Phil Torres wrote another article entitled, “Beyond “new atheism”: Where do people alienated by the movement’s obnoxious tendencies go from here?”
He suggests what New Atheists can do to reform their movement:
Others suggested that rather than retreating from the “new atheist” label, one should say: “I’m not going anywhere — I’m here to reform the movement.” There’s something to this idea. After all, I decided not to move to Amsterdam after Donald Trump’s election but to stay in the United States and fight the Zeitgeist of anti-intellectualism and bigotry that Trump represents.
So in that spirit, I thought it might be helpful to outline some values that I think our society desperately needs to reaffirm — values that led me away from new atheism in its current manifestation.
So what are the values that the New Atheists are supposed to adopt?
Four words – Not. Going. To. Happen.
This is because an overconfident, ham-handed approach with blinders is built into the fabric of New Atheism. In fact not just New Atheism, but most modern day atheism (at least that which is expressed on the internet).
Start with perhaps the most common of modern atheist claims – “There is no evidence for God.” This claim is inherently overconfident. For how can the atheist be so sure there is no evidence for God? After all, it’s one thing to express an opinion that explicitly states “I don’t see any evidence for God.” But to make an all-encompassing truth claim that is supposed to be True for all – “there is no evidence for God” – couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of swaggering overconfidence.
Another way to determine that inherent overconfidence is embedded in this position is to simply ask the atheist what would count as evidence for God. As many here probably know by now, most atheists struggle mightily with this question. But how can that be? The question is simple and highly relevant. It’s a question anyone with even modest critical thinking skills would have pondered before proudly proclaiming “There is no evidence!” The atheist struggles because the “no evidence” claim is essentially hollow and has been propped up with overconfidence.
It gets better when they finally do try to come up with an answer. And as we also know, the answer invariably is some demand for some super-duper, stupendous miracle that could not ever possibly be explained by natural causes. In other words, zero tolerance for nuance. The atheist needs something Painfully Obvious and Completely Undeniable. And the complete lack of curiosity is on display in that the atheist will accept nothing less than a super-duper, stupendous miracle that could not ever possibly be explained by natural causes.
So the overconfidence, lack of nuance, and lack of curiosity are traits that serve as foundational pillars for modern day atheism. Asking the New Atheists to abandon these traits is asking them to abandon their entire atheistic posturing. Ain’t goin’ happen.
What’s more, if you read Torres article carefully, you’ll detect his own overconfidence, lack of nuance, and lack or curiosity.
Religious people often offer a paradigm case of putting what they want to believe before what is actually warranted by the best available evidence. This is one reason I jettisoned religion in my late teens, subsequently adopting a form of atheism that assigns a high-percent probability to God’s nonexistence.
First, wishful thinking is not unique to religious people. On the contrary, it’s a universal human trait and atheists are just as good at it as religious people.
More importantly, notice that Torres became an atheist while a teen-ager. I’m shocked. Hey, but the same thing happened to Dawkins. And Coyne. And Myers. They became atheists while they were teens. Yet last time I checked, teens aren’t exactly well-known for avoiding overconfidence, embracing nuance, and being curious about things they don’t like. What’s even more illuminating to consider is that the teen-logic used by Torres, Dawkins, Coyne et al. to arrive at atheism is the same logic that maintains their atheism decades later. Nothing changes. The teen overconfidence, the teen lack of nuance, and the teen lack of curiosity for things that don’t fit props up a lifetime of atheism.
I personally can’t empathize. Like Torres and Coyne, I too underwent a change when I was in my late teens. That’s when I became a theist. But in the many years that followed, I have re-thought and re-analyzed and re-weighed my decisions and beliefs, even going through a couple of agnostic phases along the way. The result is that the theism of teen Mike is quite different from the theism of today’s Mike. Along the way, I have abandoned overconfidence, embraced nuance, and allowed my curiosity to explore other ways of thinking. I have grown. I just can’t imagine what it would be like to be stuck at the teen-level when it comes to my views about God and reality. Yet that is where so many atheists are.
When I read the arguments and sermons of various atheists around the internet, it’s hard for me to ignore that I’m reading the rants and/or posturing of teen logic. It’s a good thing I have my own reasons for doubt. Because if I had to rely solely on the arguments from atheists, I’m afraid my theism would become saturated with the level of overconfidence so commonly displayed by today’s atheists.