An imperfect characterization of the New Atheism


I have a problem with this description.

Old Atheism: “there is no God.”
New Atheism: “we need to bomb more Muslims. European culture is superior. Also modern feminism is a cancer.”

They forgot the usual immediate followup:

New Atheism: “But all atheism means is that there is no god, and so we’re going to exclude any attempt to insert your values into it.”

But then, somehow, their heads fail to explode at the contradictions and hypocrisy. I don’t get it.

Comments

  1. says

    But then, somehow, their heads fail to explode at the contradictions and hypocrisy.

    There is power in labelling, that’s why authoritarians do it. Basically: “This is what someone told me ‘new atheists’ believe. Therefore they do.” They could just as easily said “Marxists” or “Fascists” – the label is vacuous, that’s why it’s powerful. Labelling someone with a really splashy inaccurate label like this is a very quick form of The Big Lie.

  2. Saad says

    I think underlying it all is the idea that atheism = science = anti-emotion/feelings. So objecting to the Ten Commandments at a public building is objective and rational, but speaking against street harassment of women is showing emotions and weakness. And on top of it all, it’s all mixed up and overlapped with colonialism style racism where brown and black means savage, toxic masculinity, and a high school level clique mentality.

    It’s a jumbled mess.

  3. Curious Digressions says

    Atheism as a belief structure = There is no god.

    There is no god =/= a social movement.

    A social movement requires action. It’s structure and strategies surrounding a shared identity. “New Atheism” is centered around no-god belief and maintaining current structures of privilege. “A+”, or whatever the wacky kids are calling no-god belief plus social justice concerns is an entirely different movement that doesn’t share core values with NA’s.

    At this point, ceding the “New Atheist” label and building more independent recognition might be a better strategy.

  4. says

    This is a rather disappointing OP, PZ. It looks to me like you’re guilty of the very thing that many people try to attack feminism with: Find some extremist examples (“sex with penetration is a form of rape”) and then talk about them endlessly as if they constitute normal representatives of the community and thereby define the community, and try to dismiss the entire community by them.

    Just as one shouldn’t judge the whole concept of feminism by the most extremist of it’s advocates, one shouldn’t do the same with new atheists. These “we need to bomb more muslims”(seriously, who even says that?) and “modern feminism is a cancer” aren’t even viewpoints held uniquely by new atheists. I’m not even convinced they are majority view, I’d like to see some genuine polling data on that.

    “New Atheism: “But all atheism means is that there is no god, and so we’re going to exclude any attempt to insert your values into it.”
    But then, somehow, their heads fail to explode at the contradictions and hypocrisy. I don’t get it.”

    And they’d be right, since obviously even if a large portion of new atheists happen to hold these “bomb more muslims”-views, it doesn’t follow from the mere fact they are new atheists.

  5. says

    The problem is the silent presumption:

    Rejection of religious structure and doctrine –> absence of coherent moral/ethical principles, and therefore anything goes

    Some of those who criticism atheism look at that whole statement and say “that’s why atheism sucks.” They’re wrong: There is no inherent reason that coherent moral/ethical principles must be based on a belief/doctrine/structure that accepts the supernatural… and, simultaneously, the converse (such belief does not inherently result in coherent moral/ethical principles). One relatively recent example of the latter is the 1960s-80s doctrine of the established church in the Republic of South Africa regarding racial superiority… which fails of coherence, if nothing else, because it is inconsistent with both the “saved by faith” and “saved by good works” threads that otherwise formed the “teachings” of that church.

    And others just like the “therefore anything goes” and sign on for the self-aggrandizement therein.

  6. Ogvorbis: Swimming without a parachute. says

    Saad:

    I think underlying it all is the idea that atheism = science = anti-emotion/feelings.

    I have met many non-scientists over the years who seem to have absorbed this. Which confuses me, because I have met many scientists (usually working for a federal land agency in the US) who are passionate about their science. People who gleefully spend entire summers camping in primitive conditions, lugging around radio detection gear, living without showers, eating dehydrated backpacking food, just to learn a little more about brown bears, or elk, or tortoises. People who are willing to enthusiastically and cheerfully answer any questions about their discipline. People who are excited about the number of redds in a stream in Idaho. People who really love what they do. And yes, every scientist I have ever met gets emotional about their discipline. The papers, the publications, the studies, are, of course, written to a certain standard, but, when reading paleaontology papers, the passion and joy comes through loud and clear.

    Many of the people who claim that, since atheism/science is all about facts, we should not allow emotions to cloud our minds tend to get very fucking emotional when any fact that disagrees with their world view comes up. Values, whether scientific values, or social values, or economic values, are tied up with emotion. I disagree strongly with libertarians, but I understand and can accept their feelings about their beliefs. Of course, I, a progressive socialist social justice type, should not ever admit to any emotion at all regarding my values.

  7. Gregory Greenwood says

    The New Atheist label has been so thoroughly corrupted by misogynists and racists that it is probably beyond saving at this point. I agree with Curious Digressions @ 3 – it is probably time to cut our losses and move on to a concept such as Atheism+ that has progressive and inclusive values worked in from the ground up so that no one can claim that a concern for social justice is somehow inappropriate or fostering ‘deep rifts’ – social justice is part of the deal. If you don’t like it, jog on.

    The MRAs, White Supremacists, and assorted other arsehats will be on notice from day one that they are unwelcome, and there will be no self aggrandising ‘atheist thought leaders’ in place to provide cover for bigots and sexual predators who think conferences are hunting grounds.

  8. consciousness razor says

    Mikkel Nif Rasmussen:

    New Atheism: “But all atheism means is that there is no god, and so we’re going to exclude any attempt to insert your values into it.”
    But then, somehow, their heads fail to explode at the contradictions and hypocrisy. I don’t get it.

    And they’d be right, since obviously even if a large portion of new atheists happen to hold these “bomb more muslims”-views, it doesn’t follow from the mere fact they are new atheists.

    This is extremely confusing. They’d be right — that is, to exclude any attempt to insert your values into it — since their own views don’t follow merely from being new atheists? How could that possibly follow?

    If it’s not true that what follows from atheism is that we must express nothing valuable, then there is no justification for excluding attempts of atheists to express them. Atheists are people, as such they have values to express, and they are not forbidden from doing so by any sound principle whatsoever, derived from atheism or being an atheist or anything else.

    All these shitheads are doing is trying to silence their critics — that’s fucking it. If the majority isn’t like them, as you yourself suggested, then we ought to be heard, not just in a poll but however we want to be heard. What wouldn’t make any fucking sense at all is for you to say we should let the “extremists” express to the rest of us that we don’t get to express ourselves because their views aren’t based on anything that reasonable people could find some fucking agreement about.

  9. unclefrogy says

    who is deciding how this conflict is to be characterized? It seems to me that it is the ones who I would have to call conservatives that are doing the characterization.
    I see that what conflict I have with this has to do with how I came to not believe in gods beings and how I see those “others” came to atheism.
    It was reason applied as best I could to all the questions and the effects of the evidence that exists. That includes my understanding of civil-rights which I saw as perfectly rational long before I abandoned the god fallacy.
    It looks to me that the majority of those on “the other side of the divide” are more of the mind of being anti-authority, as long as that authority is someone else. It is more no one is going to tell me what to believe and that belief is bull shit. It is actually more like the cartoon atheist touted by the fundamentalists as the great evil then anyone in the tradition of “The age of Reason” or someone using the tools of science to determine what is real and what is not.
    For me and I suspect others it is the search for what is real and what is not that is central and that “gods” are just a part of it. Having to take a visible stance on atheism is the result of the tyrannical nature of many religious practitioners. They make it an issue and at the root threaten death to any who question it when it should have very little to do with how we order our lives and how we order our societies on a day to day basis.
    I for one have to keep in mind that the central issue at least for me is that it is what is real or not regardless of whether if there is a god or not that the determines what I do or say. Irrational reactions always boggle my mind my lazy cat is more rational.
    uncle frogy

  10. mykroft says

    I’ve always said that religion was a moral “get out of jail free” card, because if you can convince yourself that God wants you to do something then it’s OK. Blow up innocent people? Well, they didn’t believe what I believe and so I’m doing God’s will.

    It seems to me that the asshat faction of the new atheists want their own moral get out of jail free card, because if there is no magic Terminator in the sky that slams you when you do wrong, then anything that doesn’t get you put in jail is allowed. Reminding them that people different from them are also human and deserve their respect is the last thing they want to hear.

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