World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

New Atheism

Article Id: WHEBN0023083748
Reproduction Date:

Title: New Atheism  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Criticism of atheism, History of atheism, Atheism, Atheism and religion, Demographics of atheism
Collection: Antitheism, Atheism, Freethought, History of Ideas
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

New Atheism

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 worldwide. In England and Wales, as of 2011 the increase in atheist groups, student societies, publications and public appearances coincided with the non-religious being the largest growing demographic, followed by Islam and Evangelicalism.[2] This trend in the growth of non-religion preceded the New Atheist movement.

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


  • History 1
  • Major publications 2
  • Prominent New Atheists 3
    • "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse" 3.1
    • Other prominent New Atheists 3.2
  • Perspective 4
    • Scientific testing of religion 4.1
    • Logical arguments 4.2
    • Views on NOMA 4.3
    • Science and morality 4.4
    • The politics of new atheism 4.5
  • Criticisms 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


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.[3]

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.[4]

Major publications

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

Prominent New Atheists

"Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse"

During a public discussion featuring Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, the group of prominent atheists were jokingly referred to as the "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse", a humorous reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

Harris is the 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[5] and Lying.[6] Harris is a co-founder of the Reason Project.

Richard Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion,[7] which was preceded by a Channel 4 program titled Religion: The Root Of All Evil which, at Dawkins' request, was changed to The Root of all Evil?. He is also the founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS).

Christopher Hitchens was the author of God Is Not Great[8] and was named among the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine. In addition Hitchens served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America. In 2010 Hitchens published his memoir Hitch-22 (a nickname provided by close personal friend Salman Rushdie, whom Hitchens always supported during and following The Satanic Verses controversy).[9] Shortly after its publication, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which led to his death in December 2011.[10] Before his death, Hitchens published a collection of essays and articles in his book Arguably,[11] and a short edition Mortality[12] was published posthumously in 2012. 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 attempts to convert the terminally ill, which he opposed as "bad taste".[13][14]

  1. ^ Hooper, Simon. "The rise of the New Atheists".  
  2. ^ "Census 2011: religion, race and qualifications - see how England & Wales have changed".  
  3. ^ One-Year Countdown"The God Delusion". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2007. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^  
  6. ^  
  7. ^  
  8. ^  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ "Christopher Hitchens dies at 62 after suffering cancer". BBC News. December 16, 2011. 
  11. ^  
  12. ^  
  13. ^  
  14. ^  
  15. ^  
  16. ^  
  17. ^  
  18. ^ "Clergy Project Home Page". 
  19. ^ "Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris & Ayaan Hirsi Ali" on YouTube
  20. ^ "Ayaan Hirsi Ali". 
  21. ^  
  22. ^ "Controversial film maker killed". The Independent (London). 
  23. ^  
  24. ^  
  25. ^  
  26. ^  
  27. ^  
  28. ^  
  29. ^  
  30. ^  
  31. ^  
  32. ^  
  33. ^  
  34. ^  
  35. ^ Stenger, 2008
  36. ^ a b  
  37. ^ Fishman, Yonatan. "Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?". 
  38. ^  
  39. ^  
  40. ^  
  41. ^  
  42. ^ "Incompatible-Properties Arguments". Philo (2): 49–60. 1998. 
  43. ^  
  44. ^  
  45. ^  
  46. ^  
  47. ^ Kettell, Steven (2013). "Faithless: The Politics of New Atheism".  
  48. ^ "Catholics need a 'new apologetics' to defend faith". The Catholic Leader. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  49. ^ Nick Squires and Martin Beckford. "Pope visit: Cardinal drops out after calling UK 'Third World". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  50. ^ Charly Wilder (March 13, 2008). Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  51. ^ 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.  
  52. ^ 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.  
  53. ^ Taylor, Jerome (April 12, 2013). "Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris face Islamophobia backlash". The Independent (London). Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  54. ^ FP Staff. "Unholy war: Atheists and the politics of Muslim-baiting". First Post. Retrieved 16 April 2013. 
  55. ^ a b Jacoby, Wade; Yavuz, Hakan (April 2008). "Modernization, Identity and Integration: An Introduction to the Special Issue on Islam in Europe".  
  56. ^ a b Emilsen, William (August 2012). "The New Atheism and Islam". The Expository Times 123 (11): 521.  


See also

Some commentators have accused the New Atheist movement of Islamophobia.[53][54][55][56] 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".[55] 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".[56]

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.[51] 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."[52]

Cardinal William Levada believes that New Atheism has misrepresented the doctrines of the church.[48] Cardinal Walter Kasper described New Atheism as "aggressive", and he believed it to be the primary source of discrimination against Christians.[49] In a Salon interview, intellectual provocateur Chris Hedges argued that New Atheism propaganda is just as extreme as that of Christian right propaganda.[50]


New atheism is politically engaged in a variety of ways. These include campaigns to reduce the influence of religion in the public sphere, attempts to promote cultural change (centring, in the United States, on the mainstream acceptance of atheism), and efforts to promote the idea of an ‘atheist identity’. Internal strategic divisions over these issues have also been notable, as are questions about the diversity of the movement in terms of its gender and racial balance.[47]

The politics of new atheism

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[45] and accompanying TED Talk How Science can Determine Moral Values[46] 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.

Science and morality

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".[43] 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,[36] and later in his 2006 book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that the Abrahamic religions constantly deal in scientific matters. 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.[44]

Views on NOMA

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.[40] 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,[41] or Theodore M. Drange's article, "Incompatible-Properties Arguments".[42]

Logical arguments

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.[36] The New Atheists believe science is now capable of investigating at least some, if not all, supernatural claims.[37] Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Duke University are attempting to find empirical support for the healing power of intercessory prayer.[38] According to Stenger, these experiments have found no evidence that intercessory prayer works.[39]

Scientific testing of religion

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,[34] 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,[35] 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.


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[27]), Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True[28] and complementary blog[29] which specifically includes polemics against topical religious issues), Greta Christina (Why are you Atheists so Angry?),[30] Victor J. Stenger (The New Atheism[31]), Michael Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things[32]), David Silverman (President of the American Atheists), Ibn Warraq (Why I Am Not a Muslim[33]), Matt Dillahunty host of the Austin-based webcast and cable-access television show The Atheist Experience, Steven Pinker and others.

After the death of Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who was intended to attend the original occasion where the term was coined) was described as the "fourth horse-woman" of the Non-Apocalypse.[19] Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, fleeing in 1992 to the Netherlands in order to escape an arranged marriage.[20] She became involved in Dutch politics, rejected faith, and became vocal in opposing Islamic ideology, especially concerning women, as exemplified by her books Infidel and The Caged Virgin.[21] Hirsi Ali was later involved in the production of the film Submission, for which her friend Theo Van Gogh was murdered with a death threat to Hirsi Ali pinned to his chest.[22] 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,[23] religion, and the treatment of women in Islamic doctrine and society,[24] and a proponent of free speech and the freedom to offend.[25][26]

Other prominent New Atheists


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.