The Death of the New Atheist Movement: Who is to Blame?

One of these days, I need to re-write the “About” section of this blog.  As regular readers may have noticed, I don’t post much about the New Atheist movement these days.  The reason is simple – the New Atheist movement is long past its peak and could very well said to be dead.  Back in 2014, I noticed some signs that the New Atheist movement was dying. In 2015, the evidence became even more persuasive. In 2016, Dawkins suffered a mild stroke, brought on partially from the stress of his Twitter battles which were eroding his credibility.  Ever since the stroke, Dawkins has significantly scaled back his atheist activism. And I think this was the final straw.  For the New Atheist movement has always been linked to Dawkins’ popularity and his ability to access the media.  Without Dawkins, all that is left is Sam Harris, who spends most of his time these days talking anything other than atheism while trying to convince people he is not an Islamophobe.  As a result, the modern day atheist movement has reverted back to the pre-911 days, where the leaders of the movement are largely internet personalities who spend most of their time turning over rocks in search of something to criticize (like Hemant Mehta) and members of organizations that are constantly suing to create atheist safe spaces.

Given where we are, it is not surprising to see that autopsies of the movement are starting to be written.  What is a little bit of a surprise is that one former Gnu, PZ Myers, is going on the offensive and blaming the Dawkins wing of the movement for their demise.

“My concern is that we have lost the heart of the cause and all the New Atheist movement is about is saying that God doesn’t exist and that’s not enough,” Mr. Myers told Sputnik.

and

“The New Atheist movement was established on the basis that there is no God and that is not really something that reaches out and grabs people. I think we have squandered the effort to develop a deeper meaning. If there is no God, we need a better foundation for morality, we need human interactions and atheists just haven’t grasped that yet,” Mr. Myers added.

and

“What is happening is that a number of us are falling away and it’s because the New Atheist movement doesn’t give us that peace. Some people tried to start a new movement called Atheism Plus, in an effort to combine concern for our social needs and it got shattered by the New Atheist as it was seen as repelling.

and

“The New Atheist movement was driven by the September 11 attacks, but now it’s evolved into something else that says, ‘we hate those people with foreign ideas,’ and this is not what atheism is all about,” Mr. Myers added.

Ouch. Myers is basically lamenting the fact that the New Atheists had a chance to hitch their agenda to the Social Justice wagon but missed it because people like Dawkins would not get on board.  In other words, Myers is arguing that the New Atheism movement died because it was saturated with sexism and Islamophobia.

All this leaves me wondering if Dawkins himself will ever weigh in on this.  Because what Myers is proposing is how history will be written about this movement (and thus, Dawkins).

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18 Responses to The Death of the New Atheist Movement: Who is to Blame?

  1. Dhay says:

    I recently noticed on PZ Myers’ blog a post entitled “Remember the old days, when atheism was a philosophy leading to a bright, rational future?”; its end-paragraph is like the OP quotes above:

    … I mean, it’s not as if atheism does anything to promote moral behavior, and a hell of a lot of atheists treat it as a point of pride that their identity lacks any expectations beyond not believing in deities. If I will condemn the Catholics for condoning the rape of children, why would I want to be part of a movement that implicitly condones the rape and harassment of women, with many of its members gladly joining misogynistic fora on YouTube and Reddit? It is looking rather pointless.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2017/04/25/remember-the-old-days-when-atheism-was-a-philosophy-leading-to-a-bright-rational-future/

    And PZ Myers attacks Sam Harris (yet again), in “Racists love to cooperate: Sam Harris and Charles Murray”; here’s how that post ends:

    AWM [the Angry White Men review of Harris’ podcast] concludes with a comment about Murray’s flaws that should have been brought up in a competent interview.

    And all of these points — unwillingness to engage with critics, connections to white supremacists, consequences for poor and non-white Americans — would have been worth bringing up in Harris’ conversation with Murray. As an interviewer, he should have done more than toss softballs and whitewash Murray’s record. As a skeptic, he should have been more willing to examine Murray’s beliefs. His unwillingness to do so will only bolster racist pseudoscience and toss more red meat to Murray’s white nationalist fans.

    Oddly, though, those criticisms of Murray — “unwillingness to engage with critics, connections to white supremacists, consequences for poor and non-white Americans” — also apply perfectly to Sam Harris, so I’m not at all surprised that he wouldn’t bring them up. I knew that about him well ahead of time.

    And that’s why I wasn’t going to listen to him.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2017/05/02/racists-love-to-cooperate-sam-harris-and-charles-murray/

    *

    At the beginning of Myers’ post on the Murray podcast is:

    No. I just couldn’t do it. Sam Harris interviews Charles Murray in his podcast (but of course it is a friendly, chummy interview, because two white guys are not going to criticize each other when it comes to talking about the inferiority of other races), but I was unable to listen to it. I tried. I got a few minutes in, but listening to that calm, soothing, rational monotone setting up a conversation in which the capabilities of the majority of the human race were going to be dismissed with cold, clinical detachment was just too infuriating. I just shut that fucker down.

    Hmmm, “two white guys are not going to criticize each other when it comes to talking about the inferiority of other races”: do I hear echoes of the SJW idea — quoted in recent S2L posts — that the only people qualified to talk about, say, Black LGBTQ2S* issues are people who themselves fall under (or self-identify as) one or the other, or preferably both of these headings, and that others are dis-qualified.

    Myers says he is infuriated, no less, by their “calm, soothing, rational monotone” and “cold, clinical detachment”; he cannot listen, he retreats into his bubble. He has to read another’s report. It has to be a critical report.

    Whatever happened to the standard New Atheist / atheist calls for ‘Science and Reason’ — surely the correct response to scientific evidence as presented in “The Bell Curve” is science and reason; Myers seems to substitute for these an implied disqualification from even discussing the issues, on the grounds that neither Murray not Harris is Black (or disadvantaged, etc) and seems to substitute fury for rationality.

    Looks like there’s no necessary connection or association between science and rationality and atheism — not as practised by one of atheism’s most prominent mouthpieces.

  2. Mechanr says:

    Part of the problem is that the movment never was a real movment to begin with because it never had any real or realistic goals.Another thing is that it simply dosent evolve I was watching a video of a famous atheist youtuber the other day and all i could think was “this is nothing but a sermon”

    the slogans 8 years ago the same accusations(all religious people are delusional) day after day week after week year after year.The only reason why it became so successful among youngster was because it was an good excuse to be narcissist assholes (others choose ayn rand) eventually most people even if they remain atheist grow out of the simplistic binary view of the world that the new atheist offer. To others it just becomes boring after a while, you cant tell the same jokes a billion times and expect them to get any more funny. Beilieve me I am on a lot of meme websites and atheist have become part of the joke.

    Add to that the never ending infighting, corruption and general unpleasentness of the community and you have a fine recipe for failure.

  3. Dhay says:

    > … For the New Atheist movement has always been linked to Dawkins’ popularity …

    This looks like a good time to recap just how popular Richard Dawkins is, as evidenced by his “Fan Mail”; the last one was 7 November 2016, nearly seven months ago.

    That same 7 November 2016 seven months old fan mail doubles as the very latest of his “Stories of Deconversion”.

    Looks like Dawkins has become such a non-entity that nobody can be bothered to enthuse over him nowadays, he’s just not getting any fan mail.

    *

    The last mail in his “Disagreement and Oddities” category goes back to 11 February 2014, nearly thirty nine months ago.

    The last mail in his “Hate Mail” category goes back to 20 May 2013, over forty seven months ago.

    You need to know where to look to find mails in his “Ugly” category, they are oddly not accessible via the RDF menus; the last one was received back on 15 September 2013, over forty four months ago.
    https://richarddawkins.net/category/community/letters/ugly/

    Looks like Dawkins has so long been a non-entity that nobody has been bothered to even hate him these last several years.

  4. Tim'L says:

    The spirit of New Atheism is very much alive in the current SJW mindset: sneering, self-righteous contempt for anything other that it’s own view. A high self-worth that is only really underwritten by the individuals monumental confidence in their own beliefs (a confidence which far outpaces any evidence).

    Back in 2007 you had new atheist comments like “get out the steel tips” to those pesky religious believers. The view that the New Atheist had towards the traditional and the religious is no different than the view that the SJW has towards anyone who does not full heartedly agree with their position. Any dissent (from the vantage of a New Atheist and an SJW) only needs to be met with incredulity that one could be so stupid as to disagree with their bright ideas and social views…. followed by mocking and sneering.

    The funny thing is that for the New Atheist that their approach ultimately turned on them.
    It’s been mentioned before. Many New Atheist youtube channels that once were solely dedicated to mocking the religious minded now get the majority of their views from fighting a battle with the SJWs. And I believe it’s this contempt-sneer-dismiss approach of the New Atheist that bled into an SJW mindset.

    The intolerance in an old PZ Myers, Krauss, Coyne, Dawkins opinion piece is of the same intolerance in an article written by SJW feminists, LGBTQHHZZXC members, Purveyors of all things Cultural Appropriation.

  5. Talon says:

    Dhay, I imagine Richard Dawkins gets all sorts of hate these days, but not from the sort of people that can be held up as an example for his “faith-head” narrative. I suspect he gets it, not from Christians, but from the SJW crowd, many of whom are secular or just as anti-theistic (anti-Christian) as he is. A rant from a plausibly southern Baptist is a goldmine, he can appeal to so many different stereotypes that there’s plenty of derision to go around. An angry feminist/Islamist is in a different league however, holding a SJW’s hate mail up for ridicule is likely leave him reeling from the “tolerant” beatdown he’d receive in response, so it’s not worth calling attention to them on his website. I think he’s retired, the stroke and SJWs have worn him down such that his only real option was to back away from public activism before another stroke or ill-considered tweet killed him.

  6. Dhay says:

    I think you’ve got something there, Talon: where’s the visible kick-back after Richard Dawkins’ infamous “Dear Muslima” and his many inflammatory remarks — apart from tweets, that is; where’s the mails, does everybody just tweet back at him nowadays?

    If not, if there are people who are still mailing, those few mails which do appear on the RDF’s web pages nowadays must be heavily vetted and filtered.

  7. TFBW says:

    @Tim’L: “The spirit of New Atheism is very much alive in the current SJW mindset: sneering, self-righteous contempt for anything other that it’s own view.”

    Not quite, but you draw my attention to an interesting point even so. The sneering, scoffing tone is a touchstone of New Atheism (e.g. Dawkins), but the SJWs judge and condemn rather than mock. New Atheists posture as intellectually superior first and foremost; SJWs posture as morally superior — even to the point of a direct-to-camera, “I’m f***ing better than you!”

    More interestingly, though, there’s actually a third group that’s precipitated out of all this — a subset of atheists, which I have noted primarily on YouTube, who are actually being quite reasonable about the whole situation. The dividing lines are remarkably clear. The SJWs need no special introduction, of course. The hold-over smarter-than-thou New Atheists are a much rarer breed now, but they align with the SJWs in an unexpected way: they are also anti-Brexit and anti-Trump. In this category we have Dawkins, of course, and YouTube personality Thunderf00t. But then there are a substantial number of other players who, if you listen carefully enough, turn out to be atheists as well, though they rarely mention it. These folks also view the SJW phenomenon as a threat, and have some perfectly sane commentary on the subject without producing a suffocating aura of smug intellectual superiority. They don’t necessarily like Trump, but they value free speech and democracy, and they can see which is the lesser evil. I’ve even subscribed to one.

    This is a positive development. It is funny, though, to see these reasonable moderates so taken aback at Thunderf00t being anti-Brexit/-Trump for bad reasons. “He’s usually so reasonable,” they say. No, folks, it just takes a situation where he’s saying something that you actually disagree with to note that his reasons are bad, I think. That’s pretty normal human bias, after all.

  8. P.Z. Myers is probably the least double person when talking about decency. He is a virulently anti-Catholic bigot and he’s a liar too. He is just awful. Period.

  9. Tim'L says:

    Good point, TFBW… see what you’re saying. There is a difference in the sense one was claiming moral superiority and one was claiming intellectual superiority.
    I still see some of the same sneering and mocking, even though when the SJWs does it it seems incredibly outlandish and hypocritical (the white guy shutting down the other white guy by laughing and saying “you’re f’n white!”)

  10. Regual Llegna says:

    ““The New Atheist movement was driven by the September 11 attacks, but now it’s evolved into something else that says, ‘we hate those people with foreign ideas,’ and this is not what atheism is all about,” Mr. Myers added.”

    See, he admitted that Islamic terrorist attacks are the reason why they gained true fame. And in his relativistic world view all religions are equal, that is that all religions are as bad as their lowest point, in the present the islamic supremasist doctrines of islam that create a threat for every person that is non-muslim.

    Like the liberal media accuse President Donald Trump for the terror attacks (They do it now and before the elections), new atheists accuse westerns christians or religion in general for the religious and cultural related problems of others cultures (the only working example in the present is islam).

    —————————————————————————————————————————

    – New atehist P.Z. Myers admits that, he and the other new atheists, owe their fame to the muslim terrorists attacks, and the fomenting fear of religion, a thing tha new atheist do all the time.
    Like Quran 8:12 – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve (disbeliever are any non-muslims) (religious doctrine/motivation for most islamic terrorists). Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them (apostasy, sharia normal dead penalty)” and Quran 8:15 – “O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them.“ (part of the non-muslims cannot be friends doctrine), This book have all that one non-muslim and muslim need to know about sharia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliance_of_the_Traveller

    – New atehists use their relativistic thinking in the phrase “abrahamanic religions” to say that christianity is the same as islam, then christians people are to blame for muslims people actions.

  11. Regual Llegna says:

    From the Reliance of the Traveller, N. Keller, Amana Publications.

    “08.0 APOSTACY FROM ISLAM
    08.1 When a person who has reached puberty and is sane, voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.
    [Bukhari 9,83,17] Mohammed: “A Muslim who has admitted that there is no god but Allah and that I am His prophet may not be killed except for three reasons: as punishment for murder, for adultery, or for apostasy.””

    – Most atheists are liberals (as in supporter or part of the democratic party), the liberals want more muslims in the westerns countries because, and only because, “diversity”.
    – New atheists are a failure for the very life of atheists.

  12. Regual Llegna says:

    From the Reliance of the Traveller, N. Keller, Amana Publications.

    “09.0 JIHAD
    Jihad means war against Kafirs to establish Islam.
    Koran 2:216 You are commanded to fight although you dislke it. You may hate something that is good for you, and love something that is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not.”

    – Virtualy all the SJWs people are liberals, the liberals want more muslims in the westerns countries because, and only because, “diversity”.
    – Most liberals will tell you that JIHAD means struggle, as inner struggle, but JIHAD is more like MEIN KAMPF (“My Struggle”, “the Hitler’s book”).
    – Reliance of the Traveller is a book accepted by the muslim religious community in Mecca as a guide to truly understand and without problems what is SHARIA (religous politics, laws, stances, doctrines, lifestyle, punishments, etc… for the people that are muslims).

  13. Regual Llegna says:

    The important part is that the SHARIA described in the Reliance of the Traveller is the way that muslim mayority goverments and countries see their laws, SHARIA is their law of the land.

  14. Michael says:

    TFBW: New Atheists posture as intellectually superior first and foremost; SJWs posture as morally superior — even to the point of a direct-to-camera, “I’m f***ing better than you!”

    Good point. Both groups consider themselves both morally and intellectually superior, but the two differ on what they want to emphasize. Of course, it both cases, it’s just a self-serving delusion.

    More interestingly, though, there’s actually a third group that’s precipitated out of all this — a subset of atheists, which I have noted primarily on YouTube, who are actually being quite reasonable about the whole situation.

    I wonder if some of them are finally figuring out that by stripping Christianity from Western culture, it’s not some grand Love of Science and Reason that will fill the void. After all, it wasn’t Christianity that burned the New Atheist movement to the ground.

  15. TFBW says:

    @Michael:

    I wonder if some of them are finally figuring out that by stripping Christianity from Western culture, it’s not some grand Love of Science and Reason that will fill the void. After all, it wasn’t Christianity that burned the New Atheist movement to the ground.

    I’ve been looking for that realisation too, but I’m not seeing much evidence of it yet. Jordan Peterson seems clued up on this, but he’s not an atheist as such. Stefan Molyneux has made an interesting case that the State tends to replace God for atheists, but it’s the kind of message which the intended audience resists.

  16. Regual Llegna says:

    “I wonder if some of them are finally figuring out that by stripping Christianity from Western culture, it’s not some grand Love of Science and Reason that will fill the void. After all, it wasn’t Christianity that burned the New Atheist movement to the ground.”

    provabily at the same time they will recognize that Jefferson was a deist-christian and not an atheist, “separation of church and state,” i do not think Jefferson was thinking in an atheist point of view when he wrote that letter. He wrote is own book the Jefferson’s Bible after all. The state/goverment/control/power should not have their hands on the religion and the culture of the people

  17. Ilíon says:

    Michael:Good point. Both groups consider themselves both morally and intellectually superior, but the two differ on what they want to emphasize.

    Good think I read through the comments, so I didn’t duplicate that observation.

    Michael:Of course, it both cases, it’s just a self-serving delusion.

    To me it looks like this:
    – ‘Atheists’ think themselves morally superior because they are intellectually superior (just ask them) (*).
    – ‘SJWs’ think themselves intellectually superior because they are morally superior (just ask them).

    (*) This is a very common idea, and not just with regards to God-deniers’ self-regard. Consider how in science fiction stories (book, film, TV, doesn’t matter) a common underlying and unspoken assumption is that a technologically advanced alien species *must* be morally superior to humans. Consider one of the wet-dreams that human-hating leftists/’atheists’/”environmentalists” *admit* to: that a technologically advanced alien species will arrive at this planet and judge us collectively guilty of [insert favorite leftist/’atheist’/”environmentalist” “sin” here], and wipe us out, so as to “save” the planet.

  18. Ilíon says:

    TFBW:Stefan Molyneux has made an interesting case that the State tends to replace God for atheists, but it’s the kind of message which the intended audience resists.

    There is *always* a “god of the system”; there is *always* a set of metaphysical beliefs that provide the undergirding premises and justification of the culture and the state(s) ruling it.

    If the “god of the system” is not the God who created men, it will, of necessity, be a god created by men. If the “god of the system” is not the God who feeds men, it will, of necessity, be a god which feeds on men.

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