Science Shows New Atheists to be Mean and Closed-Minded

As we all know, the New Atheists love to posture as if they are champions of science. The problem is that they only seem to care about science when it can somehow be recruited to aid their metaphysical and/or political agenda. What if you were to debate with a New Atheist and inform him that science has provided evidence that New Atheists are narcissistic, mean, and dogmatic? Do you think the New Atheist would acknowledge this characterization of New Atheists? Or do you think he/she would come up with reasons to ignore or dismiss such a scientific finding?
Well, there is no need to keep this in the realm of a thought experiment, as science has provided evidence that New Atheists are narcissistic, mean, and dogmatic. Check out the research of Christopher Silver from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Silver found that there were six basic types of atheists. One type, the “antitheist,” is described as follows:

The fourth typology, and one of the more assertive in their view, we termed the Anti-Theist. While the Anti-Theists may be considered atheist or in some cases labeled as “new atheists,” the Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology. As such, the assertive Anti-Theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology. In other words, antitheists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental. The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions. They view the logical fallacies of religion as an outdated worldview that is not only detrimental to social cohesion and peace, but also to technological advancement and civilized evolution as a whole. They are compelled to share their view and want to educate others into their ideological position and attempt to do so when and where the opportunity arises. Some Anti-Theist individuals feel compelled to work against the institution of religion in its various forms including social, political, and ideological, while others may assert their view with religious persons on an individual basis. The Anti-Theist believes that the obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.
Yep, that’s our Gnus. But here is the interesting part.

In addition to characterizing their subjects, the researchers carried out various empirical psychometric measures. And among all atheist types, the New Atheists scored highest for Narcissism, Dogmatism, and Anger. What’s more, they scored lowest when it came to agreeableness and positive relations with others.

Of course, those of us who watch the Gnus in action knew this already. Angry, dogmatic, narcissistic is exactly what we have seen. So it’s nice to see some scientific evidence that helps confirm our impressions. But this does put the Gnu atheists in a difficult spot. Either they have to acknowledge there is scientific evidence that shows they are mean, narcissistic, closed-minded, and have trouble getting along with others. Or, they could deny this, but in doing so, show the world they are not sincere when they claim they “follow science and the evidence wherever it leads.”

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27 Responses to Science Shows New Atheists to be Mean and Closed-Minded

  1. TFBW says:

    My preferred term for “anti-theist” is “antipatheist”. Yeah, it’s a pun. So shoot me. For those who prefer a higher degree of ethnic purity in their etymology, there’s also “misotheist”, which is to God as “misogynist” is to women. Dawkins would deny the “misotheist” label, of course: you can’t hate that which does not exist. He insists that he’s an “atheist” in the same way that he’s an “a-faerieist” and “a-teapotist”. [Ref: video @23:47] Thing is, he’s written “The God Delusion”, and other New Atheists have written similarly against God, whereas the definitive works against the existence of the Tooth Fairy or Celestial Teapot remain conspicuous in their absence. Clearly he and his ilk are not “atheist” in the same way that they are “a-faerieist” and “a-teapotist” by simple merit of the books they choose to write.

    So, having said the equivalent of, “hey — check out that elephant standing over there,” in a forum where everyone talks about the elephant anyway, can I add anything actually insightful? Only if we set the bar low — and I’m first to comment, which is as low as it gets. So let me clear that low bar by saying that many New Atheists will quite happily embrace the “angry” part of the description. The phrase, “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” may ring a bell. Never mind that atheism, being a lack of something, offers no basis for outrage. Never mind that Darwinism, being a naturalistic narrative, also offers no basis for outrage. Never mind that humanism offers a perfectly good basis for outrage, being essentially a deification of humanity, but only to the extent that it is a belief unto itself, with no basis in atheism, Darwinism, or anything else (and that Dawkins explicitly states that he has a problem with its “anthropocentrism” — see mere moments after the previous Dawkins link).

    That will do for now. I don’t want to pick all the low-hanging fruit.

  2. Bilbo says:

    Hi Mike, this looks interesting, but I’m having trouble finding the relevant results of their study.

  3. Not sure those fruit are ripe TFBW.

    “Never mind that atheism, being a lack of something, offers no basis for outrage”

    Never mind that atheists are quite happy to explain why they are angry and offer their basis all the time in all forums…

  4. Mike, you’ve largely misrepresented the study. To give this study a proper evaluation, you need to also mention how:

    1) The psychometric indicators only reflect difference between atheists themselves. While an anti-theist is likely to be more aggressive than a ritual atheist, both atheists may well be less aggressive than a religious conservative. Whether this is the case or not is unknown based on the study; it simply doesn’t look at that problem.
    2) The study clearly notes how, in context, aggression from anti-theists may be understandable, as in most cases anti-theism arises in a context from which there has been substantial persecution and hostility at the hand of religious individuals against non-believers. If anti-theists are angry, there is at least a hint that anti-atheists are just as angry.

    I would personally also take issue with the way the study conflated anti-theists with New Atheists, though that’s not really a criticism of you. New Atheism is a more broad category which encompasses anti-theists, but also the remainder of the categories as well — certainly Activist Atheists and Intellectual Atheists whom both actively engage in promoting atheism (which make up 23% and 34% of atheists, respectively — making up by far the largest demographic of New Atheists).

    If you disagree with my categorization of New Atheism, and are strictly referring to an extremely small minority of Anti-Theists, that’s fine. Points 1 and 2 above still drive home my argument; the rest is semantics.

  5. TFBW says:

    @joesworld:

    Never mind that atheists are quite happy to explain why they are angry and offer their basis all the time in all forums…

    Of course they do. It’s a key characteristic of New Atheists that they are vocal about their hatred and anger. Even so, anger and hatred do not follow from atheism, and that was my point. Whatever reasons or justifications New Atheists offer for their anger and hatred are quite orthogonal to atheism. If you can demonstrate otherwise, I’d be interested to hear it. If you can’t, then you’re just spouting irrelevancies as if they are refutations.

  6. Michael says:

    Mike, you’ve largely misrepresented the study. To give this study a proper evaluation, you need to also mention how: The psychometric indicators only reflect difference between atheists themselves.

    I did: “Silver found that there were six basic types of atheists. One type, the “antitheist,” is described as follows…… And among all atheist types, the New Atheists scored highest…..”

    While an anti-theist is likely to be more aggressive than a ritual atheist, both atheists may well be less aggressive than a religious conservative. Whether this is the case or not is unknown based on the study; it simply doesn’t look at that problem.

    Sure, that’s possible. But let’s not overlook the fact that many of us have previously noticed the narcissism, dogmatism, and anger of the New Atheists leaders and their hordes of internet followers. Dawkins, for example, is clearly narcissistic and dogmatic. His anger is more veiled, but the evidence shows it is there.

    The study clearly notes how, in context, aggression from anti-theists may be understandable, as in most cases anti-theism arises in a context from which there has been substantial persecution and hostility at the hand of religious individuals against non-believers. If anti-theists are angry, there is at least a hint that anti-atheists are just as angry.

    That’s also a possibility. Of course, if New Atheists don’t have anger issues, (your first point), one wonders why the authors felt the need to invoke this. To me, it looks like the authors raised this point more like a way to sugarcoat a pill that would be bitter for New Atheists to swallow than because the data demand it.

    IMO, we can’t take such claims of “substantial persecution and hostility at the hand of religious individuals” all that seriously without some solid evidence. First, it seems New Atheists are way too easily offended and enraged by religion, where the mere sight of a public religious display is viewed as some great threat or evil. This hypersensitivity could very well be behind such claims of persecution. Second, which of the New Atheist leaders can tell us about their personal history of persecution? Myers has no story to tell. Neither does Harris. Neither does Coyne. Neither does Dennett. Neither did Hitchins. Dawkins tells of being sexually molested as a child, but says it was no big deal. So the persecution story fails to account for the anger, narcissism, and dogmatism of the Gnu leaders.

    Look, I’m not trying to make this study say more than it does. Nor should we make it say less than it does. I can say the study confirms my point that not all atheists are New Atheists and that relative to other atheists, Gnus are more angry, narcissistic, and dogmatic. And that is consistent with what I have seen.

  7. “Sure, that’s possible. But let’s not overlook the fact that many of us have previously noticed the narcissism, dogmatism, and anger of the New Atheists leaders and their hordes of internet followers. Dawkins, for example, is clearly narcissistic and dogmatic. His anger is more veiled, but the evidence shows it is there.”

    True, but anecdotal. I could also easily cite the anger of Religious Conservatives like Pat Robertson and Ray Comfort (or the myriad of angry Christians with whom I’ve personally dealt), but I’m honest enough to not hold caricatures like them against all Christians, even evangelical Christians.

    By the way, that’s the whole point doing research like this. You can make references to Hitchens, Dennet, Coyne, and so on, but they are not a representative sample of New Atheists – despite them being in the spotlight. If you want to discuss New Atheists as something beyond a small handful of specific individuals, then you need to look at the group as a whole.

    Anecdotes make for poor arguments.

    “Of course, if New Atheists don’t have anger issues, (your first point), one wonders why the authors felt the need to invoke this.”

    Because the researchers were explaining relative differences amongst a small, heterogeneous group. Adjectives are useful for this.

    “So the persecution story fails to account for the anger, narcissism, and dogmatism of the Gnu leaders.”

    The study did not evaluate the “Gnu leaders.” The study didn’t even include them. It may or may not apply to them individually at all.

    “I can say the study confirms my point that not all atheists are New Atheists and that relative to other atheists, Gnus are more angry, narcissistic, and dogmatic.”

    I agree with this particular phrase, just so long as you don’t go even further to suggest that New Atheists are angrier, more narcissistic and more dogmatic than other groups. Such a sentiment may or may not be true, but it certainly is not demonstrated by this study (and I challenge that notion in your other, more recent post, anyway).

    You’re still conflating New Atheists with Anti-Theists, which I believe is a mistake, but at least you’re clear on how you’re using the term.

  8. Jamie says:

    “”We can’t take such claims of ‘substantial persecution and hostility at the hand of religious individuals’ all that seriously without some solid evidence.”

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists#United_States

    Respondents to a survey were less likely to support a kidney transplant for hypothetical atheists and agnostics needing it, than for Christian patients with similar medical needs.[50]

    The Boy Scouts of America does not allow atheists as members

    Several polls have shown that about 50 percent of Americans would not vote for a qualified atheist for president.[58][59] A 2006 study found that 40% of respondents characterized atheists as a group that did “not at all agree with my vision of American society”, and that 48% would not want their child to marry an atheist. In both studies, percentages of disapproval of atheists were above those for Muslims, African-Americans and homosexuals.[60] Many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal behaviour, extreme materialism, and elitism.[61]

    Atheism, lack of religious observation and regular church attendance, and the inability to prove one’s willingness and capacity to attend to religion with his children, have been used to deny custody to non-religious parents.[70][71]

  9. Pingback: Roundup | Eternity Matters

  10. BTTD says:

    Of course, this study has nothing to do with the truth of what the Gnus are saying, no more than the arrogant, narcissist street preacher has the truth of whichever god he/she is yelling about. Also, the article says they are more narcissistic *than other atheists*. You jumped to the conclusion that they are therefore narcissistic *in general*. That says a lot more about you than the Gnus.

  11. Michael says:

    Of course, this study has nothing to do with the truth of what the Gnus are saying, no more than the arrogant, narcissist street preacher has the truth of whichever god he/she is yelling about.

    Indeed. It is accurate to liken Gnu leaders to arrogant, narcissist street preachers.

    Also, the article says they are more narcissistic *than other atheists*. You jumped to the conclusion that they are therefore narcissistic *in general*. That says a lot more about you than the Gnus.

    LOL. Really? Can you quote from the blog posting where I jump to this conclusion?

  12. Michael says:

    Respondents to a survey were less likely to support a kidney transplant for hypothetical atheists and agnostics needing it, than for Christian patients with similar medical needs.[50]

    The Boy Scouts of America does not allow atheists as members

    Several polls have shown that about 50 percent of Americans would not vote for a qualified atheist for president.[58][59] A 2006 study found that 40% of respondents characterized atheists as a group that did “not at all agree with my vision of American society”, and that 48% would not want their child to marry an atheist. In both studies, percentages of disapproval of atheists were above those for Muslims, African-Americans and homosexuals.[60] Many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal behaviour, extreme materialism, and elitism.[61]

    And this is what you call “substantial persecution and hostility?” Did it ever occur to atheists that Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and those who have followed her tactics, have something do to with those perceptions?

  13. Michael says:

    True, but anecdotal. I could also easily cite the anger of Religious Conservatives like Pat Robertson and Ray Comfort (or the myriad of angry Christians with whom I’ve personally dealt), but I’m honest enough to not hold caricatures like them against all Christians, even evangelical Christians.

    I’m honest enough not to insist all atheists are the same as New Atheists.

    By the way, that’s the whole point doing research like this. You can make references to Hitchens, Dennet, Coyne, and so on, but they are not a representative sample of New Atheists – despite them being in the spotlight.

    They are in the spotlight because they are the leaders of the Gnu movement. The Gnu movement is a modern day hate movement and I see no reason why I am supposed to ignore it.

    If you want to discuss New Atheists as something beyond a small handful of specific individuals, then you need to look at the group as a whole.

    Where shall I look and find these New Atheists who are so unlike their leaders?

    Anecdotes make for poor arguments.

    Agree.

    I agree with this particular phrase, just so long as you don’t go even further to suggest that New Atheists are angrier, more narcissistic and more dogmatic than other groups. Such a sentiment may or may not be true, but it certainly is not demonstrated by this study (and I challenge that notion in your other, more recent post, anyway).

    I would not use this study to say Gnus are are angrier, more narcissistic and more dogmatic than other groups. I would focus on how their anger, narcissism, and dogmatism fit with the way Gnus posture as champions of science, reason and evidence.

    You’re still conflating New Atheists with Anti-Theists, which I believe is a mistake, but at least you’re clear on how you’re using the term.

    That’s your subjective opinion that comes across as some form of dogma. The authors “conflated” the two. The description they provide (quoted above) sounds like a Gnu to me. Unless you have some definition of New Atheist that can be objectively established, why do you accuse me of “conflating?”

  14. “And this is what you call “substantial persecution and hostility?” Did it ever occur to atheists that Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and those who have followed her tactics, have something do to with those perceptions?”

    Persecution of atheists long preceded Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She was a consequence of that persecution — exactly as the study you cited argues.

    I could continue challenging many of your assertions, but for the reason I originally alluded to, it doesn’t really matter. At worst you’re only referring to a very small handful of particular atheists and, at best, critiquing an extraordinarily small subset of atheists overall.

    Collectively, atheists and agnostics make up around 6% of the American population according to Gallup 2008 — meaning New Atheists (anti-theists) by your definition make up only 0.9% of America. Your criticisms, if applicable at all, certainly don’t apply to the vast majority of atheists, including the majority of active atheists (for example, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bart Ehrman and others).

    And they may not even apply to folks like Richard Dawkins, either. For as aggressive as Dawkins is, he’s probably not nearly as bullish as you’ve been led to believe.

    Have you seen the dialogue he had with Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, in 2012? That dialogue hardly represents the angry, narcissistic anti-theist that you’re characterizing Dawkins as.

    The times he’s most aggressive are the times when he’s met with the most obvious kinds of ignorance, like science denialism. And typically those science denialists (like Ray Comfort) are just as angry and narcissistic — or moreso — than any anti-theist currently in the spotlight.

    I push this point more in your other post, but whatever your criticisms of New Atheists, atheists in general are still typically more civil, more tolerant and less dogmatic than religious groups.

  15. TFBW says:

    @Hungry Atheist:

    Have you seen the dialogue he had with Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, in 2012? That dialogue hardly represents the angry, narcissistic anti-theist that you’re characterizing Dawkins as.

    No, it doesn’t, but so what? Nobody claims that he’s an angry ranter all the time. The angry, hateful, anti-theist side is more aptly demonstrated by things like his well-received call at the “Reason Rally” to subject Catholics to public mockery and ridicule, or when he’s ranting (rather childishly) at a college girl who has the temerity to ask, “what if you’re wrong?” And as for narcissism — did I mention the “reason rally”? Seriously: it takes a special kind of narcissism to think that reason needs saving, and that one is fit to do it.

    If he behaved consistently like your example, it would be wrong to characterise him as an angry, narcissistic anti-theist. But the fact of the matter is that we can count on him to exhibit all the traits of an angry, narcissistic anti-theist with some regularity. Likewise, he might be more civil, more tolerant, and less dogmatic than the Westboro Baptist Church — even on a bad day, like when he’s preaching hate at the reason rally — but so what? The question is not whether he’s nicer than any particular theist, but whether he’s a gargantuan hypocrite (or staggeringly delusional) for placing himself on a pedestal of “reason” high above the meme-infested minds of theists, while in reality he’s preaching a message of anti-theistic hate with a thin veneer of intellectual respectability.

    My major beef with Dawkins is that he portrays himself as a paragon of rationality, where in actual fact most of his arguments are incoherent rubbish. That’s not a criticism I can level at any religious leaders, since I don’t know of any who portray themselves as paragons of rationality. I have other issues with various religious leaders, but this really isn’t the venue for discussing them.

  16. Michael says:

    I could continue challenging many of your assertions, but for the reason I originally alluded to, it doesn’t really matter. At worst you’re only referring to a very small handful of particular atheists and, at best, critiquing an extraordinarily small subset of atheists overall.

    Collectively, atheists and agnostics make up around 6% of the American population according to Gallup 2008 — meaning New Atheists (anti-theists) by your definition make up only 0.9% of America. Your criticisms, if applicable at all, certainly don’t apply to the vast majority of atheists, including the majority of active atheists (for example, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bart Ehrman and others).

    You don’t seem to get it. I don’t have a problem with atheists. I only started to blog regularly here after the Reason Rally and Dawkins’ advocating that his swarm of followers mock and ridicule religious people. So my problem is with New Atheists and their Movement.

    As for Angry Dawkins, I’ll address that in the next blog posting.

  17. tnmusicman says:

    Reblogged this on Tnmusicman's Blog and commented:
    Great study confirming what a lot of us already knew.

  18. TFBW and Mike — I think all three of us agree that ridicule and mockery are very poor ways of dealing with disagreement. We should be able to challenge ideas without resorting to baseless insults and ad hominem attacks.

    On that particular point in Dawkins’ speech, I agree with you that his argument was not just poor, but hurtful.

    TFBW — I’d be interested in discussing the merits of Dawkins’ actual arguments with you at some point, though this probably isn’t the correct blog post to do that on, either.

  19. TFBW says:

    I’d be interested in discussing the merits of Dawkins’ actual arguments with you…

    If you think that his arguments can be translated into somewhat clear, logical terms, I’d be quite intrigued to see your efforts at doing so. I’d be happy to use your blog as a medium for it. I have a barely-used forum that would also suffice. There are numerous arguments of his I’d like to see defended, or translated into clear, logical terms, but the “Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit” from The God Delusion would be a good place to start, being as how it’s something of a keystone in that book.

  20. Gary says:

    You only mention the fourth typology. What about the other three? Perhaps they do not fit into your cherry picking of the information? The other three do not sound as horrible as the fourth and you really only wanted to make atheists sound like horrible people, perhaps? The really interesting thing about the fourth typology is that it describes very well religious people’s views and attitudes towards other religions and atheists.

  21. Kevin says:

    This is a blog about New Atheists, which is a term used to describe today’s anti-theistic movement. Thus, the focus is on the fourth typology, anti-theist. Michael does not spend much time talking about the more reasonable atheists.

    And even if you are correct that the fourth typology is a good description of religious people, all you have done is shown that anti-theists strongly resemble that which they hate. I’m fine with that.

  22. mclasper says:

    Let’s not forget that the religious are not free of this either. Preachers and apologetics can be just as ‘mean’ and ‘closed minded’ as atheists. For centuries the religious have discriminated against and even murdered atheists, even now atheists are still called satanists, devil worshipers, immoral, delusional, arrogant, closed minded, and evil. Recently, one guy even tried to say that atheists don’t exist!

    Perhaps religion is getting a taste of its own medicine.

  23. Kevin says:

    You missed the entire point of the post.

  24. TFBW says:

    mclasper is simply an example of the truism that most people’s idea of an argument is, “you said something nasty about my tribe, so I’m going to say something nasty about yours.”

  25. Brenda says:

    Being around atheist all my life I can attest they are EXTREMELY abusive narcissist, So help me they can be intelligent and have some great qualities and they are HUMAN beings, But I had to literally HIDE any belief from them, My life was attack after attack after attack, They want slaves, Then need slaves, even if they do NOT know that is what they NEED to feel better is a world of slaves at their feet. They do not want anyone to be happier than them EVER, They do not support in bad times. They want someone under their feet and NEED someone under their feet. I only wanted to be left ALONE by them NOT the other way around!! Some hypocrite jerk may have helped them think what they do, But they were NOT better just sneakier it is the snake religion in itself, sorry I know from a lifetime of the abuse it creates even with each-other one cannot have more then the other in some way always a fight, backstabbing each other all the time, That is why I will never want to be one!

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