Atheist contra New Atheism

The author of Atheism: a very short introduction, declares the New Atheism to be “destructive”:

This is most evident when you consider the poverty of the new atheism’s “error theory”, which is needed to explain why, if atheism is indeed the view evidence and reason demands, so many very bright people are still religious. The usual answers given to this are not good enough. They tend to stress psychological blind-spots and wishful thinking. For instance, Dawkins says “the meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.”

But if very intelligent people are so easily led astray by such things, then shouldn’t the new atheists themselves be more sceptical about the role reason plays in their own belief formation? You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips. Either many religious people are not as irrational as they seem, or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.

Baggini’s efforts are well-placed, but one thing he misses in his essay is that the New Atheists, having seen their “error theory” repeatedly blown away and shown for the logical and empirical nonsense that it is, are in the process of shifting to what can be described as the “compartmental” theory. This hasn’t yet made its way down to the run-of-the-mill internet atheists, whose primary form of “debate” still consists of calling people stupid despite the fact that all of the available evidence demonstrates rather conclusively that the objects of their ridicule are, as a point of fact, rather more intelligent than the atheist himself.

It is a pity that Baggini hasn’t actually troubled himself to read the New Atheist tomes. Had he done so, there can be little doubt that he would not only describe the New Atheism as destructive, but as a hopeless parody of an intellectual movement as well.

Atheism will always exist. As it is written, there have always been fools who have said in their hearts that there is no God. But the cancerous form of anti-intellectual and ill-tempered atheism that is the New Atheism, as exemplified by the evangelicalism of Richard Dawkins, has already seen what passes for its heyday and its lifespan will be a short one.