I Am Not a New Atheist!

The only thing new about my atheism is that I've adopted it within the last few years before reading or knowing about the "New Atheist" authors. Let me explain further:

David Marshall published a book called The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity. Recently I saw an interview where he describes those who are called “New Atheists” (NA) in these words.

This new cohort of atheist writers tends to have several things in common. They are trying generally to apply the theory of evolution in new ways to social science, including religion and morality. Secondly, they draw on new "Jesus spin" -- what I call neo-Gnosticism, along with the Jesus Seminar stuff and some even more hoary "Jesus was a mirage" theories. Third, the New Atheism arises in a new context -- after 9/11, when many skeptics want to see a symmetry between radical Islam and home-grown "Christian fundamentalism." Some people did this during the Cold War, too, trying to make out that Christianity was "just as dangerous" as communism.

I want to comment on the last (or third) tendency of what he describes as NAs.

Jason Pratt, over at CADRE, claims that in light of this third tendency
NAs tend to promote the notion that faith is intrinsically antithetical to reason. NAs tend to promote the notion that religious believers refuse to ask tough questions about their own beliefs. Skeptical questions are presented as if they are supposed to be staggering revelations to believers who have never considered such things before or who simply ignore the questions as being too dangerous to think about. Often the questions themselves are presented as if merely asking them is (or should be) enough to undermine a religious belief. NAs have at least a minor tendency to describe religious belief as having been arrived at, and held, without evidence.

Identifiable NAs are Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and especially the Rational Response Squad. Old Atheists include Bertrand Russell, and J.L. Mackie, and it should also be noted that there are still Old Atheists out there, like Michael Martin, Nicholas Everitt, Graham Oppy, Quentin Smith, Theodore Drange and J.L. Schellenberg, along with others like Michael Shermer, Jeff Lowder, Dan Barker and myself.

When people visit Debunking Christianity they might naturally assume that I am a NA too (other team members can speak for themselves if they want to). But I chose the name of this blog carefully. It was to grab people’s attention and at the same time accurately tell what I wanted to do. My dictionary says this:

de•bunk: (past and past participle de•bunked, present participle de•bunk•ing, 3rd person present singular de•bunks) vt show something to be false: to show that something is wrong or false. Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Just for future reference let me distinguish myself in some ways from the NAs. I am a very respectful atheist. I treat my intellectual opponents with human dignity and respect. I am not militant in using the belittling tactics that some NAs use or in trying to offend believers. I even capitalize the word “God,” and refer to him in masculine pronouns. I like to learn from others. I enjoy the discussion. This is proved beyond a doubt every single day here at DC (with very rare exceptions when provoked). I think all religions are false and delusional but they are not held irrationally. I’m not sure what it can even mean to say Bill Craig, Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne are irrational. They are clearly very bright, intelligent, and educated men. For this reason I’m against the suggestion that atheists should call themselves “Brights.” I dislike this term and won’t use it because it’s simply not true.

I do think believers are deluded. Jason Pratt has attacked me because I use this word, as if using it makes me an NA. However, just because someone shares some characteristics with a NA does not a NA make. I’m also a male atheist, but that doesn’t make me a NA. Besides there is a big difference between the meaning of a word and its significance. The meaning of a word is its dictionary definition. The significance of a word is something that is person-related based upon his or her own personal experiences with the word. My dictionary says this:

de•lude: (past and past participle de•lud•ed, present participle de•lud•ing, 3rd person present singular de•ludes) vt lead into false belief: to persuade somebody to believe something that is untrue or unreal.Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

When it comes to the belittling and harassing tactics of the NAs, I do not participate or approve of their tactics. But as a pragmatist I can see the results, and the results are positive for what I believe, since they have raised awareness about atheism in our culture just as gay people raised awareness of their cause by similar belittling and harassing tactics. I can appreciate what has been accomplished by them without approving how it was done. I think it’s unfortunate that atheists had to grab people’s attention in this manner, but it worked. Now there is a shelf in Borders Bookstores labeled “Atheism,” and I hope my forthcoming book finds its way on that shelf when it’s published. Many old atheists fail to understand the nature of the media (which reports on oddities), and the value of radicalism (which gets things done).

Furthermore, I think radical Islam is much more dangerous to civilization than perhaps any other religion, especially more dangerous than Christianity. There are four things that make Christianity less dangerous than Islam in my opinion.

One) Christianity has a Virgin Mary who helped bring in the redeeming Messiah. The Catholics have even made Mary a co-redeemer. This feminine Biblical example exalts women to some degree. Women aren’t entirely worthless chattel. Islam only has an Eve, who is known for being a temptress to Adam. She is weak, needing to be ruled over, who can be blamed for bringing upon the earth such misery.

Two) Christianity has its Jesus, who is basically seen as non-violent and who laid down his life for humankind. Islam has no corresponding figure. Mohammed was a political ruler, whereas Jesus had no earthly political power. So the Koran reflects the political goals of religion, whereas in Christianity it’s merely implicit.

Three) Christianity has gone through an Enlightenment beginning in the 16th century with the rise of science and modern philosophy. The only version of Christianity we see in today’s world is one reflecting various degrees of this enlightenment. As a result the only Christians we see are “cherry-picking” from the Bible based upon their modern experiences and understandings. They do not take the Bible literally. They do not think it honors God to stone adulterers, kill witches, or keep women in submissive silence at home. By contrast, Islam has had no Enlightenment. Muslims still take the Koran at face value, and there are some pretty hateful things said in it about infidels, Jews, and women, along with some barbaric ways to punish criminals.

Four) Christianity does not have the same political power that Islam has within any country in the world today. There are whole countries ruled by Islamic law. There are no countries ruled by Christian law, although there is a heavy influence of Christianity in America, the most powerful nation in the world. Even many Christians think it’s best to have the separation of church and state. But in this nuclear age with WWD's, all it would take to destroy millions of lives is a rogue Muslim state or a small group of militant Muslims who gained access to them.