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Atheism

What is all this nonsense about atheist fundamentalists?

The blogosphere seems unusually concerned with “New Atheists” lately.  Apparently, there are lots of atheist fundamentalists out there.  They worship Richard Dawkins and quote from The Book of Dennett.  They spew vitriol and hatred at anyone who disagrees with them, and shun even their own members when they don’t choose the right word to describe themselves.

Maybe I’m one of these folks.  I’ve written about the definition of atheism and agnosticism.   I’m guilty of telling people that if they don’t believe in god, they are atheist, whether they choose to call themselves atheist or not.  I certainly defend empiricism, rationalism, and the scientific method with fervor, and I certainly dismiss claims that are not backed by evidence.  Am I a fundamentalist?

Here’s a post from facebook:

atheism is NOT a religion. But many adherents of the “new atheist” movement have made “new atheism” into a religion, or much like one. And STRONG Atheism DOES indeed require “faith”. I’m tired of seeing “reason” and scientific method misused by these hypocrites!

Those are strong words!  Hypocrites?  Well, let’s not be too hasty.  The problem with labeling someone as a “strong atheist” or “weak atheist” is that these are broad philosophical categories and don’t represent the detailed reality that is a person’s mind.  Let’s take me, for instance.  I recognize that it’s impossible for me to say that there definitely are not, have never been, and never will be, any “Gods.”  In the first place, I haven’t looked through the entire universe, and even if I could do so, I would need to see the entirety of the universe for the entirety of time to know that crafty Hermes hadn’t been jumping through wormholes to different planets in an attempt to thwart my long range vision.  In the second place, I recognize that the word “God” is poorly defined, and might refer to something that man has not yet properly described or identified.

In short, I’m a weak atheist.  But I’m also a strong atheist.  I know the Christian God doesn’t exist as described.  I also know that Thor and Hephaestus don’t exist.  I can say it with certainty.  They are logically and physically impossible, so they don’t (and can’t) exist.

I’m also an agnostic.  I don’t have knowledge of any gods.  How could I?  I believe that no gods exist!  If I had knowledge of a god, then I couldn’t very well be an atheist, right?

I’m also an agnostic in the “softer” sense of the word.  I don’t know for certain that there is nothing that somebody somewhere could call a god.  I’m also agnostic towards all the gods I’ve never heard of before.

When it comes down to brass tacks, I’m an agostic strong weak atheist.

But what’s the point?  Why do I need to wear my identifier badge?  Is the Church of Dawkins going to deny me entrance to the Holy of Holies because I didn’t pick the correct decoder ring from my collection of secret atheist symbol rings?

Here’s a response from another atheist blogger:

Many observers have argued that “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have presented a distorted version of religion in their writings.

Can any critique of religion adequately capture the diversity of opinion which is represented by the entirety of the world’s religious traditions? This task may be impossible for any popular treatment of religion to accomplish.

However, critics of the “Four Horsemen” (the nickname which has been bestowed upon writers Dawkins and Hitchens, along with writers Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett) still insist that even the summarized view of religion expounded by these authors is badly mangled.

Do Dawkins and his allies intentionally state falsehoods? Have they said untrue things about religion? I believe that most of the criticisms made by the “Four Horsemen” are accurate, but why are they accurate?

This writer goes on to say that atheists should fight dogmatism, not religion.  All people, he says, should oppose dogmatism, whether they’re religious or not.

Recently, I conceded a similar point after writing a rather pointed criticism of religion as necessarily opposed to tolerance.  It’s true — religion is not necessarily intolerant, but dogmatism and faith are.  I must admit that I agree with the sentiment that opposing all religion may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  (I don’t like agreeing, but sometimes we go with reason over emotion.)

So how does this tie into all the vitriol over new atheists?  I’m truly puzzled by it.  Are we angry when someone calls themselves a strong atheist?  Why?  Is the pursuit of truth and reality going to spiral into oblivion because some people prefer to think of themselves as active disbelievers instead of passive?  Are all the silent, passive atheists in the world suddenly going to adopt religion because they don’t like activists being active?

Honestly, I don’t get it.  First off, where are these infidels?  Am I one of them because I get on my blog and do my best to tell people when I think they’re getting something wrong?  If that makes me a fundamentalist, then I’m guilty, but I don’t quite understand why there’s a double standard.   If I have to “shut up for the cause” because I’m not going about the cause right… what makes the protesters any different?  Aren’t they doing the same thing as me?  Telling people what they think is true?

I’m not sure I have a point to this entry.  Maybe someone can explain what’s so wrong with “New Atheism.”  I don’t get it.  Or, maybe someone could point me to a blog or book that exemplifies the hypocrisy my facebook friend so strongly decries.   Hell, if someone could even define New Atheism for me, that would be a start.  Honestly, though, when someone is crying foul over certain atheists not doing atheism right… which one is being dogmatic or hypocritical?  I tend to look first at the one pointing the finger.

Many observers have argued that “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have presented a distorted version of religion in their writings.

Can any critique of religion adequately capture the diversity of opinion which is represented by the entirety of the world’s religious traditions? This task may be impossible for any popular treatment of religion to accomplish.

However, critics of the “Four Horsemen” (the nickname which has been bestowed upon writers Dawkins and Hitchens, along with writers Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett) still insist that even the summarized view of religion expounded by these authors is badly mangled.

Do Dawkins and his allies intentionally state falsehoods? Have they said untrue things about religion? I believe that most of the criticisms made by the “Four Horsemen” are accurate, but why are they

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Discussion

6 thoughts on “What is all this nonsense about atheist fundamentalists?

  1. Did you read my response to your comment? I think it would help you.

    Posted by Teleprompter | August 10, 2009, 4:49 pm
  2. Ah, I need to reword my post, apparently. I know what you were saying. I was quoting your article as a response to the charge of atheist fundamentalism.

    I really am very puzzled by this whole thing. It’s almost as if some atheists are inventing some kind of “religious atheist” strawman. Like I said, maybe I’m just sheltered, but I don’t know anybody who worships Dawkins or Dennett. I’ve never met an atheist street preacher. I honestly have no idea what this militant new atheism is.

    To be honest, I’ve given up sugar coating critical thinking to protect the marginally religious. It’s not that I don’t feel sympathy for them. I do. The thing is, it’s hard enough to present the cold hard facts accurately and compellingly without having to add little disclaimers about how there are a few religious people who are very good people and do really awesome things while being religious. If that makes me a “new atheist,” then so be it, I guess.

    My point is, if the shoe fits, wear it. If not, why yell at the shoe salesman? Anybody who reads what I write and realizes it applies to them and their approach to religion or critical thinking — I’m talking to you. If I’m not talking to you, and you’re offended because I’m talking to someone else, I’m very sorry. I believe in free speech, and will grant you every opportunity to tell me I’m wrong. But what’s different about that? Isn’t it the way people have always been? Some people are activists and some are pacifists.

    Back to my main question, though… can you even define New Atheism? Can you point me to a new atheist and show me how they’re different from anyone else? You’re responding to the criticisms, and I’m seeing this sort of thing all over the place, but I’m beginning to think it’s like that damn snipe hunt at summer camp.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 10, 2009, 5:19 pm
  3. I can’t define it, Hambydammit, and I’m not trying to define it.

    My idea? Let a thousand flowers bloom.

    I think we need a multitude of approaches — if anything, we need more of everything!

    But nonetheless, what I wanted to do was to state my ideas on how atheists can succeed.

    I don’t care what you call it, I don’t care who supports it, and I don’t care who opposes it — if it’s critical thinking and skepticism, I’m in favor of it, and if it’s not, I support it.

    I just wanted to provide my own answers, what I think should happen. But that doesn’t mean that anyone has to agree with me.

    I’m not snipe hunting; in fact, I think it’s unfair, too. I get tired of hearing about what’s wrong with the “Four Horsemen”; in my article, I said that most of their claims are accurate, and that religious people should listen to them!

    I’m glad you are aware that I’m not here to attack anyone or anything. I’m here to add.

    I want to add to the dialogue something that I think is badly missing.

    I like what Harris and Dawkins are doing, but I don’t think that’s all that should be done.

    Is that clearer?

    Posted by Teleprompter | August 10, 2009, 6:07 pm
  4. Yep. We’re on the same page, for certain. I guess maybe there are a lot of people out there who decided to open up about atheism or converted to atheism from one or more of the horsemen. I kind of think they’re a reflection of society as much as a catalyst, though. Maybe more.

    I think there were a lot of people who were fed up with faith but genuinely thought they were alone. Dawkins, et al, opened the floodgates, but it seems like there had to be a large group already there. I know I was already an atheist when I bought my first Dawkins book. I was thrilled to see someone who thought like me had actually gotten published.

    Meh…. anyway, I don’t feel any closer to understanding what the hubbub is about, but I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who’s confused by the whole thing.

    Posted by hambydammit | August 10, 2009, 6:52 pm
  5. http://www.canada.com/life/atheists%20care%20about%20religion/1873906/story.html

    Mercer is essentially saying what I am saying, but he is saying it more articulately and in a less convoluted way.

    Posted by Teleprompter | August 15, 2009, 3:47 pm
  6. I’m just curious…I am a Christian and I am wondering why is it so important for atheists to “convert” believers? I am not asking out of anger or aggression, I seriously just want to know why you would want to change someones mind about believing. If you don’t believe, then why not leave it at that?

    I realize that you could ask me the same question. My answer is that I truly believe in Jesus Christ and all that He is. I believe there is a life after death in relationship with Him. I believe He is love and teaches us how to love. I believe He is good, completely good and without Him we are left with bad, completely bad. In absence of Christ we have darkness. So, when someone tells me they don’t believe, I firmly feel that they are at risk for empty lives, holes in their heart, broken relationships, and an eternity in the absence of God. So I am trying to this hope and love.

    What is the point of sharing a non belief? What is the point of sharing science and complete lack of hope or anything to look forward to not to mention a relationship with the Almighty Creator??

    Sorry, I couldn’t help but respond. I look forward to your response. Take care

    Posted by Cari | August 26, 2009, 7:53 pm

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