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.  😉

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47 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.)


  19. Dhay says:

    Some six years ago PZ Myers announced the forthcoming publication of his book, The Happy Atheist, which seems to have been just a compilation of selected early Pharyngula blog posts and which seems to have crashed into an oblivion – evidenced by just eight Amazon reviews after its publication year. At the same time he announced the start of a weekly look at Christianity:

    So I’ve decided to start attending church services, a different church each week, all of this summer while I’m in town. I’m not going to be confrontational, … I’ll be taking an anthropological view, as neutral as I can be. … So stay tuned. Every Sunday I’ll talk about my local experience.

    He’s evidently still doing a version of that, because he has a “Sunday Sacrilege” slot. The latest caught my attention because he comments on a sign, “Expanding Minds & Inspiring Service”, which he found displayed outside his Campus’ Lutheran Ministry; in his comments on that message he contrasts Christians and atheists.

    [The message] got me thinking about atheism. Unfortunately, I think atheism exhibits the inverse of the traits of religion with respect to that motto.

    He’s dismissive of the first part, “Expanding Minds”, which he doesn’t expect a Lutheran Ministry to do, quite the opposite; the place to get your mind expanded is, he says, the adjacent University. (I note with interest he doesn’t say it’s the Campus’ Atheist Society.)

    (My own experience of University was disappointing: I went to have my mind expanded and to delight in new ideas, but instead I had rote learning of my STEM subject matter, intellectual stagnation, and only two conversations I would have liked to have joined in with, they were so stimulating – but being shy, timid and reserved, didn’t; (one, ironically – ironic because I was a convinced atheist and stayed so for many subsequent years – was a discussion between a group of Christians sat at the next meal table.) No, universities don’t necessarily expand your mind, or when they do, not necessarily by much.)

    It’s not a total contrast of (allegedly) closed-minded Lutherans versus open-minded atheists:

    There are close-minded people within atheism, I can assure you of that, but at its best, atheism practices that ideal of expanding minds. I have been involved in programs specifically geared to discuss science, and there are others who’ve worked hard to communicate principles of philosophy and logic.

    I’ve news for Myers: at its best Christianity also practices that ideal of expanding minds. Historically this is well exemplified by Thomas Aquinas, or by the Jesuits; today look at Catholic theology or the philosophy of WL Craig, both of which, whether or not Myers likes the thoughts therein, are very closely thought through. And there’s plenty of Christians who (triggering outraged blog posts from Jerry Coyne) parallel those enthusiastic atheism and science advocating atheists in being enthusiastic Christianity and science advocating Christians.

    But some atheists – “we can probably all list 100” [phew!] – (likewise New Atheists) are more interested in the living that can be made from atheism:

    We can probably all list a hundred individuals who are more interested in taking advantage of the profit potential of atheism — we have our Joel Osteen types — but there are far more atheists who are honestly interested in learning and teaching. We know their interest is sincere, because the ones who do it for pure motives are also the ones who don’t make bank off lecture tours.

    And, much as Christian pew-fodder don’t evangelise much, the majority of atheists probably don’t get involved with learning and teaching – certainly neither group does in secular Britain.

    We know their interest is sincere, because the ones who do it for pure motives are also the ones who don’t make bank off lecture tours.

    That’s interesting, who might they be who “make bank”? Ah yes, it’s a direct criticism of Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Carrier (when he could, before his disgrace), Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Jerry Coyne (to a limited extent) and [add names here]; it’s also an implied criticism of those who make their living as professional atheists from their blog/podcast/articles/books income – Sam Harris, Peter Boghossian and Hemant Mehta come readily to mind – plus an implied criticism of those who make their living as professional atheists managing the atheist organisations.

    The second contrast is the very different attitudes to service; Christians do well:

    The second part of the sign, though, “Inspiring Service”, is more legit. I remember from my church-going days that that was a serious and important message. … … there is an honest and sincere spirit of service in many church-goers, and I think that is a good thing. An important part of a successful movement has to be an ideal of community, and that requires effort to maintain. It requires service.

    Whereas atheists do badly:

    But “inspiring service”? Oh god. Ask that of an atheist group and the vast majority will look elsewhere and wander off. The libertarians will clamor for a hanging. YouTube videos will appear condemning everyone of trying to build a petty empire off the membership, or simply shrieking, “HELL NO” at the very idea, and screaming about SJWs taking over. If we wanted to do “service”, we’d join a church. That’s telling, actually. You can’t build a community out of a mob of arrogant individualists who consider contributing to the greater good to be a crime against their independence.

    I view from a Christian silo (or bubble), and a non-US one at that, but consider it a damning indictment of atheism that — as represented by Friendly Atheist at any rate – the most oft-repeated example of atheist service is … is litter-picking. Litter-picking? Hey, what happened to serving people.

    But all is not lost – in imagination, anyway:

    Imagine, though, what a powerhouse atheism could be if it actually implemented the ideals in that sign. Imagine a movement built on teaching and learning, and also on sharing and working together in a community where every member was respected.

    It’s unclear whether Christians would be respected, or just members of that atheist community; or perhaps that “respected” is a reference to privilege and “Woke”-ness.

    On one hand, if you cannot even imagine what you want, you will never achieve it; imagining ends is a first step to achieving them: on the other, a certain John Lennon song leaps to mind, in parody.

  20. Dhay says:

    > Myers’ blog has become an obscure wasteland as he expresses his desire to punch Nazis.

    In his 01 July 2019 post entitled “If antifa has no recourse but violence, how can you condemn them for taking action?” PZ Myers shows that he is conflicted; but not very:

    Here’s [Andy] Ngo getting hosed down with milkshakes and silly string, when someone runs forward and clocks him hard. He was bleeding and went to an emergency room; this is serious violence. [Two videos.]

    I see the British fashion for “Milkshaking” people you strongly dislike (sometimes called “Lactose Intolerance”) is a fashion in the USA also. It Britain it earns you a substantial fine, reparation for damage and court costs.

    But then it escalated: an antifa member “punched a Nazi”, ie hit Ngo hard, very hard. Would Myers have done that?:

    Now I’m getting uncomfortable. Would I do this? No.

    But it’s not an unqualified “No”, it’s a “No. But …”:

    But since everyone is currently very concerned about free speech, I think we need to be able to objectively discuss the pros of punching out fascist bigots. After all, any attempt to silence conversation about the virtues of antifa would be a violation of people’s free speech rights, and we can’t have that. I think also that Mr Ngo would want us to consider the benefits of seeing him punched in the face.

    Myers does a lot of discussion, including (it looks incredible, so do I have this right?) the assertion that the “irresponsible” police should (if responsible) have prevented the antifa violence by arresting the marchers antifa were attacking. And as the police are “irresponsible”, violence is OK, indeed it is a “righteous act”:

    That precious rule of law is breaking down all across the country, so it becomes a righteous act to oppose wrong directly, without passing the responsibility on to an irresponsible police force.

    He ends:

    I guess my bottom line is that absent a legitimate police force working to keep the peace, I’ll trust antifa to fight for right, more than I would the Proud Boys or neo-Nazis. I’d prefer more milkshakes and eggs over blood and broken bones, though.

    Actually, his bottom line is probably his top line, his title: “If antifa has no recourse but violence, how can you condemn them for taking action?” I’d say that’s a big “if”, whatever happened to cat-calls, boos and heckling? That “If antifa has no recourse but violence…” is really, “If antifa has no recourse but violence [in order to enforce their aims]”; and the final part reduces to “… how can you condemn them for [punching a Nazi]?”

    He won’t do it himself, he says, but approves the particulars and principle of others punching a Nazi.

  21. unclesporkums says:

    “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else..”

  22. TFBW says:

    Sounds like PZ is fine with mob rule so long as it’s his mob that’s ruling. “Power for me and mine,” apparently, is his core principle.

  23. nsr says:

    “Because we know we’re right” is their astonishingly naive justification for demanding absolute power.

  24. Dhay says:

    As I said five posts above: “I view from a Christian silo (or bubble), and a non-US one at that, but consider it a damning indictment of atheism that — as represented by Friendly Atheist at any rate – the most oft-repeated example of atheist service is … is litter-picking. Litter-picking? Hey, what happened to serving people.”

    Hemant Mehta adds yet more confirmation with his 05 July 2019 post entitled “Satanists Have “Adopted” a Park in Pensacola, FL and Promise To Keep It Clean”.

    Yep, it’s litter-picking again. And again.

  25. unclesporkums says:

    Because these idiots care about the environment than people.

  26. unclesporkums says:

    And by “care” I mean a bland showcase for their own grandstanding

  27. Dhay says:

    Further to my last response above, about the Pensacola Satanic litter-pickers, someone has now graffiti’d the sign declaring it’s they who now litter-pick in that park, and the nearby road and railing:

    Adding insult to this injury, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson said the Satanists shouldn’t have been able to adopt this park at all because it’s “not on the list of Keep Pensacola Beautiful eligible parks.” That’s supposedly because it’s too large for the program, and it’s therefore the city’s responsibility to keep it clean, not any individual group’s. The Satanic Temple, he said, can “select a different, smaller park.”…

    … (This is all assuming the mayor’s explanation is accurate about the adoption of this park being a clerical mistake and not some personal vendetta against Satanists.)

    No, not “supposedly”, Mehta, not a “personal vendetta against Satanists”, as anyone clicking on Mehta’s own [“shouldn’t have been able to adopt this park at all”] link to the Satanist’s FaceBook post will discover in the comments:

    Stephen Gundelfinger I was always under the impression that it was city maintained.

    The Mayor’s explanation is accurate. But why should accuracy spoil Mehta’s paranoid polemic, polemics seem to be what the Friendly Atheist blog exists for.


    Just to clarify, the Keep Pensacola Beautiful programme is not a City programme, it’s a local charity’s programme:

    KEEP PENSACOLA BEAUTIFUL was formed by a group of concerned citizens in 1978 who took initiative to be involved in their community. We were officially chartered as a non-profit in April 1979 …


    What I didn’t include in my to-the-point previous response was that that first post included:

    … the West Florida chapter of The Satanic Temple tells me the group was actually trying to adopt Bayview Park about 10 minutes away. That’s the park with the Giant Christian Cross whose fate is currently up in the air. The Satanists loved the irony of being able to clean that particular area. They were even told the park was theirs… until the non-profit that runs the program, Keep Pensacola Beautiful, said Bayview was no longer on their list because a local community center had the ability to clean the park themselves. Too bad. It would’ve been hilarious.

    When it appeared that the group might ** be able to adopt a park containing a controversial Christian cross, one subject to secular atheist legal attempts to get it removed from public land, the Satanists were evidently delighted. Says Mehta: “The Satanists loved the irony of being able to clean that particular area. … It would’ve been hilarious.”

    Ah yes, hilarious, the hilarity of the jeering yob who’s got one over on those Christians by an ostentatious presence and advertising in a park where their fellow atheist organisations — the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation — are fighting in the courts to have the cross removed.

    ( ** In the event, that park was adopted by a local community group — it makes sense to me, that, that local people should be encouraged to tend and take pride in their locality.)

    Well, they didn’t achieve the shock-horror publicity of taking over the park with the contended cross in it, that would indeed have been a publicity coup and reason to — as Mehta suggests — to laugh and jeer. Diddums.

    So what’s next best? Ah yes, what if the sign got graffiti’d, that’d get publicity. So forgive my cynicism, but I wonder who did it.


    The cynic in me also notes that the Satanists say they would have immediately cleaned up the graffiti, but if it’s not now their allotted park, they won’t. What message does that send about how public-spirited or otherwise they are.

  28. unclesporkums says:

    I guess the “Friendly” in Mehta’s title is supposed to be ironic.

  29. Dhay says:

    The New Atheists Jerry Coyne, Hemant Mehta and David G. McAfee each named their blogs after their books. There’s imagination for you.

  30. Dhay says:

    Back to PZ Myers and his favourable views towards antifa violence to “Nazis”, and the gentler version called ‘milkshaking’. In his 11 July 2019 blog post entitled “Sciencing the accusations against antifa” he tells us that some [“Nazis”, the police in particular] have claimed that quick-setting cement had been mixed into some milkshakes that were thrown. Which claims Myers debunks convincingly by quoting someone who had tested various mixes:

    So Willamette Week tested the assertion. They made vegan milkshakes, then stirred in cement. It can be done! [But doesn’t look anything like any milkshake, it’s blindingly obviously a cement mix.]

    (There must be a joke there somewhere about using Portland Cement. [Insert here.].)

    And his bottom line is:

    Cement milkshakes also won’t set, confirming what I heard from many people that sugar interferes with the process.

    Ah, Myers knows “many people” who have already tried to make cement milkshakes, knows “many people” who are innocent in fact — by fact of failure to achieve their aims — but who are plainly not innocent of malicious intent.

  31. TFBW says:

    Quick setting concrete is a hazardous substance. Not dangerous, like a strong acid, but it can cause skin damage or irritation, and has the potential to cause serious eye damage. You should wash it off immediately and thoroughly if you get it on you. Of course, if someone dumps concrete-laced milk on you out in public, you’re probably not well positioned to do anything about it quickly, so good luck with that.

  32. Dhay says:

    Hemant Mehta’s 22 July 2019 “Congregations Revolts After VA Baptist Pastor’s “America: Love or Leave It” Sign” blog post exults that the pastor who recently put that apparently now nationally infamous sign faced an empty church last Sunday (or were there ten or so there? — Mehta presents both accounts.)

    Some of the congregation at one service — you don’t specify it was the “Sunday School service” unless there’s at least one other service to distinguish it from — staged a walk-out in protest at the wording, that much is clear.

    What is not clear is why others simply stayed away and didn’t attend: Mehta claims them as more protesters against the wording of the sign; the Pastor (says Mehta):

    … says it’s because there was a threat against the church and not because of the sign. Right. Sure. That’s totally it..”

    As you see, Mehta totally pooh-poohs the idea of any actual or perceived threat.


    By coincidence, today is also the day Jerry Coyne blogged “The normalization of violence as part of public discourse”, where he discusses how SJWs construe words as “violent” and increasingly respond to “violence” with violence:

    I see this expansion of the word “violence” spreading insidiously through the Left. First, words become violence, and even failure to speak is a form of that: “Silence is violence.” Microaggressions are construed as violence. Then there comes “institutionalized violence” … even asking the question “Where is the racist violence at Williams?” was taken … as a form of violence itself.

    The next step in this creep is the transition to physical violence—both the kind that Ngo experienced and the sort of property damage that occurred at Berkeley when Milo Yiannopoulos was set to speak. What I expect to see next is some justification for these actions as well, beginning with mild violence like “milkshaking”, and then a beating like [Andy] Ngo took, and then Lord knows what else will be excused and justified.


    Given that Ngo was beaten up and badly injured for being present in a demonstration, given that Reza Aslan was eager to punch a schoolboy for standing quietly by when another demonstration deliberately singled out and confronted him …

    … and given the national attention given to the sign and church after Donald Trump “[telling] four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their homelands” — given that, how long can we expect it will be before some antifa mob protests the “violence” of the sign with violence of their own, against possibly just the Pastor, possibly the church premises also, possibly also the congregation and Sunday School.

    I am reminded of a British Admiral’s comment on pre-WWI submarines; I’ll paraphrase: it’s altogether inconceivable that such barbarous weapons could be used; but the essence of war is barbarity, and they will.

    A violent attack upon a “Nazi” church and congregation is inconceivable, certainly to Mehta — until it happens.


    Mehta has an aside:

    (Better yet, in a state where the GOP holds a 51-49 edge in the State House with elections coming up this November, let’s hope the congregation’s outrage spills over to the entire Republican Party.)

    Let’s mirror that: if the Pastor’s correct and it’s wholly or partly fear that keeps many away, will the congregation’s fear spill over to the entire Democratic Party?

    Yep, that “Vote Democrat” message creeps in everywhere. I sometimes wonder whether posts that are pro-abortion, anti-gun, anti-Christian (especially anti-Evangelical Christian) and, well, just about all others, are but dog-whistles to Democrat partisans.

  33. Dhay says:

    Hemant Mehta’s 09 August 2019 “Evangelical Christians Are the Least Trusted Religious Group in New Zealand” is, as the title indicates, yet another anti-Evangelical Christian blog post. Well, he’s not wrong, he reproduces the table on page 13 of the “Who do we trust in New Zealand? 2016 to 2019” survey, and it’s as he says; but there’s lies, damned lies, statistics and statistics spun by Mehta.

    There’s a stigma surrounding the word “atheist” that suggests we’re immoral and untrustworthy. A 2011 paper found that we were less trusted than rapists. It’s the main reason being an open atheist is considered toxic in public life. Why play to your community’s worst fears? But none of that seems to be the case in New Zealand. … Victoria University of Wellington conducted surveys asking participants how much they trust people of various religious groups. …

    My immediate criticism of the survey is that it asked surveyees to quantify the nebulous quantity, “trust” on the nebulous Likert Scale of 1 (“No trust at all”) – 5 (“Complete trust”) for various occupational, ethnic and religious groups — Mehta concentrated only upon the religious group results, ignoring all else. I wonder what sort of idiot or bigot has “No trust at all” in any group, likewise what sort of idiot or bigot has “Complete trust” in any group — are such people rational? But let’s assume the survey had some value, however doubly-nebulous and irrational the responses.

    The results that Mehta delighted in were — I’m quoting Mehta here:

    The least trustworthy group? Evangelical Christians. 38% of people said they have “little” or “no” trust in them while only 21% said they had “complete” or “lots of” trust.

    Atheists ranked near the top, close to Buddhists.

    There’s spin straight away: there were no figures or rankings for atheists, the group he’s referring to was “Atheists/agnostics”, which probably means what in the US are called ‘Nones’, which probably means actual atheists are very much in the minority in this group.

    If you look at the figures, scattered around the The Conversation article Mehta links to, you find that:

    Total responding to survey: 3,900,000 (100%)
    Total of the religious: 1,615,000 (41%)
    Nones (by subtraction): 2,285,000 (59%)

    Total of the religious: 1,615,000 (by addition)
    Protestants: 900,000
    Catholics: 500,000
    Hindus: 89,000
    Buddhists: 58,000
    Muslims: 46,000
    Evangelicals: 15,000
    Jews: 7,000

    Total of Christians: 1,415,000 (by addition)
    Protestants: 900,000
    Catholics: 500,000
    Evangelicals: 15,000

    Evangelicals are:
    Of total responding to survey: 0.4%
    Of total of the religious: 0.9%
    Of total of Christians: 1.1%

    First Friendly Atheist alternative fact: the survey didn’t measure (in however untrustworthy a manner) to what extent any group was trustworthy, it measured how much each group was trusted.

    Now take a look at the figures: 59% of those responding to the survey were ‘Nones’ (as people in the US call them), or “Atheists/agnostics” as the NZ survey team calls them (and it’s presumably what the group members self-designated as.) Which means that the “Atheists/agnostics” getting a relatively high “trust” score is very likely due to that “Atheists/agnostics” majority in-group upvoting themselves and people like themselves. They being such a large self-upvoting bloc, the surprise is that despite that they didn’t overtop Buddhists.

    Second Friendly Atheist alternative fact: it’s not “Atheists ranked near the top, close to Buddhists”, it’s “Atheists/agnostics”, and since there’s no separate “Nones” category I reckon those Mehta claims as “atheists” are in fact what in the US would be termed “Nones”; and if NZ and the US are at all alike, actual atheists will be very much a minority.

    (Indeed, the result is compatible with NZ atheists too being less trusted than NZ rapists, although with neither atheists nor rapists receiving trust ratings in this survey that’s unproven, both ways.)


    The Evangelicals, by contrast, are a tiny minority group, being just 0.4% of the total responders to the survey — are Evangelicals just 0.4% of the population, if not that’s another major failing of the survey, it’s results would be shown by that to be unrepresentative and distorted! That is, they are very much an out-group to the “Atheists/agnostics” 59% majority, and something of an out-group to close to 100% of those surveyed. The in-group/out-group effect is discussed by the survey team as being an important source of possible distortion: form your own opinion of what that does to trust of Evangelicals.

    Mehta being Mehta, he cannot resist offering his “possible” explanation (or guess, or spin) why NZ Evangelicals get the lowest trust rating:

    While the survey doesn’t get into the “why,” it’s possible that the people of New Zealand have been turned off by all the faith-based ignorance and bigotry coming from prominent evangelicals.

    He then gives two examples, with links, which when you follow the links one turns out to be a notoriously money-grabbing publicity-hungry mega-church prosperity-gospel pastor; the other turns out to be the same guy plus his wife publicity-grabbing by starting a political party to get elected — but she never will, you can see it’s just publicity, and perhaps includes a plan to gather data of politically like-minded people to solicit political and church donations from. With those two being such polluting fish in such a tiny pond it’s no wonder others recoil from their smell. But this tells us little about NZ Evangelicals in general, especially not about those Evangelicals who wouldn’t touch those two with a barge pole.


    Note Mehta’s hypocrisy: if you click to load and view the “Who do we trust in New Zealand? 2016 to 2019” survey results pdf, pages 9 and 11, you’ll find that, by a long way, the group least trusted of all by New Zealanders is … is “Bloggers/Commentators” — which the commenting text above each renders more simply as, “Bloggers.”

    How convenient for the blogger, Mehta, that he should overlook that.

  34. Dhay says:

    Please unblockquote after the first link, to shift the entire following text two tabs to the left and thus restore the intended formatting.

  35. unclesporkums says:

    The last people I’d consider “trustworthy” are a bunch of professional victims who constantly fake hate crimes against themselves.

  36. Dhay says:

    Peter Boghossian offered his own autopsy of New Atheism in Chapter 1 of his 2014 book, A Manual for Creating Atheists:

    The Four Horsemen identified the problems and raised our awareness, but they offered few solutions. No roadmap. Not even guideposts.

    It’s a deficiency which Boghossian in his book attempts to remedy, as he sells the dream like an expert used-car salesman.

    But looking at the numbers so far, it’s a pretty poor manual for his solution, his roadmap, his guideposts; it’s a pretty poor manual for creating Street Epistemologists.

  37. Dhay says:

    PZ Myers continues own autopsy (or “post-mortem”) of New Atheism. In his 11 September 2019 blog post entitled “So what is — or rather, who is — the problem with New Atheism?” he agrees with an Arc article (“Sam Harris Has a Problem : This is what it looks like when a public intellectual doesn’t know what he’s talking about”) that:

    New Atheism itself was a rather slight intellectual movement and thus fizzled out quickly…

    His own comment is that:

    But why was it slight, and why has it fizzled out? I think we can blame that on the refusal of leading figures to get at all deep, on their shallow understanding of philosophy, and how they only used atheism as a tool to promote a regressive and ultimately racist ideology. The representative of that self-defeating side of the New Atheism is… [It’s Sam Harris – Dhay.] … …

    Harris has been a disaster. Dawkins stuck his foot in his mouth a few too many times, and has kind of receded into the background. Dennett avoided most of the problems his peers dragged in, but he is even more retiring now, and does a good job of avoiding entanglement in conservative culture wars. Harris, on the other hand, is still in there, obstinately slugging away, sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand of the alt right, and representing the failure of his ideology loudly and persistently. … …

    Harris is an erudite ignoramus. He’s very good at mouthing the platitudes of scholarship while ignoring the principles. The article goes on to cite his catastrophic encounters with Jared Diamond, Ezra Klein, Noam Chomsky, and Bruce Schneier, all incidents where his shortcomings and his egotistical inability to overcome his own prejudices were brought to light.

    It sure would be nice to be able to point to Sam Harris and say that the embarrassment of the New Atheism was all his fault, but he had partners in crime, and worse still, commands an audience of millions of atheists who worship his ‘wisdom’. The real failure was that the New Atheism failed to inspire people to be better, and instead simply reassured them that their biases were “logical” and “rational” and “enlightened”.

    Myers definitely dislikes Harris (and Steven Pinker, Michael Shermer, Richard Carrier and … well, what New Atheist does he like?); it would be nice to see him also take a look at Hemant Mehta and Jerry Coyne and their blogs.

  38. Ilíon says:

    Myers:The real failure was that the New Atheism failed to inspire people to be better …

    Define “better” … without the hidden assumption of Biblical morality.

    Myers:… and instead simply reassured them that their biases were “logical” and “rational” and “enlightened”.

    For that matter, define “logical” and “rational” and “enlightened” … without the hidden assumption of a Creator who is consistent with the God presented in the Bible.

  39. Ilíon says:

    Also — given atheism — explain how and why it is that certain biases are wrong. That is, if, as necessarily follows from atheism, there is no right or wrong, how is it that any bias can be “wrong”?

  40. Dhay says:

    “Dictionary atheists” tell themselves and us that atheism is merely “a lack of belief, or a strong disbelief, in the existence of any gods” – that’s the Merriam-Webster, 1a definition, but you’ll find similar elsewhere – and that atheism consists entirely and only of that lack of belief (or sometimes, as here, a strong disbelief), it’s nothing else whatsoever.

    Contrast that dictionary atheism with the usage of prominent atheist bloggers such as PZ Myers, for whom atheism entails – or should entail – much, much more. In Myers’ case it “should” entail actively pursuing the various Social Justice aims of his ‘Atheism Plus’.

    Hemant Mehta’s 25 September blog post ““Republican Atheists” Group Celebrates Congressman Who Trashed Atheists” uses scare quotes for “Republican Atheists”. Looks like that’s because he believes (or is vigorously promoting the idea that) no true Scotsman atheist can be a Republican; or, re-phrased, that no Republican can be a true atheist.

    Mehta admits:

    There are conservative atheists. I’m not denying that.

    Presumably this is to acknowledge the minimalist “dictionary atheist” definition of “atheist”. But Mehta then makes his opinion clear that any purporting atheist who is a GOP supporter is bound to have an uphill task explaining (to Mehta and his fans) how they can be both an atheist and a GOP supporter:

    … anti-science, anti-LGBTQ rights, anti-choice, anti-church/state separation, and pro-whatever-conservative-Christians-want. … any atheist activist who supports the GOP is bound to have an uphill climb in explaining how that works.

    For Jerry Coyne, science and religion are incompatible, and no true scientist should be religious; for Mehta atheism and Republicanism are incompatible, and no true atheist should be a Republican.

    What does Mehta’s implicit definition-by-usage of “atheism” entail? Presumably it includes the minimalist dictionary definition, but then expands on it to insist that a “real” atheist is someone who is pro-science (a dog-whistle for certain Democratic party policies), pro-LGBTQ rights (dog-whistle), pro-abortion (dog-whistle), pro- church/state separation (dog-whistle) and anti- “whatever-conservative-Christians-want” (dog-whistle); in short, in Mehta’s eyes a true atheist is someone who responds to a litany of Democratic Party dog-whistles.

    And if I’m reading Mehta right, any atheist who is a Republican is just a pretend atheist, someone using the A-word merely to get attention, with no sign that they are real atheists (who in Mehta’s mind are, apparently, necessarily Democrats.)

    They use the atheist label to get attention but all they do is parrot the talking points of MAGA cultists. If their name didn’t include the A-word, you’d never know they were atheists.

    So in practice there’s (at least) two widely different definitions of “atheism”: there’s the minimalist definition pulled from some dictionary or other; and there’s Mehta’s and Myers’ ‘votes Democrat and supports a wide range of Democratic policies’ addition.

    So what is it to be? Is an atheist just someone who doesn’t believe in God? Or must an atheist additionally be a Democrat.

    Someone should tell us Christians.

    And someone should tell atheists.

  41. Dhay says:

    Further to my response above regarding Hemant Mehta’s heavy spinning of the figures from a recent survey in New Zealand of how much different groups are trusted:

    Mehta was proud that:

    Atheists ranked near the top, close to Buddhists.

    Though as I pointed out, there was no “atheist” group ranked by New Zealanders and the researchers: what Mehta claimed as “atheists” was called “atheists/agnostics” by the researchers, and a little bit of digging into the figures provided by The Conversation article Mehta linked to revealed that there was no trace of a separate “nones” group or category, and no place where they might be ‘hiding’ other than in with “atheists/agnostics”; that is, what Mehta claimed as well-trusted “atheists” were actually well-trusted “atheists+agnostics+nones”, with no indication whatsoever of what proportion of the “atheists+agnostics+nones” group were atheists, nor how well-trusted the (presumably small sub-set of) atheists actually were.

    If you look at the figures, scattered around the The Conversation article Mehta linked to, you find that:

    Total responding to survey: 3,900,000 (100%)
    Total of the religious: 1,615,000 (41%)
    Nones (by subtraction): 2,285,000 (59%)

    Total of the religious: 1,615,000 (by addition) (41%)
    Protestants: 900,000
    Catholics: 500,000
    Hindus: 89,000
    Buddhists: 58,000
    Muslims: 46,000
    Evangelicals: 15,000
    Jews: 7,000

    Total of Christians: 1,415,000 (by addition) (36%)
    Protestants: 900,000
    Catholics: 500,000
    Evangelicals: 15,000

    There’s better figures out now, via the 2018 Census. (The Census didn’t look at trust, of course, just at the absolute numbers of those in each group.) Mehta is cock-a-hoop that the Census shows that:

    Based on the raw data made available to the public, there are 2,264,601 people who checked a box marked “No religion.” That’s in a nation of 4,699,755 people. Doing that simple math, more than 48% of New Zealand has no religion. The last time the census was taken, in 2013, that number was just under 42%. In 2001, it was under 30%.

    Christianity, as a whole, is headed in the other direction. As a percentage of the population, it’s gone from 54% in 2006, to 48% in 2013, to 37% today.

    I see that the “Trust levels” survey (36%) and the Census (37%) agree on the percentage of Christians in New Zealand. They differ markedly on the number of people without a religion (Trust 59%, Census 48%), which gives support to the old quip about lies, damn lies and statistics.

    But in view of Mehta crowing about the decline in the number of NZ Christians, what I really want to highlight is the utterly tiny number of atheists:

    In addition to that, there are 7,068 atheists, 6,516 agnostics, 663 Humanists, and 4,248 people who said they belong to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Pastafarianism is officially larger than Lutheranism (3,585) in the nation.

    Yep, Mehta’s figures are correct, so let’s adapt his words to relate to the Census figure for atheists: based on the raw data made available to the public, there are 7,068 people who checked a box marked “atheist.” That’s in a nation of 4,699,755 people. Doing that simple math, a tiny, tiny, tiny 0.15% of New Zealanders are atheists.

    Let’s add up those agnostics, Humanists and Pastafarians to get a sort-of-atheist total: 11,427 and 0.24%. The grand total of atheists + sort-of-atheists is: 18,495 and 0.24%. Tiny, tiny.

    Whatever those New Zealanders who categorised themselves as “No Religion” are, they ain’t “atheists”; nor agnostics; nor Humanists; nor Pastafarians. To quite a good approximation there’s zero atheists, and there’s but a quarter of 1% of the others combined, also close to zero.

    Funny how Mehta reckons one mark of a ‘true’ atheist is that they are pro-science – or is it it pro-‘Science and Reason’? Mehta-brand atheists don’t seem capable of ‘Science and Reason’ – Mehta and his chattering fans seem incapable of realising that the story revealed by the NZ Census figures is not just that Christianity is declining in New Zealand and “No Religion” growing (which they are) but that atheism is almost extinct in New Zealand.


    Reflecting back on Mehta’s “Trust Survey” post and his claim that …

    Atheists ranked near the top, close to Buddhists.

    … the obvious point to make is that that highly trusted group wasn’t atheists, not more than a tiny percentage of the group, anyway; or, re-phrased, what atheists?!

  42. Dhay says:

    Erratum: the second 0.24% should read 0.4%.

  43. unclesporkums says:

    “Get attention” That’s rich coming from him.

  44. Ilíon says:

    “Dictionary atheists” tell themselves and us that atheism is merely “a lack of belief, or a strong disbelief, in the existence of any gods” – that’s the Merriam-Webster, 1a definition …

    Oddly, my 1965 edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary is more honest —

    atheism — the belief that there is no God

    atheism — one who believes that there is no God

  45. Ilíon says:

    Mehta was proud that:

    Atheists ranked near the top, close to Buddhists.

    Whereas, in the real world, the average Western person — by which I mean people who aren’t actually Christian, but who “believe in God” and like to think that “If I’m good (enough), I’ll “go to Heaven” (as people phrase the idea)” — hate, or at least resent, God-deniers even more than they hate/resent active/open Christians.

  46. Dhay says:

    D is Dhay – sorry about the clumsy slip.

  47. Dhay says:

    Above, I commented on one result of a recent survey of which groups New Zealanders do (and don’t) trust, and identified one result which Hemant Mehta didn’t crow about:

    Note Mehta’s hypocrisy: if you click to load and view the “Who do we trust in New Zealand? 2016 to 2019” survey results pdf, pages 9 and 11, you’ll find that, by a long way, the group least trusted of all by New Zealanders is … is “Bloggers/Commentators” — which the commenting text above each renders more simply as, “Bloggers.”

    How convenient for the blogger, Mehta, that he should overlook that.

    Private Eye #1504, P.15 adds that new research (by a media company, not scholars — beware the quality of the research) shows that the profession considered least likely to tell the truth is… social media influencers.

    Well, that fits my image of Hemant Mehta.

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