New Atheism

New Atheism is the journalistic term used to describe the positions promoted by atheists of the twenty-first century. This modern-day atheism and secularism is advanced by critics of religion and religious belief,[1] a group of modern atheist thinkers and writers who advocate the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises in government, education and politics.[2]

New Atheism lends itself to and often overlaps with secular humanism and antitheism, particularly in its criticism of what many New Atheists regard as the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of ideologies founded on belief in the supernatural.


The 2004 publication of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris, a bestseller in the United States, was joined over the next couple years by a series of popular best-sellers by atheist authors.[3] Harris was motivated by the events of September 11, 2001, which he laid directly at the feet of Islam, while also directly criticizing Christianity and Judaism.[4] Two years later Harris followed up with Letter to a Christian Nation, which was also a severe criticism of Christianity.[5] Also in 2006, following his television documentary The Root of All Evil?, Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion, which was on the New York Times best-seller list for 51 weeks.[6]

In a 2010 column entitled "Why I Don't Believe in the New Atheism", Tom Flynn contends that what has been called "New Atheism" is neither a movement nor new, and that what was new was the publication of atheist material by big-name publishers, read by millions, and appearing on bestseller lists.[7]

Major publications

Prominent figures

The "Four Horsemen"

Clockwise from top left: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris.
According to Richard Dawkins, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."[8]

On September 30, 2007 four prominent atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett) met at Hitchens' residence for a private two-hour unmoderated discussion. The event was videotaped and titled "The Four Horsemen".[9] During "The God Debate" in 2010 featuring Christopher Hitchens vs Dinesh D'Souza the men were collectively referred to as the "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse",[10] an allusion to the biblical Four Horsemen from the Book of Revelation.[11]

Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling non-fiction books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, as well as two shorter works, initially published as e-books, Free Will[12] and Lying.[13] Harris is a co-founder of the Reason Project.

Richard Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion,[14] which was preceded by a Channel 4 television documentary titled The Root of all Evil?. He is also the founder of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Christopher Hitchens was the author of God Is Not Great[15] and was named among the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine. In addition, Hitchens served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America. In 2010 Hitchens published his memoir Hitch-22 (a nickname provided by close personal friend Salman Rushdie, whom Hitchens always supported during and following The Satanic Verses controversy).[16] Shortly after its publication, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which led to his death in December 2011.[17] Before his death, Hitchens published a collection of essays and articles in his book Arguably;[18] a short edition Mortality[19] was published posthumously in 2012. These publications and numerous public appearances provided Hitchens with a platform to remain an astute atheist during his illness, even speaking specifically on the culture of deathbed conversions and condemning attempts to convert the terminally ill, which he opposed as "bad taste".[20][21]

Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea,[22] Breaking the Spell[23] and many others, has also been a vocal supporter of The Clergy Project,[24] an organization that provides support for clergy in the US who no longer believe in God and cannot fully participate in their communities any longer.[25]

The "Four Horsemen" video, convened by Dawkins' Foundation, can be viewed free online at his web site: Part 1, Part 2.


After the death of Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who attended the 2012 Global Atheist Convention, which Hitchens was scheduled to attend) was referred to as the "plus one horse-woman", since she was originally invited to the 2007 meeting of the "Horsemen" atheists but had to cancel at the last minute.[26] Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, fleeing in 1992 to the Netherlands in order to escape an arranged marriage.[27] She became involved in Dutch politics, rejected faith, and became vocal in opposing Islamic ideology, especially concerning women, as exemplified by her books Infidel and The Caged Virgin.[28] Hirsi Ali was later involved in the production of the film Submission, for which her friend Theo Van Gogh was murdered with a death threat to Hirsi Ali pinned to his chest.[29] This resulted in Hirsi Ali's hiding and later immigration to the United States, where she now resides and remains a prolific critic of Islam,[30] and the treatment of women in Islamic doctrine and society,[31] and a proponent of free speech and the freedom to offend.[32][33]

While "The Four Horsemen" are arguably the foremost proponents of atheism, there are a number of other current, notable atheists including: Dan Barker (former minister and atheist activist), John W. Loftus (former minister and author of books on philosophy of religion), Greta Christina (Why are you Atheists so Angry?),[34] James Randi (paranormal debunker and former illusionist),[35] Michael Shermer (noted skeptic and author of Why People Believe Weird Things),[36] David Silverman (President of the American Atheists and author of Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World), Ibn Warraq (Why I Am Not a Muslim),[37] Matt Dillahunty (host of the Austin-based webcast and cable-access television show The Atheist Experience),[38] and Bill Maher (writer and star of the 2008 documentary Religulous)[39].


Many contemporary atheists write from a scientific perspective. Unlike previous writers, many of whom thought that science was indifferent, or even incapable of dealing with the "God" concept, Dawkins argues to the contrary, claiming the "God Hypothesis" is a valid scientific hypothesis,[40] having effects in the physical universe, and like any other hypothesis can be tested and falsified. Other contemporary atheists such as Victor Stenger propose that the personal Abrahamic God is a scientific hypothesis that can be tested by standard methods of science. Both Dawkins and Stenger conclude that the hypothesis fails any such tests,[41] and argue that naturalism is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe, from the most distant galaxies to the origin of life, species, and the inner workings of the brain and consciousness. Nowhere, they argue, is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand reality. Atheists have been associated with the argument from divine hiddenness and the idea that "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" when evidence can be expected.

Scientific testing of religion

Non-believers assert that many religious or supernatural claims (such as the virgin birth of Jesus and the afterlife) are scientific claims in nature. They argue, as do deists and Progressive Christians, for instance, that the issue of Jesus' supposed parentage is not a question of "values" or "morals", but a question of scientific inquiry.[42] Rational thinkers believe science is capable of investigating at least some, if not all, supernatural claims.[43] Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Duke University are attempting to find empirical support for the healing power of intercessory prayer.[44] According to Stenger, these experiments have found no evidence that intercessory prayer works.[45]

Logical arguments

Stenger also argues in his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis, that a God having omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent attributes, which he termed a 3O God, cannot logically exist.[46] A similar series of logical disproofs of the existence of a God with various attributes can be found in Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier's The Impossibility of God,[47] or Theodore M. Drange's article, "Incompatible-Properties Arguments".[48]

Views on non-overlapping magisteria

Richard Dawkins has been particularly critical of the conciliatory view that science and religion are not in conflict, noting, for example, that the Abrahamic religions constantly deal in scientific matters. In a 1998 article published in Free Inquiry magazine,[42] and later in his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins expresses disagreement with the view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion are two non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) each existing in a "domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution". In Gould's proposal, science and religion should be confined to distinct non-overlapping domains: science would be limited to the empirical realm, including theories developed to describe observations, while religion would deal with questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. Dawkins contends that NOMA does not describe empirical facts about the intersection of science and religion, "it is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science's turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims." Matt Ridley notes that religion does more than talk about ultimate meanings and morals, and science is not proscribed from doing the same. After all, morals involve human behavior, an observable phenomenon, and science is the study of observable phenomena. Ridley notes that there is substantial scientific evidence on evolutionary origins of ethics and morality.[49]

Science and morality

Popularized by Sam Harris is the view that science and thereby currently unknown objective facts may instruct human morality in a globally comparable way. Harris' book The Moral Landscape[50] and accompanying TED Talk How Science can Determine Moral Values[51] proposes that human well-being and conversely suffering may be thought of as a landscape with peaks and valleys representing numerous ways to achieve extremes in human experience, and that there are objective states of well-being.

The politics of new atheism

New atheism is politically engaged in a variety of ways. These include campaigns to reduce the influence of religion in the public sphere, attempts to promote cultural change (centering, in the United States, on the mainstream acceptance of atheism), and efforts to promote the idea of an "atheist identity". Internal strategic divisions over these issues have also been notable, as are questions about the diversity of the movement in terms of its gender and racial balance.[52]


Edward Feser's book The Last Superstition presents arguments based on the philosophy of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas against New Atheism.[53] According to Feser it necessarily follows from Aristotelian–Thomistic metaphysics that God exists, that the human soul is immortal, and that the highest end of human life (and therefore the basis of morality) is to know God. Feser argues that science never disproved Aristotle's metaphysics, but rather Modern philosophers decided to reject it on the basis of wishful thinking. In the latter chapters Feser proposes that scientism and materialism are based on premises that are inconsistent and self-contradictory and that these conceptions lead to absurd consequences.

Cardinal William Levada believes that New Atheism has misrepresented the doctrines of the church.[54] Cardinal Walter Kasper described New Atheism as "aggressive", and he believed it to be the primary source of discrimination against Christians.[55] In a Salon interview, the journalist Chris Hedges argued that New Atheism propaganda is just as extreme as that of Christian right propaganda.[56]

The theologians Jeffrey Robbins and Christopher Rodkey take issue with what they regard as "the evangelical nature of the new atheism, which assumes that it has a Good News to share, at all cost, for the ultimate future of humanity by the conversion of as many people as possible." They believe they have found similarities between new atheism and evangelical Christianity and conclude that the all-consuming nature of both "encourages endless conflict without progress" between both extremities.[57] Sociologist William Stahl said "What is striking about the current debate is the frequency with which the New Atheists are portrayed as mirror images of religious fundamentalists."[58]

The atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse has made the claim that Richard Dawkins would fail "introductory" courses on the study of "philosophy or religion" (such as courses on the philosophy of religion), courses which are offered, for example, at many educational institutions such as colleges and universities around the world.[59][60] Ruse also claims that the movement of New Atheism—which is perceived, by him, to be a "bloody disaster"—makes him ashamed, as a professional philosopher of science, to be among those hold to an atheist position, particularly as New Atheism does science a "grave disservice" and does a "disservice to scholarship" at more general level.[59][60]

Glenn Greenwald,[61][62] Toronto-based journalist and Mideast commentator Murtaza Hussain,[61][62] Salon columnist Nathan Lean,[62] scholars Wade Jacoby and Hakan Yavuz,[63] and historian of religion William Emilsen[64] have accused the New Atheist movement of Islamophobia. Wade Jacoby and Hakan Yavuz assert that "a group of 'new atheists' such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens" have "invoked Samuel Huntington's 'clash of civilizations' theory to explain the current political contestation" and that this forms part of a trend toward "Islamophobia [...] in the study of Muslim societies".[63] William W. Emilson argues that "the 'new' in the new atheists' writings is not their aggressiveness, nor their extraordinary popularity, nor even their scientific approach to religion, rather it is their attack not only on militant Islamism but also on Islam itself under the cloak of its general critique of religion".[64] Murtaza Hussain has alleged that leading figures in the New Atheist movement "have stepped in to give a veneer of scientific respectability to today's politically useful bigotry".[61][65]

See also


  1. "New Atheists". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved April 14, 2016. The New Atheists are authors of early twenty-first century books promoting atheism. These authors include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. The 'New Atheist' label for these critics of religion and religious belief emerged out of journalistic commentary on the contents and impacts of their books.
  2. Hooper, Simon. "The rise of the New Atheists". CNN. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  3. Hitchens, Christopher. "God Bless Me, It's a Best-Seller!". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 14, 2016. the last two years there have been five atheist best-sellers, one each from Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and two from the neuroscientist Sam Harris.
  4. Harris, Sam (August 11, 2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-7432-6809-1.
  5. Steinfels, Peter (March 3, 2007). "Books on Atheism Are Raising Hackles in Unlikely Places". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  6. "The God Delusion One-Year Countdown". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
  7. Flynn, Tom (2010). "Why I Don't Believe in the New Atheism". Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  8. Richard Dawkins, documentary film The Root of All Evil?, January 2006. See the quotation (Wikiquote).
  9. "The Four Horsemen DVD". Richard Dawkins Foundation. Retrieved April 13, 2016. On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.
  10. Hoffman, Claire (September 2, 2014). "Sam Harris is Still Railing Against Religion—Los Angeles Magazine". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved April 13, 2016. As Western society grappled with radical Islam, Harris distinguished himself with his argument that modern religious tolerance had placated us into allowing delusion rather than reason to prevail. Harris upended a discussion that had long been dominated by cultural relativism and a hands-off academic intellectualism; his seething contempt for the world’s faiths helped launch the “New Atheist” movement, and together with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, he became known as one of the "Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse."
  11. The Oxford Handbook of Atheism; Stephen Bullivant, Michael Ruse; Oxford University Press; Pg. 254
  12. Harris, Sam (2012). Free Will. The Free Press. p. 96. ISBN 1451683405.
  13. Harris, Sam (2013). Lying. Four Elephants Press. p. 108. ISBN 1940051002.
  14. Dawkins, Richard (2007). The God Delusion. Black Swan. ISBN 978-0-552-77429-1.
  15. Hitchens, Christopher (2007). God is Not Great: how religion poisons everything. Atlantic Books; First Trade Edition. p. 320. ISBN 1843545748.
  16. Hitchens, Christopher (2010). Hitch22. Atlantic Books. p. 448. ISBN 1843549220.
  17. "Christopher Hitchens dies at 62 after suffering cancer". BBC News. December 16, 2011.
  18. Hitchens, Christopher (2011). Arguably. Atlantic Books. ISBN 0857892584.
  19. Hitchens, Christopher (2012). Mortality. Atlantic Books. ISBN 1848879210.
  20. Hitchens, Christopher. "Is there an afterlife?".
  21. Hitchens, Christopher. "Hitchens and Paxman interview".
  22. Dennett, Daniel (1996). Darwin's Dangerous Idea. p. 592. ISBN 014016734X.
  23. Dennett, Daniel (2007). Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Penguin. p. 464. ISBN 0141017775.
  24. Dennet, Daniel. "Clergy Project".
  25. "Clergy Project Home Page".
  26. "Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris & Ayaan Hirsi Ali" on YouTube
  27. "Ayaan Hirsi Ali".
  28. Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (2008). The Caged Virgin. ISBN 0743288343.
  29. "Controversial film maker killed". The Independent. London.
  30. Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "Christians in the Muslim world".
  31. Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Protecting Women From Militant Islam".
  32. Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "The Right to Offend".
  33. Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. "Muslim Rage and the Last Gasp of Islamic Hate".
  34. Christina, Greta (2012). Why Are you Atheists so Angry. p. 184. ISBN 0985281529.
  35. "James Randi—Celebrity Atheist List". Retrieved 2016-05-05.
  36. Shermer, Michael. Why People Believe Weird Things. Souvenir Press (14 Sep 2007). p. 384. ISBN 0285638033.
  37. Warraq, Ibn (2003). Why I am not a Muslim. Prometheus Books. p. 428. ISBN 1591020115.
  38. Robertson, David (11 March 2014), "Should Christians be nice in dealing with nasty atheists?", Christian Today
  39. "Bill Maher—Celebrity Atheist List". Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  40. Dawkins, Richard (2008). The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  41. Stenger, 2008
  42. 1 2 Dawkins, Richard. "When Religion Steps on Science's Turf : The Alleged Separation Between the Two Is Not So Tidy". Free Inquiry magazine. 18 (2).
  43. Fishman, Yonatan. "Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?" (PDF).
  44. Stenger, Victor J. "Supernatural Science". mukto-mona.
  45. Stenger, Victor J. (2009). The new atheism : taking a stand for science and reason. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 70. ISBN 1-59102-751-9.
  46. Stenger, Victor J. (2007). "1". God : the failed hypothesis : how science shows that God does not exist ([Nachdr.] ed.). Amherst (New York): Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-59102-481-1.
  47. Martin, Michael; Monnier, Ricki (2003). The Impossibility of God. Prometheus Books.
  48. "Incompatible-Properties Arguments". Philo (2): 49–60. 1998.
  49. Ridley, Matt (1998). The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. Penguin.
  50. Harris, Sam (2012). The Moral Landscape. Black Swan. ISBN 0552776386.
  51. Harris, Sam. "How Science can Determine Moral Values".
  52. Kettell, Steven (2013). "Faithless: The Politics of New Atheism". Secularism and Non Religion. 2: 61–78.
  53. Review of The Last Superstition, Sir Anthony Kenny, The Times Literary Supplement; July 22, 2011
  54. "Catholics need a 'new apologetics' to defend faith". The Catholic Leader. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  55. Nick Squires and Martin Beckford. "Pope visit: Cardinal drops out after calling UK 'Third World". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  56. Charly Wilder (March 13, 2008). "I don't believe in atheists". Salon.
  57. Jeffrey Robbins and Christopher Rodkey (2010). "Beating 'God' to Death: Radical Theology and the New Atheism". In Amarnath Amarasingam. Religion and the New Atheism A Critical Appraisal. Haymarket Books. p. 35. ISBN 9781608462032.
  58. William Stahl (2010). "One-Dimensional Rage: The Social Epistemology of the New Atheism and Fundamentalism". In Amarnath Amarasingam. Religion and the New Atheism A Critical Appraisal. Haymarket Books. pp. 97–108. ISBN 9781608462032.
  59. 1 2 Dougherty, T; Gage, LP (2015). "4/ New Atheist Approaches to Religion, pp. 51-62". In Oppy, Graham. The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Oxon and New York: Routledge. pp. 52–53. ISBN 9781844658312. Michael Ruse (2009) claimed that Dawkins would fail 'any philosophy or religion course'; and for this reason Ruse says The God Delusion made him 'ashamed to be an atheist'
  60. 1 2 Ruse, Michael (August 2009). "Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster". Beliefnet. The BioLogos Foundation as a columnist of Beliefnet. Retrieved 19 August 2015. … the new atheists do the side of science a grave disservice … these people do a disservice to scholarship ... Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing … the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group … the new atheists are doing terrible political damage to the cause of Creationism fighting. Americans are religious people ... They want to be science-friendly, although it is certainly true that many have been seduced by the Creationists. We evolutionists have got to speak to these people. We have got to show them that Darwinism is their friend not their enemy We have got to get them onside when it comes to science in the classroom. And criticizing good men like Francis Collins, accusing them of fanaticism, is just not going to do the job. Nor is criticizing everyone, like me, who wants to build a bridge to believers – not accepting the beliefs, but willing to respect someone who does have them … The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist … They are a bloody disaster …
  61. 1 2 3 Taylor, Jerome (April 12, 2013). "Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris face Islamophobia backlash". The Independent. London. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  62. 1 2 3 FP Staff. "Unholy war: Atheists and the politics of Muslim-baiting". First Post. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  63. 1 2 Jacoby, Wade; Yavuz, Hakan (April 2008). "Modernization, Identity and Integration: An Introduction to the Special Issue on Islam in Europe". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 28 (1): 1. doi:10.1080/13602000802080486.
  64. 1 2 Emilsen, William (August 2012). "The New Atheism and Islam". The Expository Times. 123 (11): 521. doi:10.1177/0014524612448737.
  65. Hussain, Murtaza (April 2, 2013). "Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists". Al Jazeera.

External links

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