The truth about the New Atheism: an interview with David Marshall

I had the immense privilege to interview historian, sociologist and Christian apologist David Marshall on militant atheists and their arguments. I truly hope you’ll appreciate it!

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Lotharson: Hello David, thank you very much for having accepted my invitation. Could you please sum up your background for my readers?
David Marshall: Sure. I am from a Christian background, and grew up in Seattle. My academic background involves a lot of study of languages and research in history and Asian cultures, culminating in a PhD for which I offered what I believe is the best Christian model of religions, which I call “Fulfillment Theology.” I’ve written five books, edited another, and contributed to others, my most popular so far being “True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture” and “The Truth Behind the New Atheism.” (But the meatiest is Jesus and the Religions of Man.) I am presently writing two other books actively, and three more passively. Each is on a very big subject; I will try not to be glib. :- )
Lotharson: So, you seem to have quite a large field of interest🙂 What rose your passion for the intellectual arguments between Christians and atheists?
David Marshall: I was going to blame C. S. Lewis, in my misbegotten youth, but then a line from a country music song came to mind, “Heck it could be my fault.” There’s a little atheist inside of me, and it’s easiest to squelch him when the big atheists outside of me throw up such softball challenges to my Christian faith. Also I agree with Clement of Alexandria, who perceived that there was some truth in almost every school of thought — truth that is fulfilled best by Christ.

 

On militant atheism and religious fundamentalism

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Lotharson: Your fascinating views on the relationship between God’s revelation in Christ and other religions will (hopefully) be the topic of a future interview. Right now, I’m interested by what you wrote on the New Atheists. Could you summarize what the “New Atheism” is? Is it (more or less) a synonym for “anti-theism” or “militant atheism”?
David Marshall: Atheists themselves differ on whether or not to accept or even glory in the term “The New Atheism.” Some say there’s nothing new about their views, and in a sense, I agree: the tone adopted by Richard Dawkins is very like that of the Left Hegelians in your own native Germany back in the mid-19th Century, culimating with Karl Marx. But I see four factors as distinguishing this wave: (1) Reaction to 9/11, along the lines of “That nasty Taliban! Now how can we use revulsion against radical Islam to dump on Christianity as well? I know! We’ll lump them all in the same bag!” (2) Particular concern over the supposed threat American Christian poses to democracy. (3) Focus on or exageration of the dark side of Christian history, “Hitler’s Pope,” that kind of thing. (4) Drawing on radical “historical Jesus” material, from the Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman, to more fringe characters like Hector Avalos, Robert Price and Richard Carrier.

 

Lotharson: A small correction: I’m a Germanic Frenchman from a historically German-speaking French region🙂

So, is it fair to say that the New Atheism (or anti-theism) can be summed up by the two following sentences:

1) Religious beliefs are false
2) Religious beliefs are bad and ought to disappear?

David Marshall: Quite so.

 

Belligerent secularism and nasty rhetoric

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Lotharson: Okay. How does this play out in terms of rhetoric?
David Marshall: I am trying to think of a prominent atheist who identifies with that movement, who is polite, and really listens to the other side. Is that what you’re wondering?
Lotharson: Yeah kind of🙂 Do you know striking examples of rude and bullying behavior which are characteristic of the whole movement?
Or examples of famous New Atheists calling their followers to use an aggressive and nasty rhetoric?
David Marshall: Sheesh. Read my blog post, “PZ Myers, Guru of Hate,” if you can stomach that sort of thing. That charts one internal conflict on their side — I take out all the swear words. It is tacitly assumed in many quarters that the real problem with such nastiness is that it is directed at fellow unbelievers, rather than the real enemy, us.
Lotharson: And by “us”, they mean ALL religious believers, right? Even progressive Christians opposing the Religious Right are viewed as their enemies, am I correct?
David Marshall: Of course “Gnus” are a diverse lot, and not all are as vitriolic as Dr. Myers’ followers tend to be. But yes, Richard Dawkins, in his (relatively) more civilized way, goes out of the way to emphasize that liberal Christians are also a serious problem, as do such people as Greta Christiana.

Lotharson: Yeah, they argue that the existence of moderate and peaceful religious believers NECESSARILY cause the existence of nasty fundamentalists and Islamists.

So, according to them the evil has to be cut at the root.

Do they have strong historical and sociological arguments for backing up this claim?
David Marshall: Well, of course not. The best they do is vaguely cite sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who is fond of Denmark, as who isn’t besides Hamlet? But Zuckerman himself is more careful, and shows (without meaning to) that a lot of the success of the societies he deems as most successful, derives historically from their Christian roots. (I challenged him on this in person, and he did not deny it, being an honest scholar.)
Lotharson: And there is one thing they don’t take into consideration: the greater happiness of Denmark in comparison to religious America might very well be due to factors unrelated to religion and atheism, such as their much more SOCIALIST economy and social system.

Is it fair to say so?
David Marshall: I wrote an article some years ago in which I gave some 20-25 problems with such arguments. They are multiply flawed in too many ways to give a simple summation: the popular versions of such arguments are junk scholarship. As a Burkean conservative with a father who owned an apartment with welfare Moms, though, you’ll have to torture me to confess the superior merits of the Welfare State. :- )

Lotharson: Okay, I won’t insist then🙂

On sociological studies on the benefits of “Religion”.

Benefits of atheism and religions

I generally find it pretty frustrating that in most sociological and historical studies comparing religion with lack of faith, religion (as a whole) is directly compared with atheism (as a whole).

Given the HUGE diversity of atheists and religious believers out there, I view these studies as providing us with very few useful information.
I think that a good study would compare a lot of groups of different believers with different atheists, such as:

1) Conservative Catholics

2) Liberal Catholics

3) Calvinists

4) Charismatic Christians

5) Mystical Muslims.

6) Godless communists

7) Secular Capitalists

8) Buddhists

and so on and so forth.

This would really allow us to learn more about the subject, and I’m sure that we could find out that certain religious groups fare much better than others, and that the same thing holds for the very diverse atheistic groups present in our world.

So the question should not be: “Is religion (ON AVERAGE) better than atheism (ON AVERAGE) in terms of societal happiness, but rather “What are the impacts of the many specific worldviews out there?”

Do you agree?
David Marshall: Yeah. I also dispute the usual definition of “religion.” Peter Berger pointed out that the term is defined in functional as well as substantive ways: what Paul Tillich called an “ultimate concern” being to me the best definition. Everyone has an ultimate concern. And no, a few decades after the Marxist holocaust, we can’t just sweep those crimes under the rug, either. Nor do they seem to have been total aberrations.I also like the definition of Christianity as meaning, “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.” Christianity PREDICTS evil by its followers. But I argue historically that the Gospel has in fact utterly transformed the world for the better — and the Bible predicts that, too.

 

The intellectual depth of anti-theism

NewAtheismLotharson: The New Atheists also pretend we can know beyond any reasonable doubt that God does not exist, and most of them seem to also believe that we can be pretty sure that matter is the ultimate reality. What do you think of the intellectual depth of the arguments they deploy for showing this?
David Marshall: Miracles happen. God works in the world. Deal with it.
Lotharson: Okay, so are they as mighty as a fundamentalist proclaiming these three sentences without any evidence?🙂
David Marshall: Well, of course it’s hard to come up with evidence for a negative. And SOME New Atheists try fitfully to deal with the positive evidence for Christian miracles and God’s work in the world. (John Loftus‘ friends are examples.) But they tend to stay near the shallow end of the pool, and don’t seem to know much about that evidence, really. I’ve never seen one analyze Craig Keener‘s massive study of miracles around the world, for instance — not that it isn’t vulnerable in spots. Some do try to undermine the Gospel narrative, and arguments for the resurrection — though the more serious arguers seem to mostly predate the New Atheist movement, and don’t seem often to identify with it. Richard Carrier has just published a book trying to prove Jesus never lived — he wishes to make that position intellectually respectable. He does at least have a PhD in Roman history — the history of science — from Columbia, and reads a lot, even if he doesn’t always report what he reads very circumspectly.

Lotharson: Of course, this raises a lot of questions about miracles we don’t have the time to go into here.

The nature of “faith”.

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But I think this leads us to wonder about how the New Atheists view “faith”. What are your own experiences with this and how does it relate to the way you (and most of your Christian friends) understand “faith”?
David Marshall: They universally misunderstand it. Even those who know better. It’s a fascinating sociological phenomena. The most recent best-seller that does this is Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists — the whole ingenious work is based on the patently absurd notion that by “faith,” Christians mean “believing without any evidence.”
Lotharson: And why do you view this notion as “patently absurd”?
David Marshall: Of course they don’t have any evidence for that, because they haven’t bothered to do any research. I have. (See our recent book, True Reason, including one chapter with Dr. Timothy McGrew, also the relevant chapter in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.)

It’s the height of irony — every single New Atheist bases his critique of Christianity on the objection that Christians demand faith without checking the facts first — but none of them bothers to check the facts about THAT first. Alister McGrath and I both highlighted this irony already in our books on the New Atheism, which were among the first to come out, but our objections haven’t stopped the flood or even quelled it a little.
Lotharson: How do you personally see “faith”?
David Marshall: Christian faith means “Believing and acting upon what you have good reason to think is true, in the face of existential difficulties.”
Lotharson: It goes without saying it is a lot harder to argue against this than against the straw man they attack. Is it fair to say that the New Atheists PICK AND CHOOSE the worst and weakest examples of religious believers and describe them as if they were characteristic of religion AS A WHOLE?
David Marshall: Dawkins is famous for this. Like the Pharisee Jesus spoke about who seeks the world for a convert, he flies across continents looking for the kookiest Christians he can find – founders of hell houses, terrorist wannabees, semi-literate spokepersons for obscure political fronts — then reports them as typical cases of the species. For a zoologist, he’s empirically lazy to a remarkable degree.

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On Anti-theism and atrocities.

Lotharson: Lol. I think this should lead us to wonder whether HIS PARTICULAR brand of atheism is as harmless as he professes.

I don’t think that atheism (understood as the belief there is no supernatural world) has caused atrocities, in the same way I don’t believe that theism (the belief there is a God) has caused atrocities in and of itself.

BUT I do believe that anti-theism (the belief that all religions OUGHT to disappear) has plaid a major role in atrocities committed by secularist regimes in Russia and in China against religious people and clergy persons.

CommunistsDestroyChurches

Do you think it is a balanced consideration of the situation?
David Marshall:It’s a very complex question. I have a chapter giving my own analysis of “Why Marx went wrong” in Jesus and the Religions of Man. I think his rejection of Christianity and of God was very important, and it impacted his morals in complex ways — I argue that communists had THREE moral systems, for different sets of people. But I also argue that the most deadly facet of Marxism-Leninism was the god it worshiped — the self — even more than its rejection of God, perhaps. Though of course the two go together. As someone said of Tolstoy, I think, he and God in the same heart were like two bears in the same cave. Marx wanted the cave for himself, and so did his chief followers.
The best work on this subject is David Aikman’s Atheism in the Marxist Tradition. Unfortunately it is an unpublished doctoral dissertation, but can be obtained by interlibrary loan.
Lotharson: When I present anti-theism in this way, some of its proponents get completely infuriated.

They say that the New Atheism does not seek to destroy religious beliefs but only to put an end to “religious privileges”.

Could it be really the case?

David Marshall: Again, I fundamentally disagree with the assumed definition of “religion” here. But many New Atheists are quite outspoken in saying they want to rid the world of religion — though not violently, through “education” in various senses. I could give numerous quotes, especially if I were in my library in the US, rather than in central China, right now.

But no doubt many atheists hold more modest ambitions. They however tend not to identify themselves as Gnus (New Atheists).

 

John Loftus and The Outsider Test of Faith

Lotharson: Okay. What else is there to be said about the New Atheism?
David Marshall: I’m glad for the challenge. Anything they say that is true, is useful. I am presently writing a book entitled, “How Christianity passes the Outsider Test,” turning a popular Gnu argument — promoted by John Loftus — on its head, to offer four more or less new arguments for the Christian faith, some of which I think have a great deal of force. I’m so glad John brought the subject up again.

Besides which, we need our critics. Hug a New Atheist, but also figure out why he’s wrong and tell him. (Most Gnus are men, sorry.)
Lotharson: Before I’ll stop stealing away your precious time🙂 could you please briefly explain what the Outsider Test of Faith is and what is your own personal take on it?
David Marshall: Oh, Gee, that’s the book! But you can get an abridged version in a chapter of True Reason.

The basic idea is, we should look at Christianity from an objective, outside perspective and stop being hoodwinked by our (assumed) Christian conditioning.

The truth — the real, “inside” story of Christianity — is amazing, and I don’t think has ever been told quite like this. To put it in the vernacular, I am totally pumped about this book.

Lotharson: Thanks for this and for everything David! I wish you all the best for your next endeavors and am looking forward to your new book.

 

 

30 thoughts on “The truth about the New Atheism: an interview with David Marshall

  1. Read my book! And this book and then read the book I’m writing !!

    New Atheism was good to obscure academics who would have never secured a publisher in other circumstances. But unfortunately for them the movement is over. Hitches is dead, Dennett was never outspoken, Harris is concentrating on other interests and the 70 year old Dawkins hasn’t done much recently.

  2. I do get a bit wary when generalisations are made, such as “this is the position of New Atheists” or “this is what Fundamentalists/Evangelicals believe”, because all generalisations do hold grains or rocks of truth, but don’t actually describe any individual.

    Many of my friends recognise that I use the term “Conservative Evangelical” pejoratively and really I must get out of the habit. I’m not sure if the term New Atheist really has any real meaning. I think anti-theist is a better term to describe those who hold antagonistic views toward “believers in the meta-physical “. Unless of course all who self describe themselves as New Atheists also self describe themselves as “anti-theists”.

    Are we really seeing a new movement of people who adhere closely to a particular monolithic view, or are we just seeing a resurgence of a particular view from before, which may have many self-identifying adherents?

    I can’t see anything new about the new atheism, as it seems to be a way of thought which is millennia old. All I can see is too many people spouting on that they “really know” and they are in reality no different from theists, whether Christian or Muslim who also “really know”.

    All I can say is that whether you are a Christian who “really knows the truth about God, his will and what people should believe” or an atheist who “knows what reality is really about because I use a particular technique which guides me into truth”, then I think you are actually narrow and closed minded.

    The reality is that people really don’t know much about anything and don’t behave very well. Some may have read the bible backward and forward and inside out, some may know loads about science and technology, maybe there has been lots of “scientific progress”, but still the World and the Oppressed cry out. This is not because theists are in control, nor that atheists are in control. Much of it is because people in control have no humility.

    I come to this site because I respect Lotharson’s pursuit of truth and that this involves God. I get very frustrated by those who post who seem to think they really know what the truth is and feel the need to put others right. Unfortunately that narrow and closed view is one of the things which causes the hurt and pain.

    Anyone, atheist or Christian, who believes they know what the truth is, deludes themselves and, if they feel they need to tell and particularly force others to believe that truth are the problem.

    To be open minded, you need to recognise that actually you don’t know everything, in fact you know little, if anything of importance. Quite frankly, if you don’t start from the realisation that you probably know less than the next person, you really have no reason to tell anyone else what to think or do.

    This applies equally to the Christian as it does to the New/Old/intermediate-atheist. I wish those who feel they have so much knowledge that they need to correct or criticise others would just b****r off and find a better forum to comment on because that is not what this site is about. If that happened, maybe Lotharson and myself would become less defensive about our own positions and make often outrageous generalisations and we’d be able to discuss with other open-minded persons, theists or a-theists and be able to really find out what the Universe and Being is really about. Then maybe we could live easier with ourselves and help others to do that too.

    Anyway, sorry for the diatribe, but Vino Rouge and Cider have been partaken.

  3. It does not surprise me that theists pretending to be knowledgeable about New Atheism demonstrate the scope of their ignorance in their rush to condemn the immorality supposedly inherent in a godless government. It seems to me to be a unanimous failure in that such ‘experts’ conveniently fail – one and all – to recall the original godless government: the United States of America…. you know, the one that supposedly has killed millions and millions of its own citizens via death panels and camps in pursuit of religious intolerance, yada, yada, yada.

    New Atheists are quite capable of speaking on their own. We don’t need a theistic filter of ignorance masquerading as ‘knowledge’ to describe us. Go ask any of the New Atheists and leave the religious filtration unit behind because it doesn’t offer any improvement; such people offer support for misrepresentations, distortions, and gross inaccuracies that serve not what’s true but what seems to smear New Atheists.

    If you’re interested, go ask an atheist what he or she means by the term. It will involve a description of not believing in gods or a god. That’s it. That’s the sum total of atheism.

    Go ask a New Atheist what he or she means by the term. It will involve a description of advocating against privileging religious belief in the public domain. That’s it. That’s the sum total of New Atheism.

    New Atheism is, in fact, a central feature of enlightenment values imbedded in the US Constitution that made it revolutionary from all others. This is a value under attack by those who wish to subvert it… usually in the name of piety but in others, as well. Others like those who head up totalitarian regimes and wish to consolidate power in the form of ownership of rights not in the name of individuals but housed in the Dear Leader who then dispenses rights as if by privilege. Theists may allow this transfer of ownership and think it pious but New Atheists aren’t quite so gullible in their assumed beneficence; they see the Dear Leader in all its forms – divine as well as temporal – to be the very real threat it is to our mutual rights and mutual ownership of them. But you’ll never hear a Marshall speaking this way because he hasn’t a clue about what it is he presumes to know anything about.

  4. I am humbled by this interview. I know NOTHING about the subject. I hope to learn more as I follow along. Sometimes I feel very stupid after reading a post like this. I am not well read at all.

    • “Sometimes I feel very stupid after reading a post like this.”

      Please Sheila don’t🙂

      Some years ago I also did not know anything at all about this.

      If it interests you, it’s never too late to learn.

  5. Despite what tildeb said, this interview was spot-on in describing anti-theists of the Dawkins/Myers/Harris/nonsense category. I’ve yet to meet a reasonable anti-theist, and their most famous members are the most glaringly unreasonable.

    • Now, the interview wasn’t ‘spot on’. For example, Marshall says “I do believe that anti-theism (the belief that all religions OUGHT to disappear) has plaid a major role in atrocities committed by secularist regimes in Russia and in China against religious people and clergy persons.”

      This is nonsense. It’s a religious trope used to link atheism with atrocities. These atrocities were neither committed in the name of atheism nor brought about by secular enlightenment values. It’s revisionist history that omits the fact that atheists who spoke out against tyranny and their secular organizations were targeted by these regimes and its members rounded up and killed. In fact, some of the first victims of totalitarian regimes are routinely the ‘intellectuals’ – many of whom were atheists. The religious were never the targets of atheists; they were the targets of a state that was used as the enforcer of the Dear Leader’s wishes for absolute power. The atrocities were committed in the name of cleansing the State of these dangerous individuals and the contrary values (like personal autonomy and human rights) they represented that threatened to compete with the Dear Leader.

      That Marshal is willing to revise history and distort it this way in order to vilify New Atheists reveals the agenda he is putting forward and it has nothing whatsoever to do with accuracy, fairness, and academic integrity. That’s why it’s not ‘spot on’ but an attempt to support bias against atheists.

      You may think supporting bias against atheists is justified by labeling people who are fundamentally opposed to having to respect the nonsense of religious belief as ‘anti-theists’ but that’s a gross distortion because not any of the popular New Atheists are against people who are religious; they are against the religion. That’s why the term ‘anti-theist’ is a misnomer… but it takes people of intellectual integrity to appreciate this fact.

      • I’ve seen some of the personal attacks aimed at religious. Not all atheists are “not against the people…but only against the relgion”. Your argument falls flat with those of us who have endured ad hominem attacks due to our choice to follow religious beliefs.

        • I suspect you don’t really understand what ad hominem means to apply it this way (a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim).

          Having read widely dozens of New Atheists, I have yet to come across a single example of their use of ad hominem. What I come across are criticisms of the arrogance and dishonesty commonly employed by believers to present their religious beliefs as if knowledge claims. I’ve come across many a scathing and often angry response by non believers to such religious claims, to the duplicitous approach commonly used by believers that presents gross distortions and intentional misrepresentations of atheists to smear their character based on a group identity. I have come across hundreds of responses by believers mistakenly claiming these criticisms to be ad hominem personal attacks and thus dismissed as if the criticisms were logical fallacies when they were accurate criticisms.

          This is what it seems you’ve done to my ‘spot on’ criticism of Marshall’s revisionist history; rather than accept that what you call ‘spot on’ isn’t anywhere near the ‘spot’ if by ‘spot’ you means what’s true, you pretend that you have experience simply by being a believer that has made you a victim of ad hominem attacks from these New Atheists, and thus can appreciate Marshall’s claim of religious victimhood from these dastardly and nefarious New Atheists… people who are vilified because they dare to criticize rather than respect the very poor reasons used to support religious privilege.

          • I can tell you that all moderate religious believers who want to interact in a friendly manner with the New Atheists are very likely to get bullied and mocked.
            It is like an Arab very well integrated in the French society who want to have a friendly dialog with far-right folks.

            Do this test Tildeb: go to any anti-theistic blog or forum you like, and tell them you’re a progressive Christian rejecting Biblical inerrancy and opposing the religious right BUT not thinking that all religions are equally absurd and dangerous.

            Count then the number of sarcasm, name calling, mockeries and so on.

          • Sort of like calling myself a New Atheist on a progressive Christian blog whose administrator rejects some but not all claims of biblical inerrancy and opposes some but not all positions of the religious right who beneficently thinks all New Atheists are loathsome far right wing hate mongers, eh? Note that I’m not claiming ad hominem? Why? Well, because being called names and mocked is not ad hominem.

            Learn, please.

            Having ones claims rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author is. This is not the same thing as being called names or mocked. Do you understand the difference?

          • The problem is that using such an aggressive tone makes people extremely unwilling to have long interactions with you. We know all too well that it’s going to be fruitless.

            You see, I’m myself offended by many people (like probably everyone else) but I also make a conscious effort to keep a friendly tone UNLESS the person constantly behaves like an asshole.

            I certainly enjoy having respectful atheistic commentators challenging the Christian faith and my ideas for this can bring about very interesting and lively discussions.

            But it has never been the case for you.

            What it is your goal to comment here?
            What are you trying to achieve?

            I’ve the strong feeling we are wasting our time with you and that YOU are wasting your time with us.

            I think you should content yourself with commenting on atheistic blogs for your presence on Christian ones is both frustrating and totally useless for everyone.

          • My goal here is to try to keep you honest and responsible for what you say, to criticize distortions, misrepresentations, and dishonesty about atheism in general and New Atheism in particular. Such claims need to be challenged every time they are substituted for what’s true. You partake of confirmation bias against New Atheism and consistently present it incorrectly and then promote your highly biased views of it as if accurate and true and descriptive when it is none of those in fact.

            I point this out and back up my criticisms with compelling evidence.

            Of course you’re not going to like it and we will never arrive at agreement to nicely and politely accept and respect distortions, misrepresentations and dishonest claims. No surprise there.

            But there is a need for a strong counterpoint to balance such biased claims if any blogger wishes his or her site that promotes them to be anything other than an echo chamber.

            I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to keep you honest and try to get you to respect what’s true. If that makes me the asshole, then so be it.

      • Deb: You might just want to practice reading a little more carefully. Those are not actually MY words you’re objecting to.

        But Lothar is right. Marxism-Leninism was a dogmatic and preachy atheist ideology. The fact that they also sometimes killed other atheists, as Christian inquisitors sometimes killed other Christians, is neither here nor there — it is your logic that goes off the rails, here. And yes, “the religious” (but note I challenge your assumed definition of that word above) certainly WERE the targets, which is why the state preached atheism (and still does today: I read my students’ Chinese textbooks, as I have read communist propaganda in Russian and Chinese off and on for decades.)

        Your mistaking Lothar for me is of a piece with your ignorance of modern history. You simply do not know what you are talking about. Again, Aikman’s Atheism in the Marxist Tradition would be a start.

        • You’re quite right regarding the quote; I made a mistake attributing those words to you and I do apologize for my sloppiness. But agreeing with the intent of those words still applies and still deserves criticism.

          My point is that it is dishonest and a gross misrepresentation to attribute the rise and empowerment of these communist totalitarian regimes to atheism as if non belief were the goal. The goal was to consolidate all political power, not to employ a ‘clear the decks’ strategy so to speak for the rise of atheism. And this can be historically validated by a very long line of compelling evidence that whomever stood against this consolidating goal were then targets for elimination. Believers, non believers, none were spared if they stood against the rise of the state in whose name these Dear Leaders took political power. Remaking the history of these regimes as if they were trying to promote atheism alone for the sake of non belief is a distortion because in each case the state – not the individual – supplanted the positions vacated by religion and any and all other institutions that offered resistance. The submission to the tenets of faith were simply transferred to submission to the tenets of the state. This is not atheism. This is politics.

          You’re trying to sell chestnuts and you have an agenda to try to vilify New Atheists.

          Stalin – trained to be a priest, don’t forget – did not set forth to promote the merit of having good reasons to justify beliefs, or elevate legal respect for personal autonomy to believe or not believe as one wished; he set forth to consolidate political power and killed anyone who offered resistance as you very well know – from priests to atheists and many others.

          Mao was not trying to impose non belief in gods or a god on an unwilling population in need of culling; he was trying to overthrow the Nationalists and replace this very corrupt system with a communist model through a centralized totalitarian authority that also would not tolerate any competing authority. Offer resistance, be killed.

          Pol Pot eliminated the educated classes of people (no matter what their beliefs may have been) in order to return to an agrarian base. Again, the point here is that anyone who supported any other authority was to be killed.

          Sense a theme?

          That any of these leaders believed or did not believe in any gods does not mean their motivation was to advance non belief. It was to attack resistance to consolidating all political authority in a single Dear Leader. Pretending otherwise is a chestnut of the religious community who wish to vilify atheism by this very loose connection. One might as well associate the growth of facial hair to be the common denominator. The historical fact of the matter is that none of these totalitarian leaders tried to elevate respect for compelling reasons based on reality’s arbitration of claims made about it. None of these totalitarian leaders sought legal respect for individual autonomy necessary to be free of some imposed religious tyrannical authority as today’s New Atheism does. In historical fact, all of these Dear Leaders imposed the requirement of a central tyrannical authority much more similar to the kind of religious submission to authority so often touted as deep and virtuous piousness.

          • Deb: Stalin studied in a seminary because that was the only education available; he turned to atheism early on.

            But you seem to be assuming, for some strange reason, that a person or a movement can only have one goal at a time. I have never heard of such a movement. All the political movements I am familiar with, including of course all the Medieval movements that atheists love to rail against, including the Taliban and the Democratic Party, had a set of goals and assumptions about life that they wove together to constitute a package. Often those include both assumptions about the nature of reality — such as theism, or atheism — broad public policy goals, and also personal ambitions. I see no conflict whatsoever between saying the communists wanted power, they hated capitalists, and they wanted to inflict atheism on their subjects. And I have no idea why you think these goals must have been mutually-exclusive. Were they incapable, in your view, of walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time?

            As for Stalin not sharing a virtue you claim to think important, I deal with that silly objection in The Truth Behind the New Atheism as well. So you’re just bad-mouthing me, without knowing what my arguments actually are — and that’s what you mean by “the merit of having good reasons to justify belief?” Criticizing blindly?

            The fact that you, or Stalin, are atheists, is distinct from whatever virtues you think ought, in theory, to attend atheism. You appear, in fact, to be using some sort of “No True Scotsman” argument: Stalin couldn’t have been a real atheist, because he was irrational? Well, I’m afraid you’ve left yourself open to that charge, as well.

            I find it reassuring to discover that I fully answered both your “arguments” here, in my book, already, without even knowing your name.

          • David, I find it remarkable how common is the ‘academic’ caricaturization of New Atheists that presents their contribution to the critical examination of certain theses of effect to be founded on religious ignorance and nefarious totalitarian motivations and personal failures of intellect rather than what they really are, namely, why this generation needs to think more about how religion poisons everything, why faith-based belief in supernatural interactive causal agencies is delusional, why we need to break the spell that holds such religious belief to be privileged from critical scientific study, and how humanity would be better served if we put an end to faith. All of these arguments are presented in toto as calm and rational and evidence-based reasons that include pernicious effect of faith-based belief when acted upon… not just in religious terms but in a wide range of popular issues including alternative ‘medicine’, complimentary ‘therapies’, conspiratorial thinking, and veritable host of denial-based science-bashing concerns. The New Atheist movement addresses why the next generation should not continue to empower faith-based beliefs to have equivalent weight in these considerations because of the pernicious effects demonstrably caused by granting knowledge equivalency to this methodology where no knowledge equivalency can be independently shown to have been equivalently produced.

            Enter the religious apologist, accommodationist, and faitheist community. Let the vilification begin!

            Like so many other dime-store believers with degrees, you have far too easily conflated the principle of anti-theism – why no one should empower faith-based belief with confidence and trust – to be equivalent to being anti-theist. This is a pernicious misrepresentation rarely, if ever, corrected (as far as I can tell). I have read and heard literally hundreds of New Atheists complain of this misrepresentation… a misrepresentation constantly trumpeted on sites like this one.

            Part of that caricaturization to vilify New Atheists is to associate totalitarian regimes to be a causal effect of non belief. You you seem to blithely ignore is to look at what it is you’re really saying about real people in real life who do not believe in gods or a god, namely, that you are assuring us that 97% of scientists at the most renowned universities are as a group some kind of danger to the rest of us – a danger that apparently leads entire societies to totalitarianism – because they are non believers. Oh, the shame! You actually try to use academics to make this astoundingly inaccurate claim and think yourself well-informed. But are you?

            Well, like any cherry picking activity, when one sets out to support an a priori belief, one can always find bits a pieces of evidence that seem to support it. That’s why what I see from your interview is a failure on your part to first recognize and then adjust your biases in this regard. Why should I think you might not be the best informed candidate to write well about the ‘truth’ behind New Atheism when you can’t even get your mind around what non belief actually is?

            Yes, some men with mustaches become despots, but that doesn’t mean that mustaches are in some way accountable for the despots. Yes, some men who do not believe in gods or a god become Dear Leaders of totalitarian states and target religious believers for elimination, but that doesn’t mean that non belief is in some way accountable for these totalitarian effects. By suggesting that atheism is the chewing gum to a wider grouping of totalitarian motives that is walking, you are actually suggesting that part of the despot was due to the mustache. And that line of thinking demonstrates to me that you are not trying to understand and address what New Atheism is all about but setting out with an agenda to vilify real people in real life in the service of maintaining your religious beliefs.

  6. All I can say is that atheists will be very embarrassed when they die.
    I don’t, however, feel any need to challenge them directly.
    I know there is a God because I have experienced Him.
    I live with God every day.
    Thank you for this informative interview..

      • A mighty salmon? Like the fish?? lol😄.

        I can’t say I’m an atheist, but I am sympathetic to their position. I have to say I’m kind of glad the movement started, because there are a lot of issues with the Christian God that don’t make sense and which are making the world a worse place to live, most notably their position on homosexual rights to marry, the validity of evolution, and how they put a great fear into the hearts of many children worldwide with the belief of hell and the need to repent to God when they “sin”. Particularly if that child happens to be gay😦.

        God also gives a lot of people hope, but I guess you could think of it this way. Would you rather have a group of people believe in ancient Zeus (the God lightning, I think) rather than simply be atheists who try to come at things rationally? I think that generally speaking the world is better off when we don’t have religion getting in the way, because it distorts things and makes it harder to come to the truth, which is ultimately what will make life better for everyone (everyone wants to be happy, but we have different ideas on how that is reached).

        i have to say I very much enjoy talking to nice people. But I worry about Christians sometimes, because when they talk to me they seem so empowered, and they are so willing to tell me the “good news”; I worry about how that distorted thinking is going to make its way into laws and society, and we’re going to have generations of kids living in fear of an imaginary hell like I did. Some christians seem to me as almost brainwashed people who don’t know what they’re doing, like a cult group. Especially when you see the mass faith healing ceremonies; where people go to have their illnesses cured (and in most cases nothing happens). Or when people sold all their stuff because Harold Camping predicted the end of the world based on the bible.

        Not everyone is so out of touch, but there will always be some sizeable minority as long as religion is around. I just hope it goes away and what we’re left with is a group of “reasonable” Christians who aren’t sure if hell exists, aren’t sure about gay marriage, but are willing to trust reason more than an ancient text from 2000 years ago

  7. Deb: You seem to be a walking encyclopedia of New Atheist cliches. I deal with many of those cliches in this book. No, that is not what we have usually meant by “faith.” No, “religion” (whatever that is) does not “poison everything,” in fact Christianity has enriched the lives of billions, and probably saved the lives of hundreds of millions. No, no one here is “bashing science.” No, I do not “vilify New Atheists,” I refute their arguments. They tend to vilify Christians, which makes it hard to make friends with them, but I have plenty of atheist friends, who do not seem to feel “vilified” by me.

    And no, “calm and rational” is not the most appropriate description of the New Atheism as a whole, as even many traditional atheists have pointed out, sometimes with alarm. (And as I demonstrate with numerous direct quotes, again.) Still less do I vilify atheists in general, or claim that 97% of professors (not a few of whom are my friends!) are evil. What silliness. And you hardly come up for air, or even for proper grammar, between these large gulps of goofiness. “Calm and rational,” indeed.

    You are not really addressing anything I say. You seem to be writing in some sort of a fevered state, detached from the reality of the comments you imagine yourself to be addressing.

    I have no desire to continue a conversation in which I play the role of a demon in some sort of flashback you’re experiencing (or perhaps a video game you’re playing in your head?), and nothing I actually say seems to penetrate accurately (without being broken up and resorted into new and fearsome shapes) to your consciousness.

    Have a Merry Christmas, and return in the New Year, Lord willing, in sobriety.

    • Thank you, David, for addressing my points so auspiciously. Your respectful tone does you honour. Yes, I’m sure your understanding of New Atheism is very astute. Well done. Such scholarship. You see so very clearly what the rest of miss. Amazing.

      I am outraged on your behalf that the New Atheists have misrepresented themselves so badly through their words and deeds and I appreciate your deeply academic guidance in order to better understand how they have fallen into this trap of their own making. More importantly, I give thanks to your efforts to explain why they are really saying is so misguided. Outstanding!

      As a rising champion of apologists, accommodationists, and faitheists of all creeds, everywhere, you are a real gem and your input into exposing these disreputable cretins highly valuable.

      Have a Merry Christmas, and may you return in the New Year in even greater esteem of your peers.

  8. I used to be a New Atheist. I frequented PZ Myers blog until it became completely clear that any decent discussion that may have been had with liberal libertarians, religious explorers to freethought (“on holiday” you might say😉 ,Deists, New Age individuals, et al…. It was al only as long as they agreed 100% with what PZ said or any of the “bigger” commentors (The Molly award winners, or OM title-holders).

    I’m not gonna lie, it used to be very nerdy, very geeky, cathartically angry and anarchist in a cute way… but that only now serves to exemplify that he’s a fat, middle- aged white man in a tenured position who is just abusing his situation to degenerate into an intolerable man-child.

    Morsec0de was much better… He was an artistic atheist who had a small wordpress blog a long time ago and had wonderful conversations with Christians… in fact he named his blog after another christian blogger that he followed. He was an exemplar to the Atheist community, a real diamond in the rough…And it was on his blog that i cut my teeth as a vicious, god-destroying NEW atheist (brand spanking new).

    I was able to look in the mirror and see that I was basically covered in my own shit. It still irks me deeply when Christians who are young take to moralizing me and pretending that i’m de facto morally bankrupt because i say god doesn’t exist.

    Which is stupid. Because 1) assume God is dead
    2) recognize the existence of religious texts
    3) understand the moral codes therein
    4) use them either in isolation or conjunction
    5) become a morally righteous person.

    If you replace “dead” with “nonexistent”, then you are now congratulations, a human infant, ready to begin the process of acculturation (steps 2-4)

    • I find it extremely offensive to say that atheists IN GENERAL are immoral.
      But I do believe that bullying anti-theists aren’t developing a healthy moral character (if I’m allowed to use a British understatement).

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