So what is — or rather, who is — the problem with New Atheism?


We should face the facts: New Atheism is dead. Time for a post-mortem.

New Atheism itself was a rather slight intellectual movement and thus fizzled out quickly…

Ow. Ouch. Hey, that stings. Gettin’ personal there. But why was it slight, and why has it fizzled out? I think we can blame that on the refusal of leading figures to get at all deep, on their shallow understanding of philosophy, and how they only used atheism as a tool to promote a regressive and ultimately racist ideology. The representative of that self-defeating side of the New Atheism is…

…but not before Harris had cemented himself as the arch critic of fundamentalist Islam—a figure willing to challenge the progressive shibboleths of tolerance and multiculturalism that are, as Harris has put it, getting us killed by the thousands. This contrarian stance has steadily intensified over the years (it went into overdrive in 2014 after Ben Affleck famously suggested that Harris is an Islamophobe on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher) and today encompasses much more than the simple critique of “Islamism” that made his name.

Harris’ association with the Intellectual Dark Web, his constant focus on “identity politics” and “liberal delusion,” and his obsession with his own “bad-faith” critics, just to name a few examples, have made him the bête noire of the left. And this open break with the liberal class of which he has been a member throughout his career has made him more popular than ever. Well over a million people follow Harris on Twitter and listen to each of his podcasts. But as his platform has grown, he has ventured into areas far outside his core competencies, which are limited to mindfulness/meditation and perhaps (though this is debatable) certain subdisciplines of neuroscience and philosophy of mind. As a result, Harris often finds himself in avoidable confrontations with experts on controversial topics about which he knows very little.

I agree. Harris has been a disaster. Dawkins stuck his foot in his mouth a few too many times, and has kind of receded into the background. Dennett avoided most of the problems his peers dragged in, but he is even more retiring now, and does a good job of avoiding entanglement in conservative culture wars. Harris, on the other hand, is still in there, obstinately slugging away, sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand of the alt right, and representing the failure of his ideology loudly and persistently.

The article tries to explain what’s wrong with the guy. I partly agree.

This means that much of the criticism of Harris currently out there is misplaced. In recent years he’s been repeatedly assailed as a bigot and racist. He is neither. The trouble with Harris is more prosaic: he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Diamond episode is just one example of how Harris’ issues are mostly the result of his own ignorance. The problem isn’t that he’s not an expert at everything—obviously no one is. The problem is that Harris is deeply assertive, outlandishly so, in precisely the areas that are thorniest for non-experts to meaningfully wade into.

Don’t be so quick to excuse his racism! This is like the argument that you can’t be a racist unless you join the KKK and participate in a lynching — nope, we white people have a lot of easy ways to be racist, and Harris is happy to exercise all of them.

But otherwise, yes, that is correct. Harris is an erudite ignoramus. He’s very good at mouthing the platitudes of scholarship while ignoring the principles. The article goes on to cite his catastrophic encounters with Jared Diamond, Ezra Klein, Noam Chomsky, and Bruce Schneier, all incidents where his shortcomings and his egotistical inability to overcome his own prejudices were brought to light.

It sure would be nice to be able to point to Sam Harris and say that the embarrassment of the New Atheism was all his fault, but he had partners in crime, and worse still, commands an audience of millions of atheists who worship his ‘wisdom’. The real failure was that the New Atheism failed to inspire people to be better, and instead simply reassured them that their biases were “logical” and “rational” and “enlightened”.

Comments

  1. raven says

    In recent years he’s been repeatedly assailed as a bigot and racist. He is neither. The trouble with Harris is more prosaic: he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    PZ Myers already got this one.
    Harris is all of them, a bigot, racist and ignorant idiot.

    I read his book The End of Faith.
    Or tried to, I got halfway through and gave up, something rare for me to do.
    He spends most of his time Muslim/Islam bashing.
    It’s not even totally wrong.
    But it isn’t our problem!!!
    I live in the USA, surrounded by fanatical, ignorant fundie xians who want to kill me, helped destroy my 401(K) plan***, and send me their intentions as death threats quite often.
    I’ve never gotten a single death threat from…a Muslim, or anyone else but fundie xians.

    ***The 401(K) plan like millions of others, had a near death experience during the Bush Great Recession catastrophe.
    Strangely enough, it was resurrected by Obama. Thanks Obama!!!

  2. hemidactylus says

    I think there’s a serious issue with Harris’ impact on people’s views of moral philosophy. Cosmic Skeptic has a podcast now and in one episode he had a decent interview of Anthony Magnabosco. In another podcast he and Rationality Rules pointlessly argued moral philosophy in a manner resembling two mullets haplessly flopping around in a boat, not realizing they are out of the water. The boat is Sam Harris’s moral landscape. They never transcended egoistic pleasure seeking nor broached other orientation nor impartial spectators, the first steps toward morality proper. 2 hours of that nonsense.

  3. raven says

    My initial evaluation of Sam Harris was that he is an idiot.
    That was a decade or so ago.

    I’ve paid very little attention to him since then but have seen enough to know he really is an idiot.
    And saved hours of my valuable but finite lifespan by not paying much of any attention to him.

  4. mnb0 says

    “The real failure was that the New Atheism failed to inspire people to be better”
    No, the real failure was this pseudo-mission message in the first place. People don’t become better by means of inspiration. They do when better behaviour is rewarded. But you don’t need atheism for this approach. This is why I never cared much about NA.

  5. raven says

    New Atheism itself was a rather slight intellectual movement…

    I don’t agree with this assertion without proof or data.

    Atheism and New Atheism is mostly just an application of The Emperor Has No Clothes principle.
    Where are all these gods, why can’t we see them, why can’t they do as much as my cat in the real world, and why does the Universe look exactly like it would if they never even existed?
    In point of fact, all testable supernatural claims have been falsified (Dennet in Breaking the Spell).

    Given the history of our societies and the society we live in, that turns out to require a lot of courage and hard thought.
    It wasn’t too long ago that being an atheist was a death penalty offense.
    It still is in parts of the world.

    And even at this present day, in the USA, many people pay steep social and economic prices for being out atheists.
    When I became a Pagan, the first thing I discovered was that Pagans usually keep a low profile.
    Because they are often subject to attacks from fundie xians, including such things as being fired from jobs, kicked out of rental housing, and having their homes and cars shot up by drivebys.

  6. Akira MacKenzie says

    A query for the Pharyngulatariat ;

    How many of you got into New Atheism because of 9-11 or the supposedly increased threat of Islamic terrorism.

    Speaking for myself, I didn’t. Writers like Dawkins and Harris –and, yes, you too PZ–caught my imagination because I was far more concerned about the growing power of the Christian Right under Dubbya. I was worried about Bible-beaters appointments to the courts and Creationism and mandatory sneaking their way back into the public schools, not Al Qaeda sleeper cells and “creeping Shariah.” Osama Bin Ladin and the Taliban were clear on the other side of the planet and while they got lucky on 9-11, I seriously doubted they’d be capable of pulling of anything as bad again, much less worse. My concerns were both closer to home and more Christian in nature.

    With New Atheism, we could finally present a united front against the Fundies, as well as combat the silliness of theism and belief in the supernatural in general. PUT UP OR SHUT UP! I thought. Show is your god’s! Perform a miracle! Give me a guided tour of your afterlife and explain how one can experience existence without a living body! Demonstrate your religion under proper, double-blind, peer reviews conditions, or go peddle your mystical bullshit else!where!” I really and truly thought we were on the vanguard on something historical, a movement that could change the world for the better.

    Then some creepy dude had to blow it all up by making an unwanted ass at Rebecca Watson in an elevator. Then some Ayn-Rand-reading douche-nozzles three a tantrum at the idea that maybe we out to try to expand our horizons by recognizing the plight of anyone who wasn’t a white, male, cis-gendered heterosexuals. Then thunderfF00l had to insist that that he can grope women without their permission, Harris had to defend torture, and Dawkins revealed tweet-by-tweet what a privileged prick he was.

    What I find so frustrating about the “death” of Nee Atheism is that we may need it now more than ever in this age of Trump, his theocratic fans who becoming more and more violent, and a culture where you can pick and choose your facts. It’s annoying to watch so-called “progressive” Christian be lauded as the primary force opposing the Religious Right; they might end up making Christianity “nicer” but it’s still untrue, supernatural nonsense that will only perpetuate superstition and give cover to the Fundies. I cringe as I watch the Democrats court the religious from one side of their mouth, while giving half-hearted reassurances to their belief in a secular government. (I’m fucking talking about YOU Mayor Pete, and don’t get me started on Woo-woo Williamson.) However, besides us lefty atheists, what forces do we have to marshal? Why, a bunch of YouTube shitlords who try to use the same “reason” they claim led them to reject the existence of a deity use it now to defend scientific racism, make rape apologetics, and blow the horn for Trump despite the Evangelical company he keeps. Yeah, we’re not talking to them.

    I supported New Atheism, because it gave us a voice in a culture that still denigrates those who disbelieve in a god and openly mistrust religion. Who speaks for us now?

  7. Sastra says

    In my opinion, the real failure of the New Atheism was that people were defining it in different ways, and therefore joining, criticizing, and leaving it for different reasons. If you saw it as a cult of personality, then its meaning would narrow. If you thought it was simply another term for being outspoken and unabashed, then its meaning was too broad. There were so many descriptions from so many people that it became impossible not to find one which was both heavily promoted … and increasingly troubling.

    It would then be a coin toss between “That’s not New Atheism!” and “New Atheism sucks.”

  8. says

    Recently, The New Yorker ran an article on those moderating the comment threads at Hacker News¹, the arch-hive of libertarian techbro scum and villainy on the internet which epitomises everything mean, self-centred and hateful about Silicon Valley culture. In the article, the authors describe the tone of the Hacker News commentariat as one of “performative erudition”, a phrase which to me perfectly sums up the “well, actually…”/ “debate me!” style so beloved of techbros and their ideological fellow-travellers in the so-called Intellectual Dark Web. It fits Harris well.

    ¹ Don’t bother with that link; this one is far funnier.

  9. PaulBC says

    Akira MacKenzie@9

    Whoops! Sorry, I thought I closed that italics tag.

    But you had me at the passion you put into that speech. Arms waving, fists banging. Are you saying now that you didn’t mean it after all?

  10. Akira MacKenzie says

    PaulBC @12

    Oh, I meant every.word, but whatever my flaws, I’m honest enough to.admit I’m lousy at proofreading.

    So… You really thought it was good???

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    Dame this tablet! My iPad is.in the shop, so I’m using my backup Kindle Fire for the duration and I’m still adjusting to the interface. I often miss the spacebar icon and hit “.” instead .

  12. PaulBC says

    Akira MacKenzie@13

    Well, I was joking. I mean, I don’t disagree with what you said, but it reads very differently when it’s all in italics.

  13. garnetstar says

    I agree with Akira: i watched 9/11 and all that pass without the slightest knowledge of New Atheism. I’ve always been an atheist (realized it at age seven), but had no need to read about it until I’d had it up to my limit of two Christian fundie sisters forcing their views on me and monitoring my reading material to see if I “believed in evolution”. Ugh. I started reading about atheism as a counter to that.

    My impression of Harris is that I’ve never encountered anyone else so very close-minded. I mean by that, that he’s so convinced of what’s in his own head that he doesn’t ever attend to actuality, and cannot concieve of thinking over anything that anyone else presents. He “reasons” things out in his head, drawing upon his collection of experiences and biases, and then proclaims his deductions as true, and no external data or alternate view can even penetrate.

    Can’t think of mental state that’s worse for doing science. Or, I guess, anything.

    The one I still recall is the TSA flap, in which Harris proclaimed that they should profile by appearance at airports, then someone who was in charge of security at such places told him that, in their experience, that didn’t work, but profiling behavior did (which is true for other criminals too). No, Harris clung to what he’d thought up, as if the world should work the way he’s concluded, no matter what empirical reality on the ground had discovered. He completely rejected the data, on the grounds that whatever he’s “reasoned out up must be true. That’s fatal in science.

    He told Ezra Klein flat-out that he had no identity, meaning tribal, associations. That’s how closed off he is.

  14. consciousness razor says

    We should face the facts: New Atheism is dead. Time for a post-mortem.

    The linked article that you offer only has a rather casual assertion that it “was a rather slight intellectual movement and thus fizzled out quickly.” Is that true, and how do you know it? What has changed, if anything?
    I’ve always doubted that the term “New Atheism” ever meant much. So should I just say “good riddance to that nearly meaningless word”? I would do that, but I don’t think it’s a conclusion with the kind of significance you presumably wanted. For one thing, you’re not just talking about a word….
    If you’re really claiming it has (metaphorically) died[1], it’s probably important to be clear about what that means. You also complained years ago, when the term was first invented, because it (deliberately or not) made the boring old atheism brand[2] seem like it was something new and different,[3] which is false. (Or so I thought … perhaps it only used to be false? Is that what changed?)
    There’s a lot of talk about Harris. Maybe he’s a supervillain and maybe not. But whether or not he’s all that important, facts about the broader population are in short supply.
    – The number of atheists/agnostics has been noticeably and steadily increasing since the 1990s, not merely since 9/11. If it’s dying somehow, that apparently doesn’t represent such people rejecting atheism. Maybe it’s better to say that many have turned to “new new (new…) atheism,” whatever the hell that would mean, if we have any good reason to be talking like this in the first place.
    – Atheists are still some of the most progressive people out there. That hasn’t changed in recent history either. If there is a significant change to talk about, it’s not obvious that the much smaller number of conservative atheists are the ones who are really driving it, instead of the much larger number of progressive atheists.
    So … a lot of questions to ask here. How did it die, whatever that means? Did conservatives kill it? Did progressives? Did something else happen to it? What’s the claim supposed to be about?
    [1] But maybe it’s meant to be understood as a very different type of statement, such as “I, personally, am not associating myself with whatever I think New Atheism represents.” However, I doubt you’d really think this is a sensible way to express “the death of NA,” if that’s supposed to mean anything. So I just don’t get it.
    [2] Thousands of years old, for what that’s worth. It’s not news, but some are apparently so focused on the last few years (or much more specifically, events in that period which involve a handful of “important” people) that they forget simple things like this.
    [3] About that, you can at least say a few books were published. And there were lots of blogs and so forth, because this happened at a time when the internet was growing rapidly.

  15. DanDare says

    The movement taught me how to be an activist, connected me to philosophy and humanism, helped me to learn the importance of real life communities rather than pure digital ones, and in its collapse taught me a lot about foundations, principles and the need to use wisdom to control cleverness.

  16. =8)-DX says

    In recent years he’s been repeatedly assailed as a bigot and racist. He is neither. The trouble with Harris is more prosaic: he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Not knowing what you’re talking about, when talking about issues of gender, race or even general economics, especially when multiple people over a decade have tried to inform you, is pretty much the definition of bigotry.

    bigotry: obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices
    bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices

    And it may be a crappy definition, but bigotry as such was always defined as holding to certain opinions while expressing an inability to change those opnions (in response to criticism, cultural changes, or .. I don’t know? The facts!) What we call bigotry is often not just ignorance, but also adherence to systems, to institutions, to a certain political process.

    You can’t not be a bigot if you talk shit about stuff you don’t know and can’t be arsed to learn.
    =8)-DX

  17. =8)-DX says

    In recent years he’s been repeatedly assailed as a bigot and racist. He is neither. The trouble with Harris is more prosaic: he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Not knowing what you’re talking about, when talking about issues of gender, race or even general economics, especially when multiple people over a decade have tried to inform you, is pretty much the definition of bigotry.

    bigotry: obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices
    bigot: a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices

    And it may be a crappy definition, but bigotry as such was always aboutholding to certain opinions while expressing an inability to change those opnions (in response to criticism, cultural changes, or .. I don’t know? The facts!) What we call bigotry is often not just ignorance, but also adherence to systems, to institutions, to a certain political process.

    You can’t not be a bigot if you talk shit about stuff you don’t know and can’t be arsed to learn.
    =8)-DX

  18. petesh says

    @18: Harris’s great talent seems to lie in the choosing of his parents. His mother (according to the fount of all knowledge) created not only The Golden Girls but at least nine other TV series, most of which are relatively familiar names to me, so I presume she did all right for herself financially and could afford a wayward child. I assume she paid for his return to Stanford at 30 to complete his undergraduate degree, after fucking around with psychedelics and gurus for a decade or so. Beyond that, his competence eludes me.

  19. ORigel says

    One of the most famous Harry Potter fanfics is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It is supposed to be the codifying work of what the author calls the “Rational Fic Genre.” Fans hawk it as better than the actual series for some reason. Even though everyone acts as semi-sociopathic professors, even though most of the characters are children. The work is obliviously sexist, and Rationalism Is The Only Way.

    The author is clearly an ideological descendant of “New Atheism” and the fanfic inadvertently reveals the movement’s flaws.

  20. hemidactylus says

    Having more time I started reading the article PZ linked and am curious about Harris’ podcast that went south with Jared Diamond. Also read a critique of Harris’ take on morality on that site in a separate article.

    But then I just stumbled down a path from there linked at the bottom of the page that is confusing as hell and disconcerting. What the hell is the recent brouhaha about ContraPoints? PZ often linked her cool videos here but is she now beyond the pale because some opinions she expressed on Twitter? Yipes!

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    consciousness razor @ # 17: Atheists are still some of the most progressive people out there. … the much smaller number of conservative atheists …

    Got a cite on that, please?

  22. says

    “…but not before Harris had cemented himself as the arch critic of fundamentalist Islam—a figure willing to challenge the progressive shibboleths of tolerance and multiculturalism that are, as Harris has put it, getting us killed by the thousands.”

    Another group responsible for if anything even more deaths are the war-hakks who dragged the USA and its allies into the morass of Afghanistan and Iraq and now want to drag the world into an even bigger killfest by invading Iran. These of course were cheered on by Harris bedfellows in the Alt-Right, fundamentalist Christianity. Some New Atheism that was.
    Raven mentioned the only death threat they received wasn’t from a Muslim. Ditto. Of the 3 I have received, one was from a criminal I gave evidence against in an assault case. He found himself in deeper trouble when, acting on this the police caught him with an unlicensed pistol, (Australia’s gun laws actually do something about criminals getting guns). Another was from a work colleague who said it during a heated discussion and immediately apologised. The third was from a Christian nutter who took exception to my reply to a letter he had written to a local paper. He took the trouble to find my phone number and call me threatening to rape and murder my wife and child in front of me then rape and murder me. Him I took seriously.

  23. brucej says

    Blockquote> figure willing to challenge the progressive shibboleths of tolerance and multiculturalism that are, as Harris has put it, getting us killed by the thousands.

    Harris’ and his bigotry got them kills day the HUNDREDS of thousands.

    A good read today is Stonekettle Station:

    http://www.stonekettle.com/

    Sam Harris is nothing more or less than another wannabe fascistand war criminal

  24. PaulBC says

    Pierce R. Butler@26

    https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/atheist/party-affiliation/

    “Leans Democratic” is arguably a weak proxy for “progressive” but in the United States, very few self-identified atheists seem likely to be conservative (and only 15% are Republican/lean Republican)

    There are many people who are non-believers without making a huge issue about it, so “New Atheists” are unlikely to be a representative sample. Given the current tie between mainstream conservatism and Christianity in the US, it’s not hard to understand the difficulty of being open about atheism as a conservative. An atheist is unlikely to feel welcome in conservative circles even if they shared some specific viewpoint, like an interest in lower taxation or reduced federal regulations.

    There are many exceptions, and the rule is probably more accurate for non-Hispanic white Americans than for other groups. But the adherence to ritual and tradition is at least a small-c conservative trait and likely to be missing in atheists.

  25. nomdeplume says

    In way of context we shouldn’t forget Hitchens who was very supportive of the invasion of Iraq, because Islam. One of the very worst, among many contenders, of American policy mistakes in the last 100 years.

  26. says

    Some months ago I did a review of several atheist postmortems. Conclusions? The most compelling explanations were the whole failed-at-feminism thing, and the fact that atheism has become less relevant to most people’s lives.

    The least compelling explanation, was that new atheism was an “intellectual failure”. The thing is, most social movements don’t even try for intellectual rigor, because who really cares about that, or has the ability to discern it. Lack of intellectual chops sure didn’t stop Sam Harris from being successful, for a time. I think that PZ is more correct in saying it was a failure “to inspire people to be better”.

  27. wzrd1 says

    @7, the best way to kill off a bad notion is to simply replace it and members of the bad notion crowd join yours. Worked well in various open source projects over the decades, worked well in political circles in general.
    Hell, it is needed in current political circles, but all seem convinced that two parties are necessary and more never work. They don’t work because they’re less inclusive in many ways, too specialized and narrow, rather than occupy the original vacuum filled space where the current two parties drifted away from.

    @PZ, I can easily, even trivially excuse them. I excuse them with, “well, they’re assholes and I have no need to deal with them”. Eventually, the majority figures out the same. Well, save around 35% or whatever Trump’s core voter is, which is about the level of the population asshole index is. (Actually, assholes and strongman followers, enablers and generally weak minded, who follow the loudest and are honestly afraid of the majority.)

  28. chrislawson says

    The problem with New Atheism is that it is a pretty meaningless term invented by a journalist trying to tie together several atheist writers who had made their way onto bestseller lists arguing for various atheist positions. Almost all of the arguments these writers made were very old ones. Some of the arguments go back to Epicurus. The only actual new argument that I can think of that came out of the New Atheists was Dawkins’ meme concept and Dennett’s exploration of that in the third part of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. And those had been published nearly ten years before Tom Flynn came up with the New Athiest tag.

    tldr: New Atheism was never really a movement, it was a catch-phrase for a small number of people who became well known for promoting atheism in a roughly 20 year window.

  29. MichaelE says

    #8, I got into it because of the Danish cartoons and I’ve since gotten the hell outta dodge! Danish atheist society is…okay, I guess. But it’s membership is full of racists, islamophobes, homophobes, transphobes and you name it and there’s really no moderating influence.

    And yes, Harris is practically worshipped as a god, though no one would be willing to admit it.

  30. Charlotte Benton says

    I think the biggest problem is that New Atheism (so far as it existed) never really moved beyond being a reaction to the George W. Bush administration.

  31. hemidactylus says

    @34- Siggy

    Thanks for link. I wasn’t previously aware of potential difference of opinion between some binary trans and nonbinaries. Well outside my day to day frame of reference. Learned something new.

  32. John Morales says

    chrislawson @36,

    The problem with New Atheism is that it is a pretty meaningless term invented by a journalist trying to tie together several atheist writers who had made their way onto bestseller lists arguing for various atheist positions.

    Hm. For me, it’s basically an attitude. Congruent to mine, actually.

    Specifically, it only really works if one is already an atheist; point being, as Wikipedia puts it:

    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 exposed by rational argument wherever their influence arises in government, education, and politics.

    Now that it’s an acceptable attitude, the job is done. Religiosity is silly, and it’s demonstrable.

    (Or, basically, unapologetic reasoned atheism)

    IMO, Re Harris, his Letter to a Christian Nation is what put him on the map.

    (Of course, his + for atheism was not quite what’s known as Atheism+)

    (Good stuff!)

  33. hemidactylus says

    41- John

    Secularists need not be nonbelievers and also seek to counter religious incursion into government, education, and politics. There is window dressing in the NT in Jesus’ rhetoric about Caesar and God, and the admonishment to pray in private and Pinker-basher John Gray talks of distinction between Augustine’s cities of (hu)man and god in Black Mass.

    This was published before neoatheism became a thing, but I think Gray made a point how atheism is a reaction within a Christian context (as are peculiar free will digressions), so the backdrop may indeed be faith-based Dubya initiatives coupled with over reaction to Islam.

    More to the topic, Dennett has criticized Harris on simplistic views of free will and Churchland the same on morality.

  34. Dunc says

    hemidactylus, @ #42: Indeed. One of the important roots of modern secularism was in the various wars surrounding the Reformation – sure, everybody involved was Christian, but they spent a lot of time killing each other over which was the right flavour of Christianity. Eventually, most people decided that the only way to resolve the conflict was to separate religion from public life, whilst still retaining their personal religious convictions. (This is a vast over-simplification, of course, but it will do for present purposes.)

  35. John Morales says

    hemidactylus:

    Secularists need not be nonbelievers […]

    Well, duh. The very definition of secularism.

    More to the topic, Dennett has criticized Harris on simplistic views of free will and Churchland the same on morality.

    What? No, the topic is about Gnus, not about free will or morality. Basically, religion (not just theism) is a silly thing

    Many exceedingly religious people have criticises Harris about the same (rather irrelevant) stuff, and yes, it’s stupid. He should stick to the stupidity of religiosit, instead of wanking on about such irrelevances.

    Still. When it comes to atheism, he’s got the good goods — morality, free will, stuff like that, not-so-much. Singling out Islam, in particular, is rather stupid of him.

    (Like Dawkins, basically, but not so elderly)

  36. says

    @chrislawson #36

    The problem with New Atheism is that it is a pretty meaningless term invented by a journalist trying to tie together several atheist writers who had made their way onto bestseller lists arguing for various atheist positions. Almost all of the arguments these writers made were very old ones.

    If it were just several atheist writers, I would agree. But New Atheism also spawned countless organizations, conferences, publications, and online communities. Having had experience in a few other social movements, I can say that this is what a social movement looks like. Social movements are not about making new arguments. A social movement is a wave of people caring enough about a thing to take action.

  37. PaulBC says

    Siggy@45

    Traditional church/state separation as a “movement” already has trouble gaining public traction, though it has existed a long time and acts as a bulwark against religion creeping into public schools or the placement of religious monuments in public spaces. It benefits from being a coalition of believers and non-believers, but it still isn’t an issue that resonates with a lot of Americans (except those opposed who would like more religion in schools). And in the seats of government, we still have regular prayer and oaths on holy books (usually the Bible, and the only controversy, typically, is its substitution with a Quran).

    In short, it’s great there are people fighting for church/state separation, but they have their work cut out for them. If atheism as such has hope as a movement, it has to be a young persons’ movement. I don’t think that New Atheism really had the kind of influence seen in a massive, culture-changing movement. There was at one time a movement around the “L5 society” with the aim of starting space colonies in L5 orbits. Cryonic preservation is a movement. I don’t mean this mockingly. These have all the trappings of very engaged people who show up at meetings and want something big to happen. The question I have is whether the US as currently constituted is fertile ground for such a movement (and Western Europe, etc.). I don’t think it is.

  38. says

    @PaulBC #46,

    The question I have is whether the US as currently constituted is fertile ground for such a movement

    Well of course not. Not anymore. That’s why people are writing postmortems of the movement. FWIW when I was participating in the movement, there were lots of young people, and separation of church and state was not the highest priority.

Leave a Reply