New Atheism in Active Decay

Over the years, we have followed the rise, decline, and finally the death of the New Atheist movement. At this point it time, it mostly a matter of studying the decomposition of New Atheism’s corpse. It seems we have now passed the bloat stage and have entered the stage of active decay.

In the summer of 2018, there was supposed to be a huge atheist conference that would unite the warring factions of the atheist movement.

But the dead do not rise except by a miracle, so instead, the atheists got into a fight over the conference itself and it was cancelled in January.

In December of 2017, Friendly Atheist Press published its first book. Despite being aggressively promoted on atheism’s most popular blog, it was a total flop and to this day has only five reviews on Amazon.

In February, one of the most aggressive leaders of the New Atheist movement, someone who regularly appeared with Dawkins and Harris, was accused of sexual misconduct: Lawrence Krauss: The Latest New Atheist Accused of Sexual Misconduct.

Dawkins and Harris abandoned Krauss, yet many in the atheist community were at each other’s throats for several weeks. Krauss’s public reputation and position was eventually destroyed. Not only was he kicked out of the movement, he was forced to retire early from academia and is now a non-player.

Then in April, one of the last remaining leaders of the New Atheist movement, David Silverman, was forced to resign his leadership of American Atheists because of sexual accusations about him.

He too has been erased to become a non-player.

There was pause over the summer as this bloating subsided, and then came the Fall of 2018 with its signs of active decay: we learned that New Atheist Richard Carrier’s lawsuit against PZ Myers was tossed out and Travis Pangburn, the guy who had been promoting talks from Krauss, Harris, and Dawkins, had to dissolve his promotion company because of crippling financial problems.

And throughout the year, Richard Dawkins continues to be irrelevant, focusing his periodic tweets mostly on complaining about Trump and Brexit. He did claim to be writing children’s books on atheism.

Sam Harris also continues to be lost in a meditative trance, where his biggest development has been to become a member of the “Intellectual Dark Web” where he tries to siphon off some of Jordan Peterson’s new found fame. He was last seen shaking his fist at Travis Pangburn.

Over at the blog Examining Atheism, we learn that five major atheism web sites, including Sam Harris, have seen significant declines in traffic over the year and the same holds true for Rationalwiki.

And finally, as if to add insult to injury, it turns out the majority of Nones are more likely to embrace reincarnation and astrology than atheism.  Even more and more atheists are embracing their own religion.

Look, I agree we have entered the post-Christian era, but New Atheism never played any causal role. With the decline of cultural Christianity, New Atheism merely experienced a brief window of opportunity to get atheism noticed, a chance to have people take a second look at it. They looked, a few noticed, but most walked away, drawn to the shiny New Age and occult-like offerings that didn’t look like the secular version of fundamentalism. And New Atheism died.

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18 Responses to New Atheism in Active Decay

  1. stcordova says:

    Mike, have you every been wrong on your analysis of culture? 🙂 I can’t recall any major failed prediction, thus if you’re saying the young are finding New Religion rather than New Atheism, you’ve certainly got my attention.

    And, I think what is happening to the young is very nuanced and can’t be subject to generalization. I suspect strongly there is one demographic within the young generation that are more theist friendly than their elders, the scientists! It is a poll that needs to be redone, it seems the younger scientists tend to be more theisitic than the older scientists. I definitely sensed this recently in the course of my reporting work at the NIH. I’ve seen anecdotal evidence of this also on the college campuses. Christians aren’t going to major in Gender Studies or left-wing SJW majors, so they are forced into science or something else.

    So on many levels, New Atheism is dying. It is giving way to New Religion and hasn’t totally displaced Old Religions either. As you keenly observed, the cruel irony is Dennett and Dawkins pointed out religiosity is selectively advantageous and atheism is reproductively deleterious and will extinct itself.

  2. Mark Plus says:

    ” Christians aren’t going to major in Gender Studies or left-wing SJW majors, so they are forced into science or something else.”

    They better do that because men who graduate with degrees in theology, religious studies and the like have job and earnings prospects about as bad as the ones who major in social-justice ideology.

    I haven’t seen much analysis of this trend, but one of the reasons Christianity has lost status in Western culture over the last 300 years or so is because of economic liberalism. In premodern times the capable men in Western societies had few career options, so by default some of them in every generation went into the church to become theologians and clergymen. People could see that high-quality men led the church, and these men lent respect to the institution by association.

    Now the capable men have a lot more choices, so they can go into business, finance, science, medicine, technology, media and so forth. That leaves the mediocre men to become the theologians and clergymen. The church doesn’t look so impressive when ordinary schlubs lead it and teach its doctrines.

  3. TFBW says:

    New Atheism flourished briefly, but it cheated on its foundations, so its current collapse is not surprising. It propelled itself into relevance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, built on a false equivalence between Islamic terror attacks and Christianity. Far too many atheists and assorted religion-sceptics were willing to lap up the spurious idea that belief in God causes people to commit atrocities, which was the general undertone the narrative pushed. In the long run, however, some people came to realise that there are certain important differences between Islam and Christianity (you don’t say!), whereas others seemed to oppose Christianity but defend Islam. This drove a wedge in the movement, which has only widened since then.

    The major rift seems to be between Progressives who think that Western Civilisation is getting in the way of Utopia (Social Justice), versus the relatively conservative minority who think that Western Civilisation is the best the world has to offer, and are now starting to openly embrace the contributions that Christianity has made to it, even if they’re not thinking about converting.

    Interesting times.

  4. Isaac says:

    I think that New Atheism played its own degenerative role, just not in the way that the New Atheist leaders themselves envisioned it.

    They thought they could bring about paradise and usher in a wave of intelligent, young atheist skeptics just by weaponizing bad arguments, bigoted attacks and mockery against Christianity. Instead all they did was fire up an army of creeps, school shooters, hedonists, losers, and hipsters already looking for an excuse to toss off the moral shackles of Christianity. That same basket of deplorables is now becoming possibly the most unlearned, unethical, unstable, nasty, and mentally weak generations on record. They’ve also spurned hard atheism for witchcraft, astrology, ghosts, and vague self-affirming ideas of a new age god within.

    So in the end atheists DID play a role in the diminishing of the Christian worldview, just without the results they imagined. And they won’t acknowledge their folly or admit that Christianity is kinda what made modern science, ethics, and philosophy hum along so well together during the centuries of human progress following the Reformation. That’s not coming back, so it’s all downhill from here I guess. Enjoy the school shootings.

  5. stcordova says:

    “That leaves the mediocre men to become the theologians and clergymen. The church doesn’t look so impressive when ordinary schlubs lead it and teach its doctrines.”

    WOW! You’ve echoed EXACTLY how I feel.

    When I heard Jordan Peterson speak, I thought, why can’t I have a preacher like that at my church.

  6. stcordova says:

    What drives a lot of religion is something fundamental to humanity, the quest for paradise.
    New Atheism, SJWism, Marxism are all utopianist views trying to promise paradise, especially in the present life. At least the older religions had some sense to suggest it would be in the next life!

    So religions that promise utopia in this life are fighting against obvious problems with the human condition and the inevitable. At least Bertrand Russel got it right when he said true philosophy must start with acknowledging the futility of human life. He said it eloquently, and it was the essence of OLD Atheism:

    uch, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

    NEW Atheism has failed to build its foundation on “the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” But when I read this by Russell, I realized the value of Christianity. It offered escape from all this. At the very least, as far as this world is concerned, Christianity depicted the human condition of this life accurately, it said there would be trouble in this world. For that reason, it was at least on a better empirical footing that NEW Atheism. To my mind, the real battle for me personally was that between OLD Atheism and Christianity. NEW Atheism with its utopianism was doomed to failure. The OLD Atheists were at least closer to the truth!

  7. stcordova says:

    TLDR to my last comments: New Atheism is dying because GNUtopia blew up pretty fast! LOL!

  8. TFBW says:

    The essential truth at the core of Russel’s analysis is that atheism must embrace Nihilism, since all is inevitably null and void in the long run. His obvious mistake was to think that anything could be built “on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” Despair is not a firm foundation: it is a swamp into which everything built on it sinks. To build on a foundation of despair, one must first cease to experience despair as such, and become satisfied with mere mechanical activity in the face of meaninglessness and futility. In other words, one must fully embrace the implication of materialism: that one is a mere machine with nothing to do but play out the inevitable laws of physics.

    The New Atheists, I think, intuited this, and tacitly rejected the necessity of Nihilism. Instead, they smuggled a form of religious mysticism into their atheism in the shape of Humanism — as though humans were something transcendent or significant despite their status as mere matter. In the end, though, there is no solid core to this philosophy — no central truth on which its adherents can converge — so divergence should not come as a surprise. If the Materialist view is true, then Nihilism follows. If Nihilism is not true, then Materialism is also refuted. The New Atheists want the Materialism without the Nihilism, and don’t want to admit that it’s an incoherent position.

  9. unclesporkums says:

    Also, you get the trolls here who try to redefine (among other things) what nihilism is.

  10. stcordova says:

    The main reason I think New Atheism is dying is that Atheism is nothing new. As the population has become more secular, there is no reason to congregate thousands of miles to share non-belief anymore than in the modern day we need to have conferences about our non-belief in Zeus!

    The decline of New Atheism isn’t necessarily a sign things are getting beter as it’s being replaced by bad religion, like SJWism, or some other nuttery.

  11. Dhay says:

    The biological anthropologist Holly Dunsworth has recently published an article, “It Is Unethical To Teach Evolution Without Confronting Racism And Sexism”, cautioning against that misuse of Evolutionary Science which is Social Darwinism.

    Not one but two New Atheists who are also Evolutionary Scientists have now posted about the article on their blogs; I’ll quote a snippet of each in the order I came across them:

    Jerry Coyne: “Evolutionist coopts the field for social justice”.

    Now Dunsworth has moved on, and is pushing social justice on the website of The Evolution Institute, David Sloan Wilson’s think tank funded in part by the Templeton Foundation. Her new article (click on the screenshot below) argues that all teachers of evolution must come to grips with both the dark past and supposedly dark present of evolutionary biology: namely, that it has been used to buttress eugenics and social Darwinism in the past, and is now used, via genetic determinism, “to justify civil rights restrictions, human rights violations, white supremacy, and the patriarchy.” She also mentions “anti-theism” as one of the bad outcomes of evolutionary biology. Really?

    PZ Myers: “The real enemies of good science”.

    I still think religion is a major driver of bad science in this country, but it’s also become obvious that non-religious people — some of the atheists I used to hang out with — have found a way to become assnuggets who are just as deplorable as Christian fanatics, and the path they’ve taken to turn into corrupters of culture and science is exactly what Dunsworth describes: genetic determinism and genetic essentialism.

    Two very different reactions. Coyne reprises the ‘red rag to a bull’ knee-jerk we have become so used to from him and dismisses her and her thesis; Myers takes her and her thesis very seriously, and he sees and expands upon the present-day bad effects of Social Darwinism on the thinking and the claim justifications of some atheists.

    Compare and contrast.


    There’s a puzzle, the bottom line from Coyne is:

    I’ll confront racism and sexism in my own way, and not in evolution class. And I reject out of hand Dunsworth’s indictment that I’m “unethical” in not using class time to push her social agenda. That’s about as authoritarian as an Authoritarian Leftist can get.

    Didn’t he tell us he had retired, retired on 30 September 2015, that’s over three years ago; doesn’t he keep telling us he is now Professor Ceiling Cat, Emeritus? Is Coyne back in harness teaching classes again? or is he losing his mind?

  12. TFBW says:

    Holly Dunsworth says, “pick-up artists and men’s rights activists, inspired by personalities like Jordan Peterson, use mistaken evolutionary thinking to justify their sexism and misogyny.”

    At least she’s not hiding her partisanship.

  13. unclesporkums says:

    Darwin was also quite the animal torturing sociopath

  14. stcordova says:

    PZ Myers just ditch New Atheism:

    “The “New Atheism” had a 12 year shelf life. We should have used more preservatives, I suppose.”

  15. unclesporkums says:

    Or less hedonists

  16. nsr says:

    Given the lack of any overarching principles, beliefs or goals to unite them (other than “we’re too smart to believe in god!”) it’s hardly surprising the “movement”, such as it was, collapsed. A dysfunctional group of highly emotional activists, narcissists and hedonists was always going to end up devouring itself.

  17. Dhay says:

    There’s been several articles and blogger posts about the decline of the influence of the New Atheists recently, so it’s no great surprise that Jerry Coyne has posted to deny any decline, seeking and gathering in the comments of some prominent New Atheists to the theses of three of those articles: in his 15 February 2019 blog post entitled “Is New Atheism really dead? Four New Atheists respond” he publishes the responses of Steve Pinker, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris (as an Update) and (in a separate blog post next day) Michael Shermer. And as part of this old-guard group of prominent and influential New Atheist thought leaders himself, Coyne adds his own response.

    One of the old-guard New Atheists got in first, posting opinions quite contrary to Coyne’s, in his own blog’s 25 January 2019 “The train wreck that was the New Atheism” and his 01 February 2019 follow-up, “The New Atheism gets another bashing.” The follow-up includes his comment on the atheist hate-mail stirred up by the first:

    The most amusing thing was seeing an atheist facebook group filling up with complaints about how awful I am, and simultaneously whining that they never heard of this New Atheism thing, what four horsemen, and hey, wasn’t that just some nasty slur the theists threw at us? Memories are so short, and so easily diverted into safe and easy denial.

    Which off-hand dismissal of obvious-to-Myers inanities applies as much to Coyne as to the “whining” FaceBookers; Coyne says “New” Atheism is not a thing, it’s just atheism as of old; Coyne says Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris never proclaimed themselves “leaders of New Atheism” — as if you cannot be a leader if you do not have an official leadership post (and Coyne’s blog currently invites readers to “Join 58,525 other followers”, he is himself a leader with followers); Coyne’s is also safe and facile denial.


    Of the six responses (including Coyne’s own) Harris’ is the most interesting, partly because he draws attention to how very pensioner-aged the atheist community was back in the early days of New Atheism:

    The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience.

    Which confirms what he first announced in his “Adventures in the Land of Illness” blog post back in May 2014:

    There is nothing like the waiting room of a urologist’s office to make one feel that one has grown old before one’s time—except for the waiting room of a hearing and balance specialist. Judging from the look of things, the median age in both places is about eighty. (For years, this also seemed to be the median age of my atheist fans.)

    It must have seemed as if atheism was literally dying out. The moral is that those whose church congregation’s median age is septuagenarian-plus should not despair; if New Atheists can radically shift the size and age dynamics of their congregations, we can, too. Here’s to the next Revival.

    Harris’ response is also interesting as a reminder that New Atheists (including Harris himself) were not only loudly hostile to religious extremists and loudly hostile to the religious right, they were and are loudly hostile to the religious centre, loudly hostile to to the religious left, loudly hostile to anyone whether theist or atheist indeed loudly hostile to everyone who will not join their outspoken criticisms and rants:

    We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.

    Abet: “encourage or assist (someone) to do something wrong, in particular to commit a crime.”

    There’s no moderation there, Harris is certainly not a moderate, certainly not moderate. It’s been a while since he’s expressed himself this forcefully and clearly … and he’s expressed himself this forcefully and this clearly once again.

    Harris finishes:

    In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is [sic] single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.

    A reference to NOMA, as if Christians claim NOMA is a Christian defence to the “warfare” thesis that science and religion are incompatible, so it’s surely tilting at windmills ** — followed by a piece of Harris puffery.

    ( ** I’ve never once heard Non-Overlapping MAgisteria so much as mentioned by Christians, let alone adopted or supported by any, it’s not the official or unofficial teaching of any church I know of, it just doesn’t ever get a mention. Anywhere. Not that the churches criticise Gould’s NOMA, they just ignore it as irrelevant, as someone else’s strange idea. But Harris and Coyne criticise NOMA. Go figure.)

  18. unclesporkums says:

    Again, their dishonesty on full display. Harkening back to the comments sections here a few years ago “There IS no Movement!” “There are no GNUs, you dumb theists” before pridefully affirming both. The winds of popularity (or lack thereof) determine them admitting their convictions. This is their Taqiyya.

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