Built to Resist Truth

Since the evidence indicates New Atheists tend to be more angry, narcissistic, and dogmatic than other forms of atheists, what does this mean? The answer is obvious – New Atheists, more so than other atheists, are less likely to see the truth. This is because they would possess an inferior ability to think clearly. Anger, after all, is well known to cloud thinking. Anyone who has ever been angry and had to deal with an angry person knows that intellectual honesty and open-mindedness conflict with anger. Dogmatism is one facet of closed-mindedness and can often go hand-in-hand with anger. The New Atheist is simply not open to the idea that they are wrong, which explains why they cannot admit to ever being wrong about anything significant. This inability to admit being wrong then deludes them into thinking they are never wrong and that feeds into their narcissism. Narcissism then feeds anger and dogmatism. If someone’s self-love and identity is tied to an idea and that idea is challenged, then not only does dogmatism reject that challenge, it can fuel the anger – “How DARE you say that I am wrong!”

Put simply, a brain that is characterized by anger, dogmatism, and narcissism is a brain built to resist the truth.

All of this helps to explain why New Atheists need to constantly posture as if they champion reason and science when it is clear they do not. Such posturing can be viewed as a psychological defense mechanism. That is, their psyche cannot tolerate the truth of being closed minded and self absorbed when they want so badly to be seen as open-minded, curious, and concerned about others. It must therefore lash out in extreme anger at anyone who threatens to bring this truth to light and this explains why New Atheists tend to attack the messenger rather than deal with the message. It explains why they are so hateful. The posturing is a way for the New Atheists to delude themselves into thinking they are what they are not. And thanks to the internet, a collective form of self-delusion can take place, where New Atheists around the world engage in group think and perceive some rag-tag team of scientists and professors as leaders not because the rag-tag team is so brilliant, but because they share the same traits, have credentials, and sell books. And from the emergence of the Gnu collective we get the Gnu movement.

Now, once we have reached the level of a movement, a positive feedback loop emerges. Dogmatism is entrenched, as those who are in a movement are advocates and activists, not searchers. Narcissism is fed, as everyone in the movement thinks their advocacy is an essential part of the strategy. Anger is fueled, as those in the movement tell each other stories to make the other tribes as evil as possible. The movement , with its strengthened dogmatism, narcissism, and rage, becomes more intense and the cycle repeats.

Put simply, a movement that is characterized by anger, dogmatism, and narcissism is a movement built to resist the truth.

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14 Responses to Built to Resist Truth

  1. TFBW says:

    Not built to resist the truth, per se, but built to resist ideas which are contrary to their core doctrines; built to resist threats to their worldview; a “bunker mentality”. That translates into “built to resist the truth” to whatever extent their core doctrines are false, of course, but the distinction is still an important one. For example, it means they are also built to resist the influence of evidence and reason when such influence does not favour their cause, even as they proclaim “evidence and reason” as their slogan.

    What’s most ironic is how similar this dogmatism makes them to that which they profess to hate.

  2. “Dogmatism”

    “If someone’s self-love and identity is tied to an idea and that idea is challenged…”

    “collective form of self-delusion ”

    From TFBW “built to resist ideas which are contrary to their core doctrines”

    It’s odd because these are the sort of things we on the atheist side see from theists. Atheism has no dogma, nor doctrine. It’s a position based on a basic honesty; the refusal to believe something that does not appear to be true.

    “they champion reason and science when it is clear they do not”

    This is far from clear and is going to need a little work to flesh out, I feel.

  3. Mike, while I will agree with you on some minor points, I have to disagree with several other points and feel you’ve misunderstood or mischaracterized the study.

    Anti-Theists make up only a small minority of vocal atheists – 15% according to this study. The vast majority of vocal atheists, however, encompass the Activist and Intellectual categories (23% and 34% of atheists, respectively. I accept that you’re only following the verbiage of the study in your evaluation, however “New Atheism” really should not be reduced in this way.

    Personally, I see New Atheism as being an incredibly broad category. It does include Anti-Theists like Hitchens, but so too does it include individuals like Carl Sagan.

    If you strictly conflate New Atheism with Anti-Theists, then you’re speaking to such a small minority of modern atheists that I’m not sure your arguments even retain any persuasive power. If we’re talking essentially about atheists who speak up about their atheism, then we must include these other categories as well. But perhaps you’re not referring to all vocal atheists, but strictly to the small number of Anti-Theists the study refers to. If so, please proceed:

    Having had conflict with certain anti-theists myself, I won’t dispute your claim that some small number of atheists are aggressive and, yes, very much angry. But you should also cite the study in context, in which the researchers state quite clearly that:

    “It is also important to recognize that the “angry, argumentative and dogmatic” vignette, as used here, does not mean that these Anti-Theists don’t have a right to be any of these things or that they are not even proper psychological responses when recontextualized in light of the Anti-Theists’ life experiences to date. For example, many of the Antitheist typology had responded as recently deconverted from religious belief or socially displeased with the status quo, especially in high social tension-based geographies such as the Southeastern United States. If we engage in a small thought experiment by taking on the perspective of a recent deconvert from a religious tradition (many times a very conservative one) to atheism, it may be easy to see how this small sub segment is, and perhaps deserves to be, angry and argumentative after having previously accepted a worldview at odds with their current beliefs, or lack there-of, especially in areas of the country where high social tension exists between believers and non-believers in general.”

    That is, if Anti-Theists are angry, their anger may be understood in the context of the hostility they have received from religious individuals. It should also be clearly emphasized that this study only compares atheists to other atheists. It does *not* compare atheists to theists.

    An Anti-Theist can be more dogmatic and prejudiced than a Ritual Atheist, but they can both still be less dogmatic and less prejudiced than a Christian Evangelical. In any case, the study simply does not weigh in on this issue.

    If we really want to do an honest comparison, we need to look at the numerous studies that have defended, time and again, that atheists are exceptionally good people – particularly in comparison to those who are religious.

    In one such study, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi had this to say:

    “We can say that atheists show themselves to be less authoritarian and suggestible, less dogmatic, less prejudiced, more tolerant of others, law-abiding, compassionate, conscientious, and well educated. They are of high intelligence, and many are committed to the intellectual and scholarly life. In short, they are good to have as neighbors.”(1)

    In another, Phil Zuckerman argues that countries marked by high rates of organic atheism are among the most societally healthy on earth, while those with low atheism are among the most unhealthy. (2)

    Now, I’ve obviously been quite critical of your post. However, I do want to indicate some understanding of your frustration, as well. I agree that, if we are to be intellectually honest, we cannot be ignorant of the possibility of being wrong. We cannot attack dissent simply because it challenges our worldviews. And our conclusions are only as strong as the evidence and methods we use to identify them. We must remain open to conversation at all times, not shouting matches.

    I also agree that, as atheism continues to grow and evolve, dogmaticism will become – and is becoming – a very serious concern. This is true of every movement as it grows. Indeed, Christianity literally and figuratively wrote the book on dogmaticism.

    So, for New Atheism to avoid this, it will take a vast amount of ingenuity and I do hope the movement is up to the challenge.

    I would add, however, that I hold Christians and other theists to that exact same standard, as should you.

    1. Atheists: A Psychological Profile, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
    2. Atheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns, Phil Zuckerman

  4. Bilbo says:

    Hi HA,

    This paragraph seems to be saying that Anti-Theists fall below societal norms, not just below norms of the non-believing population:

    If prejudice continues to exist towards atheists in general, one source may stem from the perceived negative experiences by religious people interacting with a very small sub-segment of the overall population of non-believers, mainly the Anti-Theists. In other words, our research showed over 85% of the non-believers sampled to be more or less your “average Joe” when it came to being “angry, argumentative and dogmatic”, they fall right in line with current societal norms, nothing strange here – sorry non-believers, you’re pretty normal when it comes to being psychologically well-adjusted.

    By the way, what is “organic atheism”?

  5. Bilbo says:

    Hi HA,

    I just read your “About Me” at your blog:

    I’m a typical skeptic hungry for knowledge and good food.

    You sound like someone I would enjoy sharing a meal with.

  6. TFBW says:

    @joesworld:

    It’s odd because these are the sort of things we on the atheist side see from theists.

    Thus the irony, as I mentioned.

    Atheism has no dogma, nor doctrine.

    Atheism proper has one core doctrine: that there is no God, usually broadened to a denial of supernatural beings in general. Whether or not that is dogma depends on the individual atheist. New Atheism, on the other hand, has additional doctrines, and New Atheist leaders such as Richard Dawkins et al pronounce some of these doctrines as incontrovertibly true, which is what qualifies it as dogma.

    Curiously, atheism itself isn’t at the top of the list for classification as dogma. Dawkins, for example, hedges his bets ever so slightly on that front: there’s almost certainly no God, by his account. He’s actually more adamant about the truth of the Darwinian narrative of history, There is almost certainly no God, but Evolution (the whole grand narrative, not just specific examples) is a fact. Related, but distinct, is his dogma with regards to epistemology: he proclaims a particular method for acquiring knowledge as being the One True Method. He calls it “science”, which is quite confusing, because it means that it shares a name with something else which bears little, if any, resemblance to it. But that’s a rant for another day.

    Suffice it to say, for now, that Darwinism and Scientism are representative of the dogma of New Atheism, and usually serve as foundations for the assertion of the non-existence of God.

    It’s a position based on a basic honesty; the refusal to believe something that does not appear to be true.

    Ah, but that’s just plain old atheism, or at least certain varieties of it, and the same description applies to honest theism. If it appears to me to be true that there must be a God, then it’s just basic honesty to accept that there is one, right? But New Atheism is so much more than just “basic honesty”. New Atheism will tell you why its incontrovertibly true that it’s more rational to reach the atheist conclusion than the theist conclusion. New Atheism will assert that if you’re seeing evidence of God, you’re mistaken at best, and more likely delusional. New Atheism provides a framework in which atheism can be the last, simple, honest consequence of everything else that New Atheism provides.

  7. Michael says:

    It’s odd because these are the sort of things we on the atheist side see from theists. Atheism has no dogma, nor doctrine.

    New Atheism clearly comes with dogma and doctrine – “Religion is Evil.” “We must rid the world of religion.” Other atheists who do not subscribe to this doctrine are attacked.

    It’s a position based on a basic honesty; the refusal to believe something that does not appear to be true.

    So why do Gnu atheists believe a religious upbringing is a form of child abuse?

  8. Hi Bilbo,

    Can you explain how you’re interpreting that paragraph to suggest Anti-Theists fall below societal norms? I don’t read that at all.

    And even if the researchers did say that, it would be wrong to do so (by the way, for clarity, the researchers specifically indicate that they did not do this). This particular study is literally incapable of making that connection, because it has no societal data with which to compare. Because the researchers created their own metrics, they can’t even make comparisons with other studies that do address societal norms. So that conclusion is completely beyond this study.

    Organic atheism is a term used by Phil Zuckerman to denote naturally occurring atheism. Essentially, atheism that is not forced. So, for example, atheism in the Soviet Union and in China are not considered to be “organic.” Atheism in the United States, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, and so on, are generally considered to be organic.

    Among countries that meet the particular requirements for free-speech and freedom of religion, those countries with the highest levels of atheism tend to fare best on practically every social benchmark (from low rates of suicide and infant mortality to higher levels of happiness, education and economic equality).

    I should note, though, that Zuckerman is not arguing atheism causes society to be more healthy; mostly, his study is only an indication that atheistic nations *can* be healthy, and often are.

  9. Crude says:

    Not much time to reply right now, except to say one thing.

    The atheism of North Korea, the Soviets, and China are instances of “organic” atheists taking power. And the countries of the netherlands are not overwhelmingly atheist in the New Atheist sense – they are merely irreligious, and quite often are countries with formal state Christianity.

  10. They are not. Most obviously in North Korea and partially China, but also in the Soviet Union. In North Korea, “God” was replaced with “The Great Leader” in the form of Kim Il-Sung, followed by Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un. Each of these individuals has a mythological narrative surrounding them to rival even the most creative religious creation stories — When Kim Jong-Il passed away, the official report was that the “skies glowed red above sacred Mount Paektu and the impenetrable sheet of ice at the heart of the mystical volcano cracked with a deafening roar.”

    Such an account could hardly be proclaimed to be atheistic.

    China is quite similar, in which the leaders (like Mao) were typically deified in their own rights, but where government itself is taken to be largely sacred and beyond reproach. Frankly, even the Soviet Union has a problematic history with religion — did you know that the Soviet Union had a state church — The Russian Orthodox (Christian!) Church? Well, it did. Then when Lenin died, once again, vast mythologies were generated state-wide to essentially deify him.

    Again, hardly atheistic.

    The reason these states are often taken to be atheistic is not because they derive from atheism, but rather a very particular interpretation of Communism. In this interpretation — which is a misinterpretation of Marx anyway — Religion was looked at as being something people only turn to when there is significant social and economic inequality. It’s a crutch for people that cannot liberate themselves in this life, so they fictionalize a narrative with themselves as the protagonists, imagining a reality in which they *can* be liberated.

    Since Communism was supposed to be the perfect form of government, if religion continued it would mean Communism had failed to create a Utopian society — and the state simply couldn’t handle that kind of challenge to its authority.

    The result, however, was not atheism. The result was a state-enforced religion; a religion that, in all 3 examples, supported the power structures of the ruling government. For the Soviet Union, it was a mixture of government propaganda and a church that was more or less malleable to its will; in China and North Korea it was almost exclusively government propaganda. All of them incorporate the same sorts of myths in those narratives that religions do.

    None of them are reducible to atheism, either in their origin or their development.

    “And the countries of the netherlands are not overwhelmingly atheist in the New Atheist sense – they are merely irreligious, and quite often are countries with formal state Christianity.”

    That’s entirely the point. Countries which have higher incidences of atheism — that are less religious, but also typically more atheistic (not necessarily a majority atheistic — a 15% incidence of atheism is more atheistic than a nation with 5%, though neither nation is truly atheistic) — tend to fare better on social benchmarks. I did not say atheistic nations fare better, largely because I don’t know of any examples of an organically atheist nation. France might be a possible candidate, but not easily.

  11. Bilbo says:

    Hi HA,
    This section of the paragraph: “…our research showed over 85% of the non-believers sampled to be more or less your “average Joe” when it came to being “angry, argumentative and dogmatic”, they fall right in line with current societal norms….
    suggests that the researchers are comparing the results of non-believers with the results for society as a whole, and find that 85% of non-believers fall within “current societal norms.” It is only the Anti-Theists – the 15% – who fall below “current societal norms.”

    So what’s your favorite meal?

  12. Mudz says:

    @ Hungry Atheist

    You seemed to be conflating atheism and irreligion. You can be religious without being atheist.

    You also state that it did not ‘result’ in atheism, because it was religious (which does not follow). And then say it’s because they’re not ‘reducible’. Which are entirely different concepts.

    By posting on this board, you are advancing a position. The nature of your position and argument may not be ‘reducible’ to atheism, but it can be reducible to your drive against something (e.g. religion) for the purposes of *achieving* atheism, in whatever sense.

    The Soviet Union, were fighting to establish atheism as a dogma of the ‘State religion’. Reductionism isn’t a factor. They were, ‘religious’ or not, atheists fighting to establish atheism.

    Just like I believe in God, whether or not you can ‘reduce’ my motivations to be supernatural.

    //=============================//

    The whole argument of ‘atheism’ is that it’s a ‘lack of belief’. A lack of motivation. But no one is motivated by a negative, they’re only motivated by positive beliefs.

    I suspect that the atheism you’re arguing, is one that no-one can possibly hold if they’re aware of the existence of religion. In order for them to be atheist, they’d have to know that they’re ‘not that’, which is actually a positive belief of independent identity.

    I’d agree, that would be the most pure kind of atheism. The kind that’s only possible if you’re born alone (like a virgin dirt baby) on an island and never have contact with another person, and never develop any religious thought. (In other words, still-born.)

    The point is that ‘pure atheism’ is a non-thing, which is precisely what many atheists affect to be, but by virtue of actually identifying themselves as atheists actually defeat their own premise. It’s definitionally impossible for a ‘lack of belief’ to be their motivating characteristic, so it must be something else that they positively identify with. Intellectual revolutionism maybe.

    All this means is that all atheists (with the exception of island babies) behave inconsistent with atheism, and consistent with some other factor, such as a religious fervour for the State, without it disqualifying them as atheists.

    Or else, it means that no-one’s really an atheist. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s like saying I’m ahorse. We would have nothing to argue about.

    //=============================//

    Yes, if they develop mythological beliefs in said person having some sort of supernatural power or condition, that would be theism in the useful sense (which we want for language). But if prior to that, they simply really liked/loved/adored the guy, and worshipped him religiously, they’re still atheists until they start bringing in the theism, the supernatural more-than-mortal-ism. (Believing in diet programmes, or getting up every morning for the gym, is also still consistent with atheism.)

    Which would at the same time suggest that atheism simply cannot be sustained, when it comes right down to it, religious sentiment wins every time, whether it’s admitted or not. (It’s not a dig. This is not to say that atheists are religious. But atheists cannot resist religion without a religious sentiment of their own. I think that the personal identification of atheism may actually qualify, inasmuch as it’s a sentiment about religion, which could *arguably* make it a mild form of religion on its own, but it’s not something I’d bother to put into everyday parlance, because that’s deprive it of it’s usefulness.)

    For example, you say that believing in supernatural events associated with a person means a person is not an atheist? How about if a person believes that the universe came from nothing? Or that our race sprang forth from mud? Or that quantum mechanics is basically irrational and magic?

    Does that make them theists?

    What you’re suggesting might be that if a populace is to like their leader too much, they’re no longer atheist, regardless of their beliefs about his nature.

    By that metric, any atheist who confers too great a trust in Obama and his policies is no longer an atheist.

    If you love your parents, you’d be a theist. If you fall in love, you’re a theist. If you like a person in excess of his or her objective merits, you’re a theist.

    Certainly it’s important to state exactly what you mean by atheist. Because the political identification of ‘atheist’ is not the same as the literal definition of ‘atheist’.

    So anti-theist, evangelical atheist, commie atheist, etc. Use whatever you like. But the existence of a ‘pure atheist’ is not relevant to any actual person. No one we ever meet and argue or defend atheism with is a ‘pure atheist’, unless he’s dead. (Presumably.)

    Which makes studies that only cite ‘atheist’ as the defining characteristic not terribly useful in comparison to other studies that do the same. Are they counting people that simply tick ‘no religion’, are they counting Buddhists (who actually do believe in the supernatural), are they just counting self-identified atheists? Etc, etc.

    Your notion of ‘reducible to atheism’ is just a slightly more intelligent version of ‘no-one does ANYTHING in the name of atheism’ (without actually mentioning that part), which to any extent one wants to argue is true, is irrelevant. That’s not the kind of atheism of the political atheist.

  13. Mudz says:

    “You can be religious without being atheist.”
    Sorry, that should have been: “You can be religious AND atheist.” My bad.

  14. stcordova says:

    ” Then when Lenin died, once again, vast mythologies were generated state-wide to essentially deify him.

    Again, hardly atheistic.”

    And Darwin is deified over vastly greater scientists like James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, Ludwig Boltzman, etc. etc. Darwin has his own day for crying out loud. By that standard, modern atheists swearing by Darwinism as their origin myth can be said to be hardly atheistic too since there are other evolutionary theories that are more credible than Darwin’s (like neutral theory)! And atheists involved in Elevatorgate swear by the power of their own reason, but not all parties as a matter of principle could be right. So by that standard, these atheists weren’t acting like atheists whereby they swore by feminism or Dawkins with zero basis in science.

    And finally, Dawkins seems to worship himself and have a cult following. By that standard, they aren’t atheists either!

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