Massimo's [and others] Critique[s] of the New Atheist Movement



...As I said, Harris wants to deliver moral decision making to science because he wants to defeat the evil (if oddly paired) twins of religious fanaticism and leftist moral relativism. Despite the fact that I think he grossly overestimates the pervasiveness of the latter, we are together on this. Except of course that the best
arguments against both positions are philosophical, not scientific. The most convincing reason why gods cannot possibly have anything to do with morality was presented 24 centuries ago by Plato, in the already mentioned (in the context of Dawkins’s book) Euthyphro dialogue, and which goes, predictably, entirely unmentioned in The Moral Landscape.

Needless to say, moral relativism, too, has been the focus of sustained and devastating attack in philosophy, for instance by thinkers such as Peter Singer and Simon Blackburn, and this is all to be found in the large ethical and metaethical literature that Harris finds so increases the degree of boredom in the universe.

Harris’s chief claim throughout the book is that moral judgments are a kind of fact, and that as such they are amenable to scientific inquiry. First of all, the second statement does not at all follow from the first. Surely we can agree that the properties of triangles in Euclidean geometry are “facts,” in the sense that nobody
who understands Euclidean geometry can opine that the sum of the angles in a triangle is not 180° and get away with it. But we do not use science, or any kind of empirical evidence at all, to arrive at agreement about such facts. At the very least, and without wanting to push an argument for moral realism, this makes the point
that “facts” is too heterogeneous a category, and that Harris needs to be much more careful on how to handle it...
I think this is a pretty well intentioned yet deservedly hard critique from Massimo, himself a more -IMO- honest skeptic as he does at least consider Mathematical Platonism. I'd often felt that Harris was incredibly lazy when it came to philosophy but my opinion was that of a layperson dipping their toes into the pool.

It's good to see I wasn't the only one. ;)

Beyond that, I do wonder about the education of some supposed skeptics. There seems to be a subset (unclear how large) that is enamored by the Singularity and it's supposed virtual Promised Land.

Massimo, to an extent at least, shares this concern:

I would actually go so far as to charge many of the leaders of the New Atheism movement (and, by implication, a good number of their followers) with anti-intellectualism, one mark of which is a lack of respect for the proper significance, value, and methods of another field of intellectual endeavor.


Curb your enthusiasm: High priests, holy writ and excommunications – how did Humanism end up acting like a religion?

...I, like Dawkins, am a non-believer. Yet I, like Williams, refuse to put science and religion at war. This is partly because I do not think they have to be — I see them as asking different questions. But it is also because I think there is something socially and psychologically unhealthy about the course that the debate has taken, especially by those on my side of the fence. I do not think the faults are all on one side, but let me speak to the side to which I might naturally be expected to belong....
...What I am concerned with here is the self-proclaimed world-view of Humanism (which I capitalise to make this distinction). This is the movement that makes claims about science — and evolution in particular — that interest me. And it is this kind of Humanism that makes me uneasy. It doesn’t just define itself against religion; in some respects, it has taken on aspects of religion. Perhaps it is a kind of religion....
...I, and others of my ilk, am reviled in terms far harsher than those kept for the real opponents like the Creationists. We are labelled ‘accommodationists’ for our willingness to give religion a space not occupied by science. We are put down in terms that denote powerful emotion, way beyond reason. In The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, I am likened to Neville Chamberlain, the pusillanimous appeaser of Hitler. Jerry Coyne, the author of both the book and the blog Why Evolution is True and an ardent fan of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, wrote about one of my books in terms used by George Orwell: ‘There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.’ The Minnesota biologist PZ Myers, who writes the blog Pharyngula, has referred to me as a ‘clueless gobshite’. And if I had a dollar for everyone who has made a pun out of my last name, I would be a very rich man. Because I will not toe the line absolutely or bow down in praise of Dawkins and company, because I laugh at their pretensions and positions, I am anathema maranatha....
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The Relentless Hypocrisy Of James Randi

What exactly is Randi asserting when he writes: "We only respond to responsible claims." Is Sylvia Browne's claim that she can talk to the dead a "responsible" one? What about Uri Geller's assertion that he can bend spoons with the power of his mind? Would Randi have use believe that he views the "abilities" of Browne and Geller as more "plausible" than Kolodzey's? Again, we must remember, it is Randi's assertion that there is NO VALID EVIDENCE of any paranormal or supernatural phenomena, so there really can be no such thing as "degrees of plausibility" in this field. But even more importantly, if Kolodzey IS a liar and a fraud (which he may very well be), then one would think that JREF has all the more reason to accept his application. Isn't that the whole point of the Randi Challenge - to expose dangerous hucksters and/or "self-deluded frauds?"
When Randi asserts CATEGORICALLY and A PRIORI that Mr. Kolodzey is a LIAR and a FRAUD, is he not betraying the sentiment he voiced on the Larry King show - that he hasn't made up his mind, and only wants to find the truth?
When Randi starts in on the ad hominem, as in the case of the man in Ahmedabad, he is happy to denigrate someone for their spiritual beliefs and attire in a way that is sadly - ironically - suggestive of anti-LGBT bigotry:

Randi has publicly responded to this case, writing on his website ( "Mr. Jani, who dresses in the female costume of a devotee of the goddess Ambaji, a red sari-like garment, nose ring, bangles and crimson flowers in his graying hair, offered an explanation, yet to be tested by the doctors. 'I get the elixir of life from the hole in my palate, which enables me to go without food and water,' he said. Okay. That we can test. Or will we? Did those doctors think to look for the hole in his palate? Funny, they didn't mention it, if they did so.


Prof Brian Cox: physicist or priest?

Many popular scientists are atheist, so why are they so happy to use the misty-eyed language of religion...

But am I alone in finding this cheerleading problematic?

It's ironic that the public engagement with the science crowd is so pro-wonder, because they're so anti-religion. "All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation," writes Richard Dawkins. "And it's exactly this feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awe – almost worship – this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide."

"I'm an atheist," said maths professor Marcus du Sautoy when he took up the Charles Simonyi chair in the public understanding of science at Oxford. "But for me the important thing is the wonder of science." Advocates for science can't seem to give up on religion's selling points: the awe, transcendence, and worship.

The crucial question, though, is who is doing the worshipping...


Peter Higgs criticises Richard Dawkins over anti-religious 'fundamentalism':

"What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists," Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. "Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind."

He agreed with some of Dawkins' thoughts on the unfortunate consequences that have resulted from religious belief, but he was unhappy with the evolutionary biologist's approach to dealing with believers and said he agreed with those who found Dawkins' approach "embarrassing".


Why I am Not an Atheist: Better Apathetic Godlessness than Illiberal Scientism

The New Atheist movement that developed from the mid-naughties around the self-styled "four horsemen of the apocalypse" - Hitchens, Dennett, Harris and Dawkins - had a tremendous public impact. Godlessness has never had a higher public profile. How wonderful for unbelievers like me?

Hardly. I am as embarrassed by the New Atheists as many Christians are embarrassed by the evangelical fundamentalists who appoint themselves the representatives of Christianity. It has often been noted that the New Atheist movement has contributed no original arguments or ideas to the debate about religion. But the situation is worse than this.

The main achievement of New Atheism - what defines it as a more or less coherent movement - is its promulgation of a particular version of atheism that is quasi-religious, scientistic and sectarian. New Atheism been so successful in redefining what atheism means that I find I must reject it as an identity. My unbelief is apathetic and simply follows from my materialism - I don't see why I should care about the non-existence of gods.
Lest we forget, The "New Athiest" movement was a reaction against the fundamentalism that religion can propagate. The timing was apropos. For balance, it is worth remembering the power and infuence of the organisations they were pushing against.


Lest we forget, The "New Athiest" movement was a reaction against the fundamentalism that religion can propagate. The timing was apropos. For balance, it is worth remembering the power and infuence of the organisations they were pushing against.
Is meeting religious fundamentalism with materialist fundamentalism at all useful? Even Dawkins taking the term "Bright" wasn't necessarily a good thing:

The Future is not looking so 'Bright' for Atheism

Now choosing the term "Bright" probably wasn't such a good idea. The opposite of Bright is dim, a mildly offensive word that translates as "stupid". By choosing to use the label Bright, atheists were widely seen to be claiming to be smarter than everyone else. As one commentator, John Allen Paulos, remarked:

"I don't think a degree in public relations is needed to expect that many people will construe the term as smug, ridiculous, and arrogant."

Furthermore, Geisert and Futrell were embarrassed by the dogmatism of some of their fellow travellers, who they considered to be giving "Brights" a bad name. Yet many media figures allowed themselves to be swept along in this tide of atheist euphoria, predicting the imminent cultural triumph of atheism. Brights were everywhere! Religion was in decline, while the Brights were on the rise.
It's questionable how much good the New Atheists did, seeing as religious fundamentalism held strong sway in America's political sphere until the '08 crash.

If anything New Atheists may have exacerbated political divides by co-optong progressive causes and pretending they held the means to push them through. Probably why Dawkins is apparently seen as an embarrassment by the "New New Atheists" -> Richard Dawkins has lost: meet the new new atheists


Remembering Albert Camus and Longing for the Old Atheism

As fans and followers of Nobel Prize-winning writer and philosopher Albert Camus are celebrating the centennial of his birth today, people of many faiths and no faith at all do well to remember his legacy when it came to religion. Most importantly, as an unbeliever, Camus offers a powerful counter-example to the stridency and animus of the "new atheism" associated with Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others. Indeed Camus makes us long for the days of the "old atheism" when religious people weren't mocked for their so-called irrational beliefs; bullied by the charge that "religion poisons everything"; and told to step aside while secularism sweeps clean the religious debris from public life.

To begin with, Camus was humble about his unbelief, recalling Benjamin Constant's caution that there is something "worn out" about being too intensely against religion. Camus freely admitted that he didn't believe in God, but he chose to speak "in the name of an ignorance that tries to negate nothing." In other words, his own lack of faith did not presume that others must be wrong about theirs -- certainly not in a way that he could prove with certainty. For this reason, he resisted "atheism," adopting instead the mantle of the "unbeliever" (incroyant)

One need not be religious, nevertheless, to appreciate how religion contributed constructively to civilization and contemporary life. As a young university student in French-Algeria, Camus completed a thesis exploring the relationship between Neo-Platonic and Christian metaphysics. A central figure in this study was St. Augustine whom, as a fellow Algerian, Camus held a great affinity. According to biographer Herbert Lottman, St. Augustine was, for Camus, "the 'bishop' of North African writers, whether believers or non-believers. Camus saw in this saint the artist with all the strengths and weaknesses of the 'African' Camus felt himself to be." Camus was especially taken by Augustine's searching inquiry into the problem of evil. Contrary to new atheists like Hitchens -- who suggests that religion is the carrier of plague -- Camus recognized that evil is a human problem. As Dr. Rieux remarked in Camus's superb novel The Plague, "each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it." Camus, like Dr. Rieux, shared the same questions religious believers ask; he just couldn't accept their answers -- or their hope. He found consolation not in the faith of Job or the salvation of Christ but in Sisyphus: the prospect that, through rebellion and endurance, Sisyphus could be happy.
Reminds me of some Einstein quotes:

Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can't hear the music of the spheres. (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, 2000 p. 214)

In the view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support for such views. (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, p. 214)

What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos. (Albert Einstein to Joseph Lewis, Apr. 18, 1953)


So the "new" atheists are hurting some feelings? I'm tempted to say "diddums", in light of what they're up against:
You're assuming the New Atheists have any pull at all in that region. That seems unlikely to me, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

I'm expecting progressive Muslims, indigenous faith practitioners, and Christians to have far more impact in ensuring cultural shifts away from fundamentalism. New Atheism will probably only slow progress with its combative nature, if its members get involved at all.
You're assuming the New Atheists have any pull at all in that region. That seems unlikely to me, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.
Ha! I wonder why that is! And I meant "up against" more generally and ideologically, as in where a belief in the "numinous" can lead...

I'm expecting progressive Muslims, indigenous faith practitioners, and Christians to have far more impact in ensuring cultural shifts away from fundamentalism. New Atheism will probably only slow progress with its combative nature, if its members get involved at all.
Hmmm... Those other groups seem only to fuel the problems in various ways. At least "slow progress" is progress?
So the "new" atheists are hurting some feelings? I'm tempted to say "diddums", in light of what they're up against:
"Diddums"? You really don't want to be taken seriously do you?

I wonder if you really believe that most religious people would condone what is happening to that woman? Or that is what belief in God means to them?

I wonder whether most atheists would condone what happened in Tibet when the Chinese (State atheism) imposed their Cultural Revolution? Is that where non-belief in the numinous can lead?

Thousands of monks were beaten to death or put in camps, and ancient relics were destroyed. The Red Guards used their artillery to flatten hundreds of monasteries.
Or perhaps you prefer the methods of the North Koreans when dealing with the religious?

Wikipedia said:
On November 2013, the repression against religious people led to the public execution of 80 people, some of them for possessing bibles
The point is that anyone can select extreme examples to make their point but doing so is appealing to fear and hatred to alienate the other point of view. I'm not religious either but I don't hate my neighbour because he attends church on a Sunday morning nor do I follow the rantings of Dawkins who accuses my neighbour of evil intent.
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This is an article about perhaps the most prominent of the New Atheists, Richard Dawkins. The article is written by an atheist.

Not in our name: Dawkins dresses up bigotry as non-belief - he cannot be left to represent atheists

As a non-believer, I want the atheist case to be made. I want religious belief to be scrutinised and challenged. I want Britain to be a genuinely secular nation, where religious belief is protected and defended as a private matter of conscience. But I feel prevented from doing so because atheism in public life has become so dominated by a particular breed that ends up dressing up bigotry as non-belief. It is a tragedy. And that is why it is so important that atheists distance themselves from those who undermine our position. Richard Dawkins can rant and rave about Muslims as much as he wants. But atheists: let's stop allowing him to do it in our name.