New Atheism

New Atheism

New Atheism is the name given to a movement among some early-21st-century atheist writers who have advocated the view that "religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises."[1] New atheists argue that recent scientific advancements demand a less accommodating attitude toward religion, superstition, and religious fanaticism than had traditionally been extended by many secularists.[citation needed] The movement is commonly associated with Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor J. Stenger. Several best-selling books by these authors, published between 2004 and 2007, form the basis for much of the discussion of New Atheism.[2]



The "New Atheism" and "New Atheists" nomenclature appeared in the November 2006 issue of Wired magazine.[3]

The movement's origins are often traced to the 2004 publication of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris, a bestseller in the USA. This marked the first of a series of bestsellers that took a harder line against religion. 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. Two years later Harris followed up with Letter to a Christian Nation, which was also a severe criticism of Christianity. 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 bestseller list for 51 weeks. Other milestone publications from New Atheism leaders include Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett (2006); God: The Failed Hypothesis–How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger (2007); God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (2007); Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam by Michel Onfray (2007); Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan Barker (2008)

"Four Horsemen"

Referring to a 2007 debate, Dawkins' website refers to four members of the movement - himself, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens - as "The Four Horsemen", alluding to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.[4]


The New Atheists write mainly 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,[5] having effects in the physical universe, and like any other hypothesis can be tested and falsified. Other New 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,[6] 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 even the inner workings of the brain and consciousness. Nowhere, they argue, is it necessary to introduce God or the supernatural to understand reality. Many New Atheists argue that "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" when evidence can be expected, using the Argument from divine hiddenness. They conclude rather that the universe and life do not look at all designed by a God or any supernatural being, but look just as they would if they were not designed at all.

Scientific testing of religion

The New Atheists assert that many religious or supernatural claims (such as the virgin birth of Jesus and the afterlife) are scientific claims in nature. They argue, for instance, that the issue of Jesus' supposed parentage is not a question of "values" or "morals", but a question of scientific inquiry.[7] The New Atheists believe science is now capable of investigating at least some, if not all, supernatural claims.[8] Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and Duke University are attempting to find empirical support for the healing power of intercessory prayer.[9] So far, these experiments have found no evidence that intercessory prayer works.[10]

Logical arguments

Victor 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.[11] 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,[12] or Theodore M. Drange's article, "Incompatible-Properties Arguments".[13]

Views on NOMA

The New Atheists are particularly critical of the two non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) view advocated by Stephen Jay Gould regarding the existence of a "domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution."[14] 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. The New Atheism leaders contend that NOMA does not describe empirical facts about the intersection of science and religion. In an article published in Free Inquiry magazine,[7] and later in his 2006 book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes that the Abrahamic religions constantly deal in scientific matters. Massimo Pigliucci, in his book Nonsense on Stilts, wrote that Gould attempted to redefine religion as moral philosophy. 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 research on evolutionary origins of ethics and morality.[15]


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 best-seller lists.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Hooper, Simon. "The rise of the New Atheists". CNN. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  2. ^ Stenger, Victor J. "The New Atheism". Colorado University. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  3. ^ Wolf, Gary. "The Church of the Non-Believers". Wired. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  4. ^ "The Four Horsemen" at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
  5. ^ Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008)
  6. ^ Stenger, 2008
  7. ^ a b Richard Dawkins. "When Religion Steps on Science's Turf : The Alleged Separation Between the Two Is Not So Tidy", Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 18, Number 2
  8. ^ Yonatan Fishman. Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews?
  9. ^ Supernatural Science, Victor J. Stenger, published in mukto-mona
  10. ^ Victor Stenger, The New Atheism, page 70
  11. ^ Victor Stenger, God the Failed Hypothesis, Chap 1
  12. ^ Michael Martin Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, The Impossibility of God, Prometheus Books, 2003)
  13. ^ Philo 1998 (2), pp. 49–60
  14. ^ Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, The Library of Contemporary Thought (New York: Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999)
  15. ^ Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation, (Penguin, 1998)
  16. ^ Flynn, Tom (2010). Why I Don't Believe in the New Atheism. Retrieved 2011-07-28. 

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