The New Atheism

Taking a Stand for Science and Reason

Prometheus Books 2009

In 2004, Sam Harris published The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason  which became a major bestseller. This marked the first of a series of series of bestsellers that took a harder line against religion than has been the custom among secularists: Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris (2006), The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006), Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006), God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Goes Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger (2007), and God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) by Christoper Hitchens.

These authors have been recognized as the leaders of a movement called New Atheism. The unexpected interest in New Atheism, as measured by book sales and much increased media attention, has driven Christian apologists to distraction. A whole raft of books has been published in response, largely from Christian publishing houses. Most are marked by shoddy scholarship (almost all of those I have sampled lack an index), misrepresentations of atheist views, and inaccurate quotations. None have sold anywhere near as well as the atheist books.

Here’s how the well-known conservative author and political commentator Dinesh D’Souza describes the new atheists in his 2007 book What’s Wrong with Christianity?

The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control school curricula so they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion—and especially the Christian religion—disappear from the face of they earth.

D'Souza provides no references to new atheists taking any of these positions, but one or two are accurate. The new atheist view is actually nicely summarized in an epigraph in God is not Great by the words of John Stuart Mill who describes his father's aversion to religion (John Stuart Mill, Autobiography (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1873):

His aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind with that of Lucretius: he regarded it with the feelings due not to a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting up factitious excellencies—belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kind—and causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtue: but above all, by radically vitiating the standards of morals; making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful.

In The New Atheism, I review and expand upon the principles of New Atheism and answer many of its critics. I show how naturalism, the view that everything is matter and nothing more, is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe from the most distant galaxies to the inner workings of the brain that result in the phenomenon of mind. Nowhere is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand the world. I dispute the claim that science has nothing to say about God and argue that absence of evidence is evidence of absence when evidence should be there and is not.

I then detail many of the horrors and terrors it has produced over millennia and how this is all brought about by the belief in revelation. I show how the Bible is unable to solve the problem of unnecessary suffering in the world. I discuss the approach to suffering in other religions. I then show how all religions teach a common morality that is not divine but of natural, human origins.

Finally I discuss the teachings of the ancient sages such as Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Confucius who 2500 years ago provided guidelines for the individual to cope with the problems of living, and dying, that did not depend on the existence of any supernatural forces in the universe. I  call this “the natural way" as opposed to the supernatural monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These supernatural religions have poisoned the natural way by promising people life after death and encouraging the self-absorption that is so prominent both with the modern-day Christians comprising the “me” generation and Muslims who are willing to kill themselves along with thousands of others in order to guarantee highly unlikely eternal bliss.


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