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The New Atheists have failed. Religion is a myth, but it's here to stay.

They abhor fundamentalism, rightly, yet fail to notice their own fundamentalist belief in the utopian power of science and reason

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The 2011 census revealed a fascinating disparity in the nation's relationship with the spiritual. 59% of respondents called themselves Christian, which makes Christianity largest religion in the UK, yet only 34% of respondents said that they believed in a higher God. This mismatch reveals the fruitlessness of the task of the New Atheists-Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, AC Grayling and the late Christopher Hitchens-who have the naive view that reason and science have the ability to destroy religion and perhaps, it increasingly appears they desire, replace it.

I am one of those, as an impressionable teenager, who sped through Richard Dawkins's now infamous work The God Delusion and was deeply affected and convinced by it. Whatever the book's numerous flaws, its resounding merit is that it has the capacity to make one think, to make one query. I was raised as a child to be Jewish, and The God Delusion was the first thing that nudged me into questioning the validity of what I had been indoctrinated into believing. The bible story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac was in my youth vaunted as the most sacred demonstrations of faith, whereas Dawkins rightly ( in my mind), flags this parable as utterly reckless, that it is indicative of religion's willingness to prioritise faith over human life.

Though still convinced by the irrationality of theism and the soundness of atheism, I've begun to appreciate the limits of science and reason; that the reverence that Dawkins et al. have for science and reason poses as an ironic veneration for one creed. They abhor fundamentalism, rightly, yet fail to notice their own fundamentalist belief in the utopian power of science and reason. Lawrence Krauss, the American scientist and Dawkins have recently released a film, The Unbelievers, which documents their horribly nihilistic campaign to promote science and reason. Their campaign is like the evangelism of Christian missionaries in the New World. The great US war journalist Chris Hedges, after reviewing the work of the new atheists succinctly proffers that "They're secular fundamentalists....it's, like the Christian Right, a fear-based movement." The census exposed the deficiencies of the work of the New Atheists over the last decade and 'campaigns' like the one that Dawkins and Krauss are currently undertaking. It also reinforced the call for a more nuanced understanding of what it constitutes to be 'religious'.

You don't need to believe in the core tenants of a religion, or even in a God, to feel some sort of affiliation with a religion. Many people in this country have been brought up Christian; attending church on occasion, singing carols at Christmas time. To deny your religion is no easy thing, for it is to deny part of who you are, in many ways equivalent to discarding your nationality or family name.

Religion reflects the human propensity for the spiritual. Rather than deny what is inherent to us all, atheists should acknowledge it and cater to it. Ignore the reductive thoughts of Edward Gibbon, who, on his visit to the Cathedral at Chatres in France wrote, "I paused only to dart a look at the steady pile of superstition and passed on". Alain De Botton in his book Religion for Atheists calls for institutional expression of the non-believer's spiritual side. He argues that many of the virtues of scripture can be found in culture, in things like novels and art. Institutions like museums could do more to convey the lessons that people derive from religion. Ultimately, we have to question whether it is right that religion has a monopoly on what is special and sacred in this world.

I'm inclined to support the thoughts of Jim Al-Khalili, the President of the British Humanist Association who argues that given how commonplace atheism now is, there is no need to be so aggressive. The New Atheists' campaign to destroy religion has been shown to be a facile task. Though it will convince a few (as it did me), it has its limits. The idea that reason is sufficient in itself to undermine one's religious identity is simplistic, not worthy of the intellectual standards of the New Atheists. Many religious people will know all the arguments against God. They just don't buy them and would rather have their religion than not.

What atheists should be galvanised about is the cause of secularism and the disproportionate influence that religion has on the country. As Al-Khalili puts it, atheists should seek to tackle the "arrogant attitude that religious faith is the only means of providing us with a moral compass - that society dissolves without faith into a hedonistic, anarchic, amoral, self-gratifying decadence." Atheists should be galvanised when religious institutions attempt to use their disproportionate influence to impose their doctrine on important government decisions. Nowhere has this been more than the case of late than the half-baked compromise on gay marriage. If two human beings love each other and want to enshrine their love in the institution of marriage, then the attempt to stop them is morally abhorrent.

Religion is inherent to the human condition. As Philip Larkin puts it, "someone will forever be surprising / A hunger in himself to be more serious." Religion will out-last this fleeting New Atheist movement. Atheists must renege on their veneration for Dawkins's crew, accept that religion is here to stay and seek to adapt atheism. There are few causes more worthy than fighting to break religion's monopoly on morality and the human spirit.

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20 Comments

Jamie Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

You don't seem to have understood the meaning of the term 'fundamentalism'. Fundamentalism is the strict adherence to a set of principles or beliefs even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It's almost impossible for any scientist worthy of the distinction to be a fundamentalist given that the default position of science is scepticism i.e. a willingness to change one's beliefs as the evidence comes in. This is basically the fail-safe mechanism of science; there can be no fundamentalism for it to function; there can only be open-mindedness and rigorous testing of the evidence, otherwise science fails.

You referred to Dawkins and Kraus as nihilistic; this is a distortion of their positions. Both would call themselves strict materialists i.e. they reject the metaphysical and the supernatural. To be a nihilist though is to reject established laws (including scientific laws) or to reject existing social and political institutions and I don't think either Dawkins or Kraus could be accused of this if you take the time to read their work.

As for your assertion that the New athesists are fighting a losing battle in attempting to eradicate religion, this is partly true though the new atheists acknowledge such a cause is a futile one. Their objective is not to eradicate religion (both Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have publicly acknowledged this is an impossible task) but to organise a push back against religion's encroachments on civil society and to challenge organised religion in the public domain. Hitchens himself actually admitted that he was glad the debate would never end because it's the most important debate worth having and, seeing as he was a proponent of dialectics, believed this sort of conflict/debate is vital for the advancement of society; i.e. argument and reason is the only form of progress. If there's no religion left there's no one to have that argument with.

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hamzah Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

It would be a bit hasty to conclude that religion has won or the new atheism has lost. Look at the numbers. Now only a third believe in the myths of religion and the number is still falling. Dawkins wants people to THINK FOR THEMSELVES and that is exactly what is happening now! He does not mind the cultural aspects of religion but he is against the mindless beliefs of religion and its invasion in the civic and political space. In this regard the new atheism is winning the battle and the war.
No doubt about it.

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RickK Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

"Religion is inherent to the human condition. "

So was complete ignorance of the workings of nature and the universe, until we stopped assuming knowledge we didn't have and were humble enough to start following evidence to the truth.

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eeenok Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

there is a strong tendency to conflate the famous new atheist writer with all of atheism, but atheism is very diverse and the best of it is a lot less irrationally aggressive than the caricature that theists like to argue against. veryu early indeed to be calling wins and losses i think. and the underlying "fundamentalist" confidence in a scientific framework is not a preference for one viewpoint over other equivalent ones ... it is the preference for reality and its observation, whatever the difficulties and limits of that process, over the alternative of drawing facts out of your nether regions like a magician producing a bunch of flowers. fighting against reality is equivalent to saying we can't be sure of anything so there's no point trying to make any statements about anything - imo an argument that the only point to life is lapsing into a coma until you die

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Simon Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

The author of this article is not as familiar as he might be with his subject and the New Atheists, because a lot of what he says is inaccurate.

Firstly, the figure quoted from the 2011 UK census of 59% identifying themselves as Christians is a massive drop from the previous figure of 72% in the 2001 census. That drop of 13% in just 10 years is incredible. And the figure is much lower for younger generations, so it appears to be certain that the next census will show another significant drop. There is definitely a downward trend in the number of people identifying with Christianity, or indeed, religion in general.

Then the view that Dawkins and Krauss are fundamentalists is missing a lot of points. As scientists, they both recognise and applaud the fact that science must change, if necessary, with the evidence. Nothing in science is set in stone. If a scientific theory is shown to be false, or superseded by a better theory, scientists move on. And they are passionate about how science actually works: it actually cures diseases, it improves quality of life. Yes, scientific developments can lead to dangerous problems, but logic and rationality can be applied to determine which scientific developments are beneficial and which are not. There's nothing wrong about being passionate on these issues.

The author is also obviously not aware of the fact that Dawkins has identified himself as a "cultural Christian"; by which he means he recognises his upbringing and cultural background. He has also expressed a great admiration for the literature of the King James Bible. And Sam Harris has spoken many times of his interest in meditation.

The author says "What atheists should be galvanised about is the cause of secularism and the disproportionate influence that religion has on the country." Well you only need to look at Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science website, or listen to his speeches, to see that this is his primary concern with regard to religion. The same with Sam Harris and all the other prominent New Atheists. Yes, from time to time they look at whether or not religious beliefs are true, but most of their efforts are driven towards campaigning for secular societies.

And it's the abuses inflicted in the name of religion that causes atheists to be angry with religion, not purely the supernatural beliefs.

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Derek Young Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

There is some truth in this article, but it is lurking underneath a very large paper tiger. There is no campaign to eradicate religion. The late great Christopher Hitchens acknowledged as much by saying faith was probably ineradicable. Some of the human species will probably always want to go beyond the limits of space, time and biology and hope for a paradisal afterlife; some will see comfort in the idea of a goal for the universe and for life itself, beyond survival, reproduction, and enjoying culture and community and exhibiting secular ethics. So long as societies are aware of the flaws of faith, people should remain free to choose it anyway. If a third of people stick to it, that is no threat to me. Equally, people like Alain de Botton should continue the good work of making it easier for those who wish or are curious to move beyond the cultural appeal of religion. There probably is an equilibrium between believers and non-believers; if we attain it, we will be more free, more safe, better informed and more likely to understand the capacity of community, culture, philosophy and technology to improve the human experience, and I and other secular atheists will rejoice. But not even Dawkins wants to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

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Jason Charles Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

New Atheism has failed? AGAIN! oh noes!

Tell me again what it's aims were? or should I just continue to read and follow the work of the many outspoken new atheists from across the globe that are engaged in masses of social/political activism, networking and awareness raising.

I suspect most people could have named only 1 or 2 public personality atheists 10 years ago. I'll bet it's a lot more than that now.

But that shouldn't stop you rolling this ole'trope out. I mean if it works for religion why not bad journalists too.

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David Lawson Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I've noticed that you are trying to use reason in order to argue that reason isn't good enough. As Sam Harris has pointed out, what reason could you give to convince someone how doesn't value reason? This is simply pointing out that when you have faith (defined as a proposition assumed to be true, held without reason and defended against all reason to the contrary), reason rarely works. However, that isn't a reason to abandon reason.

If you are trying to convince you readers of your position (which you are), and a arguing that reason isn't good enough, how can you possibly give us a reason to believe you?

As has been pointed out in the past. The only things that we believe in, we believe in them for a reason. Even people of faith believe in the faith for a reason, such as to provide comfort, that is still a reason. A bad one, but still a reason.

It isn't unreasonable to point this out.

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Gail McMillan Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Making the age old mistake of identifying Religion with spirituality. Many non theists are very spiritual, people define it in a million, subjective ways. The Catholic church for instance is a massive, corrupt business but it would say it is spiritual. Waken up and accept spirituality and what it means. Dont define it narrowly.

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Sean Anderson Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

The gospel is far deeper than anything that can be discredited by the 'New Atheists'. Just try reading the Bible - even if you don't believe it yet - because no one accepts God until God opens his eyes. Christians have a very different experience of the Bible with the Holy Spirit than those without.

Let's forget religion for a while. Faith and religion are separate - anyone can be religious without faith, but faith will lead us to be religious.

I come from a non-Christian family and I am now a Christian. The 'New Atheists' can't really address faith: it isn't learned, as people like me suddenly become believers. They also can't explain the pattern of life (there is no reason for morality if the universe is not built on God's righteousness).

The very concept of atheism is dubious. We all put our trust in something from the moment we are able to do so - whether it be idols or the living God. The New Atheists have faith; the word 'fundamentalist' is apt because they have a fundamentalist faith in a methodology. The methodology is valid, but it has become an object of veneration and an act of rebellion against God.

Why do the New Atheists spend so much effort (in their only life) trying to stem faith? They are nagged souls. All of us have a spiritual leaning, New Atheists included.

The question to you, readers, is this: will you put blind trust in idols such as the wordly philosophies of the New Atheists (in which case you are no different to those who 'blindly' trust in God), or will you respond to the crying out of your soul and return to the God who lovingly formed you in the womb, who knew you before creation and will redeem you through Jesus Christ his Son if you seek him?

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TommyNIK Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

"Fear-based?" 'Secular fundamentalists?" You're damned right. Take a look at what's happening here in the US. Religious dogma is trying very hard to find its way into the legislative and judicial process every day and in almost every state. Opposition to abortion, contraception, and gay marriage are just a few examples. In many states of the neoconfederacy they are trying to implement creationist nonsense into the public school curriculum.

Here to stay? Maybe, but it better "STAY" in the place of worship and the home. It's called vigilance Mr. Seldon, and YOU are full of shit.

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Matt Sharp Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

"there is no reason for morality if the universe is not built on God's righteousness"

Woh...hang on. Does that mean if the Bible didn't say 'thou shalt not kill', you'd be quite happy to go around York with a kalashnikov taking out as many people as possible?

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Sean Anderson Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

No, Matt, because the universe is built on God's righteousness. God has written his law on our hearts:

'They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.' (Romans 2:15-16)

What I'm saying is that there is no reason for our conscience, our feelings of guilt, our altruism, our hypothetical reasoning and creativity to exist at all if we were not made in the image of God.

We function differently to animals: we are convicted by our conscience.

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John Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

No, it means if there is no God then you can be as bad as you like because there is nothing to define bad and good except your own opinion, which of course, is of no more value than the next man's.

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Sean Anderson Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

Good and bad is defined in our hearts whether we accept God or not. I think we are all aware of when we are doing wrong (and there is a consensus generally). This doesn't necessarily stop us doing wrong and it doesn't stop us justifying our wrong. But the sense of right and wrong can only come from being made in the image of God and from our fall into sin. No animal has evolved this.

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Richard Holmes Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all.
Alan Watts

Nothings sacred when huge amount of money is involved including science. Pure ideas of open-mindness and objectivity get mushed into greedy ideas of profit. Keep your faith personal no matter what it is.

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Matt Sharp Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

"What I'm saying is that there is no reason for our conscience, our feelings of guilt, our altruism, our hypothetical reasoning and creativity to exist at all if we were not made in the image of God."

There are very plausible evolutionary explanations for why these things exist.

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Matt Sharp Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

"No, it means if there is no God then you can be as bad as you like because there is nothing to define bad and good except your own opinion, which of course, is of no more value than the next man's."

Well, there are a whole bunch of philosophers who disagree:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_realism

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Richard Holmes Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

I think a lot of these type of arguments get lost in semantics. The problem with human beings is when they are heavily conditioned to a set of ideas then they start seeing their viewpoints as defining who they are. In actual fact all these type of beliefs are just concepts. Truth comes before any concept. The idea of being born is a concept. Look at an early child's ability to react to things with truly open eyes and without a narrative placed on top of experience. We should spend less time arguing about beliefs and spend more time focus on getting our own sense of balance and peace rather than trying to impose our opinions on to others. All humans are on a very personal path and have different things to discover in their lifetime. There is no point in trying to align everyones perception to the same idea of reality. A person who has been raised in Christian faith might not understand an aetheist's viewpoint but he/she should learn to not judge him/her and respect their path. Same goes vice versa.

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Mike Jones Posted on Friday 7 Aug 2020

You have some interesting points. Some are good while some are bad. Littered with conjecture.

"i've begun to appreciate the limits of science and reason; that the reverence that Dawkins et al. have for science and reason poses as an ironic veneration for one creed. They abhor fundamentalism, rightly, yet fail to notice their own fundamentalist belief in the utopian power of science and reason."

I think you misunderstand fundamentalism. Deep respect for science and reason is in no way fundamentalism. I could be wrong but I cant recall many renowned Atheists believe that Science and reason has some utopian power. Religion has facilitated hatred and "evil" throughout the history of humanity and many atheists believe that if people only followed science and reason exclusively there would be a general trend towards peace and understanding. Consider how many genocides have taken place in the name of science.

"You don't need to believe in the core tenants of a religion, or even in a God, to feel some sort of affiliation with a religion."

I cannot imagine a scenario where someone is affiliated with a religion but does not actually believe in that religion. Perhaps if one merely subscribes to the philosophical and moral teachings of the religion, MAYBE, one could maintain affiliation but they would not actually be a believer in that religion, but to be religious in any way requires that one believes the core tenants of that religion. To be affiliated with religion means you are connected with that religion even if you don't believe everything the religion has to offer you must believe in the core tenants of said religion as this is a requirement of being religious. Granted, affiliation is not technically same a believing, if one affiliates with the religion but does not believe in the religion, why affiliate with the religion at all? Perhaps they are scared to deny their religion because they've been told hell is real and they are terrified of the small chance of eternal damnation. My own speculation.

"Rather than deny what is inherent to us all, atheists should acknowledge it and cater to it."

Why should we not deny religion a place in modern society? To me that is simply holding on to the past simply for the sake of holding on to the past. On the contrary, I believe we should accept that religion has played a large role in our development as a society, but realize that it is outdated and unnecessary in a modern world, thus, leaving it where it belongs, in the past, which would allow us to effectively progress as a species and as a civilization.

"The New Atheists' campaign to destroy religion has been shown to be a facile task."

Uh. while it may be a more difficult task than many people want to admit, you have to realize that you cant claim atheists are failing at destroying religion while every year the number of atheists increase and the number of people who no longer affiliate themselves with a religion also increases. You see, the war on religion is going very well. The war on god so to speak is not nearly as successful. People still believe in a god, and while this not what atheists want either, the ultimate goal of most atheists is not to convince people to be atheists but rather for them to abandon the shackles of religion and become seekers of truth. But this is just my own speculation. Bottom line, Atheists are winning the war on religion.

"What atheists should be galvanized about is the cause of secularism and the disproportionate influence that religion has on the country."

They are.

"Religion is inherent to the human condition."

Perhaps. It has been inherent for the entirety of human civilization. But that in no way means it is a requirement for the future.


Ultimately, i think it was an interesting article and im not trying to discredit you for your opinions. But I don't think you honestly understand what Atheism is and what its goals are. I don't think this article served any good purpose.

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