The link between religious fundamentalism and militant atheism

In a previous post I gave the following definitions:

“An atheist is someone who sees God’s existence as being very implausible.

An antitheist (or New Atheist, militant atheist, atheistic fundamentalist…) is an atheist believing that all religions ought to disappear and that it is morally permissible (if not mandatory) to use ridicule, mockery and emotional bullying to destroy the faith of all religious believers.”

While I have a huge respect for many great atheistic thinkers of Western history (such as Nietzche, Sartre, Camus and Macky to name only a few) I have developed a healthy disdain towards anti-theists (as defined above).

I find that there is nothing glorious about using ridicule and mockery towards respectful and intelligent people you have a strong disagreement with.

Militant atheists are characterized by a bigoted self-righteousness and an intolerance towards all kinds of non-materialist points of view.
I have seen with my own eyes (across a screen) antitheists insulting and ridiculing nice persons defending the irreducible character of our conscious experience or of mathematical equations.

Following an extreme form of binary thinking, the New Atheists believe that since Islamic terrorists or Christian fundies are non-materialists, all non-materialists ought to be ridiculed.

But where does all this irrational and hateful thinking stem from?

David Leiter described in a short article what I and many other people have experienced:

“The theme that has emerged time after time, as I become closely acquainted with individual PhACT members is this: Each one who has disclosed personal details of their formative years, say up until their early 20’s,
has had an unfortunate experience with a faith-based philosophy, most often a
conventional major religion.
Very often, their family or community has (almost forcibly) imposed this philosophy on them from a very early age; but then as they matured, they threw off this philosophy with a vengeance, vowing at a soul level never to be so victimized again. Less often, it appears that they have instead voluntarily and enthusiastically embraced, for example, a New Age cult, or have become say, a born-again Christian. Then after a few years, they become convinced of the folly of that infatuation with the same basic result. They throw off this philosophy with a vengeance, vowing at a soul level never to be so victimized again.”

This leads me to make several empirically testable claims about the psychology of militant atheism.

1) The overwhelming majority of anti-theists have had a traumatic experience with one or several religions. In most cases they were raised as fundamentalists.

2) All things being equal, the strength of their materialist belief and intolerance towards other views is proportional to the amount of abuse and suffering they underwent in the past due to a religion.

3) All other things being equal, a bullying anti-theist is more likely to have always had a bullying personality to begin with,
There are many former fundamentalists who have become atheists without having taken on a hateful rhetoric.

Michael Shermer and Johny Scaramanga are two nice examples.

4) The intensity of the hostile and disrespectful rhetoric of a militant atheist is inversely proportional to the intellectual strength of his or her arguments.

(While it arguably concerns only a minority of cases, I do think this nicely illustrates the kind of vicious circle or hatred going on).

Now I would be glad if you could share your own experiences with me.


Why probabilities matter



In real life, it’s pretty rare (some would even say utterly impossible) to be sure of anything at all, like knowing it’s going to rain in one hour, that a conservative president is going to be elected, that you will be happily married in two years and so on and so forth.

We all recognize that it is only meaningful to speak of the probability or likelihood of each of these events.

The question of how to interpret their profound nature (ontoloy) is however, far from being an easy one.

I will use the basic proposition: if I roll the dice, there is a probability of 1/6 I will get a 3 in order to illustrate the two main interpretation of the probability concept out there.

1. Frequentism

According to this interpretation, the probability of an event equals its frequency if it is repeated an infinite number of times. If you roll a dice a great number of time, the frequency of the event (that is the number of 3s divided by the total number of rollings) will converge towards 1/6.

Mathematically it is a well defined concept and in many cases it can be relatively easily approximated. One of the main difficulties is that it apparently fails to account for the likelihood of unique situations, such as that (as far as we know in 2013) the Republicans are going to win the next American elections.

This brings us to the next popular interpretation of probability.

2. Bayesianism

For Bayesians, probabilities are degrees of belief and each degree of belief is a probability.

My degree of belief that the dice will fall onto 3 is 1/6.

But what is then a „degree of belief“? It is a psychological mind state which is correlated with a certain readiness for action.

According to many proponents of Bayenianism, degrees of belief are objective in so far that every rational creature disposing of a set of information would have exactly the same.

While such a claim is largely defensible for many situations such as the rolling of dices, the spread of a disaease or the results of the next elections, there are cases where it does not seem to make any sense at all.

Take for exampling the young Isaac Newton who was considering his newly developed theory of universal gravitation. What value should his degree of belief have taken on BEFORE he had begun to consider the first data of the real world?


And what would it mean ontologically to say that we have a degree of belief of 60% that the theory is true? What is the relation (in that particular situation) between the intensity of certain brain processes and the objective reality?

Such considerations have led other Bayesians to give up objectivity and define „degrees of belief“ as subjective states of mind, which might however be objectively constrained in many situations.

Another criticism of (strong) Bayesianism is that it ties the concept of probability to the belief of intelligent creatures. Yet it is clear that even in an universe lacking conscious beings, the probability of the decay of an atom and of more fundamental quantum processes would still exist and be meaningful.

For completeness, I should mention the propensity interpretation of Karl Popper who viewed the likelihood of an event as an intrinsic tendency of a physical system to tend towards a certain state of affairs.


So this was my completely unbiased (pun intended!) views on probabilities.

When debating (and fighting!) each other, theists and atheists tend to take their own epistemology (theory of knowledge) as granted.

This often leads to fruitless and idle discussions.

This is why I want to take the time to examine how we can know, what it means to know, before discussing what we can (and cannot) know.


Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)



Next episod: Naked Bayesianism.