Does New Atheist Logic Lead Us to Conclude New Atheism as a Cause in the Death of the Three Muslim Students?

New Atheists everywhere have sought to distance themselves from Craig Hicks, the New Atheist who murdered three Muslim students. The core argument is that Hicks is an individual – “a criminal, individual killer,” as Dawins would describe him. We can not blame an entire group (New Atheists) for the actions of a lone individual (Hicks).

I agree with this argument. The problem is that is assumes Hicks is an autonomous free agent and New Atheism denies this assumption. So let’s think this through from the New Atheist perspective.

Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris, and Gregg Caruso are free will denialists – they deny the existence of humans as free agents. To them, Craig Hicks is not morally responsible for his actions. He is responsible only in the sense that he is the proximate cause of the students’ death. He is responsible only in the same manner as he would be if he had accidently killed those three students.

For the New Atheist, Hicks had no choice when it came to shooting the three students. It was all an elaborate reflex, where environmental factors were at play creating a network of stimuli that elicited a particular motor function. According to people like Gregg Caruso, Hicks is the victim here – the victim of his environmental causes.

It’s clear from Hick’s FaceBook page that New Atheist memes and talking points were very much a part of Hick’s environment. Those messages and talking points were influencing Hick’s brain chemistry, creating a certain perception of the world that included an obsessive, intense hostility toward religion. If Hick’s was the puppet of his environment, and New Atheism was a prominant aspect of his environment, then isn’t New Atheism one of the causal factors behind his actions?

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13 Responses to Does New Atheist Logic Lead Us to Conclude New Atheism as a Cause in the Death of the Three Muslim Students?

  1. Allallt says:

    To say determinism leads to a lack of moral responsibility is to misrepresent Harris’ view on the issue. (I an not familiar with the views of the others you named.)
    New atheism is no more a part of this than religions, upbringing, mental health, brain chemistry and microstructure, biology etc. To isolate new atheism from other causes (and to make all background causes equal to the proximal cause) seems like a leap to me.

  2. Michael says:

    New atheism is no more a part of this than religions,

    Huh? Craig Hicks was an anti-religious anti-theist. Unless we’re willing to acknowledge New Atheism as a quasi-religion (and a decent case could be made for that), your point does not make much sense.

    upbringing, mental health, brain chemistry and microstructure, biology etc.

    We don’t know anything about those, meaning there is no evidence at this point to blame this on his upbringing or mental health. In contrast, we do have his FaceBook page to survey and it’s clear he was quite the fan of New Atheism.

    To isolate new atheism from other causes (and to make all background causes equal to the proximal cause) seems like a leap to me.

    Why? It is certainly reasonable to invoke hate as part of Hick’s motives, given the nature of the crime. And the New Atheist movement is a hate movement. When religious people are portrayed as being worse than rapists and child-molesters, and compared to dangerous viruses, that form of conditioning in Hick’s mind could have very well come into play.

  3. Allallt says:

    As i have said, i really would appreciate it if you could explicate what you see as the difference between new atheism and atheism.
    (The thing with determinism is that we don’t have the ability to isolate a singular cause. So you don’t get to isolate a cause. The microstructure of the brain is necessarily a factor. But perhaps not the most meaningful one…)

  4. Michael says:

    As i have said, i really would appreciate it if you could explicate what you see as the difference between new atheism and atheism.

    Atheism is a lack of belief in God.
    New Atheism is an anti-theistic, anti-religious social and political movement.

    (The thing with determinism is that we don’t have the ability to isolate a singular cause. So you don’t get to isolate a cause. The microstructure of the brain is necessarily a factor. But perhaps not the most meaningful one…)

    I never claimed New Atheism as a singular cause. From the deterministic perspective, I proposed one of the causes.

    Think of it this way. If the three victims had been black, and the killer’s FaceBook page was full of racist memes, would the determinist have a problem citing racism as one of the causes of the murder?

    What’s more, we already know that the New Atheists have no problem citing religion as a cause when it comes to Islamic terrorism.

  5. Allallt says:

    I think i should restate my position on your writing, on general and in this post: i think you have a pretty good point, but go too far.
    New Atheism is a variable, but so is ISIS the content of the Koran and the temperature that day…

  6. Ilíon says:

    What?! You’re expecting rational logical consistency from ‘atheists’?

  7. Billy Squibs says:

    “New Atheism is a variable, but so is ISIS the content of the Koran and the temperature that day…”

    What an odd comment. We aren’t talking about all variables that you can this of that might have been a factor in these murders. It is being suggested that this guy was influenced by a particular type of hateful mindset and that this is evidenced by his FB page. The point being that not all variables are equal.

    Now it might be that this guy would have on that day killed anyone over a parking space dispute – Richard Dawkins included. Or it might be that he really did buy into the essentially anti-religious meta-narratives that people like Boghossian, Dawkins, Harris et al. are peddling to one degree or another.

  8. Allallt says:

    Billy – I get that is the argument. It’s not defensible. Michael was talking about determinism, and determinism is a lot more complex than how he presented it.
    I’ve read Boghossian, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett and a list of less know atheist authors. I haven’t killed anybody. So, clearly, there is something else at play. In fact, I know a few people that have read a great deal of literature by what Michael would describe as “New Atheists”, but none of them have ever killed anyone.
    I have also read a lot of literature that calls me (for being an atheist) an amoral fool. If I were American, I would have been accused of being unpatriotic. And still I haven’t killed anyone. And I don’t know of any religious people who have killed anyone followed by blogs talking about the meta-narrative of dehumanisation of atheists being their reasoning.
    People who have behaved this way–like Abortion Clinic killers–tend to have quite pronounced psychiatric concerns. I don’t know that a psychiatric assessment has been done, but witnesses and family descriptions do not paint a picture of an otherwise stable man.

  9. dormativevirtue says:

    Interesting take. But what is the relevance of determinism here? Why not just say beliefs guide desires and shape actions? That seems a fairly uncontroversial statement that does not weaken your primary claim, but it has the advantage of avoiding the metaphysical messiness of free will.

    It is a clever little argument though.

  10. dormativevirtue says:

    Allalt do you not think that beliefs influence our behavior?

  11. Allallt says:

    Dorm – I do believe beliefs influence acting. I am a determinist. I don’t think it’s right to say Hicks’s actions are a direct result of the atheist literature he was consuming. The literature was part of his psychological context, and therefore was a variable. But the liberal content of his Facebook page and amiable tone of the atheist memes in particular do not indicate they were a big player. There was no ‘stone the believers’ or ‘smite the religious’ in there.

  12. dormativevirtue says:

    Allalt so it is with every belief, according to its degree. Do you think if he had doubted the things on his FB page, he would have acted differently? That’s the crucial question.

  13. Allallt says:

    You can check his FB page yourself. I don’t think it’s as controversial as everyone hopes it is: https://www.facebook.com/craig.hicks.967

    Christianity takes most of the religious brunt. He talks about equality (albeit in a gay-rights context). The banner even defends a persons right to their belief. I think we’re acting on the assumption he didn’t agree with the content of his page book page: it denigrates Christianity and supports freedom of expression and equality. Yet, he killed Muslims.

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