New Atheism was coined by the journalist Gary Wolf in 2006 to describe the positions promoted by some atheists of the twenty-first century. This modern-day atheism is advanced by a group of thinkers and writers who advocate the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and challenged by rational argument wherever they exert undue influence, such as in government, education, and politics.
New Atheism describes a period of time when atheistic, anti-religious, humanist, and antitheist talking points were highly visible in the media landscape. New Atheism often criticised what writers such as Richard Dawkins described as the indoctrination of children and the social harms caused by perpetuating ideologies founded on belief in the supernatural. At the time, critics of the movement deployed pejorative terms such as "militant atheism" and "fundamentalist atheism" to malign vocal atheists.[a]
The 2004 publication of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris, a bestseller in the United States, was joined over the next couple years by a series of popular best-sellers by atheist authors. Harris was motivated by the events of 11 September 2001, which he laid directly at the feet of Islam, while also directly criticizing Christianity and Judaism. Two years later Harris followed up with Letter to a Christian Nation, which was also a severe criticism of Christianity. Also in 2006, following his television documentary series The Root of All Evil?, Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion, which was on the New York Times best-seller list for 51 weeks.
In a 2010 column entitled "Why I Don't Believe in the New Atheism", Tom Flynn contends that what has been called "New Atheism" is neither a movement nor new, and that what was new was the publication of atheist material by big-name publishers, read by millions, and appearing on bestseller lists.
On 6 November 2015, the New Republic published an article entitled, "Is the New Atheism dead?" The atheist and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson wrote, "The world appears to be tiring of the New Atheism movement." In 2017, PZ Myers who formerly considered himself a new atheist, publicly renounced the New Atheism movement.
The book The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Sparked an Atheist Revolution was released in 2019.
On 30 September 2007, four prominent atheists (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett) met at Hitchens' residence in Washington, D.C., for a private two-hour unmoderated discussion. The event was videotaped and titled "The Four Horsemen". During "The God Debate" in 2010 featuring Christopher Hitchens versus Dinesh D'Souza, the men were collectively referred to as the "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse", an allusion to the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation. The four have been described as "evangelical atheists".
Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling non-fiction books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, as well as two shorter works, initially published as e-books, Free Will and Lying. Harris is a co-founder of the Reason Project.
Richard Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion, which was preceded by a Channel 4 television documentary titled The Root of All Evil?. He is the founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. He wrote: "I don't object to the horseman label, by the way. I'm less keen on 'new atheist': it isn't clear to me how we differ from old atheists."
Christopher Hitchens was the author of God Is Not Great and was named among the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. In addition, Hitchens served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America. In 2010 Hitchens published his memoir Hitch-22 (a nickname provided by close personal friend Salman Rushdie, whom Hitchens always supported during and following The Satanic Verses controversy). Shortly after its publication, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which led to his death in December 2011. Before his death, Hitchens published a collection of essays and articles in his book Arguably; a short edition Mortality was published posthumously in 2012. These publications and numerous public appearances provided Hitchens with a platform to remain an astute atheist during his illness, even speaking specifically on the culture of deathbed conversions and condemning attempts to convert the terminally ill, which he opposed as "bad taste".
Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Breaking the Spell and many others, has also been a vocal supporter of The Clergy Project, an organization that provides support for clergy in the US who no longer believe in God and cannot fully participate in their communities any longer.
"Plus one horse-woman"Edit
After the death of Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who attended the 2012 Global Atheist Convention, which Hitchens had been scheduled to attend) was referred to as the "plus one horse-woman", since she was originally invited to the 2007 meeting of the "Horsemen" atheists but had to cancel at the last minute. Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, fleeing in 1992 to the Netherlands in order to escape an arranged marriage. She became involved in Dutch politics, rejected faith, and became vocal in opposing Islamic ideology, especially concerning women, as exemplified by her books Infidel and The Caged Virgin.
Hirsi Ali was later involved in the production of the film Submission, for which her friend Theo Van Gogh was murdered with a death threat to Hirsi Ali pinned to his chest. This event resulted in Hirsi Ali's hiding and later emigrating to the United States, where she now resides and remains a prolific critic of Islam. She regularly speaks out against the treatment of women in Islamic doctrine and society and is a proponent of free speech and the freedom to offend.
Many contemporary atheists write from a scientific perspective. Unlike previous writers, many of whom thought that science was indifferent or even incapable of dealing with the "God" concept, Dawkins argues to the contrary, claiming the "God Hypothesis" is a valid scientific hypothesis, having effects in the physical universe, and like any other hypothesis can be tested and falsified. The late Victor Stenger proposed that the personal Abrahamic God is a scientific hypothesis that can be tested by standard methods of science. Both Dawkins and Stenger conclude that the hypothesis fails any such tests, and argue that naturalism is sufficient to explain everything we observe. Nowhere, they argue, is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand reality. Some New Atheists adhere to the fringe Christ myth theory.
Scientific testing of religionEdit
Non-believers (in religion and the supernatural) assert that many religious or supernatural claims (such as the virgin birth of Jesus and the afterlife) are scientific claims in nature. For instance, they argue, as do deists and Progressive Christians, that the issue of Jesus' supposed parentage is a question of scientific inquiry, rather than "values" or "morals". Rational thinkers believe science is capable of investigating at least some, if not all, supernatural claims. Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Duke University are attempting to find empirical support for the healing power of intercessory prayer. According to Stenger, these experiments have found no evidence that intercessory prayer works.
Stenger also argues in his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis, that a God having omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent attributes, which he termed a 3O God, cannot logically exist. A similar series of logical disproofs of the existence of a God with various attributes can be found in Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier's The Impossibility of God, or Theodore M. Drange's article, "Incompatible-Properties Arguments: A Survey".
Views on non-overlapping magisteriaEdit
Richard Dawkins has been particularly critical of the conciliatory view that science and religion are not in conflict, noting, for example, that the Abrahamic religions constantly deal in scientific matters. In a 1998 article published in Free Inquiry magazine and later in his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins expresses disagreement with the view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion are two non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), each existing in a "domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution".
In Gould's proposal, science and religion should be confined to distinct non-overlapping domains: science would be limited to the empirical realm, including theories developed to describe observations, while religion would deal with questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. Dawkins contends that NOMA does not describe empirical facts about the intersection of science and religion: "It is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science's turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims."
Science and moralityEdit
Popularized by Sam Harris is the view that science and thereby currently unknown objective facts may instruct human morality in a globally comparable way. Harris' book The Moral Landscape and accompanying TED Talk How Science can Determine Moral Values propose that human well-being and conversely suffering may be thought of as a landscape with peaks and valleys representing numerous ways to achieve extremes in human experience, and that there are objective states of well-being.
In the context of international politics, the principles of New Atheism establish no particular stance in and of themselves. New Atheism's key proponents are, states PZ Meyer, "a madly disorganized mob, united only by [their] dislike of the god-thing." That said, the demographic that supports the New Atheism is a markedly homogeneous, one that is primarily American, "more likely to be younger, male and single, to have higher than average levels of income and education, to be less authoritarian, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, less conformist and more tolerant and open-minded on religious issues." Because of this homogeneity among the group, there exists not a formal dynamic but a loose consensus on broad political "efforts, objectives, and strategies." For example, one of the primary aims here is to further reduce the entanglement of church and state, which derives from the "belief that religion is antithetical to liberal values, such as freedom of expression and the separation of public from private life". Additionally, new atheists have engaged in the campaign "to ensure legal and civic equality for atheists", in a world considerably unwelcoming to and distrustful of non-religious 'believers'. Christopher Hitchens may be the new atheist concerned most with religion's incompatibility with contemporary liberal principles, and particularly its imposed limitation on both freedom of speech and freedom of expression. And because New Atheism's proliferation is accredited partly to the September 11 attacks and the ubiquitous, visceral response, Richard Dawkins, among many in his cohort, believes that theism (in this case, Islam) jeopardizes political institutions and national security, and he warns of religion's potency in motivating "people to do terrible things" against international polities.
Scientism, accusations of evangelicalism and fundamentalismEdit
The theologians Jeffrey Robbins and Christopher Rodkey take issue with what they regard as "the evangelical nature of the New Atheism, which assumes that it has a Good News to share, at all cost, for the ultimate future of humanity by the conversion of as many people as possible." They believe they have found similarities between New Atheism and evangelical Christianity and conclude that the all-consuming nature of both "encourages endless conflict without progress" between both extremities.
The atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse has made the claim that Richard Dawkins would fail "introductory" courses on the study of "philosophy or religion" (such as courses on the philosophy of religion), courses which are offered, for example, at many educational institutions such as colleges and universities around the world. Ruse also claims that the movement of New Atheism—which is perceived, by him, to be a "bloody disaster"—makes him ashamed, as a professional philosopher of science, to be among those holding to an atheist position, particularly as New Atheism does science a "grave disservice" and does a "disservice to scholarship" at more general level.
Paul Kurtz, editor in chief of Free Inquiry, founder of Prometheus Books, was critical of many of the new atheists. He said, "I consider them atheist fundamentalists... They're anti-religious, and they're mean-spirited, unfortunately. Now, there are very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good".
Jonathan Sacks, author of The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning, feels the new atheists miss the target by believing the "cure for bad religion is no religion, as opposed to good religion". He wrote:
Atheism deserves better than the new atheists whose methodology consists of criticizing religion without understanding it, quoting texts without contexts, taking exceptions as the rule, confusing folk belief with reflective theology, abusing, mocking, ridiculing, caricaturing, and demonizing religious faith and holding it responsible for the great crimes against humanity. Religion has done harm; I acknowledge that. But the cure for bad religion is good religion, not no religion, just as the cure for bad science is good science, not the abandonment of science.
The philosopher Massimo Pigliucci contends that the new atheist movement overlaps with scientism, which he finds to be philosophically unsound. He writes: "What I do object to is the tendency, found among many New Atheists, to expand the definition of science to pretty much encompassing anything that deals with 'facts', loosely conceived..., it seems clear to me that most of the New Atheists (except for the professional philosophers among them) pontificate about philosophy very likely without having read a single professional paper in that field.... I would actually go so far as to charge many of the leaders of the New Atheism movement (and, by implication, a good number of their followers) with anti-intellectualism, one mark of which is a lack of respect for the proper significance, value, and methods of another field of intellectual endeavor."
Roger Scruton has extensively criticized New Atheism on various occasions, generally on the grounds that they do not consider the social effects and impacts of religion in enough detail. He has said, "Look at the facts in the round and it seems likely that humans without a sense of the sacred would have died out long ago. For that same reason, the hope of the new atheists for a world without religion is probably as vain as the hope for a society without aggression or a world without death." He has also complained of the New Atheists' idea that they must "set people free from religion", calling it "naive" because they "never consider that they might be taking something away from people."
Criticisms of responses to theistic argumentsEdit
(a) original in Dutch, English translation 2006; (b) original in Dutch, English translation 2007
- A Brief History of Disbelief – 3-part PBS series (2007).
- Atheist feminism
- Brights movement
- Conflict thesis
- Critical thinking
- Criticism of religion
- Freedom From Religion Foundation
- History of atheism
- Metaphysical naturalism
- Parody religion
- Public awareness of science
- Relationship between religion and science
- Secular movement
- Social movement
- The term is sometimes used benignly, for example by atheists such as Frans de Waal.
- Lois Lee & Stephen Bullivant, A Dictionary of Atheism (Oxford University Press, 2016).
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The New Atheists are authors of early twenty-first century books promoting atheism. These authors include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. The 'New Atheist' label for these critics of religion and religious belief emerged out of journalistic commentary on the contents and impacts of their books.
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Why are the 'neo-atheists' of today so obsessed with God's nonexistence that they go on media rampages, wear T-shirts proclaiming their absence of belief, or call for a militant atheism? What does atheism have to offer that's worth fighting for? As one philosopher put it, being a militant atheist is like 'sleeping furiously.'
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...in the last two years there have been five atheist best-sellers, one each from Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and two from the neuroscientist Sam Harris.
- Harris, Sam (11 August 2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-7432-6809-7.
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- "Is the New Atheism dead?" by Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic, 6 November 2015
- The New Atheism as a Stealth Religion: Five Years Later by David Sloan Wilson, Evolution Institute website
- The New Atheism is dead. Long live atheism.
- "The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Sparked an Atheist Revolution".
- "The Four Horsemen DVD". Richard Dawkins Foundation. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.
- Hoffman, Claire (2 September 2014). "Sam Harris is Still Railing Against Religion". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
As Western society grappled with radical Islam, Harris distinguished himself with his argument that modern religious tolerance had placated us into allowing delusion rather than reason to prevail. Harris upended a discussion that had long been dominated by cultural relativism and a hands-off academic intellectualism; his seething contempt for the world's faiths helped launch the 'New Atheist' movement, and together with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, he became known as one of the 'Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse.'
- The Oxford Handbook of Atheism; Stephen Bullivant, Michael Ruse; Oxford University Press; p. 254
- Stedman, Chris (18 October 2010). "'Evangelical Atheists': Pushing For What?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
something peculiarly evangelistic about what has been termed the new atheist movement ... It is no exaggeration to describe the movement popularized by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism — an atheist fundamentalism.
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Michael Ruse (2009) claimed that Dawkins would fail 'any philosophy or religion course'; and for this reason Ruse says The God Delusion made him 'ashamed to be an atheist'
- Ruse, Michael (August 2009). "Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster". Beliefnet. The BioLogos Foundation as a columnist of Beliefnet. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
… the new atheists do the side of science a grave disservice … these people do a disservice to scholarship ... Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing … the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group … the new atheists are doing terrible political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting. Americans are religious people ... They want to be science-friendly, although it is certainly true that many have been seduced by the Creationists. We evolutionists have got to speak to these people. We have got to show them that Darwinism is their friend not their enemy We have got to get them onside when it comes to science in the classroom. And criticizing good men like Francis Collins, accusing them of fanaticism, is just not going to do the job. Nor is criticizing everyone, like me, who wants to build a bridge to believers – not accepting the beliefs, but willing to respect someone who does have them … The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist … They are a bloody disaster …
- Sacks, Jonathan (2011). The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning. New York: Schocken. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-805-24301-7.
- Pigliucci, Massimo (2013). New Atheism and the Scientistic Turn in the Atheism Movement. Midwest Studies in Philosophy. pp. 151–152.
- Professor Jacques Berlinerblau tells atheists: Stop whining! Washington Post, 17 September 2012
- "Humans hunger for the sacred. Why can't the new atheists understand that?". 31 May 2014.
- "The New Philistinism". 26 March 2010.
- Original title in Italian: 'Perché non possiamo essere cristiani (e meno che mai cattolici)'