Richard Dawkins Has Lost: Meet the New New Atheists

praisedawkinsSo much for our favorite theist and atheist stereotypes.  Theo Hobson writes in the Spectator:

The atheist spring that began just over a decade ago is over, thank God. Richard Dawkins is now seen by many, even many non-believers, as a joke figure, shaking his fist at sky fairies. He’s the Mary Whitehouse of our day.

So what was all that about, then? We can see it a bit more clearly now. It was an outpouring of frustration at the fact that religion is maddeningly complicated and stubbornly irritating, even in largely secular Britain. This frustration had been building for decades: the secular intellectual is likely to feel somewhat bothered by religion, even if it is culturally weak. Oh, she finds it charming and interesting to a large extent, and loves a cosy carol service, but religion really ought to know its place. Instead it dares to accuse the secular world of being somehow -deficient.

The events of 9/11 were the main trigger for the explosion of this latent irritation. There was a desire to see Islamic terrorism as the symbolic synecdoche of all of religion. On one level this makes some sense: does not all religion place faith above reason? Isn’t this intrinsically dangerous? Don’t all religions jeopardise secular freedom, whether through holy wars or faith schools? On another level it is absurd: is the local vicar, struggling to build community and help smelly drunks stay alive, really a force for evil — even if she has some illiberal opinions? When such questions arise, a big bright ‘Complicated’ sign ought to flash in one’s brain. Instead, in the wake of 9/11, many otherwise thoughtful people opted for simplicity over complexity. They managed to convince themselves that religion is basically bad, and that the brave intellectual should talk against it. (This preference for seeming tough and clear over admitting difficult complexity is really cowardice, and believers are prone to it too.)

The success of five or six atheist authors, on both sides of the Atlantic, seemed to herald a strong new movement. It seemed that non-believers were tired of all the nuance surrounding religion, hungry for a tidy narrative that put them neatly in the right.

Atheism is still with us. But the movement that threatened to form has petered out. Crucially, atheism’s younger advocates are reluctant to compete for the role of Dawkins’s disciple. They are more likely to bemoan the new atheist approach and call for large injections of nuance. A good example is the pop-philosopher Julian Baggini. He is a stalwart atheist who likes a bit of a scrap with believers, but he’s also able to admit that religion has its virtues, that humanism needs to learn from it. For example, he has observed that a sense of gratitude is problematically lacking in secular culture, and suggested that humanists should consider ritual practices such as fasting. This is also the approach of the pop-philosopher king, Alain de Botton. His recent book Religion for Atheists rejects the ‘boring’ question of religion’s truth or falsity, and calls for ‘a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts’. If you can take his faux-earnest prose style, he has some interesting insights into religion’s basis in community, practice, habit.

And liberal punditry has softened. Polly Toynbee’s younger sisters, so to speak, are wary of seeing all of religion as a misogynist plot. When Zoe Williams attacks religious sexism or homophobia she resists the temptation to widen the attack and imply that all believers are dunces or traitors. Likewise Tanya Gold recently ridiculed the idea of religion as a force for evil. ‘The idea of my late church-going mother-in-law beating homosexuals or instituting a pogrom is obviously ridiculous, although she did help with jumble sales and occasionally church flowers.’

Read more here.

51 Comments on "Richard Dawkins Has Lost: Meet the New New Atheists"

  1. mannyfurious | Apr 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm |

    Eh, while it’s nice to see that people like Dawkins are being taken less seriously, it’s still maddening to me that there’s apparently only two ways of looking at the world. Either there is a “God” or there “isn’t”. What if I’ve had experiences that lead me to know on some level that there is a “force”/”order”/”impulse”/”growing”/”Tao”/”Consciousness”/etc. that is the source and ground of all being, but isn’t really a “God,” semantically speaking? That I now know, on some level, that the distinction between that which is “spiritual” and that which is “material” is simply a matter of semantics and which realization is unrealized by others because they put too much stock in their meaningless language?

    I apologize if I come across as smug or “holier-than-thou” in some way, but it’s frustrating that there are, for most people, only two ways of having this discussion.

    • If a person is familiar with Christian Fundamentalism, they know all they need to know about Taoism. You believe in the flying spaghetti monster! There are only two ways to look at it you either accept science or you believe in superstition!

    • emperorreagan | Apr 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm |

      My position is this: have nuanced conversations with people who are interested in the topic otherwise poke fun at whatever position the person holds if they’re dogmatic.

    • It’s a conspiracy designed to limit thought to black and white, either or absolutes. Can’t have the zombie hordes thinking for themselves, it’s not good for anybody.
      Seriously though, I know what you mean. It becomes even more complicated when someone asks if you’re a believer/atheist. I cannot truthfully answer that question without a rather involved explanation. You know, “what do you mean by ‘God?'” If you mean the monotheistic god of Abraham, who stands apart from his creation and judges humanity, then fuck no, I don’t believe in that shit. If you mean an order or intelligence in nature, along the lines of the Tao, then yes, very much so. The idea that we are living in a stupid universe ruled by blind chance just doesn’t seem to correspond to experiences I’ve had. It looks to me, that as Alan Watts suggests, we grew out of this earth the way apples grow from apple trees. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t seem likely that a planet without intelligence, and by extension this universe, could produce a self aware species. Since it clearly has, this suggests that there is an intelligence or order at work.
      I guess, this is being debated right now between those that think consciousness is an epiphenomena of matter, and those that think that consciousness is primary. I tend to lean more towards the later

      • 2^(# of voters)

        combinatorial problems a’la “random drug testing”, i.e..
        “how likely is it that i get picked?”
        ‘how likely is it that the stock market commits to defrauding 5 people every 7 seconds, 4.13 days of every week?’

        This aspect withen America is like the Euler-Mascheroni expression “lim_n||infinity(sum_k=1,n(1/k – ln(n)))” – it’s wrong. To them it’s ‘misleading’, a ‘misdemeanor’, ‘misfeasance’, and only if the truth and a gun is held at them at point. Otherwise, it’s as brilliant as Einstein’s errors and the incessant “square” in ‘physics’. It’s a trap. And I’m no Admiral, but I don’t know what I’ve been told, so it’s time to smack some shit out of heads that need rolled.

        I was the worste oft them.
        I twas thien beast off tehm.
        Belial! Artasith.

        “Are you prepared to go all the way with this, Alexi?”

        • Dude, I read your comments and I am left clueless. But I enjoy reading them just the same:)

          • it is as well. i am diverse and archaic. i have amassed far too much arcane knowledge for morality. alack, the second-gen double-slit experiment shall be thus: “does an electron’s pathing avoid an area recently inhabited by another electron?”. third-gen, thus: as second, but involving psi, photo, and magus.

            it is painful to maintain. i wish us each well just the same!

          • don’t worry, there are plenty of eccentric polymaths here

          • seems the mysterious secret preventing communications stopped me again on the War on Drugs thread. or thought it did. heh heh. it’s something to do with Kamal Rex, and Mirabel, and Ohm Bots, surely. 🙂 hmm. Masari, then~ [refr; universe at war: earth assault]

            fwd: oh they must be set to private or some-such. i’ll try to change that
            now. okay got it, the math one was set to public, now they all are. ~

            notes should be available now.

      • mannyfurious | Apr 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm |

        I agree with your post, but your last paragraph is another example of what I’m talking about. It’s a false-dichotomy. The perceived separation exists only in language.

        • Right, language is metaphor and the map is not the territory.
          I was referring to what appears to be an emerging paradigm shift in . . . regard to what I understand is termed the “hard problem” in science. That is, what is consciousness or how do we explain and account for it. Apparently, the current reductionist/materialist paradigm is not up to the task.
          This of course relates back to the recent kerfuffle with Hancock and Sheldrake on TED.

    • BuzzCoastin | Apr 23, 2013 at 7:32 pm |

      most western people tend to see things as being polarized
      it’s yea or nay, black or white, good or bad, god or no god, Blue or Red Team
      Americans & Germans tend to be the most susceptible to this way of thinking

      in China, no formal religion as we know it has ever prevailed
      the ways of “heaven” and the unseen realm are considered as real as “reality”

      • MoralDrift | Apr 23, 2013 at 10:18 pm |

        “in China, no formal religion as we know it has ever prevailed…” I think the key word there is prevailed, Buddhism had quite a run in ancient China and is widely popular today, although in a different fashion.

        Buddhism was established enough that people would join monasteries to avoid taxes, war, forced labor at various times in history.

        Not that Buddhism is all at comparable to Western religion in principle or practice, but it still has essentially the familiar parts. I think that sometimes the east/west dichotomy is just as false as the off/on thinking and is in fact a product of it.

        • BuzzCoastin | Apr 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm |

          China never had an official religion
          except “Emperor Worship”
          which was more about subjugation than worship

          Mahayana Buddhism is a Chinese creation

          a humorous unhistorical account of China’s Buddhist reformation
          can be found in the book 西遊記 often translated “Monkey”
          aka: Journey to the West
          an incredibly irreverent account of how Theravada Buddhism
          was transformed in Mahayana Buddhism in China
          by Sun Wukong the mischievous Monkey who disrupted heaven

          • MoralDrift | Apr 24, 2013 at 9:36 am |

            sun wukong is really interesting. As a side note dragonball is pretty much a journey to the west ripoff

        • BuzzCoastin | Apr 24, 2013 at 1:14 am |

          BTW: Taoism & Confucianism predate Chinese Buddhism
          and ancestor worship predates those two
          and Confucius was trying to restore their degraded morality
          harkening back to Three August Ones and Five Emperors Period

          China is very much a mixed bag of religious & philosophical thought
          and not anywhere near as reverent & formal about religion
          as are the Japanese & Indians

          • MoralDrift | Apr 24, 2013 at 9:41 am |

            yeah im pretty much in agreement with you, that its very mixed and the chinese view is certainly MORE nuanced but we are still talking differences of degree.

            probably the biggest factor in the looser organization of religion is due to China’s size. “the emperor is far away…” and all that

      • is or isn’t. That’s a fundamental. All else is superstition.

        • BuzzCoastin | Apr 23, 2013 at 10:41 pm |

          only for robots Ray
          for humans
          it’s sometimes very gray

        • Uncertainty is not superstition.

        • mannyfurious | Apr 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm |

          No, it’s semantics. Confusing language for something real. “Is” or “isn’t” don’t represent anything beyond vague, abstract concepts that the mind creates to help orient itself to the world. But they have no real meaning. Even if you look through the etymology of the forms to “be” you see that they tend to be metaphors, whose literal meanings tended to be along the lines of “grow” or “move.” The idea is that all language is metaphorical and in the oldest of cultures, they didn’t even have words for “exist” so they had to borrow.

          • alive or dead? on or off?

          • mannyfurious | Apr 24, 2013 at 11:34 pm |

            Conventions of language. All of it.

          • isn’t that convenient for you?

          • mannyfurious | Apr 25, 2013 at 11:50 am |

            Not exactly. It’s much easier to accept the reality you allow your language to create for you, although, once you realize that most of the problems in the world are actually problems with language, it’s pretty freeing. This was Wittgenstein’s idea of “Philosophy as Therapy,” to realize that there are no answers to any of the great problems except to understand where your language went wrong.

            And, also, it’s a philosophy that can only be understood by those who already understand it. You can’t discuss with someone the full effects of language on one’s perception of reality if they haven’t yet had some kind of realization of that fact. So in that regard, it’s not convenient at all.

          • Calypso_1 | Apr 25, 2013 at 12:11 pm |

            DNR 01

    • All people who say things like Atheism “is annoying”, or there is “a force out there” (woo woo twilight music kicks in.) Are really fearful and weak. It as if you folks are remorseful for your lack of disbelief, shameful. You do know that religion on earth is dominant because it has been bashed in literally, violently into people’s heads? People have been killed and are being killed, and religion has been forced upon them, and institutions have carried on violence on the battlefield and propaganda in the learning halls. You do know that you would be killed in Middle Age Europe for your comment and be killed in current day Middle East for your comment, right? Jesus CHRIST! (pun intended).

      • mannyfurious | Apr 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm |

        As usual, fundamentalist only read what they want to read. At no point in my post did I defend religion or religious fundamentalism. But keep on keeping on with your self-righteous, delusional crusade (pun intended)

        Anyhow, what do all of the following have in common?:

        Idi Amin
        Pol Pot
        The Mexican Drug Cartels
        The Columbian Drug Cartels
        Adolf Hitler
        Josef Stalin
        Leopold of Belgium
        Kim Il Sung
        Yakubu Gowan

        Answer: They are all responsible the mass murder of millions upon millions of people in the past 100 years alone, and none of their reasoning has to do with religion.

        Human beings will always find a reason to kill each other. If it isn’t religion, it’s politics or race or ethnicity, money etc. Religion just sometimes happens to be the most convenient reason at the time. But it’s not the only reason. Grow the fuck up and learn something useful about the world.

    • Hamsa Rosenberg | Aug 21, 2013 at 12:22 am |

      “Semantically speaking” doesn’t make any sense. But that’s not my point….who said a Christian God or none? I can honestly say that is a new one for me…you do know that there are 5 main religions, right? And some smaller ones….Oh, so you DO know that the earth has more theories than Christian God or none??? Then why do you think you are the only human out of 7 billion to know this? That is supremely arrogant of you. I’m pretty sure I learned it in 8th grade civics. Also, please learn what semantics means, and when to use it (I just noticed you used it incorrectly a second time…and a different kind of incorrect than the first). It will confuse your thinking,if you do not understand basic concepts, and when they ‘fit.’ It’s a a bit like Alanis Morisette crooning “Ironic,” which had nothing to do with Irony at all. Your high school English teacher should be shot (says THIS English teacher)…Cheers. PS – If language is meaningless…why are you using it? What would you suggest instead…Close Encounters tone sounds? Actually, for you that would probably be better. Because you saying that Physical vs Non-physical is just meaningless language that doesn’t make sense to you…is very telling on your poor education in high school. And you can go to ANY website you want, about ANYTHING you want. I guess you have never heard of Google…scary.

  2. DeepCough | Apr 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm |

    I liked Bertrand Russell better.

  3. I think the author of this article must have had his head under a rock whilst writing this article. Atheist movements are far from dying off. Next time you’re on Facebook and spot a post promoting Christianity/Islam, check the comments and I’d think you’d be hard-pressed not to see somebody calling bullshit. If you’re still in denial, do a quick search for Atheism or Anti-theism in the search bar and have a gander at the results.
    As for “New Atheists”, well, I’m a young atheist and I’m far from a religious apologetic.

  4. I don’t think the author has many friends. If they did they may know the true state of affairs in people’s minds. And what a time to let religious imbeciles off the hook? Would you like a pressure cooker bomb to go? Or can a wrap that blown up train over the Niagara river for you? Moron.

  5. kowalityjesus | Apr 24, 2013 at 3:07 am |

    Is anyone else bothered by the premise in this article that 9/11 was perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists?

    • That’s not true. 9/11 only comes up in terms of public perception in the article.

  6. Reuben_the_Red | Apr 24, 2013 at 9:51 am |

    I’m not sure why we would think about atheism as a movement or a fad. Free yourself from your imaginary friend/extraterrestrial judge/supernatural avenger!

    I wish we could spend as much time contemplating the Christianity of most perpetrators of atrocities in this country, as we do discussing the relevance of Islamic beliefs to the Boston pressure cookers or the Ft. Hood fragging, etc. What about abortion doctor murderers? What about Banksters? What about child abusers and rapists and American terrorists? When they are Christian, should we ask why Christianity failed to prevent such an abhorrent action or attack or assault? Or should we ask why American Christianity continues to be a breeding ground, a petri dish, for the worst, most demonic elements of human nature?

    Good people do good things, bad people do bad things;

    but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.

    (Steven Weinberg)

    I personally offer no specific defense of atheism, but the author’s conclusions are silly and self-serving. I don’t see the point in worshiping any god or deity or celebrity or currency or anything really. Does that make me an atheist?

  7. What i got out of this article is Richard Dawkins is more of an asshole than muslim jihadists.

  8. Daenerys_Targaryen | Apr 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm |

    In fairness, Dawkins cultivates the image of an extremist because he’s a hack. He purged the bias out of the Humanist Manifesto which slipped in things irrelevant to atheism such as abortion etc.

    If you read between the lines, he killed off the monopoly Atheism Plus ie. Skeptichick types had over secularist movements, correctly seeing such people as cultists.

  9. Atheism is a by-product of the failure of religion, people started seeing that religion is nothing but a lie, a waste of time, a business establishment, hypocritical, harmful and biased.. Its their right to think this way, seeing that religion has no respect for their ideas or opinion.. Needless to say they used to kill such people some 400 years ago and continue to do so in certain 3rd world countries.

    You get taught to believe in something that makes no sense, contradicts with itself, blackmails you to believe in it, punishes you for speaking your mind or being yourself and then they tell you that you are rude and that your are a dick for finding religion as nothing but a pile of crap.

    Your beliefs are immoral, out-dated, questionable, man-made, destructive, irrational and do not bring anything new or better to the table. You dont like that fact people want to embrace this idea in a secular society then that’s your problem.. You might as-well be like the muslims and kill anybody for being an apostate..

    You want to believe with whatever you believe, be my guest but dont come an force it on others like its the only way to the truth or that its god’s word or even go to the extent to change certain laws and rules to satisfy your dogma without any consideration to others. And you ask me why people go only black or white when it comes to such arguments?? The believers think they are right, will always be right, will always find ways to be right and you should keep your mouth shut whether you like it or not.. Militant Atheism is a by-product of religion’s set-backs and religious fanaticism.

    Plus, this article makes no sense because every religion related topic out there is being questioned and doubted by many skeptics out there and their numbers are increasing.. Plus, many silent ones do live in countries where severe punishment can be imposed on them for speaking their minds.

  10. | Apr 29, 2013 at 3:54 pm |

    For anyone who’s interested, The Spectator is a UK magazine with a right-wing bias and readership, and so a majority of its articles are reactionary in tone.
    Also, what evidence does this Hobson bloke have that Dawkins is considered a ‘joke’ in Atheist circles? He doesn’t cite any of it here, which makes me feel that most of his research was, let’s be kind, done within his own imagination; beyond the normal differences in opinion you get within any group, I’ve detected nothing but respect and admiration for Dawkins.
    And please, don’t get me started on that word ‘nuance’; are opponents of racism, for example, supposed to be ‘nuanced’ in their condemnation of it?

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