The New Atheists: Why do they want to erase faith?

LS has been kind enough to transcribe the cover story of “The Catholic Answers” magazine, volume 24 number 3, July/August 2010, which arrived at his parents’ house for our enjoyment. And by enjoyment, I mean facepalming. Yes folks, it’s another game of…

Count The Fallacies!

There’s everything from logical fallacies to outright factual errors. Can you find them all? Or better yet, can you read the whole article without vocalizing your annoyance? Grunts count!

The New Atheists,
Why do they want to erase faith?

By Robert P. Lockwood

(Shutterstock: Robert Lockwood is an award-winning Catholic columnist, editor and author. He serves currently as the communications director for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and was president of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing from 1990 to 1999)

“You even throw like an atheist.” –Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby) to a self-described atheist who threw away the neighborhood kids’ baseball in “Going My Way” 1944

They have emerged on The New York Times best-seller list spreading the cause of scientism while try try to rid society of what they describe as “idiots” who carry on the “poison” of professed religious belief. Who are these “New Atheists” and how do we reply to their accusations against believers?


What is Scientism?

The roots of the New Atheists are found in “scientism,” a philosophy or worldview that teaches that there is no knowledge save that derived through science. Scientism attempts to explain “the meaning of life” based on alleged purely scientific principles.

Scientism grew out of the fascination with science and explaining the functioning of the world during the European Renaissance of the 15th century. It spread during the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries and reached its zenith in the 19th century.

Scientism, however, is not science. It is how Charles Darwin’s observations of sea tortoises on the Galapagos Islands becomes a philosophy of “survival of the fittest”; and Karl Marx’s screwball economic theory based on alleged scientific principles of history becomes communism.

Scientism wielded its greatest influence in the late 19th century when it proclaimed everything from phrenology to communism as rational and offered scientific solutions to the difficulties that plague humanity. Science was to replace religious beliefs and liberate humanity from the shackles of faith. Instead, scientism introduced the world to virulent racism, communism, fascism, and genocide. Scientism laid the philosophical groundwork for the horrors of the 20th century. And it is far from dead.


Several notable authors offer a basic sampling of the best-selling catechisms of the New Atheists: Sam Harris in “The End of Faith,” Christopher Hitchens in “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion.” Together, they claim to represent the inevitable future—the ultimate progress of rational and scientific man over irrational and religious humanity—and in recent years their actions have grown decidedly more provocative.

Hitchens and Dawson announced plans to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested when he visits England in September 2010. They claim that he is responsible for “crimes against humanity” because of the Church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse. It is a nonsensical charge when one considers that Pope Benedict has provided dramatic leadership in addressing this tragedy. But the real world and the New Atheists often part company.

In July 2008, Paul Z. Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, desecrated on his blog what he claimed to be a consecrated host and announced: “Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything, God is not great. Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet”

The New Atheists are not satisfied with simply harboring their own beliefs, or even challenging religious belief. Rather, they now present an aggressive, in-your-face agenda with events such as “Blasphemy Day” in 2009, where they offered to trade pornography for Bibles or to “de-baptize” people with hair dryers.

Such sophomoric antics get them quite a bit of attention, but it is disproportionate to the actual number of their followers. The Pew Center estimates that 93 percent of Americans believe in God, and that even in Europe religious belief is on the upswing after years of decline following world war II.

Responding to them does not require a degree in theology, philosophy, or science. Plain old common sense suffices.

The understandable tendency among believers has been to view the New Atheists as pseudo-intellectual elitists arguing warmed-over 19th-century European anti-clerical tirades. It can be added that, for the most part, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris produce material almost solely for the enjoyment of their fellow atheists.

Hitchens, for example, stakes out four essential positions: First, religious faith misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos (by believing that a creator exists who created the universe and life); second, this belief compounds its “poison” by defining humanity as “servile” to this creator; third, religious belief is the cause and result of dangerous sex-ual [Not a typo, wtf?] repression; and, fourth, religion is grounded in wishful thinking about life after death. Hitchens uses these points to argue that Religion is simply a man-made construct created by individuals who exercise authority over others. He supports the claim with an unending series of horror stories where so-called religious people have done evil and violent acts throughout history.

Most of the New Atheists reflect these positions, but add their own twists. Richard Dawkins argues that since religious thinking is virtually universal, it is the result of faulty “memes”–cultural ideas that are somehow naturally transmitted from one mind to the other. In the case of religious views, he compares this transmission to a virus.

Like Hitchens, Dawkins sees religion as a faulty and unnecessary prop to morality and suggests that faith has done nothing but subvert science, foster fanaticism, and encourage bigotry.

Dawkin’s reference to “memes” is simply taking one unproven postulated theory and presenting it as scientific fact. And, as Dawkins admits, the universality of religious faith in the human experience is an unavoidable fact. The difficulty for his position is that this universality defines humanity and the human experience. To call it a “virus” is to define human nature as a virus.

The New Atheists can claim that religious faith is man-made, but the very universality of such faith argues that it is intrinsic to humanity, rather than created under false pretenses. You would have to envision a universal con job devised by a surprisingly smart fellow in prehistory, incessantly imposed eons after eons on all of humanity, generation after generation, culture after culture, over hundreds and thousands of years.

Hitchens’ listing of historical barbarities allegedly committed in the name of religion is simply non-sense. It would be the equivalent of denying the truths of science because certain scientists invented chemical weapons or beat their spouses.

To state that religious faith subverts science is equally preposterous. Science grew under the auspices of faith, and many scientists past and present have been men and women of deep religious belief.

As to dangerous sexual repression, with a sky-high divorce rate, out-of-wedlock births, a worldwide epidemic of STDs, pornography, sexual violence, and rampant abuse, let’s put it this way, sexual repression is hardly the problem in contemporary culture.

To claim that religion fosters fanaticism and encourages bigotry flies in the face of historical fact. The genocidal history of the 20th century—ev3erything from the Holocaust to Stalin’s decimation of the peasants, to the slaughter in Cambodia by the Kjmer Rogue—had its collective roots in rejection of religious belief. But dismissing the word games of the New Atheists does not mean that they should be treated cavalierly.

The New Atheists all share a religious expression and religious principles from anywhere but the sacristy. This is not just a matter of removing God from the Pledge of Allegiance. They would forcibly expunge the very idea of God from public life. This has been seen before in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Dawkins, for example, would forbid parents to raise their children in a religious faith. Hitchens argues that any kind of role for religion in public life is a dangerous voice that he wants silenced.

And that’s why they simply cannot be ignored. A response is needed to their claims by believers. No matter how badly they throw a baseball.

This is post 45 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.


  1. Retroid says

    I suppose I’m just one of those crazies who wants to rely on facts rather than…. well, chose your own name for out-of-control philosophies.The way the religious will try to pretend atheism is a belief system so they can attack it as such drives me mad :(

  2. LS says

    I, certainly, was not able to avoid audibly voicing my anger. Hell, I lost as soon as I read the quote at the start of the article. I mean…did the magazine seriously open the article by saying Atheists steal toys from children?Also, four posts from the end of Blogathon, I must retire. I’d love to stick through to the end, but I need to maintain some semblance of a normal sleep routine right now.

  3. Morrcb says

    Damn commies and their…ATOM THEORY!The sidebar is my favorite.”..’scientism’ introduced the world to virulent racism, communism, fasciam and genocide.”

  4. Vsnfd says

    “This has been seen before in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany” Godwin’s Law. At last. I was really affraid he might miss his chance to use this greate argument.

  5. Morrcb says

    I notice that too, and at the end, “A response is need…No matter how badly they throw a baseball.” Will children all over the nation suffer the loss of their toys because atheists will steal them out of anger from the believer uprising?

  6. Erin Winslow says

    Actually, using the concept of “believe or die” to promote and enforce public policy is a relatively recent development. Approximately 1000 years ago certain religious and political leaders figured-out that “God Wills It”(tm) is way more impressive than plain old “I Say So”(tm) and thus the Crusades were born. Dick Harrison did an excellent job of explaining this development in Gud Vill Det but his book is only only available in the original Swedish. Anyway, the leaders of the old USSR used the same process but swapped out faith in God for faith in historical determinism. Stalin and company were presented as the new, historical determinist “messiahs” instead of Jesus. To summarize: same shit, different packaging!

  7. Raiki says

    I, through much biting of cheek and clenching of jaw, managed to make it almost the entire way through without making a sound. However, when it got to the inevitable “Hitler was teh Atheizorz!” I let slip a derisive snort. Isn’t it so freaking convenient that history will magically rewrite itself just to support the beliefs of the god-sheep?~R~

  8. says

    I trust he wasn’t inviting us to count the fallacies in his own column. Regardless, it would be irresponsible not to. I like to be a responsible atheist, although, regrettably, I also can not throw a baseball exceptionally well (I know, however, of no aphporism admitting to “No atheists in dugouts….”)First, I’d have to counter his claim that the roots of New Atheism *are* in Scientism. As near as I can tell, the roots of New Atheism are plain old atheism, as espoused by philosophers like Epicurus and Lucretius. Science may bolster claims that there are rational explanations for events, but I’ve noticed that many atheists are also skeptics and are particularly p-o’d with pseudoscience. So–that part is oddly out of joint with my experience of atheism. So far as the claim that the popular New Atheism authors, Dawkins, Hitchen, et als are concerned, I find especially curious the idea that they are only writing *for* an atheist audience. I did not realize that only atheists were concerned with science or with , oh gosh–Hitchens writes about everything, doesn’t he? Only *we* are concerned with everything, then, and there are a hell of a lot more of us than was previously estimated, based on book sales, then.I also take issue with the “universality” of belief. It would certainly mean one thing if there was a universality of one particular kind of belief–for example, a belief that there absolutely was reincarnation, lets say. But while the capacity to believe things is general, it doesn’t bear out that people believe the same kinds of things, and people can certainly generally all believe things that are totally not factual, like geocentrism. It’s as good as no argument in favor of faith at all. One might believe faith cures a tumor. One might believe coca cola is birth control. I lack the background to address “memes”, except that I did not know atheism had all that much to do with them, such that atheism wouldn’t be valid without them. The meme concet was just a brief analogy regarding the propagation of ideas in populations in Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, but its more of a model. Whether it is or is not a very accurate analogy is another matter separate from the validity of the truth-claims of faith traditions, which still aren’t evidentiary-based last I checked. And I really hate unto death the Stalin/Hitler/Mao are/aren’t atheists pissing contest. I don’t know what medieval Popes would have done with troops and tanks. I don’t know if atheism was ever the point of purges and massacres so much as power consolidation for it’s own sake, and for the love of all of our thinking apparati–Um–yes, human beings *do* suck. But what does that have to do with whether a supernatural entity whipped us all up and wants us to like Him?If Lockwood thought an atheist might stumble across this and see his point, um, fail.

  9. lomifeh says

    One thing I’ve noticed, in articles like this and elsewhere, is that the very idea of atheism is so incomprehensible that instead it’s turned into a form of religion so it can be dealt with.This article shows that, including how it basically treats the atheist as one would following a false god from the authors standpoint. @VixenStrangely: All a meme is really is a cultural construct that talks about how such ideas are spread among people. Some do apply a “biological” approach to talking about how they grow, spread, and change. I think that is part of it. Basic ideas behind the meme are very close to evolution, or at least the layman’s perception of it.Memes really are not about Atheism, the person who put forth the idea is though so that means it must be evil and all about atheism obviously.One piece I take umbrage with in this article is the authors claims that Atheists only value scientific knowledge and that they consider anything not falling into the “realm of sciene” to be false. It is telling how the article shows a bias against, and fear of science. This piece really reveals a lot about the author in terms of fears, biases, and outright crazy conclusions.

  10. says

    Sometimes, as a rational, non-theistic religious person, I feel like I just want to hide out of the way while the aggressive evangelicals and the aggressive atheists slag it out. Both sides make me want to bash their heads together, but I must admit that I feel seriously annoyed by the rabid religious more strongly and more often than I do by the aggressively atheist. Not sure why that is.PS: No, I don’t think you (Jen) are gennerally an aggressive atheist in this sense. Dawkins is sometimes, and sometimes not. I guess that’s a big difference – I rarely if ever become aware of anyone who’s *mostly* ‘aggressive atheist’ in public persona, which is not true of the ‘rabidly religious’…

  11. says

    I got as far as the side-bar on “scientism” and literaly said “GTFO”. How blindered do you have to be to think that other people asking for empirical evidence are religiously dogmatic? Obviously he has not read a single book by any of the New Atheists. Or if he did read them then he definitely didn’t understand them. He read into them exactly what he wanted to.

  12. Jamey says

    I would call this straw- manism. There are certainly people out there who claim to have all the answers to everything. If you want to call that scientism, that’s perfectly all right with me. But that most certainly describes religion, along with pseudo scientists. Religion is a form of scientism. When what passes as science goes wrong, it’s usually by modeling itself along the lines of religion, and thinking it can answer all questions with certitude.

  13. says

    Now to be fair, I only skimmed.But I actually agree with some of the feeling of what I read. (Not the actual phrases, but the general indignant emotion)A lot of faithful/religious or people who believe in a lot of non-factual hodge podge already feel threatened by anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. Moreso by anyone who’s willing to point it out. Being immature about pointing out these peoples irrational flaws is just like poking a hornets nest or treating a phobia by hunting down the phobic and throwing their fear at them. It’s not going to help anything and if anything just make the person feel justified in their belief.(I bring up the phobia since I have an irrational fear of spiders and needles, I can’t rationalize it away. I’ve tried, and I can rationalize myself to a doctor to get the needle but once it’s out if I see it there is nothing I can do to stop myself from collapsing into an inconsolable screaming and crying pile. So I can understand some irrationalities)To be kind, there are gentler ways about it.But to be fair, they did start it first. Every obnoxious protest by the religious, every street preacher, every knock on my door while I’m in the bathroom, every insensitive accusation that my existence somehow caused worldwide disaster is a gauntlet thrown. And while I feel bad for the spiritual or rational believers of various faiths who are caught in the crossfire and I can understand the feelings of the religious who want the militant atheists to leave them alone, we’re no different from any other minority organization that wants to be recognized against the best wishes of the majority.”We’re here, We’re Secular, Get used to it.”… I love it when I answer myself. It’s not crazy I SWEARS!

  14. Muffinmania583 says

    I would like to say that I think Dawkins is kinda a huge dickhead. Really, I see a lot of stupid New Atheists just hate on Christianity. Not religion, but Christianity. Granted, yeah, it’s a huge powerhouse in America, but other religions kinda preach the same shit overall with only a slight difference in flavor. To me, it shouldn’t be an issue of who started it; people in general should just learn to deal with their issues and come to a middle ground of belief in;dr Let’s all be humanists.

  15. Cyborgwizard says

    I’ve always enjoyed watching/reading about highly religous people trying to logically attack atheism. Not only do they use blatant strawman tactics, but screw up refuting them in such a way that they actually get beaten by said strawman. It’s amazing that there aren’t MORE atheists.

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