Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What makes an Atheist a "New Atheist"

I've been rather antagonistic about the "New Atheist" movement ever since I made this blog. However, I read an interesting post by Chris Hallquist here that criticises my approach, and of which I largely agree with. He argues (rather succinctly) that there is no real difference between a regular Atheist and a "New Atheist", and that therefore the term "new atheist" is meaningless. For instance, is a New Atheist an atheist that is antagonistic to organised Religion? If this is the case, "New Atheism" certainly isn't very new. Does it refer to Atheists that are unknowledgeable of the Religions they critique? Because I cannot envision a world in which everyone knows everything about every Religion. Who the hell has that much time to spare anyways.

I usually thought of a "New Atheist" as being someone who satisfied a two part criterion; Firstly, they criticise religion without having a sufficient knowledge of that Religion; and secondly, they are unnecessarily antagonistic towards it. However, both these points beg the question. How can one define exactly how much is "enough", anyways? A critique that works for one Religion or sect will clearly not work for another. So, does one have to know everything about all religions in order to be able to critique it? We have the same problem when it comes to defining "unnecessarily". Plus, since when was an ideas truthfulness contingent on how well it was delivered. This reminds me on an ironic quote from Neitzsche:

"We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us"

It seems like the term "New Atheist" is best understood as an "us VS them" term. At least from an apologetic perspective. Of course, there will always be atheists who are crackpots, much like there are Theists like Norman Geisler. But do these individuals really need a special label? Maybe Theists want to make atheists look as potentially irrational as they are. I mean, there are many modern examples of supernatural beliefs causing pain and death, but are there any examples of secular beliefs that can do the same? This whole thing really reminds me of an episode of South Park called "Go God Go", where Atheists fight amongst each other in the future over what to call themselves. Perhaps it's this type of mentality that leads to the "New Atheist" caricatures we see today.

At any rate, I'm going to put less effort on criticising new atheists, and more on actual arguments for the existence of God.


  1. I think "New Atheist" is pretty much short-hand for "group of unbelievers about which I am highly dismissive.' I expect some people may use the term in other ways. I just haven't met them yet.

  2. That's more or less how I define it now. I tried to define it in objective terms before, but have found it to difficult.