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        To be honest, most of their articles aren’t worth hiding in the first place. Their arts coverage has declined a good deal in the past half decade.

  7. kelskye
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    To the woke left, the alt right is left wingers who aren’t sufficiently woke. Same way as right wing muppets use left wing as an attack on conservatives who make the most nicest criticisms of some of the extreme things the far right is coming out with.

    It’s funny, though, that people still complain about how the new atheists didn’t tackle sophisticated religious belief, as if that represents the religion we see in the world. The only times we ever hear about sophisticated religion is when religion is getting criticised. For years I took this criticism seriously and dug into philosophy of religion, and each time I got the same reaction from believers – “you’re not addressing the really sophisticated beliefs” until it became “You’re missing the point of belief – it’s not about rationality but it faith” which is where I started out.

    There’s no sense in ever criticising religion to a believer because bmp matter what you say, you’re wrong and probably immoral. Like being on the left and arguing with the woke.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Many New Atheists — including the so-called Four Horsemen — spent quite a bit of time criticizing the often vacuous, vague, and vain versions of Sophisticated Religions which were filled with what Dennett called “deepities” — profound sounding statements which traded on double meaning, one true but trivial, the other extraordinary but false. Of course they would, since they hung out with the sort of academic, intellectual people whose religious views would be very different than the populist fundamentalist folk beliefs which even they scorned. We tend to address what’s around us, the friends and neighbors who challenge us most, the arguments which are apt to come up in social situations or around the university round table.

      What took more care and effort on their part was going out of the way to understand and refute fundamentalism.

      And yet that’s what made the news, and thus defined them.

      • kelskye
        Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, they did. Butt to a believer, they never did it in the right way, which usually meant they didn’t address a particular theologian or they didn’t take down a particular philosophical argument. I even saw complaints that The God Delusion made it out that Christians were all young earth creationists whereas many believers also reject that crude fundamentalism too.

        For a long time I worried that I hadn’t read the books correctly, but then I went back and read them and realised these criticisms weren’t about being fair to the be atheists but finding whatever they could to dismiss the criticism without engaging with the substance. One long article cast The God Delusion as being ahistorical for even mentioning the Jesus myth theory, even though that mention totalled one paragraph that was then dismissed in the next.

  8. Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    “And even if it does some good things, it’s simply not TRUE.”

    The assumption at the basis of the attacks on the New Atheists is always that the truth doesn’t matter, and that lies should be cultivated like hothouse plants as long as they do “good” in someone’s imagination. That’s why the “reasoning” of the Steven Pooles of the world so often amounts to ad hominem attacks, and so seldom engages the actual arguments of Dawkins, Harris, Prof. CC, et. al. How often do you see something that takes the simple, straightforward arguments in “The God Delusion,” for example, and attempts to answer them one by one? They may be out there, but I’ve never seen one, perhaps because I don’t have the tolerance for pain necessary to search through so much nonsense. Many of those arguments have been out there at least since the days of Jean Meslier and his “Testament,” but they are usually just ignored, because they are unanswerable. Or at least they are by those who don’t care to make fools of themselves. Apparently, the hope is that they will just be forgotten. That’s why it is so important to continue “acquainting a new generation” with them every so often.

  9. BJ
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    “Contrary to the book’s subtitle, the ‘atheist revolution’ was not sparked by this cocktail-fuelled pre-dinner round of chat and backslapping, which took place in 2007. By then the participants could already salute one another for the impressive sales of their books, boast about how willing they were to cause “offence”, and reminisce about how brilliant they were when they befuddled this or that bishop with some debating point.”

    Just look at this paragraph. Every sentence implies, without ever outright saying, “these were just privileged rich white men sitting around pretending to be smart, basking in their privilege while they looked down their noses at us real people.” Every word is meant to impart to the reader that these weren’t intellectual titans, but evil white men who contributed little to nothing, merely enriching themselves and wishing to have an excuse for offending others.

    The next paragraph you quoted is equally laden with horseshit. Like this part: “New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word ‘algebra’.”

    Nice how he uses a single conversation to indict them for not mentioning what he wants them to have mentioned, but he uses it to act as if they never mentioned these things. How dare they not mention these few things in this single conversation! But, of course, they discussed these things many times! All one has to do is watch the many debates and conversations of any of them to see them discuss it. And one could watch any debate by Hitchens to see that he was always the most historically informed person in the damned room. You know who isn’t informed on almost anything at all besides how to pander to the social justice crowd and get clicks? Mr. Poole.

    This is a hatchet job through and through. This is what journalism has come to: half-truths, lies, weasel words, prevarications, implications, complete disregard for context, and pandering for clicks and political brownie points. The tone of the article is so obvious to anyone who wants to see it, but, unfortunately, most people (especially readers of The Guardian) don’t want to see it; in fact, they want to see exactly what the article is giving them.

    • Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Well, as a Guardian reader, it’s not what I want to see.

      /@

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

      • BJ
        Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, I didn’t mean all of their readers 🙂 I can see how that wasn’t clear.

    • alexander
      Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      “New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word ‘algebra’.”

      Yes. Science flourished during the medieval Islamic civilisation because schools were not religious, and quite good. But the Mullahs soon understood that religion was an excellent tool to control the masses, and they banished all secular schools and replaced them by madrasses. That is when science died in the Islamic world.

      • BJ
        Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, it’s less “Islam created algebra/other great things,” and more “people who happened to be Muslim created those things, and Islam eventually destroyed the creativity and freedom that allowed it to happen.”

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      I find it incredible that someone who claims that history is not being done right will appeal to the “Islamic golden age”. Why? Because what happened then? It was a very *secularized* time in a way. In fact, we know this in part because it seems to have ended because people complained about how it was such.

      I think people often mistake the fact that work was done in Arabic for assuming that work was all somehow Muslim. In fact, thinkers of all three monotheisms as well as nonbelievers and “philosophical theists” and others all wrote in Arabic. People defended and argued religion-state seperation and many other things. Then, as external effects played a role (like the Crusades) the religious argued that they’d better double down on this stuff – and they won.

      Moreover, even if it was a Muslim who invented algebra, so what? What does algebra have to do with Islam? Nothing.

  10. Posted February 3, 2019 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I still find it amazing that there is ‘debate’ when we are discussing something that, at it’s foundation, is clearly preposterous. I would think that even ‘the four horsemen’ must be astounded by the mileage they have got out of repeating the bleeding obvious over and over again.

    • AnnaBanana
      Posted February 3, 2019 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Thanks.

  11. Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    “Hostility toward spiritual traditions may be hampering empirical inquiry.”

    Hostility towards empirical inquiry requiring no spiritual traditions may be hampering human flourishing.

    The obvious, by spending bucket loads on a waste of time and energy. Money better spent elsewhere.

  12. Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    They are “the Ingersolls of our generation.” Yes, if we’re going to be considering them in the rearview mirror, I think that’s an apt and valuable observation.

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    By the way – Over on Animal Planet they are doing the puppy bowl. Half time is on now with the kitties.

  14. Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    The main point about the ‘new’ atheist movement is that it has forced the world’s religions to change tack. They now feel the need to try and explain themselves, to justify their belief systems, using reason. And that is their death knell. This doesn’t resemble the unquestioned the blind acceptance that went before and the introduction of reason and critical thinking into their faith-based belief systems is terminally toxic.

    Organisations calling themselves ‘religions’ will continue for some time to come, but they will be less and less like the bastions of superstition and oppression that went before.

    I’m patient and enjoy watching this happens, slowly, in fits and starts.

    rz

  15. Steve Pollard
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Judging by his publications and his stated interests, Poole has no qualifications or even intellectual capacity for engaging with religious faith and its implications. He certainly fails to address any of the actual arguments that the Four have put forward, or indeed any others.

    Fortunately, like most of his other effusions, this one is bound for almost certain oblivion.

  16. Vaal
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    From the article:

    “New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. “

    What utter B.S.

    Take Harris’ portion in his debate with William L. Craig, which you can find googling “Sam Harris demolishes Christianity.”

    Harris does a wonderful evisceration of religious thinking, Christianity in particular.

    Of course it raises protests from Christians of all rank. But as someone who has engaged in debate with Christians for decades, who has read the arguments, the attempts to get around the points raised in Harris’ critique, I’ve found all replies are uniformly AWFUL.

    That includes the “sophisticated” attempts to spin-doctor away from the issues Harris raises. Christians REALLY DON’T have good answers to the critiques someone like Harris brings to their claims of a revealed religion.

    And it’s often implied that the New Atheist only engaged with the “straw man” versions of Christianity. Yet they spent years in public debates with the very people making that charge! In fact, almost all the public debates/discussions featuring the New Atheists involved “sophisticated religious people” making the claim “you haven’t engaged with the sophisticated version of Christianity, like mine.”

    And in most cases – every case if speaking of Harris’ debates – the New Atheists showed the sophistry and error in those claims.

    And when the other “liberal sophisticated” Christian across from Harris made the charges of “strawmanning Christian beliefs” it was HARRIS who could bring forth the data – in the form of wide ranging polls of Christian beliefs – to support his case.

    It seems an entire alternative publishing industry arose from the New Atheist phenomenon: The Sour Grapes industry.
    This article is a perfect example, redolent of the smell of spoiling grapes.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      And as all four of these gentlemen have noted in the past, particularly Dawkins and Hitch, the case proving religion is and always has been to the religious to make. We continue to wait.

  17. Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Oh for heaven’s sake. The ‘new atheism’ played a role in the advancement and higher profiles of reforming & secularists movements within Islam for freedom to leave Islam, among a great many other things. Of course if you only focus on those white privileged males you don’t notice all the secularist work done by non-white, non-privileged males & non-males.

    And this is slander:
    “New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed.”

    For a start just scan the later chapters of God is not Great, and wash your mouth out, Mr Poole.

    “You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word “algebra”.

    Actually, if I recall correctly (I don’t feel like checking) Hitchens gave a rather too generous nod to the Andalusian (so-called) golden age — I recall his recommendation of Menocal’s book on the subject.

    And maybe Poole could have explained why some of the works of the great Persian physician al-Razen got burned? (Namely the ones where he rejected revelation and the prophets.)

    Poole could have discussed Hitchens’ comment that he saw it as the task of this age to distinguish the numinous from the supernatural. Or rather, he couldn’t have discussed that, because like every single other person who writes this review, he is unable to find any argument against doing exactly that.

    • BJ
      Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      “The ‘new atheism’ played a role in the advancement and higher profiles of reforming & secularists movements within Islam for freedom to leave Islam, among a great many other things.”

      But they don’t even like that! Look at how Maajid Nawaz is treated by this crowd. They seem to think that anyone who criticizes Islam or pushes reforming it is racist/Islamophobic.

      • Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Yes, criticism of Islam or wish to reform it are the definition of Islamophobia.

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Dan Dennett (no mean scholar himself) described Hitchens (to me, in an interview) as “One hell of a scholar”. Anyone who thought that “God is Not Great” was not scholarly has mistaken Hitchens’ penchant for polemicism, for a lack of scholarship. They are mistaken. He always knew his ground and relished getting those who only preteneded to know it (e.g. almost everyone)onto the terrain so that he could outflank them. Which he regularly did.
      The four books had very different referents. Dennetts was much more traditionally analytic philosophy, Hitchens’ was steeped in theology (and his utter hatred of it was linked to his passionate desire to learn from anyone who claims to know what the good life is). Harris’ was pure consequentialism (as usual) and Dawkin’s was probably the most popular. Missing from the four was Ali’s Infidel, also out at the time–which was a skewering of some of the idiocies we are all expected to swallow re Islam in the name of getting on. Although I strongly suspect that in some cases “Islam” has replaced “communism” as the eschatalogical ideology of choice among those who really just hate western values (while benefitting from them).

      • Posted February 4, 2019 at 5:00 am | Permalink

        I woke up in the middle of the night kicking myself about the above comment — only citing part of God is not Great. I couldn’t name another writer who so comfortably switches between current politics, recent history, previous centuries, ancient history, biblical scholarship, literature, philosophy, etc., all from conscious recall.

        The smartest thing Poole has ever done, I suspect, is waiting for Hitchens to be gone from the planet before attacking him.

        • Posted February 4, 2019 at 8:08 am | Permalink

          Its amazing how many people have found the courage to do exactly that, isnt it?

      • BJ
        Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I very much doubt the author of this article has actually read their books or other work. They watched a single discussion and, perhaps, read some reviews/overviews from like-minded journalists.

  18. Christopher
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen the video, years ago, but I’ve still put the book on my “mega online retailer” pre-order. I enjoy being able to see in print what was said; it helps me follow the conversation, stop when I need to look something up, and so on. Plus, I just enjoy having books. They never need updates, they never steal my identity or sell my information to Russian hackers on the dark web, never need to be charged, and never need yet another new soon to be out of date format and accompanying device.

    And for anyone here that doesnt follow Sam Harris’ podcast, he did a nice one with Stephen Fry this last week. Do go check it out! Fry is always worth the time, such a wonderful conversationalist.

    • BJ
      Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      I could listen to Fry all day. And, even when surrounded by idiocy, he still always remains the adult in the room, as with the Munk Debate on political correctness last year.

  19. ubernez
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Soem of best critics of religion are those who were formerly religious.
    I do find that criticisms of religion from those who were never religious sometimes miss the point, or distort the practice they are criticising.
    Before you pile on – I was just a regular Catholic kid in a not overly religious family, going to a Catholic school that didn’t push it too much. So lucky me.
    But I did believe, due to my indocrination. But I grew out of it, and now am staunchly anti-theist.
    But when I engage in debate/criticism, I know enough to not mischaracterise, to not denigrate the person (by glibly dismssing the depth of their feeling for what they believe) etc. I also know their thinking and arguments – not in an academic sense, but in a true deep sense.
    But I still go in hard – but I do it in good faith.
    Having said that, I am not attributing any mischaracterisation to the ‘four horseman’ or others of that ilk.
    The criticisms of THEM are weak, defensive, fearful.
    Oh, and god I miss Hitch…

  20. Posted February 3, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Forgive my cynicism (or not) but here’s my take on this miserable article: “Darling we can’t cover this month’s mortgage payment, but don’t worry because I’ve come up with a spiffing idea for an article. Instead of bashing a just a single atheist like Dawkins – I’ll bash them ALL – we’ll be quids in!”

  21. Steve Gerrard
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always felt that the main purpose of the four horsemen was to establish that it is okay to be atheist. That is, atheism is intellectually sound and a rational and reasonable position; it can be a perfectly moral and ethical position; it is socially and culturally acceptable and effective; it is okay to talk about it.

    I think they succeeded admirably. It will take time to sink in, but I think atheism is here to stay now.

  22. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    They are the Ingersolls of our generation

    Indeed. Every generation needs those who will expose superstition.

  23. Posted February 3, 2019 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    It remained unclear what was “new” with New Atheism. Apparently, New Atheism was a thing. But why? A good, even scathing article could begin right there. Critics who don’t even spent a minute to ponder that question failed as writers. The Guardian and most other publications haven‘t noticed that we aren‘t in the 19th century anymore, or earlier. It’s astonishing, and an embarrassment.

    For starters, at the time in the mid-aughts, the internet was shifting into web 2.0, a more participatory internet that made communication between users gradually more convenient and widespread. 2007 was still the “beta” with forums, and guestbooks, before we arrived at social media we know today (the widespread tweeting is also a only a few years old!).

    <b<For the first time everyone could discuss the biggest questions of all time. I put that in bold, because it seems to not register what this means. It amazes me how supposed journalists didn‘t see this. Not clerics, or Sophisticated Theologians, or intellectuals discuss those biggest discussion, but ordinary people, with honest views about such matters. I think that‘s huge.

    The internet and sudden flood of information caused immense stress on conservative and religious communities, who sought to use the new medium to spread their ideas. Conspiracy theories started to circulate. All of this attracted critics and skeptics. The 9/11 attack set the “war on terror” in motion, which had an element of religious war in it. Bush had teamed up with the religious right, and the terrorists were Muslims, whose countries were invaded (of course, also for oil or geo-strategic reasons). This made religious questions not only a discussion of everday people, but also brought the dangers of religious irrationality to everyone’s mind.

    There was a lot new in New Atheism. Missing that is sheer incompetence. Never before could people discuss such questions such broadly, and never before posed religious lunacy a greater threat to humankind.

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 12:54 am | Permalink

      Nice analysis!

      /@

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      I’ve always thought that “New Atheism” is just atheism but actually being talked about in public. The so called Four Horsemen were not really saying anything that has not been said before by atheists, but they had a platform that allowed them to reach a much wider audience.

  24. ubernez
    Posted February 3, 2019 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I re-read Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I am not a Christian’ this weekend.
    Love it if more people read ANY of his works.
    Pretty direct and scathing.
    If you read more, then the ‘old’ atheism looks pretty much like the ‘new’ atheism.

    As soon as you give good things lame labels (eg: intellectual dark web), they become, as my daughter tells me, meme-able (not in a good way).
    Memes die horrible deaths.
    No one knows what ‘new’ atheism is – but you can inauthentically attack it through it’s label.

    If I discuss criticising irrational thinking, my daughter is up for it. If I discuss new atheism, it’s a bust.
    There’s something in that.
    But I’m not caffinated enough to figure it out…yet…

  25. Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    I interviewed Dan Dennett a couple of years back and one thing he said at the time was that it should have been Five Horsepeople. Ayaan Hirsi Ali should also have been there but had security issues to attened to. I often wonder what would have happened had it been obvious from the start that this had nothing to do with men, white men, the (sigh) “patriarchy”, or all the rest of the tom-foolery thats been hurled at the attempts to make humans grow up a bit.

    • Hunt
      Posted February 4, 2019 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      What? You mean PZ Myers wasn’t the unnamed fifth horseman? 🙂

      I’ve never seen a more confused character in all my life. He displays a cross between pride that he touched Dawkins’ shadow and resentment that he didn’t get more credit. Bashes New Atheists every chance he gets. In fact he has a post praising this article.

      • Posted February 4, 2019 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        He wishes. I know (from sources that I shall not name) that P Z Myers harbors a deep and abiding resentment over not being invited to that particular party. And it shows.

        • Posted February 4, 2019 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          But what had he contributed to the oeuvre at that point? (Or since? A ragbag collection of blog posts.)

          /@

          • Posted February 4, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

            I believe that P Z thought this own monstrously large ego would be gift enough to the world. As far as I can tell, this is still his prefered position.
            Something happens to people when they get an audience (a bit like other forms of power like money). As far as I can tell prof CC has become somewhat kinder and more forgiving, while P Z has become somewhat louder and more obnoxious. Go figure

  26. Posted February 4, 2019 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word “algebra”.

    Yes, when people make this argument about the great Islamic scientific age, they never bother to stop and think why it ended.

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      Yes; that’s always a good response. “Yes, scholars in that age made some very significant contributions to mathematics and science. But that didn’t continue into the modern era. Why was that?”

      /@

      • Posted February 4, 2019 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        Oppression by Christians, Europeans, white men, and colonialists of course. LOL

        • Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          Actually, it was *both*. The external pressures (Crusades, etc.) allowed the bad guys to take over. Very similar in a way to day, with the same lessons, including: smash people’s faces, and the ruthless take over.

          • BJ
            Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

            It’s a bit more complicated than that. The Crusades were set off in part by increasing Muslim hostility toward Christians in the regions under Islamic control.

    • alexander
      Posted February 4, 2019 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      The Catholics weren’t that much better. Remember Galileo. And I still did not get a reply from Opus Dei whether the would exonerate Giordano Bruno.

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Well, the Abassid caliphate–one of the golden flowerings of humanity along with (e.g.) Socratic Greece, Renaissance Italy, and Tang Dynasty China–did end rather abruptly in the 13th century. Not the Wests fault for once–it was the Mongols sacking Bagdhad that did for that one. I believe that there was a caliph who ordered all books that disagreed with the Q’ran burned (as blasphemous) and all those that agreed with it burned (as redundant) but I confess I cant recall the name. Could be an urban myth.

  27. chrism
    Posted February 4, 2019 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    I see that PZ has joined that party:
    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2019/02/01/the-new-atheism-gets-another-bashing/
    whilst conveniently memory-holing his self-identification as the Fifth Horseman.
    https://thehumanist.com/magazine/november-december-2009/features/comes-a-horseman

    • Richard Sanderson
      Posted February 4, 2019 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      There are quite a few facts and incidents that PZ Meyers would like everyone to forget, or just to ignore…..

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Well remebered

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      To slightly defend PZ Myers (note the spelling Richard Sanderson), since he wrote that article, three of them have done or said things with which he disagrees and when PZ disagrees with somebody, he really disagrees.

      • BJ
        Posted February 4, 2019 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        It seems that disagreement only started when he became disgruntled and then attached himself to the “Atheism +” movement. As far as I’m aware, he didn’t show any extreme social justice views before that, though I’m happy to be corrected. Regardless, even if he did, it was always very clear that PZ wanted to be the leader of a new atheist movement so he could unseat those he saw as having snubbed him. He never had the intellectual prowess to reach even several rungs lower on the ladder that the Four Horsemen climbed, so he tried instead to use politics and a years-long smear campaign (that continues to this day!) to do it instead.

        PZ is a man whose ego is so great that it drives him to try and destroy his betters. He will do anything to convince himself that he deserves more than what he got, but he will never have the respect of anyone who doesn’t like him simply because he posts missives that agree with their politics. And if he suddenly stopped being a social justice warrior, he would have nobody left to tell him how great he is, and that’s the one thing he simply cannot abide.

        • Posted February 5, 2019 at 3:43 am | Permalink

          Elevatorgate is what turned him against Richard Dawkins when Dawkins wrote his Dear Muslima letter. I think that was the moment when I realised that the whole social justice thing was going to go off the rails. Whereas I thought “yeah, badly judged letter, Dawkins should not have done that”, Myers threw their whole relationship under the bus (they definitely knew each other, I thought it is possible they might be friends).

          • BJ
            Posted February 5, 2019 at 9:05 am | Permalink

            To be sure, the letter may have been in bad taste, but Watson deserved all the mockery she was getting. To claim someone sexually harassed her by politely asking if she wanted to have coffee, and then trying to fracture an entire community over it, was hideous self-promotion at the expense of another innocent human being. Not to mention the rest of the atheist community…

            • Posted February 5, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

              To claim someone sexually harassed her by politely asking if she wanted to have coffee

              I think you need to watch the RW video which kicked it all off. The above quote is pretty much wholly untrue.

              She did not claim anybody sexually assaulted her by politely asking her for coffee. She said that a man had invited her to go for a coffee in his room whilst they were alone together in a hotel lift at 3am. She said in the video that that made her uncomfortable (not unreasonably in the circumstances, in my view) and asked people to refrain from doing that in future.

              If it had ended there, that would have been fine, but Watson got quite a lot of criticism and abuse, as women unfortunately have learned to expect when expressing opinions on the internet. IIRC she did a presentation about the incident in which she wrongly conflated some of the criticism with the abuse and she called out one fellow female atheist by name in public for saying that she wouldn’t have had a problem in the same situation. That’s when things really started to get ugly.

              • BJ
                Posted February 5, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                “…Watson got quite a lot of criticism and abuse, as women unfortunately have learned to expect when expressing opinions on the internet.”

                As all people unfortunately have learned to expect when expressing opinions on the internet.

                Watson’s first video did not claim it was harassment, but she did start describing it in that manner in the months after. It’s perhaps I’m not remembering that properly because she did so often conflate everything she disliked, but she did start using it as a jumping off point about supposed harassment in the atheist community, which is to call it harassment by implication.

              • BJ
                Posted February 5, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

                “Overall, men are somewhat more likely to experience any form of harassing behavior online: 44% of men and 37% of women have experienced at least one of the six behaviors this study uses to define online harassment. In terms of specific experiences, men (30%) are modestly more likely than women (23%) to have been called offensive names online or to have received physical threats (12% vs. 8%).”

                http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/07/11/online-harassment-2017/

                The article also noted that men are harassed more often than women when it comes to being harassed over expressing political opinions.

              • Posted February 5, 2019 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                But, “sexual harassment is more common among women than among men and is a particular problem for young women. Among adults ages 18 to 29, women are more than twice as likely as men to report experiencing sexual harassment online (21% vs. 9%). And among the youngest adults – those ages 18 to 24 – women are more than three times as likely to be sexually harassed online (20% vs. 6% of men).”

                My own impression was that online harassment of women is generally “nastier”, and this survey seems to support that.

                /@

              • Posted February 5, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                I concur with your recollection.

                Richard’s timing was bad. By that time the discussion had moved on from “uncool” behavior to the far nastier online abuse she’d received for saying that uncool behavior was uncool. As much as I dislike Watson (because she was and is a lightweight skeptic, famous for being a popular blogger, who “stood out” among other speakers at TAM London – pre Elevatorgate – as shallow and facile), she really was deserving of sympathy at that point and “Dear Muslima” clashed with that sentiment. Emotions ran high.

                (About now Jerry will weigh in to discourage further discussion of PZ and/or Elevatorgate.)

                /@

              • BJ
                Posted February 5, 2019 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                Well, I was addressing the claim that women are somehow more expected to receive harassment online. It’s a common misconception that should be corrected, especially when it comes to something like what jeremy said, which is that women expect it whenever they express their opinions.

                Anyway, online harassment tends to take whatever form the harasser thinks will be most hurtful. Men are more likely to get slurs and abuse of a different sexual nature: mocking the idea of virginity, being gay, etc. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called a “kike,” “jewbag,” “shekel-eater” (I’ll give some of the trolls credit in that they can be creative!), etc. Men are also

                But the real point here isn’t that online harassment is worse for men or women, but that it should not be a gendered issue, as with so many other issues that are portrayed that way. Most issues are issues for all of us.

          • BJ
            Posted February 5, 2019 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            And, at that point, Myers then went after not just Dawkins, but every atheist with even the slightest reputation in the entire atheist sphere, kicking writers off his website, going on diatribes, etc. And then…well, he never really stopped.

      • BJ
        Posted February 4, 2019 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        The truly sad thing about PZ is that he could have been a well-respected person within the atheist community. He published some good scholarship in biology. If he simply could have accepted being respected, but not regarded as one of the great atheist minds, his status would actually have been far better than it is now. Instead, he turned himself into a hack ideologue who treats anyone who doesn’t revere or agree with him as scornfully as a man can, a man who is clearly so full of hate and rage, and thus has become a laughingstock to most.

        • Posted February 5, 2019 at 3:22 am | Permalink

          PZ could have been satisfied with this contribution to the oeuvre: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Courtier%27s_reply

          /@

          • BJ
            Posted February 5, 2019 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            I’d never heard that one, but, as I read the first paragraph, I said to myself, “this just sounds like a slight twist on an argument from authority.” And then the last sentence mentioned exactly that. But I guess it’s some kind of contribution.

            Anyway, I don’t even know if one can credibly call him a researcher. To date, he has still only published twice, and been cited a total of five times. He tried to finally stake a claim of writing a book, like the Four Horsemen, but, after all the build-up of him talking about how great his book would be and how long he was working on it, it turned out to be a collection of his blog posts. The man really has done almost nothing.

  28. Posted February 4, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    “The Four Horsemen – whatever happened…”
    A profound change in both the discourse and the overall zeitgeist of western society -that I would argue is what happened.

    But let me answer for just for myself as a microcosm of the profound change that the Horsemen brought about. Before the “New Atheist” movement I had already long been a convinced atheist – had been since the age of twelve. But my convictions were passive and personal ones. These new expressions of atheistic conviction however challenged me to come out of the closet and now act in keeping with my convictions – to become “engaged” . I realised that this had now become a very important thing to do, because of the real harm that religion has on human life. Before New Atheism, conversations or debate on religion were not appropriate in any polite social gathering I attended. If someone made a statement with a religious overtone it was to go unchallenged – their views very personal and even expressing a different view was the worst form of bad manners- that disagreeing with a religiously dogmatic statement someone made was equivalent to saying that the pimple at the end of their nose was quite unattractive. But this applied no more. I also realised that it was not only important to be an atheist, but to be SEEN to be an atheist…. that doing this would show others that atheists were ordinary people just like themselves… and that we were here among them. The debates that Hitchins, Dawkins, Harris held with religious figures made me realise that my own capacity to argue my position was comparatively weak in some places, even in certain scientific subjects. I asked myself, could I hold my own and prevail in a debate from someone from the Discovery Institute. Totally unacceptable if I couldn’t, being someone who demands rigour in logic and evidence to underpin their views. I read more, studied more. And for once I started to participate in secular and Humanist events, I suppose my being here on WEIT one symptom of that.

    This is just me. I do not believe any of these changes would have occurred but for the Four Horsemen. Nor do I believe that the figures for number of non-believers in England (my residence) or the USA (my home) could have grown so much, particularly in the younger members of our society. In all this I see a great achievement attributable to the New Atheist movement.

  29. Posted February 4, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    As a Catholic who was practically raised in the Science and Natural History museums, l never saw anything but harmony in the idea of a creative intelligence behind our universe and whatever lies beyond our radio telescopes. Had l been brought up as as an atheist l wd have the same wonder but l would have wondered about a creator when seeing camouflage in nature: It takes a thinking mind to perceive the need for camouflage, eg the leaf-like or stick-like insects, striped tigers, white polar bears etc – and design it.

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      No, it does not take a thinking mind to perceive the need for camouflage. All it takes are mutations that hide you and thus give you a better chance of surviving and reproducing. That’s how natural selection works. If you don’t understand, I suggest you read the section about natural selection in an introductory bio book.

      Since you’re religious, by the way (and this is a question I ask many believers who are new here), what is the strong evidence you see for why there is a God, and why you think Catholicism is the “right” religion as opposed to, say, Hinduism or Islam?

    • alexander
      Posted February 4, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      “l would have wondered about a creator when seeing camouflage in nature”

      What about seeing lions devouring dear alive? Or viruses killing millions of people? If you look for a god in nature you will find a sadist.

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Pace alexander’s comments, does it take a thinking mind to perceive the need for – and “design” – a recurrent laryngeal nerve or the “wiring” in the human eye that’s inferior to that in the octopus eye? If there is a creator, he’s quite shoddy.

      /@

    • Posted February 5, 2019 at 3:48 am | Permalink

      It seems you lack an understanding of the Theory of Evolution. Don’t worry, it can be cured by reading one of the many available books on the subject.

  30. Nell Whiteside
    Posted February 4, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    My gratitude to the Four Horsemen, their books, articles, videos, etc. is enormous. This includes numerous other ‘enlightened’ people, especially our host. I have learned so much and I now have the courage to admit to being an atheist – even in an appallingly religious country like South Africa. Most locals are flawed by the idea of anyone not being religious! They need an awakening.

  31. rickflick
    Posted February 4, 2019 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I can never be sure if Poole and his ilk mean what they write or have just identified a saleable niche.

    • Posted February 4, 2019 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      It’s likely a distinction without a difference. A contemptible duality of motivation, nonetheless.

  32. Posted February 5, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    And while the (formerly) respectable Guardian is musing how wicked atheism is, 7-yr-old Ethan Hauschultz has been tortured to death by his legal guardians for failure to memorize Bible verses. This happened in April last year, I learned it today because the monsters have just been charged. Heartbreaking!


Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: