The Myth of New Atheism

What is this New Atheism?  New atheism is a type of Atheism — if we can even call it that — that is criticized for being outspoken.  Furthermore, it is shunned upon by so called old Atheists for scientifically testing religion and for its anti-theistic undertone.  However, new Atheism is a concoction of haughty-minded Atheists who pride themselves in near total silence and read the philosophy of Baron d’Holbach, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, Mark Twain and Karl Marx; just to name a few.

Didn’t these men write publications?  Weren’t they as outspoken as possible when considering that some of them were at risk of persecution, censorship, or even execution?  Please, do tell, were they able to rely on science?  Definitely not in the manner in which we are able to rely on it.  The major scientific findings that undermine what was previously regarded as religious truths came after most of these men.  For instance, even after the publication of The Origin of Species, the evidence for Evolution wasn’t nearly as strong as it is today.  Therefore, the only real difference between some of today’s Atheists and Atheists in the past is a reliance on science.  However, one can argue that there’s no difference there either:

Science is the true theology.

Portrait of Thomas Paine by Matthew Pratt, 178...

Portrait of Thomas Paine by Matthew Pratt, 1785–1795 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Paine, quoted in Emerson, The Mind on Fire pg 153

There is scarcely any part of science, or anything in nature, which those imposters and blasphemers of science, called priests, as well Christians as Jews, have not, at some time or other, perverted, or sought to pervert to the purpose of superstition and falsehood.

Thomas Paine, as quoted by Joseph Lewis in Inspiration and Wisdom from the Writings of Thomas Paine

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.

David Hume

How about anti-theism as defined by Oxford: opposition to the  belief in the existence of a God or as some interpret it, opposition to religion?

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.

Thomas Paine, as quoted by Joseph Lewis in Inspiration and Wisdom from the Writings of Thomas Paine

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.

Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.

Mark Twain

All religious notions are uniformly founded on authority; all the religions the world forbid examination, and are not disposed that men should reason upon them.

Baron d’Holbach

Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.

David Hume, A Treatise Of Human Nature

Note: none of these quotes specifically mention a particular religion; thus, demonstrating anti-religious views.

A reliance on science existed prior to new Atheism.  Anti-theism also existed prior to new Atheism; let us ignore the fact that most old Atheists conveniently disregard the alternative definition of anti-theism:  disbelief in gods.  Thus, that implies that some old Atheists rely on science to some degree.  Moreover, some of them also subscribe to anti-theism.

I ask again, what exactly is the difference?  Let us forget the negative connotations of the label.  Let us forget the air of condescension implied by individuals who call fellow Atheists ‘new’ Atheists.  Thankfully, I live in a country that grants freedom of speech; therefore, I am outspoken.  However, let us not forget the many around the world who hide in anonymity.  Let us not forget them who are at risk of penalty and death.  They harbor many of our sentiments; some are fortunate enough to express their ideas, albeit anonymously.  All Atheists share a disbelief in gods.  Some choose to reserve their views either because of imagined pride or the risk of penalty and death.  The former has no reason to criticize the approach of another Atheist.  The latter has no choice but to hide in darkness.  Ultimately, there is no new Atheism.  Whoever thinks there’s a such term is severely misinformed, especially when considering that the ideas they subscribe to came about via the writings of authors who held similar views to today’s ‘new’ Atheists.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Freedom From Religion Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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3 Comments to “The Myth of New Atheism”

  1. I am sixteen now and have been an atheist since I was twelve. I think I have always been an atheist more so because of my morals than my belief in science. Religion has its place in the world, good and bad, and as much as we wish it gone, it is going to take hundreds of years, if not longer, for it it lose its grip on society. I respect those who have faith in a higher being but not when they try to make their religious doctrines law. Atheism, to me, is viewing all religions and lifestyles equally and tolerating them and asking for tolerance in return. Tolerance works both ways.
    Andrea

  2. Well, my previous comment seems to have been eaten as spam because of some links. What I wanted to say was that this is a great contribution to research showing that there really isn’t anything new about New Atheism at all. I was even able to trace the term back to earlier than the 21st century; it had been used previously by theists to label “uppity” atheist people like Madalyn Murray-O’Hair, for instance. And while “New Atheism” is often attributed as originating from Gary Wolf’s writing in an October 2006 Wired magazine article, a Roman Catholic bishop, Edward Braxton, actually used it several months before Wolf in a speech in April of 2006. (Braxton, however, called for development of New Apologetics to counter this New Atheism–heehee.)

  3. “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances” – Sir Isaac Newton.

    ie. religious explanations are just messy and unnecessary.

    Now it seems that expressing an opinion without violence makes you ‘militant’ or ‘aggressive’ if you’re without religion yet ‘moderate’ or ‘pious’ with it.

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