The New Atheism is Here to Stay: Deal With It

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Religion is cancer that needs to be eliminated; the product of an ignorant Iron Age culture that impoverishes human reason.

 Thus spake Lawrence Krauss, the American theoretical physicist who can conjure the entire cosmos out of nothing. Christians might stifle a yawn, and search for something more substantial to respond to, but let me advise a little caution. Krauss was not blogging, or even filling a column in a national newspaper. He was addressing an open forum at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. Krauss was selected to represent atheism at the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Faith

New Atheists are rather respectable chaps. They have been criticised for being too white, too privileged and too “geeky”; but if you want to get ahead, it often helps to be white, privileged, male and geeky. It’s not surprising to find that  the New Atheists are now part of the establishment. Richard Dawkins still gets to dispense sage wisdom with Chief Rabbis and Archbishops – and to over half a million tweeters. The God Delusion still trumps most Christian literature on Amazon; Sam Harris’s sales receipts remain healthy. While Hitchens, alas, is no longer with us, Rosenberg and Coyne are worthy replacements. Numerous blogs and forums are keeping the New Atheist faith; some are even developing it.

So it is very surprising to read that New Atheism is dead. Ed West, in the Catholic Herald, argues that New Atheism has failed because the public has grown tired of Dawkins vitriol and because religion shows no sign of waning. However, Dawkins and Dennett explained religious belief in terms of memes; they never expected religion to collapse overnight! Yes, some atheists find New Atheism’s populist instincts distasteful; others, like Alain de Botton, acknowledge that religion is “socially useful”. But Dawkins rants and tweets are just as useful to these unbelievers – they make atheists like de Botton seem moderate and reasonable.

Botton’s Newer New Atheism seems just as implausible as Dawkins’ fundamentalist scientism, but I won’t rehearse those arguments here. I’ll simply note that West’s article has been repeated on some popular evangelical blogs; it would be disastrous if evangelicals adopted this blind faith in the demise of New Atheism.


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