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?
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.