The New Atheism
a Stand for Science and Reason
Victor J. Stenger
From Prometheus Books.
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,
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
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
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
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.
All books have errors. I will correct any in future printings.
Readers are welcome to send me by email errors they may find
Errata for The New Atheism.
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