The strength of new atheism

November 9, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More

Caspar Melville is often “bored” by new atheism and finds that the attacks of new atheists are overbroad (e.g., the suggestion bringing up a child in any religion is tantamount to child abuse), but in the U.K. Guardian he admits that new atheism does have its uses:

Hundreds of column inches have been generated by New Atheism and responses to it – not least in my magazine – and, if at times the debate has all the subtlety of It’s A Knockout, it has also been educative, instructive and popular, in the important sense that it has been conducted in a language that most people can understand. It’s sold a lot of books, too.

New Atheism is also good at answering back to particular kinds of arguments. The origins of the New Atheists’ impulse, according to philosopher Richard Norman, lie in 9/11 and the reappearance of a particularly aggressive strain of Christian religious fundamentalism. If, as Norman also argues, New Atheism can be over-generalising and crude in its response to religion, this is because it is a response to crude and nonspecific articulations of religiosity – what could be less specific than bombing a skyscraper, or cruder than Biblical creationism? In the light of this, irascible, rhetorically florid, sweeping, intellectually arrogant New Atheism certainly has its place – some arguments are just asking for it.


Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Ben says:

    PZ breaks the mold on what it means to be atheist:

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Ben: Thanks for the link. PZ's conclusion stands out to me:

      "My main point is that one general flaw in many atheists is a lack of appreciation for why they find themselves comfortable with that label, and it always lies in a set of sometimes unexamined working metrics for how the world works. You are an atheist — take pride in what you do believe, not what you deny. And also learn to appreciate that the opposition hasn't arrived at their conclusions in a vacuum. There are actually deeper reasons that they so fervently endorse supernatural authorities, and they aren't always accounted for by stupidity."

  2. Ben says:

    From Pharyngula:

    "The Gnu Atheism is a positive movement that emphasizes the truth of a claim as paramount; it is our number one value. This is why you're finding so many scientists who consider themselves in this movement — it's because that's how we're trained to think about hypotheses. Also, because there are many scientists and philosophers behind this idea, I should also emphasize that we're also well aware that "truth" is not some magic absolute, but something we can only approach by trial and error, and that truth is something you have to work towards, not simply accept dogmatically as given by some unquestionable source…which is another difference between us and religion. A scientific truth is more complex than a colloquial truth, it's requirements being that it is free of contradiction with logic and reality and supported by reason and evidence.

    A big mistake is assuming that our central question is, "Is it good for us?", which leads him into all these pointless anecdotes about how praying makes him feel better, and how animism helps impoverished people cope with their circumstances. I don't care if religion makes someone feel better. Stacking illusions over a grim reality does not turn it sweet. I have my anecdotes, too; I remember the tragedy of my little sister's death a few years ago, and how I sat through a funeral in which the preacher declared with absolute certainty that she was in heaven, and all I felt was anger. Lies do not make me feel better. There is no consolation in fantasy. You can sugar-coat the truth as much as you want, you can make up extravagant stories of my sister living in constant joy and rapture, frolicking with lambs and puppy dogs in fields of sweet clover while angels on gentle zephyrs sing to her, and it would not give me one instant of comfort. I do not lie to myself, and other people lying to me under the delusion that it will make me happier I find unconscionable.

    Seriously, it's worse than that. I despise people who try to swaddle truth with lies in the name of consolation. It kills ambition, the striving to make the world better in the future, and it can allow evil to lurk unchecked. Those child-raping priests persisted because people lied to themselves, telling themselves that no man of god could do something so heinous…and even when finally exposed and removed, they continued to live in denial, reassuring each other that the institution that protected those vipers really was a force for good, overall."

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