The New Atheist Movement: An Autopsy

There seem to be more and more articles out there trying to explain the demise of the New Atheist movement.  Since none of these articles seems especially insightful to me , as a long time observer of the New Atheist movement, I thought I would help explain this movement’s demise.

There are four primary factors that came together and devoured the movement.

1.Failure To Gain Traction in Academia. Soon after Dawkins published his book, The God Delusion, he chose to pick a fight with other atheists and scholars. Dawkins argued that the problem was not creationism or fundamentalism.  It ran deeper.  It was religion itself.  Dawkins then began to mock other atheists and previous allies by likening them to Neville Chamberlain.  The problem with the “Neville Chamberlain atheists” is they were willing to tolerate religious views as long they did not amount to hardcore fundamentalism.  Dawkins, who likened himself to Winston Churchill, insisted atheists must go on the attack against all religious people.

This militant attitude came to define the New Atheists.  They expanded this vocabulary and begin to mock other atheists and agnostics as “accomodationists” and eventually Jerry Coyne began to mock them as “faitheists.”  These were the days when Jerry Coyne was bashing Michael Ruse and Sam Harris was attacking Scott Atran.  These were the days when Coyne and Victor Stenger were arguing that most scientists were cowards for not wanting to help lead the attack against religion. And let’s not forget the way Jerry Coyne used his blog to hound and attack scholar Bart Ehrman while championing the crackpot views of blogger Richard Carrier.  Or the time that Sam Harris used the pages of the NYT to smear Francis Collins, arguing his religious views should prohibit him from heading the NIH.

All of this is much more significant than many people realize.  The New Atheists had always needed to expand their reach into academia.  In fact, that was one of their objectives in the 2006 Beyond Belief conference.  This is because for any movement on the Left to thrive, it needs the support of academia.  With academia on board, your movement has a plentiful supply of thinkers and advocates.  Your movement has a continual supply of new converts in the form of students.  What’s more, by housing your movement in academia, you increase the chance your movement will survive for generations, insulated from the ever changing socio-political terrain outside of academia.

Yet the New Atheists failed gloriously at acquiring any traction within academia. The reason is simple – the extreme, militant posturing of the New Atheists was perceived by many academic atheists as just another form of fundamentalism.  In other words, the assertions and behavior of the New Atheists was deemed embarrassing.  But don’t take my word for it.  Pay close attention to the words of a Nobel Laureate who had little patience for New Atheist antics:

Higgs has chosen to cap his remarkable 2012 with another bang by criticising the “fundamentalist” approach taken by Dawkins in dealing with religious believers.

“What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists,” Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. “Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind.”

He agreed with some of Dawkins’ thoughts on the unfortunate consequences that have resulted from religious belief, but he was unhappy with the evolutionary biologist’s approach to dealing with believers and said he agreed with those who found Dawkins’ approach “embarrassing”.

Now couple this embarrassing fundamentalism to the manner in which the New Atheists lashed out at the “faitheists” and “accomodationists” and it should surprise no one that New Atheism never secured a serious foothold within academia.  Instead, all they accomplished was a) creating a population of scholars (atheist, agnostic, and theist) who greatly disliked them while b) ensuring that for their movement to survive, they now had to rely solely on media coverage.

2.The Election of President Obama. In 2008, the floor was ripped from underneath the New Atheists.  Prior to this, they could rally around a Common Enemy – the hated and feared George W. Bush.    When Bush was president, the atheist community was in a state of panic.  Many bought into conspiracy theories about a Coming Theocracy and were convinced Bush was working with the Dominionists to make the Handmaiden’s Tale a reality.  Some even argued that Bush would declare martial law and cancel the 2008 elections.  Of course, this was all paranoid nonsense that came from the atheists believing their own propaganda and rhetoric, but such fear allowed the atheists to unite.  In those days, PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins were strong allies.  In fact, Myers (and another atheist scientist, Larry Moran) even flew to Dawkins house to meet up.  But when Bush was replaced with Obama, the Common Enemy was removed.  The Threat was over.

What’s more, the Obama Administration, which was strongly loved and supported by many in academia, began to reshape the culture such that criticism of Islam was politically incorrect.  As it turned out, this created a minefield for the leaders of the New Atheist movement who were now especially vulnerable since they depended solely on the media to survive.  These landmines would eventually take out Sam Harris, whose anti-Islam writings and postings were portrayed as racism and bigotry.  Harris could not take the heat.

3.Elevatorgate. In 2011, a small dispute about the behavior of a man in a elevator at an Atheist Conference became extremely heated among internet atheist activists. With the Common Enemy long removed, the atheists began to turn on each other.  No longer would they restrain themselves to mocking religious people, or even “faitheists,” they began to mock and spit at each other.  The fulcrum was feminism and the Great Schism among atheists was born.  What made it all so much worse was Richard Dawkins, who, for some unknown reason, decided to weigh in by posting comments on PZ Myers blog.  If you’ll remember, this was the time when Myers’ blog was wildly popular among atheists.  In fact, you could say it was the #1 atheist blog in the world.  So when a celebrity like Dawkins decides to post sexist comments on the most popular atheist blog out there, Elevatorgate creeped into every corner of the atheist community.  It became time to “choose sides.”  Richard Carrier, who would later be accused of sexual harrassment, sided with the feminists and loudly declared war on atheists who sided with Dawkins.  PZ Myers too began to attack Dawkins and would expand his attacks to Sam Harris, who was labeled Islamophobic, a deadly sin in the Obama years.

Once one faction of atheist activists began to label the other faction sexist and racist, the media took notice and began to pile on.   This was devastating for the New Atheist movement.  As I mentioned before, without academic support, the New Atheists depended solely on that positive (or at least neutral) media spotlight.  But not only did they lose the support, the media began to devour them.  During this time, Jerry Coyne’s blog was the voice in the wilderness, desperately trying to knock down each and every anti-Dawkins and anti-Harris article that appeared on the web.  Eventually, he got worn down and threw in the towel, where today, he is far more likely to post about cats or food than atheism.

4.Richard Dawkins. Finally, we need to acknowledge Dawkins’ role in the demise of the New Atheists. It’s worth keeping in mind that the New Atheist movement was largely all about Dawkins.  He was the popular science author who used all his celebrity status to draw attention to the New Atheists.  But when things go bad for the celebrity, the media that made you can also just as easily break you.  And if you take down Dawkins, the sheep will scatter.

We’ve already seen how Dawkins put a gigantic spotlight on Elevatorgate and thus catalyzed the schism and made himself a target.  But don’t overlook another factor – Dawkins learned how to tweet.  Without an editor to clean up his words, Dawkins exposed the world to his stream of consciousness.  And with close to a million followers, the media paid attention.  And who can blame them?  About every month or so, Dawkins would post some tweet that many viewed as outrageous.  In effect, you could count on Dawkins to eventually post some tweet that would reinforce the image he was a sexist or racist.  And as  an added bonus, you could rely on Dawkins to tweet something that was either bizarre or creepy – such as his defense of something he called “mild pedophilia.”  Or insisting that a woman who was pregnant with a Downs Syndrome baby had a moral duty to have an abortion.

In essence, Dawkins shredded his credibility with a thousand cuts courtesy of Twitter.  It all culminated with the once popular science author being deplatformed, an event that contributed to his stroke and the end of his twitter popularity.

And with that, the New Atheist movement was gone.  Oh sure, there will always be New Atheists pounding away on their keyboards, running off to conferences in the hope of finding a date, and rallying somewhere to protest how they are being traumatized by some religious monument.  But the Movement is dead.  Dawkins’ latest book was a flop, his speaking tours get no media attention,  and he seems to restrict most of his twitter rants to Brexit and Trump these days.  Harris restricts most of his efforts to trying to restore some of his credibility by using podcasts to rub shoulders with various intellectuals.  Hitchens is dead and Dennett was always just the guy someone needed to make the Four Horsemen metaphor work.  Myers blog has become an obscure wasteland as he expresses his desire to punch Nazis.  And Coyne’s writing a children’s book in between posting about cats.  As for the community?  The schism continues to deepen and become more bitter, where the two factions are trying to ban each other from each other’s conferences, all in the age of Trump.  Even the Common Enemy isn’t enough these days.

So who killed the New Atheist movement?  The answer is obvious.

The New Atheists.

With a little unintentional help from Obama.  😉

This entry was posted in New Atheism, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The New Atheist Movement: An Autopsy

  1. TFBW says:

    3.5. The 2012 Reason Rally. The biggest New Atheist gathering there ever was or will be. Peak New Atheism. Although not billing itself as a political movement, the fact that it was held in Washington DC during a presidential election year is no coincidence. And yes, much to their own detriment (see point #2), Obama was re-elected. The confirmation that it was, indeed, an entirely political operation, and a failed one at that, came in the 2016 Reason Rally, likely to be the last of them. The contrast between these rallies couldn’t be any more stark. The first was full of hope that it was now possible to be not only an intellectually fulfilled atheist (a state of affairs that the keynote speaker, Richard Dawkins, attributed to Darwin in his book, The Blind Watchmaker), but also a politically active one. This inspired some, notably PZ Myers, to assert that New Atheism could no longer just be about lack of belief in god(s), but must positively affirm progressive political ideas like feminism. This widened the rift first made obvious in Elevatorgate. Dawkins and Ophelia Benson (a feminist atheist) tried to paper over the widening crack in 2014, but the natural divisions between the (majority) Left and (minorty) Right in atheist politics widened until the 2016 Reason Rally was entirely co-opted by the Left-leaning Atheism+ faction, and produced a massive flop which even Liberal New Atheists like YouTuber Thunderf00t were only too happy to mock.

  2. pennywit says:

    Don’t forget the death of Christopher Hitchens. The man was certainly prejudiced against religion, but he had a real flair for writing. He was also one of the few bold-name atheists who had actually read his ancestral holy text and could speak reasonably intelligent about it … and he was one of the few bold-name atheists who maintained friendships with the theists he debated. With him gone, the New Atheists lost their most articulate spokesman.

  3. stcordova says:

    “3.Elevatorgate. In 2011, a small dispute about the behavior of a man in a elevator at an Atheist Conference became extremely heated among internet atheist activists. With the Common Enemy long removed, the atheists began to turn on each other.”

    Personally, that was THE most fun thing for me to watch. What a bunch of snowflakes.

  4. Ilíon says:

    All that sound-and-fury … and atheism is still as intellectually absurd, for it is self-refuting, as it always was.

  5. 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.

    It’s interesting that Coyne should choose those: I guess that as he’s countering claims that ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ he’s got to solicit responses from people who actually were around when things were what they used to be.

    It’s interesting that Coyne should choose those: omissions include – and you can probably think of many others – Lawrence Krauss, David Silverman, Richard Carrier, John Loftus, Hemant Mehta; and of course PZ Myers, who once was Big in the movement.

    The omission of Myers (ditto others) might be because he isn’t someone Coyne is matey with, indeed quite the opposite; it might also be that Myers had already already posted his own opinions on those articles, opinions quite contary to Coyne’s, in his 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, which links to the first, includes his comment on the atheist hate-mail stirred up:

    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; New Atheism is not a thing, it’s just atheism as of old, Coyne says:

    Further, my take on New Atheism was that it wasn’t really “new”, but a revival of old ideas suggested (often vigorously) by earlier nonbelievers like Ingersoll, Mencken, Russell, and Sagan.

    I’m sure virulently anti-religious haters have been around for a long time; New Atheism (and its New Atheists) is the wave of virulently anti-religious hating authors – for me it’s the anti-religious hatred which marks atheists as New Atheists, not newspaper reporter labels – who took advantage of the strong feelings stirred up by 911 and Twin Towers to launch attacks ostensibly primarily against Islam and Muslims but also taking the opportunity to attack Christians as no better.

    And Coyne also says “What four horsemen”:

    Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris never proclaimed themselves “leaders of New Atheism”. They became spokespeople for atheism because they all had bestselling books and were also eloquent speakers.

    They didn’t need to proclaim themselves “leaders of New Atheism”. They didn’t need to, for the media and many atheists did that for four of the most and most highly visible of the leaders, four of those with influence and followers. Coyne himself is a leader with followers, his blog currently urging viewers to “Join 58,507 other followers.” Coyne’s ‘is a distinction without a difference, safe and facile denial.


    Harris provides for me the most interesting of Coyne’s replies. Harris goes the whole hog of denial, he says he’s not only not a New Atheist, he’s not even an atheist.

    Which is probably right, because the Tibetan Buddhism he is so much part of and advocating for – read his Waking Up – is not atheism as conceived by Coyne and many other atheists, it incorporates the supernatural whatever-it-is that allegedly reincarnates from Dalai Lama to Dalai Lama, Rinpoche to Rinpoche, monk to monk, sentient being to sentient being.

    Hmmm, how does Harris’ supernatural whatever-it-is that allegedly reincarnates from Dalai Lama to Dalai Lama, sentient being to sentient being, how does that fit in with evolution? How does natural selection select for something which passes supernaturally between bodies and lives past death, what selection pressures can there possibly be for that whatever-it-is to evolve into something which is (or is in?) an ant in one life, an elephant in another, a human in another, a fish in yet another, and so on? Or put another way, in evolutionary theory, how does karma act to shape the evolution of those whatever-it-is’s.

    I cannot see how it can: indeed, natural selection requires elimination of the unfit; so what with that whatever-it-is dying (nirodha = cessation) only on reaching Buddhahood and complete enlightenment, it’s only the ones which don’t Buddhahood which survive for another round of reincarnation, natural selection selects against attaining Buddhahood and complete enlightenment.

    No, Dawkins and Coyne both repeatedly write as if naturalistic evolution (minus any supernatural elements whatsoever) is a vitally important plank of New Atheism, the intellectual justification. Harris’ Buddhism (in which reincarnation is essential as a justification of the Dalai Lama / Rinpoche / etc monastic power structure) doesn’t mesh with the supernatural-excluding evolution of Dawkins and Coyne. So Harris can say he is not even an atheist. Whatever, his seething anti-theism makes him very much a New Atheist.


    Harris continues:

    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.

    Or the internet explosion at that time did that, how can one tell which, or which by how much?

    The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery.

    Yeah, they built upon justified fears of Muslim jihadists, and Islamophobia against ordinary Muslims to attack Christians.

    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.

    Harris is still harping on about “the forces of theocracy” – funny, I thought you guys on the other side of the Stream had a Constitution. Or is he referring specifically to that nasty, nasty Islam which he apparently hates even more than Christianity? (Question: Why does he never condemn the forces of Lama-ocracy, as in his beloved Tibetan Buddhism; why does he not condemn its aspirations to return to power in Tibet?)

    Funny that Harris claims that “people who imagine themselves to be on [very] good terms with reason” (Westerners?) are abetting Islamic theocracy and respecting the theocrats’ extremist ideas – I had supposed that ISIS was opposed (and actively fought against) by just about every Westernised country, the US included, and also opposed or at least not supported by just about every other country.

    Why does Harris suppose that flights of fancy (or fantasy) are coherent well-argued arguments? And more to the point, why do his fans think that?

    The new atheism has not disappeared.

    Well, that directly contradicts Coyne’s claim that there never was a New Atheism. And

    It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values.

    Do I detect he’s slipped in an advert for his podcasts and armchair chat stage events:

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

    Ah, I must be a New Atheist myself, then. Except that I judge that, for Harris at any rate, his concept of “intellectual honesty” has it including a good helping of “flights of fancy (or fantasy)”.

  6. Isaac says:

    The New Atheism created millions of “nones” and no new actual atheists. And Americans (especially white, working-class Americans, who were the most susceptible to their arguments and who made up the majority of the conversions to “nones,”) are all worse off in every possible measurable way for it.

    Here’s a last shovel of dirt:

    5. They Were Wrong. The New Atheists could not deliver on utopian promises. As it turns out, it is not possible to maintain morality and ethics at the same level under atheism as it was under Christianity. By shaming young people out of their traditional faith, the New Atheists increased suicide, drug abuse, mass shootings, despair, and depression. The direct correlation has been documented to the point that columnists and pundits are now offering weak, sad summarizations in the vein of, “perhaps some sort of religious ideal to strive for is healthy.”

    I doubt that New Atheists will ever consider themselves in any way responsible for the death and misery their bad ideas have spawned, just as the innocent little raindrop accepts no responsibility for the flood. As a less-religious-than-ever Western world disintegrates into partisan fury, racism, gender wars, and general debauchery, they’ll probably continue to blame whatever Christians are still around.

  7. Dhay says:

    Continuing from my last response in this thread, and returning to Jerry Coyne:

    … my take on New Atheism was that it wasn’t really “new”, but a revival of old ideas … The only “new” aspect was that it was a revival of atheism offered to a new generation …

    Britain has experienced many Revivals: the Reformation (and Counter-Reformation), the Methodist Revival, the Welsh Revival, the Revival due to Billy Graham’s visit; each Revival follows a decline, leads into the next decline, which leads into the next Revival; why should I not expect the same cycle of Revival => decline to apply to atheism (including indifference), to New Age, and to New Atheism.

    … in my experience, I haven’t seen the pervasive bigotry that’s supposedly associated with New Atheism—either at meetings or among prominent New Atheists …

    Anecdotally, there’s not many women at New Atheist events, nor any shortage of women bloggers giving their opinions, pointedly, on why this is so. It would be good if someone would research the numbers and tell us what ‘Science and Reason’ reveal on the matter.

    Of course one bigot and one incident of sexism is too many, and we should always strive to call this stuff out and treat people equally, but I don’t see these issues as especially prominent in New Atheism …

    The lack of prominence of the issues of bigotry and sexism in New Atheist circles is itself one of those issues.

    I’ve never heard anybody say, “Well, I’m going back to religion because I didn’t like Dawkins’s last tweet.”

    Firstly, he wouldn’t have heard anybody say that or similar: judging by the volume of his blogging, both nowadays and when he had an academic career (in the later two and a bit years of which he was researching and writing his last book) and the time probably consumed by these, I doubt Coyne has a social circle extensive enough that he would come across anyone such, if they existed. Secondly, anyone inclined to say that would have kept well away from the religion-hating Coyne, so again he wouldn’t hear it. Thirdly — addressing what I take to be the real thrust of that — companies will sack bigoted and sexist employees because they don’t want to be tarred with the same brush, they don’t want to accumulate reputational damage lest their customers or clients distance themselves in turn from reputational damage; Coyne cannot imagine it, I can; and if such a one is perhaps not “going back to religion” they can definitely be “losing interest in New Atheism” because of Richard Dawkins.


    Steven Pinker’s quoted reply starts:

    The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion.

    — a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.”

    Golly gosh, the New Atheism movement is not a thing, it’s an idea made up by religious people, religious people only at that, an idea which atheists, however religion-hating, have no ownership of. (Or perhaps it’s a spotted dog snuffling among leaves.) Funny how New Atheists such as Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Phil Torres could in 2016 enthuse how New Atheism is a force for change — or could be if it itself changes:

    The condescending speech of New Atheists—calling religious people delusional, for example—is not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change.

    “Polyanna” Pinker doesn’t really say much, I think, though he does — inevitably — talk up New Atheism as successful:

    If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was … “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.

    We will see.


    Dan Dennett makes that same “tidal wave” claim — it must be a New Atheist meme — and another New Atheist meme he uses, like Dawkins (follows, next response) is:

    Our critics keep writing books and articles by the hundreds that disappear without a trace after a few days, convincing few if any.

    Which could equally be said of the New Atheists, there’s been hundreds of anti-religious polemical books — look on Amazon with its bottom banner of similar-themed books — and articles published.

    And, strangely:

    We’ve gone on to other topics.

    It’s pretty much true to say that Dennett has disappeared from view for this generation of atheists, so who knows what he has moved on to. As regards Dawkins (Brexit), Coyne (free speech and ducks), Harris (punditry), they have added a topic or two without moving away from their outspoken antagonism towards theistic religion.

  8. Dhay says:

    Continuing from my last responses in this thread, and moving on to Richard Dawkins’ response to Coyne regarding his question, “Is New Atheism really dead?”, Dawkins initially didn’t want to respond; pressed by Coyne:

    He simply sent me a figure showing the UK sales of The God Delusion between 2006 and 2018, noting that the recent trend seems to be a pretty straight line.

    (The figure excludes US and worldwide sales, though Dawkins expects a similar pattern.) On printing, measuring and scaling the figure (graph) I find that 55% of total UK sales to the end of 2018 were in the first fifteen months, 30% in the next six years years, with 15% in the last five completed years. If Dawkins wants to measure the vitality of New Atheism by sales of his book, it looks to me like it’s decline.

    I also learned that there have been 13 million downloads (3 million in Saudi Arabia alone) for an illicit pdf of the Arabic translation of The God Delusion.

    It sounds impressive until you realise his “The God Delusion” pdf is the only atheist book available in many Muslim countries, it’s free, it’s cornered that (huge) niche market, and it has no competition.

    Anything else?, asked Coyne:

    … he just noted that there were at least 22 books (which he calls “fleas”) that were provoked by publication of The God Delusion …

    Of course, The God Delusion is a flea compared to the Bible.

    And as I said regarding Dan Dennett’s response, there’s many, many atheist anti-religious polemics which have been written, books which are themselves fleas compared to Dawkins’ book’s relative great success. And all these, too, are fleas compared to the Bible.

    And why did Dawkins’ book enjoy such success: there’s 9/11; perhaps more importantly to my mind is that Dawkins was already a very famous author of books popularising science, and already a famous figurehead and opinion leader for those with anti-religious sentiments – who of course bought his book when it came out, he’d basically cornered the market; then there’s those like me who bought the book for reference, to see what the great fuss of publicity was about, and I’m certainly no New Atheist convert.

    .. these [Christian response] books seem to have sunk without a trace: none, as far as I know, have achieved anywhere near the sales of The God Delusion.

    As have the atheist fleas also. And from Coyne’s “crikey!” comment about Dawkins’ UK sales, I think I can reliably conclude that Coyne, too, is a flea.


    Coyne got a reply from Michael Shermer next day, who told Coyne that:

    There are actually a lot of “new atheists” out there besides the “four horseman,” not the least of whom is you!

    That’s bang on: New Atheism may be in decline but it’s not dead; it will never die while Coyne continues to blog.

    Pretty much all of Shermer’s response is waffle: [the late] Victor Stenger should have been the Fifth Horseman; others such as Shermer himself, Paul Kurtz (who?) and George Smith (who?) had been atheists and religious skeptics since waaaay back (yeah? so?)

    Shermer’s two ending paragraphs play the ‘”atheist” and/or “New Atheist” are meaningless terms’ card played in the first link:

    One problematic aspect of the “atheist” label is that believers and “faitheists” (as you so effectively call atheists who believe in belief—for others, of course), is that we allow others to define us by what we don’t believe. That will never suffice. We must define ourselves by what we do believe: science, philosophy, reason, logic, empiricism and all the tools of the scientific method, along with civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, gay rights, animal rights, and moral progress …

    Funny, that list of what Shermer’s “we” allegedly do believe looks like a list of what the British Christians of my acquaintance also believe; those beliefs are not distinctive beliefs of atheists, they’re Christian beliefs as I know them, once belief in protecting the environment, belief in social justice and a few others have been added in — Shermer’s list looks like it’s Christianity minus belief in God.

    Defining ourselves by what we do believe prevents believers and faitheists from calling us “atheists” and then attacking whatever that word means to them, instead of what it means to us (namely, a lack of belief in a deity, full stop).

    Funny, systematic atheology is just “a lack of belief in a deity, full stop”; and yet it’s also that long list of “what we do believe”. Weird.


    I’ve had to comment on snippets rather than on the entirety of the six responses (including Coyne’s), otherwise this would be a book.

  9. Dhay says:

    In his “Is New Atheism really dead? Four New Atheists respond” blog post — see several of the posts above for extended comment on it — Jerry Coyne repeatedly denies that the (allegedly non-)leaders of New Atheism, nor New Atheism, nor its proponents, are “bigoted and/or misogynistic”:

    In his “So, it’s “Atheist Day”” blog post PZ Myers describes the originating group of this newly-imagined Day , Atheist Republic (who?) in very unflattering terms, as merely simple people promoting “this idea …”:

    I really dislike the organization — it’s very 2005, a group of people who are proud of themselves for the simplest possible conclusion … this idea that there is no point to atheism other than slapping each other on the back and telling each other, “you’re right!” when someone says there is no god.

    He contradicts Coyne when he says of this venerable group:

    Also, in past encounters with the group, there’s the casual, unthinking misogyny. But then, I guess that’s just part of the old-fashioned atmosphere. The good old days, you know.

    Ah, yes, the good old days when New Atheism achieved prominence, the good old days of casual, unthinking misogyny.


    Myers then moves on to reminisce about his once-popular “Why I am an atheist” series of blogs, how it attracted many ‘my story’ submissions, and how that changed:

    I was still getting submissions, but I was also getting all these frantic emails asking me to delete entries or edit out names … I’m still getting retraction requests, by the way. Every few months someone writes to me and pleads to have their name redacted, or the whole dang post deleted. I oblige every time, of course.

    Please, please retract my declaration of my atheism! Signs of atheism in decline?

    Myers’ bottom line — apart from how he’s going to spend “Atheist Day” preparing for research on spiders — comes back to misogyny:

    Also by the way — the number of women making those deletion requests exceeds the number of men. I can’t imagine why.

    I think he intends readers to imagine why.

  10. Dhay says:

    The newly published book of that ‘Four Horsemen’ discussion (augmented by contributions from the three still alive) has been out since 19 March 2019, though I see there’s but three Amazon reviews so far of a book of only 160 pages — do slow readers buy it, or are there few buyers? The three reviews are all five-star, which tells me that it’s appealed primarily to those who are keen fans of New Atheism, or perhaps to those so badly informed or stupid they are unaware the 1:57:14 full video is available for free online.

    The longest review so far starts:

    In the future – and this is the sadness – it is more than likely that we will look back upon the conversation represented in this book as the high tidemark of 21st century secular humanism. The subtitle for this, the transcription of the filmed exchange involving these four heroes of non-belief in 2007, pins it as: “The discussion that sparked an atheist revolution”. Well, the very obvious strength of the counter-revolution, alive and pretty universally thriving, throws a deep dark shadow over any such optimism. Organised religion has bit back big time and there seems be few fresh horsemen to ride up to the van.

    Perhaps so many of us are now left, with naught much new for our comfort, to recall … …

    In the opinion of this reviewer the atheist revolution [New Atheist?] that the video’d discussion sparked a very obviously strong counter-revolution, alive and universally thriving, whereas atheism is in decline, unrenewed:

    Yes, more than a decade forward, we have Bill Maher and Leah Remini and Stephen Fry and a few others to keep the dream going. But the fear has to be that the four galácticos of godlessness are just not going to be readily replaced. This [book] is, in a sense, their beautifully verbalised old testament. Let’s, er, pray that it stays read and regularly refreshed for as long as it has to be. A long time, one fears.

    Unrenewed, the Four Horsemen not replaced by people of the same quality. And he holds this opinion while three of the Four are still alive, though not now alive enough to “keep the dream going.”

    I can’t discern what he might mean by the book (and discussion content, surely) being an atheist “old testament”. My best guess, given the rest of the review, is that he thinks the Good Ol’ Days are gone and that the old New Atheism now needs renewing by a saviour or four — and replacement by a New New Atheism. (New+ Atheism?)

  11. unclesporkums says:

    Ah, “the dream”. Sounds so idealistic.

  12. unclesporkums says:

    Sounds like the kind of language they’d use, while denying there is “a dream” or “a movement”.

  13. Dhay says:

    Atheism (let alone New Atheism) has a severe image problem: in his 30 May 2019 blog post entitled “Why Do People Hate Atheists So Much? (Don’t Answer That; Just Look at This Data)” Hemant Mehta

    If we can figure out who hates atheists the most, can we figure out when atheists will stop being so damn hated? Professor Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University may have an answer to that. Using data from the 2012 American National Election Studies (ANES), he got a reading on how various groups feel about atheists based on a scale from 0-100 — the higher the number, the more they like us. The data is a few years old, but it’s thorough.

    (‘Hate’ is Mehta’s term, not researcher Ryan Burge’s, but let’s run with Mehta.)

    Mehta points out that the data show that it’s older Republicans who most ‘hate’ atheists; younger Republicans (especially, lol, newborn babies) ‘hate’ atheists much less, though the ‘hate’ level at birth is on average a mere 37 on a Likert scale of 0-100 for “warmth” (subtract the “warmth” score from 100, presumably, to get a Likert score of 63 for ‘hate’) and drops steadily after birth to 24 (a 76 ‘hate’ score) for 90 year old Republicans.

    For newborn baby Democrats their Likert score for “warmth” is 40 (‘hate’ score 60), barely dropping through life to 38 (‘hate’ score 62).

    Mehta is encouraged, and encourages his readers: (paraphrasing it’s) wait a few decades for the older Republicans to die off and all will change for the better.

    Perhaps not; that Burge’s graph lines go to childhood and even to birth instead of, say, to age 18 (which is probably the sensible age to start measuring from) indicates he’s a bad researcher who interviewed babies, or else perhaps clueless at presenting results; the ‘hate’ figures at age 18 are higher that for newborn babies, so that’s one source of inflated optimism; another deflater of Mehta’s optimism would be that on average even the youngest Republicans and Democrats express what Mehta terms ‘hate’ towards atheists.


    There seems to be a lot of discrimination inside the nones camp, itself. It’s key to point out here that the nones are NOT just atheists, but also include people who identify as agnostic and nothing in particular, as well. These results indicate that these two types of nones do not see atheists as playing on the same team.

    I’ll take it that “discrimination” is Burge’s word for Mehta’s ‘hate’. So (probably):
    1) Even (many) ‘nones’ ‘hate’ atheists.
    2) Agnostics and ‘nothing in particulars’ do not see atheists as playing on the same team.

  14. unclesporkums says:

    What a cretin.

  15. Dhay says:

    unclesporkums > What a cretin.

    I see you have found me out. Quite right, I took my eye off the ball on minor matters like not finishing my first sentence, and putting “higher that”; and took my eye off the ball more seriously in that plainly Burge cannot be accused of being a bad researcher when he did no research himself, he used data provided by the 2012 ANES.

    But it gives me an excuse to return to Burge’s graph. Hemant Mehta’s blog title tells his readers, “Just Look at This Data”, but provides only that graph.

    There’s a number of things wrong (or at any rate, dodgy) with that graph. The one I’ve already pointed out is that it ascribes “warmth/coldness” levels towards atheists to newborn babies; I cannot see the ANES researchers asking newborns, nor even children, their Likert-scale “warmth” towards atheists, or expecting sensible answers, so there’s probably no data (least of all meaningful data) to graph below, say, age 18; which raises the question why Burge does so.

    Then there’s the straightness of the graph lines. I would expect the original data to be quite scattered — it’s normal — when plotted, with eg 45-yr old Republicans having a wide range of “warmth” (or ‘hate’) levels — and for a graph plotting each individual age/”warmth” datum to look like a flock of starlings or a fog. It’s possible to draw a straight line through any scatter-graph plot, however scattered, just plug the figures into your spreadsheet; I’m sure it would even be possible to draw a y=ax+c straight line like Burge’s through a plot of where people live in Britain, the meaninglessness of which should be a warning; a spreadsheet formula can force scattered and probably non-linear data into the Procrustean Bed of a linear straight-line representation, but … but if garbage in, garbage out, mathematical pseudo-precision, and I’ve seen quite a few straight lines through scattered data where the line is very obviously devoid of explanatory or predictive power. To me, Burge’s straight-line graph (with its coloured envelope of other straight lines which fall within the confidence limits) looks dodgy.

    And it’s just a few days since Mehta pooh-poohed a study which concluded Christians have the best relationships and sex because the data was self-reported. The Likert scale data used by Burge is perhaps the ultimate in self-reported data, so Mehta is using a double standard, once again finding self-reported data acceptable when — and only when — he likes (or can spin) a study’s results.

  16. Dhay says:

    Please un-italicise after “cretin.”

  17. Dhay says:

    Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist posts referencing this or that Study or Survey or Poll tend to cherry-pick and highlight the conclusions he likes, the conclusions favourable towards atheists and boosting the image atheists — some, anyway, Mehta’s readership, anyway — have of themselves. Well, when he does that it’s fair game to identify and highlight the bits he omits because he doesn’t like the conclusions and the bad image.

    In his 28 May 2019 post entitled “Research Presented at Vatican Shows That Anti-Atheist Stereotypes Are Inaccurate” he tells his readers:

    In their [Understanding Unbelief (2019)] survey, they asked people for the most accurate description of their belief in God. Atheists were the ones who said “I don’t believe in God.” Agnostics said “I don’t know whether there is a God, and I don’t believe there is any way to find out.” Those seem fine enough out of seven possible options.

    While the graphs are a chore to read, the findings are fascinating. Here are a few things that stood out to me.

    1) Most atheists don’t call themselves “atheists.”

    Actually, the graphs are beautifully colour-coded and laid out so even a simpleton should have no trouble. But yes, the results — parochially, Mehta is interested only in the US figures from a six-country survey, perhaps his readers are few abroad — are fascinating, and the figures show that only 39% of US non-believers in God actually call themselves atheists, with the other 61% using one or other of the eleven other self-designations offered to non-believers in God.

    Mehta evidently gets himself confused, he quotes not eleven other self-designation used by non-believers in God – despite them being in plain sight on the chart he reproduces — but only three, totalling just 35% of that 61%:

    Others use “non-religious” (20%), “agnostic” (8%), and “free thinker” (7%).

    A simple back-of-envelope calculation (which Mehta seems unable to do, because he doesn’t do it) tells me that this implies that when other polls, studies and surveys come up with a self-reported figure for the number or proportion of atheists the figure for non-believers in God can be taken to be about two-and-a-half times larger. You would think he’d be gleefully pointing this out, but he continues:

    Because of that, the researchers correctly conclude that anyone else trying to analyze atheists merely from a list of those who identify with that word would be doing a disservice because they’re undercounting us.

    Perhaps Mehta’s numerically challenged; his readers likewise. Of course if those polls, studies and surveys were repeated to look at all genuine atheists (non-believers in God) instead of that 39% sub-set who are self-describing atheists, those 61% others would almost certainly change the findings majorly – and probably not in ways Mehta would like.

    Table 2.3 of the Understanding Unbelief (2019) study looks at “Proportions of atheists and agnostics who are naturalists (i.e., who ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ disagree with all ‘existence of supernatural beings/phenomena’ questions)”. Here we find that only 35% of US non-believers in God are thoroughgoing naturalists who are convinced (including somewhat convinced) that there is nothing supernatural: the other 65% deny the existence of God but are happy to believe in one or more of ‘Life after death’, ‘Reincarnation’, ‘Astrology’, ‘Objects with mystical powers’, ‘Significant events [are] “meant to be”’, ‘Supernatural beings’, ‘Underlying forces of good and evil’, ‘Universal spirit or life force’ and ‘Karma’.

    The familiar meme says that an atheist is someone who believes in one fewer god than a Christian does: perhaps a Christian is someone who believes in just one more [ ** ] supernatural being or supernatutural phenomenon than the 65% of atheists who are – what’s the usual term used for that list, superstition – than the 65% of atheists who are superstitious.

    ( ** Actually, if I recall previous Pew Polls correctly, strongly evangelical Christians are very unlikely to believe in superstitions in that list; that is, they will generally believe in fewer supernatural being or supernatutural phenomenon than 65% of atheists.)

  18. Dhay says:

    Looks like the rot of superstition infects atheist right at the hard New Atheist extreme. In his blog post dated 07 June 2019 entitled “Duck teaser” Jerry Coyne writes:

    I still can’t believe that both broods of ducks are coexisting in the pond! I have two upcoming sets of photos, one of the half-grown brood of Katie, and the other of the new one. (I haven’t yet named the hen, as I think it would jinx things before the ducklings are a week old. Shoot me if I’m superstitious.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.