Tuesday, 12 March 2013

New Atheists - different from the old?

Whilst I am hoping to find some people who will state their cases and explain what they think their position is called and what it believes (or perhaps doesn't), one of the conversations I have had this week was from a someone who was a devotee of Dawkins. They used the man's name repeatedly and spoke of the 'irrational beliefs' and 'delusions' of the 'religious'. They (note: it was them, not me!!) sneered at the philosophical emptiness of the old style atheists, putting them down as merely playing at being atheists.

New atheists, my companion said, 'Weren't interested in conversation but were, 'concerned with ridding the world of the religious faith groups and bringing about a new world order through social, political and educational means. 'We need to teach our kids that there's only us and that the God thing merely brings separation and causes wars, famine and poverty.' 

It is obvious that somewhere in the mix is something fuelled by the actions of fundamentalist believers and the twin towers for they, and other acts of violence, all featured in the conversation. It was also obvious that whilst we might be able to find some commonality between those who consider themselves to be new atheists, there are also very many differences (and for me one of these is that many of those who appeared to embrace it were very much of the red top tabloid variety!).

This is not meant as a put down but as a reference to the simplistic and unquestioning acceptance of some who fail to examine or challenge those whom they quote;  and the manner in which the adoption of the 'blame culture' tactics whereby all the world's ill can be laid at the door of a few groups:
those who have,
the politicians, and
the believers

(Interestingly what appears to the common element in all three is 'God' (really - don't see that but perhaps I wouldn't).

So who are the patriarchs of the new atheist movement ('old atheists' have Russell, Huxley and the like)?

Well, to name but a few there are: Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Robert Park and many other major and minor prophets besides. What is interesting is that I don't see any clear thinkers in terms of philosophy or logic and there's a 'scientific' element (real and pseudo) behind everything which makes me think that perhaps we'd be better off relabelling 'new atheist' as 'enlightenment or renaissance II' (the first being 'if we can understand it we can control it', the second being 'if we use science we can deny it'?).

As the conversation progressed I was told that: 'The old atheists merely appear content to deny the existence of God and consider all the arguments, proofs and statements regarding God as ultimately false - and having thought thus, God disappears in a puff of logic! Not so the new brigade who want more. Their faith in science puts paid to the old faith in God.'

Another interesting observation in the conversation was the view: That just as Christianity trumped the pagan beliefs so too has scientificism (is that really a word?) trumped faith. This is a new world order: one that will see an end to famine, war and inequality for science can be the measure by which justice and order are made real and, 'Science is the only real way of knowing – everything else is just superstitious nonsense'

So perhaps I'm getting a clearer picture of what new atheism is (well in one person's view anyway) in that it is the new Messiah, 'Truth', that will lead us into understanding, knowledge and freedom from the cancer of faith and the multiplicity of gods that call for our attention, obeisance and defence in battle when deemed necessary (For as I was told: 'Remember the crusades and the inquisition, the result of religion!').

'Without faith, we will be better as well as wiser. Conflict is a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm.' (I think this is a paraphrase of Hitchens or Dawkins - can't find the direct quote so would lean towards Dawkins - clarification most welcome).

A nicer way of explaining away wars and conflicts (note I didn't say ALL) and selling the new atheism as the panacea to all ills and the vanquishing force against the evils of faith and religion (I see faith and religion as different things but others appear to see them as synonymous and interchangeable - What is certain is that the intended interpretation is that without 'faith' we will be well, peaceful and of one accord).

What concerns me is that I can see within the conversation that some think a faith in a lack of faith might lead to a new (atheist) world order. I think I'd rather have a faith-based, moral and ethical society (for there is much of that in the faith communities) rather than a function or scientific one!
Perhaps I am unsettled by the hints of things past that made me think we were looking to revisit the past with this striving for the utopic future it promises.

But that might just be me.

Twenty minutes of banging the keyboard, drinking tea and eating toast complete - over to you.


ps. I have modified this post to show where the comments were from my companion and the underlined segment is intended to show the ownership of the comments relating to the old order of atheism.



Anonymous said...

There is an excellent article on this by Andrew brown


Great blog from you. It is good to see a Christian who is willing to engage but watch out for those who use many words to protest at the few.

Steve Day (therevsteve) said...

Hi, Vic, Nice post! I think the "ism" you are looking for is "scientism" which I've seen used quite widely. The only problem with that word is that the people who follow the creed would then be "scientists" which is already taken!
Perhaps another useful word might be "eumemics" (I just made that up, by the way) by analogy with eugenics. The eumemicists wouldn't say that anyone's genes need "ridding" (that would never fit with their "liberal" views) but there are memes which need to eradicated - along, if necessary, with the people whose minds those memes are infecting.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...


Memes are going to feature tomorrow (I hope)

Love the 'eumemics' label.

Going to be a long, but profitable (I hope), journey.

Thanks for comments,


Steve Day (therevsteve) said...

Turns out to be an 'independent rediscovery' rather than a complete invention. THe earliest reference I can find is by the Blessed Dennett himself!

Fil said...

Interesting in that you do seem to be extrapolating from one person's view.

Let me think of the strangest Christian I've met and then suggest that all modern Christians are like that.

It seems to me that the writers sucn as Dawkins, Hitchens etc are speaking confidently for the first time, and not apologising for their own lack of belief.

I assume that you've had JW's or Mormons to your door? They display the same level of confidence. Many Christian books do the same.

Now atheists are doing what we face all the time, they are called arrogant.

UKViewer said...

What is the difference between Atheist/New Atheist and Communism?

They seem to hold a shared agenda to achieve a utopian society by their efforts and ideology, which require everyone to conform to their ideas, with little room for faith, original ideas or personal freedoms.

These sound to me to be the sort of ideas that led to the rise of extremist regimes from the NAZI's to the Stalinist cohort.

At least faith and religion provide an ethical basis for living and a belief system, which despite it's human flaws, provides something which satisfies the spirituality and humanity that both atheists and communists would deny to us.

I find the extremist intolerance of these new atheists just as abhorrent as they find a belief in something greater than ourselves to who we can give our undivided loyalties.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

But of course Fil. I'm unable to canvas all of the population and so am trying to focus on those who appear to to be at the edges and avoiding those who might be wholly unrepresentative) or bring forth 'straw men' complaints.

How I wish that those who opposed faith (groups) used the same integrity :-)

Confidence or arrogance? We shall see, I guess, as we progress.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Blinking predictive text :-)

Anonymous said...

Make that two people's views. I support the views of the person you quote here. Any chance you will add more?

Fil said...

I think in UKViewer we have found the sort of person that I can use to start aa series of talks about what is wrong with the modern Church. Without naming him in particular I can then generalise to the whole group and talk about their arrogance and how they spout the same old, tired arguments.

This is what you've been trying to achieve with your recent blog posts, isn't it Vic?

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Not at all, I'm trying to understand what the other side of he line looks like and thinks - many have told me not to bother as it brings more heat than light (and they may be right) but I think there is much for me to learn and a real dialogue to be had.

But then again perhaps not - distractions and deviations? Surely not - think we'll stay on track and leave other considerations for later.

Fil said...

If you don't mind me saying, Vic, it seems that all you have done so far is to use hearsay evidence from conversations with one or possibly two atheists and make broad statements about what several prominent atheists have written aboutin some books without backing any of these things up with a single quote.

That sort of friction is bound to produce heat.

When I want to find out the views of a group of people I don't start by telling them what they think.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Not telling them but, with the account I have given, merely put together their comments and (having checked I hadn't misrepresented) posted.

I;m using the conversations I'm having because this is my journey. These are the people I am engaged with and as the journey there will (I hope be more voices) but every journey starts with but a s ingle step (often quoted as Mao's but actually found in Confucianism).

I am analysing what I hear and making comments and as for attributing or ascribing to people what others assume they think, don't think that belongs my side of the fence (or so experience tells me).

It's an honest journey and flawed or otherwise, it's mine - hopefully the methodology will eventually reap some benefits but then again some of the comments I have had (from both sides) indicate it might be a struggle.

Hey ho :-)

Fil said...

I am tempted to follow your approach and start discovering your point of view by researching Ken Ham.

It'll be an honest journey and for all its flaws, it will be mine.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

You're most welcome to do so (I did an initial look at him and intend to have a deeper look (if I can survive the angst) at some stage so perhaps we can compare notes.

As for the flaws, I think they will merely join the others you have :-P

(LOL - in case you didn't get it!!)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bit of a bell end Padre. I'm impressed that you haven't told him to offski, I know I would have by now.

Atheists are alright in small doses .... a bit like the clap

Happy days

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Aha! I see what you did there ;-)

So, if you're who I assume you are does this mean I see you at the next field service then?