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?