Is New Atheism really dead? Four New Atheists respond

February 15, 2019 • 9:30 am

Three articles bashing New Atheism have recently been published (here, here, and here). I already criticized the Guardian piece, and am not going to waste my time on the others. After all, we know the tropes, which have been repeated ad infinitum: New Atheism used to be a lively and going concern, then four old white men (Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris [who’s not old]) arrogantly proclaimed themselves leaders of the movement, with at least three of those men being bigoted and/or misogynistic, as well as adherents to the alt-right (Dennett manages to escape those labels). That, goes the narrative, drove people away from New Atheism, an egress that could have been avoided if New Atheism had properly aligned itself with social justice. Now, because of the fault of its leaders and its rejection of wokeness, New Atheism is dead.

I don’t agree with this narrative on several grounds. Dennett, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris never proclaimed themselves “leaders of New Atheism”. They became spokespeople for atheism because they all had bestselling books and were also eloquent speakers.  They are not bigots or misogynists, though I admit that Dawkins was sometimes hamhanded in his use of Twitter. And it’s not that I don’t call out misogyny or sexual misconduct when I’m convinced that it has occurred, for I’ve done that with one “big name” among New Atheists. Further, my take on New Atheism was that it wasn’t really “new”, but a revival of old ideas suggested (often vigorously) by earlier nonbelievers like Ingersoll, Mencken, Russell, and Sagan. The only “new” aspect was that it was a revival of atheism offered to a new generation, and perhaps had a more intimate connection with science than previous incarnations. (A reader below suggests, correctly, I think, that these ideas were spread more widely because of the rise of the Internet.)

Finally, I don’t believe that “New Atheism” or its proponents are more bigoted, sexist, or “alt-right”ish than any other group of educated people. In fact, I think they’re less so. Yes, of course there will be some atheists who are sexists or bigots. No large barrel is free of such bad apples. But, at least in my experience, I haven’t seen the pervasive bigotry that’s supposedly associated with New Atheism—either at meetings or among prominent New Atheists, some of them friends with whom I’ve spent a lot of time. Anecdotes simply don’t make the case that New Atheism is palpably afflicted with these problems.

Of course one bigot and one incident of sexism is too many, and we should always strive to call this stuff out and treat people equally, but I don’t see these issues as especially prominent in New Atheism, nor do I think that bigotry and conservativism have driven many people away from the “movement”—if it is indeed a movement. Rather, the New Atheists had their say in the four books, which all sold well, their publication lit a fire that helped promote secularism in the West and elsewhere, and that fire is still burning and consuming belief. New Atheism isn’t dead; it’s just becoming a mainstream idea. (I’ll add that I’ve never heard anybody say, “Well, I’m going back to religion because I didn’t like Dawkins’s last tweet.”)

When I looked at those three articles again, dosing myself liberally with Pepto-Bismol as a palliative, I decided to email four people and ask them, without responding to the articles’ accusations, to tell me if they thought that the thesis of the articles was right—that is “Is New Atheism dead?” I’ve gotten three responses (well, 2.5), and haven’t yet heard back from the fourth person. Here are the responses, which I have permission to publish (and thanks to the responders):

Steve Pinker was not one of the “Four Horsemen”, but he’s certainly seen as a prominent New Atheist. Here’s his response:

The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion. I think of it not as a movement but as the overdue examination of an idea: Does a supernatural deity exist, and should our morality and politics be shaped by the belief that it does? For various reasons—the intrusion of theo-conservatism during the presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of militant Islam, an awareness of the psychological origins of supernatural beliefs, sheer coincidence—a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.” (I would not downplay coincidence as the explanation—random stochastic processes generate clusters of events by default.) Judged by degree of belief, the “new atheism” is not only not dead but it is winning: every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world, and the dropoff is particularly precipitous across the generations, as compared to just drifting with the zeitgeist or changing over the life cycle. This is reflected in laws and customs—homosexuality is being decriminalized in country after country, for example. These trends are masked in the public sphere by two forces pushing in the opposite direction: religious people have more babies, and religious communities turn out in elections and vote in lockstep for the more conservative candidate. If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was “Atheists should have more babies,” or “Atheists should form congregations and vote en masse for the same candidate,” then yes, it was an abject failure. But if it is “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.

Dan Dennett is one of the “Horsemen”, and he answered briefly.

We have said our piece, and the tidal wave of those abandoning religion keeps rolling on, growing and spreading, without any need of further encouragement from us. That’s how reason works: once you’ve said something true and persuasive, you don’t have to keep saying it again and again.  Our critics keep writing books and articles by the hundreds that disappear without a trace after a few days, convincing few if any. We’ve gone on to other topics.

Richard Dawkins said he wasn’t keen on responding to all these attacks (though I didn’t ask people to respond directly), and so I asked him if he had any answer to the claim that New Atheism is dead. He simply sent me a figure showing the UK sales of The God Delusion between 2006 and 2018, noting that the recent trend seems to be a pretty straight line. That also seems true, he noted, for American sales, though he didn’t have the exact figures. I also learned that there have been 13 million downloads (3 million in Saudi Arabia alone) for an illicit pdf of the Arabic translation of The God Delusion.

Here’s the graph I got (crikey, I wish I could sell a million books in the UK!)


When I asked Richard if he wanted to say anything else besides showing that figure, he just noted that there were at least 22 books (which he calls “fleas”) that were provoked by publication of The God Delusion, and sent me a picture of some of the “fleas”—adding that the name comes from a line in a poem by W. B. Yeats: “But was there ever a dog that praised his fleas?”

Ten of the 22 fleas:

My own take on the fleas is that they show that New Atheism was and is effective, and frightened the faithful into these many responses.  I’ll add that these books seem to have sunk without a trace: none, as far as I know, have achieved anywhere near the sales of The God Delusion.

So there you have it. I may survey some other prominent people associated with New Atheism and get their take as well. Watch this space.

But there’s one more question. Why do these atheist-bashing articles, which are all the same, keep appearing over and over again when New Atheism already made its mark and its major proponents have moved on to other issues? I’m not sure, and readers may want to weigh in.

I think some of the bashers are motivated by jealousy or hatred, others by the desire to get an article in a public place (liberal websites are always glad to bash atheism, even if nearly identical articles were published elsewhere), and some people may really feel that New Atheism is ridden with alt-rightism and bigotry, though I disagree. I invite you to respond below.


Addendum: I heard this evening from Sam Harris, and has put his response (“no”) in a new post, but am adding it here for completeness. We now have all surviving Horsepersons weighing in, as well as Steve Pinker. Sam’s take:

I’ve always been skeptical about the utility of identifying as an “atheist,” because it rarely seems helpful to heap the false assumptions that surround this term upon one’s own head. For this reason, I’ve never been eager to wear the label “new atheist” either.
However, there was something genuinely new about the “new atheism.” The publication of our four books in quick succession moved the conversation about faith and reason out of rented banquet halls filled with septuagenarians and brought it to a mainstream (and much younger) audience. The new atheists also made distinctions that prior atheists tended to ignore: For instance, not all religions teach the same thing, and some are especially culpable for specific forms of human misery. We also put religious moderates on notice in a new way: These otherwise secular people who imagine themselves to be on such good terms with reason are actually abetting the forces of theocracy—because they insist that everyone’s faith in revelation must be respected, whatever the cost.
The new atheism has not disappeared. It has merely diffused into a wider conversation about facts and values. In the end, the new atheism was nothing more than the acknowledgement that there is single magisterium: the ever-expanding space illuminated by intellectual honesty.


144 thoughts on “Is New Atheism really dead? Four New Atheists respond

  1. Does the book sale chart tell us that ‘The God Delusion’ is now selling a million copies per year (a number increasing each year), or that the total sold is now slightly over a million? It seems unlikely to me that a thirteen-year old book would increase in sales each year.

  2. I think you left out one thing when it comes to New Atheism and its rise: the internet. The Four Horsemen came along at exactly the right time and used the internet to spread the message. Thousands of videos have been posted, and hundreds have been debates involving Hitchens or a compilation of “Hitchslaps.” I remember back in 2008 or 2009, I used to spend all day sometimes watching Hitchens debates.

    New Atheism not only isn’t dead, but is just getting started. The only thing that slowed its momentum was the attempt by Atheism+ to supplant them with the “intellectual firepower” of Richard “I Secretly Cheated on My Wife For Years But It Wasn’t Cheating Because I Now Identify As Polyamorous” Carrier, and PZ “My Ego is Bigger Than The Warehouse That Stores All The Copies of Dawkins’ Books” Myers.

    1. The role of Atheism Plus is mostly mischaracterised. A better explanation is that early American adopters from the blogosphere became influential in the american “movement” (at least semi professional opinion leaders, writers, conference speakers etcetera). They brought with them the Tumblr flu of wokeness, in earlier internet days also known as “SJ blogging”. It was just not that visible at first, and perhaps they weren’t yet totally into it.

      The people of that corner were accepted mainstream long before wokeness clouded their minds. That was because the horsemen were rather aloof doing their thing, leaving the US conference scene to Freethought Blogs and SkepChick bloggers, who also consolidated their influence (even Phil “Thunderf00t” Mason was briefly on their platform).

      What else happened: In 2009, Barack Obama was voted into office, defeating the religious right, then arch nemesis of New Atheism. At the same time, social media like we know it today became popular, and the early adopters from Tumblr brought their wokeness into the new medium. There was more going on, but I can’t smash all narratives at once here.

      Short story, the novelty of godlessness wore off, the religious right was defeated for a while with Obama, and wokeness became fashionable among younger urban nonbelievers, who in atheism concentrated around blog networks who also brought most speakers to the US conference circus.

      With the dynamite in place, kerosene leaking all over the floor, it only needed a spark and that was the (conveniently forgotten) talk by Rebecca Watson’s at the CFI conference “women vs the religious right”, where she introduced the lift incident, the altercation with her female fans (esp. McGraw), and where she goes straight to rape victims, death threats, misogyny and rape culture while accusing “people in the audience right now”.

      Astonishingly, “skeptics” supposedly good at fact checking have completely forgotten about all of this (it’s also not included in Wikipedia, RationalWiki, KnowYourMeme etcetera last time I checked), or downplay it when convenient.

      Anyhow, the (mostly) American wokeness was at odds with the international audience, and also crrated a blog vs youtube divide.

      1. I once read that a case could be made that the awkward dude in the elevator never existed…kinda like Jesus of Nazareth

        1. The lift incident, or whether it is true is not even that important. It might be made up, but was a great meme for representing creepy behaviour up to assault in atheism.

          Keep in mind that when all is put together, the blogging US atheist-skeptics women knew of sexual predators that would make headlines years later. But they didn’t want to expose them, while they were mainstream.

          The effect was that european/international atheist women discussed “women in atheism” in Dublin, but didn’t have SkepChicks on the panel. So one story reads like Watson wanting to insert herself because she had something to say (but that was not clear then), so it looked like attention seeking.

          When she was rebuffed, and her commentary from another panel looked unprofessional, she had to salvage the situation, and somehow just in time the fresh incident with the lift came along right at that very Dublin conference. But nobody cared. Only her female fans discussed this.

          Thrice the charm, she then brought it to the CFI stage, further upping the ante, and there it went from a dry discussion of women in atheism, over the double entendre lift incident straight to rape victims, death threats and rape culture and misogyny in about 15 mins.

          Since when the thing blew up, the story was already about “rape culture”, the lift story is already irrelevant: nobody ever was concerned with lift etiquette. It was representative for other things. In effect, the mysterious lift man stood in for Shermer, Silverman, DeGrasse Tyson, and Krauss, who later made Buzzfeed news.

      2. I haven’t really forgotten any of that, I think that’s just added information. I’m not really sure what you’re getting at with it, though (I mean that sincerely. I feel like you’re making a point here and I’m missing it).

        1. I was pedantic, probably because I read various false stories earlier that are ubiquitous in atheism-skepticism (so that even Wikipedia is totally false).

          While there is no single or “easy” story to tell, I’m a bit irritable when I hear usual “just so” stories about “entrysm”, how wokeness was imposed from the outside and so on. What I mean is that the American conference scene was established, and their wokeness came out over time, and was divisive, and that this effect also happened elsewhere in all liberal, left, geeky, or nerdy subcultures (before and afterwards).

          I seems that Americans are just deeply religious people, who didn‘t like free thinking all that much and longed for a new religion, and found it in wokeness. Another sizeable portion of “rationals” found it in “Red Pill”, notably also metaphorically about “waking up” into a new belief system.

          1. There definitely has been social justice entryism in other places, like videogames and comics. The vast majority of those communities were happy and healthy, and then a bunch of journalists and a handful of “activists” barged in and tried to change all the rules of the spaces and, over a few years, they did a pretty good job of it (though they couldn’t manage to gain a monopoly, they did end up getting all the mainstream support). It makes me especially angry when they do this with places that were basically “safe spaces” for nerds, dorks, and the generally socially ostracized — places like conventions, Magic: The Gathering tournaments, gaming tournaments, etc. They’ve successfully gained control over all of them. Now, all those people who went into those hobbies, often to join other awkward, introverted people, have been shunned as “creepy” and other such words. It really does feel like social justice warriors won’t be happy until the take over every space and bend them to their will, and I do think they were trying to do this with online atheism and, in particular, the conventions.

          2. There definitely has been social justice entryism in other places, like videogames, comics, board games — typically male-dominated hobbies where awkward and ostracized men could make friends and feel comfortable. The vast majority of those communities were happy and healthy, and then a bunch of journalists and a handful of “activists” barged in and tried to change all the rules of the spaces and, over a few years, they did a pretty good job of it (though they couldn’t manage to gain a monopoly, they did end up getting all the mainstream support). It makes me especially angry when they do this with places that were basically “safe spaces” for nerds, dorks, and the generally socially ostracized — places like conventions, Magic: The Gathering tournaments, gaming tournaments, etc. They’ve successfully gained control over all of them. Now, all those people who went into those hobbies, often to join other awkward, introverted people, have been shunned as “creepy” and other such words. It really does feel like social justice warriors won’t be happy until the take over every space and bend them to their will, and I do think they were trying to do this with online atheism and, in particular, the conventions.

            1. I also don’t believe this narrative of entryism. But since journalists and everybody else is commited to retelling wonky ‘just so’ stories, it’s hard to get through.

              I believe that nerd culture was highly gendered for various reasons, for example introvert teenagers aren’t known to get along with the opposite sex. Youth cultures shape the rest. So half of the nerds are into stereotypically male things, and half of them are into stereotypically female things, just with a nerdy sheen over it. Where your aunt is acutely knowledgeable about the relationship status of celebrities, so do female nerds fantasize about “ships”, romantic relationships between fictional characters. Where your uncle likes collecting world war II magazines that come with parts to build tiny tank models, and likes to have a curvy centrefold, so are male nerds into (war) machines, power, and curves. I am playing the cliché to get the point across. I know it’s not always that simple.

              This led to highly nerdy yet feminine and masculine subcultures over the late 1970s into the internet age. Then came social media, and what’s called “Convergence Culture”, everybody in a given fan culture had to get along. The teenage nerds grew up. The men picked up some science, the women more often chose some “study” which almost naturally connects to Tumblr fanfiction (though its intricate relationship between post-structuralism, literary critique and pop culture).

              And — boom — you get the “Science Wars” flavoured woke conflict of today’s internet. That’s then further exacerbated because media giants see a saturated market among male nerds, but still some potential with women. This strategy is only slightly idiotic. Many older franchises really have mostly male fans, and today, those older franchises are some of the most valuable ones. So it’s not “entryism” but media corporations that deliberately want to attract additional audiences, and franchise with plenty of woke fans are becoming more vocal.

              1. My feelings about entryism into the specific hobbies I discussed aren’t fueled by “just-so” media stories, since the media told the exact opposite “just-so” stories of these hobbies being full of misogynistic men who harassed women out of the hobbies. Of course, growing up with these hobbies, we have quite a few women in our midst, but they were just far more popular with men. They still continue to be far more popular with men today (in spite of the media and activists trying to “decolonize” the spaces) because they just appeal to them more. When the media spouts the “50% of gamers are women” statistic, they’re bundling all types of gaming, including the female-dominated types like mobile gaming, point-and-click, and puzzle games — games that were never really part of the “community.”

                My view of the entryism is one of first-person: I watched it happen, and the media certainly didn’t report it. You seem to be talking about vague general things (I’m not sure what, exactly). But even when it comes to, say, STEM, it makes sense that it’s male-dominated, as men are more likely to be “things-oriented” and systematizing. The less gender equality a country has, the more women you see in fields that tend to be dominated by men (and vice versa). The more freedom women have to choose, the less likely they are to choose things-oriented and systematizing fields, like those in STEM.

          3. That’s weird. I guess this is a new issue: I forgot to add my name and email address on the first comment, but, when I submitted it, I didn’t get the “please enter your name and email” message that I have received the last few days, so I assumed it didn’t get submitted. Instead, it got submitted as “Anonymous.”

            Looks like there’s a new problem with WordPress.

      1. It was actually when I was living in the city. I’d watch them in my apartment and I’d download them so I could watch them on the subway and train, etc.

  3. ” I also learned that there have been 13 million downloads (3 million in Saudi Arabia alone) for an illicit pdf of the Arabic translation of The God Delusion.”

    I just want to say it’s wonderful that Mr. Dawkins allows (and I’m sure encourages) this. Good on ya! There are only 33 million people in Saudi Arabia. I’d like to think those 3 million downloads have reached the hands of more than just 3 million people.

        1. I wouldn’t visit anyone who was called a “bone-saw specialist” no matter my identity or situation, since I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing and I would assume they’re a serial killer that uses a bone saw.

          “Hey there. I’m a bone-saw specialist. I know a lot about bone saws. They cut through bone reeallll good….yeah…”

  4. I think New Atheism *is* dead, but I don’t mean that in a negative way. To me, the movement is dead *because it was so successful.* The essence of New Atheism wasn’t just the science and philosophy underlying it; it was the *discovery of fellowship.*. Those of us who were raised in intellectually restrictive faith traditions that we had a thing least mentally long ago left behind experienced the exhilaration that *we weren’t alone.*. Maybe we were still alone at home and in our communities–when we were still getting dragged to church and keeping our apostasy secret; maybe we were alone when everyone bowed their head in prayer while our “prayer” consisted of wondering how anyone could possibly believe this nonsense–but we now knew that we weren’t *really* alone.

    I’m 31 now so that’s my experience of New Atheism in my early 20’s. Maybe I’m ascribing too much of my particular experience to the entire movement, but I’ve certainly met many, many other people from my generational cohort who experienced it in the same way.

    1. Hitch was impressed by this very point among his listeners at book talks in southern states. In public talks in more “liberal” regions, he made a point of reminding the audience of their solidarity with people in less fortunate cultural environments.

    2. Hitch was impressed by this very point when he did book talks in southern states. When he spoke further north, he liked to remind his audience of their solidarity with freethinkers in less comfortable environs.

  5. I think religion has always been attacking atheist because they have no other way to go. They cannot provide evidence of their faith and they have no photos, no videos.

    What happened after 9/11 was a redirecting toward a specific religion. Sam Harris and others spoke about this and it was part of their reason for speaking out. It was as normal as eggs and beacon for breakfast. The fact that they were attacked is no surprise and religion will continue to beat on this until something else comes along. It is the same mentality that we have in the current president with his wall business. They are scared and they don’t even know it.

    1. On another matter, I am finding some strange changes/problems with this web site. I always have to enter name and email to make a comment. Did not use to require this. When posting the comment it sometimes shows up and sometimes not. Often it takes a few minutes before it shows up. This is also something new.

      1. I thought it was me – I fiddled with some browser settings recently…

        It’s Word-Banning-Websites-For-Sincerely-Held-Beliefs-In-Pakistan-Press?

      2. I’ve checked with WordPress about this, especially about having to fill in stuff manually, and I fiddled with some settings which should have fixed it. People should email me privately if they have problems.

        Be sure to log on to WordPress at; it’s free and you don’t have to have a website.

        1. I’m still having the same issue as everyone else. I have to enter my name and email every time and my comments usually don’t show up for several minutes.

          I don’t have a WordPress account, but, until a few days ago, the cookies from the site always kept my name and email whenever I went to post a comment.

      3. I am not alone! Good that you mentioned it in the “Comments” section. Now I must remember to enter my name and email or I’ll become “Anonymous” once more, that is if the comment gets through.

      4. Me too. For Firefox it at least loads my credentials when I enter the first letters (didn’t need to do that before), but for Safari I need to type everything now. I will try to fiddle with WordPress.

      5. WordPress loves putting cookies in users browsers – they overdo it & it increases the chances of a cookie conflict. I have THIRTEEN bloody WordPress cookies sitting in my FireFox most of which are useless to me, but they tell WP where I live & other data.

        My guess is WP have updated a cookie or added a new cookie & it’s in conflict with old cookies in the browser. To fix the problem:

        Delete just your WordPress cookies from your browser OR delete all your cookies across all sites **

        Close Browser
        Open Browser
        Log into WEIT & all should be well

        ** It’s easiest & quickest to delete all cookies for all sites in your browser, but it’s more work later having to log back into numerous sites. I recommend Googling how to delete just WP cookies & to leave the rest alone.

        Here’s how to do it in CHROME & FIREFOX [may not be entirely up to date, but close enough to figure any new changes.

    2. “I think religion has always been attacking atheist because they have no other way to go”

      Exactly like creationists attack evolution because they have nothing scientific to propose. They think their Truth is the default solution to any problem and are defensive when the contrary is shown.

      Different point: I wonder how someone can say that there is more alt-right people in any atheism movement than in the religious rights?

    3. Beyond the attacks from religious folks, it was inevitable that the “new” atheists would also be attacked as bigoted and sexist by those who claim to want social justice.

      With their backgrounds in science, and their commitment to logic and reason, the new atheists (including Hitchens) were not going to reject what science has learned simply because it makes folks uncomfortable or doesn’t fit with the “blank slate” or it’s-all-culture narrative. Unfortunately, many of these “progressive” critics will freely reject any science (much like creationists do) that implies any sort of biological (evolutionarily derived) differences between men and women, or any sort of genetic and phenotypic differentiation among indigenous peoples around the world (i.e., differences between “races”). In this sense, both social-justice folks and creationists steer clear of evidenced-based thinking.

      1. Frank hits the nail on the head regarding the anti science attitudes. I personally think that when Dawkins promotes reason and science, the faux feminists and SJW people understand that indirectly he is criticizing them for their lack of logic, their authoritariansm, and their obsession with social justice ideology. That’s a good reason to get angry! In the end, Dawkins continues to cry all the way to the bank.

    4. Of course, it is normal for religious people to attack atheists. However, I struggle to accept as normal the fact that Ctrl-Left people, atheists themselves, have become relentless promoters of the worst religion they could find, and bash the New Atheists for opposing it.

  6. Dennett put it well – if something is true, you don’t need to repeat it over and over. I suppose the faith weasels will claim the atheist writers are in fact repeating what Victorian writers, Mencken, Ingersoll, et. al. already did, so checkmate atheists. You can’t win, 100% with this stuff.

    … there was a “debate” where a prominent physicist claimed New Atheism was just “warmed over Victorian atheism” – but I never tried to understand how authors specifically fit in the frame “Victorian”…

  7. If New Atheism is dead it’s because it accomplished what it set out to do. The obituary should read that New Atheism went peacefully in its sleep having lived a full life with no regrets.

    I think people are just too used to social movements that keep shambling along inventing new justifications for their existence.

    1. Yeah, and i have also been thinking that since its pretty much grown into a kind of Establishment within the Left that it has lost its feeling of momentum. It aint’ dead. It’s just part of the new normal.

    2. I don’t think New Atheism ever died. It just stopped being ‘new’**. It became ‘atheism’.

      (In the same way that ‘alternative medicine’ that actually works becomes medicine).

      (Remarkable how hard it is to phrase that without sounding snarky. ‘It just got old’ sounds like ‘geriatric’ – NOT my meaning. ‘Grew up’ implies it was immature. ‘Matured’ – the same. ‘Became mainstream’ – but it always was.)


    1. Richard Dawkins is getting his own sales info from his publisher on his private dashboard [my guess]. It’s commercially sensitive info that’s hard to collate if you’re not the publisher & nobody wants you to know. Publishers spend 10s of thousands dollars a year minimum buying info about book sales that some whizzo program has collated.

      BUT you can get a relative feel by looking at sales rankings & then plugging that number into a book sales calculator [there’s a few free ones on the internet – none are precise – the one I use overcooks sales quite a bit]. That will give you just say h/back or p/back or Kindle for just ONE outlet.

      On for Paperback sales I get these books/mnth sales figures from which you can make a general assumption that Hitch is still selling well compared to the Delusion, but I wouldn’t trust the raw numbers, only the relative numbers!:

      #5,852 in Books: The God Delusion = 580
      #7,792 in Books: God is not Great = 460
      #40,738 in Books: WEIT = 111

  8. A tempest in a teapot. I never saw a “movement” with any real “champions” from among the Four Horsemen or otherwise. I only saw four (or more) public intellectuals with a more-or-less consistent philosophy critiquing faith and religion with a distinctly rationalist, scientific eye. I certainly don’t recall them branding themselves “The New Atheists” but I could have missed it.

    “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” —Mark Twain (The Old Atheist)

    PS – I miss Hitch

  9. Those sales of The God Delusion are pretty amazing! Well done Richard for crafting such an iconoclastic breath of fresh air. I wonder what the sales of The End of Faith are like?

    Why do these atheist-bashing articles, which are all the same, keep appearing over and over again when New Atheism already made its mark and its major proponents have moved on to other issues?

    I agree almost completely with Stephen Pinker and am pretty optimistic, but…

    It’s hard to overstate the pernicious attack on science that has been orchestrated by the ideological right over the past 40 odd years, and continues to this day. The Templeton Foundation is a small part of this anti-science movement but it knows how to operate – it goes into the schools and pushes its *science and religion* agenda at our kids. It’s active in our universities (see the Faraday Institute and the Ian Ramsey Centre) and it pours millions into projects designed to counter the conclusions of science.

    This drip-drip of anti-science propaganda continues to spawn fleas left, right and centre, I suspect.

    The main stream media have been complicit in this. The BBC, under pressure from politicians and the internet, used to be pretty good at countering anti-scientific nonsense, but in the name of balance they now give a false view of the world to its viewers. Lies are freely told in defence of ideology and very little is done to counter the nonsense. This has been a major factor in the rise of Trump and Brexit.

    We are at a dangerous moment; will we choose ‘Enlightenment Now’ or the dark side? Time will tell.

    1. Not sure I agree with you about the dear old Beeb. Do you have specific examples of ‘lies…freely told in defence of ideology’ that the BBC has failed to counter?

      1. Sorry Steve, I did post a reply but it got swallowed by WordPress; it may be in moderation because it had links in, but I’ll try again later if it doesn’t appear. I may need to log in differently.

  10. While the statistics appear to show the number of religious believers is growing, maybe the pronouncement that, “new atheism” is dead, in addition to being a marketing tool for believers, is also an indication that the goal of shrinking the need for any forms of the term atheist as an unnecessary identity is beginning to be realized?

    In either case, this is no time to become complacent about spreading reason.

  11. The attacks on the New Atheists come from at least two sources. Not surprisingly, the first comes from the religious who are quite frightened that atheism and the general decline of religious sentiment is an affront to their entire belief system. The second comes from people, both on the left and the right, who articulate the “little people” argument. Although many claim to be atheists themselves, they believe that the lack of religious faith by the common folk is dangerous to society. If the unwashed masses do not accept the so-called moral teachings of religion then there is a real chance that they will run amok because only fear of the wrath of the deity will keep them in check. In other words, religion is necessary to maintain societal order and stability. Conservatives have made this argument for centuries. It’s too bad that some liberals have fallen for a totally unproven argument.

  12. I like Richard Dawkins answer: A picture says more than a thousand words.

    Theists and believers know deep in their hearts (though they will not admit it) that Richard Dawkins must be right, because they feel compelled to write more than 22 (!) refutations.

  13. Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
    I remember the panic she aroused in the 1950’s. Not at all an intellect, but expressed herself plainly. founded American Atheist Wikipedia says. Prayers were pretty common in grade school in those days along with the pledge. She filed suit in the name of her son challenging public school policy of bible study and prayer. Supremes sided with her. Church and State.

  14. Often, saving face plays a part in all this. Personally, I fear losing all that I’ve worked hard for as far as jobs and relationships are concerned. I used to not care about that when I was younger and still don’t want to but it’s made my life easier. It shouldn’t be that way. This doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with this article and what others have commented. I just wanted to add that. And there is still work to do but we’ve come a long way when you look back.

  15. As far as the ‘four horsemen’ go, “New Atheism” is about a quarter dead. D*g, how would I have loved to hear the Hitch on Mr Trump. I’m sure he would have found an angle we didn’t think of.

    I’m not so sure about Pinker’s response: “every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world”. Is that so? All over the world? I hope he’s right, but here in South Africa it doesn’t really look like it. Nor in Islamic countries, eg Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, looks much more religious now than, say, 50-60 years ago.
    And then I didn’t even mention former communist countries such as Poland or Russia.
    Now I’m wary to dispute the Pinkah (those who do, generally come second best), but I do think he’s a bit optimistic there.

  16. One probably unpopular opinion I’ll throw in is that as the years have gone by I’ve come to mostly agree with Orr’s assessment of The God Delusion in the NYT Review of Books, specifically of it as “middlebrow.” It really is “just Dawkins talking,” and talking and talking. Its irreverence and sweep were exhilarating at the time, because it was like a scientist of great stature was giving us *permission* to think that way. But now that atheism and everything in the book is such old news, the book practically feels like a book-length reddit r/atheism post.

    Most of the books of the New Atheist “moment” stand the test of time–I think The End of Faith and Dan Barker’s Godless are the two best ones–but I don’t think Dawkins’ does at all.

    1. It was SUPPOSED to be middlebrow. Dawkins intended the readers to be the average curious person, not intellectuals. Orr basically used the “Dawkins-didn’t-engage-with-the-best-sophisticated-theology” argument, and my response is, “so what”? He engaged with what the average believer believes. Do we really care whether Dawkins rebutted Aquinas or Duns Scotus?

      It’s old news because Dawkins made it old news. A theological treatise like Orr wanted would not have reached so many people.

      1. “It was SUPPOSED to be middlebrow. Dawkins intended the readers to be the average curious person, not intellectuals. Orr basically used the “Dawkins-didn’t-engage-with-the-best-sophisticated-theology” argument, and my response is, “so what”? He engaged with what the average believer believes. Do we really care whether Dawkins rebutted Aquinas or Duns Scotus?”

        This is somewhat disingenuous. Dawkins boasts pretty explicitly that his “Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit” is “unanswerable” and “almost certainly proves there is no God.” The argument in fact is manifestly question begging and does nothing of the sort.

        I do agree with you that the book was intended for a popular audience and had it been a philosophical treatise, it wouldn’t have been a hit, and thus wouldn’t have been, well, what The God Delusion was. But that doesn’t inherently make the quality of the book any better. Its appeal was the irreverence, novelty, and bombast of the prose. As Orr’s review says, it doesn’t really make any rigorous arguments of any kind (except for its central one, which fails completely); it’s just Dawkins talking.

        I met a beautiful Ukrainian girl on campus two years ago who was very bright intellectually but trapped in a ludicrous literalist Pentecostal family and congregation affiliated with the Assemblies of God. To help her out, I gave her almost all of the books in my “atheist” collection (including your Why Evolution Is True), but I very deliberately did *not* give her The God Delusion because I couldn’t imagine finding someone who is not at the very least predisposed to atheism not finding it unconvincing and even juvenile.

        1. Wow, you seem unacquainted with the influence Dawkins’ book has had on so many people, including aiding the de-conversion of Theists.

          There used to be a section on the Dawkins Foundation website called Coverts Corner with many pages, hundreds and hundreds, of de-conversion stories from intelligent people who pointed to the role of The God Delusion in their de-conversion.

          (Strangely, they are almost all gone now on the site. I haven’t visited Dawkins’ site for a long time and had heard tell it underwent something of an implosion in terms of conflicts in moderators/running the site or something. But it sure is weird how all those valuable testimonies were apparently wiped away).

        2. Dawkins book is extremely ambitious & extraordinarily successful – he has done a marvellous job in laying out numerous lines of argument in a compact, well ordered way.

          He then gets the likes of Plantinga descending on his “Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit” & attempting to shred it with absurd arguments that depend on their highly specific definitions of a god that’s immaterial, as simple as can be & yet able to create the universe & intercede in it. We “middlebrows” know that Plantinga is writing rot & designing a god to his own purposes [AP’s laughable modification of Calvin’s Sensus Divinitatus comes to mind]

          To quote Dennett:

          H. Allen Orr, in “A Mission to Convert” [NYR, January 11], his review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and other recent books on science and religion, says that Dawkins is an amateur, not professional, atheist, and has failed to come to grips with “religious thought” with its “meticulous reasoning” in any serious way. He notes that the book is “defiantly middlebrow,” and I wonder just which highbrow thinkers about religion Orr believes Dawkins should have grappled with.

          I myself have looked over large piles of recent religious thought in the last few years in the course of researching my own book on these topics, and I have found almost all of it to be so dreadful that ignoring it entirely seemed both the most charitable and most constructive policy. (I devote a scant six pages of Breaking the Spell to the arguments for and against the existence of God, while Dawkins devotes roughly a hundred, laying out the standard arguments with admirable clarity and fairness, and skewering them efficiently.) There are indeed recherché versions of these traditional arguments that perhaps have not yet been exhaustively eviscerated by scholars, but Dawkins ignores them (as do I) and says why: his book is a consciousness-raiser aimed at the general religious public, not an attempt to contribute to the academic micro-discipline of philosophical theology.

          The arguments Dawkins exposes and rebuts are the arguments that waft from thousands of pulpits every week and reach millions of television viewers every day, and neither the televangelists nor the authors of best-selling spiritual books pay the slightest heed to the subtleties of the theologians either.


          1. their highly specific definitions of a god that’s … as simple as can be

            I’ve been thinking about this “divine simplicity” thing for a while and the only conclusion I could reach is that it’s counterfactual. Based on an actual rigorous definition of complexity (Kolmogorov complexity), a god would have to be at least as complex as a human. I suppose the TL;DR is that asserting something doesn’t make it true.


            1. I agree. And as Dawkins argues such a god would have to evolve complexity to do work – though how an immaterial & simple entity can evolve without an external environment to ‘feed’ off is a brain crusher [a philosophical term I just invented, cos I can do Alvin Plantinga bollocks as good as Plantinga]

        3. “The argument in fact is manifestly question begging and does nothing of the sort.”

          I don’t think it is question begging as much as exposing the question begging in religion. But it does so as much as any process substituting fact for magic, so I understand the argument as considered strong simply because religion is so adamantly against it.

  17. even if the annorum mirabilis* is over – which it is – that does not mean “ergo god”.

    And even if it is true that in general, poll-takers who have any kind shape or form of religion are becoming “nones”, a big question is what the god-shaped hole is being treated with – like a wound, it has to be healed up with proper treatment, otherwise it gets infected with other nasty things.

    *Latin experts please forgive me, I learn Latin from Google – maybe it is annorum signum.. maybe mirum annis… mirabilis anni atheismum

    1. Where did that Gnu come from?

      I’m a Gnu Believer. Gnu/Linux that is. (All hail Saint RMS!). I’m a total atheist with regard to Apple and Microsoft.

      I’ve always found that ‘Gnu Atheism’ label ambiguous as a result.

      (It would be interesting if Pew did a survey and compared religious affiliation with operating system use, by the way. I have no idea what the results would be but I would like to think Gnu/Linux users were more likely to be atheists than the average).


      1. The term just struck my funny bone from the first time I saw it. This web-page has some info on the origins of the term, Gnu Atheists

        Though Jerry did not coyne, I mean coin, the term, he did have a hand in popularizing it. From the link . . .

        “One day later, Jerry Coyne, on his website Why Evolution Is True (WEIT), promoted the meme with a LOLcats-esque graphic that depicted a theist gnu and an atheist gnu quarreling about attending church. Usage of gnu over new seems to have taken off from there as the meme spread throughout the online atheist community from Benson’s and Coyne’s popular websites to PZ Myers’ Pharyngula and beyond.”

        1. The use of “Gnu” in any type of name brand in every way belongs to Gnu/Linux and Free Software. It’s beyond me how any other group would think it’s cool so they do it. Sadly, the FSF’s mission is entirely against going after groups for this name brand smearing. Boo I say – Booooo Gnu Atheists.

            1. Gnu/Linux was a name way before Gnu Atheists made their name, and I don’t see how someone never thought to check if any other group did that before, to claim their group’s official name.

              But I’m not going to go to the mat over this.

              1. Me neither. It’s just not a serious issue. I don’t think you understand how the joke started. The link I posted above recounts the basics of how it happened. Nobody decided they were going to start an entity and call it the Gnu Atheists. I think it’s hilarious that someone might get upset about this. I surely never have, nor ever will, think twice about using the term any time, any where.

            2. I must apologize for using “smearing” absent mindedly – I did NOT mean it’s usual meaning, akin to “sully”. I meant more literally blending/confusing one thing (software) for something else (atheism).

              And I add that I’m partial to Gnu/Linux, but ok, if someone wants to call themselves Gnu This, Gnu That, really, big deal. I’ll have to get over it.

              1. Shoot, no need to apologize but thanks for clarifying. I can understand being sensitive to it if you are invested in Gnu/Linux. I’d still try to convince that this really isn’t a big deal.

              2. I had exactly the same problem of finding the right word. I settled on ‘ambiguous’ but that wasn’t quite right. I did think of ‘confusing’ but that wasn’t right either. ‘Blurring’, ‘muddying the waters’ – I don’t know, still can’t find the right word.


          1. That is nonsense Thyroid – nobody writes “GNUatheist” or “GNU-atheist” or “GNU atheist” – only if they did would your point be valid. The name for the Unix-like computer OS is the capitalised acronym “GNU” – it is a strange recursive acronym meaning “Gnu Not Unix”. The FSF has trademarked “GNU” [capitalised] – if you want a target go after GNUplot the graphing program, which is not even part of the GNU project & yet has took up the capitalised form for their own benefit!

            1. Errm, “Gnu’s Not Unix”.

              And of course, Unix was ‘not Multics’. Word play was popular then.

              And Unix begat Minix; and Minix begat Linux, which filled a kernel-sized gap in the GNU operating system.

              (‘Begat’ should not be taken literally!)


            2. My statement was impulsive I admit. But, I think – or, thought – the way they write it is relevant to the letter, irrelevant to the spirit. You can nitpick the gnuplot license terms but I’ll leave that to you. While reading about this, as an aside, I noticed GNU Octave is GPL. But I suppose this means when homesteading the noosphere, little things like distinctive names are prone to being, if only accidentally, used for whatever someone else wants. Oh well.

              I think the FSF needs all the support they can get. I suppose I’m doing my small, nonsensical part here. Perhaps they’d disapprove, I don’t know. I’ll come out and say it – I love gnuplot and Gnu/Linux. There. I said it.

              Lastly, the FSF’s page on gnuplot – they are not unrelated:


              … atheism? Unrelated. But oh well. I’ll get over it. As I’ve suggested, my precious chestnut of sorts appears to have been poked at.

              I also note that I only read up on that because you challenged me on it, so for that, I am appreciative. Hopefully I can drop this now.

              1. Well of course you can “drop this now”, but you’re wrong of course. Despite gnuplot’s name, it is not named after, part of or related to the GNU Project, nor does it use the GNU General Public License. It was NOT named for the GNU Operating System – it is part of a compromise by the original authors, punning on gnu (the animal) and newplot. Many different GUIs, OSs & programs can run gnuplot not just GNU – which [as I said] is unrelated!

                The rest of what you’ve written is so much noise. Stallman conjured the name “GNU” for his open, free OS in part from the British music hall 40s/50s classic by Flanders & Swann, The Gnu, perhaps some music hall aficionado will come along & whinge about that gentle theft now.

              2. I should add – as my cleanup responsibility, perhaps – that, the link above ^^^ that I provided for Gnuplot is in the FSF’s directory of software which, as I quote from the FSF :

                “Today, free software is available for just about any task you can imagine. From complete operating systems like GNU, to over 5,000 individual programs and tools listed in the __FSF/UNESCO_free_software_directory__”

                where I underscored the part of the sentence linked to :

                So, it appears that the definition of Free Software, vis-a-vis the specific licenses, is something of a friendly-terms license / not hard-and-fast. Gnuplot plays well with GNU/Linux, and vice versa, so they are OK with it – without having to release the lawyers.

                I tried putting a hyperlink in the text itself but the WordPress directions I found from 15 seconds of Google Searching are useless to me.

            3. I come back to ask about one detail, because it sounds like you are way more knowledgeable about computers than me:

              is gnuplot free software?

              1. The source code is licensed [free license] & free to use. I am certain of that.

                It can’t be distributed without permission

                It can’t be included in a software package [even at no cost] without permission

                It cannot be sold by a third party

                The source code – do what you personally want to alter it for your own use, but you can’t distribute the altered product

                If approved you can issue a patch that will alter GNU for some purpose [this last is a guess]

                That is my imperfect understanding, but I’d have to eyeball the licence to be confident re all the above

              2. I think the crux of it is with the sharing of modified versions.

                from the FSF:

                “Free software is software that gives you the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. We call this free software because the user is free.”

                so my answer would be : no. gnuplot is not free software because the user cannot share the modifications without doing something special.

              3. That’s true – Free Speech & not Free Beer as FSF say. Also I can charge as much as I like to distribute “free” GNU – as if it were beer & I was a publican.

        2. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I was munching popcorn on B & W and WEIT at the time, watching the developments. Forgot about the Tom Johnson affair!

  18. Perhaps the easiest answer is, conservatism lost that era. That’s most visible in what followed: now, the “new atheist” section has been split between Secular Liberals and neo-Marxists.

    And the Liberals now join up with Conservatives against that new “religion”, commonly known as “social justice” or “intersectionality”.

    That’s how bad a blow conservatism got: once high and mighty, now it has had to team up with the Liberals in order to continue at all.

    And perhaps the ultimate illustration might be Jordan Peterson and Bret Weinstein, who seem to progress what Dan Dennett considered the next step: stripping christianity of superstition fully, and instead developing it as a beneficial, or at least vaccinating, meme.

    To, of course, the great annoyance of Richard Dawkins, whose primary two (impressive) achievements are overshadowed by one of his sidenotes :).

      1. And a three pound hammer.
        And it’s not that religion will be erased entirely. It will be around at a gradually diminishing ebb for another thousand years. But, that’s not a big problem.

    1. This is the century our species grew up.

      In a few decades, I’ve seen homosexuality go from non-existent to mainstream. The same appears to be happening with atheism.

      Atheism in no longer in some dark corner and it rests firmly in reason and science. This is not a competition religion will win.

        1. Pete Stark U.S. Representative (D-CA) is considered the first openly atheist member of Congress. Served 1973-2013. And there was also Barney Frank U.S. Representative (D-MA). Served 1981-2013). So we lost two atheist Representatives in one year! At present, Jared Huffman U.S. Representative (D-CA) since 2013 said he is a humanist and non-believer in 2017. And Jamie Raskin U.S. Representative (D-MD) since 2017; he identifies as a humanist. I don’t think there has ever been an openly atheist Senator. There are probably many closeted non-believers though…like Trump himself.

          1. Oh no. tRump is a firm believer. In himself.
            “If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.”
            – Zaphod Beeblebrox

        2. We have two U.S. Representatives. Jared Huffman (D-CA) since 2013. He revealed he is a humanist and non-believer in 2017. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) since 2017 identifies as a humanist (so a lukewarm atheist perhaps). Two openly atheist U.S. Representatives also retired in 2013: Barney Frank (D-MA) and Pete Stark (D-CA). Stark was the first openly atheist member and began his first term in 1973. I’m sure there are many closeted atheist elected officials…like Trump himself.

        3. The WordPress problem got me. I wrote the first response, posted it and it didn’t show. After a few minutes, I rewrote it because I thought I forgot to enter my name/email. Anyway, I said the same thing twice…sorry about the redundancy. I still blame WordPress though. 😉

          1. I’ve long since developed the habit of copying comments that I make on any website before I click on the “Post Comment” button. I don’t Paste into anything, I just Copy it. Until you do another copy it will stay on the Clipboard. That way when there is an issue I can simply Paste back into the comment box.

            For example, when WordPress does what it did to you the first thing I try is refreshing the page. Most times that works, my comment shows up. Sometimes it doesn’t. Next I’ll try closing the website page and opening it up from scratch. One of these two almost always works. In the rare case it doesn’t I assume my comment was truly lost and I can then just Paste my comment again in the appropriate comment box.

            1. That’s good advice, thanks darrelle. I do refresh, but I haven’t closed/opened the website or used the clipboard.

        4. I’ve seen hints of atheists in the odd state chamber. I’m not sure if they are fully “out”. The taboo runs deep in the middle of the country.

  19. “Bashers” are motivated by the same fear of George W. Bush that New Atheists were, only in a different direction. They fear that New Atheism -> Islamophobia -> US Imperialism -> repeats of the Iraq war.

    There’s also the standard progressive smearing of liberals. Progressives’ entire job is to call things racist and sexist, fighting each other to be most relevant. Liberals are “fair game” for accusations because they’re outsiders.

    1. I don’t think the leftist bashers of New Atheism fear a new Iraq (or similar) war. I rather think that they fear New Atheism would slow the spread and empowerment of Islam in the West.

  20. The repetition of the “its dead” wouldn’t bug me so much if it were clear that the critics were actually learning something. But I see the same canards about the scientific revolution, about “lived experience”, about ritual over doctrine, etc. Bah.

  21. As much as I admire and agree with the Four Horseman and the New Atheism, I doubt whether the “global wave” of atheism has much to with their books. In fact, it is the other way around. The global wave of atheism causes more sales of books on atheism. Most of the people that buy such books are seeking confirmation of their opinions.

  22. … some people may really feel that New Atheism is ridden with alt-rightism and bigotry …

    Cryin’ out loud, what a canard. Maybe none of the original Four Horseman — nor Steven Pinker, for that matter — was/is a doctrinaire leftist, but all of them were/are left-of-center on most issues.

    1. I don’t know. From my perspective it is completely ludicrous. It is a rewriting of history. Things have changed rather rapidly with the rise of the SJW crowd but certainly at the time all of the Four Horseman, and certainly Steven Pinker, were veritable Commie-Pinko-Scumbags. Heck, Even PZ Myers openly admired them all.

  23. I don’t believe that New Atheism is dead – because it was never alive in the first place… Just the synchronicity of well put together arguments appearing in a small period of time (perhaps a shorter version of Steve Pinker’s views).

    Similarly the flurry of counter New Atheism articles and books are an example of synchronicity too, but rather than appearing in a small period of time they are appearing at a time when the overprovision of channels and bandwith is sucking in any content of almost any quality and vomiting it out everywhere. Never mind the arguments, count the pixels.

  24. Daniel Dennett’s response makes more sense as an explanation of why he personally lost interest in writing about atheism rather than a refutation of the claim that “New Atheism” has lost cultural currency. Fundamentally, atheism hasn’t changed its message much since _The Origin of Species_ was published. In terms of arguments and insights, there wasn’t a desperate need for the New Atheists to write anything in the first place.

    Here is how I see it: the only thing that distinguished New Atheism from the atheism that preceded it was that it positioned itself as a reaction to Islamist violence. Previous iterations of atheism more often focused on Christianity as their foil.

    This positioning gained New Atheism a surprising level of interest and notoriety. But in time, as the threat of Islamist violence receded from the foreground of the public psyche, curiosity about atheism diminished.

    Now the people who get most exercised about New Atheism are people who feel uncomfortable whenever they hear criticism directed at members of groups they define as “oppressed.” And so here we are.

    1. Re Origin, yes! How did Richard Dawkins put it?

      “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

      The past 150 years of evolutionary biology have only reinforced that position.

      And we now have a fabulously well attested view of physics that essentially rules out any kind of supernaturalism (“mind without matter” to oversimplify Sastra’s useful definition). I’m going to sound like a broken record, but see Sean Carroll’s talk at Skepticon 5.


  25. But there’s one more question. Why do these atheist-bashing articles, which are all the same, keep appearing over and over again when New Atheism already made its mark and its major proponents have moved on to other issues?

    I think writers these days just have to come up with a ton of content, and, as you mentioned, as the “New Atheists” have for the most part moved on to other things, now would be the most logical time for retrospective reflection type articles to appear, almost as a historical analysis. To my mind the articles appear to be written in the style of, say, analyzing a political candidate’s campaign in retrospect – giving a timeline, talking about what popular opinions from this group or that group influenced things and at what time, and so on. Whether or not one agrees with their conclusions is another matter, of course, but that is my best guess regarding motivation.

  26. The God Delusion crystalised my atheism for me. I had been a de facto atheist for decades; but reading TGD made me a conscious one and a rather fervent one.

    And you can’t unlearn that. I am constantly struck by the absurdity of religious behavior now, as I never was before. I sort of view it like (I think) an anthropologist would: Interesting behavior; I can see how they would like the ritual and the social scene (and much of the artwork, music, architecture, etc.).

    1. Yes, that was the effect that “New Atheism” (or at least the coeval “movement atheism”, which was boosted by the public attention the “Four Horsemen” got) had on me.

      It was only my involvement in atheist communities online (mainly Twitter) that exposed me to the ignorance of fundamentalists, which was something of a SWOTI moment.

      If it hadn’t been for Dawkins et al. I would not self-identify as a humanist nor be an active secularist.


    2. I see how thoughts can belong to one person and not another, but I don’t understand how atheism can belong in the same way… if at all…

      It sounds like the common notion of “my faith” that might be heard among victims of religion.

  27. A few remarks:

    • Critics conflate “New Atheism” with those they see as the “New Atheists” – i.e., the “Four Horsemen” and perhaps their close allies, ignoring that a wide demographic identified as “New [or Gnu] Atheists”.
    • Critics belittle “New Atheism” because of the perceived faults of the “New Atheists” (Dawkins’s supposed misogyny, Harris’s apparent racism), ignoring the fact that such faults, even if true, would in no way diminish their valid criticism of religion.
    • Critics ignore the fact that “New Atheism” was an outside-in term, and that there wasn’t really a “New Atheist” movement; there was at the same time a rise in “movement atheism”, catalysed by the Internet (as BJ observed), possibly as an offshoot of the sceptic/skeptic movement (exemplified by, e.g., TAM), and many who were part of that movement adopted the label (or the self-deprecating wildebeest variant).
    • Critics ignore that movement atheism fragmented because of the conflict between “movement atheists” who were social-justice ideologues and those who respected empirical arguments (which, if anything, is one of the hallmarks of “New Atheism”; that “God” is a hypothesis that can be subject to scientific scrutiny; NOMA no more). Among the prominent members of each faction, the former were more often intellectual lightweights, with egos inflated by their online following. (Social justice is a good thing; dogmatic ideology is not. Does that need to be said?)
    • Critics are likely peeved by the fact that they will never get one-tenth of the attention that the (prominent) “New Atheists” did or still do.


    1. Harris’ “The End Of Faith” does not contain the word atheism, or any other such word. Last I checked, of course.

  28. I think the reason we keep hearing about it was the same reason as I kept seeing strawman attacks on it from believers of all stripes while it was active. To show their error is to keep the faith alive. It scratches a cultural itch that some believers had, and in many ways still have, when it comes to the apparent threat the “new atheists” represented. We see the articles now to say “look, God isn’t dead! They failed. Ha!”

  29. My bent: Atheism new, old or otherwise is laying down more and more evidence via science illumanating the truth of reality as we know it, so far. Human behaviours under the full glare of science, logic and reason have deeply undermined (and the need for) religious dogma. Once this is understood in your bones there is very little reason to rehash it and narl over it with those who are entrenched in a dying message based on lies and fantasy. The God Delusion or any of Hitchen’s writings, you tube posts say, are like perpetual self sharpening axes and to the faithful and their gods, they are on the block.
    There is i suspect, in the case of R Dawkins et al. including our host, to much to do other than argue (with fleas?) like progressing human culture in a nuts and bolts kinda way, practical incremental advances to help rub out ignorence.
    It is a perculiar thing going after that bedrock of centuries of human misadventure immersed in illusion.

  30. In debating atheism apologists are attempting to use reason, not authority, to justify their beliefs. And this feeds the very movement that they’re trying to suppress, encourages the cancer that’s eating them from the inside out. Examine religion closely and doubt becomes your constant companion, replacing the illusion of a supernatural agency.


  31. Just my own little interesting anecdote to add.

    A while ago Josh Zepps had Lalo Dagach on his podcast. Lalo said something along the lines of how he was disappointed in how soft many people were seeming to get recently towards Christianity.

    It sparked a conversation that I got into on Twitter. One thing that seemed to be a fairly common reply was that Jonathan Haidt becoming a prominent part of our intellectual sphere changed the way many people not only thought about religion, but also what is the most effective means of spreading atheism/secularism/humanism.

      1. I guess what I’m saying is that in say 2004 they used to use words like “strident” or whatever to describe us. And in many ways I guess it was true.

        But now a lot of people just aren’t as upfront about their atheism as they were in say 2004. And a lot of people are wondering if they just made people further entrench themselves into their religious by how they attacked the religion.

    1. I’m not sure why one would take Haidt’s arguments to be soft on Christianity, except in the sense that we should be more charitable to each other because we’re all stuck in this together and there always might be something we can learn from different ways of thinking. It doesn’t give any sort of justification to Christianity (or any other religion) to follow Haidt’s advice on either position.

      If anything, I’d say that there are enough believers who are on the side of the political left that Christianity isn’t seen to be a cultural problem – only conservative Christianity is. With the sheer number of believers who argue that conservatism is the aberration and Social Justice Christianity is the true Christianity, it’s far easier to see them as allies.

      1. It’s not that Haidt was necessarily soft on Christianity. But that a lot of people had to rethink what it meant to believers. And most importantly, did being “in your face” about our atheism cause a lot of Christians to further entrench themselves? And did our behavior in the 2000’s add to the strong political divides that plague us today?

        Thus in the long run did we actually hurt ourselves by creating a bigger pushback against secularism and humanism?

        I don’t know the answer. But I have ran into a lot of people that were kind of worried about the thought.

Leave a Reply