Yesterday Andrew posted a provocative article where he attempts to define the New Atheism [The New Atheism, a definition and a quiz]. He is not a fan, to put it mildly.
So, who does he rely on to construct a definition of the New Atheists?
The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration. All of them make claims about religion and about believers which go far beyond the mere disbelief in God which I take to be the distinguishing mark of an atheist.That's very distinguished company. I'm flattered. I guess it means I'll have to take the quiz!
Quiz? Yes, that's right, Andrew proposes that we atheists 'fess up to six propositions that represent the New Atheist position, or at least the Andrew Brown version of New Atheism.
All of these propositions will be found in the authors I have cited as well as in the comments to religious articles here. I sometimes think that only the last two are unique to the new atheists: you can certainly find the others in earlier authors. But those are the six doctrines which I would reject when saying rude things about the new atheists.Challenge accepted.
What would be interesting in comments is if people would score themselves out of six. I expect that one of the most common forms of disagreement would be to claim that you are a three or a four, but none the less the believers are so repulsive and dangerous that the other two points just don't matter. That's how politics works, after all, and the new atheism is interesting as a political or social movement, not an intellectual one.
Here are the six propositions and my position on each of them.
1. There is something called "Faith" which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.What's my score? I agree with the first four propositions and disagree with the last two. I guess that means I'm not a true New Atheist. I should have known that those other guys were too good for me.
2. The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn't. "Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition" [Robert L. Park]
I agree, as long as we understand that science is a way of knowing that relies on evidence and rationality. The other, undefined, ways of "knowing" will reject either evidence or rationality.
The question before us is whether supernatural beings exist or not. I fail to see why a scientist isn't as competent to answer that question as those who study "psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration." The object of my attention (not execration) is supernatural beings. Why would a psychologist or a sociologist know more about their possible existence than I do?
3. Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. "The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition" [Jerry Coyne] "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented." [Dawkins]
I agree, except for the minor quibble that science is not the opposite of religion. Religion is a set of beliefs based almost exclusively on the worship of supernatural beings. I think that religion is silly because these supernatural beings do not exist. Belief in such beings is not the opposite of the scientific way of knowing: it is outside of the scientific way of knowing. Such beliefs are based on some other, undefined, way of knowing that we may refer to as superstition for want of a better term.1 The battle is between rationalism and superstition.
4. In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as "solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place".)
5. Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion's true nature. [Sam Harris]
I don't agree with all of this. While it's true that even moderate forms of religion are based on the irrational belief in non-existent beings, that only makes them false—not treacherous, and certainly not homicidal. Most modern religions are trying to promote good things that I support. The mistake theists make is in assuming that you have to believe in non-existent beings in order to be good.
6. Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]
Nonsense. We will be better off when people abandon their belief in supernatural beings but that's a far cry from saying that such superstitious beliefs are the most dangerous and wicked force on Earth.2
I have never singled out Islam for special attention. As a matter of fact, I am very much opposed to characterizing the current struggles as a war between Islam and Christianity. I may not be an historian but I know enough history to understand that Islam has a solid track record of tolerance and understanding. Probably a better record than Christianity.
Oops, PZ only gives himself 2 out of 6 [Oh, no! The New Atheists are getting attacked again!]. I guess I'm more of a New Atheist than he is. Go figure.
1. I anxiously await Andrew Brown's next essay when he defines the New Theism and reveals to us these other ways of thinking.
2. Earth, the planet, begins with an upper-case letter, just as the names of all the other planets do.
[Hat Tip: Richard Dawkins.net]