New Atheism

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New Atheism is a social and political movement in favour of atheism and secularism promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers who have advocated the view that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises."[1] There is uncertainty about how much influence the movement has had on religious demographics, but the increase in atheist groups, student societies, publications and public appearances has coincided with the non-religious being the largest growing demographic, closely followed by Islam and evangelicalism in the US and UK.[2]

New Atheism lends itself to and often overlaps with secular humanism and antitheism, particularly in its criticism of the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of ideologies.

History[edit]

The 2004 publication of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris, a bestseller in the US, marked the first of a series of popular bestsellers. Harris was motivated by the events of September 11, 2001, which he laid directly at the feet of Islam, while also directly criticizing Christianity and Judaism. Two years later Harris followed up with Letter to a Christian Nation, which was also a severe criticism of Christianity. Also in 2006, following his television documentary The Root of All Evil?, Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 51 weeks.

Major publications[edit]

These are some of the significant books in the field of New Atheism:

Prominent New Atheists[edit]

The Four Horsemen and Horsewoman of the Non-Apocalypse[edit]

During a public discussion originally intended to feature Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but which Hirsi Ali was unable to attend, the group of prominent atheists was jokingly referred to as the "Four horsemen of the non-apocalypse". In a later highly publicized discussion, after the death of Hitchens, Hirsi Ali was described as the "fourth horse-woman".[3]

Sam Harris is author of the bestselling non-fiction books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation and the Moral Landscape as well as two shorter works initially published as e-Books, Free Will[4] and Lying.[5] Harris is a co-founder of the Reason Project. With a large online presence[6][7] has recently had to respond to a resurgence of criticism of his first book End of Faith,[8] initially raised by Mehdi Hasan (going by the name Murtaza Hussain), which Harris initially ignored but later responded to American journalist Glenn Greenwald when he expressed support of these views.[9][10]

Richard Dawkins is author, most notably, of The God Delusion[11] preceded by a Channel 4 program titled Religion: The Root Of All Evil which Dawkins requested was changed to The Root of all Evil? and founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS). Dawkins has recently and characteristically courted controversy, particularly regarding a tweet stating "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though."[12] That statement received criticism from atheists and the Atheism+ movement; one author compared Dawkins to fundamentalists.[13] In this instance Dawkins moved to respond to the furore regarding his tweet.[14]

Christopher Hitchens author of God is not Great[15] and was named among "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine. In addition Hitchens served on the advisory board for the Secular Coalition for America. In 2010 Hitchens published his memoir Hitch22[16] (a nickname provided by close personal friend Salman Rushdie whom Hitchens always supported during and following The Satanic Verses controversy, shortly after publication Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, ultimately dying in December 2011.[17] Before his death Hitchens published a collection of essays and articles in his book Arguably[18] and a short edition Mortality[19] (published in 2012 following his death). These publications and numerous public appearances provided Hitchens with a platform to remain an astute atheist during his illness even speaking specifically on the culture of deathbed conversions and condemning the action of attempting to convert the terminally ill, which in reverse would unanimously be opposed as "bad taste".[20][21]

Daniel Dennett author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea[22] and Breaking the Spell[23] and many others has also been a vocal supporter of the The Clergy Project,[24] an organisation which provides support for Clergy in the US who no longer believe in God and cannot fully participate in their communities any longer.[25]

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, later fleeing to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage in 1992[26] where she became involved in Dutch politics, lost her faith and became vocal opposing Islamic ideology especially concerning women, exemplified by her books Infidel and The Caged Virgin.[27] Hirsi Ali was later involved in the production of the film Submission for which her friend Theo Van Gogh was murdered and a death threat to Hirsi Ali pinned to his chest.[28] This resulted in Hirsi Ali's hiding and later immigration to the United States where she now resides and remains a prolific critic of Islam,[29] religion, of the treatment of women in Islamic doctrine and society[30] and proponent of free speech and the freedom to offend.[31][32]

Other prominent New Atheists[edit]

While The Four Horsemen are arguably the foremost proponents of the New Atheism, there are a number of other current, notable New Atheists including: Lawrence M. Krauss (author of A Universe from Nothing[33]), Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True[34] and complimentary blog[35] which specifically includes polemics against topical religious issues), Greta Christina (Why are you Atheists so Angry?),[36] Victor J. Stenger (The New Atheism[37]), Michael Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things[38]), David Silverman (President of the American Atheists), Ibn Warraq (Why I Am Not a Muslim[39]), Steven Pinker and others.

Criticism of the term[edit]

In a 2010 column entitled Why I Don't Believe in the New Atheism, Tom Flynn contends that what has been called "New Atheism" is neither a movement nor new, and that what was new was the publication of atheist material by big-name publishers, read by millions, and appearing on best-seller lists.[40]

Perspective[edit]

The New Atheists write mainly from a scientific perspective. Unlike previous writers, many of whom thought that science was indifferent, or even incapable of dealing with the "God" concept, Dawkins argues to the contrary, claiming the "God Hypothesis" is a valid scientific hypothesis,[41] having effects in the physical universe, and like any other hypothesis can be tested and falsified. Other New Atheists such as Victor Stenger propose that the personal Abrahamic God is a scientific hypothesis that can be tested by standard methods of science. Both Dawkins and Stenger conclude that the hypothesis fails any such tests,[42] and argue that naturalism is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe, from the most distant galaxies to the origin of life, species, and the inner workings of the brain and consciousness. Nowhere, they argue, is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand reality. New Atheists have been associated with the argument from divine hiddenness and the idea that "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" when evidence can be expected.

Scientific testing of religion[edit]

The New Atheists assert that many religious or supernatural claims (such as the virgin birth of Jesus and the afterlife) are scientific claims in nature. They argue, as do deists and Progressive Christians, for instance, that the issue of Jesus' supposed parentage is not a question of "values" or "morals", but a question of scientific inquiry.[43] The New Atheists believe science is now capable of investigating at least some, if not all, supernatural claims.[44] Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Duke University are attempting to find empirical support for the healing power of intercessory prayer.[45] According to Stenger, these experiments have found no evidence that intercessory prayer works.[46]

Logical arguments[edit]

Victor Stenger also argues in his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis, that a God having omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent attributes, which he termed a 3O God, cannot logically exist.[47] A similar series of logical disproofs of the existence of a God with various attributes can be found in Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier's The Impossibility of God,[48] or Theodore M. Drange's article, "Incompatible-Properties Arguments".[49]

Views on NOMA[edit]

The New Atheists are particularly critical of the two non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould regarding the existence of a "domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution".[50] In Gould's proposal, science and religion should be confined to distinct non-overlapping domains: science would be limited to the empirical realm, including theories developed to describe observations, while religion would deal with questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. The New Atheism leaders contend that NOMA does not describe empirical facts about the intersection of science and religion. In an article published in Free Inquiry magazine,[43] and later in his 2006 book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that the Abrahamic religions constantly deal in scientific matters. Massimo Pigliucci, in his book Nonsense on Stilts, wrote that Gould attempted to redefine religion as moral philosophy. Matt Ridley notes that religion does more than talk about ultimate meanings and morals, and science is not proscribed from doing the same. After all, morals involve human behavior, an observable phenomenon, and science is the study of observable phenomena. Ridley notes that there is substantial scientific research on evolutionary origins of ethics and morality.[51]

Science and morality[edit]

Popularized by Sam Harris is the view that science and thereby currently unknown objective facts may instruct human morality in a globally comparable way. Harris’ book The Moral Landscape[52] and accompanying TED Talk How Science can Determine Moral Values[53] proposes that human well-being and conversely suffering may be thought of as a landscape with peaks and valleys representing numerous ways to achieve extremes in human experience, and that there are objective states of well-being.

Criticisms[edit]

Cardinal William Levada believes that New Atheism has misrepresented the doctrines of the church.[54] He described New Atheism as "aggressive", and he believed it to be the primary source of discrimination against Christians.[55]

The theologians Jeffrey Robbins and Christopher Rodkey take issue with what they regard as "the evangelical nature of the new atheism, which assumes that it has a Good News to share, at all cost, for the ultimate future of humanity by the conversion of as many people as possible." They believe they have found similarities between new atheism and evangelical Christianity and conclude that the all-consuming nature of both "encourages endless conflict without progress" between both extremities.[56] Sociologist William Stahl said "What is striking about the current debate is the frequency with which the New Atheists are portrayed as mirror images of religious fundamentalists."[57]

Some commentators have accused the New Atheist movement of Islamophobia.[58][59][60][61] Wade Jacoby and Hakan Yavuz assert that "a group of 'new atheists' such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens" have "invoked Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilizations' theory to explain the current political contestation" and that this forms part of a trend toward "Islamophobia [...] in the study of Muslim societies".[60] William W. Emilson argues that "the 'new' in the new atheists' writings is not their aggressiveness, nor their extraordinary popularity, nor even their scientific approach to religion, rather it is their attack not only on militant Islamism but also on Islam itself under the cloak of its general critique of religion".[61] Ali A. Rizvi, a secular Muslim, defends the New Atheists against charges of anti-Muslim bigotry.[62]

In August 2013, Richard Dawkins attracted criticism after Tweeting "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though." Many responded with outrage, including political commentator Owen Jones, who replied "How dare you dress your bigotry up as atheism. You are now beyond an embarrassment." Dawkins said he singled out Muslims because "we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science."[63]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hooper, Simon. "The rise of the New Atheists". CNN. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  2. ^ "Census 2011: religion, race and qualifications - see how England & Wales have changed". The Guardian. 
  3. ^ Harris, Dawkins, Dennet, Ali. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2D2x0XBY83w&feature=youtube_gdata.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Harris, Sam (2012). Free Will. The Free Press. p. 96. ISBN 1451683405. 
  5. ^ Harris, Sam (2013). Lying. Four Elephants Press. p. 108. ISBN 1940051002. 
  6. ^ Harris, Sam. "Sam Harris Blog". 
  7. ^ Harris, Sam. "Sam Harris' Twitter". 
  8. ^ Harris, Sam (2006). End of Faith. Free Press. p. 336. ISBN 0743268091. 
  9. ^ Harris, Sam. "Dear Fellow Liberal". 
  10. ^ Harris, Sam. "Response to Controversy". 
  11. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Black Swan. ISBN 055277331X. 
  12. ^ Dawkins, Richard. "Muslim Nobel Prizes". 
  13. ^ Malik, Nesrine. "Richard Dawkins' tweets on Islam are as rational as the rants of an extremist Muslim cleric". 
  14. ^ Dawkins, Richard. "Calm reflections after a storm in a teacup". 
  15. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2007). God is Not Great: how religion poisons everything. Atlantic Books; First Trade Edition edition. p. 320. ISBN 1843545748. 
  16. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2010). Hitch22. Atlantic Books. p. 448. ISBN 1843549220. 
  17. ^ "Christopher Hitchens dies at 62 after suffering cancer". BBC News. December 16, 2011. 
  18. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2011). Arguably. Atlantic Books. ISBN 0857892584. 
  19. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2012). Mortality. Atlantic Books. ISBN 1848879210. 
  20. ^ Hitchens, Christopher. "Is there an afterlife?". 
  21. ^ Hitchens, Christopher. "Hitchens and Paxman interview". 
  22. ^ Dennett, Daniel (1996). Darwin's Dangerous Idea. p. 592. ISBN 014016734X. 
  23. ^ Dennett, Daniel (2007). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Penguin. p. 464. ISBN 0141017775. 
  24. ^ Dennet, Daniel. "Clergy Project". 
  25. ^ "Clergy Project Home Page". 
  26. ^ "Ayaan Hirsi Ali". 
  27. ^ Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (2008). The Caged Virgin. ISBN 0743288343. 
  28. ^ "Controversial film maker killed". The Independent (London). 
  29. ^ Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "Christians in the Muslim world". 
  30. ^ Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Protecting Women From Militant Islam". 
  31. ^ Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "The Right to Offend". 
  32. ^ Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "Muslim Rage and the Last Gasp of Islamic Hate". 
  33. ^ Krauss, Lawrence (2012). A Universe from Nothing. Simon & Schuster; First Thus edition. p. 224. ISBN 1471112683. 
  34. ^ Coyne, Jerry (2010). Why Evolution is True. OUP Oxford. p. 336. ISBN 0199230854. 
  35. ^ Coyne, Jerry. "WEIT". 
  36. ^ Christina, Greta (2012). Why Are you Atheists so Angry. p. 184. ISBN 0985281529. 
  37. ^ Stenger, Victor (2009). The New Atheism. Prometheus Books. p. 282. ISBN 9781591027515. 
  38. ^ Shermer, Michael. Why People Believe Weird Things. Souvenir Press (14 Sep 2007). p. 384. ISBN 0285638033. 
  39. ^ Warraq, Ibn (2003). Why I am not a Muslim. Prometheus Books. p. 428. ISBN 1591020115. 
  40. ^ Flynn, Tom (2010). Why I Don't Believe in the New Atheism. Retrieved 2011-07-28. 
  41. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2008). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 
  42. ^ Stenger, 2008
  43. ^ a b Dawkins, Richard. "When Religion Steps on Science's Turf : The Alleged Separation Between the Two Is Not So Tidy". Free Inquiry magazine 18 (2). 
  44. ^ Fishman, Yonatan. "Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?". 
  45. ^ Stenger, Victor J.. "Supernatural Science". mukto-mona. 
  46. ^ Stenger, Victor J. (2009). The new atheism : taking a stand for science and reason. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. p. 70. ISBN 1-59102-751-9. 
  47. ^ Stenger, Victor J. (2007). "1". God : the failed hypothesis : how science shows that God does not exist ([Nachdr.] ed.). Amherst (New York): Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-59102-481-1. 
  48. ^ Martin, Michael; Monnier, Ricki (2003). The Impossibility of God. Prometheus Books. 
  49. ^ "Incompatible-Properties Arguments". Philo (2): 49–60. 1998. 
  50. ^ Gould, Stephen Jay (1999). Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, The Library of Contemporary Thought. New York: Ballantine Pub. Group. 
  51. ^ Ridley, Matt (1998). The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. Penguin. 
  52. ^ Harris, Sam (2012). The Moral Landscape. Black Swan. ISBN 0552776386. 
  53. ^ Harris, Sam. "How Science can Determine Moral Values". 
  54. ^ "Catholics need a 'new apologetics' to defend faith". The Catholic Leader. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  55. ^ Nick Squires and Martin Beckford. "Pope visit: Cardinal drops out after calling UK 'Third World". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  56. ^ Jeffrey Robbins and Christopher Rodkey (2010). "Beating 'God' to Death: Radical Theology and the New Atheism". In Amarnath Amarasingam. Religion and the New Atheism A Critical Appraisal. Haymarket Books. p. 35. ISBN 9781608462032. 
  57. ^ William Stahl (2010). "One-Dimensional Rage: The Social Epistemology of the New Atheism and Fundamentalism". In Amarnath Amarasingam. Religion and the New Atheism A Critical Appraisal. Haymarket Books. pp. 97–108. ISBN 9781608462032. 
  58. ^ Taylor, Jerome (April 12, 2013). "Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris face Islamophobia backlash". The Independent (London). Retrieved April 16, 2013. 
  59. ^ FP Staff. "Unholy war: Atheists and the politics of Muslim-baiting". First Post. Retrieved April 16, 2013. 
  60. ^ a b Jacoby, Wade; Yavuz, Hakan (April 2008). "Modernization, Identity and Integration: An Introduction to the Special Issue on Islam in Europe". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 28 (1): 1. doi:10.1080/13602000802080486. 
  61. ^ a b Emilsen, William (August 2012). "The New Atheism and Islam". The Expository Times 123 (11): 521. doi:10.1177/0014524612448737. 
  62. ^ Ali A. Rizvi (May 3, 2013). "An Atheist Muslim's Perspective on the 'Root Causes' of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia". Huffington Post. 
  63. ^ Saul, Heather (August 9, 2013). "Richard Dawkins Muslim jibe sparks Twitter backlash". The Independent (London). Retrieved August 9, 2013.