New Atheism

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New Atheism is the journalistic term used to describe the positions promoted by atheists of the twenty-first century. This modern day atheism and secularism is advanced by critics of religion and religious belief,[1] a group of modern atheist thinkers and writers who advocate the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises in government, education and politics.[2] In England and Wales, as of 2011, census figures showed a decrease in respondents citing belief in Christian religion, while the non-religious are the largest growing demographic.[3]

New Atheism lends itself to and often overlaps with secular humanism and antitheism, particularly in its criticism of what many New Atheists regard as the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of ideologies.


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.[4] Harris was motivated by the events of September 11, 2001, which he laid directly at the feet of Islam, while also directly criticizing Christianity and Judaism.[citation needed] Two years later Harris followed up with Letter to a Christian Nation, which was also a severe criticism of Christianity.[citation needed] Also in 2006, following his television documentary The Root of All Evil?, Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion, which was on the New York Times best-seller list for 51 weeks.[5]

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 best-seller lists.[6]

Major publications

These are some of the significant books on the subject of atheism and religion:

Prominent figures

The "Four Horsemen"

Clockwise from top left: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris.
According to Richard Dawkins, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."[7]

On September 30, 2007 four prominent atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett) met at Hitchens' residence for a private two hour unmoderated discussion. The event was videotaped and titled, "The Four Horsemen".[8] During "The God Debate" in 2010 featuring Christopher Hitchens vs Dinesh D'Souza the men were collectively referred to as the "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse",[9] an allusion to the biblical Four Horsemen from the Book of Revelation.[10]

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[11] and Lying.[12] Harris is a co-founder of the Reason Project.

Richard Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion,[13] which was preceded by a Channel 4 television documentary titled The Root of all Evil?. He is also the founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Christopher Hitchens was the author of God Is Not Great[14] and was named among the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine. 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).[15] Shortly after its publication, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which led to his death in December 2011.[16] Before his death, Hitchens published a collection of essays and articles in his book Arguably;[17] a short edition Mortality[18] 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".[19][20]

Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea,[21] Breaking the Spell[22] and many others, has also been a vocal supporter of The Clergy Project,[23] an organization which provides support for clergy in the US who no longer believe in God, and cannot fully participate in their communities any longer.[24]

The "Four Horsemen" video, convened by Dawkins' Foundation, can be viewed free online at his web site: Part 1, Part 2.

Other atheists

After the death of Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who attended the 2012 Global Atheist Convention where Hitchens was scheduled to attend) was referred to as the "plus one horse-woman", since she was originally invited to attend the 2007 meeting of "Horsemen" atheists, but had to cancel at the last minute.[25] Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, fleeing in 1992 to the Netherlands in order to escape an arranged marriage.[26] 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.[27] 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.[28] This resulted in Hirsi Ali's hiding and later immigration to the United States, where she now resides and remains a prolific critic of Islam,[29] religion, and the treatment of women in Islamic doctrine and society,[30] and a proponent of free speech and the freedom to offend.[31][32]

While "The Four Horsemen" are arguably the foremost proponents of atheism, there are a number of other current, notable atheists including: Lawrence M. Krauss, (author of A Universe from Nothing),[33] James Randi (paranormal debunker and former illusionist),[34] Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True[35] and its complementary blog[36] which specifically includes polemics against topical religious issues), Greta Christina (Why are you Atheists so Angry?),[37] Victor J. Stenger (The New Atheism),[38] Michael Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things),[39] David Silverman (President of the American Atheists and author of Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World), Ibn Warraq (Why I Am Not a Muslim),[40] Matt Dillahunty (host of the Austin-based webcast and cable-access television show The Atheist Experience),[41] Bill Maher (writer and star of the 2008 documentary Religulous),[42] Steven Pinker (noted cognitive scientist, linguist, psychologist and author)[43] and Julia Galef (co-host of the podcast Rationally Speaking) .


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,[44] having effects in the physical universe, and like any other hypothesis can be tested and falsified. Other contemporary atheists such as Victor Stenger propose 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,[45] and argue that naturalism is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe, from the most distant galaxies to the origin of life, species, and the inner workings of the brain and consciousness. Nowhere, they argue, is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand reality. Atheists have been associated with the argument from divine hiddenness and the idea that "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" when evidence can be expected.[citation needed]

Scientific testing of religion

Non-believers assert that many religious or supernatural claims (such as the virgin birth of Jesus and the afterlife) are scientific claims in nature. They argue, as do deists and Progressive Christians, for instance, that the issue of Jesus' supposed parentage is not a question of "values" or "morals", but a question of scientific inquiry.[46] Rational thinkers believe science is capable of investigating at least some, if not all, supernatural claims.[47] Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Duke University are attempting to find empirical support for the healing power of intercessory prayer.[48] According to Stenger, these experiments have found no evidence that intercessory prayer works.[49]

Logical arguments

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.[50] 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,[51] or Theodore M. Drange's article, "Incompatible-Properties Arguments".[52]

Views on non-overlapping magisteria

The New Atheists are particularly critical of the two non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould regarding the existence of a "domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution".[53] 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. The New Atheism leaders contend that NOMA does not describe empirical facts about the intersection of science and religion. In an article published in Free Inquiry magazine,[46] and later in his 2006 book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that the Abrahamic religions constantly deal in scientific matters. Matt Ridley notes that religion does more than talk about ultimate meanings and morals, and science is not proscribed from doing the same. After all, morals involve human behavior, an observable phenomenon, and science is the study of observable phenomena. Ridley notes that there is substantial scientific research on evolutionary origins of ethics and morality.[54]

Science and morality

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[55] and accompanying TED Talk How Science can Determine Moral Values[56] proposes 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.

The politics of new atheism

New atheism is politically engaged in a variety of ways. These include campaigns to reduce the influence of religion in the public sphere, attempts to promote cultural change (centering, in the United States, on the mainstream acceptance of atheism), and efforts to promote the idea of an ‘atheist identity'. Internal strategic divisions over these issues have also been notable, as are questions about the diversity of the movement in terms of its gender and racial balance.[57]


Edward Feser's book The Last Superstition presents arguments based on the philosophy of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas against New Atheism.[58] According to Feser it necessarily follows from Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics that God exists, that the human soul is immortal, and that the highest end of human life (and therefore the basis of morality) is to know God. Feser argues that science never disproved Aristotle's metaphysics, but rather Modern philosophers decided to reject it on the basis of wishful thinking. In the latter chapters Feser proposes that scientism and materialism are based on premises that are inconsistent and self-contradictory and that these conceptions lead to absurd consequences.

Cardinal William Levada believes that New Atheism has misrepresented the doctrines of the church.[59] Cardinal Walter Kasper described New Atheism as "aggressive", and he believed it to be the primary source of discrimination against Christians.[60] In a Salon interview, the journalist Chris Hedges argued that New Atheism propaganda is just as extreme as that of Christian right propaganda.[61]

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.[62] Sociologist William Stahl said "What is striking about the current debate is the frequency with which the New Atheists are portrayed as mirror images of religious fundamentalists."[63]

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.[64][65] 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 hold to an atheist position, particularly as New Atheism does science a "grave disservice" and does a "disservice to scholarship" at more general level.[64][65]

Glenn Greenwald,[66][67] Toronto-based journalist and Mideast commentator Murtaza Hussain,[66][67] Salon columnist Nathan Lean,[67] scholars Wade Jacoby and Hakan Yavuz,[68] and historian of religion William Emilsen[69] have accused the New Atheist movement of Islamophobia. Wade Jacoby and Hakan Yavuz assert that "a group of 'new atheists' such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens" have "invoked Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilizations' theory to explain the current political contestation" and that this forms part of a trend toward "Islamophobia [...] in the study of Muslim societies".[68] William W. Emilson argues that "the 'new' in the new atheists' writings is not their aggressiveness, nor their extraordinary popularity, nor even their scientific approach to religion, rather it is their attack not only on militant Islamism but also on Islam itself under the cloak of its general critique of religion".[69] Murtaza Hussain has alleged that leading figures in the New Atheist movement "have stepped in to give a veneer of scientific respectability to today's politically useful bigotry".[66][70]

See also


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External links