How Did New Atheism Fail So Miserably?

The Baffler publishes a long article against “idiot” New Atheists. It’s interesting only in the context of so many similar articles, and an inability to imagine the opposite opinion showing up in an equally fashionable publication. New Atheism has lost its battle for the cultural high ground. r/atheism will shamble on as some sort of undead abomination, chanting “BRAAAAAAIIINSSSS…are what fundies don’t have” as the living run away shrieking. But everyone else has long since passed them by.

The New Atheists accomplished the seemingly impossible task of alienating a society that agreed with them about everything. The Baffler-journalists of the world don’t believe in God. They don’t disagree that religion contributes to homophobia, transphobia, and the election of some awful politicians – and these issues have only grown more visible in the decade or so since New Atheism’s apogee. And yet in the bubble where nobody believes in God and everyone worries full-time about sexual minorities and Trump, you get less grief for being a Catholic than a Dawkins fan. When Trump wins an election on the back of evangelicals, and the alt-right is shouting “DEUS VULT” and demanding “throne and altar conservativism”, the real scandal is rumors that some New Atheist might be reading /pol/. How did the New Atheists become so loathed so quickly?

The second article presents a theory:

It has something to do with a litany of grievances against the believoisie so rote that it might well (or ironically) be styled a catechism. These New Atheists and their many fellow travelers all share an unpleasant obsessive tic: they mouth some obvious banality—there is no God, the holy books were all written by human beings—and then act as if it is some kind of profound insight. This repetition-compulsion seems to be baked right into their dogma.

It compares New Atheists to Kierkegaard’s lunatic:

Soren Kierkegaard, the great enemy of all pedants, offers a story that might shed considerable light. In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, he describes a psychiatric patient who escapes from the asylum, climbing out a window and running through the gardens to rejoin the world at large. But the madman worries: out in the world, if anyone discovers that he is insane, he will instantly be sent back. So he has to watch what he says, and make sure none of it betrays his inner imbalance—in short, as the not-altogether unmad Danish genius put it, to “convince everyone by the objective truth of what he says that all is in order as far as his sanity is concerned.” Finding a skittle-bowl on the ground and popping it in his pocket, he has an ingenious idea: who could possibly deny that the world is round? So he goes into town and starts endlessly repeating that fact, proffering it over and over again as he wanders about with his small furious paces, the skittle-bowl in his coat clanking, in strict conformity with Newton’s laws, against what Kierkegaard euphemistically refers to as his “a–.” Of course, the poor insistent soul is then sent right back to the asylum […]

Kierkegaard’s villagers saw someone maniacally repeating that the world is round and correctly sent him back to the asylum. We watched [Neil de Grasse] Tyson doing exactly the same thing, and instead of hiding him away from society where nobody would have to hear such pointless nonsense, thousands cheer him on for fighting for truth and objectivity against the forces of backwardness. We do the same when Richard Dawkins valiantly fights for the theory of evolution against the last hopeless stragglers of the creationist movement, with their dinky fiberglass dinosaurs munching leaves in a museum-piece Garden of Eden. We do it when Sam Harris prises deep into the human brain and announces that there’s no little vacuole there containing a soul.

So the problem with New Atheism was that its whole shtick was repeating obviously true things that everyone already knew? But about 80% of Americans identify as religious, 63% claim to be “absolutely certain” that there is a God, and 46% think the world was literally created in seven days. This is a surprising number of people disagreeing with a thing that everybody already knows.

I could be misreading the article. The article could be wrong. But I don’t think so. This is my intuitive feeling of what was wrong with New Atheism as well. It wasn’t that they were wrong. Just that they were right in a loud, boring, and pointless way.

A charitable reading: New Atheists weren’t reaching their intellectual opponents. They were coming into educated urban liberal spaces, saying things that educated urban liberals already believed, and demanding social credit for it. Even though 46% of America is creationist, zero percent of my hundred-or-so friends are. If New Atheists were preaching evolution in social circles like mine, they were wasting their time.

This seems like an accurate criticism of New Atheism, one that earns them all the condescension they have since received. But the New Atheist still ought to feel betrayed. Why isn’t this an equally correct criticism of everything else?

While the atheists were going around saying there was no God, the environmentalists were going around saying climate change was real. The feminists were going around saying sexism was bad. And the Democrats were going around saying Donald Trump was an awful person. All of these statements might be controversial somewhere, but meet basically zero resistance in educated urban liberal spaces. All get repeated day-in and day-out by groups of people who make entire careers out of repeating them. And all get said in the same condescending way, a sort of society-wide plague of Voxsplaining.

This is 90% of popular intellectual culture these days: progressives regurgitating progressivism to other progressives for nothing but the warm glow of being told “Yup, that was some good progressiving there”. Conservatives make fun of this incessantly, and they are right to do so. But for some reason, in the case of New Atheism and only in the case of New Atheism, Progressivism itself suddenly turned and said “Hey, you’re just repeating our own platitudes back to us!” And New Atheism, caught flat-footed, mouth open wide: “But…but..we thought we were supposed to…we thought…”.

Think of one of those corrupt kleptocracies where the dictator takes bribes, all his ministers take bribes, all their assistants take bribes, the anti-corruption task force takes bribes, etc. Then one day some shmuck manages to get on the dictator’s bad side and – bam – the secret police nab him for taking bribes. The look on his face the moment before the firing squad shoots – that’s how I imagine New Atheists feeling too.

So who’s the dictator in this analogy? And what did New Atheism do to get on their bad side?

Maybe New Atheism failed to make the case that it was socially important. All these movements have a mix of factual claims and social calls to action – climate change activism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that the climate is changing” with “we should worry about climate change causing famines, hurricanes, etc”, just as atheism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that God does not exist” with “we should worry about religion’s promotion of terrorism, homophobia, et cetera”. But the climate change people seem better at sounding like they care about the people involved, compared to atheists usually sounding more concerned with Truth For Its Own Sake and bringing in the other stuff as a justification.

Or maybe the New Atheists just didn’t know how to stay relevant. Trump resistance always has new tweets to keep its attention. Social justice always has a new sexist celebrity to be angry about. Sure, a few New Atheists tried to keep up with the latest secretly-gay televangelist, but most of them kept going about intricacies of the kalam argument that had been done to death by 1400 AD. This is just an example – maybe there are other asymmetries that are more important?

Maybe the New Atheists accidentally got on board just before a nascent Grey Tribe/Blue Tribe split and tried to get Blue Tribe credibility by sending Grey Tribe signals. At some point there was a cultural fissure between Acela Corridor thinkfluencers with humanities degrees and Silicon Valley bloggers with STEM degrees, and the former got a head start on hating the latter while the latter still thought everybody was on the same anti-Republican side.

And the cynic in me wonders whether New Atheism wasn’t pointless and obvious enough. There are more church-goers in educated liberal circles than Trump supporters, climate deniers, or self-identified racists. Maybe that made the “repeat platitudes to people who already believe them” game a little less fun, caused some friction – “You’re talking about my dear grandmother!”

I don’t know. The whole problem is so strange. For a brief second, modern culture looked at New Atheism, saw itself, and said “Huh, this is really stupid and annoying”. Then it cast New Atheism into the outer darkness while totally failing to generalize that experience to anything else. Why would it do that? Could it happen again? Please can it happen again? Pretty please?

1,043 thoughts on “How Did New Atheism Fail So Miserably?

  1. dionisos

    It doesn’t seem to me new atheism failed or did “anything” wrong.
    I fear that it is just status games at play and that they lost some points in this dirty game because they deviated from some left narratives which were too much tainted of tribalism, and the left attacked them for that.
    Or at least I can imagine it is just that.

  2. pjiq

    I mean, I think the new atheists didn’t die because of some mysterious shift in public opinion. I think they died for the same reason Occupy Wall Street died:

    1) they lacked organization and leadership
    2) their positions were vehemently opposed to certain status quo attitudes, but made no realistic/ pragmatic propositions for preferable alternatives

    “New Atheists” believe that we should build our morality based on science, but what does this actually mean? Humanism? Liberalism? Some sort of Steven Pinker combination of capitalism and rationalism mixed with a clergy of brain scientists? I mean, their founding creed- like that of the OWS protesters- is simply false. The world’s problems can not be primarily explained away to inequality and the 1%- and the world’s problems are ALSO not be primarily explained away to ignorance and superstition. Scarcity is a thing. A big thing. How much of our lack of witch hunts has to do with our intellectual superiority to our ancestors and how much of it has to do with grocery stores? Would a starving community of atheists really not find a reason why some less trusted member wasn’t worthy of their portion of the harvest grain? Or would they act in their own economic self interest and condemn others for random sins as a survival strategy during times of famine, just like so many of our ancestors did?

    The New Atheists failed, not because people spontaneously turned on them without reason, but simply because they were wrong. Not about God’s existence, but about God’s culpability for all of our problems. Religious people might claim God won them the war when they actually pulled the trigger, but many Atheists actually claim that GOD pulled the trigger- that belief in some deity really is the driving force behind most of our former bloody conflicts. To me this doesn’t seem likely. The old kings might have given their gods the credit, but should we be so quick to to believe them when they claim their entire motivation for conquering their neighbors was “cuz I thought God wanted me to?”

  3. scott ballard

    Maybe its the fact that atheists have revealed a simple truth- they are just as annoying as the mouth breathing evangelicals they feel superior to and despise. The advantage the religious have is that they spend their time feeding the poor, clothing the naked and visiting the widow. What do you guys do with your spare time?

  4. ngrsm

    The New Atheists failed because they had nothing of value to say. Those that listened to them, as you point out, were already intellectual atheists. Creationists didn’t listen to them because creationists don’t value any sort of empirical evidence, and don’t adhere to the same standards of what constitutes knowledge that ‘intellectuals’ do. Intellectual Christians didn’t listen to them because the New Atheists profoundly failed to grasp the most basic tenant of God: that God is not a ‘thing’ and certainly not a material thing. Intellectual Christianity has already made it clear that the spiritual and the material are distinct (albeit related) realms, and as such material arguments are of no value when speaking of the spiritual world. They then went further and created theologies of evolution to reveal the perceived ‘providence of God’ within modern science. Dawkins and the New Atheists continued their bombastic rages, completely ignorant of anything related to an intellectual belief in God, and the intellectual Christians, understandably, simply pointed and laughed. The New Atheism failed because they didn’t have an audience; they failed to engage in anything remotely resembling real scholarship; and they were so annoying and arrogant in their arguments that anyone listening was sure that they were really Christian plants.

    1. Harry Maurice Johnston

      According to Wikipedia, Dawkins at least did criticize the concept (non-overlapping magisteria) that you seem to be talking about. So it isn’t as if the argument was never addressed. I don’t know how often it came up in online discussion. It seems quite likely, as already suggested, that the New Atheists as a whole underestimated the extent of what you’re calling “intellectual Christianity” as opposed to the more noisy sort, and in particular underestimated how many progressives considered themselves to be Christian.

      1. ngrsm

        Dawkins’ comments, however, show that he doesn’t really understand the concept. Religion/Christianity is not claiming to ‘restrict itself to morals and values.’ The very notion of the Incarnation implies that a Christian God would be extremely involved in the events of the physical world. Dawkins’ weakness is that he cannot bring himself to accept the notion of existence in a non-material way, which is a central axiom of religious belief. Thomas Aquinas, for example, was adamant that the notion of ‘substance’ did not, in any way, imply materiality. Thus, the ‘ipsum esse’ that God is claimed to be does not necessarily entail material existence.

        Dawkins wants to claim that, “a universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without.” OK…in what way? By what metric can this be ascertained? “Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.” Again, this holds true only if the metric by which you judge existence is empirically verifiable.

        What does it mean to ‘know’ something? Dawkins implies that we know something when we have empirical evidence for it. But what underlies this empirical evidence? Wittgenstein would argue that all empirical evidence holds its weight because it abides by principles that are prior to it, mainly the laws of logic. But the laws of logic are themselves build upon the principle of non-contradiction. What, then, is the principle of non-contradiction built upon? This is a question that, definitionally, cannot be answered, because literally any answer would already be assuming the principle of non-contradiction to be true, and therefore the fallacy of question begging. So, as Wittgenstein puts it, when we get to the very heart of the things that we know, we recognize that they rely not on empirical evidence, not on the laws of logic, but on ‘ungrounded human action.’

        So back to Dawkins…if Christians are claiming God to be ‘that which is’ or simply equating the term ‘God’ with the term ‘is’ (which was the intent of medieval Christian philosophers), then we must recognize that ‘is’ is something even prior to the principle of non-contradiction (i.e. we must have a concept of ‘to be’ before we can say that something ‘cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same way’). As such, there is, definitionally, no way to prove it, for its proof would require an appeal to something prior to a notion of existence.

        A Dawkins figure could argue that the ‘God = is’ predication is not the one that anyone actually following a given religion makes, or he could try to argue that this isn’t a meaningful predication and is needless semantics. But he cannot try to use ‘science’ or ‘logic’ to disprove the ‘God = is’ predication, for the ‘God = is’ predication underlies science and logic themselves, and Dawkins comes out looking like a fool. Any physical phenomena can be interpreted as a working of Divine Providence (again, see the ‘theology of evolution’ promulgated by people like Paul Tillich or Teilhard de Chardin), because the notion of God is not limited to materiality. This concept — basic to the Aristotellian/Thomistic mindset that has provided the basis for most of Christian theology — escapes Dawkins and the New Atheists, and causes them to say things that are absolutely absurd to the ‘intellectual Christian.’

        1. Harry Maurice Johnston

          That really doesn’t sound as if you’re talking about the same thing that Dawkins was talking about. Probably I had misunderstood you and mentioning non-overlapping magisteria was a wild goose chase.

          Still, progress of a sort has been made – I really didn’t understand until now just how very much inferential distance there is between the two sides here. Given that, it probably isn’t surprising that Dawkins “comes out looking like a fool” as you put it, since the argument he is making is not the one that the other side is hearing. It works both ways, of course; Wittgenstein’s position, as you describe it, sounds utterly insane.

        2. Harry Maurice Johnston

          (Regardless, I don’t think this addresses the original question, unless the Wittgenstein fans are much more prevalent than seems likely; certainly the linked articles don’t seem to have been written from that perspective.)

    1. John Schilling

      Among liberals, it is unacceptable to criticize religion itself, as a whole, or find moral fault in it; it is also unacceptable to criticise specific religions as sources of antisocial behavior, unless they are already extremely unpopular (e.g. Westboro Baptist) and very, very small, very marginal sects.

      This doesn’t seem to fit with the whole “Christian Dark Ages” bit that we recently discussed (albeit one step removed). There is definitely a subset of liberals that goes out of their way to criticize Christianity as a whole as a great force for evil in history, and does not seem to get any great pushback from the rest of liberalism in the process. I’ve seen this in action myself, and the liberals in question seemed quite smugly certain that their attacks would be accepted.

      And 2000-2008 it was certainly acceptable to attack the “religious right” without restraint and without really making any effort to clarify that it was the politics, not the religion, that was being attacked.

      1. Nancy Lebovitz

        That’s a fair point, though I think that *some* emphatic attacks on religion are outside the Overton window on the left. Claiming that one Protestant denomination is much better than another wouldn’t go over well, I think.

        1. John Schilling

          Agreed, but I think mostly because the differences between Protestant denominations are now too small for sensible people to argue over. As with Splitters arguing Judean People’s Front vs People’s Front of Judea when the Romans are still around, it’s a sign of misplaced fanaticism.

          It’s also irrelevant to any present social or political debate. Aspects of religious belief that are relevant to social or political debates, e.g. sanctity of heterosexual marriage, nobody feels any compunction about attacking religion and/or atheism.

      2. anonymousskimmer

        and does not seem to get any great pushback from the rest of liberalism in the process.

        Why would one push back against those you think are extremist quacks, or harmless nutcases? People know not to feed the trolls, and have for a long time. Regardless of whether it’s liberals pushing back against atheists (not all of whom are liberals), or conservatives pushing back against eugenicists (not all of whom are conservatives, I assume).

        1. DavidFriedman

          or conservatives pushing back against eugenicists (not all of whom are conservatives, I assume).

          Historically, support for eugenics came from across the political spectrum. The most important opponent was the Catholic church.

          I’m not sure what “eugenicists” would mean in the current context. I don’t see anyone arguing for sterilizing the feebleminded or similar proposals from a century or so back.

          1. anonymousskimmer

            Here’s one modern link, and this isn’t even searching for any of the supremacist movements:
            https://www.salon.com/2017/07/28/modern-day-eugenics-prisoners-sterilized-for-shorter-sentences_partner/

            I’m not sure if Judge Benningfield is a conservative, and in any case he’s since rescinded his order.

            I was trying to go for an example other than white supremacist/nationalist movements, which are generally seen as on that part of the spectrum, after Charlottesville. I suppose I could have brought up David Duke.

            In any case even the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t get great pushback, for a definition of “great” that requires more than the dozens or hundreds of protesters at their events. (Though apparently Fox News thinks the WBC is left-wing)

  5. Fuge

    1. It as has nothing to offer the average man or women, and is especially hostile to women’s values. Christopher Hitchens vs Mother Teresa is the ur example. It may attract women in love with masculine ideas and discourse, but these are outliers and generally don’t draw fellow women that much. And you especially need average women buying into your idea to make a social change stick.

    2. It’s message at it’s core is that “Dumb people and dumb belief systems should get out of the way of smart people and let them do what they want.”

    Please don’t talk to me about atheistic rationality. When I believed, I never believed anything half as wild and with half as little proof as some atheists believe about the singularity or AI risk. If I were to show up here and claim I could seal your soul into a flawless ruby and make you an immortal lich, I’d be laughed out of here. If I instead said I could scan your consciousness into a neural network and make you an immortal AI, i may be agreed with or disagreed with, but simply by cloaking outlandish ideas in the realm of the possible, I suddenly get respect. The rational part in practice is a lot less than you think.

    What does come through is a high-IQ minority wanting to get hindrances out of their way. Not for our benefit, but theres. Combine that with lack of social skills, and there’s no way it would ever be attractive. It’s generally a nasty thread throughout atheism, of how little an atheistic utopia really benefits the masses.

    1. Walter

      Just to be super clear…you get that there is a difference between the likelihood that magic will turn out to work, such that you can seal souls into rubies, and the likelihood that brains will turn out to be legible, such that computers will one day be able to read/write them.

      Like, you are acting like people treating these ideas differently is irrational. It isn’t. One is palpably more ridiculous than the other.

  6. robotpliers

    Because New Atheism became a religion and, as pointed out in the post, the people it proselytized to either didn’t want one or already had one that gave them much better returns for energy invested. So it failed.

  7. mbeaver

    I am a Christian who likes to hear out thoughtful, intellectually honest atheists. Which of the New Atheists does that describe?

  8. Thegnskald

    This is a bit late, but…

    I think the issue is that protestantism, in whatever form, has just proven to be the slow road to atheism..

    And atheism isn’t something, it is the absence of something. New Atheism and Atheism + were attempts to make it into something, but ultimately, it makes no more sense to form a sense of community about not believing in one more god than most people don’t believe in, than it does to have a sense of community in not believing in any of those other gods.

    The community was artificially imposed from the outside, from the sense of exclusion. Once atheism stopped being interesting enough for religious people to care about, it stopped being a mechanism of exclusion, and the community largely evaporated.

    The infighting was pretty predictable, once you notice the only thing keeping the group together in the first place was the idea that they were unwelcome elsewhere.

  9. thelastminstrel

    “I can show you a way to construct your Life/Society/Government/Business so that it generates the greatest possible blessing on you and all your fellow human beings.”
    Well, that sounds wonderful. Let me see how that would work. Where have you instituted this arrangement? I’ll go there and see for myself how great it is, the effect it can have on my Life/Society/Government/Business.
    “Well, I can’t show you a Life/Society/Government/Business run strictly on my NEW WAY because ignorance/superstition/bigotry/stupidity has prevented people from embracing it. And it works perfectly on a LARGE scale [I hope] but not on a smaller sample. So, I need the WHOLE WORLD to change over to this NEW WAY.”
    If the only sample I can see of how this New Way works, the effect it has on Life/Society/Government/Business, is You, I have to say I’m not very impressed; it seems to have made you arrogant, repetitive, obnoxious and to tell the truth, a Boor.
    “So you would rather believe in your Flying Spaghetti Monster in the Sky, the Blue Fairy, your Evil Slavery approving, woman stoning, gay killing – – – – ”
    Here, sit down, just breathe into this bag for a minute or two. Slowly. You’ll be OK. I really need to go. My Sunday School class starts in a few minutes. We’re hearing a guy from the Creation Institute. You can come along if you like. He’s a great speaker; presents his material in a clear, concise fashion suitable to the meanest understanding. Not Holier than thou the way you’ve been preaching.
    You could learn a lot from him.

  10. BeatriceBernardo

    I don’t know. The whole problem is so strange. For a brief second, modern culture looked at New Atheism, saw itself, and said “Huh, this is really stupid and annoying”. Then it cast New Atheism into the outer darkness while totally failing to generalize that experience to anything else. Why would it do that? Could it happen again? Please can it happen again? Pretty please?

    I don’t understand what you want:

    1. New Atheist resurgence

    2. Everything else being casted to outer darkness

    1. Silverlock

      I don’t understand what you want:

      1. New Atheist resurgence

      2. Everything else being casted to outer darkness

      I think the idea is:

      3. Certain other things being cast into the outer darkness.

  11. velocitysr

    I’m not even sure what they think atheism is. I’m not sure anyone else agrees about what it is either. If “new atheism”, or any atheism, is only about critique of literatures and “matter” of diverse groups then it is totally subjective and not a true subject for debate.
    This is a time when an idea is considered using the scientific method. “New Atheists” failed to keep to this principle. They simply continued to criticize literatures and metaphors with more anecdotes. Refusing to accept that humans will always have the potential to place an immutable, unchangable, “faith” in an illogical trope is definitely a failure. The reasons for the power of religion are not in the domain of logic or science but precisely the idea that faith can overcome those very things. “New Atheists” are not new but the same old barroom argurers with mobile phones. They are simply the flip side of religion with their own dogma. Arguing about any benefit or detriment of religion A, B, or C is totally without merit.
    This is the digital age. Superstitions of pre-2k are being debunked and replaced with new fantasies of health, wealth, success and happiness. Faith, like everything, is growing a new face.
    Faith is the consideration. Does faith exist genetically in humans, as does love? If it does, where is that faith best placed? Using scientific principles we try to determine whether life, as we know it, can exist elsewhere. What about something like a “God” who can answer back? Edward Fredkin thinks so, maybe. It’s a possibility he says.

    1. Bugmaster

      Does faith exist genetically in humans, as does love? If it does, where is that faith best placed?

      That’s not a perfect argument. Diabetes also “exists genetically in humans”, yet that fact alone is not a very good reason to keep it.

      1. velocitysr

        Diabetes is a word that describes something not present. It means a failure to produce insulin. This failure is best placed by remedying it and making it gone, either by medicine or natural selection. Many genetic failures and success’s are presented in human biology and remedied or encouraged artificially or naturally. Edit; Diabetes is obviously a genetic DIS-order.

        It is unlikely that faith, if it is part of the code, could be removed. We need to have faith that the sun will appear each day. Faith in the science of physics (I’m a little behind in understanding Hawkings) seems to be consistently successful in prediction. Anti-Vexers and flat earther’s, among others, will disagree.

  12. Sigivald

    and 46% think the world was literally created in seven days

    Not quite; I presume (since you’ve linked to and talked about it before) this is a reference to the results of the Pew Creationism Poll?

    Lizard-man problem aside [which can’t be important at this level of response], “literally created in seven days” is not what the poll question was – it was, close enough to make no difference, “mankind was created as-is within the last 10,000 years”, last time I looked at the poll.

    The problem being that that position is not strictly even YEC*, let alone biblical-literalist-seven-actual-days-creation.

    Using all three of those possibilities as synonyms suggests a deep unfamiliarity with American Christianity and its range of beliefs about the creation of the Earth and Mankind – which would be completely forgivable if it wasn’t a repeated focus of attention and example in this exact context.

    From you, in this context, I’m surprised by the conflation and restatement of the question to a different one…

    (* Because non-zero Christians are perfectly happy to believe “the world is a gazillion years old” and even “animals evolved, duh, look at fossils”, while equally believing “mankind is special and different, I mean, obviously”.

    If Gallup asked how old people thought the Earth was, we’d have data for YEC popularity. We cannot safely translate from the question they asked to the claim being made, however.

    Makes me wonder why they ask the question they do, in fact, rather than a question about the Earth’s age.

    “Days in Genesis are figurative, like, obviously” is so commonplace that even New Atheists ought to know about, right? Especially since, per Wikipedia, the 2011 Gallup survey of literalism suggested only a 3-in-10 take rate for it.

    Disclosure: I’m a lifelong atheist, too.)

  13. jm

    My first attempt at posting a big long post based on my experience running a religious discussion forum around the year 2010 wouldn’t go through so I’m going to try something shorter.

    My experience was that the people who were sufficiently motivated to post on the forum often came in one of a few categories:

    1. People who really viewed their religious belief as a part of their identity, had grown up with God-related explanations of how everything worked, and genuinely couldn’t understand how not believing in a god would work, because then nothing would make sense.

    2. People who used to be in group 1 and now weren’t, so they were sufficiently motivated and informed about group 1 that they wanted to save them from their false beliefs. “It was a long hard road for me to get here, I want to help others along after me” sort of thing.

    3. People from the Bible Belt in America who had been shunned by their family, friends or community because of not conforming to the prevalent belief-set. They were sad and angry and took “religion is a bad thing” very seriously indeed. Because of their personal experience, “but the people I know who are religious are OK” was more of a trigger for a backlash flamewar than a perspective they had time for.

    4. Other. Of course there were a few people who didn’t fall in the categories above. Often these were the most fun to talk to. I remember everyone from a Thai pacifist who I think got killed in a peaceful demonstration, to Quakers. Quakers are awesome.

    I spent my time going “OK, I get that group 2 and 3 have OK motivations and I want to help them accomplish their goals. But the thing I see here is, they’re all ‘I am rational’, but if you want someone to listen to you, hear what you have to say, and eventually come around to your point of view, you don’t yell at them or call them stupid or insane.” This message was not well received, although the forum I ran was structured on a “be nice because it’s effective, not just because it’s virtuous” premise.

    I see some differences between current discussions around feminism and racism, as compared to the discussions I participated in around atheism vs. religious belief.

    1. Shared premises, or the lack thereof. If a guy says he doesn’t think sexism is a big deal because it’s just a few bad apples and a woman who has been raped 3 times goes “um, no, here’s what it’s like for me and the people I know”, the guy might argue back that her experience is unrepresentative, but he won’t say “you are hallucinating those experiences and should seek mental help, the basis for your belief is all in your mind”. Whereas that’s exactly what a group 2 or 3 atheist will say to a group 1 believer when they talk about experiences of the presence of God, and the group 2 atheist will back this up by saying he believed the same things once. And religious believers will start by treating the bible as a reliable source of truth and the scientific method as nonreliable, whereas the atheists took the opposite position. We had repeated discussions where “you have to rely on your senses” was contrasted with “you can’t rely on your senses, only Divine Revelation, and also God might be hiding, he does that to unbelievers sometimes”. So in order to actually have a discussion, you had to first resolve conflicts in the basic premises that allow discussion to take place. This really isn’t the case for racism or feminism – you might quote different studies, but it is possible to agree that studies are the way to get to the truth.

    2. Closeness of fit between position and identity. Yes, I get it, feminists think being a feminist is important, quite possibly because of personal traumas, and Mens Rights Activists or whatever can have their attitudes tied up in their sense of self. But not anything like the way a seriously religious person has their life tied up in their religious belief and genuinely can’t understand how it’s possible to not believe, or someone who has lost access to their children because of a religious disagreement with their spouse (I can think of two men right off the top of my head who lost custody of their children for being atheist, and that’s why they were on my forum)… well, actually, feminists who are vocal because of traumatic events, and atheists who are vocal because of losing access to their family, I guess that’s about equivalent. But those feminists are facing people who can be persuaded. It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible, I saw it happen last week (thread started with “I think all of this kerfuffle about sexual harassment being rampant is nonsense, it’s just a few bad apples and the women are overreacting” and by 24 hours later that post had a “OK, I was wrong and I am horrified by the experiences I have heard about, please disregard the rest of this post” disclaimer up top. In the 5 years I was heavily involved in my forum, that happened I’m pretty sure 0 times in relation to religious conversions either way. The best one could hope for is “I don’t agree with you, but at least now I see how one could believe in God without being mentally ill / be an atheist and believe logically consistent things that don’t include a God, and if I took some of your premises as valid I could reach the conclusions you have”.

    What this means is, religious discussions are just harder. You get a bunch of people who are there to either save the other side from hell, or save the other side from religion, they don’t even share premises about what counts as a valid source of knowledge or truth (which is why you get atheists using obscure arguments based on the texts of holy books – they want to meet the theists where they’re at, premise wise, rather than forcing them to change their premises first – I’ve seen group 2 atheists get told by group 3 that they shouldn’t give that ground, and they shoot back that they have to if they want to get anywhere), and the majority of the time they talk past each other rather than to each other, even when they’re genuinely trying, which isn’t always.

    What people here seem to talk a lot about is how groups decided to do things and why those groups failed. What I saw was how individuals with understandable motivations did dysfunctional things when they were trying to interact in ways they thought would work. Different levels of analysis, maybe, but I think it matters that the success rate of what the atheists were trying to do, using the methods that many of them used, was approximately 0%, and they weren’t open to suggestions, because of where they were coming from in terms of life experience. The smarter, calmer and more emotionally self-controlled ones tried different approaches, which would have amounted to dropping out of the interactions we were all participating in and going to have in person conversations. But I just checked back on the old forum recently, and it’s still going. Some of the people with clear psychological issues are still there, as are a few of the people so stuck in their belief systems (atheist or theist) that saying the same thing over and over again (the threads look identical to how they did when I left, literally the same people posting the same things) feels rewarding to them because they presumably still believe they’re making a difference or scoring a point for goodness.

    Put a bunch of group 1’s on a forum with a bunch of group 3’s, and what happens is each group becomes more convinced that they’re right, and the whole interaction cycles further and further away from a conversation that outsiders want to participate in. All of my energy was spent helping people talk to each other rather than talk past or yell at each other. If other forums were like mine, I know why they failed. It looks to outsiders like the “New Atheists” were rude politically incompetent idiots, but there are reasons they spoke as they did.

    I have some hope that some of the other groups that are now flooding the online discussion space with conflict will have an easier time accomplishing their goals, because feminism and racism aren’t quite the same as religion.

    1. Pdubbs

      be nice because it’s effective, not just because it’s virtuous

      Thank you for this. This a million times.

  14. MB

    Atheism is no longer sufficiently edgy. In the urban circles in which such people live and especially in the big cities, this battle has already been won. Now it’s time for something new. Will it be Gaia worshipping? Will it be Islam, as someone wrote above? Will it be Wicca and witchcraft? Will it be Thor and Odin? Whatever it will be, opponents of Christianity no longer feel the need to cast their anticlericalism as “all religions being bad”.

    Likewise, there was a phase in the culture wars in which every opinion was equally valid and nobody had the right to tell another what to think. Now I again see that some opinions are more valid than others, with mandatory training in the correct points of view.

    There are more such examples. The culture wars have moved on. Revolution waits for no one. Atheism was a tactic to bring down the old institutions. Postmodernism was a tactic to get some hires in and force some early retirements. Now it’s time to put something different in their place.

  15. Nate the Albatross

    Bernie Sanders is an atheist. Hillary Clinton is quietly very religious. Keith Ellison is a muslim. Barack Obama believes the church is an important social institution and continued Bush era policy of funding religious institutions with govt funds, including in his signature health care legislation. Any one of these leaders could show up to a meeting and proclaim the obvious philosophical differences with the others. So far the only one who really has is Sanders, who questions nominees for executive and judicial positions about religion. But Sanders also spoke to evangelical students at Liberty “University” and his speech focused on a shared desire to help the poor. If we look at historical and even modern civil rights activists, many of them have the word Reverend in front of their name. To say educated liberals are going to achieve their goals by telling racial minority christians and muslims that God doesn’t exist is to ignore demographics.

    Keith Ellison doesn’t call Bernie Sanders an infidel. Obama doesn’t rebuke Hillary for hiding her faith under a bushel. Hillary doesn’t argue her protestant beliefs against Joe Biden’s catholicism. And there would be no freedom of religion if they did. Countries where religion is openly part of politics the results are very bad. And indeed there are unfortunately people in the US who made a Faustian bargain with Trump in order to protect their beliefs on the Supreme Court. The New Atheists are saying out loud that Ellison, Obama, Biden, Hillary and huge percentages of Americans are wrong. Obviously Ellison, Obama, Biden and Hillary cannot ALL be right. Duh. But determining a winner would be a Pyrrhic victory by alienating the vast majority of voters.

    In particular in the context of terrorism the idea of a “whisper network” where we just tell all the young atheists that yes, we did already think about the idea that God doesn’t exist and that they should just continue going to church and be sure to mention how we ought to love our neighbors – especially Samaritans, homosexuals, transsexuals, and Islamic politicians. This isn’t even heresy or blasphemy or whatever. Plenty of religious leaders hold interfaith dialogues, and the Pope said “who am I to judge?” when asked about homosexuals.

    There is a stereotype that a person can’t be rational or a scientist and also be religious. But that is all it is, a stereotype. Not every atheist is smart. There are millions of muslim scientists. I’ve heard from a physicist the Vatican is big into astronomy. I have friends who are atheists and friends who are agnostic. And acquaintances who are catholic and others who are muslims. I even have a friend who leans utilitarian. And seldom am I tempted to correct what I perceive to be their mistakes in philosophy or dogma.

    When atheists talk about harms of religion, inevitably someone brings up Stalin and Mao who kinda ruined atheism as the religion of peace by killing 100 million people. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are boorish jerks. One sexually harasses women and both have been accused of islamophobia. But much worse than that is they insist scientists or doctors who happen to be religious shouldn’t be hired.

    In my mind it doesn’t matter if people talk about firing atheists, muslims, catholics or evangelicals. I don’t want that. I want to go out for drinks with all of them and thank the muslim for being the designated driver. Whenever someone mentions that God doesn’t exist I cringe in exactly the same way as when people want to talk about dinosaurs on the ark. How about that local sports team? Can a New York Yankees fan really be a Democrat?

  16. John Richards

    Having gone from atheism to theism a few years ago, I can definitely say that there was nothing in the thoughts and rhetoric of the new atheists that felt like a compelling reason to draw back from going full-on theist.

    The relentless straw-manning of the new atheists was, if anything, an accelerate to my growing sense of theism being true. Imagine a kid growing up in a fundamentalist household and hearing that nothing outside their particular church had any truth to it, and that it was all heresy. They leave, and discover that this isn’t true, and reject the whole Christian project, despite their particular fundamentalist sect being just one part of Christianity at large. This is a similar analogy to hearing from the new atheists that all religion, all faith, is just one big parlor trick designed to separate your money from your wallet, or worse, and then discovering that their exists intellectual richness within theology. The history of philosophy without any gaps podcast played a role in my “conversion” as it allowed me to become more comfortable with placing myself inside an intellectual theistic tradition.

    Further, the new atheist reading of history doesn’t jibe with my own. They conjecture that, if you replayed human history, and took out all the religion and faith and stuff, that things would have been better in some way. I’m not convinced of that. For every situation where you have a person led to do bad due to religious motivations (inquisition) you have potential subtle situations where someone is restrained from doing some other evil by religious motivations.

    Honestly, though, the more pertinent reason was that I came to understand that much of my unbelief was rooted in an unhealthy, egoistic, intellectual pride. That, combined with perhaps a fearful unwillingness to grapple with mystery.

    1. Nick

      The history of philosophy without any gaps podcast played a role in my “conversion” as it allowed me to become more comfortable with placing myself inside an intellectual theistic tradition.

      Yeah, I have no idea whether Peter Adamson is a believer (and I’m inclined to guess not, given his field, even if he went to Notre Dame), but his series is immensely helpful for seeing the length and vitality of the Christian intellectual tradition (and Muslim and Jewish, for that matter!).

    2. Vamair

      This is probably personal, but I’d be grateful if you tell your story in a bit more detailed way. Are you a committed theist or agnostic? What were the most personally convincing reasons to conclude the existence of supernatural and its sentience (not being just some kind of a blind karmic law), what kind of theism (monotheism, oligotheism, polytheism or anything else) do you find most likely and why?

    3. Bugmaster

      I am also curious to find out how you decided that your current religious denomination is correct, and the myriad others are wrong. But, I’m guessing that you must be really sick of people asking that by now…

    4. Matthias

      Count me in as someone else whose subjective estimation of the probability of theism moved up significantly after listening to Adamson’s podcast. (Not necessarily more probable than not, and arguments that God in this sense is conscious and hence usefully describable for most purposes as “God” seem to be scarcer, and I’m still almost entirely certain that no revealed religion is true – but at the same time it seems very plausible that classical theism is onto something. Maybe it’s all pointing towards something like the Tegmark IV multiverse, but the fallback atheist position of existence just being a brute fact seems obviously wrong – or at least, to be less charitable to my intuitions, it seems aesthetically outrageous.)

      1. The original Mr. X

        Not only is it aesthetically outrageous, it also seems completely inconsistent with the usual atheist rhetoric one encounters. Be curious and inquisitive, question everything, don’t rely on skyhooks — but then, when the origin of the universe comes up, we’re expected to accept “The world’s just there, and that’s that” as a valid answer?

        1. Harry Maurice Johnston

          Well … it’s a very pragmatic answer, in that it avoids getting caught up in speculation that is unlikely to be useful, given the absence of evidence. FWIW, such speculation is not inherently non-atheist in my opinion.

          However, the usual situation in which this comes up is where a theist argues that God has to exist in order to have created the universe; Obvious Flaw is Obvious. So I’d imagine the average New Atheist would pattern-match any questions about the origin of the universe to this argument and reject it without further thought. Less than ideal from a rationalist standpoint, but understandable.

          1. Vamair

            The real answer is “we don’t know it yet and don’t really want to speculate without evidence, but we can if pressed”. But this answer is something that’s very easy to pounce at and say: “And we do know, that’s why we’re better”. And then you’re tangled in a debate about the meaning of “know”, and almost everyone leaves except one and a half epistemology fans, and everyone else thinks that guy got ya.

  17. Vamair

    Sometimes I feel as if modern atheism is very similar to shouting in a crowded theater that the main hero’s father isn’t really dead, but is just pretending, and he’s not even his father, and they’re all actors. The spectators both know that and can’t really agree to that vocally, as it harms their willing suspension of disbelief. Also, shouting in a theater means you’re a jerk.
    The question becomes “so, you want us to leave this performance, maybe you know a better one?”, and the answer “you can go outside and walk empty streets that are real” is not that satisfying.

    1. Bugmaster

      “you can go outside and walk empty streets that are real” is not that satisfying.

      I’m an atheist, but I can’t endorse this statement; it is actually my main point of contention with most major religions. I think I can illustrate what I mean by using — somewhat ironically — a parable.

      Let’s say that you and I walk out onto a quiet hill, somewhere in the rural countryside, on a dark and cloudless night. If we look up, we will see that the sky is covered by thousands upon thousands of tiny dots of light. What are those dots ? I know that we call them “stars”, but that’s just a name; what are they really ?

      Various religions will give you different answers. Perhaps the stars are the souls of our ancestors; or the many nipples of the goddess Nwt; or, as one of the most popular faiths tells us, they are little holes in the crystalline dome that covers the Earth, and separates it from the Heavens. These are all profoundly deep answers, full of various spiritual meanings. However, one thing they have in common is that they are all so very, very small.

      Today, we know that many of these dots of lights are suns; many of them much larger than our own Sol. But many others are galaxies and globular clusters: massive collections of suns that are so far away that they look like dots (and that their light took millions of years to get to us). On the other hand, a few of these dots are worlds that orbit our own sun. We have sent machines to the surface of some of these worlds. We know what they look like up close. And there are lots of other objects in the night sky; strange things that our naked eyes can’t even see: quasars, black holes, pulsars, neutron stars, pulsars…

      As it turns out, the universe isn’t just vaster and more interesting than the people who created all those religions have imagined; it is almost infinitely vaster than they could’ve possibly imagined. And the only reason we know this today is because we rejected some aspects of those religions. And that’s just astronomy ! Think about biology, geology, particle physics, even meteorology really… We’ve discovered so much that one human can’t even learn it all in a single lifetime.

      The streets only look empty in darkness. You need light to see.

      1. Vamair

        I’m an atheist as well, and I was saying that our side is not that good with showing all that awe to people. The reason is not really a mystery: unlike religion we never had time or made a large effort to that end.
        You see, the modern religious worldview combines the religious view and the scientific one into some kind of non-homogeneous whole. So believers at the same time can enjoy the grandiosity of the Universe as revealed by science while holding a belief that the world cares about them personally and will not let their souls and consciousnesses to perish. And they can even combine it in any way they like without becoming a heretic. There is no reason you can’t get almost all the beauty right while saving almost all the comfort provided by religion if you don’t really care what’s true or why you believe what you believe.

      2. Aapje

        @Bugmaster

        Indeed. It’s also the same with creationism/intelligent design. Evolution is so much more interesting/deep.

      3. The original Mr. X

        The insignificant size of the world compared to the universe was already a philosophical and rhetorical commonplace by at least the 6th century. Admittedly they still didn’t realise how big the universe is, but I don’t really think that’s relevant — the human mind can only comprehend so much vastness, and once you get to a certain point increases in size don’t make any difference imaginatively speaking.

        1. Bugmaster

          Agreed; but it’s not just about the size, but the richness as well. If you wanted to describe a globular cluster to a 6th century scholar, it would take you a very long time — because he wouldn’t even possess the concepts necessary to comprehend the idea.

          1. The original Mr. X

            Reading medieval texts, I certainly don’t get the impression that they thought the universe was any less rich than we do.

          2. Bugmaster

            Can you give an example ? As far as I understand, they didn’t even know that there exist other suns, let alone make collections of suns, or black holes, etc. They had some ideas on what Heaven and Hell were like, but those places, while possibly infinitely large, weren’t really right of in any great detail. I could be wrong, though.

          3. Nick

            I can’t tell what Mr. X has in mind, Bugmaster, but to me the important point is not whether they discovered black holes, other suns, or whatever, but rather that they held a worldview which was congenial to studying the natural world, and they did so. This is pretty much the thesis of Hannam’s book, and it’s in contradiction to your “And the only reason we know this today is because we rejected some aspects of those religions”, which is the part where I think Mr. X and I part from you.

          4. Matthias

            I don’t know how well Lovejoy’s classic “Great Chain of Being” holds up in the historiography, but it’s an absolute joy of a read and chock-full of antique/Islamic/medieval Christian intellectuals 1) looking at the world and going “wow! this is just chock-full of so many different, beautiful, weird things!” and 2) trying to impose some rational order onto it that didn’t just flatten out the naive perception of diversity. The metaphysical and epistemological suppositions they were working with were very different from those of modern science, but the idea of trying to combine wonder and parsimony in your intellectual reaction to the world is not.

          5. Nornagest

            I think you could start with heliocentrism, and then go into explaining how the fixed stars aren’t actually fixed, they’re collections of spheres like our own but immeasurably far away, all rotating around a vast central object that’s hidden from our sight by celestial clouds.

            A reasonably bright 6th-century scholar should be able to grok that, although I expect he’d take some convincing. The hard part would be explaining how Sagittarius A* is not God.

          6. The original Mr. X

            Can you give an example ? As far as I understand, they didn’t even know that there exist other suns, let alone make collections of suns, or black holes, etc. They had some ideas on what Heaven and Hell were like, but those places, while possibly infinitely large, weren’t really right of in any great detail. I could be wrong, though.

            Actually the notion that stars are balls of fire very far away was, as I recall, advanced by at least a few thinkers during the period. Regardless, though, I don’t see how this is relevant: a worldview in which stars are different kinds of thing to the Sun might be less accurate than ours, but it doesn’t seem inherently less rich or awe-inspiring.

  18. jprester

    Somewhat related, I remember meeting Jeremmy Coyne last year when he gave a presentation to the Hong Kong skeptics community. Because I was aware of the brewing culture wars in the US (this was literary few days before election) I asked him if at this point tribal politics and secular irrationality is more of a problem than old-school religion. He strongly resisted that possibility and argued that religion is far bigger problem and that new atheism is is still relevant.

    If you’ve checked his blog since then, you can be quite sure he would give me a different answer this year.

    But in defence of New Atheism, as defunct as it is now, it was quite useful in developing my intellectual identity when I was in my formative years (early 20’s). Eventually you learn that figuring out that religion is fake is 1% of the problem of having a good life and you need to figure out the rest of 99%.

    Thats what Jordan Peterson is for.

  19. Alastair Roberts

    It seems to me that this was in part an ‘ideology is not the movement’ issue. New Atheism was as much about a particular style of identity and thought as it was about particular claims about the non-existence of God. New Atheism had a culture that was decidedly male: hard scientists, pugnacious debaters and a culture of argument, an expectation of tough-mindedness and intellectual courage, a valuing of truth over feelings or etiquette, emphasis on objectivity and detachment, direct opposition to the establishment religion, etc. The lead figures were largely older men of a particular cast: Oxbridge-educated scientists or philosophers who were accustomed to an agonistic academic culture and applied the methods and values of such a culture against religious dogmas.

    The content of atheism, then, might not be the real thing that animated many members of the New Atheist movement. Rather, it may have been an attraction to a culture of radical and bracing challenge to stifling orthodoxies, a resistance to socially imposed norms of belief and behaviour, a devaluing of sensitivity, an attraction to heroic intellectualism which will face up to the reality of the world unflinching, contrarianism and an appetite for argument, a love for tough debaters and pugnacious orators, etc.

    But the New Atheists were never going to enjoy a happy marriage with the mainstream progressive movement, who have as feminized a culture as the New Atheist culture is masculinized. As New Atheism started to break up, its members have predictably gravitated to other movements that satisfy the same appetites (libertarianism, rationalism, anti-SJWism, alt-right, anti-PC, MRA movement, online trolling, etc.). The typical New Atheist leader was never much of a friend of feminism and likely a critic, was a fierce critic of Islam, strongly opposed victimhood culture, looked down on much work in the soft sciences, was an exemplar of traditional masculine discursive culture, emphasized tough-mindedness and the need for a thick hide, and hated prescriptive orthodoxies.

    It should be entirely unsurprising that, as soon as Christians became a far group, New Atheist types and progressives increasingly turned on each other. It didn’t take long for New Atheists to learn that progressives had become the new establishment religion and had plenty of sacred cows of their own, with all of the bullshit they produce. New Atheists and progressives also recognized that even their modes of engagement were radically opposed. New Atheists favoured a masculine form of pugnacious conflictual debate, expecting strength and resilience from all participants, while progressives used all the indirect tactics of female intrasexual competition (shunning and ostracization, shaming, appeal to third parties to intervene, etc.) to achieve their ends, and had a culture ordered around weakness and victimhood. New Atheists still are predominantly people in thing-oriented fields, progressives dominate in person-oriented fields.

    Progressives, driven by a religion of egalitarianism, have never been huge fans of evolution and its implications. Increasingly, people who take things such as biology seriously are treated as heretics. Suggest sex differences might explain differences between outcomes for men and women in society and you will be branded a heretic. Question some of the biology-denialism surrounding LGBT activism and you’ll experience the same thing. New Atheists didn’t spend all this time fighting for the truth of evolution against Christians only to surrender its truth to progressives. Unsurprisingly, Christianity is hardly on the radar for many of these types now: they spend most of their time attacking expressions of progressive orthodoxies in the social sciences and the closing down of the traditional masculine norms of the university.

    It seems to me that another part of the problem was that New Atheism was always a more principled movement than progressivism. Principled people are assholes, prepared to attack anyone who gets on the wrong side of an unaccommodating truth. However, progressivism was never about a more absolute truth or principle, but about producing a society where everyone is affirmed in their chosen identity, irrespective of whether it is coherent or not, and no one can impose on anyone else. Also, in many respects it was a highly reactive movement, more concerned with tearing the Red Tribe and the like down than with any clear and coherent vision of what it was going to establish in their place. And principled people are generally unwelcome in such a society. For progressives, New Atheists were useful in attacking Christians, but became enemies when they followed through with their principles and attacked Islam even more forcefully, or openly criticized feminism or LGBT orthodoxies. Islam is the protected far group, a cultural other that plays a critical role in the Western psychodrama, used by progressives against the forces of conservatism, Christianity, and capitalism.

    Progressivism is radically, arguably pathologically, people-oriented and will be merciless towards any more thing-oriented people that challenge its claims. Such claims are ‘violence’, irrespective of whether they are true or not.

    1. spurious

      Progressives, driven by a religion of egalitarianism, have never been huge fans of evolution and its implications.

      Almost any ideology can be defined by the ways in which it parts company with truth. Even orthodox libertarians will have no truck with Libet et al.

      I’m surprised that no-one appears to have raised that atheism is a philosophical position, while successful movements are almost always moral in the sense of requiring virtue, virtue residing in the giving up of something self-gratifying. Objectification of women is wrong, so we must give up hyper-stimulating images of beautiful women; decommissioning viable blastocysts is wrong, so we must give up casual sex (it being no surprise that the opposing team have created their own not-unreasonable-on-its-merits rationalisation for discouraging pleasure out of proportion with effort). What atheism seems to ask one to give up is clearly baggage the proselytising atheist is keen himself to offload, making him worse than a Sophist. The retort that what the atheist is asking you to give up is some form of carefree afterlife, meanwhile, bares an ignorance to the fact that on the typical believers list of reasons for believing, ending up in NBC’s The Good Place ranks about ninety-sixth on the list.

  20. fightscenegrades

    Not skimming through (currently) 577 comments to find out if I’m the first to have this observation, but: we’re starting to see this occur with male feminist “allies” as well. Or at least I am, in my observation of progressive/social justice types on Twitter and whatnot.

    Think of the derision the “I love my thick wife” guy received a couple months back. Plus some other examples I’m blanking on right now. Obviously it’s more aimed at the suspiciously performative type of allyship found in instances like that guy, but even among the reliably liberal accounts I follow the term “male feminist” has become an increasingly accepted term of derision.

  21. gemmaem

    I’m being snarky, but I’m going to posit that the final nail in the coffin for New Atheism was when Dawkins got a Twitter account, thereby allowing him to freely post deeply-thought-out 140-character gems on the immorality of not aborting a baby with Down’s Syndrome[x], why women should not expect to be able to accuse a man of rape if they were drunk at the time[x], the comparative excellence in modern times, as measured by number of Nobel prizes, between Muslims and graduates of Trinity College Cambridge[x], and so on.

    Also, Donald Trump is maybe slightly worse than Dawkins at apologising.

    Mind you, I know this is just pushing the reasoning down the road. The other question is, why did New Atheism become associated with such a small number of people, in such a way that one person being an absolute dick on Twitter could sink it, when people of all ideologies are complete dicks on Twitter? And I think maybe it’s because they didn’t have enough to say. That’s my bet, anyway. “You’re allowed to just come out and say that you don’t believe in God, and this should not be seen as offensive on its face” was kind of groundbreaking, but as far as I can see that’s the only liberation New Atheism had to offer. After that, its proponents could either say something else (scattering in many directions as they did), or keep saying the same things in the same way (boring), or keep saying the same things in, apparently, ever-more-dickish ways (Dawkins).

    Oh yeah, and of course Dawkins got in lots of trouble with SJW twitter, to the point where he started using the pejorative himself. But he’s not a very good poster-child for anti-SJW thought, either, because, as noted, his tweets are not very well thought out and they make him genuinely look like an asshole with nothing interesting to say. You can find a branch of social justice twitter attacking something far more sympathetic-sounding on pretty much any day of the week.

    1. Fluffy Buffalo

      IMO, Dawkins was in the same position as Harris – he often made provokative statements that were either correct or at least defensible, and he was happy to defend them in long blog posts that the people who wanted to be outraged about his tweets never bothered to read. Whether you consider him sympathetic is your judgment, but he was honest, principled, and – most importantly – right most of the time.

      1. Deiseach

        long blog posts that the people who wanted to be outraged about his tweets never bothered to read

        A satisfying example of “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” in the case of a man who responded to criticism that he was attacking strawmen by answering that he didn’t need to read theology to know it was rubbish.

        1. Harry Maurice Johnston

          Hmmm. On the face of it, Theology appears to be premised on the assumption that you can reason your way to the truth in the absence of either evidence or any form of verification, which in turn appears (though perhaps only to someone raised in the scientific tradition?) to be sufficiently nonsensical that it is reasonable to dismiss the conclusions without needing to see the intermediate steps.

          Are you able to briefly summarize the counter-arguments to that position? Or is it more of a gestalt sort of thing?

          1. Nick

            Theology appears to be premised on the assumption that you can reason your way to the truth in the absence of either evidence or any form of verification

            No. Most theology isn’t natural theology, since most of the interesting work to be done has to do with revelation, and it’s really waned the last few decades for complicated historical reasons (that I’d contend have nothing to do necessarily with the power of the arguments, but that’s a different argument), so I grant you that often it does appear as if no one in the field is working on this sort of thing. But at the same time, we all know that there are philosophers and theologians who claim they can prove the existence of God and who produce arguments to that effect, and Dawkins knows this too since he attempted to engage with those arguments in his books, so I think the existence of theology which isn’t “premised on the assumption that you can reason your way to the truth in the absence of … evidence” was actually always known.

          2. Harry Maurice Johnston

            I’ve skimmed the article you link to, and it sounds like exactly what I was talking about. We may have different ideas of what constitutes evidence.

          3. DavidFriedman

            On the face of it, Theology appears to be premised on the assumption that you can reason your way to the truth in the absence of either evidence or any form of verification, which in turn appears (though perhaps only to someone raised in the scientific tradition?) to be sufficiently nonsensical that it is reasonable to dismiss the conclusions without needing to see the intermediate steps.

            Someone recently gave a link to a very interesting talk by Keynes about Newton. Judging by that, Newton’s project for the first half of his life was to reason his way to truth. Theology was one of the areas where he tried to do it–with the result that he ended up unitarian rather than trinitarian, a fact he did not make public.

          4. Nick

            I’ve skimmed the article you link to, and it sounds like exactly what I was talking about. We may have different ideas of what constitutes evidence.

            Very few arguments for the existence of God are evidential in the strict sense, if that’s what you’re looking for. Traditionally, those arguments would have been considered weaker than what was on offer; a metaphysical demonstration like the cosmological argument by contrast was stronger because it depended only on widely accepted metaphysical theses and ordinary human experiences like change or contingency or parthood. With a few key assumptions, any change or contingency was “evidence” of God’s existence.

          5. Nick

            Someone recently gave a link to a very interesting talk by Keynes about Newton. Judging by that, Newton’s project for the first half of his life was to reason his way to truth. Theology was one of the areas where he tried to do it–with the result that he ended up unitarian rather than trinitarian, a fact he did not make public.

            In a way it’s unsurprising Newton couldn’t reason his way to trinitarianism—that’s a matter of revealed theology, indeed, the Trinity is regarded as a mystery which resists complete understanding!

          6. The original Mr. X

            On the face of it, Theology appears to be premised on the assumption that you can reason your way to the truth in the absence of either evidence or any form of verification, which in turn appears (though perhaps only to someone raised in the scientific tradition?) to be sufficiently nonsensical that it is reasonable to dismiss the conclusions without needing to see the intermediate steps.

            I take it you also reject mathematics and metaphysics, and also, therefore, anything that depends on mathematics and metaphysics (including the “scientific tradition” you were raised in)?

          7. Harry Maurice Johnston

            I don’t know what you mean by “metaphysics” in this context, but there’s plenty of evidence that mathematics works.

  22. MostlyCredibleHulk

    Then one day some shmuck manages to get on the dictator’s bad side and – bam – the secret police nab him for taking bribes. The look on his face the moment before the firing squad shoots – that’s how I imagine New Atheists feeling too.

    The poor shmuck should not be surprised. Literally every bribe-taking dictatorship works like this, by design. That’s the whole point – making everybody guilty, all the time, so the power of the dictator is absolute. Now, indeed finding who is the dictator and who enjoys power to call out and destroy anyone in this setup – that would be an interesting exercise to find out.

  23. tjohnson314

    Many of the responses so far identify the New Atheists as part of the Grey Tribe, and I’m tempted to agree with that.

    But Scott also considers himself part of the Grey Tribe, and I don’t see any sign in this post that he considers the New Atheists as part of his in-group (especially in the final paragraph, where he just calls them “stupid and annoying”).

    Perhaps this is because the Grey Tribe is not exactly a tribe? It seems more like a band of misfits, united only by not belonging to either the Red or Blue tribes.

    1. Qays

      Grey Tribe is the only tribe without any significant admixture of authoritarians, so it may simply not have access to the in-group/out-group boundary maintenance functionality they bring to the table.

      Would also explain why the boundaries between Grey Tribe and the non-authoritarian wings of Red Tribe and Blue Tribe (libertarians and socialists/”Berniebros,” respectively) are porous to the point of total overlap: Grey Tribe isn’t a tribe at all, since it’s comprised of people who aren’t interested in the process of tribe reification and boundary maintenance. Its members are simultaneously members of their “home tribe” and of Grey Tribe, and toggle between the two affiliations in unpredictable ways.

      1. jasonbayz

        Depends on how you define “grey tribe” and “authoritarian,” but I would say a significant percentage of Grey-tribers are favorable to state power, specifically the socialists or White nationalists among them. I understand some define it to be exclusively libertarian, but I’ve always thought it had more to do with culture, specifically, nerdishness, hyper-rationalism, irreligion, futurism, and a critical attitude toward the cultural symbols beloved by the Blue and Red tribes, often fueled by the interpretation of it as “signalling in-group behavior.”

        1. Qays

          Your typical Berniebro socialist isn’t an authoritarian, he’s a left-libertarian (the bottom-left quadrant of the famous political compass, as opposed to the top-left quadrant).

  24. RohanV

    Perhaps another reason is that New Atheism failed because it did not successfully argue against the part of religion which is most important to many believers. To put it one way, the New Atheists successfully attacked the Book of Genesis and, having “disproved” Genesis, concluded that their work was done.

    But perhaps Genesis isn’t that important, and the important book is the Book of Ruth. Here’s a good article from David Plotz in Slate reading the Book of Ruth from 2007. It is a lot harder to successfully attack Ruth, and the methods and reasoning of the New Atheists aren’t very helpful in doing so.

    1. MostlyCredibleHulk

      having “disproved” Genesis

      That kind of implies Genesis is treated as book which contains factual claims that are subject to proof can be disproved. I’m not sure that is how major part of religious people treat it. And without accounting for that, it’s like showing up for a soccer match at the wrong date and place – you can score as many goals as you like, but nobody would care. The important thing is not to find a correct book and then treat it incorrectly (i.e. not in accordance of how it is approached by the believers).

  25. leoboiko

    I wasn’t put off militant atheism due to it repeating obvious things. I was put off militant atheism due to it abusing the obvious things (“God doesn’t exist”, “science works”) as half-baked rationalizations to justify certain preexistent, self-serving political ideologies; anti-feminism (by men), anti-socialism (by affluent people), anti-humanities prejudice (by STEM people)—all three, I might add, while refusing to engage with the relevant literature (by which I mean “at least reading the books”)—not to mention growing racism and misogyny, class elitism etc.

    Of course, religious conservatives also profess this kind of unethical ideology; but I reject the premise that New Atheists are particularly criticized for those things. We criticize the religious ideology, too; it’s a matter of survival, after all. (I mean this literally, not figuratively. My country is known for gender-related violence, and the chance of me being beaten on the streets again is directly proportional to the traction of antisocialjustism in the ideological zeitgeist—doesn’t matter if rationalized through the Bible and Catholic masses, or through just-so evo-psych mythology and null-hypothesis rituals. My sole criterion to evaluate political ideologies is the likelihood of them having my countrypeople keep lynching people like me; old atheism pass the test, New Atheism doesn’t.)

    1. MostlyCredibleHulk

      Atheism used as justification for anti-socialism? That sounds surprising, could you provide some examples? I’d say socialism is typically strongly associated with atheism (though not exclusively, but most major countries trying socialism – such as USSR – were also militantly atheistic). Same with anti-feminism – I don’t see how atheism connects to anti-feminism, usually it’s the reverse – patriarchal cultures tend to have more likelihood to be religious than atheistic.

      1. qwints

        There’s a significant cross-over between right libertarians and new atheists, with Penn Jillette coming to mind as a person who links opposing socialism to atheism (although he’s not caustic about it).

    2. jasonbayz

      “I was put off militant atheism due to it abusing the obvious things (“God doesn’t exist”, “science works”) as half-baked rationalizations to justify certain preexistent, self-serving political ideologies; anti-feminism (by men), anti-socialism (by affluent people), anti-humanities prejudice (by STEM people)—all three, I might add, while refusing to engage with the relevant literature (by which I mean “at least reading the books”)”

      Which books are you referring to? Are you the type of person who believes I must read the works of astrology to know it’s bs? I freely admit I know very little about it.

  26. Betty the Brown Beaver

    The Baffler article states that the New Atheism reached its apogee during the George W. Bush administration, during which it supported progressive ideals, then fell out of favor when it moved away from those ideals during the Obama presidency. I’d suggest that it wasn’t the atheists who moved, but the progressive perception of the position of religion, especially of the Catholic Church.

    During the Bush adminstration, the political involvement of the Church was seen as a threat, since a lot of what they were doing was promoting social-conservative goals: supporting the Defense of Marriage Act and state anti-SSM measures, and encouraging Congress to pass restrictions on abortion. Under these circumstances, it made sense for progressives to favor the atheist message, since by doing so they weakened one of their foes.

    However, matters changed when the reins of government were turned over to the Democrats in the 2008 election. Now the progressives were pushing not for the defeat of social-conservative measures, but for the passage of Democratic health-care legislation and a relaxation of imigration restrictions. And now the Church was not their enemy, but their ally, with a chorus of priests and bishops insisting on the right of society’s most vulnerable members to taxpayer-funded health care, and reminding us that the Holy Family were refugees. Now the proselytizing atheists, who hadn’t changed their position on Christianity and Catholicism at all, had gone from attacking a foe of progressivism to undermining one of its allies.

    I’d suggest that if, say, Ted Cruz had been elected instead of Donald Trump, our progressive brethren would have rediscovered the virtues of the New Atheism. However, Trump has shown little interest in promoting the causes where the left and the Church differ, e.g., anti-SSM and anti-abortion measures; and considerable interest in the ones where the left and the Church are on the same side, e.g., eliminating the ACA and restricting immigration. Thus the change in government has not, so far, restored the old divide between progressivism and Catholicism.

  27. Jesse E

    The short and simple answer is there’s a much wider range of support for going “well, actually…” to the elected POTUS trying to enshrine bigotry into the Constitution than going “well, actually…” to a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the veil of her own choice.

    Also, as other people have pointed out, many Blue Tribe agnostics/atheists know plenty of Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. who are both good people and religious, so the aggressive shaming and brow beating of any religious belief looks kind of terrible.

  28. LoopyBeliever

    I wouldn’t say New Atheism was unsuccessful There is no longer need to bring out arguments that they popularised. No one is willing to argue religion’s side at a party with educated people. Pure New Atheism no longer works for signalling of reason, emotional detachment from issue at hand, etc.

    The online skeptic community is what New Atheism cluster morphed into. It’s pretty big, there is no obvious leader and they are pushing against today’s poor beliefs dictated by emotions and sheepism. Sam Harris is very popular (for the topics he discusses).

    New Atheists, as are skeptics, are hated for being low on agreeableness. These communities, as many other grey ones, are all about proving other people’s arguments are weak. Not at all about compassion, acceptance, etc. This is what makes them enemies of everyone.

    1. qwints

      Skepticism is a separate, but closely related group of people. It had a lot of overlap with organized atheism, but it was very clearly distinct with separate organizations, publications, discussion spaces and conventions. It arose out of a reaction to New Age stuff in the 1970’s and was centered around Carl Sagan, James Randi, Martin Gardner and the like, as well as people who were into them. It’s really common to hear skeptics say that as long as your religion doesn’t make any empirical claims, they have no argument with you. It was humanist rather than atheist, and consequently there have always been religious people who identified as skeptics.

      1. LoopyBeliever

        Obviously, boundaries between groups are vague. By “online skeptics” I meant the community with a hub on youtube — large channels include: Amazing Atheist, Armoured Skeptic, Jaclyn Glenn, etc. — all had clear roots in anti-religion with Dawkins as their hero. All now transitioned to various forms of anti-SJW. Anti-religious videos are rare.

  29. Yosarian2

    At some point there was a cultural fissure between Acela Corridor thinkfluencers with humanities degrees and Silicon Valley bloggers with STEM degrees, and the former got a head start on hating the latter while the latter still thought everybody was on the same anti-Republican side.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m a transhumanist blue tribe type with a STEM degree, but my perception of how that split happened seems to be wildly different then yours.

    Then again, as of late, the grey tribe/ blue tribe split seems to have to a significant degree faded (especially with Trump in the White House) while the me then the blue tribe/ deep blue tribe split has become more pronounced.

  30. Douglas Knight

    When did this happen?

    Isn’t this an important check on any proposed answer? For example, one proposed answer involved of the events of 1995. I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.

    Google ngrams says that the term “new atheist” took off in 2004. Was it created by the Iraq War? Google trends doesn’t go back that far, but shows it peaking in 2012, matching elevatorgate and Atheism+ (though which is the cause?).

    Google trends puts Islamaphobia heating up in 2014, years later, though Google ngrams has it rising steadily to 2007, where the data cuts off. It could be the answer, but it leaves the question: what changed?

  31. CthulhuChild

    I think the big issue is that the new Athiests demand that their audience agree with their beliefs, not just their functional principals. The new Athiest movement blames everything it opposes on religion. Terrorism, Creationist pseudoscience, homophobia, etc. And I guess they’re right in that if no one had religeon maybe some of those issues would damp down a little. But endlessly screaming “THERE IS NO GOD” doesn’t seem to do much to actually cause people to reject god. In fact, devaluing religion (and the social cohesion it provides) mostly seems to alienate people who might be otherwise sympathetic. Certainly it calcifies opposition when people believe that budging on creationism-in-science-class means giving up on Jesus. It’s like when the left pushes climate change and carbon tax as implicitly linked, then is baffled that the right “denies climate science!”.

    Which explains a lot of the opposition to the new Athiests. They aren’t helping the leftist cause because their brand of rhetoric does more to strengthen the right’s unity than it does to convince anyone of leftist policy.

    I think we can expect the same from the more extreme versions of Social Justice in short order, especially post Trump. Battling to convince the world that we need to protect minorities because all white men are evil is probably a lot harder than just trying to convince the world that we need to protect minorities. Presumably the left will clue in at some point.

    1. Deiseach

      And I guess they’re right in that if no one had religeon maybe some of those issues would damp down a little.

      The whole there would be no war at all if it wasn’t for religion was silly, to say the least.

      “Dude, this is a stick-up. Gimme your money”.

      “Let me guess – you’re a Christian, right? Hey, ever read On The Origin of Species?”

      “Oh wow, this has completely deconverted me! Hey, sorry about the attempted robbery, but you know how it is when you’re a believer, yeah?”

      “Oh sure, why back before I discovered atheism I used to be the most devout churchgoer and most depraved serial killer in six states!”

  32. hinewaccount

    Another interpretation: atheists are disproportionately white and male, but can’t be credibly painted as evil racists and sexists who are keeping non-whites and women out of their club, and therefore they must be losers that no right-thinking people would identify with.

    If atheists had cachet, that would mean that there’s a group which (a) is white and male, and (b) is desirable to belong to, yet (c) remains white and male by other means than discrimination and oppression. That’s not a tolerable triad to the SJ mindset, which demands that all desirable groups can only be disproportionatelly white and male by means of oppression.

    (a) is a ground fact. I’m not going to try to explain why or whether it’s culturally contingent or universal, but it doesn’t matter to my point.

    On (c), disproportionate white-male-ness can be explained away in desirable (high-status or well-paying) groups when there’s a minimally credible gatekeeping explanation; vide the current assault on Silicon Valley.

    But there’s no similar minimally credible story about gatekeeping keeping people from self-identifying as atheists. There are no hiring managers or examinations; the only person making any decision about it is you in your own mind. If women and non-whites remain religious, it is a very, very long reach to be able to blame that on sexism and racism amongst atheists.

    Atheism+ was an attempt to reject (c) and, perhaps predictably, has not thrived.

    Hence, (b) must be the leg that is kicked out from under the stool, stripping atheism of whatever cultural cachet it has and rendering it an uncool thing that’s only fit for losers and nerds. The New Atheists, being (seen as, however rightly or wrongly) the popular figureheads of atheism in the late 2000s and the first half of the 2010s, got this in an extra-strong form.

    The same thing is likely going to happen to other ‘cultural’ fronts of the culture war (as opposed to the dollar-dollar-bill fronts), where there’s no acceptable-to-SJ-ism way to explain stubborn white maleness. Board game, science fiction and comic book fans will remain obstinately white and male, and, in a few years, they’ll be relegated back to something that only basement-dwelling nerds could possibly care about. The diversity push in video games has already stalled and ‘gamer’ is, once again, becoming a sneer.

    More broadly, this is all just one part of the great online Blue/Grey sundering. Someone upthread mentioned that it’s not a coincidence that Atheism+ happened when it did, midway through Obama’s presidency, and I agree. Natural allies during the dark days of the Bush II presidency found it rather harder to get along once they (thought that they?) had achieved a permanent victory over the common foe, and both started to have a serious look at the other and discovered that they didn’t enormously like what they saw. It shouldn’t be surprising that the weaker side has come out looking the worse. Vae victis.

    1. cactus head

      >Board game, science fiction and comic book fans will remain obstinately white and male, and, in a few years, they’ll be relegated back to something that only basement-dwelling nerds could possibly care about. The diversity push in video games has already stalled and ‘gamer’ is, once again, becoming a sneer.
      Good. Make gaming great again.

    2. Machine Interface

      “Board game, science fiction and comic book fans will remain obstinately white and male, and, in a few years, they’ll be relegated back to something that only basement-dwelling nerds could possibly care about.”

      That sounds more like wishful thinking than any actual description of the states of these industries.

      Board game are experiencing a huge boom into the mainstream and thus their demographics is rapidly diversifying, with most major actors in the industry making explicit efforts to render the hobby more welcoming (it does help that board games being associated with a white male nerdy audience is an entirely american trope — in Europe, especially in Germany, board games never had such stigma attached).

      While the sales of DC and Marvel Superhero comic books keep going down, webcomics are exploding, again appealing to a larger and very diverse audience.

      Making indie video games has never been easier and the success of titles like Undertale or Night in the Woods show that there’s definitely a sizeable audience that doesn’t care about the next AAA DLC-ridden shooter, but buys video games nonetheless.

      As for science-fiction, the absolute faillure of the puppies to change the tide of the Hugo awards makes any declaration of conservative/alt-right victory on this front sound pretty comical.

      It’s one thing to believe in the culture war (as opposed to tastes changing outside of any individual or group’s control), but it’s another to believe that you are winning when soviet troups are about to enter Berlin.

      1. Matthias

        The same thing applies to tabletop roleplaying games as well – D&D sales are skyrocketing, anecdotal evidence suggests that the younger generation has a lot more demographic diversity on any of the metrics you care to think of, and the major industries (such as they are lol lol) see a diversity/inclusion agenda as a place where their bottom lines and the presumed political commitments of their staff aligns.

        Sometimes you see “gamer” come up as a term of opprobium, but that’s as divorced from playing of games as “New Atheism” is from whether God exists. Where I think the kernel of truth is in the demographic thing is that if you have a trait or activity that is correlated with being white and male, and someone is loudly taking pride in that thing in a way that suggests that people with that trait or activity or whatever are inherently smarter than the others, then there’s going to be some SJ suspicion levelled at that kind of thing. This is why on SJ tumblr and facebook groups and so on you see both people enthusiastically talking about their favorite comics and their D&D campaigns and so on, and the archetypal figure of mockery being some mediocre white guy who thinks he’s superior to all the sheeple because he reads comics and plays D&D.

  33. TheRadicalModerate

    If you’re looking for a group you can sacrifice in the name of outreach to the other side, the New Atheists have the nice property that you can signal how much you respect the religious without actually having to cede any important ideological ground to them.

  34. sandoratthezoo

    I’m way too late in this thread to be heard, but:

    I knew a guy who was, I don’t know, atheist in the sense that New Atheists are. I don’t know if he notionally identified with them, but he was of that mold. Among other things, he told me with a straight face that atheists are the most discriminated-against people in America.

    This was, by the way, a Harvard-educated guy who was taking a year off of work, in his mid-20’s, to work on his novel because he had made so much money either from his family or from his previous salary that he could afford to do that. In the SF Bay Area.

    That’s off-putting, right? People get that that’s off-putting? This guy made his arguments to me (an agnostic) and my friends (both very seriously atheists), and we were all just falling over ourselves to find any disagreement we could with him, because he was so fucking irritating.

    That’s part of it, I think: New Atheists spent a lot of time telling you that they were unique, either that they were uniquely smart or that they were uniquely victimized, when in fact they were highly privileged people who did not have any particularly unique insights, and it was fucking obnoxious.

    The other part of it was that, wait for it, New Atheists are super wrong. Look, my friend E. She’s an Episcopalian. She’s an Episcopalian who is very liberal, who is a scientist, who doesn’t do any of the regressive things that New Atheists blame on religion. E is very far from alone in this world. Every snobby coastal elite is aware of religious people whose social religion and/or belief in god do not prevent them from upholding every other value that snobby coastal elites believe in. And why exactly are we picking fights with E and people like her? What’s the value in that? Why do we fracture our liberal coalition so that we can ally with a tiny minority of super obnoxious assholes instead of a 10x larger group of liberal people who are notionally religious? And also hand a huge weapon to the conservative religionists who want to form an electoral majority with the moderates and liberal religionists because apparently the not-religious cultural elite would rather die on the hill of whether or not God exists instead of something that’s actually, you know, important.

    It does not matter whether some dude in Nebraska believes in evolution. It has no effect on the world. And you can argue for carbon restrictions without engaging in whether God exists.

    New Atheism failed because it was a bunch of obnoxious assholes who didn’t get any of the above.

  35. manwhoisthursday

    One should note that the most militant leftists, who are a small number but set the tone for everyone else, tend to be more religious than others on the left:
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/the-personality-of-political-correctness/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_fBYROA7Hk&t
    So, the people who set the tone in leftist circles are unlikely to take well to a movement that casts aspersions on religion, and in particular on a minority/mostly non-white religion.

  36. naj

    Scott has read Moldbug extensively so he must be aware of the thesis that progressivism is just a form of Christianity evolved from Unitarianism with the last references to God removed for political reasons. If atheists are more anti-religion or pro-think-for-yourself, than anti-God, this explains what is going on quite nicely. Having some clearly irrational or wrong beliefs you must hold to be part of a group seems to bind people together stronger than a “let us keep trying to figure out how this universe works and make it better” party.

  37. Nietzsche

    The comments upthread that New Atheism didn’t take off more because Dawkins or Harris stepped out of their areas of expertise to give potted 3rd-grader criticisms of religion are ridiculous. Do New Atheists know Plantinga’s modal S5 version of the ontological argument? Or his defense of the sensus divinitatis as delivering basic non-inferential beliefs? Maybe not. But who cares? Nobody outside of Notre Dame or BIOLA even pretends to believe the claims of religion for those reasons. To the extent that the average believer feels motivated to provide reasons at all, they will be some half-baked version of the cosmological or teleological arguments. Which Dawkins et al. knock down just fine. The sociology of New Atheism, which was the topic of Scott’s post, has nothing to do with the philosophical acumen of its proponents.

    1. Nick

      Nobody outside of Notre Dame or BIOLA even pretends to believe the claims of religion for those reasons.

      We care for two reasons: 1. It’s a much weaker claim to say “I’ve defeated the simplistic understanding many people have of Christianity” than to say “I’ve defeated Christianity as such” and 2. A number of people here are convinced by such arguments, so that having anti-apologetics aimed at us that are better suited for fundamentalism is tiresome to say the least. Moreover, even if all New Atheists should care about is what the average believer thinks, they still take aim at things like the cosmological or ontological arguments, so having an incompetent treatment of them is damning regardless.

      1. Nietzsche

        I don’t know you, Nick, so maybe you are different. But I know lots of philosophers of religion. I deny that most (any?) of them are convinced because of the most sophisticated theistic arguments on the block. They didn’t convert from atheism because of some article they read in Phil Review—they were already believers who were hot to buy the newest and fanciest rationalization on the market. Second, it’s kind of a cheap shot to attack books aimed at a popular audience as not engaging with the arguments of the pros at the cutting edge. They aren’t aimed at the pros. I like reading books by, say, Daniel Kahneman or Steven Weinberg, and think I get a good sense of mainstream thought in psych or physics, even though I know that there will be folks at the vanguard who disagree.

        1. Nick

          Well I don’t know any philosophers of religion, so maybe they’re all wallowing in rationalization. But I do know myself and many other mainstream Christians who probably wouldn’t have remained so were it not for our impression of the power of arguments for the existence of God (and related things, of course). And I have seen conversion stories citing books like Feser’s, so we’re hardly alone there.

          I think it’s entirely fair to attack them for writing what they do, because 1. they are still discussing them, when by your reasoning it seems to me they shouldn’t have to, and 2. they are still doing a bad job of it, when by all rights they should know better. I know that presenting complex and difficult topics requires summarizing, simplifying, and even lies-to-children as a stepping stone to a fuller understanding—but I don’t think those are what’s going on. Take the common misunderstanding of the cosmological argument as depending on “everything has a cause”; this is not a premise as defended by anyone, just a common feature of these “simplified” versions that leads to painfully obvious and immediate problems. Do you suppose that Jerry Coyne, writing for a popular audience, would give a simple argument for evolution starting with “once, a human was born from an ape”? Worse, would you ever accept it if a self-proclaimed opponent, some creationist writing for a popular audience, gave that as the first premise before immediately asking “Has the evolutionist ever considered why we aren’t giving birth to non-humans?”

        2. The original Mr. X

          They didn’t convert from atheism because of some article they read in Phil Review—they were already believers who were hot to buy the newest and fanciest rationalization on the market.

          It sure is lucky that atheists are immune from this sort of confirmation bias, huh?

          Second, it’s kind of a cheap shot to attack books aimed at a popular audience as not engaging with the arguments of the pros at the cutting edge. They aren’t aimed at the pros.

          Dawkins himself would seem to disagree with you:

          This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, on that would otherwise – as sure as night follows day – turn up in a review: ‘The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.’ That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed the distraction is worse than irrelevant. It’s very silliness is designed to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don’t believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let’s not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.

          “All gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented” would prima facie include the God of the Philosophers. Not to mention, Dawkins attempts to refute Aquinas and Anselm — he specifically names them, so we know he’s actually trying to refute them, not just some pop-version of their arguments — who would, by any reasonable definition, count as “the pros”.

        3. theredsheep

          I have read very little by any of the New Atheist types, but I recall two things by Dawkins. The first was a tweet saying that it’s immoral to allow a Down’s fetus to live, which was more than a little off-putting and might explain why he comes across as abrasive. The second was something he said at the 2012 Reason Rally, to the effect of “we should be ready to mock ridiculous things like the Immaculate Conception.” Which was such a nested ball of wrong that I concluded the man was highly unlikely to say anything interesting about religion. The short version is that the IC is not what he probably thinks it is, and what he thinks it is is only ridiculous if you can’t be bothered to stop and think about it and just want to be a flippant ass. Leaving aside that mere mockery is onanistic and does nothing to move conversations in a productive direction. Or that the RR’s organizers had specifically asked participants not to focus on the negative like that.

          I’m Orthodox Christian, and have kept the faith I was raised in for reasons unrelated to anything I’ve heard or read from a philosopher. At the same time, my conception of God is probably quite different from a casual Catholic’s, or a devout Baptist’s, or a syncretistically inclined Pentecostal’s, or any of the oodles of other denominations, let alone non-Christian theistic traditions. Perhaps Dawkins’s problem was that he tried to aim at too broad a target with the one book? I wouldn’t know, I never read it.

    2. Machine Interface

      Being critical of Catholicism why not knowing the finer intellectual points of the trinity or transsubstantation doctrines is fine. Being critical of Catholicism because Catholicism is anti-science and see what they did to Bruno the brilliant scientist atheist, less so.

    3. Deiseach

      To the extent that the average believer feels motivated to provide reasons at all, they will be some half-baked version of the cosmological or teleological arguments. Which Dawkins et al. knock down just fine.

      Knocking down the layman’s version is still not disproving the theory. The equivalent of that would be someone saying “I’ve knocked down the argument that humans are directly descended from monkeys” “Oh well I suppose I’d better go get baptised so” – Joe Layman “Er, no, that’s not the real position held by scientists” – Joseph Biologist.

      Convincing Joe is not at all the same as “Ha, take that, Joseph Biologist! I have thrown down your fortress of arrogance!”. And replying to someone pointing out that you hadn’t engaged with the more sophisticated, developed and difficult theory as held by the consensus of the field that “Hey, I trounced the Schlub’s Argument just fine, thanks all the same!” probably won’t be seen as particularly convincing by those who do know the proper version.

  38. manwhoisthursday

    Slightly off topic, but New Atheist critic Ed Feser has a new book out called Five Proofs of the Existence of God. It is the best book of its kind and presents the Classical arguments clearly, correctly and with a minimum of philosophical jargon. Most of the summaries of these arguments, especially by their critics, are grossly inadequate. If you want to know what these arguments actually are, this is now the go-to book.

    Incidentally, I can offer a free Kindle version of the book to anyone who emails me at manwhoisthursday@yahoo.ca. I can’t promise I will get back to you right away, but I will get back to you.

    —–

    I’ve also included a bibliography below for those interested in the Classical philosophical tradition of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas etc.

    With philosophy, I would strongly recommend that you not start with the original texts. You just won’t get that much out of them, or even if you do, you’ll still miss alot of important stuff. This goes just as much or more for the apparently accessible Plato or Augustine as for more difficult writers.

    Individual Thinkers

    David Roochnik, Introduction to Greek Philosophy (Great Courses audio lectures) – crucial background on the Presocratics

    Michael Sugrue, Plato Socrates and the Dialogues (Great Courses audio lectures) – especially good on Plato and Socrate’s struggle against the Sophists, the postmodernists of their day.

    David Roochnik, Plato’s Republic (Great Courses audio lectures) – especially good on Plato’s political thought, especially on youth oriented politics in democracy

    Jonathan Barnes, Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction – concise primer on Aristotle, hard to understand following books without it but not adequate on its own

    Jonathan Lear, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand – most profound introduction to Aristotle

    Christopher Shields, Aristotle – broader introduction to Aristotle

    Phillip Cary, Augustine: Philosopher and Saint (Great Courses audio lectures) – focuses more on philosophy specifically rather than biography, politics

    Edward Feser, Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide – could also work as primer on Aristotle, crystal clear

    Rondo Keele, Ockham Explained – on the major Medieval critic of Classical philosophy, explains many Classical ideas very well

    Christian Moevs, The Metaphysics of Dante’s Comedy – this book starts off a bit obscure, but Chapter 2 is particularly helpful with regard to the concept of matter in Classical philosophy

    General Introductions

    William A. Wallace, Elements of Philosophy – comprehensive text on Classical philosophy, fills in the gaps for these other books

    Specialized Topics

    Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics – starts with the very basics

    William A. Wallace, The Modeling of Nature – how Classical philosophy relates to science and the study of nature more generally, good follow up to Feser’s book on metaphysics (Edward Feser is working on a book on Philosophy of Nature, which will likely supersede Wallace)

    David S. Oderberg, Real Essentialism – on categories, especially useful on the idea of species

    E.A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science

    Armand Marie Leroi, The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science – good on Aristotle, less so on Plato and the Scholastics

    Lloyd Gerson, Ancient Epistemology

    Edward Feser: Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide – Phil of mind from a Classical point of view

    Edward Feser, Five Proofs of the Existence of God – book on Classical (not modern) proofs but also explanation of divine nature, not Aquinas’ Five Ways (though there is an overlap)

    David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God – helps fill in gaps on Classical theism, including how aesthetic experience relates to God, criticism of modernist attempts to prove God’s existence as well as modernist atheist disproofs

    Christopher F. J. Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations – definitive explication of Aquinas’ Five Ways

    Austin Fagothey, Right and Reason – introduction to ethics from a Classical perspective

    David S. Oderberg, Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach

    Eleanore Stump, The God of the Bible and the God of the Philosophers

    Brian Davies, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil

    Fran O’Rourke, Aristotelian Interpretations – contains essays on how Aristotle applies to poetry, evolution, evolutionary ethics etc.

    Editions of Primary Sources

    For most of these thinkers, there are many good versions of the original. For Aristotle, however, I would strongly recommend the Clarendon Oxford Aristotle texts with commentary. For many of his works, you simply can’t get what he is saying without commentary. Oxford World Classics has some good translations of the more accessible works like the Nicomachean Ethics, the Politics and the Poetics.

    For Plato, you can look for translations by R.E. Allen, Robin Waterfield, Harold Tarrant and Hugh Tredennick, Allan Bloom, Paul Woodruff, Alexander Nehamas, and Stanley Lombardo.

    Sarah Ruden and Henry Chadwick are good for Augustine’s Confessions. R.W. Dyson is good for the City of God.

    The standard translations out there are fine for Aquinas.

    1. Nick

      Re Feser’s Five Proofs book, a few thoughts—I haven’t shared these over on his blog because his commentariat has become triumphalist and frustratingly incapable of taking any criticism:

      1. The content is good, but if you’ve read previous Feser material on the topics a fair amount of it will sound like a rehash. It’s great to have everything about the first cause argument in one place, it’s just little of it will sound new to a reader of Feser. My favorite parts of the book are when he deals with the arguments he doesn’t usually cover.
      2. My biggest problem with the way the arguments are presented is that they are not five independent arguments for God’s existence, which is more what I was expecting (not to say it was mis-advertised, mind). He derives all the key divine attributes in the Aristotelian argument, and he does so for some of the attributes in the later arguments, but for the most part he “cheats” by just showing why these are identifying the same thing as the Aristotelian argument, and then he gets the rest of the divine attributes this way for free. This is frustrating, because the biggest problem, of course, is that we don’t want people to have to accept large swathes of the Aristotelian framework just to accept these arguments; sure, for the Aristotelian the Neoplatonist or the rationalist is talking about the same God, but that doesn’t mean they would accept the Aristotelian’s derivation of the divine attributes!
      3. Timely for this post, Feser still takes serious issue with Dawkins and friends, and hasn’t really changed his tune about the New Atheists, although they are ostensibly growing less and less relevant over time. I have to wonder if this is in large part due to his blog—he still gets relics stuck in the mold of the mid-2000s. And in fairness to the commentariat, that’s probably a large part of the reason for their triumphalism, poisonous though it is.
      4. The Further Reading section and the many references listed in the book are really good. I haven’t read many of them, obviously, but one thing that strikes me is how many are contemporary. There’s quite a lot of good work being done even now on these topics, which is gratifying.

      1. manwhoisthursday

        1. Yes, some of it is a rehash, but a lot of the older material was pretty fragmentary, and there is also a fair amount of new material.
        2. It seems to me that the arguments fall into two groups. The Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic and Scholastic arguments are all related. The Augustinian and Rationalist also seem to me to form a clump.
        3. I didn’t think there was much to do with the New Atheists in the new book, except perhaps indirectly, as the New Atheists have tended to rely on some of the more ridiculous caricatures of these arguments you find in the wider philosophical community. In any event, Dennett is the only one who is a live intellectual force in this area, but, of course, but his influence is more in philosophy of mind.

        1. Nick

          Re the New Atheists, Feser gave quite a bit of treatment to them in the objections chapter. Take for instance his long section on the old “What caused God?” canard (which is adapted, in large part, from a blog post he wrote on the matter a few years ago). In fairness to him, they do raise the most, and the commonest, objections to these arguments, so it’s not like he can ignore them. It’s not a criticism really; just something I felt was worth pointing out.

          Unrelated, but I just have to share an interview I came across just last night while responding to Protagoras. It’s incredible to me, the guy just gets it—I don’t know how else to put it—substances and essences, the importance of priority, applications to modern philosophy, modality, causality, he just gets it!! It may be too specialist for me, but it puts me in mind to pick up his book Priority in Aristotle’s Metaphysics if I can. Money quote on his approach:

          My approach to Ancient Philosophy, especially Aristotle and Plato, is to offer interpretations which are not only faithful to the texts but also charitable, coherent, and philosophically attractive –or at least not outright mistaken, outdated, or outlandish. I think that, while Aristotle’s views are interesting in their own right and historically, they can also contribute positively to contemporary philosophical debates: we can use them to undercut dilemmas in our current discussions, to diagnose what goes wrong in our formulations of philosophical questions, to discern and discard unattractive assumptions that escape our notice, and, more boldly, to offer solutions to problems. This applies not only to metaphysics or theoretical philosophy but also quite generally for any philosophical sub-discipline. It is an attitude that flourished in Oxford in the 20th century with thinkers such as J. Ackrill, D. Wiggins, G. Ryle, J. L. Austin, J. McDowell (see his commentary on Plato’s Theaetetus), and more recently David Charles. The latter called this approach ‘philosophical scholarship’. Not everyone in Oxford or indeed the Ancient Philosophical community is fond of this approach. I think, however, that it is immensely successful and fruitful.

          1. manwhoisthursday

            I agree generally that Feser’s preoccupation with the New Atheists (mostly outside his books now) is starting to look a little stale now that their star has started to wane. As I said, Dennett is still a live force in professional philosophy, but attacks on him in his area of specialization, while valid, don’t have the same wider cachet.

  39. skef

    I’m late to this party, but want to echo and narrow some points expressed in some of the later replies.

    When I was young, atheism was the outlook of a significant minority but was uniquely picked out as unacceptable in political life. You may remember that when GWB commented on atheists being equal citizens (in contrast with his father’s earlier comments) in 2004, it was widely discussed as an unusual sentiment.

    So, two things:

    1. There is a long social convention in the U.S. and I’m sure elsewhere, that atheists should keep quiet. Whenever I read an article about atheism that is not explicit advocacy for atheism, I anticipate the part where it says that some atheist needs to shut up. I am almost never disappointed — that’s what articles about atheism are generally about. (Variant — the article is not explicitly about the need for someone to shut up, just about how some atheists are distasteful.) This is different from other social movements. Many articles that are neutral or negative about climate change or feminism discuss or argue against those positions. Only a minority say that some climate change activist or feminist is distasteful or that they need to shut up. And although this article alludes to a period of New Atheist success, that’s what I remember the articles on New Atheism being about in the whole span it was operating.

    2. I credit the New Atheist movement for the significant increase in the public acceptance of what might be called “non-strident” atheism. This was badly needed, and is great. The public exposure of strident atheism has made boring old atheism much more routine. It is much more viable for an open atheist to run for public office today than it was fifteen years ago. I am not at all convinced this would have happened anyway.

    I find it hard to believe that the “four horsemen” set out to wipe religion off the Earth. It is much more plausible that the hoped to bring about something like #2. By that standard, the movement is a success, and some of its leaders ate a lot of shit to make it so. I am grateful to them.

    1. Matthias

      I broadly agree with this, and feel like the SSC-sphere’s obsession with questions of “status” tends to lead to a skewed vision of what defines success. The figure of an activist is frequently most hated precisely when their desired outcomes on the wider world are changing most rapidly. Civil rights activists were not, as people, popular, even as they succeeded in getting more and more people to sign onto their object-level points.

      Of course, sometimes cultural controversies just do seem to be pissing contests with indiscernible real-world referent or object of success, l’affair reproductively viable worker ants, in all of its manifestations, seems to be an unusually pure example of this type. The proper attitude to these things is simply to ignore them. Ross Douthat actually has some pretty intelligent thoughts on this.

  40. andagain

    The number of Americans claiming not to believe in God has been going up for decades. Logically, the New Atheists are more successful now than they were a decade or two ago. They are just not fashionable with certain progressives anymore. I don’t see why that is much of a defeat.

    1. Some Troll's Serious Discussion Alt

      ‘Certain progressives’s” opinions of you souring is worthy of concern. One person deciding that you can go to hell is all it takes if that one person happens to be the guy with the gun.

  41. Telminha

    Atheism was not a good thing for me personally. If I could choose, I’d go back to being a Mormon or a Catholic. I have to build my own purpose system, and I find it extremely difficult. The only thing left is philosophy and drunkness. However, I do not recommend alcohol; virtue and poetry are fine.
    Didn’t Dawkins say that organizing atheists is comparable to herding cats? What do atheists have in common besides atheism? There is a church for atheists here in Dallas. I have never been there, but I visited their page to check the activities they offer. Deep inside, I wish the meetings were about TED talks, SSC or books.
    Perhaps we could have been more graceful when other people offered prayers for us.

    1. cassander

      poetry seems a far more serious vice than alcohol, I know far more functioning alcoholics than functioning poets.

  42. Mattusa

    I’m with the people who have suggested that new atheism worked for a certain place and time, but quickly lost the cache it had.

    Their is a sweet spot for a movement to grow when it can be subversive, without requiring much of a sacrifice. With George Bush as president and religion apparently politically ascendant, people could read the new atheists as a powerful countercultural action, while in reality the trends towards a less religious populace were already apparent.

  43. Montork

    I don’t know much about intellectual trends in left-wing elites of USA but here in Europe to be trendy in similar circles I would advise using language of so called continental philosophy instead of “language of science”.

    I mean that grey tribe vs blue tribe explanation seems to be correct.

  44. William75

    I think a couple things happened: (1) Thinking back to Arnold Kling’s The Three Languages of Politics, progressives tend to see the world on an axis of exploiters and exploited. Sexism, racism, and environmentalism are all attractive topics for progressives because they fit neatly into this view. They have great villains – privileged, sexist and/or racist men and wealthy corporations, as well as sympathetic victims. Atheism just doesn’t provide an interesting villain or victim. (2) The criticism of Islam, which is already well discussed on this thread. I’ll also add that Dawkins and Harris seem to go out of their way to be unlikable.

    1. fortaleza84

      Atheism just doesn’t provide an interesting villain or victim.

      What about clerics and other religious types who use their positions to sexually abuse children? In theory, atheists could make a lot of hay with these types of scandals. So I am inclined to believe that’s not the problem.

      1. William75

        I think progressives are receptive to the argument that “these specific priests or clerics who molested kids are evil” but not “the entire religion that covered up these crimes by the thousands should cease to exist.” Not the way that they will be receptive to “this corporation that covered up sexual assault is evil and should be destroyed.” Why? The only reason that I can think of is that progressives are already inclined to think of corporations as villains (certainly the Bernie faction does). But most religions do good things, and most church members are not rich and powerful, and some entire religions (e.g., Islam) seem to have been granted preferred victimhood status.

      2. Viliam

        Children are usually not counted as oppressed. First, they don’t have enough political power to be useful allies. Second, if you start talking about hurt children, there is a slippery slope towards a pro-life position, and it is politically most convenient to not even take the first step there.

        1. Nornagest

          What are you talking about? People on both sides of the aisle talk about hurt children all the time. Now, children as a class are not generally counted as oppressed (at the moment, anyway; youth rights got some mileage in the Sixties, but that lost most of its rhetorical power when the voting age was lowered to 18), but that doesn’t prevent individual children from showing up in rhetoric.

        2. CthulhuChild

          I also question a rhetorical stance that causes you to believe that progressives have no interest in protecting children on the grounds of them being weak allies. We are talking about liberals, not orcs.

          Are you really cynical enough to believe that leftists wouldn’t want to fight child molesting priests because it might be seen as leaning towards pro-life?

          1. Whitedeath

            I find that an incredible number of commenters here have an extremely bad faith view of progressives. They can’t believe that some progressives might actually have arguments for their beliefs so they attribute everything progressives do to signalling or some other armchair psychological explanation.

          2. Nornagest

            They can’t believe that some progressives might actually have arguments for their beliefs so they attribute everything progressives do to signalling or some other armchair psychological explanation.

            I hope the irony there was intentional.

          3. CthulhuChild

            Nornagest, I’m clearly dumb, I don’t see what the irony (intentional or otherwise would be).

            Also, the phrase “virtue signaling” has become very frusterating to me. It’s an instant conversation murderer. It is literally stating “You are lying when you say you believe these things, and you are doing it for status”. It is a non-falsifiable statement that serves to dismiss everything a person could ever say without further consideration.

            Also, http://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/honest-discussion

          4. fortaleza84

            I think the irony is the assumption that the accusation of bad faith against progressives is itself made in bad faith.

            By the way, I admit that I am one of those people who believes that pretty much everything progressives do is motivated by virtue-signalling; status competition; and no actual concern for the issues they pretend to care about.

            Imagine a hypothetical progressive who is principled and points out that we need to boycott Iran and Saudi Arabia before we boycott Chick-Fil-A and Israel. Such a person is not going to get far in the progressive movement. He may be tolerated if he keeps his head down, but if he attracts enough attention, he will probably be denounced as a racist and Islamophobe.

            In other words, the progressive movement has been taken over by opportunists; narcissists; and other bad people who set the agenda for and define the entire movement.

          5. CatCube

            @CthulhuChild

            @Nornagest is pointing out that this “our political enemies are obviously ogres, therefore any non-ogre reason they give for their beliefs are a disingenuous cover” is a bipartisan brain defect.

            For example, you have a lot of leftists violently convinced that the right is anti-abortion because they believe that women should be barefoot and pregnant (the ogre reason), and not because they believe in the personhood of the fetus (the non-ogre belief they really hold).

            A common refrain from the right is that “everybody knows” that the minimum wage is harmful to the poor, because it increases the wages of a few people, and puts the rest out of work; therefore, the only reason the left supports raising the minimum wage is that it is an increase in the power of government regulation which is the leftist endstate. Similarly, from the left, “everybody knows” that the minimum wage is a bulwark against exploitation of the poor by employers, because it forces employers to actually pay a fair wage; therefore, the only reason that anybody would oppose a raise in the minimum wage is hatred of poor people.

          6. lvlln

            @fortaleza84

            I’m a progressive, and from within the group, my perception is that your perception is mostly right, but perhaps exaggerated. It’s not all virtue signalling, but it’s a very strong driver of behavior.

            On the subject of virtue signalling, I hate that people have started labeling it as a derogatory term. I think it’s a very useful, descriptive, and accurate term – it’s describing the behavior of someone who is signalling to others their virtue. And, more to the point, there is nothing wrong with it – most of us do this all the time! Almost always, when one posts one’s own truly held opinion publicly, it’s virtue signalling (almost everyone believes their own truly held opinions are virtuous). I definitely don’t get the idea that calling something “virtue signalling” is a claim that it’s a lie just to gain status points – signalling virtue can be done – and almost always is, IME – by expressing truly held opinions, not falsely claimed ones. This post here of mine honestly describing myself as a progressive and also honestly describing my assessment of progressive behavior is a form of virtue signalling (look at good old progressive me! But not one of THOSE progressives who destroy people’s lives in status games – THOSE progressives aren’t virtuous!).

            The only problem is when virtue signalling starts dominating other things. If all I’m doing is telling others how good my opinion is, or if my behavior is primarily motivated by making sure others know how good my opinion is, or at least if my behavior is more driven by that than actually accomplishing good things, then I have a problem. As such, I don’t think calling something “virtue signalling” is a criticism, just a description. Calling it “excessive virtue signalling” or “virtue signalling at the expense of actual virtue” or some other variation of that would be criticism.

          7. Whitedeath

            @lvlln

            The only problem is when virtue signalling starts dominating other things. If all I’m doing is telling others how good my opinion is, or if my behavior is primarily motivated by making sure others know how good my opinion is, or at least if my behavior is more driven by that than actually accomplishing good things, then I have a problem. As such, I don’t think calling something “virtue signalling” is a criticism, just a description. Calling it “excessive virtue signalling” or “virtue signalling at the expense of actual virtue” or some other variation of that would be criticism

            I think that behavior is what most people are referring to when they talk about virtue signalling

          8. Conrad Honcho

            One gains Virtue Points by expending Sacrifice Points. If you expend your own Sacrifice Points and thereby obtain Virtue Points and choose to let people know about it, that’s signalling virtue. ex: the person who believes animals have moral value and is therefore a vegetarian and posts about their vegetarianism on FaceBook.

            If you insist others expend their Sacrifice Points while expecting to gain Virtue Points for yourself, that’s Virtue Signalling. ex: the Hollywood star with the gated mansion tweeting #RefugeesWelcome. Yes, they’re absolutely welcome…but probably not to his mansion. Probably to the neighborhood of someone far less privileged who will have to adapt to the newcomers.

          9. Brad

            @Conrad Honcho

            If you insist others expend their Sacrifice Points while expecting to gain Virtue Points for yourself, that’s Virtue Signalling. ex: the Hollywood star with the gated mansion tweeting #RefugeesWelcome.

            Except that’s a total bastardization of what the term meant originally. And not something that we needed a new term for. Hypocrite was right there for the taking.

            Y’all have taken a term for an interesting and useful concept from behavioral economists and turned it into yet another mostly meaningless insult to throw at people you don’t like. Thereby depriving the world of a good name for the useful and interesting concept. It’s probably too late to save virtue signaling but please think of the expressiveness of the English language in the future.

            @fortaleza84

            I am one of those people who believes that pretty much everything progressives do is motivated by virtue-signalling; status competition; and no actual concern for the issues they pretend to care about.

            In other words, the progressive movement has been taken over by opportunists; narcissists; and other bad people who set the agenda for and define the entire movement.

            I can’t imagine why anyone is assuming bad faith on your part. These statements drip with charity.

          10. fortaleza84

            Anti-Zionists generally aren’t fans of Saudi Arabia either.

            How often do American anti-Zionists demonstrate in front of the Saudi embassy? How often do they call for boycotts of Saudi exports? If it happens regularly, I haven’t heard of it happening.

          11. fortaleza84

            These statements drip with charity.

            Some people deserve the benefit of the doubt; and for some people there is no reasonable doubt.

            Let me ask you this: Under what circumstances is it reasonable to conclude that a person has bad motivations?

          12. Brad

            Some people deserve the benefit of the doubt; and for some people there is no reasonable doubt.

            Let me ask you this: Under what circumstances is it reasonable to conclude that a person has bad motivations?

            You aren’t talking about a person. You are a very very large group of people. It is impossible for you to have observed even a small fraction of them carefully enough to draw the conclusions you’ve drawn about the whole. And I sincerely doubt you’ve undertaken procedures to select and question a statistically random sample.

            Strong claims require strong evidence. You’ve got faith.

          13. fortaleza84

            You aren’t talking about a person. You are a very very large group of people. It is impossible for you to have observed even a small fraction of them carefully enough to draw the conclusions you’ve drawn about the whole.

            I would have to disagree with this. I’ve witnessed the statements and behavior (and absence of statements and behavior) of literally millions of progressives. And the only reasonable conclusion about their motivations is what I stated above.

            And the hypothesis of mass hypocrisy infecting a movement or ideology is hardly an extraordinary claim.

            Anyway, just so we are clear, your position is that it’s impossible to come to a reasonable conclusion about the motivations underlying a mass movement without choosing a random (and statistically significant) sample of members of that movement and interviewing them?

          14. anonymousskimmer

            your position is that it’s impossible to come to a reasonable conclusion about the motivations underlying a mass movement without choosing a random (and statistically significant) sample of members of that movement and interviewing them?

            Progressivism isn’t a movement, it’s a catchall political affiliation term, and as all such catchalls, it’s non-homogeneous in terms of what those who identify with it think it means.

            You haven’t heard from millions of its members, merely hundreds or thousands of the loudest members. And guess what, those who are loudest are biased and motivated in ways that the quieter members aren’t.

            I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. Does this mean I agreed with all, or even many of his talking points? No. It means I agreed with a few which I thought were very pertinent to my beliefs, and would have counted on Congress, etc… to ameliorate those I disagreed with.

            Likewise for those who march in progressive parades, I’m sure.

            So yeah, you do need a statistical random sampling, and guess what? Even that random sampling will not catch all of the diversity of thought in the ‘movement’, merely the most widely-held points (and a few randomly sampled weirdos).

            For evidence of this claim you only need to look at the number of political movements which have collapsed while the core (loudest) members still kept ranting and railing.

          15. fortaleza84

            You haven’t heard from millions of its members

            Absolutely, and at times, the silence is absolutely deafening. That’s what gives the game away.

          16. anonymousskimmer

            I’m not commenting back because it’s not worth my while given how loud the loud people are. (Or if I am commenting back, you’re not seeing it because I’m not using the same communication channels that the loud people use, or at least not nearly as often as they use it – S/N ratio.) I’m merely less identifying with the movement. Which is how you get movement collapse, or nichifying of large movements.

            At this point I’d say I’m progressive on some issues, but I don’t identify as a progressive because I am not entirely aware of what everyone who identifies as a progressive means when they use the term, and I don’t want to be seen as supporting things I may firmly disagree with. Until I realized the term was broader than I realized, I may very well have identified as a progressive (at least on some polls, given the few number of terms given to people to politically identify as in polls).

          17. fortaleza84

            I’m not commenting back because it’s not worth my while given how loud the loud people are

            I’m not sure what you mean by “loud,” but anyway, I’ve made my point reasonably clearly. If you choose not to respond, that’s of course your choice. If you would rather have a meta-discussion about who is “loud,” I’m not all that interested.

            @lvlln

            On the subject of virtue signalling, I hate that people have started labeling it as a derogatory term

            I believe it was actually derogatory starting from when it first came into popular use. Which is important because it is one of the salient characteristics of modern Leftism, perhaps even definitional, and it’s very useful to have a convenient way to describe the phenomenon.

            To people who don’t like the phrase, is the problem the phrase itself? Or is it that you don’t want people discussing the underlying phenomenon in a convenient way?

          18. Brad

            I’ve witnessed the statements and behavior (and absence of statements and behavior) of literally millions of progressives.

            Only in the same sense that I’ve witnessed the absence of statements and behavior of 1.4 billion Chinese people. I.e. the disingenuous sense.

          19. fortaleza84

            Only in the same sense that I’ve witnessed the absence of statements and behavior of 1.4 billion Chinese people

            .

            If you observed that Chinese people pretty much never engage in behavior X, it could lead to some interesting and reliable inferences about Chinese people as a group.

            I.e. the disingenuous sense.

            How exactly would that be disingenuous?

            And please answer my question: just so we are clear, your position is that it’s impossible to come to a reasonable conclusion about the motivations underlying a mass movement without choosing a random (and statistically significant) sample of members of that movement and interviewing them?

          20. Brad

            If you observed that Chinese people pretty much never engage in behavior X, it could lead to some interesting and reliable inferences about Chinese people as a group.

            How in the world could I possibly be confident that Chinese people “pretty much never” engage in behavior X? There are 1.4 billion people in China going about their lives whatever-that-involves without me observing what they are or aren’t doing. I reject as impossible your claim to have observed “literally millions” of people closely enough to know what you are claiming to know.

            As for your question, I reject the characterization of “progressives” as a mass movement. See anonymousskimmer’s post of 7:36. Taken as a broader question, yes I insist that you can’t say much concrete about millions upon millions of people based on your anecodota. For that you need data. There are many times more self identified progressives than there are Scots. Yet here you are no true Scotsman-ing all of them.

          21. DavidFriedman

            At a considerable tangent, it strikes me that the labels used by large political movements in the U.S. at present are very nearly meaningless in themselves, get meaning only by the observation of who uses them.

            Take “progressive.” Everyone is in favor of progress. The disagreement is about what changes are good, hence count as progress.

            “Conservative” sounds a little closer to meaning something, but what it means depends on what you want to conserve. Until about 1920, U.S. total government spending was under 10% of GNP except in wartime. It jumped to 20% in the 1930’s, continued to rise more or less continuously to its current level of about 35%. Does a conservative mean someone who wants to conserve the system created in the 1930’s–roughly speaking a centrist Republican or Democrat–or someone who wants to conserve the system that preceded it? Someone who wants to conserve the changes of the sexual revolution, which occurred at a point before a majority of those now alive were born, or reverse them?

            If it has any literal meaning, it would be someone who wants to maintain the current status quo, hence is opposed to changes in any direction.

            Republicans rarely say they are against democracy, nor do Democrats object to the U.S. being described as a Republic.

            I’m not sure if the situation is better or worse than having one party labeled as Irish thieves and the other as fake hairpieces.

          22. fortaleza84

            How in the world could I possibly be confident that Chinese people “pretty much never” engage in behavior X?

            It would depend on the behavior in question. For example, I’m pretty confident that Chinese people pretty much never run a 100m dash in 9.95 seconds or less. The reason I am confident about it is that if it had happened, there would probably have been a report or news article mentioning it. Having never seen such a report or news article, I conclude that it pretty much never happens.

            No need to take random samples of Chinese people and put them on a track.

            Now please answer my question:

            How is this disingenuous?

          23. Brad

            If you want to understand what I mean by disingenuous, just look at this latest post of yours. Would you expect to see it reported in newspapers if any one of hundreds of millions of self identified progressives expressed actual concern for the issues they purport to care about? If not, why are you comparing it to running a 100m dash in 9.95 seconds or less?

            Tell me what steps have you undertaken to observe “literally millions” of progressives? Concretely please.

          24. fortaleza84

            If you want to understand what I mean by disingenuous, just look at this latest post of yours

            I’d like you to lay it out rather than have me puzzle over it like some Scooby Doo mystery. Please answer my question in good faith and I will endeavor to address yours.

          25. anonymousskimmer

            @fortaleza84

            If you choose not to respond, that’s of course your choice. If you would rather have a meta-discussion about who is “loud,” I’m not all that interested.

            You completely misunderstood me. When I say I’m “not responding”, I’m not talking about this discussion with you, I’m talking about responding to the claims of the “loud” progressives on what progressivism is.

            I say that when the other so-called “loud” progressives (i.e. those that have a following, those that get on TV, those that voluminously post to various highly-read blogs) say what “progressivism” means, I am not always commenting back. Or if I am, you’re likely not seeing it at anywhere near the rate that you’re seeing the claims of even one of these “loud” progressives. The signal-to-noise ratio is very small when the signal you’re interested in is what the totality of self-identified progressive believe in.

            And so on for the vast majority of people like me.

            Also, is it important that someone claim the “progressive” label for themselves, or is it important that someone agree with a particular “progressive” cause? Because there are a lot more of the later than of the former, and the later generally aren’t publicly disagreeing with the other progressive causes that they do disagree with because they don’t identify with those causes, and thus don’t see a need to disagree with them, just like they often don’t spend the time to disagree with a particular plank of the Tea Party.

            Thus, to you, it looks like progressives aren’t commenting against various negative progressive policies, while to many of those people you think are progressives, they aren’t identifying as such and thus don’t see the need to comment against what they see as a minority-held, extreme position completely unrelated to their interests. Or they are personally identifying as progressives, but don’t see a particular policy as progressive (despite what a handful of particularly “loud” progressives claim), and thus don’t see the need to argue against it.

            @lvlln

            Almost always, when one posts one’s own truly held opinion publicly, it’s virtue signalling (almost everyone believes their own truly held opinions are virtuous).

            I usually see it as the beginning of an argument, as the times I most often post my opinion is in contra-response to someone else. When I agree with someone a thumbs-up is enough. When I really, really agree with someone I may post a +1 or a thanks, but this isn’t to signal my personal virtue but what internally feels like a compulsive display of happiness.

          26. fortaleza84

            And so on for the vast majority of people like me.

            Ok, I see your point now. Actually, it’s not all that different from what I originally said:

            In other words, the progressive movement has been taken over by opportunists; narcissists; and other bad people who set the agenda for and define the entire movement.

            That said, the rank and file seem pretty much okay with the agenda. Hundreds of thousands of women marched on Washington wearing those ridiculous pink hats. How many of them took a few minutes to demonstrate in front of the embassies of places like Saudi Arabia? If it happened, it wasn’t very many.

          27. anonymousskimmer

            Hundreds of thousands of women marched on Washington wearing those ridiculous pink hats.

            To demonstrate shortly after a new American President was discovered to have said that sexual assault would be allowed if you’re famous.

            How many of them took a few minutes to demonstrate in front of the embassies of places like Saudi Arabia? If it happened, it wasn’t very many.

            Why would someone take the time to demonstrate against a regime which is not theirs? Maybe, every once in a while, support those who demonstrate against such regimes, but demonstrate? They have other, more immediate responsibilities. And everyone knows that such regimes (and the people living under such regimes) are not that likely to listen to foreign demonstrators anyway – it’s a relative waste of time.

            Everyone has their own onus. Leave the cause-wide demonstrating to those who have the time and inclination – i.e. the “loud” ones.

          28. fortaleza84

            Why would someone take the time to demonstrate against a regime which is not theirs?

            Perhaps you should ask that question of the American progressives who regularly demonstrate against Israel.

          29. fortaleza84

            @whitedeath

            There are in fact protests outside the Saudi embassy.

            That’s an interesting strawman. Of course I was not claiming that there are never protests at the Saudi embassy. My observation was that few if anyone from the “women’s march on Washington” engaged in such a protest.

            More generally, progressives as a group pay very little attention to Saudi Arabia. And in fact, for most of the protests in your Google search results, it is questionable whether progressives were behind the protests or even significantly involved.

            So we are left with the argument that progressives don’t want to spend energies on a “regime which is not theirs.”

            Is this the correct reason? Or is it simply a rationalization or an excuse?
            If it were correct, then one would expect American progressives to pay very little attention to Israel. An expectation which is inconsistent with observable reality.

            Looking at the totality of the circumstances, it’s pretty clear that as I mentioned before progressives are mainly concerned with virtue signalling and status competition; and have very little actual concern over the issues they pretend to care about.

          30. Whitedeath

            More generally, progressives as a group pay very little attention to Saudi Arabia

            I don’t know where you get your information about progressives from, but as someone who regularly reads progressive sources I can tell you that this is false.

          31. fortaleza84

            I don’t know where you get your information about progressives from, but as someone who regularly reads progressive sources I can tell you that this is false.

            In your view, what are the 3 most prominent web site which are general progressive sources of commentary?

            Because I’m pretty confident that if you look at those web sites, you will find that articles critical of Israel far outnumber those critical of Saudi Arabia.

          32. Whitedeath

            But that wasn’t your claim. You said “progressives as a group pay very little attention to Saudi Arabia”. Now that I’ve pointed out that that’s false you changed your claim to “progressives criticize Israel more than they criticize Saudi Arabia”. This ignores that the US provides much more aid to Israel than they do Saudi Arabia.

          33. fortaleza84

            But that wasn’t your claim. You said “progressives as a group pay very little attention to Saudi Arabia”.

            I stand by my claim, I was simply proposing an objective way to test it.

            But since you want to contest my assertion about “very little,” let’s do this:

            Please back up your assertion that progressives pay more than “very little” attention to Saudi Arabia. Please include your definition of “very little” and proof that it is universal.

          34. Whitedeath

            You’re the one who made the assertion, the burden is on you to prove it. Please back up your assertion that progressives pay “very little” attention to Saudi Arabia. Please include your definition of “very little” and proof that it is universal.

            I think this is another rationalization, kind of like the “not our regime” epicycle.

            Please provide evidence that this is the case.

            If it were about aid, one would expect that European progressives would not care about Israel. And yet for some strange reason, they care very much

            You seem to be unaware that many European countries provide massive amounts of aid to Israel.

          35. fortaleza84

            This ignores that the US provides much more aid to Israel than they do Saudi Arabia.

            I think this is another rationalization, kind of like the “not our regime” epicycle.

            If it were about aid, one would expect that European progressives would not care about Israel. And yet for some strange reason, they care very much.

          36. fortaleza84

            You’re the one who made the assertion, the burden is on you to prove it.

            I’m not the one who implied that “very little” has a universal, objective definition. You are the one that did that. Besides, I asked first. If you had asked me what I meant by “very little,” I would have explained what I meant, which is actually pretty obvious given my earlier comments. I would have said that Saudi Arabia is criticized by progressives far less than countries with much better human rights records, i.e. the United States and Israel. But instead, you invented a secret definition of “very little” and deemed that my point was wrong based on your secret (but universal) definition of “very little.”

            I take it you are declining to back up your claim?

            You seem to be unaware that many European countries provide massive amounts of aid to Israel.

            Name 3 and tell me the amount of yearly aid.

          37. fortaleza84

            By the way, I did a few searches for Norway and Spain and found no indication that these countries gave any aid to Israel.

            At the same time, many European countries (and also the US) give substantial aid to the “Palestinian Authority”

            So if the foreign aid hypothesis held water, one would expect, for example, that Norwegian progressives would criticize Israel very little and that American progressives would criticize the Palestinian Authority a lot.

            Again, this is not consistent with observable reality.

      3. Deiseach

        What about clerics and other religious types who use their positions to sexually abuse children?

        Because a lot of the “solutions” proffered for that (and not confined to New Atheism by any means) were agenda-driven and clearly seen as such; if only women could be ordained! if only clergy could marry! if only lay people had the same power to govern as the hierarchy! None of this would have happened! And it’s only by coincidence that I am protesting this and happen to be a long-time supporter of women’s ordination etc.

        And then churches with lay governance, married clergy, women ministers and all the rest of the “solutions” had their share of scandals, too. And outside of churches – politicians, sportspeople, journalists, teachers, you name it.

        So the simple and appealing mantra of “this only happened because of religion” was self-evidently false. Then the scandals start biting on the liberal side as well (the Weinstein scandal is relatively straightforward even if egregious; there seems to be rumours or accusations of a Hollywood paedophile ring; there are plenty of cases of people on the right-thinking side not living up to their standards) and calls for blanket condemnation and razed-earth strategies then seem unfeasible because now you’re talking about razing your own institution to the ground, and it’s easy to see the problems with that approach.

  45. Mrjim

    The difference is that while new atheism may have certain doctrines that are universally accepted by progressives, it also allies itself with certain points of rank Philistinism. This, not the anti-religion screed, is what alienates liberals and leftists.

    That is to say, much of the new atheist scorn for religion applies equally to vast swaths of human culture: literature, philosophy, social science–all the way to such experiences as free will. Consequently, people who value those things tend to conclude that new atheist are dipshits. Not least because they don’t seem to understand that their peppy, supercilious reductionism is incompatible with anything other than the bleakest form of nihilism.

    It’s just hard to understand how these meaningless, heterogeneous distributions of charge and mass can be so self-satisfied.

  46. theodidactus

    This is an issue that is so terribly important to me. I spend an awful lot of time thinking about it, and I’m not closer to an explanation than any of you are. My social justice sensibilities, such as they are, LEAD me to the new atheists, and it’s weird to see these forces “unbind” when they have so much in common.

    I recall one of my favorite poems, Erasmus Darwin’s “Botonic Garden” treats religious skepticism and social justice/anticolonial concerns as basically synonymous…

    “Heavens! on my sight what sanguine colours blaze!
    Spain’s deathless shame! the crimes of modern days!
    When Avarice, shrouded in Religion’s robe,
    Sail’d to the West, and slaughter’d half the globe;
    While Superstition, stalking by his side,
    Mock’d the loud groans, and lap’d the bloody tide;
    For sacred truths announced her frenzied dreams,
    And turn’d to night the sun’s meridian beams
    Hear, oh, BRITANNIA! potent Queen of isles,
    On whom fair Art, and meek Religion smiles,
    Now AFRIC’s coasts thy craftier sons invade
    With murder, rapine, theft,—and call it Trade!
    —The SLAVE, in chains, on supplicating knee,
    Spreads his wide arms, and lifts his eyes to Thee;
    With hunger pale, with wounds and toil oppress’d,
    “ARE WE NOT BRETHREN?” sorrow choaks the rest;—
    —AIR! bear to heaven upon thy azure flood
    Their innocent cries!—EARTH! cover not their blood!
    “When Heaven’s dread justice smites in crimes o’ergrown
    The blood-nursed Tyrant on his purple throne,
    GNOMES! YOUR bold forms unnumber’d arms outstretch,
    And urge the vengeance o’er the guilty wretch.—”

  47. ARainLoftDrama

    My guess is that it was a perfect storm of social forces / events that washed out the New Atheists. The fact that Hitchens was hawkish probably put a bad taste in people’s mouths to begin with. Once he died, the NA lost a big part of their badinage and edge and Dawkins re-took the lead in the movement. As much as I love Dawkins, he is a bit banal and condescending: which reminds progressives of their own condescension–something they loathe to acknowledge, since it runs so contrary to core tenets of cosmopolitanism, (e.g. openness and acceptance (with the exception of Red Tribe beliefs)). Then the attack on Islam lead by Harris was bound to rub progressives the wrong way, since it is a main pillar of Red Tribism. The line was probably drawn during Ben Affleck’s red faced tirade on Real Time in which he labeled reasoned critique of Islam as “racist” (where is the nearest fainting couch?). One could practically hear the threads of the loosely stitched Grey and Blue banner tearing. The truce between the sigils of Wolf and Rose was forever corrupted, and the alliance was bound to fail, even if it meant the Lion would rule. But it was the adoption of anti-theism by the dreaded members of Alt-Right such as Milo and Spencer that put the final nail in the New Atheists’ coffin. Even Harris’ Thunderbrain analysis and quick wit couldn’t save them. I think Dennet saw this all coming and jumped ship in the early days.

  48. The original Mr. X

    New Atheism’s main shtick was “Lots of people are atheists and too wimpy to say it, but we’re out and proud and we don’t care whom we offend with our brash declarations of non-belief!” This meant that they attracted a lot of people who had previously been too shy/afraid/whatever to publically admit to their atheism, but also that they attracted a lot of obnoxious edgelords who were looking for an excuse to act like jerks towards other people. This was fine as long as they directed their obnoxiousness towards the outgroup, but when the New Atheist community ended up splintering over Elevatorgate and related things, they started acting like jerks towards their own side, which naturally ended up fissuring the group beyond any prospect of reconciliation.

    1. CthulhuChild

      I think the asshole factor is a huge part of this.

      It reminds me of why so many communes failed in the 60s-70s. It turns out that when you get a bunch of people together whose common ground is total rejection of society, they are really bad at building societies.

      The observation is even older than that. Consider the old lament: you can conquer an empire from atop your saddle, but you cannot rule it from atop your saddle.

      1. Nornagest

        I don’t think that’s giving the ’60s counterculture enough credit. Those guys weren’t nihilists, they weren’t trying to burn everything down without thinking about what would replace it; and they weren’t a big tent of fractious groups held together by their opposition to the mainstream, either. The counterculture was actually fairly coherent at that point: there were disagreements about the details, but there was broad agreement on the parts of mainstream culture it was rejecting and roughly what it wanted to replace them with.

        It just turns out that culture is complicated, and a lot of the things the ’60s counterculture objected to were actually serving important, if hidden, purposes. (Insert obligatory XKCD here.) I don’t think most of the counterculture communes failed because they attracted assholes; I think they failed because flaws in the ways they were organized allowed the baseline assholeishness of initially well-intentioned people to flourish.

        1. CthulhuChild

          I am definitely generalizing, but I think we may have slightly different definitions of asshole. The thing all assholes have in common is a disregard for social rules and conventions (disregard, not obliviousness. Perception matters). So I agree opposition to the mainstream wasn’t what the counterculture types together, and it wasn’t a unifying force that kept them together (empirically demonstrated!). I’m saying it’s just something that they all had in common: they knew the rules of society, and said “fuck no”. And they didn’t just say it, they spent money and time and effort to live it.

          Walking away from your entire culture is really hard, but the communes were populated 100% by people who had demonstrated themselves capable of doing that. It seems hardly surprising they were able to walk away from their invented culture as well.

          Note also: you can be a well intentioned asshole, by my definition. It doesn’t change the disruptive effects (and sometimes that’s a good thing. Civil rights protesters were definitely assholes. Just ask any 1950s cop).

        2. harland0

          “Why We Left ‘The Farm'” – Whole Earth Review, Winter 1985 An interview with bona-fide 60s counterculture types who went and founded a commune. Worth reading.

          I think you had to have completely lost all faith in America, the whole straight society, and everything else to go do something like the Farm. We were saying everything was so totally fucked that you couldn’t do anything. You have to start absolutely from scratch with a piece of bare dirt and build everything, including your culture, out of whole cloth. And you wouldn’t do that unless you just had a totally apocalyptic vision brought on by the war in Vietnam and lots of acid. And that’s an unusual combination.

          “Well, we are a spiritual community, a group of people who decided to live together in a lifestyle that everyone could attain in the world. It’s a way where things are evenly distributed, fairly distributed. We don’t think it is fair for the whole population of the planet for some people to have so much and some people to not have anything. We think that if you cooperate you can figure it out peacefully and be nonviolent. We are vegetarians, we’re totally nonviolent, we don’t allow any guns, and we don’t even think it’s cool to be angry with each other.”

          Kevin: Well, I don’t understand, if everyone was working so hard how come you didn’t have a road and whatnot?

          Daniel: There were always only 40 or so guys who were supporting the Farm in terms of cash, but we were still getting more single mothers, still more psychotics; and those same people, who once were supporting maybe 600 people, five years later were supporting 1,500 people.

          The parts where they figure out all by themselves that letting any immigrant who wants to come in is a bad idea and that they needed a wall is priceless. The Rainbow Family has the same problem with “drainbows”.

          Matthew: I think another problem the Farm had was our youthful arrogance, multiplied by the power of the psychedelics that we took, multiplied by the power of having that many people all doing things in unison. Because we had the temerity to think of ourselves as a microcosm of the entire planet, we believed we should allow anyone with a belly button to come in and live on the Farm. But if I were going to do a Farm, I would be selective. I would only let a certain few people in. I would restrict the number of Looney Tunes to about zero. People I was comfortable with sharing my mind intimately, I’d let in. People who wanted to come in and share my mind intimately that I wasn’t comfortable with, I would run from, rather than let them come live with me. And I think that was a central problem that we had, that the gate in a way had low standards for what it would accept. In a spirit of compassion, the Farm in its youthful arrogance tried to do too much by trying to take on too broad a spectrum of people.

  49. JohnBuridan

    I disagree with the narrative that New Atheism was going around repeating obvious platitudes and urban liberals were tired of it.

    Many of the New Atheists succumbed to moments of intellectual dishonesty and conservative abusiveness which lost them street cred among academic liberal peers. Here are a few examples which stuck out to me.

    Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion was considered a third-grade level rebuke of theism, logically fallacious, and combative against a conception of a God which intellectually inclined Jews, Christians, and Muslims don’t believe in anyway. Richard then went on to argue with prominent theists and philosophers, fail badly at academic philosophy, and wind up having to endure a tongue lashing from moderator Antony Kenny.

    Sam Harris is largely reported to be illiberal and blighted with Islamaphobia, so his star has fallen on that account.

    Christopher Hitchens was less respected as he got older, held some unLeft positions, and insulted Catholics a lot, and Mother Theresa, whom atheist-raised-Christian at least thought was a deeply admirable person…

    And Daniel Dennett’s pop-philosphy is still held in esteem by some. But he isn’t considered indicative of the New Atheists.

    Consider Scott’s posts on The Dark Ages. They generated more pushback than I’ve seen ever against Scott. I think the New Atheists said things which got them lots of pushback, either for their lack of courtesy, lack of expertise, lack of sound argumentation, or propensity for generalization. Since over 50% of Americans are religious, atheists (living in not-SF) will likely be acquainted with some admirable theists and the bonds of kinship will cause them to react strongly against New Atheist sweeping attacks against all believers.

    You look at each individual New Atheist and the type of pushback each has received, Scott and Baffler’s picture will require emendation.

    That’s my take anyway.

    1. Eli

      Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion was considered a third-grade level rebuke of theism, logically fallacious, and combative against a conception of a God which intellectually inclined Jews, Christians, and Muslims don’t believe in anyway. Richard then went on to argue with prominent theists and philosophers, fail badly at academic philosophy, and wind up having to endure a tongue lashing from moderator Antony Kenny.

      But who gives a damn? Intellectual religion is one of the world’s most obvious motte-and-bailey arguments.

      Motte: Aquinas, Maimonides, Plantinga. Averroes for Islam, IIRC.

      Bailey: buying a holy amulet will help you prevent dementia (or in some other cases I’ve seen, conceive children).

      The former is thoroughly intellectual, often “defensible” in whatever the philosophy discipline of its day considers rational defensibility to mean, and high-status. The latter is personally meaningful, but actually complete and utter nonsense — and low-status outside its own superstitious communities. Proponents of the former may not consciously be trying to give the latter a fig-leaf. They may in fact actively disdain the latter. However, they will slowly find themselves dragged by the tides: either deny more and more intellectualism and scientific knowledge to make way for proper, “traditional”, full-throated religion, or move towards a weaker and weaker religious claim until reduced to a divine-command moral philosophy coupled to a Deist metaphysics — atheism with religious ethics.

      (By the way, the chief evidence for this is the declines in mainline Protestantism, conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism, and mainline Catholicism.)

      You can be naturalist, xor you can be supernaturalist, but you can’t stably reconcile the two no matter the intellectual window-dressing. Try, and you wind up with the downsides of both and the upsides of neither.

      1. Salem

        There’s something to what you say, I grant. But you are nevertheless being unfair, because the motte and bailey here are often not just different people, but different religions at different times. At least where I live, much of the decline in religiosity has been religious people aging and dying and not being replaced – that’s not retreating to weaker claims, that’s just failing to replicate.

        It’s also an isolated demand for rigour.

        1. Eli

          I’m not making a demand for rigor, really. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that while rigorously philosophical forms of religion exist, they’re mostly not nearly as emotionally and personally compelling as the non-rigorous, openly irrational and irrationalist forms of religion. Amulets feel good in a way that Prime Movers do not. 72 virgins are more fun to have than eternal “life” as a disembodied soul with nothing to do but sing hymns. Voting for a religious party because Godly people will set everything right feels better than hard-headedly considering the need for high-skill labor to operate high-productivity First World industries. Praising God “who gives life to the dead” is a lot more hopeful than praising God “who gives life to all things.”

          Of course, in every single one of those pairs, the first option is horrendous, unrigorous, irrational nonsense that even the sophisticated religious people don’t claim to believe when they’re in the same room with seculars. Also, the first option is what we all really want out of religion, deep down, because our spiritual needs have a surprising correlation with our desire to feel that the universe inclines itself towards meeting our animal needs.

          Witness the existence of transhumanism, which cuts the Gordian Knot and just claims to eventually be able to supply those animal needs directly! Nanotechnology to heal your diseases, catgirls to sate your lusts, AIs to administrate the economy, cryonics to save your loved ones from death!

          Of course, do keep in mind that I say this to praise transhumanism. A philosophy which stops trying to cloak humanity’s basic longings in metaphysics and just agrees to do its best to really meet them is a good philosophy. The technological claims may or may not come true, the thinking may or may not be magical, but at the very least, we’ve stopped projecting our desires onto the universe and started thinking about how to satisfy them with our own hands. Likewise, my real gripe here with “intellectual” religion is that it takes the basic spiritual longings of the human animal, wraps them in an intellectual gift-box, and then hands you the gift box while pretending the gift is actually in there.

          1. Salem

            The reason this is an isolated demand for rigour is that it’s true of both sides of any broad movement with some level of controversy/disputation. The leading intellectuals have subtle arguments, the mass followers have emotional attachments. The leading intellectuals make cautious claims, the mass followers have unreasonable expectations. And the leading intellectuals mostly started out as mass followers, and then later thought up the subtle arguments to justify their position more rigorously. Yes, of course this is true of the religious, but it’s also true of people who want to raise the minimum wage.

            Nevertheless, there is a there there. There is a fact of the matter as to whether the Christian God exists, just as there is a fact of the matter as to the effect of the minimum wage on unemployment. The existence of dumb arguments and emotional longings doesn’t invalidate the best arguments, so to discover the truth, you should engage with a movement at its best. Persuading the rank and file may take other tactics, but these are general problems not limited to religion.

            Now OK, although this is true of every movement to some extent, I freely grant that some are worse than others. But is religion even worse than average here? Perhaps by “religion” I draw too broad a brush. Buddhism is appalling, perhaps the ultimate motte-and-bailey. But most Western religions look pretty strong (admittedly, I’m quite ignorant of Judaism).

          2. Deiseach

            A philosophy which stops trying to cloak humanity’s basic longings in metaphysics and just agrees to do its best to really meet them is a good philosophy.

            And when the bill comes due and there are no catgirls or nanocures or cryonics? A disillusioned believer can spit at God and say there is no such thing and it’s all a fraud. What can a disillusioned believer in the “we are real solid SCIENCE that will definitely give you all this” do? The first is denying fantasy, the second has to deny reality (which is what the second philosophy claims to be and be based upon) itself, which leads to madness.

            Perhaps the better philosophy is “You want magic, we can’t give it to you and never will be able to do that. But we can give you bread instead of a stone”.

      2. meh

        Great comment.

        Motte: Intellectual religion exists, Dawkins argues a strawman.
        Bailey: Fundamentalism is influencing US policy.

      3. nimim.k.m.

        This will be buried, but I think it’s worthwhile to restate what Salem said above. Moreover, I believe motte-and-bailey framework actually does not make any sense here. We don’t have that much people retreating to the motte when confronted about the magical trinkets and amulets and all the other purported evils of religion: instead, we have people who are annoyed when Dawkinsian atheists do that, because they probably do their best to champion against all those evils. We have separate groups of people with different beliefs and positions, and recasting the whole landscape to a simple picture of there being single opponent called “religion” who alternately sits in motte and in bailey … that is mere product of Dawkinsian myopia The God Delusion was criticized of.

        Yet the Dawkiansian position is that because their brand of atheism is more defensible than the trinket-sellers’ religion, they have clearly proven also the intellectual ones wrong, considering themselves to be victors of a debate that they never engaged in that successfully in the first place?

  50. DrBeat

    Popularity is literally and not figuratively the only thing that matters in human dynamics.

    Popularity demands you hold no sincere beliefs beyond “punish the weak for the crime of being weak enough to be punished by you”. The opinion of Popularity pivots on a dime in order to expel and excoriate more people. If you have your beliefs because you believe them to be true and not as an accessory that allows you to punish people for being weak, then Popularity will turn against you.

    Islam and Atheism+ were not causes, they were the process being carried out. Atheism had something to its existence that wasn’t Popularity. Therefore, Popularity turned on it.

  51. Machine Interface

    Half wondering if Scott just didn’t put this half-baked article about an alleged phenomena of unclear cause just to see how many of the comments would jump on the opportunity to come up with a rationalization that blames the outgroup for the whole thing.

  52. herbert herberson

    One thing I think is a (maybe fairly minor, but true) contributor that I haven’t seen mentioned: a lot of loud atheists types are semi-autistics who are extremely troubled by the prospect of a stranger being wrong (takes one to know one). But there’s another huge group–people who were raised in extremely religious environments and found it very unpleasant (usually from family, sometimes just from the community in general). Speaking personally, this is the group that everyone on my facebook who still posts anti-religion memes come from. Correlations working the way they do, this group of people is also disproportionately likely to be of a lower-class background.

    So in 2000, you have a bunch of middle/upper-class people online in a world where, in the US at least, political conservative Christianity seems to be in the driver’s seat, and therefore Athiesm-with-a-capital-A seems both important and fairly high-status, particularly in the online form. In 2017, political conservative Christianity seems to be less of a driving force, so people are not drawn to Atheism for ideological reasons. Meanwhile, a bunch of relatively low-status people who follow Atheism for personal reasons and don’t give a shit that the bad president is no longer particularly Christian have bought smartphones and logged on and joined the social media discussion. Net effect is that the whole endeavor seems lower-status than it used to.

    1. BBA

      This rings true to me. I’m a non-practicing Jew, and a cosmopolitan coastal elitist one at that, but even for me evangelicalism was a potent cultural force, if a distant, hostile one, when I was growing up in the ’90s and ’00s. Then all of a sudden it didn’t matter so much anymore, and movement atheism with its anti-evangelical bent started feeling a hell of a lot less relevant.

      (Seriously, it was only 14 years ago when Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson’s nipple was a national scandal, with Bush’s FCC going after Fox and endless screeds about “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” in the respectable media. Now Timberlake is back on this year’s halftime show, and nobody cares. Except maybe to rant about how it’s sexist/racist/ageist that her career suffered and his didn’t.)

      That plus Islamophobia becoming a central issue, as much discussed upthread.

    2. Doesntliketocomment

      This is a very interesting take, and a believable one to me in that status signaling is a huge driver of social trends. Without a high-status forefront there isn’t much benefit to being part of New Atheism and no downsides for attacking it.

  53. Eli

    Maybe the New Atheists accidentally got on board just before a nascent Grey Tribe/Blue Tribe split and tried to get Blue Tribe credibility by sending Grey Tribe signals. At some point there was a cultural fissure between Acela Corridor thinkfluencers with humanities degrees and Silicon Valley bloggers with STEM degrees, and the former got a head start on hating the latter while the latter still thought everybody was on the same anti-Republican side.

    Thing was, New Atheism mostly wasn’t from Silicon Valley bloggers with STEM degrees. It was from two Englishmen (a biologist and a journalist) and two Americans (a neuroscientist and a philosopher). Its leaders were actually evenly split between humanities and STEM, and none of them came from the West Coast cultural cluster at all. Dennett is the very definition of a traditional New England intellectual.

  54. 27chaos

    What would it look like for atheism to succeed as a social movement? I think it would require 1. the rollback of religiously motivated public policy and 2. the spread of atheist beliefs. 1. obviously isn’t the unpopular plank with progressives. So the problem must lie in 2. I agree that the problem is that atheism stepped on people’s toes. I think this is because many people, even if they are not Christian, still want to believe in magic. This is the reason for the atheist/agnostic split – better to not rule out the impossible explicitly. People can’t outright say they want to believe in magic, because that would fall afoul of the Kolmogorov Lightning problem. They need to pretend they’re merely open to the possibility of religious experience, so that they can then chase their beliefs wherever they lead them. When atheists are being criticized for being too strident, they’re being criticized for not restricting their criticisms to fundamentalist Christianity alone.

    1. Deiseach

      I think Atheism +, before it wandered off into the weeds, was exactly that type of effort to succeed as a social movement. New Atheism hadn’t too much to offer once you’d absorbed the core message of “No such thing as God, religion not alone false but wicked and dangerous”. That bus slogan was a fair example: There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

      Well, great, lads but what if I’m not worried about does or does not God exist, I’m worried about my elderly parent is very sick and may need full-time care do I try to get them into a nursing home, my hours at work have been cut and my income is really hit, I can’t pay my utility bills am I going to have my light and heat cut off, I think my kid is getting in with the wrong crowd and I’m worried they’ll start on drugs? What has atheism (new or otherwise) to say to me there – “Read Darwin, he’ll explain evolution to you”? Yeah, and quoting “The Origin of Species” to the bank when they send me a letter about my mortgage arrears is not any more use than a verse of the Bible.

      The idea that hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Westerners are worried sick about the possibility of going to Hell as the most pressing concern on their minds was a bit clumsy. Atheism + was a gesture in the direction of “so now you’re an atheist and have purged all that false thinking, now what? how do you live a better life? how do you cope with the problems of everyday life?” Of course then they went off on their own wackiness and internal purges.

      1. Thegnskald

        Having watched both of them as a lifelong atheist, pretty much entirely from the sidelines – they were both doomed.

        New Atheism, because what it had to offer was just anger over the flaws in a preexisting offer.

        Atheism+, because it offered a shallow duplication of that preexisting offer. Instead of Original Sin, we now have Isms, now with 20% more inherited sin! Purge your sins by saying these catechisms today!

        Eh. No thanks to either. Can’t really get angry about people believing in things I don’t, can’t really get into a movement that seems predicated on a convoluted version of White Man’s Burden in which I am supposed to fix the problems in society caused by attributing qualities to people based on which groups I choose to put them in by attributing new qualities to people based on which group I put them in (and by putting myself in the most horrible group, natch).

  55. shrikesnest

    It’s a fight the Blue Tribe isn’t interested in having.

    Let’s take your examples of environmentalism, feminism and Trump.

    Environmentalists talking about Global Warming certainly have an uphill battle. Our way of life has been based around industrialization for hundreds of years, and gigantic piles of money are at stake. They have powerful enemies. But the environmentalists who are making a successful public career out of it aren’t saying, “We need to abolish all industry, rearrange our entire lives and go back to hunter-gathering!” They’re advocating for regulation, cleanup, investment in clean energy. That’s a winnable fight.

    Feminists are up against something much, much tougher. Some gender stereotypes go back a very, very long time. However, most of the individual issues feminists are arguing against date back to maybe the late 19th/earth 20th centuries, and are easier to deal with. And again, victory for the feminists anybody is listening to probably doesn’t mean that we abolish the entire concept of gender. Feminists can win on individual issues even if they’re not ever likely to get everything they want.

    And as far as Anti-Trump rhetoric goes, well, I think that just blends into the general election animosity. It was just as easy to make a name for yourself calling Bush a war criminal or being publicly distressed that Reagan was going to cause armageddon. That’s nothing new or interesting.

    But New Atheists? Their enemy is thousands of years old and deeply ingrained to the fabric of all human societies. The shadow of religious belief might even be right there in the human brain. There are a few smaller issues along the lines of clean energy for them to win on, but the leadership made it clear that the only acceptable victory was the abolition of religion from the public space. Environmentalists would have a pretty tough row to hoe if their stated long-term goal was to destroy industry and institute hunter-gathering, and New Atheism is in that position, only worse.

    The Blue Tribe is in a fight to the death right now. They need to optimize their expenditure of resources, and I can’t even imagine how much time, energy and money it would take to drive the church out of public life. Therefore, every time the leaders of New Atheism stir up a shitstorm, the Blue Tribe at large sees it as the least productive cohort with the lowest chance of victory drawing fire onto the rest of the movement. This has led to the Blue Tribe quietly shedding New Atheism as a cause so that they can focus their time and attention on other areas, where they have the chance to win much easier, more impactful victories on shorter timespans.

    Basically it’s just not time. As larger forces continue to secularize society, the dynamics of the fight may change. But for now it’s a non-optimal hill to die on.

  56. ilikekittycat

    It’s because the public impression stopped being Dawkins et al. and became Seth Macfarlane, Bill Maher, and other tedious losers posting on /r/atheism. The guys who talk like Sagan got ratioed by the guys who talk like Nietzsche and that was all she wrote.

  57. ProntoTheArcherist

    My first thought was that maybe people are wary of others pointing out hypocrisy for its own sake these days, as it might highlight the vulnerability of their own positions.

  58. Deiseach

    The “New Atheism” isn’t atheism in toto, so even if it failed, that can’t be said to the whole of atheism.

    I think it did fail, and mostly because there was nothing really new about it, it was only louder and more aggressive than older versions (though some versions had always been loud and aggressive). The Four Horsemen thing was mostly a media creation but they were treated as the spokesmen for the entire – project, oeuvre, movement, thing, however you want to describe it – and I think they were over-used to the point that people were sick and tired of seeing them pop up yet again with the same old message.

    As well, they pulled some silly stunts like the whole “arrest the pope thing” which looked more like “wanting to get their names in the headlines and be talked about for a publicity stunt, because they’re publicity junkies” rather than anything serious or fruitful. Particularly since Dawkins has never called for the same kind of treatment for, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury even though the New Atheists held that moderate religious believers were as bad as, or even worse than, the fundamentalists and fanatics since they provide plausible deniability for the nutcases and hold, in principle, the same basic beliefs which are wrong and bad and stupid and evil but by being nice and running soup kitchens they make people think that the evil bad wrong rotten religion is not so bad after all. You’re living in a country with an actual State Church and the Head of State has a special role in that Church, yet you’re not looking to cause headlines about “Dawkins says Queen should cop herself on and drop that whole Defender of the Faith nonsense”, which makes it look less like shiny (dare I say, even Bright) new 21st century atheism and more like tired old 18th century anti-Catholicism and “No Papistry, No Romanism”.

    When you sound like the late Dr Ian Paisley and “No Pope Here”, you’ve lost a lot of relevance.

    1. dodrian

      I think you’ve brought up another important point here – Dawkins and Hitchens at least were focusing a lot of their efforts in the UK, which has a very different religious outlook than in the US. Fundamentalist religion is a lot less prominent (well, ok, in Great Britain), and people’s exposure to Christianity is more along the lines of “that nice vicar married us in the pretty church, and often offers us tea and biscuits.” New atheism’s insistence that all religion is evil doesn’t mesh well with peoples’ experiences.

      On the other hand, I think they may have been somewhat successful in their efforts to say “stop calling yourself Christian on the census if you don’t actually go to church”, as the demographics of the UK indicate a recent shift. So successful in some efforts, but not successful in building a movement.

      1. Deiseach

        I agree about the split between the English and American experiences of religion, which is why I think Dawkins was a lot more comfortable fighting his version of Christian Fundamentalism which is primarily an American thing. It doesn’t seem to have been until 2013 that he got around to objecting about the Lords Spiritual in the Upper House of the UK Parliament, which if you’re going to be arguing about the favoured place religion has been given in civil society is surely one of the first places to start.

        But I think Dawkins still has that nostalgic sense of his childhood Anglicanism as something about as really threatening or powerful as a teddybear, so he needs to get his dangerous enemies from The Pope (the old British reliable villain), US non-denominational Protestantism, and the militant Islamic groups.

        1. dndnrsn

          This is basically it. Reading The God Delusion, it’s obvious that Dawkin’s atheism is essentially “Anglican” atheism – equal parts traditional contempt for Catholicism, distaste for nonconformists, and alarm about Islam.

        2. rlms

          “But I think Dawkins still has that nostalgic sense of his childhood Anglicanism as something about as really threatening or powerful as a teddybear”
          Yes, in fact he’s explicitly said as much.

  59. Fluffy Buffalo

    Okay, let’s start at the beginning.
    New Atheism was never a formal movement; it was a label attached to some intellectuals who pushed in a similar direction. Most notable were the “Four Horsemen”, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris. In what sense did they “fail miserably”, if indeed they did? I can see three ways in which they might have failed:
    1. they did not achieve their goal of turning everyone atheist. Well, duh. According to Wikipedia, the percentage of people in the US who give their religious affiliation as ‘none’ in the US has increased from 16 to 23 between 2007 and 2014. That’s not an indication that the Atheists’ words fell on deaf ears. It’s also not competely due to the NAs, but I’m pretty sure Dawkins’s books have deconverted (averted?) thousands of people and sown the seeds of doubt in many others.
    2. No one hears about NAs anymore. Well, it was not a tight organization, it was just a bunch of dudes. Hitchens died, that tends to slow down productive output. Dawkins is getting old, he’s had a stroke… besides, he has written what he wanted to write, why write it again? Dennett is likewise getting old, and has moved on to writing about other topics – free will, consciousness… quite important in its own right. Harris has moved on to become an influential podcaster and is trying to support the reform of Islam. He has lots of stuff to talk about, why keep rehashing his old shit?
    So why has nobody stepped up to replace them? What’s the successor supposed to do, write books about how God still doesn’t exist? As long as The God Delusion is still on the shelves, that’s kind of pointless.
    3. People have a negative opinion about the NAs, even those who should agree with them. That seems to be the main thrust of this post, and I find it hard to believe that Scott completely failed to mention the main problem: the main proponents of NA were white guys, mostly old, some if them even well-off – the horror! So when the attempted takeover of the atheist scene by SJWs happened, slandering them (Dawkins and Harris in particular) became a popular point of virtue-signaling. The mentioned Baffler article ist just the last one in a long, disgraceful line of pointless hitpieces, and as I said, I’m disappointed that Scott cites it and seems to agree.
    IMO, the NAs were not a failure. They did a good job of spreading a much-needed message, and when the main proponents got tired of it, the “movement” petered out. That they are not held in higher regard among liberals is mostly the consequence of a slander campaign.

  60. baconbacon

    Movements fail because they stop gaining members faster than they lose them, its highly simplistic but its also the base for understanding how any movement fails. If you are recruiting teenagers and 20 somethings without kids you have to understand that a decade from now they aren’t going to be interested in what you are offering now. The sense of discovery, love for the ‘truth’, rebellion, moral superiority or whatever you are selling will slowly be less valuable to them. Eventually they will care more about their school system, retirement plans, personal health issues etc than the movement, and if they aren’t getting anything out of it they will drop out.

    A personal anecdote before we move on, my wife and I are agnostic/atheist, our closest mutual friends live a few blocks away and are religious (regularly attend church, weekly bible study, say grace before every meal). Our kids are the same age and ee alternate hosting Sunday dinner with them. Religion basically never comes up, ‘social truths’ rarely come up, ’empirical truths’ basically never come up. A few days ago while the husband was out of town working the wife brought their kids over and she just dropped into the couch and didn’t move for 5 mins. We scrapped our dinner plans, ordered pizza, the kids played. All she needed then was a place where she could go, a friend she trusted and to get a break for a few hours. She emphatically did not need a factual lecture about how to get her kids to sleep better, how to reorganize her life, or anything else (they might be appropriate at another time, but now then).

    Modern Christianity has figured a lot of this out. They have Sunday school where little kids play with other little kids that doubles as day care for the parents. They have creation stories and missionary trips for teens and 20 somethings yearning to learn something about the world. They have social events, and community support for parents, a sense of nostalgia, continued socialization and even material support. This probably extends with minor differences across the other religious communities that I don’t interact with.

    Other movements fail because they are caught up in some central mission. Dawkins and NGT types can be ‘leaders’ late into their careers because they have found a way to make a living doing these things. Everyone else eventually has to put in overtime at work, raise their kids, and restructure their life. If the new atheism, or feminism, or civil rights fails to incorporate what their members new needs are they will eventually lose them.

  61. Jiro

    you get less grief for being a Catholic than a Dawkins fan.

    That’s not because the new atheism is boring, that’s because Dawkins doesn’t like Islam and social justice does.

    Edit: Okay, everyone else pointed this out too. Although there have been cases where Dawkins specifically made anti-Islam comments and that seems to have cost him his reputation among the left.

    Also, they can be too rational, which may lead to criticizing parts of social justice fairly and intellectually. Doing that gets you hated by social justice.

  62. gbdub

    Scott, you literally just posted about how atheists got way ahead of the evidence wrt blaming religion for holding back science a thousand years.

    New Atheists (or really, vocal atheists period) tend to take a few good ideas way too far, and be aggressive bores about it.

    Heck, feminism won on most of its major goals, most Americans believe in most of the key tenets, but now relatively few people want to identify as capital-F feminists because of aggressive bores who make that their primary identity.

    I think it’s primarily a social issue, combined with atheism being relatively useless or actively harmful as a political issue for progressives. If you’re annoying and aren’t helping us get elected… why do we have you around again?

  63. ottomanflush

    I think it might just be a social status thing. New Atheists (at least stereotypically, but the stereotype is what matters) seem more likely to have poor social skills, be somewhere on the spectrum, be pedantic and argumentative, etc. People therefore see them as gross nerds. Nobody is more hated in 2017 than gross nerds (see: Nice Guy syndrome). Hippie granola environmentalists and blue-haired punk SJWs simply don’t compare. The criticism of New Atheism, while correct, is motivated by personal dislike of the members of the group, which is why you don’t see it from the left toward global warming and social justice. The endless repetition of ideological catchphrases is just virtue-signalling, but you need some amount of social awareness and status to virtue-signal effectively, otherwise people realize you’re doing it and it backfires.

    1. meh

      The criticism of New Atheism, while correct, is motivated by personal dislike of the members of the group

      Is why people aren’t atheists simply because they don’t like Dawkins’ ‘tone’?

      1. Luke the CIA Stooge

        I’m seeing alot of arguments to the effect that the new atheists where factually correct, their arguments where sound and they were broadly intellectually honest (more honest on average than their opponents on average), but they’re hated and looked on with scorn because their tone, mannerisms and personality were low status, and so people reject their ideas and look on anyone who offers their ideas as suspect.

        My question is:
        At what point do we conclude that the people are the problem and not the nerds? that democracy, “respectable society”, and the public are another false trinity that failed and need to die?
        Because if rejecting ideas and facts that they themselves believe to be true just because “icky! Outgroup!” is what we’re all observing from them, then clearly both the public and “respectable society” have thoroughly discredited themselves and democracy with them.

        1. tomogorman

          Except the argument is people aren’t rejecting their ideas – they are just rejecting the tone, mannerisms and personality. Becoming just plain atheists instead of new atheists. So where is the rejecting “ideas and facts”?
          *not an atheist myself, but the people agreeing that they are factually correct presumably are.*
          (tangenting that many people above thread have pointed out that the ideas peculiar to new as opposed to adjectiveless atheists were in fact bad and the arguments shoddy; to wit raising a child within a religious tradition, even the progressive ones, is akin to child abuse and that religion was uniquely responsible for many/most wars)

      2. Jesse E

        I’m on the edge of atheist/agnostic, but even on my more atheistic days, I’d never claim to be a out ‘n’ proud atheist because edgelord New Atheist types have ruined the word the same way Jerry Falwell ruined the word Evangelical Christianity for more politically moderate Evangelical’s..

  64. j1000000

    I’m someone sympathetic to the BASICS of the early alt-right critique (when it was called a word that I think is banned on these message boards?), but I’m surprised you hate that Baffler article. It seems to be a perfectly believable narrative. This seems to be a fair point to the rise of the alt-right:

    “Whatever merits anti-theism may have with regard to social issues, humanism was never the prime mover for New Atheism’s most devout adherents. They were after the burst of dopamine that comes from feeling smarter than other people, from exercising some pathetic simulacrum of masculine power, from seeing someone else feel bad and knowing they were responsible.”

    I think this is true of nearly every subculture on the internet, that certain people get off being able to go even farther and say “WELL ACTUALLY” and go against conventional wisdom, whether they’re saying “do you even lift?” or “Empire Strikes Back is actually TERRIBLE” or “Paleo is useless, if you eat any vegetables instead of meat all the time you’re ruining your health.” New Atheism had run out of people to argue against and Evangelical Christianity was no longer in power post-Bush, so there was a need for a new set of claims to get a rise out of people. And boy did they find em.

      1. Nick

        “I love how they just throw in x there as a boo light” sounds like a description of the entire article to me. It’s so bad it makes me want to defend the New Atheists, something I never thought would happen!

  65. qwints

    Mitchell and Webb Look

    Agent: What we need from you, Richard Dawkins, is the next thing that there isn’t.

    Dawkins: What?

    Agent: There isn’t a God was huge, now you need to top that. What else isn’t there?

  66. Eponymous

    I will add that this post should be titled, “Why is New Atheism Unpopular?”, not “Why did New Atheism Fail?” Because based on the numbers, it seems that atheism is winning.

    I don’t know whether this was due to NA; but I suspect it did play a role.

  67. Walter

    Maybe it’s like this?

    New Atheist: Religious people are idiotic buffoons with ‘imaginary friends’.
    Progressive: Hmm…
    Trump (pre-Trump this role was taken by any conservative): YES, even this guy gets it! Islamists ARE dumb! Screw foreigners!!
    Progessive: You bigots!

    1. Yosarian2

      Or just:

      New Atheist: Religious people are idiotic buffoons with ‘imaginary friends’.

      Other progressives: I’m an atheist, but I’m not like those guys. Those guys are assholes who insult people for no good reason, it’s counter-productive and annoying.

  68. 4thwaywastrel

    I can’t speak to the larger phenomenon, but personally I grew up religious and got to directly experience a large dollop of /r/atheism brand negativity in my adolescence I didn’t get from the liberal crowd (being a liberal Christian)

  69. Sophronius

    It always baffles me when people speculate on issues like “what happened with the new atheists” or “where did the alt-right come from?”, as I clearly remember seeing this happen on the internet. The atheist community was strongest during the Bush years, when there was a clear target to fight. Then Obama happened and the left felt more relaxed and free to fight amongst themselves. Atheism+ was formed in an attempt to merge atheists with the progressive movement, and this drove a wedge within the atheist community as the purists rejected this as just another faith-based belief, and in turn the left decided that atheists were an enemy that needed to be destroyed.

    Basically, atheists were hurt by being too bipartisan: When you reject all irrational beliefs regardless of politics, you are left with very few friends indeed, and that leaves you vulnerable to attack. Pretty much the same reason why nerds in general are under attack right now, actually.

    (What’s weird is that Scott acts like he’s not a new atheist when he is pretty much exactly that. I mean, he even gets the exact kind of hate that Dawkins get, and for exactly the same reason – pointing out inconvenient political truths. You’d think he’d sympathise more.)

    1. Walter

      It feels to me like ‘The alt right’ is what hatched out of ‘the new atheists’, when the progressives kicked them out of the cool kids club. Like, Kekistan is just the Flying Spaghetti Monster. “I learned from watching you”, etc.

      1. Alsadius

        It’s got the same autist-edgelord tendencies, but I don’t think it’s the same people. If anything, they’re more likely to overlap with the Moldbuggy edgelord types than the Dawkinsy edgelord types.

      2. Sophronius

        Ugh, comment got swallowed by the ‘net. I’ll summarize:

        Kinda sorta. Alt-right is coalition of internet groups. Some classical liberals rejected by regressive left joined them out of spite. Mainly I feel their origin is Gamer gate. Gamers were frustrated by their constant portrayal as sexist losers living in their mother’s basement by feminists who wanted to ostracize anyone not on their side. When they lashed back the feminists doubled down and declared victory. However resentment simmered, and later many of these people became the internet face of the alt-right, who saw Trump as a way to get back at feminists.

        Btw, the wikipedia article on Gamer gate STILL says that it was a sexist movement with the purpose of harassing women, and does not even mention the proponent’s view. The left has learned nothing, it seems. Frankly the whole affair reads like a g(r)eek tragedy.

        1. Randy M

          bah, first time a comment of mine was eaten by the filter. I thought of [that example] too; it seems similar to the Atheism+ story upthread in that a core group resisted being drawn into progressivism, then the progressive faction had them declared anathema by their broader coalition.

          1. Sophronius

            Wait, comments mentioning Gamer gate get filtered without notice? Seriously? That’s a bit dickish – and pointless, since my experience with SSC comments is that they are not even remotely politically correct. So I’m not sure what Scott is trying to achieve with that one.

            And speaking of obvious examples: I guess we should mention Less Wrong. Because people like Eliezer were also pretty much instantly declared villains by the likes of rational wiki, basically for no reason other than seeming nerdy and libertarian. And all of Silicon Valley, for pretty much the same reason. So I think the more general trend is one of growing anti-intellectualism, where anyone who seems nerdy is seen as weak and attacked.

          2. Nick

            Wait, comments mentioning Gamer gate get filtered without notice? Seriously? That’s a bit dickish – and pointless, since my experience with SSC comments is that they are not even remotely politically correct. So I’m not sure what Scott is trying to achieve with that one.

            From the Comments header post:

            I have censored a couple of terms that usually indicate posts that aren’t going to contribute to a productive discussion. Aside from the usual range of racial slurs and pointless insults, I have added “Druxxxmpf” and “faxxxke nexxxws” to celebrate the recent election, and “neoxxxreaction”, “Gamexxxrgate”, and “huxxxman biodivxxxersity” as topics I am trying to get people to avoid. Comments containing a censored word or phrase will fail to appear.

            Think of it less as Scott trying to censor political incorrectness and more trying to encourage better discussion. There’s a precedent for this at LessWrong.

          3. BBA

            So I’m not sure what Scott is trying to achieve with that one.

            The topic triggers every failure mode of discussion, including a few that we didn’t even know existed. A total ban on even mentioning it, done in the most heavy-handed way possible, is an act of mercy than anything else.

          4. Edward Scizorhands

            There are discussions of those banned things, each probably several times a year over the course of all the OTs, but every single commenter is aware “oh yeah, this keyword is banned because Reasons, so I’d better be on my best behavior.”

            It takes newcomers by surprise, which is unfair, but it still might be the best solution.

      3. Ratte

        I can name many alt-right personalities and not one was remotely associated with the atheist movement in any significant way AFAIK. The closest I can think of is some of the older ones having said nice things about Christopher Hitchens ages ago.

  70. Eponymous

    I think it’s a social status association thing. Like sneerclub.

    Eliezer once referred to the “atheist/libertarian/technophile/sf-fan/early-adopter/programmer/etc…empirical cluster in personspace.” We can add more descriptors here, like grey tribe, nerd, autistic, etc.

    Basically cultural conventions hold religious belief as something not to be mocked. It’s one thing to mock the religious right types, but that’s only a subset of believers, especially since you can be a “believer” without actually holding to the traditional teachings. Indeed, this probably describes most blue tribe believers.

    Thus the people who mock religion as such, rather than just the religious right, are violating social conventions. They also are drawn disproportionately from the set of non-conformists and nerds, who are losers in the signaling game.

    1. Eponymous

      Shorter version: The Emperor’s New Clothes is *wrong*. If that happened in reality, everyone would mock the kid’s naivete, and go right on extolling the emperor’s beautiful new clothes. And if a group of nerdy adults started loudly insisting the kid was right, they would be shouted down, sneered at, made fun of, and socially expelled.

        1. Alsadius

          Don’t get too proud of your side’s attachment to truth. Remember just how many Republicans endorsed Trump when he was the nominee after saying they’d sooner get waterboarded than endorse him during the primaries.

          1. Eponymous

            I am not a Republican; I split my ticket; I voted for Hillary.

            It was a joke about the dynamics of elite opinion in the US, whose meaning I thought obvious.

            I guess this is an example of why political examples are bad for illustrating general principles.

          2. Alsadius

            Yeah, politics is a slippery beast sometimes. I’ve seen too many people who say the same thing and aren’t joking.

    2. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

      Speaking of poor signaling game, replying to yourself twice in a row? Come on, man.

        1. Alsadius

          Ignorance of and/or apathy towards comment section norms.

          (Fun aside: while it’s still poor form in unthreaded forums, it’s generally tolerated, especially if there’s no ability to edit posts. In threaded forums, especially ones like SSC where you can edit, it seems to be worse etiquette – your post is supposed to contain your point. And of course there’s an exception when nesting limits are hit – while you may officially be replying to your own post, it’s assumed that you’re “really” replying to the post above yours, even if the software doesn’t allow it.)

          1. Eponymous

            Given that I post here, you may be unsurprised to learn that I had failed to intuit this convention.

            It seems an obvious rhetorical technique to me, which I interpret in a particular way. But if it violates a convention (which I admit that I still don’t understand at all), then I will stop doing it.

            This makes me wonder what other social conventions I am oblivious to.

          2. Alsadius

            As with all rules of this sort, there are times when breaking it for effect is a good idea. As with all rules of this sort, however, it’s important to understand the rule and break it consciously, instead of merely doing so accidentally, to have the correct effect.

            FWIW, I think it does have a rational basis. It seems to me that most people who self-reply are ones with poor impulse control who’ll post as soon as they’ve finished typing and then post again when they think of something else to say, which gives it a bad odor. Also, it tends to break a lot of subconscious forum parsing people do – usually, a reply is a response, not a continuation, so sometimes I’ll assume the second post is an interlocutor and reply thusly without ever stopping to check.

            It also takes up more screen space in most cases, which isn’t much of an issue when I’m on my dual-screen desktop, but can be annoying if I’m on my phone, and pushes the comment nesting closer to the limit(which is annoying to reply to when it’s that far down and a conversation breaks out – having to scroll up pages to reply, and losing the ability to make it clear which comment you’re replying to by a simple look at the thread structure, are both annoyances even before I try to read a post three words wide on my cell phone screen).

            Social norms are tricky, and I make plenty of mistakes myself. But that one I think I’ve sussed out well enough to explain, so there’s my two cents.

          3. Eponymous

            Thanks. That is helpful.

            When I asked my brain why self-replying might be bad, it said, “Um, maybe for the same reason people say not to use lots of footnotes when writing? Readers want to process things in a linear narrative, not with nested asides and clarifications. So if you find yourself making lots of footnotes you should rewrite.”

            But that was probably my brain doing association with similar-sounding rules, not actually understanding deeply why self-replying is bad.

          4. Rick Hull

            Agree with Alsadius. It’s a very minor faux pas and can be violated for good effect, acting as a minor amplifier. Just don’t overuse it or amplify dumb or trivial things 🙂

  71. apollocarmb

    I think the followers of the new atheists and the ‘new atheists’ themselves got bored of regurgitating the same thing.

  72. sovietKaleEatYou

    I’d say this is a credit to contemporary religious people, at least in the circles The Baffler operates in. Tell your Trump supporter friend Trump is the worst thing to happen to America since McCarthy and he’ll get defensive. Tell your climate change skeptic friend she’s full of shit and she’ll get defensive. Tell your Catholic friend that God doesn’t exist and the bible is made up and she’ll tell you that yeah, isn’t it annoying when people mix up spiritual and objective beliefs? and tell you a Catholic joke. Moloch lives when both sides are invested in him.

  73. Freddie deBoer

    It’s really essential to understand that so many of the people who hate New Atheists live in progressive strongholds and thus are not subject to the vagaries of nutjob Christians in their business. As someone who lived in suburban Indiana for 5 years I can tell you that aggressive pro-life Christians are much, much worse.

    1. Alsadius

      I hang out in partisan Conservative circles, which despite being in Canada contain a lot of ardent religious pro-lifers. I’ve never found them to be particularly bad – I roll my eyes sometimes, but they’re nowhere near as preachy as the New Atheist types are in my experience. (Which is not to say that my experience is better or more accurate than yours – it’s just another data point).

      1. sconn

        Well. From what I have heard, conservative circles in Canada are *nothing* compared to the Bible Belt in America. I mean, you can’t walk down the street where I live without hearing religious cheerleading — and, to make it worse, they also hate Catholics so both my childhood religion AND my current beliefs are very hated here. I am not open about them because they would destroy my husband’s political career. If I wanted to put my kids in private school or daycare, there would be dozens of Baptist choices, a handful of Catholic choices, and that’s it. They go to public school, though, where there are bible verses on the wall of the classroom. I kind of want to complain to the teacher who posted them, but I don’t know if it’s wise to out my kids as non-religious — if they’d get treated differently, preached at, or whatever.

        In this kind of stifling environment, I read some angry atheist stuff just because it makes a nice contrast. If I felt at all supported in my beliefs, I would have no need for that and probably find it annoying. But when I was first questioning religion, having exactly ONE atheist friend, plus two religious friends openminded enough to let me talk about it, I had a burning need for that kind of thing. To be able to make fun of religion and not get either struck by lightning or burned at the stake was a great feeling. Kind of like a kid from a repressive family might love to hang out with friends who all said “FUCK FUCK FUCK” all the time. It would be like “wow! look at me! I’m so rebellious! I can say ‘fuck’ and no one punishes me!” A year later, when he’s left home and nobody cares what he says … we’d be very tired of him very fast if he had nothing to say but “fuck” all the time.

    2. qwints

      Exactly. When you grow up in the bible belt, it’s incredibly liberating to be able to go to a lecture hall and listen to someone explain that the all the crap that was forced on you was bullshit while hundreds of people applaud. I went to a high school that had “voluntary” organizations like FCA and events like Meet me at the Pole which there was incredible pressure to be a part of (invitations from a ton of peers, signs everywhere and repeated reminders from faculty.) A lot of people, myself included, found a way to tell their family about their lack of belief because of it.

    3. jprester

      Fair point. It is easy to loose perspective of it when thats not your first-hand experience.

      P.S. Glad to see you back in the trenches Freddie.

  74. Alsadius

    I think an underappreciated part of this may be cohort effects. I first heard of Dawkins when I was about 18, and like most 18 year olds, I had a fair bit of appreciation for someone who was bellicose in the defence of truth. I never loved him as much as some, but in an era where much of what I read was hyperpartisan and about picking fights, he fit in pretty well.

    Thing is, most New Atheists are belligerent jerks. You’re the one who gave the best explanation I’ve yet seen as to why (in the Bravery Debates posts of yesteryear), but the upshot is that they’re way more appealing to people who want a fight than they are to people who don’t. Most people want fewer fights as they age.

    I think that New Atheists are to atheism like Objectivists are to libertarianism. They’ll stand up and preach about things you all believe in, and that’s a useful trait in an ally sometimes, but good lord does it get obnoxious quickly. They’re the ones you need to apologize for at parties, the ones you try to teach the idea of Kolmogorov complicity to over and over again without any success. Eventually, their tedium exceeds their usefulness, and you drop them. When you’re 18 that process takes years, but I’d wager that people a generation older than you or I mostly got over Dawkins and Tyson within weeks, even if we all agree on an object level.

    1. Ratte

      The obvious counterpoint is that other groups who are similarly combative (or even more so) haven’t been sidelined nearly as hard. Social media basically runs on Outrage Culture, if anything it should be a plus.

      1. Alsadius

        Fair point. I’d wager that the real metric they fail on is too high a ratio of (outrage:ability to justify outrage). If it’s 1941 and you freak out about Hitler, nobody will call you hysterical. If it’s lighting-before-thunder that you freak out about, conversely, everyone will call you hysterical – both are valid thoughts, but only one justifies fanaticism to the listener’s mind.

        That’s probably also why the New Atheist types did well in the Bush years – there was much more of a sense of threat from theocrats then than there is today.

  75. Björn

    As others have pointed out, New Atheism is in some way a mirror image of Fundamentalism. It wants to convert everyone to their own way of thinking, and it is really obsessed about the details of this thinking. If I would say I believe the bible is wrong because in my personal Jesus multiplied 12 breads and 9 fish, it would be a problem for both groups.

    I think the interesting question is, why are both (american) fundamentalists and New Atheists so obsessed about the literal truth of the bible? I mean there are other fundamentalists too, like radical catholics or muslims, and they don’t make it an enormous point that their holy text is absolutely true, even if they might believe in it. (Catholics have one million beliefs that are not justified from the bible, while muslims derive many thinks from oral traditions that go like “Someone heard that someone heard … that Mohammed said”.)

    I think the focus point that made New Atheism big was that Evangelical creationists tried to push creationism into schools etc. in the 2000s. This gave us all the lovely debates where biologists argue with Evangelicals. And what those Evangelicals believe is more or less that the bible is the Absolute truth. So the biologists/New Atheists argued against them that the bible cannot be the absolute truth, because then Pi = 3 or whatever. This led to the new Atheists adopting the understanding what the bible is as a text from the Evangelicals. Both think that every statement in the bible has to be taken at face value, like a scientific text if you want to call it that way. (I’m sure I’m being too broad when I say that this is what Evangelicals believe. But they take the “sola scriptura” concept from protestantism and apply it really hardcore, which is what I’m interested in.)

    Now the thing is of course, if you read the bible as a scientific text, you misunderstand what the bible is as a text. The bible consists of myths that become semihistorical texts the younger the texts get, then you get poems and prayers, eyewitness accounts and myths that have been mashed by people who compiled them, a travel account, letters, some authentic, some not, and finally bizarre fan-fiction. I’m not saying that many religious people understand all of that, but many of them have a better understanding/feeling of it than rather radical branches of protestants.

    This missunderstanding leads to the fact that New Atheists don’t understand religion at all. They think being religious means thinking that wrong facts are true, while in fact being religious means believing in thinks that mean something to you, that are aesthetic to you. In the view of New Atheists, Orthodox Judaism means obeying bizarre rules because you are wrongly informed that God exists, while actually obeying those rules gives Orthodox Jews a way to express their relationship to God. But I can understand why New Atheists get that misconception, not many religious people tell you that they obey their religion’s rules because they like them, but there are many that will tell you (and they also belief this) that they obey the rules because they must.

    Now if you tell someone who believes in a religion because they like how the religions allows them to have a relationship with the world around them and metaphysical realm (God or a Pantheon of gods or whatever) that the metaphysical realm is not real, this is silly. The person has a relationship with the metaphysical realm, so it kinda exists. It’s also mean, because if the person enjoys having that relationship, it’s hurting them. As long as people have a healthy relationship to the metaphysical, I find that absolutely ok.

    I can by the way recommend a book that greatly expands the concept that religion expresses a relationship between the believer and the world around them, it’s The Holy and the Profane by Mircea Eliade.

    1. Deiseach

      Both think that every statement in the bible has to be taken at face value, like a scientific text if you want to call it that way.

      We had this in a post way back about “a whale is not a fish”. Not just the New Atheists but a lot of the common-or-garden atheists think that an absolute knock-down unanswerable argument is “Hah, in the Book of Jonah, it says a whale is a fish, but a whale is not a fish! Checkmate, believers! Now we have proven your holy book is false and not literally true, you must lose all faith completely!”

      And the Catholics go “Yeahhhhh – and? Sure, Jonah is canonical but dude, the four senses of Scripture, and guess what, we never thought the Bible was a biology textbook” and a lot of the Protestants go “What they said and besides, we’re not literalists in our denomination”. And the Orthodox go IS WESTERN OUTRAGE! 🙂

      It’s a very literal interpretation of things, such that you’d expect them to retort to Burns’ “My love is like a red, red rose” with “preposterous, a human female is not a plant! this is a fake and a lie!”

          1. meh

            That post rightfully takes down that argument, but does not link to anywhere it is being seriously used.

          2. Nick

            If your issue is whether it was ever really deployed—Scott spent years around Internet atheists, and he’s an honest guy, so I doubt he’s making it up. I’ve ever had it used against me, but if you go back a dozen or so open threads, you’ll find someone disproving Catholicism because we transliterated Hebrew names ‘wrong,’ link on request.

          3. Rick Hull

            Isn’t there a bit of motte and bailey going on? The bailey being that our doctrine and dogma is the word of God and thus infallible. The motte is something more like: well many parts are now logically consistent and our doctrine and dogma is not spelled out in the Bible but exists in the same realm as Underpants Gnomes and True Scotsmans.

            The only persuasive part of religion is the bailey, which is why it gets attacked, and such attacks feel satisfying.

          4. Nick

            I’m sorry but I don’t understand, Rick. Who’s doing the motte and bailey? Are you saying me or Deiseach specifically, or Catholics in general, or Christians in general, or? I don’t think your motte or bailey map well to the Catholic Church, anyway; we believe in revelation, yes, but the word of God, taken in the usual sense of the Bible, is not the only source of revelation, and revelation is not the only source of knowledge—there’s also natural theology, the natural law, and so on. For that matter, not everything that the Catholic Church teaches is dogma or even doctrine. And I have no idea what you mean by “the same realm as Underpants Gnomes and True Scotsmans.”

          5. Rick Hull

            Nick,

            I’m just wondering, for example, which part of the doctrine and dogma of Catholicism is supposed to be persuasive. My claim is that, by far, the most persuasive part of Catholic doctrine and dogma is the part about the word of God being infallible, we have some words of God, and oh yeah the Pope is infallible too, so trust his interpretation of the words of God. The problem here for the force of Catholic persuasion is that many (claimed) words of God (and the Pope, particularly) have been proven fallible. The bailey is not defensible.

            The retreat to the motte says that well, the Bible isn’t really our infallible doctrine and dogma. Instead we have the words of Spinoza and Aquinas and many theologians who present an overall body of work that is, by now, mostly logically consistent. Fair enough. My challenge is for Catholics to lay out that logically consistent, persuasive argument for believing the doctrine and dogmas of Catholicism. My sense is that while such an argument probably exists, it’s in a fluid world that can’t be pinned down, where any refutation of a candidate argument may be shot down by saying, well that’s not what we really believe.

            Is there one work which clearly presents the persuasive argument? I hope we agree that one work is clearly not the Catholic bible.

          6. Nick

            Rick,

            There’s really a whole constellation of questions you’re raising, I think since you’re just not familiar with the terms Catholics put all these things in. I’ll do my best to give a brief answer here. When it comes to doctrine (taken strictly), the party line, so to speak, is that the Catholic Church does not reverse its position on anything, although over time it may refine or nuance positions, and new questions (say, the morality of modern birth control methods) may arise which require some guidance. But the certainty of a given teaching is distinguished from the authority of the one teaching it: the Magisterium as a whole has complete authority on matters of doctrine, with the obvious limitations that it cannot contradict its own teachings and that eternal teachings are eternal; so yes, it has an infallibility of sorts. Bishops have some teaching authority, but obviously if there’s contradiction between them and the sorts of teachings I spoke of above of the Magisterium, the bishop is the one in the wrong. The pope is a special case of this, having, beyond the infallibility of the Magisterium, an infallibility in matters of faith and morals; but again, he’s limited by the Magisterium, he cannot simply reverse a long-held teaching tomorrow. These are the so called ex cathedra statements. Obviously, the pope is not all the time making these, rather they’re very rare. Even documents such as encyclicals, which are properly teaching documents, do not have ex cathedra status; these sorts of documents are in general from the ordinary magisterium of the pope (where ex cathedra is, of course, extraordinary). Another special case of extraordinary magisterium is a church council; the workings of these is way too complicated to get into, but the basic principle is that a supermajority of the world’s bishops work together, with the help of experts, to define or defend key teachings, or condemn false ones, which may have as much weight as a papal infallible teaching (although most don’t).

            Another of the complicating factors here is that, even in documents such as encyclicals, they may be affirming doctrine which is eternally true without the documents’ actually having the force of infallibility behind them. Like, the pope can teach the sanctity of marriage in a given document, but it’s not like this document is the source of the eternal teaching on the sanctity of marriage; that’s far larger than any one document.

            The role of theologians like Aquinas is pretty secondary to doctrine as such. Aquinas did a lot of work explicating Christian doctrine in a sort of hybrid Aristotelian and Neoplatonist framework of his own making—it’s very powerful, and key Thomist theses have been affirmed by the popes, but being a Thomist is hardly a prerequisite for being a Catholic.

            A good source on infallibility is a summary written up by Ed Feser on papal infallibility. It’s by no means complete, unfortunately—it’s hard to find a good resource between “blog comment” and “thick tome”—but it’s a good place to start. I should mention I’m writing all this from memory; if I’m seen to contradict him, you should assume Feser’s got the right of it, especially in matters of precision where I am ambiguous or unclear, but if it’s hard to say, you can ask and I’ll poke around for a more authoritative source.

            My challenge is for Catholics to lay out that logically consistent, persuasive argument for believing the doctrine and dogmas of Catholicism.

            Old scholastic manuals, which were used for teaching Catholic apologetics and philosophy, used to do this and everyone hated them. I’m not going to get into this, because you’d just see me raging indiscriminately about the retreat into Continental nonsense by 20th century theologians, but suffice it to say I think there’s merit in the approach, although it’s still very much out of favor and you may not find the older examples terribly compelling (the eternal problem of these texts is not realizing the assumptions they are making, or the counter-assumptions their readers are making, anyway).

            However, generally, this was precisely the aim of apologetics. And the method was—this is very much a summary—pretty much to establish by one route that we know that there’s a God and certain things about God via natural theology, and to establish by another route first that revelation from God is possible, then that it’s necessary (to get beyond a sort of philosophical theism, at any rate), then that it in fact occurred, which requires defending the Bible as inspired and the historicity of Jesus and so on, and showing why other purported revelations such as Islam are inadequate. The one I linked above isn’t complete, but you’ve then got to establish tradition as a source of revelation as well, which really ties into the matter of the Bible (they should probably be dealt with at the same time), and show why tradition demands such things as a papacy and the magisterium—I can only sketch that last bit out, but it has to do with maintaining the deposit of faith, in the ways I listed at the beginning: defending and affirming the teachings we’ve received, refining them where necessary, and answer new questions as they arrive, but never simply reversing entirely.

            This is, again, only a sketch of things, I haven’t really made any arguments here. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any perfect book for this question. The one I linked up there, Principles of Catholic Apologetics, is quite good in a number of ways, and quite bad in a number of ways. And since this approach has been out of vogue for many years, there are few contemporary works that do it. Handbook of Christian Apologetics is contemporary, but it’s too cursory and of middling quality anyway. Sorry.

            Instead we have the words of Spinoza

            Spinoza?! Oh please no. If Sidles becomes a Catholic, I’m jumping ship to Orthodoxy. 😀

          7. Rick Hull

            Nick,

            Thanks for the detail. I will digest this over time.

            Spinoza?! Oh please no. If Sidles becomes a Catholic, I’m jumping ship to Orthodoxy.

            Haha, whoops. I think I meant Loyola.

          8. Le Maistre Chat

            @Nick: And the method was—this is very much a summary—pretty much to establish by one route that we know that there’s a God and certain things about God via natural theology, and to establish by another route first that revelation from God is possible, then that it’s necessary (to get beyond a sort of philosophical theism, at any rate), then that it in fact occurred, which requires defending the Bible as inspired and the historicity of Jesus and so on, and showing why other purported revelations such as Islam are inadequate.

            There’s a reason Clement and other Fathers called Plato’s philosophy praeparatio evangelica. Traditional apologetics (I can’t speak for what Protestants do) starts by establishing agreement that reason can detect that a God, qualitatively different from all other superhuman intelligences, exists and some facts about Him.

    2. tjohnson314

      To see what evangelicals believe about inerrancy, the Chicago statement is probably a good place to start. I actually think you’re pretty accurate.

      The relationship of inerrancy to science is mentioned specifically in Article XII:
      “WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

      WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”

  76. enkiv2

    There’s a spectrum of obviousness of social facts, though. If you’re going to do in-group signalling, for it to be effective, it needs to be in a specific range. If you start saying things that are too obvious to a particular group too much, you’ll start sounding like the outgroup’s caricature of that group, and be suspected of faking it (and often this is the result of being a new convert).

    I suspect new-convert-disorder is really at the heart of the social issues with nu-atheism. The atheist segment of the blue & grey tribes not within the nu-atheist sphere were largely raised without religion or with a very weak emphasis on religion, so religious ideas seem irrelevant or like historical curiosities. The nu-atheist group, on the other hand, seems to be full of converts — exiles from heavily religious backgrounds who double down on ideas they haven’t quite assimilated yet because they’re trying to make an identity transition. (In other words, they make the same kinds of stupid mistakes as the most misguided extreme tumblr SJWs do for the same reason: they’ve jumped into the deep end of a community centered around ideas that directly contradict their upbringing, and they make the mistake of believing that their peers need as much evangelism as they do in order to understand these ideas.)

    Side effects: the importing of outgroup ideas that don’t really fit (atheist churches, universal lists of topics that should be CW’d), loud repetition of ingroup ideas simplified to the point of being basically wrong (Gallileo burned at the stake for heliocentrism; all cultural interchange being evil), and heavy gatekeeping based on incorrect understanding of the in-group’s actual stance (“if you don’t agree that islam is inherently evil you’re a dumb theist”, “if you’re white and you eat sushi you’re a racist”).

    When the influx of newbies to an ideology is quick and sudden (as it was with atheism and social justice — and, hell, communism too) it’s easy for the original group to be displaced and the newcomers (and their mistakes) to characterize the whole group forever. This basically happened with communism (bolsheviks appeared and were massively successful for a while despite having a pretty weak grasp on Marx and now communism is equated with bolshevism for most people, and thus to command economies and authoritarian governments rather than to anarchist communes) and with social justice (which has become a dirty word in some communities because it’s identified with dumb teenagers who freak out about cafeteria menus rather than remaining associated with careful analyses of subtle structural inequality).

    It didn’t really happen with atheism because a whole lot of people have just been quietly atheistic for centuries, in communities where religion isn’t a big deal, and the sudden appearance of lots of vocal atheists in the evangelical heartland didn’t seem like a big deal when it came at the end of their communities slowly sliding toward 80-90% functional atheism over a few hundred years. (People in largely atheistic countries — even where they belong to some religion on paper — like Japan or scandanavia often just find the question irrelevant, and this coincides with my experience living in New England in communities that are nominally catholic but functionally 90%+ lapsed.) It’s easy to separate the atheists, then, from the nu-atheists, who live elsewhere, have a different background, and ultimately have very different beliefs.

    The nu-atheists don’t have a great deal of contact with the old-atheists, in part because the things nu-atheists are obsessed with repeating are either obvious or obviously wrong to old-atheists. So, they get a great deal of mocking for having not yet understood atheism. (The Baffler piece seems to be written from this old-atheist point of view — and, indeed, while some socialist religious communities exist, leftist politics since the beginning of the 20th century have been largely the domain of ‘free thinkers’ who have not been religious for generations, so The Baffler’s target audience would mostly be people who considered atheism the obvious default and had rarely encountered somebody with a religious upbringing.)

    There are a couple other links, here. An emotionally-driven caustic mode of argument is linked to both nu-atheism and the naive proto-SJ practiced in some communities, and both groups are dominated by teenagers. Indeed, people go through an extreme phase as teenagers and then grow out of it, retaining the core beliefs but bringing some maturity, going from nu-atheist to atheist or going from rabid SJW to ‘concerned about the state of the world’. (The figureheads, whose paychecks depend upon being angry in public, don’t really have the option of growing out of this larval stage.)

    Why is there a link between nu-atheists and white nationalism? Because teenagers are edgelords, and there are places where both racism and lack of religion are considered taboo.

    I think it’s pretty reasonable to enforce taboos against both weird perversions of good ideas (nu-atheism, which is almost totally independent of regular atheism at this point because of geography, and bolshevism, which was never really in line with the mainstream of pre-1900 communist thought) and edgelordy embraces of awful ideas (like nationalism, forced eugenics, and ethnic cleansing).

    The normal way of enforcing taboos is to mock these people mercilessly.

    1. sconn

      Yes, this. It is very odd to me, hearing SJWs caricatured as these extreme nutjobs when that’s not what I see. But every once in awhile I do see someone like that. I think the SJ movement would be better served by doing more to ridicule/reject those extremists, the way normal atheists do with New Atheists, rather than basically giving them a head pat and ignoring them. Because while the extreme SJWs will probably settle down eventually, if only from sheer exhaustion, it makes the whole movement look bad and easily caricatured. Yet, it’s possible that, like with old and new atheists, the two circles are separate enough that it wouldn’t make a difference.

  77. John Lynch

    The New Atheists are pro-Enlightenment, pro-free speech. I’m very religious but I didn’t mind Dawkins or Hitchens or anyone like them. They would leave me alone because they believed in freedom of conscience. In fact, that’s what motivated them. Religion wouldn’t leave them alone.

    Progressives don’t believe in freedom of conscience or freedom of speech. That’s why they don’t like New Atheists. From the conservative side this seems obvious. Note also that a lot of conservatives liked Christopher Hitchens, in particular.

  78. Fluffy Buffalo

    I’ll write a longer response later, but I want to say I’m seriously disappointed in this article. It starts from a questionable premise (what constitutes failure?), does not anchor its speculation to any concrete people or events, thereby misses a couple of aspects that may actually have been relevant, and is completely lacking in the “charitable” aspect.

  79. gabriele

    I have an anecdote that might shine some light on the issue. This happened more than a decade ago in Italy.

    Our high school had invited the most prominent New Atheist of Italy: Piergiorgio Odifreddi. The guy was saying a lot of outrageous and weird stuff, however the breaking point came when he talked about the Ascension of Mary. He said that the bible mentioned that the Mary ascended to heaven, but he has calculated what her position would have been if she had moved at the speed of light and she wasn’t there, so the bible was false.
    After he said this, our physics professor rose up to speak. He was what we in Italy call a mangiapreti (literally, somebody that eats priests), but he started a long physics explanation which basically ended with the statement that Mary was not visible because she had gone through a wormhole. People laughted, but Piergiorgio Odifreddi lamented that physics teachers like him were a disgrace. At that point there was booing, because he was a popular teacher.

    Afterwards he said to us that what irritated him was the bad science and the stupidity of the arguments he made. Nobody believed that Mary literally ascended to heaven like a rocket. He was making a disservice to students, but not engaging with real arguments made by religious people. He also said that the guy was an asshole, because the way he treated some students that asked critical questions.

    Mutatis mutandis, I think that the same critiques applies to the American New Atheists.

    1. Irenist

      The Bible mentions the Ascension of Christ. The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary is derived by Catholics and Orthodox from Tradition, not explicit scriptural warrant.

      The fact that the most prominent New Atheist in a historically Catholic country would err on something that basic is symptomatic of the low level of research and argumentation in New Atheism generally.

      1. gabriele

        That’s a great point. Though I have to admit that I never noticed it that mistake, despite me being Catholic. The things that I notice about New Atheists usually are related to their terrible knowledge of history.

    1. t mes

      Checking a box doesn’t make it so. I’m surprised Scott thinks 46% of Americans are young earth creationists because they checked the box that said so. That’s not how things work. The box can be viewed as a tribal vote. Also, it’s a serious sin in many religions to blaspheme or deny God. Even if someone doesn’t believe in literalism, they generally aren’t going to put an F in front of a sentence from the bible when asked to interpret the sentence literally. The box doesn’t allow for sufficient nuance for people to answer in the manner that best conforms to their beliefs, as a result they go for safety over accuracy.

    2. Matthias

      I’m surprised it’s that high; erroneous answers mean that the smaller your category, the likelier it is that any given person who answers it did so in error. I would guess that true answer of most of that 8% are theists mistakedly calling themselves atheists rather than atheists mistakedly avowing a belief in God, simply because there are many more of them.

  80. Salem

    New Atheism is all about Science™. Even in their heyday, that was controversial on the Left; sure, they were mostly going after religion, but it was pretty obvious how they felt about “other ways of knowing” more generally. But there was space for that in the early Oughts, because postmodernism had retreated from its mid-90s high-water-mark. But since then, postmodernism has eaten the Left, and the Left has eaten liberalism, so a bunch of straight white males talking about so-called-empiricism are Public Enemy #1. That remains the case if some of those “facts” are congenial to existing belief systems.

    I’d also echo the points about Islam, but I don’t think the issue is US voting blocks. It’s idpol. Dawkins screeching spittled ignorant invective against Christianity was fine, because it was implicitly aimed at Those Kind Of People. But it rapidly became clear that the New Atheists meant it, and were willing to say bad things about the religions of people leftists don’t hate. Well, that’s an attack on identity (You don’t want me to exist! Literally shaking!).

    1. Deiseach

      I think it was seen more as New Atheism was replacing one divine irreproachable explanation for the universe with another; Science was to take the place of Religion as the One True Way. Something Dawkins said about the uselessness of astrology had me rolling my eyes; not that he condemned belief in astrology, but the way he put it: all the people reading their daily horoscopes in the newspapers and magazines were wasting valuable time that they could be using to cure cancer and work on scientific problems and the like.

      The man sounded like he had no sense of humour and had only heard of human beings by report, not actual experience. People reading their horoscope over their breakfast or at tea-break at work are not believing it literally, it’s for entertainment. And if they weren’t reading horoscopes, they wouldn’t all be cancer researchers, they’d still be working in shops and offices and reading celebrity gossip about what actor was cheating on his wife and which of the Kardashians was pregnant this week.

      It was that vision of the possible future if the New Atheists had their way that I found very unappealing, and I imagine a lot of other people did the same.

      1. Conrad Honcho

        And if they weren’t reading horoscopes, they wouldn’t all be cancer researchers

        Also incredibly ignorant. If you were born between June 21st and July 22nd and are reading your horoscope each morning you are a cancer researcher.

  81. behrangamini

    I think the issue is that they over-reach towards a personally held grudge/belief and alienate people who reasonably dissent.

    Atheists start with the scientific fact that there is no guy-in-the-cloud god, and then accuse you of being stupid if you don’t accept that most human evil comes from religion.

    Climate change activists start with the scientific fact that the climate is changing and mad-made, then jump to “you must support policy x that happens to line up exactaly with my other progressive beliefs, otherwise you’re being anti-science”

    PETA starts with the moral position of not wanting to harm animals, to accusing you of being a cruel monster if you don’t agree that computer models are just as reliable as animal models, and should be used in medical research.

    SJW start with the undeniable fact that there are groups of people who have been and are currently oppressed, and jump to calling you a racist if wear a Kimono for halloween or decide you look good in dreads.

    Libertarians start with the economic fact that markets are super efficient at solving problems, to accusing you of being unreasonable if you don’t every problem should be solved by markets.

    Etc.

    The problem with atheists may have been that there are a lot of people who are sorta religious and have noticed the over-reach. The others in the list are in various stages of people noticing.

    1. Sebastian_H

      This is a great comment. I think the SJW movement may be having a similar moment with the #metoo jumping on of male rape survivors. When you think your ideology justifies making rape survivors feel awful for coming forward, most people who see that are going to think you’re an ass.

  82. meh

    Possibly some demographic reasons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_in_the_United_States

    But I think some of the point of the New Atheists was in fact repeating the same thing over and over to people that agreed. Climate change has actual facts to convey, or is just signaling. Atheists constant repetition wasn’t to convey facts, but to show that religion didn’t need to hold an elevated respect. ‘There is no God’ isn’t something you had to politely and quietly say once, then go away… you could repeat over and over and be annoying about it. I think they considered it a feature… look, people aren’t wincing at saying this in public, they find it annoying instead! progress!

    The problem is that cultural respect was dug in deep, and people noticed there was some opportunity cost in ‘militant’ atheism. No need to alienate listeners, readers, friends.

  83. Anon.

    The issue is clearer once you take the Hansonian perspective: atheism is not about religion. Normal people are not “principled atheists”, they do not have considered theological or philosophical opinions. They are atheists socially, and when that clashes with some other social identification, well….

  84. Machine Interface

    Since we’re throwing hypotheses around, a common criticism of New Atheism among the liberal writers I have read is that, contrary to say, climate change advocates who at their core have a large segment of climatologists who know that they’re talking about, New Atheism was essentially a bunch of scientists and adjacent people pontifying about subjects that were completely out of their field and onto which they had done no research whatsoever (theology and the history of religions), complete with a strong tunnel vision tendency that made them see every religion not just through the prism of christianity, not just through the prism of protestant christianity, but specifically through the prism of baptist christianity!

    Any liberal who knew anything at all about religion (and there are a lot more of those than the average conservative might think) could only embarassed by their ignorant diatribes and feel the need to prominently display a “I’m not with them” placard.

    1. gbdub

      not just through the prism of protestant christianity, but specifically through the prism of baptist christianity!

      The number of atheists in college who smugly assumed I was a young-Earth creationist because I went to a Catholic school pretty much permanently turned me off to “New Atheism” and made me reflexively defensive of Catholicism to boot, despite me not being a regular church goer for over half my life at this point.

      I’m not claiming this is rational, but hopefully understandable.

      1. Deiseach

        Oh yeah, I’ve encountered enough people online telling me what Catholics believe, being astoundingly wrong (the level of “They think the Eiffel Tower is in Los Vegas” wrong or “Giordano Bruno was an astronomer and not a New Age flake” wrong) and upon being corrected doubling down and telling me no, as a Catholic I have to believe what they are saying I believe in the way they are saying I believe it. Because they are Smart and Logical and FUCKING LOVE SCIENCE so they can’t possibly be mistaken.

        Not All Atheists, I will grant 🙂

        a strong tunnel vision tendency that made them see every religion not just through the prism of christianity, not just through the prism of protestant christianity, but specifically through the prism of baptist christianity!

        Time for me to pull out the old reliable, Terry Eagleton’s review of The God Delusion:

        Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.

  85. cactus head

    >New Atheism has lost its battle for the cultural high ground. r/atheism will shamble on as some sort of undead abomination, chanting “BRAAAAAAIIINSSSS…are what fundies don’t have” as the living run away shrieking. But everyone else has long since passed them by.
    >How did the New Atheists become so loathed so quickly?

    I think it was always like this. Even before the Atheism+ thing mentioned in an earlier top-level comment, the public face of atheism was obnoxious teenagers wearing black tshirts with snarky white text. I had a phase like this. I didn’t wear my beliefs on my sleeves either literally or figuratively but I would watch Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! and feel smugly smart about myself.

    Now I’m feeling all nostalgic. Ah, people on internet forums arguing mainly about atheism—such innocent, naive times, although I’m sure it’s just the rose-coloured glasses of youth talking there.

    1. SebWanderer

      You’re not the only one.

      I honestly prefer the old arguments about Young Earth Creationism and prayer in public schools over the current cultural climate of SJW flamewars and moral crusades on Twitter/Facebook/Youtube/etc.

  86. rahien.din

    All of the above about political alignment with Islam.

    And : New Atheists condemned the entire spectrum of religious belief with such indiscriminate fervor that their case lost all credibility. They asserted that to bring your child up in your religion is child abuse. That the mom who sends her kid to Sunday school to learn about “turn the other cheek” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” is functionally equivalent to a Saudi mullah recruiting terrorists and inculcating a culture of violent hatred. That religion “poisons everything,” right down to the soup kitchen. It doesn’t take much reflection to see through that bullshit.

    Also they tried to name themselves “The Brights.”

    1. Aevylmar

      I think that the “The Brights” claim is actually relevant. Not because it impacted anything – I first heard it after I stopped respecting the movement – but because it demonstrates a lack of social/political skill.

      People don’t declare that they are the Xs, where X is a very positive term with no historical relationship with their cause. They may declare themselves in favor of “social justice,” which used to be a technical term with a technical meaning and certainly sounds very nice – but it has a preexisting association with the sort of things they do, and it also sounds both technical and like the sort of thing everyone should be in favor of. Similarly with “sustainability” – we’re in favor of sustainability, aren’t you? Why wouldn’t you be?

      On the other hand, the New Atheists saying that they were “The Brights” is (a) an attempt to change their name from a preexisting one to a new one, and (b) roughly equivalent to calling everyone who disagrees with them an idiot. They’re bright (Bright, even) and so, by implication, nobody else who doesn’t want to join their group is.

      … I don’t think I’m saying this right, actually, it’s 4 AM my time. But I think there’s something there.

      1. t mes

        Well said. The movement always came off as smug and petty. If being technically correct but acting like a dick about it generally worked then Asperger’s Syndrome wouldn’t be a syndrome.

      2. Eponymous

        I think we can agree that wasn’t very bright.

        But seriously. I will reiterate my comment above that this lack of social skill is not a coincidence. Being a strident public atheist is already a violation of social convention, and so we should expect prominent members of this group to make other social missteps.

    2. Viliam

      New Atheists condemned the entire spectrum of religious belief with such indiscriminate fervor that their case lost all credibility.

      I agree, but this seems like a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.

      Saying that learning at Sunday school to turn the other cheek is the same as learning how to kill infidels, that’s obviously stupid. But saying that killing infidels is much worse… will get you called an islamophobe. People will be like: “he pretends to be against religion in general, but he actually uses the strongest words criticizing ISIS and Boko Haram… which means he just hates Muslims… which means he is a racist“.

      Maybe I am getting the history wrong here, but seems to me that atheism became unpopular among progressives exactly when some prominent atheists started making the difference between the kid in Sunday school and the suicide bomber.

      1. Qays

        They started getting in trouble when they started making the argument that “Islam” encourages you to kill infidels but “Christianity” doesn’t.

          1. Qays

            Oh? We’ve got plenty of examples of Christians believing their religion encourages them to kill infidels in the modern day.

          2. Randy M

            Is that it? A group fighting for political power, that has added additional prophets to Christianity? Non-central example is being charitable.

          3. Whitedeath

            You could make the same quibble about Islamic terror groups as well, that they’re basically political groups who use the language of religion.

          4. Randy M

            Islam is and has long been political in that it contains explicit rules for governing.
            Killing infidels, if we include apostates, goes beyond fringe terror groups to states theocratic states.
            The objection to the LRA goes beyond that they are a political movement (although note that using violence to attain power is different from simply encourage death of nonbelievers), to include the fact that they follow a self-described prophet. That seems to put them into another religion entirely.

          5. DavidFriedman

            Killing infidels, if we include apostates, goes beyond fringe terror groups to states theocratic states.

            Killing infidel peoples of the book just because they are not Muslims is clearly inconsistent with Islamic law. Killing apostates is not, although there is some disagreement on the subject.

          6. Randy M

            Killing infidel peoples of the book just because they are not Muslims is clearly inconsistent with Islamic law.

            Curious qualification; that implies Islamic law is okay with killing Hindus for being Hindu.

        1. Qays

          @Randy M

          Christianity has a long history of being interpreted to contain explicit rules for governing. That’s why the Lord’s Resistance Army wants to replace the Ugandan constitution with the Ten Commandments.

      2. rahien.din

        Maybe I am getting the history wrong here, but seems to me that atheism became unpopular among progressives exactly when some prominent atheists started making the difference between the kid in Sunday school and the suicide bomber.

        Who knows. That might have constituted permission to defect publicly.

      3. Conrad Honcho

        Part of this is the progressive tendency towards cultural relativism. If you start saying one culture (or religion) is worse than another, then that necessarily implies one culture or religion is better than another, and now you’re ranking cultures (and thereby the people who practice them) in a hierarchy. This does not play well with multiculturalism.

  87. Aevylmar

    Speaking as someone who is agnostic, and yet sees ‘new atheist’ as a very strongly negative sign (more likely to mean “I won’t be friends with this person” than any religious statement I’m likely to run into), I think that the fundamental reason – in my case – is Dawkins.

    Insofar as there is leadership for the New Atheists, it’s Dawkins and the rest of the Four Horsemen, in that order. And insofar as you’re reading one book arguing for New Atheism, it’s the God Delusion. And when I read the God Delusion, it did more to convince me that atheism was probably wrong than any book I’d ever read. I’m not sure how much of it was dislike of his tone – which I did mind – and how much of it was the much more rational feeling that he was ignorant; that the arguments in the book were a mix of brief, arrogant rebuttals of briefly-stated arguments*, appeals to authority I didn’t understand, and factual statements I could check for myself.

    What did it for me – I read history for fun, especially military and political history. There is a bit where he is listing all of the horrible things that wouldn’t have happened in a world without religion, and includes several wars. Well, I read that as ‘would not have occurred without the religious element’, possibly even formalized to ‘imagine a counterfactual in which everyone stopped believing in the religion just before the war, and this would prevent the war.’

    By that standard I believe he is wrong on all of them*. Not all the things he lists – but all the wars he lists, yes, at least the ones I can check. He’s not wrong that religion causes wars! It caused the Thirty Years’ War, for instance. But I think he just picked the biggest, flashiest examples of conflict (Israeli/Palestine, Irish Troubles, the Crusades, and former Yugoslavia, for instance) and declared that they were all because of the religion, forgetting, for instance, that the Irish had been having trouble with the English since Strongbow landed. He says that “without religion, and religiously segregated education, the divide simply would not be there,” and I just don’t believe him.

    This convinced me of two things. First, that while he might be a great biologist, there was no reason to believe him on anything outside his field of expertise, since the one thing I could be certain of calling him on, I was confident he was wrong on. Second, that anyone who did trust him – who took him seriously as a major intellectual figure – had very low standards, and hence shouldn’t be taken seriously, either.

    (*: Thinking of Scott’s ‘what developmental milestones are you missing’, and contrasting him with Lewis or Chesterton, it felt like he was operating at a much smaller number of steps; that he would list a religious argument, give an immediate counterargument, and maybe counter obvious reasons why his argument was wrong, and they’d go another two steps deeper.)

    (**: The Crusades come closest, but the First Crusade was a foreign intervention into a preexisting [Byzantine-Seljuk] war that then got out of hand, and the later Crusades were fought to defend or reconquer territory conquered in the First Crusade.)

    1. Deiseach

      But I think he just picked the biggest, flashiest examples of conflict (Israeli/Palestine, Irish Troubles, the Crusades, and former Yugoslavia, for instance) and declared that they were all because of the religion, forgetting, for instance, that the Irish had been having trouble with the English since Strongbow landed.

      That’s the part where I want to punch him inna snoot. For an upper-middle class Oxbridge don to airily blame the Troubles on “those demnd religious types” and not address at all the part England and English politics and English (mis)rule played in setting up exactly that situation of having group A at group B’s throats – that’s a bit too glib and too much the kind of attitude the English establishment has adopted: ‘the natives are fighting again, who can know why, we must intervene as neutral peacekeepers with nothing but the most disinterested high-minded motives and certainly we have no political or territorial stake here’.

  88. Peter Shenkin

    I think it was Karl Sharro (@KarlRemarks on Twitter) who said “I’m going to arrange all the Richard Dawkins books on my shelf in condescending order.” Even though the horse is dead, I don’t enjoy watching it beaten, and those who believe that religion is the root of all evil have failed to observe that, on closer examination, everything sucks.

  89. AC Harper

    Perhaps the ‘New Atheists’ are like the ‘Dark Ages’? New Atheism is a handy label pasted by critics on a vague idea. And despite a few unsuccessful attempts to form a ‘tribe’ the ‘New Atheists’ don’t exist as a tribe, don’t act as a tribe, so can hardly be held up as a ‘movement’.

    Yes there are a few individuals who are ‘famous’ as ‘New Atheists’ – but are we surprised there are no philosopher kings running the world? No, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the ‘Four Horsemen’ are not driving social change.

    1. Kir

      The term that religious people themselves use occasionally is “militant atheists”. People actively campaigning “for atheism”.

      1. SebWanderer

        Does campaigning for separation of church and state (a.k.a secularism) make me a militant atheist/New Atheist?

        After all, I’m not interested in “converting” people to atheism, per se, but I don’t want to live under other people’s religious dogma (which is what often happens with issues like gay marriage, access to contraceptives, abortion rights, creationism in schools, etc.)

        1. DavidFriedman

          But then aren’t you forcing other people to live under your dogma? Abortion either is or isn’t illegal, and either way someone is being forced to go along with someone else’s moral views.

          1. anonymousskimmer

            someone is being forced to go along with someone else’s moral views

            That way of reading it only makes sense in a nation which doesn’t have something equivalent to the 9th amendment, and thus where the people are seen as having the right to compel other people to action or inaction on whatever grounds they like (e.g. a universal power of compulsion).

            And before someone mentions the 10th amendment: The 10th mentions “powers”, while the 9th mentions “rights”, and previous parts of the constitution explicitly limit the power to compel, while I’m not aware of any particular limitations of rights other than those already present in the common law, which by its nature is a lesser law than the constitution.

          2. DavidFriedman

            That way of reading it only makes sense in a nation which doesn’t have something equivalent to the 9th amendment

            The 9th amendment only has content in the context of a belief about what rights people have. An application of it is forcing those who do not share that belief to go along with the moral views of those who do.

            I believe that people who bake cakes have an absolute right to decide who they will sell their services to. Punishing someone for refusing to bake a cake for a same sex wedding is a violation of that right, hence of the 9th amendment, hence unconstitutional.

            Someone else believes that people have a right not to be discriminated against on grounds of their sexual preferences. Failing to punish someone for refusing to bake a cake for a same sex wedding is a violation of that right, hence of the 9th amendment, hence unconstitutional.

          3. anonymousskimmer

            I believe that people who bake cakes have an absolute right to decide who they will sell their services to.

            All well and good except the constitution already thinks commerce is specifically regulatable (insterstate by the federal government, implying that intrastrate should be regulatable by the state government, and all that prior to the 14th amendment which indicates that federal regulation of intrastate matters is okay to prevent discrimination).

          4. DavidFriedman

            All well and good except the constitution already thinks commerce is specifically regulatable (insterstate by the federal government, implying that intrastrate should be regulatable by the state government, and all that prior to the 14th amendment which indicates that federal regulation of intrastate matters is okay to prevent discrimination).

            The relevant part of the Fourteenth Amendment is, I think:

            No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

            That does not imply that one of the privileges and immunities is the right to have people bake cakes for you when they don’t want to, nor is it denying people the equal protection of the laws if the laws do not forbid anyone from freely deciding whom he will bake cakes for.

            Saying that the federal government can regulate interstate commerce does not imply that any possible regulation of interstate commerce is consistent with individual rights.

          5. anonymousskimmer

            Saying that the federal government can regulate interstate commerce does not imply that any possible regulation of interstate commerce is consistent with individual rights.

            No, but it indicates that commerce itself, as a thing people do, is regulatable.

            No such claim is made toward, say, marriage. So the states regulating marriage is something they do per the 10th amendment, as long as a superior court or legislature doesn’t rule that such regulations tread on rights held by the people under the 9th (or other constitutional rights).

            Whereas no court can rule that any part of commerce, per se, is a right which cannot be regulated (since it can be regulated at the interstate level, per the constitution), except those parts of commerce which cannot be performed at the interstate level (that is to say, none, as all parts of commerce can be done across state lines). There’s nothing particularly special about interstate versus intrastate commerce, except which level of government regulates it. Thus there’s no particular commerce right which exists at either the federal or state levels, but not both.

  90. Art Vandelay

    There are more interesting debates to be had around this topic, some of which are already taking place above, but as to the question of why New Atheism is far less popular with the liberal left than social justice advocacy or environmentalism I think the correct answer is the obvious one: most progressives, quite justifiably, don’t see religion as being nearly as bad as bigotry or environmental destruction. There are two main points to this:

    1. Religion inspires a lot of good in the world.
    2. The negative aspects of religion are non-essential to it.

    For number one we have all the charity work done by religious groups. It’s hard to hate the church down the road when you see it running soup kitchens, etc. Racists aren’t known for their charity work. Big oil may invest a lot of money in worthy causes but this is quite obviously a public relations exercise. You’d have to be a particularly cynical atheist to think your local church are running a soup kitchen for the good PR it will bring.

    If the priest of the nice do-gooding church mentioned above is also nicely liberal on social issues, why should we get worked up if he wants to read his Bible and say a few prayers every now and then? This is the second point. I know a few religious people and none of them hate gays or think a wife’s place is in the home. Sure, there’s some questionable stuff in those holy books and probably a correlation between religiosity and disliking gay people but it’s perfectly possible to be religious and left-wing on social issues at the same time.

    And what puts people off about evangelical atheism is that it’s adherents don’t just want to go after people who take religion as their justification for violence or homophobia, they want to go after our nice soup-dispensing, happily-gay-wedding-officiating priest as well.

    1. b_jonas

      I completely agree with this.

      People have done a lot of good things in the name of religion in the 20th century, and this still continues. High points include protecting and sometimes hiding people opposed by oppressive political regimes, charity, and running schools better than other available options. When new atheism goes against religion so forcibly, it would hurt those good side effects of religion more than it would hurt the bad side effects. In fact, if new atheism was successful and get written to the brain patterns of many people, this would probably hurt the good causes more than the bad causes, because it could convince people not to donate to the biggest charity organizations just because they are christian in their name, whereas it probably wouldn’t spread much in the environments where people grow up as religious fanatics and commit atrocities in religion’s name. This is probably one of the reasons why new atheism is disliked more than the other movements you mention.

      1. sconn

        Yeah, my feeling is that most of the liberal people I know don’t care very much what you believe. They care what you do. If you agree on ethics and the correct actions to take, they’re not going to make a big deal about the fact that you come there from a completely different rationale.

        There are a LOT of progressive religious people, and the first rule of progressive religion is, don’t hate people for their beliefs. Hate them for being unethical, if you must, but not because their god is different from yours. Ecumenism is big in progressive religion. And those progressives who aren’t religious, often were raised in progressive religion and have friends in it. So why would they suddenly become intolerant of the more harmless kinds of religion, or want to hear those people (their friends and family) mocked?

        In short, they form in and outgroups based on action, not belief, so a liberal lesbian Episcopalian minister is absolutely ingroup to an atheist progressive, while many atheists with different ideas about right action might be outgroup. That may include New Atheists.

    2. DrBeat

      Ten years ago, everything you said about how religion isn’t as bad as bigotry would have been seen as obviously insane and worthy of contemptuous mockery, and every single person sneering at you would be showered in progressive cred.

      You can’t answer “why did progressivism completely change its opinion” with a recitation of what the opinion is now. That doesn’t answer the question.

      1. Art Vandelay

        So if I went back in time to a progressive dinner party ten years ago, saying, “I believe God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins,” would be met with as much disgust as “Black people are all violent criminals because they’re of an inferior race”? Things would be different if the religious statement was “homosexuality is a sin” but then the primary objection is to the bigotry of the statement, not its religious nature.

        Granted, I’m not from the USA, so perhaps this really was the case but I find it extremely hard to believe. The arguments that I put forth above were extremely common among progressives in the UK at the time. I’ve never met a progressive, then or now, who thought that a socially-liberal person of faith was anywhere close to as bad as being racist or homophobic.

        1. DrBeat

          You would be the target of jeering and boos and people would accuse you of thinking homosexuality was a sin. There would not be a distinction.

          The frenzy wouldn’t be as deep or pronounced, only because Twitter hadn’t penetrated so deeply yet. But you would have been accused of being a bigot who hated gay people, one hundred percent.

          1. JonathanD

            You are completely wrong about this. For you progressives are the out group, and even for people on this board, you have a cartoonishly silly view of us.

            Source: I am part of said group, and was ten years ago.

          2. Jack

            There is a way to reconcile your experiences. Apparently sometimes saying “I believe God blah blah” is met with “boos” (I assume the term was being used in a poetic sense) and other times it’s not. This means it’s not actually the statement that is triggering the boos but some other factor that only sometimes accompanies the statement: for instance, anti-religious sentiment that not all progressives (gasp!) have. Or: a character trait DrBeat or the people they’re referencing had other than being religious.

    3. cuke

      Just one data point: I was part of progressive movements 10, 20, and 30+ years ago in multiple U.S. cities over that time period (in the West, Southwest, Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and Southeast). What Art and b_jonas are saying rings true to me as well.

      Catholic Charities was a huge funder of progressive organizations, and religious leaders from most faith traditions have historically been represented on the boards of such organizations. The labor movement has traditionally worked closely with religious groups as part of organizing efforts. My experience is that one’s “progressive cred” would be seriously undermined by trashing people for their faith beliefs.

      My experience across the board is that people working in progressive organizations would generally agree that religion is not bad at that level of generality, but that bigotry definitely is. And further that religious organizations and congregants are actively sought out to participate in, fund, and help lead progressive efforts.

      1. cuke

        It occurs to me to add:

        I wonder if there’s a distinction here between “movement of ideas” and “movement of people seeking certain policy outcomes” that’s getting blurred, though there is obviously overlap.

        My impression as an outsider is that NA is a movement of ideas with thought leaders engaging in public debate about the rightness of their ideas.

        It seems when people talk about the “liberal left” or “SJWs” or “feminists” here that they’re often also talking about people who engage in debate over ideas, and perhaps mainly on the internet. This took me awhile to understand when I first started reading comments here. My exposure to “left liberalism” is mainly through people who are doing things; while they may also debate ideas, they are mainly interested in solving some perceived real world problem: a social worker who volunteers after work for an LGBT suicide hotline because she lost a friend to suicide; a union organizer who is educating fellow unionists about criminal justice reform options; a mom of two sick kids organizing for renters’ rights because of a toxic exposure in a building the landlord didn’t deal with; a mom of a heroin-addicted young adult son forming a community organization to get more addiction treatment dollars out of the state; a corporate lawyer who volunteers for the ACLU in his few spare hours because Trump scares the crap out of him.

        These folks are heavily invested in getting things done in the real world that will improve material circumstances for people they care about. I’m not saying this to say they are better people than people who are mainly debating ideas, but to say that once you try to get something accomplished beyond the land of ideas or winning online arguments, it becomes clear really fast that you need friends and allies and resources to get things done, and that pissing people off by telling them they’re stupid for their views isn’t going to get you very far.

        Perhaps NAs were/are trying to get certain things accomplished in the real world that also require resources and friends and allies and I’m not aware of what those things are. Otherwise, it does seem like they can turn their backs on whole communities of faith because they don’t need them to advance their agenda whereas most everyone else does.

        1. Art Vandelay

          I came to a similar conclusion thinking about this yesterday. I think someone like Dawkins would be seen much more sympathetically if he was also famous for his great charity work with a support network for depressed atheist kids living in fundamentalist communities. It often seems hard to escape the feeling that he sees people whose lives genuinely are blighted by religion as pawns in a rhetorical game.

  91. perrinwalker

    There’s one partial explanation that I haven’t seen here yet, and that’s the idea that a social movement has a natural lifespan, probably related to the fact that its members grow older and continue to learn things.

    Hear me out: say we reduce the NA movement down to a single person and a single moment in time, let’s say a 22-year-old in 2006 reading The God Delusion. In the decade(ish) that follows, that person undergoes a whole bunch of life changes, finishes college, starts using facebook/instagram/twitter/tumblr, enters the workforce, gets married, goes back to college, divorces, changes careers, reads different websites (?). It seems very likely that their opinions would change or at least broaden. The NA movement skewed young [citation needed], so whatever age you pick for this hypothetical person, it still likely holds true that they underwent a lot of significant life changes during the trajectory of the NA movement, and are now x% more mature/educated/worldly/wise than they were when they were initially attracted.

    Now imagine that decade(ish) of the rise and fall of the NA movement, but with many people of different ages jumping into the movement at different times between (say) 2005 and 2015. By the time the latecomers are jumping in, the early-birds are already talking about the insights they’ve gained over years, sharing the critiques of the movement they’ve formed. And as this mass of critique gathers, the movement starts to die out, until very few people are jumping on the bandwagon. And then you notice suddenly that you’re listening to Sam Harris talk you through a guided meditation, or reading a NA author talking about the indivisible oneness and fundamental consubstantiality of all things, and you realise the movement has taken on some of the critiques and changed, too.

    And in the initial heydey when the membership was zealous and vigorous and the thing became trendy, many people attached themselves to the bandwagon, because it’s what signalled ‘good thought’, because it felt right and powerful, because it’s what their opinion leaders were espousing. But when the criticisms of the movement started to gain strength, the bandwagoners noticed this and distanced themselves, which exaggerated the apparent rise and fall.

    This definitely holds true for everyone I know in my friend group – myself and other previously militant atheists hit the NA movement hard in the mid-2000s, but now I cringe when I think about things I wrote then. Dawkins does seem pretty strawmannish, the NA critique of Islam does seem a bit simpleminded and ahistorical and unaware that ideologies are imperfect, lived things, the idea of ‘ridding the world of religion’ does now seem like an impossibility. In my case I definitely put it down to being significantly more educated, having more contact with religious and spiritual people, and, I don’t know, developing a bit more wisdom.

    It’s possible that the current iteration of authoritarian progressivism we’re living through might pass in a similar way, with the weight of criticisms slowly growing as members grow more mature, until the criticisms are prominent enough that people stop jumping on the bandwagon and the movement slowly dies, or is replaced by a softer and improved version of itself.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      Not sure I understand; in your theory, what prevents a new teenager approaching atheism today from being as naive as a teenager approaching atheism in 2006?

      1. perrinwalker

        My thought is that they’re driven away by the more visible and readily available criticism, which was shaped and improved into something accurate during the earlier period of debate.

        Essentially the ‘generation’ before them undergoes the whole journey of discovery, has the debates, grows older, and so when a teenager today types in ‘New Atheism’ to google, they find (THIS PAGE, WHAT?!) thinkpieces about what’s wrong with New Atheism that are kind of accurate in their criticism.

        Of course the increased prominence of criticism could also be explained by what everyone above describes, which is simply that NA became a popular target for criticism [for reasons], but I think at least some part of it comes from the debate itself essentially becoming mature, with all the good points made, and with a pretty robust criticism easily visible to potential initiates.

        It’s like asking “why don’t teenagers en-masse join [any social movement that was previously very popular but is now regarded as destructive or undesirable]”. Because they read about the debates that occurred in the past and they learn the lessons without having to make the mistakes themselves.

      2. Doesntliketocomment

        I think teenagers in general tend to latch on to “new” ideas because they have a clarity and simplicity that mirrors the way teenagers themselves think, and that established ideas tend to have an adulterated air that makes them seem less true and noble. It makes sense in that we increasingly see old ideas successfully refloated in simplified forms with no acknowledgement of their past iterations.

    2. Shion Arita

      It makes sense with my progression. At one point in time I was pretty strongly new atheist (read specifically: I hung out online with that crowd), and that was in late high school. Today, I’m about to finish my PhD, and my days of /r/atheism and watching youtube videos about why the god people are wrong by the likes of Philhellenes and darkmatter 2525 have long passed. There are a few reasons for this:

      1. ‘Been there, done that, bought that hat.’ I have much more interesting things to do than look at criticisms of religion. For one I no longer live in an immediate community (as I did in my high school) where most of the people are religious in some fashion. I don’t have to figure out what I believe on the matter; I was raised catholic, and even at the point when I was closes to being religious I always entertained the notion that it might all not be true. But it was a question I had to answer for myself at that time. Now i’ts a settled issue. In hindsight I find myself rolling my eyes at the obviousness of it all. That’s hindsight for you, but I don’t have to go and revisit all that stuff. Religion is a significant force for harm in the world today, and if the issue comes up I will criticize it

      2. society is different. Religion holds less power than it did 10 years ago. being atheist back then was a lot more of a bold move, as was defending the gays. Today, I criticize other things, most concerning to me being the rise of SJWs in the last 3-4 years. I think they’re just as wrong as the fundamentalist christians, but the fundies aren’t going to win. The SJWs might. So I have to criticize the poisitions that I think are false that people who have serious power and influence take seriously rather than the ones they don’t.

      3. A lot of evaporative cooling. I feel like a lot of the people more like me left, and a lot of people who just want to make fun of fundies remained.

      4. Better places to go. Now I hang out on here, because this place has a higher IQ than pretty much any other internet community I’ve found, better epistemology norms, and has people that actually have different political, social, scientific, etc. beliefs in the same place, willing to have discussions with one another that contain actual CONTENT!

  92. Krill12

    “…since professional religious debaters like William Lane Craig tended to make short work of their amateur atheist opponents.”

    Personally, this is close to why. I’m not much impressed by Craig, which just tells me if you manage to lose to him you really don’t know what you’re talking about. And they didn’t. You say the mistake right out. “We should accept the scientifically true fact that God does not exist,” misses everything entirely, because God is not a science question.

    I don’t care that 46% of the US is creationist. Almost all of that 46% are not the intellectual elites of the group who believes in God. In the case of religion the intellectually lower groups are getting, however garbled or second hand, their beliefs from the actual intelligentsia of the religious. Who have far more nuanced ideas on things.

    But Religion, as you go up the chain the issues stop being scientific and start being philosophical, and somehow New Atheists failed to notice. They just argued against the more scientific issues of the layman, and the layman tends to believe on the basis of pastors/parents/priests/whatever. And so you get a particularly useless sort of arguing, where basically Dawkins is arguing with Cletus the Coal Miner, and no matter how much he wins those debates Cletus is going to continue his life because when Craig explains it on the TV it makes sense and he can go back to bed.

    To change the culture you have to successfully engage with the cultural elites. New Atheism failed to pass this minimum threshold by completely ignoring what the religious cultural elites were saying. As Dawkins asked when this was actually pointed out, “Do you have to read up on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?” The answer is yes, because you have to at least be able to argue the base assumptions on what a leprechaun is supposed to be, according to believers in leprechauns.

    At some point I think everybody sort of noticed this lack of engagement. For the normal person on the ground, they didn’t fully see it, but it became clear that nothing was changing and so everybody got bored, then annoyed.

    A side note on this is that religion is a bit more rigid in this regard than the other debates as well, due to the faith element. There is no aspect of faith involved in being a Republican. But even if say, an Imam can successfully navigate through the massive tomes on the Trinity and explain why it doesn’t make sense to a priest, the fallback is that it’s a mystery and our human understand can run into limits. New Atheism didn’t get anywhere near that level though, so it is a side note.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      I’m half-trolling here, but there were a few intellectual elites among New Atheists who were well aware of this and talked about Aquinas, modern philosophers of religion, etc. Aren’t you being unfair if you judge New Atheism based on its rank-and-file believers rather than on the best that its philosophy has to offer? 😛

      1. Krill12

        I don’t think I’d be remiss to say that we don’t get much more culturally elite among New Atheists than the Four Horsemen, all four of whom were/are terrible at talking about Aquinas (why is it always Aquinas?). It was them I was thinking of more than anybody else, and I’d hardly say they were/are merely rank and file members of the group. Of course they weren’t the only ones, but I never saw anybody who both identified as a New Atheist, and actually garnered serious consideration from religious Philosophers of Religion, or well known Theologians. Perhaps I’m just missing them which I admit is totally possible because I don’t follow Philosophy of Religion all that hard. From what I have seen however, the issue wasn’t that they didn’t talk about these higher planes of theoretical wool, but that they so mangled the basic ideas and definitions that their arguments were ignored.

        When climate skeptics and climate change advocates argue, at least the basic premises are understood and the words being used are the same between both parties. The wheels of debate are in motion even if the cart isn’t going anywhere. Not so with New Atheists.

        1. Nick

          The better end of New Atheism was totally willing to bring up authors like Graham Oppy, JL Mackie, or JS Sobel, who are competent and qualified to talk about Aquinas (even if I don’t think they’re right, of course). Those philosophers don’t (as far as I know) consider themselves New Atheists, though.
          ETA: Sorry, I didn’t complete the thought: I’m not sure whether the better end of New Atheism is itself competent to talk about those philosophers’ arguments and counterarguments (they may well just consider themselves “atheists” if they are, like Irenist suggests below); I was never really impressed, but I admit I’m biased in this regard and hardly sought out the best people to engage myself.

        2. Protagoras

          They are not all equal, certainly, but with respect to Dennett, I think the criticisms of Dennett by, e.g., Feser are considerably worse than the criticisms of Aquinas by Dennett. It seems to me that Dennett has good reasons for rejecting several of Aquinas’ presuppositions. He then drops those presuppositions and argues against what’s left of Aquinas without them. Feser whines that without the presuppositions Dennett is misrepresenting Aquinas, while completely ignoring (or occasionally misunderstanding, but usually ignoring) Dennett’s good reasons for dropping the presuppositions. I won’t say that Dennett deserves none of the blame for the miscommunication, but his critics badly understate the strength of his arguments.

          1. Irenist

            Dennett is a far more substantial thinker than the other three Horsemen. But I think Dawkins and “fedora neckbeards” have become the primary referent for the New Atheist label in the popular mind. That’s not really fair, but I think it’s what happened. Atheism can still take just pride in brilliant defenders like Oppy and Mackie, but as Nick says, no one would call them “new” atheists. I think we’re not discussing the collapse of the philosophical stance called atheism here, because it’s in fine health. We’re discussing the collapse of the “New Atheist” brand. It was a cool brand when it meant Dennett and Hitch, but now that a bunch of “off-brand” fedora neckbeards have adopted it, the cool atheists have fled for the exits, leaving mostly just the inept Dawkins as their public face.

            This isn’t primarily a story about worldviews. It’s a sad saga of poor brand management.

          2. Nick

            If there’s one place I can’t take Feser seriously (I mean, aside from his haranguing about homosexuality) it’s in philosophy of mind. I don’t know how much of his criticisms of Dennett are on philosophy of mind, free will, and related issues (I’ve only ever read Dennett on philosophy of mind stuff), but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the bulk of when he disagrees with him; to be honest, I don’t recall Feser discussing Dennett specifically much on atheism and theism, except in his usual list of people who misunderstand the cosmological argument. Is it his discussion of the cosmological argument you have in mind?

          3. Protagoras

            @Nick, Feser actually explicitly discusses Dennett’s philosophy of mind (and criticizes it incompetently), but also a lot of the issues are connected; the metaphysical assumptions involved in Feser’s version of the cosmological argument have some overlap with the metaphysical views involved in Feser’s philosophy of mind.

          4. Nick

            Protagoras,

            Searching his blog via Google, I can see Feser criticizes Dennett a bunch of times for presenting the usual caricature of the First Cause argument (the “it assumes everything has a cause” one), up to the point of calling him sleazy for it (which is completely unfair). It looks like it’s based on a passage from Breaking the Spell beginning:

            The Cosmological Argument, which in its simplest form states that since everything must have a cause the universe must have a cause – namely, God – doesn’t stay simple for long.

            I’m grabbing this off a page giving a brief criticism of the book; unfortunately, I don’t own the book, and I can’t find any more substantive quote of that section from a cursory Google search. If Dennett’s discussion really depends on “everything has a cause” being one of the premises of the argument, then it is a caricature, and that would have nothing to do with any of Dennett’s other positions. Is there another place where Feser deals with a different passage by Dennett then? I can check his Aquinas book or Scholastic Metaphysics or Five Proofs when I get home, but it’ll be a few hours. If it’s in The Last Superstition, I’m afraid I don’t own that one.

            Edited for typo.

        3. Saint Fiasco

          The Four Horsemen aren’t “culturally elite”. They are famous and popular precisely because they write for a layman audience.

      2. Irenist

        I think the intellectual elites among atheists are generally just called “atheists.”

        New Atheist : atheism :: Westboro Baptist : theism.

        “Atheism” hasn’t gone out of fashion. Only “New Atheism.” There are plenty of precincts in polite society where it is socially acceptable to be a theist. There are none where it is socially acceptable to be a member of Westboro Baptist. Atheism is respectable. Being a socially inept ignoramus (“New” Atheist) is not.

        To paraphrase Manuel II Paleologos on Islam from the stance I’d impute to a sophisticated atheist: “What the New Atheists brought that was true wasn’t “new”; what they brought that was new was idiotic and obnoxious.”

        I think that “New Atheist” now colloquially just means “atheist equivalent of a fundamentalist.” Any atheist who doesn’t come off that way won’t get the “new” modifier.

        (I’m a Catholic now, but I was an atheist when I read “The God Delusion”; I found it embarrassingly bad, and would’ve objected to being called a “new” atheist in much the same spirit that I would now object, as a Catholic, to being accused of being a Young Earth Creationist.)

        1. Controls Freak

          I think this is the right answer. In my recollection, the label “New Atheist” was really just applied to people who weren’t very good at it. If you jumped for anti-philosophy, you got the label. It was pretty concordant with “Scientism” (regardless of Scott trying to save the term), and it represented people who took the worst from logical positivism, dialed it up to eleven under the True and Righteous Name of YEA SCIENCE BITCH (TM), and couldn’t be bothered to listen when it was painstakingly pointed out just how badly they had missed the boat.

          I recall conversations about how maybe Dennett didn’t really belong under the banner, because he actually had some serious work. And my impression was that if you convinced someone to ‘regress’ back to the tried and true arguments for atheism, they basically just became “atheists”.

      3. Rambo Stalloney

        Scott – are you familiar with David Bentley Hart at all? He’s now without flaws (or ever far from a thesaurus), but he’s the best example I know of off-hand of a serious intellectual on the ‘religion’ side who repeatedly and pointedly skewers New Atheism for its illiteracy of theology/philosophy/history/lived-religious belief.

        Profile in the LARB: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/public-theology-in-retreat/#!
        DBH on New Atheism: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/05/believe-it-or-not

        1. Nick

          Hart is a serious intellectual and very much worth reading, but he’s not a very charitable one, and he has same tendency I accused John C Wright of, namely dressing up his arguments in ornate prose. Hart’s style is, if anything, even more ornate than Wright’s, and while clearer and more beautiful in my opinion, it’s too often for my taste dressing on a poor argument*. Of course, I have to admit my bias here: I’m a follower of Feser, and I’ve too often seen the two bloody each other over some slights, real or imagined, not to take a side on this, I’m afraid. 🙂

          *I should mention this is my impression from reading his essays, while I haven’t read his books, and I’ve heard nothing but good about them, especially The Experience of God.

          1. Matthias

            Agreed with much of the above. Hart is one of those people who’s compulsively readable in essay form but where the same style is unbearable at book length. I suspect the same is true for many other essayists I read primarily for style, for instance our host (no offense taken, I hope) or Sam Kriss, quoted above.

      4. bugsbycarlin

        Isn’t that kind of the point though? New Atheism was judged socially on its rank-and-file, and found not that much different from (rank-and-file) religion, eventually causing a loss of support. Which says nothing about the true merits of the intelligentsia of either camp, but could explain the social disfavor.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      Care to justify yourself? It’s something a lot of people find surprisingly-logically-sense-making, but nobody invests a lot of emotion or effort into caring about it. Sounds kind of like the opposite of religion to me.

      1. Rick Hull

        It’s hard to care about, even if it’s a Very Large Truth, and we care deeply about truth. So we might be living in a simulation, so what? We can’t ever know what’s beyond it or transcend, unless that’s an automatic part of dying, which happens regardless. All we have is our sim life and we make the best of it. It remains true that love and pain exist in our sim life, and no one wants to step in front of a sim bus.

        Just like I can tell the waking world from the dreaming one by which one has the critical buses. That, and evironmental persistence, mainly. Or let’s say we’re not in a sim but more like fish in an aquarium, the pets of some god. Does the recognition of this truth do anything for a fish? Could it possibly ascend to air breathing godhood via conscious choice based on this knowledge?

        So while the sim possibility can’t be ruled out, and because it’s very unlikely to be confirmed, and because it wouldn’t matter if it was, it seems futile to speculate further about its likelihood or care one way or another.

        1. Sebastian_H

          Yeah it is kind of like the strong materialist concept of thought. It may be true that everyone has thoughts purely based on sensory inputs plus developmental history plus genetics and there is nothing else. But you can’t ‘guide’ anything from that ‘insight’ because if it’s true you only believe it because of your inputs and the Islamic guy only believes his stuff because of his inputs and no of it matters because ‘convincing people of truth’ is a moot point.

      2. Pdubbs

        I think this argument feels right to many people because both answer the same existential need that humans seem to have. Religion and belief that we’re in a simulation both offer up a higher power and a reality that transcend our material existence. In the same vein the singularity (usually believed in alongside the simulation argument) maps on to The Rapture/Ragnarok/etc. as a divine reckoning that lets us know the world as it is doesn’t persist without us. You can even see a moral dimension to this, as in The Rapture God judges us and in the Singularity, the Righteousness of our pursuit of AGI leads to judgement in the form of friendly vs. unfriendly AI transforming all of existence. This moral dimension lets both guide the lives of their adherents and reject nihilism and relativism, which seem to make most people uncomfortable.

        These similarities in the psychological role played by religious belief and belief in simulation-ism/singularity/related memes make it very easy for people unconvinced by the latter to compare it to the former. If you instinctually reject fundamental ground for believing we’re in a simulation (like if you deny that simulations could experience qualia), then you probably don’t take the arguments for it very seriously and view justifications for the belief in a similar way to how people who instinctually reject religion view Christian apologists.

      3. kokotajlod@gmail.com

        Agreeing with Scott here. Perhaps I live in a bubble, but the people I know who take the simulation hypothesis seriously are very un-religious in exactly the way Scott says: They are intellectually convinced by it but they don’t let that sink in to their actual beliefs and behavior very much; they are embarrassed to talk about it even. It’s the exact opposite of something believed on faith because of upbringing or wishful thinking. Meanwhile, the people who say it’s a religion don’t give reasons to reject the arguments, they just do surface-level pattern matching.

        On the list of things-which-are-kinda-like-a-religion, believing in a simulation is about as low on the list as possible, today at least. I agree that once people start taking the hypothesis more seriously and it starts to sink into the wider culture, it’ll probably rise through the ranks quickly. Hopefully this will never happen.

      4. Jaskologist

        I do not think the simulation hypothesis is a religion, per my usual definition. But I do think belief in it it undermines any rational basis someone might claim for atheism.

        What argument is there that works against theism but not the simulators? Maybe the Creator was really a surly grad student, but that doesn’t mean He didn’t decide to communicate with us via a burning bush (the control universe got a normal bush, naturally). I guess you could shake your fist at Him about how He doesn’t deserve your worship, but I expect that to be about as effectual as the bacterial protests when they go to the autoclave.

  93. Ruben

    My friend quipped: Criticising homeopathy is homeopathy for rationalists. A crude hobby for the the wealthy, which cannot work because of incorrect method and dosage. Further, it allows you to be smug thanks to esoteric knowledge. But still, it gives you such a nice comforting feeling.

    That I find this funny despite recognising an earlier self in this is evidence for your point here. We cannot tolerate too much smugness.

    1. SebWanderer

      That’s right. We shouldn’t criticize homeopathy. That’s just smug and pedantic.

      After all, who cares if homeopaths are treated by a large number of people (and even some governments) as legitimate doctors? The worst that could happen is that some poor soul with pancreatic cancer will spend almost all of their money on a treatment that doesn’t work and die anyway, like it happened to an acquaintance of mine.

      It’s not such a big deal.

      1. Ruben

        Well, he agrees with that. I thought this was obvious. The joke (“incorrect method and dosage”) is that many who make it (one of their) mission(s) to criticise it, do so in a way that won’t convince homeopaths, the government, doctors, or homeopathy-users, but will reliably signal to their in-group that they know by virtue of superior rationality what a scam these retards have fallen for. Your faux outrage may be a good example of this signalling thing, I don’t know. Anyway, I agree, it should probably be banned (and I’ve had friends fall prey to such scammers too, which is why I “recognised an earlier self” in this).

  94. thepenforests

    I feel like it’s gotta come down to status dynamics, at some level. I think people tended to view vocal atheists as making a status claim with their beliefs – it wasn’t “God doesn’t exist,” it was “God doesn’t exist, and I’m smarter than you for realizing it.” People are particularly allergic to status grabs relating to intelligence, for whatever reason, and I think the New Atheists triggered that in droves. I get the feeling that to a lot of people, loudly proclaiming the truth of atheism gradually became sort of equivalent to bragging about having a high IQ score – it was almost gauche, something you just shouldn’t do; something that proved that you probably weren’t as smart as you thought you were. So the movement kind of withered, at least in terms of people visibly and vocally participating in it.

    …except that obviously doesn’t totally work as an explanation, because a lot of social justice activism consists of exactly the same kind of status grabs, except made in the moral realm, and people don’t seem to have nearly as much of a problem with that. Which is…weird. People may hate it when someone claims to be more intelligent than they are, but they also don’t much like it when someone claims to be a better and more virtuous person than they are.

    Part of me wants to (cynically) say that it’s just a function of the initial makeup of the movement, and whether or not it’s able to reach a critical mass of acceptance in the minds of the population. The initial faces of the New Atheist movement were mostly Dawkins, Harris and Dennet, who basically stood in for “Science” as a whole to the public. And people…well, I think people do tend to like scientists in general, as long as they’re suitably self-effacing and humble and talk about “the limits of scientific inquiry” and all that. But I also think that the second a scientist oversteps their bounds, and makes it clear that they think they’re smarter than the rest of the population, feathers get ruffled pretty quickly. Plus, bundled in along with the scientists in the New Atheism package were also nerds and geeks other misfits, who obviously have never been the most popular groups of people in the world. I think ultimately New Atheism as a movement failed because people pushed back against what they saw as intellectual arrogance/overreach, and the pushback was largely successful because the people who made up the movement didn’t start out with enough popularity to withstand it.

    Whereas in the social justice movement…well, to be honest I’m horrendously unqualified to talk about the history of the social justice movement, being only familiar with like the last ten years of it, and even that only passingly. I guess I’ll just say that I think the “initial” faces of social justice (whatever that means, with its history going back so far – maybe the initial faces of “recent” social justice?) were a lot more sympathetic to most people than the New Atheists were. Either the things they were saying were more innocuous (“We just want everyone to be equal!”) or when they were saying things more akin to moral status grabs, everyone understood that it was because they had been marginalized, or they were doing it in a “punching up” kind of way. So unlike New Atheism, the social justice movement didn’t trigger as many people’s allergies, which allowed it to grow – after all, it mostly just consisted of things that everyone agreed about anyway (“women are people, duh”). And importantly, I think this allowed it to not just grow, but grow to a point where a critical mass was reached, where the majority of [a certain subset of] the population either strongly subscribed to the movement themselves, or believed that the majority of [a certain subset of] the population strongly subscribed to the movement. And this meant that once social justice activism did get to the point where it moved beyond innocuous claims, where I think normally people would have said “Uh, wait, it really seems like you’re trying to unjustifiably high road us here, this isn’t cool,” it was kind of too late. People can band together to quash an upstart movement when it’s just getting started and has low status, but past a certain point that becomes really difficult – status is weird and self-perpetuating and all that.

    I think that’s part of it, anyway, although obviously not the whole story.

    1. TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

      People are particularly allergic to status grabs relating to intelligence, for whatever reason,

      People push back against status grabs in proportion to how easy they are to push back against. Status grabs relating to physical attributes are hard to push against, because they are obvious to the naked eye. Status grabs about intelligence are easy to push against, because not many people have Nobel prizes. That kind of rounds of to a “don’t boast about intelligence” rule.

    2. Sebastian_H

      You’re on to an important thread here. One thing I’ve repeatedly seen in SJW discourse (which ironically reflects my scary upbringing in fundamentalist Christianity) is an attempt to leverage guilt in a way to gain status by making the person you’re talking to more and more guilty. Both of those groups also seem to have little sense of proportion. Thinking gay thoughts really isn’t like molesting children (aimed at fundamentalist christians). Misreading a woman’s interest signals and then backing off as she becomes clearer really isn’t like rape. But you can leverage the guilt around those things to win status games. When you do that the focus is on the ‘guilty’ so it doesn’t immediately trigger the social allergy to self aggrandizement.

    3. liskantope

      Reading your comment gives me the idea that maybe there’s something inherently more effective about a movement whose founding members were visibly vulnerable and directly affected by the wrongs they were protesting against. Richard Dawkins and his ilk may complain about injustices done in the name of religion, such as burning heretics at the stake, stifling scientific inquiry, violence against women, and persecution of gays, but by the time they started doing so, they (maybe with the exception of Steven Fry, who is gay) seemed to be in really safe from these harms and their indignation didn’t quite ring as genuine and desperate. I don’t know who the “founding members” of the modern SJ movement were, or even if there were any central ones, but I imagine the early SJ activists themselves were women, gay, minorities, etc. who were speaking from a vulnerable position of having been directly hurt by what they were protesting against.

      Then again, this reads as an almost tautological argument for why Social Justice has done better than New Atheism.

  95. wireheadwannabe

    There’s a psychological split between the sort of person who gets passionate about atheism because Logic and Reason, and the sort of person who doesn’t have strong opinions on the matter, but disbelieves just enough that they’re willing to fight against organized religion in the name of social justice. The latter group noticed that the former tended to also have its share of people who were critical of e.g. feminism for the same reasons that you are, and that made them enemies.

    1. Paul Zrimsek

      A big part of the problem is that in non-academic contexts “because Logic and Reason” tends to get itself interpreted as “because Look How Clever I Am”, unless the speaker takes pains to head it off. The New Atheists, it’s fair to say, have not taken pains. (The “village atheist” was a figure of fun long before anyone had heard of Dawkins.)

  96. Jane Ire

    Isn’t this just an alignment of incentives? One (particularly-culture-war-sensitive-so-please-lets-all-be-civil) aspect to this I think is the obvious divide between the “hip” Social Justice Warriors and the “not-so-hip” New Atheists.

    If I close my eyes and think about what we think about when we think about a New Atheist (not a famous one), I think of a mouth-breathy, neck-bearded, loosely-t-shirted, oily-skinned guy, sitting in front of his laptop at 2am, getting worked up about a YouTube video (so much for my being sensitive….sorry about that).

    If I close my eyes and think about what we think about when we think about an SJW, there are indeed not-so-hip individuals. But there are also writers for NYT, Vox, Boston Review. There are guys with photogenic smiles, women with lots of (attractive, appropriately colour-filtered) selfies on their Instagram. When I think of a guy writing “#MaleFeminist” sincerely, the guy I picture isn’t overwhelmingly attractive, cool, magnetic…but he’s a long way away from the stereotypical image of an NA.

    It should be obvious, therefore, that signaling Vox-worthy opinions is going to give you a lot more cache out in the real world than signaling that you listen to the Waking Up podcast.

    Indeed, one thing I picture when I picture as SJW is “someone who is somewhat hip, but not quite that hip”. In other words, someone who occasionally needs progressive opinions to get some attention out in the real world.

    Why? I’m not sure. Here’s a couple of points though.

    NAs, to my mind, came about around the time that a lot of internet discussions were on “chatboards” and things (this is kinda before my time so I’m 100% on the preferred lingo). SJWs came later, and internet discussions had devolved into the famous “Twitter battle”. When I close my eyes and picture “the kinds of people who were on the internet around the time the God Delusion was published”, the mental image I have is pretty close to an NA. If I close my eyes and picture “averagely-cool person’s facebook account”, the mental image I have is pretty close to an SJW (or at least a heavily left-leaning individual). One mechanism for creating social cohesion that separates NA from SJW is how an inappropriate remark (in SJW-land) can have catastrophic effects, whereas an inappropriate remark (in NA-land) tends to get ignored, or read with a great deal of charity (think about Dawkins’s line about burqas being “bin-liners”). If an online NA community is forming on a sub-Reddit (again, before my time, maybe it didn’t happened on Reddit…) then members are somewhat more anonymous. If an online SJW community is forming on Facebook or Twitter, then members are much much less anonymous. And here “anonymous” means not only “they know where I live” but also “they know ‘my identity’, what I’m like, what I’m into”.

    Another point: think of the variety of opinions that you could fit under “SJW”. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia – yes. But also: wealth inequality, which includes welfare, health-care, tax reform, and whole other slate of issues (think, once again, of the sorts of things Vox covers). To be a progressive, you get to care about a lot of different things, you get to signal empathy from a lot of different angles about a lot of different people. Who do NAs get to signal empathy about? Minorities in Islamic-majority countries, gay kids living in rural Louisiana…NA don’t get to signal about voting-rights, or single-payer. The averagely progressive person gets a news-story every day to jump on.

    And indeed the element on personal contact is important here. Writers for Vox know someone who is gay and who got bullied in high school, know a woman who was harassed on the bus that morning. NAs don’t know that many trans-individuals living in Tehran. An SJW (or an averagely-cool person who joined Facebook around the time everyone joined Facebook) thus responds positively to a Vox article on the gay wedding-cake issue (‘hey my best friend’s brother is gay and has eaten cake before’), but not so positively to an article titled “12 Totally Ludicrous Things Episcopalians ACTUALLY BELIEVE” (‘what my grandma is gay how dare Vox’).

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      Again, I think “hipness” is downstream of who’s winning. If the atheists had won and the feminists had lost, we’d be talking about the cool suave Christopher Hitchens types vs. purple-haired non-leg-shaving SJWs.

      1. Jane Ire

        But if you think about the kinds of arguments made by atheists vs SJWs, each appeals to different sensibilities, and those sensibilities are interlinked with social literacy ability and knowledge vs logical/empirical abilities and knowledge.

        Atheist arguments tend to be about failures of logic or information or common sense: “Christian believe a book that, when it isn’t flatly contradicting itself, makes claims about the origin of the universe that we now know can’t be true.”

        SJW arguments are more like failure of empathy: “How can you be against single-payer? My boyfriend is trans and has suffered depression all his life. Republican efforts to replace Obamacare will leave him out in the cold, unable to access mental healthcare.”

        Isn’t one argument way more likely to make you “cool”, in so far as you’ll have more friends if you’re always signalling empathy, rather than signalling logical ability? Imagine reversing these kinds-of-arguments.

        (To the extent that atheist “have won”, its by using arguments that appeal to SJWs – “Hardcore Christians like Mike Pence wants to make being gay illegal”)

        1. liskantope

          The other day I was reflecting on how my own Discourse interests over the last decade have shifted from arguing over non-normative empirical facts to arguing over normative assertions. I think this is somehow correlated with a similar shift in the larger-scale internet culture wars: nowadays there’s a lot less debate over creationism, theism, etc. and a lot more over social justice issues.

      2. eyeballfrog

        “purple-haired non-leg-shaving SJWs.”

        The parallelism would have worked much better had you used the proper term “legbeard”.

    2. Deiseach

      an article titled “12 Totally Ludicrous Things Episcopalians ACTUALLY BELIEVE”

      Come off it, you’re saying Episcopalians believe as many as twelve things? You expect me to swallow that unquestioningly, Vox? 😀

      1. dodrian

        “Anglicanism is united around the idea that they’re not entirely certain what they believe.”

        (Credit to Rich Wyld for that one, I think, though I can’t find where.)

  97. eterevsky

    In my opinion, r/Atheism is the most criclejerking subreddit I’ve ever seen. Half of the posts there are about yet another pastor blamed of doing something inappropriate with the boys from the church choir. For some reason the subscribers of the named subreddit believe that every such news is a strong argument against the existance of God.

    1. Whitedeath

      Every circlejerk gets a counterjerk. I think Scott put it really well recently

      I think I know why this question bothers me so much, and it’s because I hate when faux-intellectuals give stupid black-and-white narratives that are the tiniest sliver more sophisticated than the stupid black-and-white narratives that the general population believes, then demand to be celebrated for their genius and have everyone who disagrees with them shunned as gullible science-denying fools.
      (I know a lot of people accuse me and this blog of doing exactly this, and I’m sorry. All I can say is that I’m at the odd-numbered levels of some signaling game you’re at the even-numbered levels of, and it sucks for all of us.)

      Basically New Atheism is base level, anti-New Atheism is next level, and Scott appears to be on the 3rd level. Also he kinda answers his own question as to why so many people hate on New Atheists. It’s that they give simplistic black and white narratives about religion and culture and then say anyone who disagrees with them is just relying on feelings.

      1. Scott Alexander Post author

        “Basically New Atheism is base level”

        Religious fundamentalism is base level. I can totally see how you would miss this, I almost missed this reading over your comment, but it’s still kind of shocking that it’s possible to miss.

        1. Balioc

          It’s really not. This usually isn’t important, but sometimes you’re trying to map out cultural structures at the macro level…

          Base level = “not actually giving any shits personally about metaphysics, going with the flow of whatever your community’s dominant ideology propounds.” This covers 90%+ of humans, whether they’re medieval Catholic peasants [who are happy to leave out little offerings for the fairies] or ’90s tits-n-beer liberals [who are all in favor of fighting racism and sexism, so long as it results in a more-fun version of the society they already know and love] or contemporary Red Tribe Christians [who may well buy into horoscopes and UFOs].

          Religious fundamentalism is the first level of “we have to get the truth right, truth matters, caring about the big questions is important.” Culturally speaking, it grows from the same kind of thinking as “SCIENCE SAYS THAT CLIMATE CHANGE AND GUN CONTROL AND PATRIARCHY,” seeded in a different bed.

          The level above that is the level where real independence starts appearing and thinkers differentiate from each other on the individual level.

          1. Shion Arita

            Is there a longer thing talking about these levels?

            I might have missed it, and it seems like something is being referred to here. And it sounds pretty interesting.

          2. Jack

            It’s an argument game wherein the player taxonomizes a bunch of positions as a chain of reactions. “Base level” is the beginning of the chain, and each next level is a response to the level above it. In some instances this is meant to literally reflect the thought process. “I could bluff, but then what if she knows I’m bluffing? But I know she thinks I’m bluffing! But what if she thinks I think she…” and so on. But the game has been generalized.

            As with all argument games there are advantages and disadvantages. By conceiving of one’s position as part of a series of reactions, one might be prompted to develop an understanding of other positions and their inter-relation. On the other hand, this game comes with an apparently natural hierarchy and people seem very often to fallaciously assume that being at a higher level in the chain means one’s position is more likely correct. More general disadvantages of argument games also arise: playing this game can distract people into a meta-conversation, and it can mislead the players into feeling smart.

            A better game to play is to react to the level game by responding to it with an ironic analysis, thus demonstrating that one has fully understood and transcended the base level game.

    2. Harry Maurice Johnston

      New Atheism was after my time, but it seems more likely that this is being presented as an argument against the premise that being religious is a good thing; against belief in belief rather than against the belief itself.

      Not that it’s a very good argument for that. But it isn’t as much of a non sequitur as you are suggesting.

  98. Rambo Stalloney

    As someone who has trended away from New Atheism to become more and more intrigued by traditional orthodoxy, I can say New Atheism has failed me because for the most part it seems like it generally has no idea what “religion” even is, what it is that most orthodox faith traditions confess to believe, how science relates to those claims, and it has a nasty tendency to misstate the historical record to score cheap points with people who aren’t going to fact check it.

    The first episode of NDT’s ‘Cosmos’ sealed it for me. Give me David Bentley Hart any day over that dreck.

    1. hnau

      +1 for DBH.

      But to be fair, it takes two to tango. I’ve sometimes wondered if Fundamentalism and New Atheism are two sides of the same coin. Each one serves as a strawman / weak man for the other, and they both accept certain assumptions about the terms and parameters of the debate that seriously distort orthodox positions. Also, people seem disproportionately likely to convert from one to the other or vice versa.

      1. Whitedeath

        Yeah I also think New Atheism is kinda the mirror image of fundamentalism. Both are aggressively proselytizing movements who take a literalist understanding of the text.

      2. Rambo Stalloney

        I think you’re totally right. I think New Atheism makes more sense as an incredulist reaction to Evangelical fundamentalism. If you think the Earth is 6000 years old, then obviously science is going to have all kinds of power to make direct contradictions.

        Regarding people converting from one to another, that’s spot on in my experience as well. I’m almost willing to believe that certain people have some psychological requirement for black/white clarity, so when they flip they flip hard.

      3. sconn

        Yes — people who were raised fundamentalist convert to New Atheist and become just as un-nuanced and aggresively proselytizing about their new belief as they were about their old one. It’s just foreign to anyone raised in progressive religion, where one of the number one dogmas is, “Ethics are important and the specifics of people’s beliefs are not; it’s the epitome of rudeness to question or criticize an otherwise-decent person’s private belief.” Members of progressive religions swap beliefs pretty seamlessly and continue to have friends in their old congregations. Even if they become atheist, they’re not going to suddenly start believing the Episcopalians back at their old church are suddenly evil.

      1. Rambo Stalloney

        Maybe not New Atheist proper, but a clear derivative where the narrative is that Science® is the key mover in human history. Religious authorities don’t like Giordano Bruno? Well, clearly it’s because he’s for Science® and the Church is willing to kill to suppress it!

        Full disclosure: I tapped out midway through the first episode, and I doubt this continued to be a primary theme in the rest of the show.

      2. Deiseach

        The new version of Cosmos? Probably not Neil deGrasse Tyson’s fault, but the first episode containing Seth MacFarlane’s insisted-upon cartoon version of “Giordano Bruno, Martyr For and Of Science” didn’t help. (I was laughing at St Robert Bellarmine’s Evil Guyliner that appears to have run very streakily in this image – remember kids, when you’re toasting heretics, only Maybelline will do!)

        Plainly Galileo had been played out as too old hat for the Religion Vs Science gimmick, but Bruno as Real Science Lovin’ Dude? This is a guy who believed in re-incarnation (amongst other things) and, if he were dumped down in today’s society, would be run out of rationalist circles on a rail for his belief in woo.

    2. ssc35222

      “For the most part it seems like it generally has no idea what ‘religion’ even is, what it is that most orthodox faith traditions confess to believe, how science relates to those claims.”

      +1. The New Atheists’ conceit is that science and religion fundamentally ask the same questions.

    3. Koken

      This is a reaction to New Atheism I’ve heard plenty of times, usually with frustratingly little fleshing out of what religion really is. Are you able to give any more indication within the reasonable constraints of a post here as to what you would understand religion as being, in contrast to what New Atheists consider it to be?

      1. Nick

        Rambo Stalloney refers to “orthodox faith traditions” and to DB Hart, so he probably has in mind Catholicism or Orthodoxy, or mainline Christianity of some kind anyway.

      2. Rambo Stalloney

        Sure – I can try.

        First – I think one problem is that NA (New Atheism) generally treats religion as some sort of monolithic thing, as if Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, et al are orderly descendents of a thing called ‘religion’. IMHO this is a category error. There are enough major differences and variations between each that ascribing them as flavors of a common parent is reductive to the absurd.

        Take for instance the difference between Judaism and Christianity. While both are monotheisms, and more or less around a common God (excluding the messiness of Trinitarian belief) there are huge differences. Christianity is for the most part a religion based on propositional belief (excluding edge cases like the Copts, a Christian is typically one who chooses to believe in the historical figure of Jesus as a universaling avenue to salvation and all that entails) whereas Judaism is traditionally comingled with ethnic considerations (relationship of God to the nation of Israel, rules on who is Jewish based on parents, etc…). Are those things the same? Sort of. But they’re also _really_, _really_ different. Enough so that they’re not at all vulnerable to the same kind of scientific falsifiability. Sure digging up Jesus would set Christianity back, but I don’t think it would touch Judaism, because they don’t have any sort of propositional, factual claim as the foundation of the belief.

        Now throw Buddhism into the mix. I don’t know all that much about it, but AFAIK Buddhism is nothing like either of these two things. Buddha isn’t metaphysically God in anything like the way God is God in a big monotheism, and being Buddhist isn’t anything at all like being Catholic in either belief or practice (again, AFAIK). So, if you can’t really disprove Christianity / Judaism / Buddhism in one book. At best you’d need three books, and each book would be required to define what exactly the ‘religion’ it purports to disprove is, how it’s axiomatically built from scientifically falsifiable events, and then do the science. If such books exist I’ve never seen them.

        [Historical Aside] – A good example of the category error is that while we as modern might both say ancient pagan Romans and ancient early-church Christians are “religious”, a primary charge leveled against early-church Christians by Roman authorities was that they were in fact “atheists”. [citation needed]

        So, my answer to ‘what is religion’ is something like “everything, but also nothing”. If you ask, “What is Catholocism” I can probably venture a definition. If you ask what Buddhism is I can at best venture a guess. If you ask me how African animism works I’ve got no frigging clue.

        1. Doctor Mist

          Humm… Say you posit the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Universal Kidney Soul, but add in a bunch of stuff about how to live a psychologically healthy life, and how great our heritage of popular sovereignty is, and how gross it is to have tattoos all over your body, and how laudable it is to donate 10% of your income to EA. The result is pretty clearly a different animal from Catholicism or Buddhism. But let’s face it, to the extent that it has parts that are supposed to be exempt from or unamenable to unbiased empirical inquiry, I’d still expect a consistent materialist to criticize it for those parts, no matter how unobjectionable the rest of it is.

          I smell a little motte/bailey here. “No, we’re not a religion, we’re a rich cultural ethos that just happens to believe in an Invisible Friend!”

        2. Nornagest

          being Buddhist isn’t anything at all like being Catholic in either belief or practice

          Folk religions generally resemble each other more than religious canon does. The logic of Buddhism and Catholicism is quite different, but Buddhism as historically practiced has deontological codes of behavior, a well-developed library of rituals, a division between lay and clerical roles, saints or deities (depends how you’re counting) that you pray to for intercession in specific fields, heavens and hells, a judgment of sins after death, a personification of evil and temptation, and so on. From what I’ve read about aboriginal religions in various parts of the world, you could say similar stuff for many of them.

  99. hnau

    Alternative theory: the New Atheists got thrown overboard because their discourse was actively inconvenient.

    Modern progressivism doesn’t want to disprove or destroy religion. It wants to ignore it, marginalize it, laugh it off, and forget that it ever existed– or at best keep it around as a boogeyman to scare children with. The problem with the New Atheists is that they actually engage in religious debates. Which, to progressives who want to move people (or at least elites) away from religion, is one of the worst things that could happen.

    Imagine a city council that’s trying to ignore an environmental issue of some kind– say, a polluting factory that activists are protesting. But one of the council members won’t shut up about how terrible the activists are, how dangerous their ideas are, how they’re going to ruin the city, etc.. This actually hurts the council’s cause in multiple ways. First, it makes the issue harder to ignore. Second, it makes otherwise indifferent people curious about those activists and their dangerous ideas. Third, it creates extra alienation and polarization, which increases the risk to the status quo (i.e. things moving forward as they have been). Fourth, it points everyone who’s inclined to oppose the council straight at one of the most dramatic forms of opposition.

    The surprising corollary is that a lot of serious Christians tend to like / respect / appreciate the New Atheists. One of the most theologically conservative teachers at my (Christian) high school would often show video of debates between New Atheists and Christian apologists in class. (There’s also a less positive side to this, in that New Atheists and fundamentalist Christians can feed off each other’s acrimony and bad arguments, and end up adopting more extreme, aggressive, caricatured positions in response. It’s a vaguely toxoplasma-like vicious cycle.)

  100. mikemosz

    This may be somewhat subjective rather than an overarching theory, but I’m precisely the kind of person you’re talking about, an atheist that completely lost interest in New Atheism despite agreeing with pretty much everything they say.

    I’d definitely agree that the major turning point was the pivot of criticising religion as a belief to specifically criticise Muslims as people. From what I saw, the New Atheists saw anti-Islamism as a foot in the door – if people can see how evil Islam is, maybe they’ll see how evil all religions are! – but never got past that first phase and essentially wound up going from ‘religion is false’ to ‘Islam is uniquely bad among religions.’ Along with this comes support for a variety of positions that many liberals would consider discriminatory and support for political positions that involve invading or oppressing Muslim countries; Sam Harris basically goes on about almost nothing else. It’s a turn-off.

    Second of all, the message is fairly repetitive and hasn’t evolved and just keeps repeating the same thing. I think it’s by definition an issue where it’s hard to have tangible progress – feminists have tangible goals like strengthening protection for harassment victims, Black Lives Matter can push for accountability in the police, but atheism’s only goal can be to slowly convince – it would be hugely immoral to push for the government to ban religious belief, as much as I sometimes feel like the New Atheists would want to. And since they’re not reaching anyone not already convinced anyway, all they do is publish the same screeds, and people get bored.

    The key point though is at some point the New Atheists (with the exception of Dennett) went from analysing the morality of religious belief to a perspective that religious belief is the unique and overriding cause of bad action, and therefore the goal of ethics is to reduce religious belief by any means necessary. At this point, while their critiques of religion remained true, they stopped analysing their own morality because it was done in the name of atheism and forgot that, say, discriminating against people based on religion/ethnic origin (which are often intertwined) has had some terrible consequences in the past. At that point, they become a sort of one-trick pony, and have both become dull and lost the moral high ground.

    1. kindlingourfires

      Along with this comes support for a variety of positions that many liberals would consider discriminatory and support for political positions that involve invading or oppressing Muslim countries; Sam Harris basically goes on about almost nothing else.

      As someone who listens to Sam Harris a lot, this is really untrue. Of all the hours I’ve heard him talk, the only thing that somewhat maps to invading/oppressing Muslim countries is that he’s made some points in support of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

      And yet, I get the feeling that your perception is really common and people think that’s all Sam Harris is. So indeed – how did new atheism fail so miserably?

      1. Jiro

        So indeed – how did new atheism fail so miserably?

        A combination of mildly anti-Islam ideas, and social justice lumping all anti-Islam together in one Islamophobia bucket no matter how mild it is.

        It’s like saying “Damore didn’t say anything bad about women and he even reiterated he supports equality; why is everyone against him?” Because the slightest deviation gets exaggerated into pure evil.

    2. meh

      the pivot of criticising religion as a belief to specifically criticise Muslims as people.

      Can you give an example of this?

    3. SebWanderer

      I’d definitely agree that the major turning point was the pivot of criticising religion as a belief to specifically criticize Muslims as people.

      This never happened. And the fact that so many people on the Blue Tribe think it did both annoys and disturbs me. (BTW, I identify as Blue/Grey-ish).

      All the criticism I hear from people like, for example, Bill Maher (another famous atheist liberal who became persona non-grata among the Blues for this very same reason) is criticism of Islam, NOT Muslims.

      If the Blues can’t tell the difference between doctrine and believers, or between religion and race, they’re either just plain stupid, or their brains are taking some dangerous mental shortcuts as an instinctive reflex to catch dog-whistle words which doesn’t allow them to pick on these important yet subtle differences.

      I think that’s a great part of what’s going on. “Islam is a brutal religion” sounds too much like what a racist neocon would say (even though the statement is not bigoted by itself) and the “Get-Outraged-At-Right-Wingers” sensor on their heads goes haywire.

      From what I saw, the New Atheists saw anti-Islamism as a foot in the door – if people can see how evil Islam is, maybe they’ll see how evil all religions are!

      No. It just happened that ISIS and increasing Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe became a much bigger threat than Young Earth Creationism (which is already in decline, and has been debunked to death) or the Westboro Baptist Church.
      In the fight against Islamic radicalization, New Atheists found their new Raison d’être, since they pretty much defeated (at least for now) their previous opponents.

      – but never got past that first phase and essentially wound up going from ‘religion is false’ to ‘Islam is uniquely bad among religions.’

      Only because, these days, it is.

      Both because of the increasing phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, often times perpetrated by newly converted or radicalized westerners, the lack of a tradition of separation of church and state in many – not all – Islamic countries, and the fact that the Qur’an as a text is significantly more difficult to “reinterpret” in a way that is compatible with democracy and human rights (Not impossible, but harder than with Christianity or Judaism).

      Along with this comes support for a variety of positions that many liberals would consider discriminatory.

      You have a point here.

      Certainly ideas like limiting the number of immigrants coming into Western Europe, thoroughly vetting them to check for signs of extremist affiliation, and trying to integrate them into mainstream European culture could (and often are) interpreted as forms of discrimination. I don’t agree with such interpretation though.

      and support for political positions that involve invading or oppressing Muslim countries; Sam Harris basically goes on about almost nothing else. It’s a turn-off.

      I rarely listen to Harris, so I can’t comment about that. But Dawkins doesn’t appear to me to be the hawkish type.

      1. mikemosz

        Thanks for your replies. While I understand your positions, I think they’re actually a perfect encapsulation of the sorts of things I dislike in New Atheism. I’d like to list a few if I can.

        – This is a problem I have with every subculture, but internal jargon is essentially a form of self-marginalisation. What the hell is Blue vs. Gray? I couldn’t even Google it in the first three tries, I’m guessing ‘blue’ is ‘mainstream progressive’?

        – Statements like ‘can’t tell the difference between doctrine and believers,’ as though this were obvious, are something I reject. The interplay between belief and behaviour is extremely complex and it’s in the nature of religion that the vast majority of its adherents constantly behave in ways that contradict their beliefs. Moreover, when a label refers to both a belief system and a group, it’s really easy to slip from one to the other.

        – The idea that the Koran is uniquely difficult to re-interpret is an atheist meme (one I used to believe!) that I also don’t believe. It completely fails to explain the variability of Muslim societies across time and across geography, and also why Islam went through periods of enlightenment while Christianity was struggling. By this thesis Buddhist wars shouldn’t happen but in fact they do so constantly. I think the idea that you can predict behaviour based on the content of a religious text doesn’t hold water – it can help predict which groups get oppressed but not whether the society’s oppressive. Again, it looks like reasoning motivated to show had bad the scary Muslims are.

        – The idea that the rise of ISIS somehow changed the analysis of a 1400-year-old religion shows that it’s motivated by emotion not reason. Would it then be the case that the left was uniquely bad in the 70s, that any decade one group commits more atrocities than another that one suddenly becomes the worst? Just because it’s happening to us – that Western society is living with a slightly higher level of violence – doesn’t mean it’s of great historical import. Neither the Young Earth Creationists nor the Westboro Baptist Church were ever a violent threat, they were just the most broadly reviled and therefore taken up by the New Atheists. Now they’ve done the same to Muslims, but miscalculated because an entire group is not the same as a few crackpots.

        – Finally the ‘anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot’ tone is pretty typical of New Atheist writing, and difficult to engage with.

        1. Harry Maurice Johnston

          I’m not certain whether this was the very first use of “Blue Tribe”, “Red Tribe”, and “Gray Tribe”, but based on a Google search I think it was at least first popularized here, see I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup (skip to section IV if you like) hence the tendency to assume other readers will understand. 🙂 It’s more of a libertarian/rationalist term than a New Atheist one. (Also seems to be popular amongst certain right-wing groups, unfortunately.)

  101. Jack

    Perhaps this is a bubble thing, but in my bubble the obvious hypothesis is that if new atheism failed it’s because of islamophobia. Judging by my newsfeeds, prominent new atheists range from saying strongly uncompassionate things to saying maybe-true-but-clearly-fraught-in-this-climate-of-islamophobia things. I’m quite surprised you wrote a whole column about this without even mentioning islam et c.

      1. Jack

        Are you saying that new atheists are Kantorovich-s who do not know how to say “religion bad” without saying impolitic but true things about muslims, or that SCC is a Kolmogorov who thinks in his social group he would be punished for speaking the dangerous truth that new atheism failed because of islamophobia? (Or something else?) To be clear, I have no strong view on whether it is true that new atheism “failed” because of islamophobia, I’m just surprised that the hypothesis wasn’t even considered when it seems so obvious to me (obvious as a hypothesis to consider).

        1. hnau

          I was saying the first one. Though I’d back off from “impolitic but true” to just “impolitic”– I have no reason to doubt that the arguments are meant sincerely and in good faith, but it’s still possible they simply got the facts wrong.

      2. Jack

        Since I see that my query has been taken up in earnest above (including my expression of surprise), I’d like to put out a call here for any explanations of this omission.

    1. jasonbayz

      “maybe-true-but-clearly-fraught-in-this-climate-of-islamophobia”

      I believe the technical term is “hate-fact.”

  102. orin

    The New Atheist movement is just a banal example of the maxim that most people are ignorant, and if you successfully convince a large number people to believe something to be true, most will believe it to be true for the wrong reasons. Essentially you’re trading people believing in something false for ignorant reasons, to believing something true for ignorant reasons. And ignorant people are obnoxious. In this case, the ignorance is in philosophy, which is related to the fact that the New Atheist movement is aligned with a naively scientistic STEMlord attitude that eschews expert consensus in one field (philosophy) while simultaneously lamenting that expert consensus in other fields (climate science, for example) are not given enough credence.

      1. JohnofSalisbury

        Expert consensus in the specific sub-field of Philosophy of Religion is not, however. Although there’s obvious selection bias going on, ‘Expert consensus in philosophy is atheist’ is misleading. Whether or not ‘eschewing expert consensus’ is a good way to describe it, there was a genuine phenomenon of New Atheist STEMmers claiming philosophical competence they did not possess, and belittling philosophy when they met resistance.

        1. Urstoff

          Philosophy of religion selects for theists; there’s not much for atheist philosophers to do in current philosophy of religion. “There’s not enough evidence to believe in God, ok, guess that’s all the philosophy of religion for today”.

        2. Nick

          Expert consensus in the specific sub-field of Philosophy of Religion is not, however.

          Yeah. Since there’s atheist and theist philosophers of religion, I’d say the expert consensus in that field is “neither side is much impressed with the other.” (Of course, I’m sure that’s the case with most divisions of this sort.) I don’t see any way out of this other than to determine what the strongest arguments are on both sides and actually engage with them to the best of one’s ability. I’m not convinced that New Atheists were generally doing this, but I think few really realized that; it’s not all that common to find someone who admits for instance that yes, they aren’t engaging the strongest arguments, who cares about that when millions of people still believe in a literal 7-day creation.

        3. Protagoras

          Yes, there’s selection bias going on, and I’m inclined to think that’s the main factor. Philosophy of religion doesn’t exist in a vacuum; as the philosophers of religion will themselves tell you, their views on religion are linked to views they hold in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and so forth. And philosophers who are experts in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind (fields that are considered “core” philosophy; there are many specialists, and almost all philosophers have extensive backgrounds in those areas) reject the views on those subjects held by most of those who are believers among the philosophers of religion. So I am inclined to think that the overall consensus among philosophers is more relevant than the narrow consensus among philosophers of religion.

          1. JohnofSalisbury

            Urstoff: there is something for the atheist to do in contemporary philosophy of religion, namely, engage with the theists there. It’s just that that once you’re convinced religion is wrong, it usually doesn’t seem that worthwhile to spend a lot of intellectual effort getting that marginal bit clearer on why religion is wrong, as opposed to, say, getting that marginal bit clearer on causation, or whatever.

            I agree with Nick.

            Protagoras: I guess there’s a cluster of typical analytic theist positions, the most obvious of which is mind-body dualism (though it also extends as far as political conservatism), but I think this is as much a weird contingent tribal thing as anything else. Many religious intellectuals who are not analytic philosophers of religion are also suspicious of the dualism, not to mention political conservatism, among analytic philosophers of religion.
            My bottom line is that the experts in a given field are those actually working in that field. In this case, the field is the philosophy of religion, and there is no consensus for atheism among experts there. I think your initial comment should have been, basically, ‘what expert consensus in philosophy are you talking about?’, then discussing selection bias and the atheist majority in philosophy generally if Orin cited some statistics for the philosophy of religion.

          2. Randy M

            It’s just that that once you’re convinced religion is wrong, it usually doesn’t seem that worthwhile to spend a lot of intellectual effort getting that marginal bit clearer on why religion is wrong

            I seems like it would be of interest to be any bit clearer on why religion is, though.

          3. Urstoff

            I seems like it would be of interest to be any bit clearer on why religion is, though.

            Sure, but that’s not a philosophical question. That’s an empirical one for psychologists/sociologists/anthropologists.

          4. Randy M

            I feel like at that point the territory of philosophy is vanishingly thin. The question of “What is good?” or “What is beauty?” is going to be informed by psychology, neurobiology, etc. also; is it out of the realm of philosophy? I can’t imagine anyone represented by a greek statue agreeing with diminishing the discipline so much.

          5. Randy M

            What is good depends to an extent on what is good for humans which depends to an extent on what makes humans happy, happy being a term for a specific relative ordering of various chemicals inside brains.

          6. Le Maistre Chat

            What is good for humans is a subset of good. Good is in no way dependent on one of its subsets.
            Define how what is good for us “depends to an extent on what makes humans happy.” It’s quite vague as it stands. Would rescuing a baby from a diseased rat be good for a human if they’re sentenced to a terrible punishment for unlawful entry and property damage when the baby’s guardian falsely accuses them of attempting to assault the baby?
            Science may be able to prove that pleasure is just brain chemicals, but that will do nothing to strengthen the argument that pleasure is the only good.

          7. Randy M

            Shrug. I was trying to be as reductive as it seemed Urstaff was being. That said, I don’t think your criticism is valid.
            “Good is in no way dependent on one of its subsets.”
            Hmmm…. you’re going to need to support this some more. It’s possible, I suppose, for something to be good despite being bad to neutral for every single human… but this seems non-obvious. At the least it would need to justify it’s goodness in light of the suffering it causes.

            Define how what is good for us “depends to an extent on what makes humans happy.”

            You can sub in another emotional state, unless you want to assert that there is no mental or emotional state that has relevance to morality? I could readily construct a variety of hypotheticals where many moral systems praise or condemn an act depending on how it effects others’ happiness.

          8. Urstoff

            I don’t see how I was being reductive. Why religion exists seems like an empirical question to me that is best answered by those fields of empirical inquiry, not philosophy. Whether I should believe in a particular religion, in contrast, is a philosophical question.

            I do think there is a possible case here with ethics; those who reject moral realism but still have an interest in the subject are turning to moral psychology, which is hybrid of philosophy and psychology that asks why we have the moral beliefs we do regardless of whether we should have them.

          9. Randy M

            Fair enough. I’m not super clear on the precise boundaries of the discipline of philosophy, but it seemed to me to fair to include contemplation on what being a human entails, which would inform why religion is so common in our societies, what needs they likely meet, what features make a religion good/bad or adpative/maladaptive.

            eta: That makes sense. Apologies for butting in.

          10. Urstoff

            That would be quite nice if those were the types of questions Philosophy of Religion was interested in, but it’s mostly just apologetics couched in the language of analytic philosophy.

          11. Nick

            Protagoras,

            Philosophy of religion doesn’t exist in a vacuum; as the philosophers of religion will themselves tell you, their views on religion are linked to views they hold in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and so forth. And philosophers who are experts in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind (fields that are considered “core” philosophy; there are many specialists, and almost all philosophers have extensive backgrounds in those areas) reject the views on those subjects held by most of those who are believers among the philosophers of religion. So I am inclined to think that the overall consensus among philosophers is more relevant than the narrow consensus among philosophers of religion.

            I’ve been thinking about this since you said it, because it’s a good explanation for your original objection, but something still feels off about it. I used to read a lot of interviews with philosophers, especially the ones from the series over at 3AM Magazine. One of the standard questions Richard asks is how they got into philosophy, and the story a lot of them tell is either coming from an irreligious background, or becoming disenchanted with religion either at a young age or during undergrad at the latest. This doesn’t strike me as good grounds for an “expert consensus,” unless you think that undergraduate philosophy courses do a good job at presenting arguments against religion (and I seriously doubt they do, if the introductory discussions of philosophy of religion I’ve read and their treatment in my own intro philosophy class are any indication). It seems to me, therefore, that these folks were inclined, many from a very young age, toward these views anyway, so that the matter of linked views is weaker evidence than I thought.

            ETA: link to series and edit for clarity.

      2. orin

        It sounds like you didn’t really understand my point, which is that the *reasons* the experts give for their consensus are vastly different from the reasons given by the New Atheists.

        1. Protagoras

          I imagine this is also true for your climate science example; most people don’t know the reasons the experts appeal to. But accepting the expert consensus while probably not understanding the details of why it is what it is counts as eschewing the experts in the philosophy example but not in the climate science example? I suppose I don’t understand your point.

          1. nimim.k.m.

            Unlike climate science, religious belief is often quite much more personal, and thus your average intellectual with more than a passing interest in religion (either because they believe and see the need to justify it, or have come to question their belief, or wanted to understand why their liberal Catholic friends believe) have studied the questions of philosophy of religion in detail (more than they have studied climate models).

            I’m myself an atheist, can’t claim much expertise on the matters of philosophy of religion (other than couple of textbooks), and even to me Dawkins comes across an obnoxious buffoon who seems to enjoy lambasting clueless fundamentalists more than engaging in any truly interesting philosophical discussion. And self-proclaimed atheists who have read (or not even read, only listened to) only Dawkins and his ilk are even worse.

          2. Nick

            If I read orin right, I imagine he would see a genuine analogy if, say, there were a New Environmentalists movement or something that wished to confidently challenge widespread climate change skeptics but understood climate science poorly.

    1. Subb4k

      This is also the first place my mind went to. The other progressive circlejerk-y movements listed as examples at least get legitimacy from people who are experts in the fields they’re talking about :
      * Climate change activism is about climate science (for the observation) and economy (and basically all fields related to policy implementations) for solutions. They’ve always had climate scientists with them, the economists and policy experts came later but they did come (if not a actual part of the movement, at least they support it vocally)
      * SJWs are all about social science, and social scientists are all over the movement (so much that it’s basically an assumption that social science departments are full of SJWs).
      * anti-Trump rhethoric is backed by basically every democrat policy expert ever. If it was just the late-night show hosts, people would probably find it less funny and slightly annoying.

      Now of course one might say that New Atheism is about science (also really basic question, like the fact that the world is billions of years old), and therefore the scientists at the helm give it legitimacy. But the problem with that is that it’s plainly not : all the science to discuss has already been discussed. We don’t need more proof that the Earth is not flat or that evolution is real (contrast this to: changing climate models/more accurate predictions, social analysis of previously under-studied class/gender/race dynamics, any new horrifying thing Trump does). Everything “new” related to New Atheism would be either how religious people try to adapt around recognizing the obvious truth, and potentially research into what people believe(d) in different cultures/time periods. New Atheists must know this on some level because they love to draw anti-religious arguments from history (with the Catholic Church in the role of the universal villain, stifling science from Hypatia to Darwin, without forgetting Galileo) or make attempts at philosophical statements (like deduce from the extremely probable absence of God the way one should lead one life). But they do not seem to have the backing of credentialed philosophers or historians, and I do not believe they ever had them.

    2. jasonbayz

      “eschews expert consensus in one field (philosophy) while simultaneously lamenting that expert consensus in other fields (climate science, for example) are not given enough credence.”

      That’s not contradictory. How much credence do you give “expert” opinion in sociology?(You should give it none if you understand behavioral genetics.) I would put my opinion of experts in philosophy roughly halfway between sociology and physics.

  103. Leon

    Maybe New Atheism failed to make the case that it was socially important. […] the climate change people seem better at sounding like they care about the people involved, compared to atheists usually sounding more concerned with Truth For Its Own Sake and bringing in the other stuff as a justification.

    Cf.
    “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

    Connecting atheism simpliciter to any particular ethical or political cause — except perhaps opposing creationism and civic religious symbols, and generally supporting for science — requires at least a few steps’ worth of controversial and non-obvious of reasoning.

    1. jasonbayz

      “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

      It’s not obvious that the second sentence follows from the first. Self-report survey data, fwiw, shows that religious people are happier. And the atheist stereotype isn’t the guy getting the most enjoyment out of life.

  104. johan_larson

    I think the problem is that the New Atheists criticized people for being religious, which is something you’re not really supposed to do. It’s outside the bounds of tolerant behavior in this society. You’re not supposed to criticize people for being Catholic or Jewish; at most you can take issue with particular policies of the Catholic church or Jewish traditional practice. Saying there is something wrong with being Baptist, say, is as bad as saying there is something wrong with being Irish, and that’s considered pretty darn bad. And the New Atheists went beyond that to saying all of these religious folks were just plain deluded, which was rude enough to alienate a lot of people. They said something that is ok to believe, and possibly to say in the gentlest of terms, but not to say brashly, and were treated harshly for it.

    1. suntzuanime

      But there are plenty of groups which are rude and intolerant and alienating and remain in good standing in elite circles/among Scott’s commie tumblr friends. So there’s still a puzzle. Your point about “saying there is something wrong with being Baptist, say, is as bad as saying there is something wrong with being Irish” doesn’t actually work, because the racial equivalent of the New Atheists don’t actually see the same treatment.

  105. Mengsk

    I think the friction between new atheists and progressives makes a lot of sense if you entertain Haidt’s perspective on progressivism– namely that it’s committed to the idea of compassion and the care/harm axis to the exclusion of all others. Their guiding principle, boiled down, is “I’m opposed to things that hurt people”.

    My impression of New Atheism is that it never really argued on that axis. For them, the primary goal was to demonstrate that religion was not a legitimate authority (and that the scientific tradition was), which meant it was never quite relevant to the progressive’s conception of what was good. Even when they called out the harm that religion did, it was usually in service this broader argument that “this is why religion isn’t a just authority”. From the perspective of most progressives, it made the new atheists seem preoccupied with things that fundamentally weren’t relevant to them.

    1. ksvanhorn

      @Mengsk: “Their guiding principle, boiled down, is “I’m opposed to things that hurt people”.”

      Not really. Progressives are collectivists, so it only matters if members of Officially Designated Victim Classes get hurt. And it only matters if they are hurt by something on the list of Officially Designated Progressive Issues. If a black man is shot and killed by police just because he picked up a toy gun in Kmart, progressives don’t don’t make a stink about that, because it could be seen as an argument against over-zealous gun-control hysteria.

      http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/cops-shoot-and-kill-man-holding-toy-gun-walmart

      1. herbert herberson

        I made a stink about that, and know a lot of people who did. It was insane. Also, less charitably to myself, it was an opportunity to accuse the pro-gun lobby of the exact same type of ulteriorly-motivated selective outrage you accuse progressive of here (see, also, Philando Castile).

        Plus, Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun and he is at least the third most famous victim in the BLM-is-Right-osphere.

        1. ksvanhorn

          There is a distinction that I should have made, but did not. My criticisms are, I think, most apropos when applied to progressive journalists and progressives in the entertainment industry — people who seem to feel their job is molding public opinion. The everyday progressives I’ve met are generally much more reasonable.

          1. herbert herberson

            You know, now that I think of it some more, WalMart guy did get oddly little coverage. Not at first–I remember it being all over my mostly progressive facebook/twitter when it happened. But then it just sort of died out, to the point where I had no idea what the guy’s name was until I just now googled it (John Crawford) or what happened with the shooter (grand jury non-indictment).

            I don’t agree with your point, because I think Castile and Rice disprove it, but you’re definitely not crazy to think it was weird.

        2. Nornagest

          The pro-gun activists I know did make a stink about Philando Castile, and they’re also fond of pointing out that modern gun control grew out of efforts to disarm the Black Panthers in the Seventies. But they may not be typical.

          1. random832

            That the NRA didn’t is largely seen as justifiable shorthand for the pro-gun movement as a whole (which doesn’t seem to have any other organized center) not doing so. The idea of there being a silent majority of pro-gun activists falls apart since you can’t be a silent anything and still be an activist.

          2. Nornagest

            I’m not claiming a majority — I’m well aware that the people I know are not representative of anything. But while the NRA is the 800-pound gorilla of gun rights, it’s not the only thing going. The people I’m talking about tend to have mixed feelings about it, though less because of fundamental ideological objections and more because it’s seen as ignoring or capitalizing on local issues.

      2. Mengsk

        Not the most charitable description of progressives, but even if we accept it, the difference between collectivism and individualism is sort of orthogonal to the distinction I’m describing. I’m drawing on Haidt’s work on moral foundations, where he argues…

        “The current American culture war, we have found, can be seen as arising from the fact that liberals try to create a morality relying primarily on the Care/harm foundation”

        I’m just pointing out that a lot of the New Atheists’ arguments weren’t really designed to appeal to people who see moral questions through this lens.

    2. Larry

      “this is why religion isn’t a just authority”

      Interesting. Arnold Kling might say that they’re actually speaking the language of conservatism, even though their interests seem to be superficially aligned with progressivism.

  106. sclmlw

    Whenever I hear people argue that some group of people never change their opinions based on solid reason, I think of this poster. If the New Atheism has met a negative response in liberal circles, perhaps that’s because the arguments put forward are themselves unconvincing. And since a large faction of liberals do not identify as atheist (even if they’re not the Bible-thumping sort), the New Atheists tried to be part of an ingroup they’ve had to engage with to change their minds by persuasion. If you’re lamenting their rejection as part of the liberal ingroup, you have to assess whether their arguments are persuasive to the typical liberal theist – not crazy 7-day creationists.

    Speaking as a theist, I’m always amazed at the pointlessness of the ‘debates’ between New Atheists and Fundamentalist Christians. Sure the Fundamentalists sound crazy, but then they always did. I didn’t need New Atheists to point that out to me. Meanwhile, the New Atheist arguments sound like this, “Now I’ve conclusively proved that the Earth could not be created in 7 days and that a literal interpretation of the Bible is a really dumb idea – therefore you must reject Christianity outright!” Except I already thought the literal/inerrant Biblical guys were dumb and that what they’ve introduced is a completely anachronistic way to read the text anyway. And I know New Atheists don’t just debate Fundamentalists, and maybe it’s just my selection bias, but I don’t really hear them engaging with more sane theist ideas in their quest to stamp out Belief by dint of pure logic. So the outsize focus on Fundamentalists feels more like a straw man with which to beat on not-crazy Theists, and it makes New Atheism a tired old party trick that’s easy to ignore. Except when the trickster comes up to you at a party and tries to run the trick on you, at which point you just say, “Yeah I’m familiar with this one and I know how it works. Go bug someone more gullible like you usually do.”

    I know Atheists hate this line of thinking. “Look, I don’t believe in any type of God, so why should I have to learn any of the details that would disprove YOUR particular belief system?” And if we’re talking about ME convincing YOU, your point is entirely valid. However, if YOU aim to convince ME you’ve got to do a little better than convince me of the error of dogma I don’t actually believe.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      Again, I’m not claiming new atheism doesn’t do this. I’m claiming everyone else does too.

      1. sclmlw

        Agreed, but I’m saying the difference with New Atheism is that, sitting on the bench with the Blue Team, they don’t have as sympathetic an audience as those other viewpoints. It’s easy enough to make fun of the outgroup from your ingroup when you know your ingroup is mostly pure. In this case, though, New Atheists often come across as saying (in mixed company, as it were) something like, “Yeah, all those theists are pretty dumb, huh? They ALL believe in crackpot anti-science garbage. Let’s all agree to dismiss them out of hand.” *wink* And I suppose when you’re trash talking from inside the ingroup that kind of intellectual shorthand is acceptable. My point is that New Atheists AREN’T in their ingroup when they talk in liberal circles. So if they use shorthand like that they’ll get sidelong looks and a general cold shoulder. That’s not the case with someone who makes negative comments about things most liberals naturally agree with. They have a home in their ingroup, but New Atheists don’t have an unmixed home in the Blue Team ingroup.

        A corollary would be Southern Baptists making 7-day young-Earth claims. If they give a dismissive, “of course this evolution stuff is nonsense” while in the Bible Belt they’re among friends and will meet a warm reception. If they try that garbage in New England Republican circles their audience is likely to dismiss them out of hand. “Sure, I’m glad they vote with us, but I wish they would stay out of the limelight. They give the rest of us a bad name.”

        The issue is the approach, which for New Atheists is kind of a unique problem. Not because they’re uniquely exuberant in the way they express their views, but because neither major political party is a solid ingroup for them.

        1. Rick Hull

          My point is that New Atheists AREN’T in their ingroup when they talk in liberal circles. So if they use shorthand like that they’ll get sidelong looks and a general cold shoulder. That’s not the case with someone who makes negative comments about things most liberals naturally agree with.

          Wait, are you saying most liberals are sophisticated theologists? I’d guess it’s closer to 20% hard atheist, 40% agnostic, 30% church religious, 10% sophisticated theologist.

          1. sclmlw

            Yeah, that’s probably about right. But how many of those church religious are young-Earth creationists versus not? And how many of those agnostics are taking a principled agnostic stance, versus those who say, “yeah, I probably should be more religious and all but I just don’t have the time; sometimes I’ll go to church on Christmas or Easter, but it’s not like a tradition for me or anything. Maybe for my parents it was a bigger deal, but I just don’t want to claim I’m all holy when I’m not.”

            And you have New Atheists coming at them trying to bear down in hard reason and maybe for some that approach works okay, but for others who just don’t have the time for all that God stuff you’re not going to reach them by asking them to take the time to sit down and argue about imaginary teapots, or what God said in a part of the Bible they don’t really read.

            Meanwhile, you have various sects of Catholics and Protestants asking if maybe they’d like to come to the potluck this weekend, or maybe bingo, etc. There are tailored approaches to persuasion, and New Atheists don’t come across as anything like a tailored approach.

    2. meh

      I think some of the focus on Fundamentalists is that the New Atheists feel they have the most negative impact on policy. General theists with no sacred text to follow are likely to cause less harm. However I do think there is some selection bias. I’ve seen lots of debate about non-specific theism as well as specific religions. You can’t debate all beliefs at once.

    3. ssc35222

      This seems correct to me. Even within liberal circles, it isn’t exactly rare to find religiosity or deism in some form (see the 80% figure cited by Scott). The problem for New Atheists is that, within those circles, the belief doesn’t take the form against which they are [pedantically and pompously] arguing.

      If, for example, someone is a liberal believer who characterizes God as the ground of all being, whose presence is realized through the community of the Church, etc., they are not really susceptible to a New Atheist proof that evolution is real. That isn’t the point. And the believer will be understandably antagonistic to the New Atheist if the New Atheist then uses his irrelevant proof to belittle all religious belief, including the believer’s.

    4. Koken

      Agreed. I think what the New Atheists are targeting isn’t a weak man, in terms of the national prominence of specific beliefs among religious people, but seems a lot like it within vaguely upmarket liberal circles.

    5. Harry Maurice Johnston

      Hmmm. I stopped identifying as Christian and started identifying as atheist as a direct result of someone asking me why I called myself a Christian if I didn’t believe that the Bible was infallible. (My opinions didn’t change all that much, so far as I can recall, just the way I labelled myself.)

      I was probably not the typical liberal theist, and especially not a typical American liberal theist, but I can understand why this sort of argument might seem sufficient to some people.

  107. Sniffnoy

    So uh this is unrelated but while I’m not sure whether having to log in to view comments now is deliberate I’m pretty sure this less readable new appearance of said comments is not?

    Edit: And it’s fixed, nevermind

  108. blacktrance

    With the decline of political social conservatism, New Atheists stopped being a weird ally of progressivism and became too much of an enemy of more central members of the coalition. Other commenters have mentioned Muslims, but African-Americans are also prominently religious. And progressives don’t see religious people within the coalition as opponents – a friend may be nominally Catholic, but they still support same-sex marriage/the welfare state/etc. To them, New Atheists are stirring up unnecessary trouble.

    New Atheists are a victim of their incomplete success – they got their political victories, but not their desired cultural change.

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      The decline of political social conservativism? Is that a thing that happened? Trump sure doesn’t seem like he won on a tide of small-government free-market economic conservativism.

      1. keranih

        Trump won because of populism, not conservatism.

        Also, yes social conservativism is on the decline in the USA. At a minimum, it’s shifting so that sexual morality is now enforced by the rules of liberals, not conservatives. Likewise racial favoritism and, as noted, favored religious groups.

        1. Scott Alexander Post author

          I thought populism was sometimes defined as “social conservativism plus economic liberalism”. Certainly some social conservative positions (immigration, religion, NFL players kneeling for the national anthem) seem involved.

          1. suntzuanime

            Lots of things are sometimes defined in dumb ways, let’s not get bogged down in definitions. You know that Trump wasn’t elected by fundamentalist Christianity, you know that NFL players kneeling for the national anthem has nothing to do with the positions of the New Atheists, you’re not actually confused about anything, you’re just bickering over word choice.

          2. Scott Alexander Post author

            I was confused, but have figured it out now. Thanks for explaining it, however confrontationally.

          3. blacktrance

            There are two kinds of populism (though they often co-occur): appeals to “the people” against the corrupt government and “out-of-touch elites”, and the combination of authoritarianism and economic restrictions popularly portrayed as helping “the common man” (typically involving trade barriers and sometimes some redistribution, but unlike in leftism, there’s also a focus on preventing the “undeserving” from having it easy). Social conservatism is one of several forms of authoritarianism.

          4. ksvanhorn

            Your mention of “economic liberalism” is confusing because that term means opposite things in the U.S. versus the rest of the world. Outside of the U.S., “liberal” in this context means “laissez faire” or “free market”.

          5. Nornagest

            I think defining populism as social conservatism plus economic liberalism is going to lead you some strange places. Bernie is a populist; so is Trump. What they have in common isn’t social conservatism plus economic liberalism, it’s a strong narrative saying you, regular Americans, are being exploited; here’s how you can get your power back. The villains of the two stories and the morals at the end couldn’t be any more different, but their structure is very similar.

            There is a progressive meme floating around that Trump represents some kind of resurgence of evangelical power, and it confuses me. The Religious Right is part of the ruling coalition right now, so in the short term it’ll probably get some of what it wants, but in isolation it hasn’t been this weak since, like, the Carter administration. And it has no particular growth prospects, since all the talking points right now focus on some very un-religious things.

      2. suntzuanime

        He sure as hell didn’t win on a platform of opposing gay marriage and abortion. The New Atheists have nothing to say about trade, and even give aid and comfort to Trumpist concerns about Muslim immigration.

        1. Walter

          I hate to dispute this point with you, since in general I think your first response (“Islam, duh”) is the actual answer to what is going on.

          Abortion was very big in this last election, and remains, going forward, the single biggest deal of the republican party. Trump won white women after his access hollywood tape came out, and that is down to abortion.

          1. Salem

            Are most white women pro-life, or am I misreading you?

            Most white women are pro-choice, as the term is normally understood.

            I can’t find good recent data on white women specifically, but the data I can find strongly suggests that the opinion of white women is about that of the nation as a whole.

            Specifically:
            57% of people think abortion should be legal in most cases.
            59% of women think abortion should be legal in most cases.
            58% of non-Hispanic whites think abortion should be legal in most cases.

          2. suntzuanime

            Abortion as an issue is kind of baked into the Democrat vs. Republican divide, but Trump was much less hardline on it than the average Republican candidate was, either in the primary or in previous elections. He came out and said in the primary debates that Planned Parenthood does good things, and still won the nomination.

          3. tomogorman

            Trump was definitely “pro-life” (scare quotes because I don’t think he personally really believes, but is happy to be for the purpose of getting elected as a Republican) and it was probably pretty key to helping him keep parts of the Republican Christian base that might otherwise have not turned out. I think they, correctly, view his “pro-life” stance as purely transactional, but if that gets them conservative judges (and it does) then thats all they could reasonably expect anyways. So they are reasonably happy with it. Also, a lot of pro-life voters correlate with anti-SJW vote generally – and while I don’t think Trump delivers much on this in policy, he delivers a lot in symbolism. Like I don’t think Trump’s tweet fight with NFL kneelers will get that to stop, but its psychic comfort to people offended by it that the President of the United Status is being vocally offended with them.

          4. tomogorman

            Also my intuition is that while the majority of voters, including white women specifically, believe that abortion should be legal – they also believe it is in some sense morally wrong. And while they want it to remain legal, they also want to express their judgment of its wrongness. Voting GOP on that issue, so long as they never actually succeed in getting Roe repealed (which I don’t think they are likely to do) is a way to do that.

          5. Walter

            @Randy M:

            “Are most white women pro-life, or am I misreading you?”

            Sorry, other way round. Most pro lifers are women.

      3. Leon

        “Social conservatism” is a combination of a few things.

        Consider this 4-way socia breakdown from Andrew Gelman:

        Consider a national election with the following four major candidates, from right to left:

        – Populist far-right nativist
        – Religious conservative
        – Center-left technocrat
        – Populist anti-corporate leftist

        In the first round of the 2017 French presidential election, these four candidates received 21%, 20%, 24%, and 20%, respectively.

        In the United States, these candidates were named Trump, Cruz, Clinton, and Sanders, and in a four-way race (with a bunch of minor candidates splitting the remaining 15% of the vote) they might well have garnered the very same proportions as above.

        My impression is that New Atheism was anti-“religious conservative”, but otherwise didn’t really decide among the other three groups.

      4. blacktrance

        Trump marketed himself as caring about immigration and trade, rather than same-sex marriage, abortion, school prayer, etc. In the Bush years, nationalism was in the big tent of social conservatism, but since then the two have grown apart.

      5. vV_Vv

        Trump did this during his campaign. Peter Thiel spoke in his support at the Republican convention while proclaiming himself proud to be gay.

        Could you imagine Bush, or one of his main backers, doing anything like that? The religious right has lost the culture war. Their last remnants may support Trump because they have no alternative, not because he’s their candidate.

      6. gbdub

        Social conservatives (particularly evangelical Christians) had a better candidate on the Republican side: Ted Cruz, or maybe Ben Carson. Trump winning the nomination seems to imply that, while social conservatives ultimately chose him over Hillary, social conservatism was not the driving force behind his election.

    2. Whatever Happened To Anonymous

      I think this is a big part of it, black people and latinos are a big part of the democratic electoral coalition (and their key to a “permanent demographic advantage”, which seems like it’s not happening after all, but whatever), and they’re far more religious, on average, than white people.

      Another thing is that a lot of the people who are part of the New Atheist movement are traditionally low status, nerdy guys with poor social skills and no fashion sense. Of course the question is if their low status made them fail, or their failure made the higher status people leave.

      1. jasonbayz

        I don’t think it has much to do with Blacks and Hispanics being Christians. Neither group has shown that they care much about White people’s beliefs or behavior, so long as they are appropriately pro-Black or pro-Hispanic politically. It’s Islam and (to a lesser extent) feminism that is the issue.

  109. keranih

    climate change activism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that the climate is changing” with “we should worry about climate change causing famines, hurricanes, etc”, just as atheism combines “we should accept the scientifically true fact that God does not exist” with “we should worry about religion’s promotion of terrorism, homophobia, et cetera”

    I think this is a good point – that part of the appeal of a movement often rests on its ability to go OH NOES, something must be done, this is something! WE MUST DO THIS But it’s also fair to point out that the least effective climate alarmists are those who say that climate change is not only responsible for monster hurricanes (mumbletwelvepauseinAtlanticcyclemumble) but also for earthquakes.

    Likewise, atheism seems to want to hold religion responsible for things that, well, let’s just say there are tectonic plate-sized forces at work in humanity, and while God is larger than that, imo, the average tepid helping of religiosity isn’t.

    The problem with using terrorism, etc as a falling sky is that for the most part, religion already is a bulwark against that. “People doing harm to each other” is a long standing problem for which atheism has not proven a cure, and actually acts against the most common human response, which is more religion.

    But the climate change people seem better at sounding like they care about the people involved, compared to atheists usually sounding more concerned with Truth For Its Own Sake and bringing in the other stuff as a justification.

    …have you *met* any atheists? The sort I run into are not into denying God for the sake of a fundamental truth of the universe, but because they’ve taken some massive damage, somewhere along the line, and *personally* blame God and/or a/the Church for it. (In the case of different congregations, some of the blame is quite justified.)

    Its not that there aren’t people who firmly, calmly, and without drama feel that there is no There there. There are many, and they seem to be over represented at SSC. But those sorts are also the type to believe in the lack of evidence in a non-evangelizing, non-proselytizing sort of way – willing to confess their belief, and comfortable defending it, but taking a ‘go thy own way’ approach to the average theist.

    Neither assholes nor obsessive crazy people, in other words. Which, like the quiet people of any group, are the ones you don’t hear about.

    I also think that you, Scott, are wanting too much, too fast. Particularly among the liberal caucasian sort, secularism appears to be a done deal. So long as Islam never really gets a foothold among the Western upper class, Jews continue to shed their faith and Buddhism remains the non-demanding fringe platitude that it is in Hollywood, atheism is going to stay the defacto value of the Blue Tribe. Give it time, and we may yet get Roddenberry’s future.

    (edited a hair)

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      Are there actually people who think climate change causes earthquakes?

      And I’m not complaining because I think atheism’s failed as a belief system – I agree with you that in practice everyone’s atheist. I’m just confused that even though it’s the victorious belief system it’s managed to fail as a social movement.

      1. keranih

        Well, I would shirk to quote the gaurdian, but I think this publication gets read by more climate alarmists – and atheists – than The Baffler.

        There was also a bit of the standard “ohnoes” a couple months back when we had three hurricanes, massive wildfires, and an earthquake in Mexico all at the same time. But frankly, that’s *exactly* the sort of situation where, traditionally, people turn to the religious/supernatural explanations of their choice.

        I agree with you that in practice everyone’s atheist.

        Nah, man. Everyone’s religious. Just in your house, the favored belief is “not believing.” (Come on, you don’t think that the Blue Tribe is secular because of evidence, do you?)

        1. Charlie__

          Although you started out by using global warming -> earthquakes as an example of something obviously wrong, it seems like you have just linked to a Nature paper that makes a pretty convincing case for global warming -> tropical storms -> more frequent but smaller earthquakes in affected regions.

          1. keranih

            That good old climate change! Prime mover of the universe! Is there *anything* it doesn’t cause?

        2. alice0meta

          you present as unaware that evidence exists. is this an act in an attempt to emotionally manipulate people who have religious feelings about “evidence”? that usually mostly just hurts people; i recommend providing them evidence instead

      2. veeloxtrox

        I agree with you that in practice everyone’s atheist.

        One way I could interpret this is that you (Scott) think that there is no one who lives as a committed theist? Is that what you mean or is there something else that I am missing?

        1. Nick

          I’m pretty sure Scott is following this bit from the conclusion of keranih’s post:

          Particularly among the liberal caucasian sort, secularism appears to be a done deal. So long as Islam never really gets a foothold among the Western upper class, Jews continue to shed their faith and Buddhism remains the non-demanding fringe platitude that it is in Hollywood, atheism is going to stay the defacto value of the Blue Tribe. Give it time, and we may yet get Roddenberry’s future.

          In other words, in practice a certain subset is atheist; the ‘everyone’ makes sense in context.

      3. Roger Sweeny

        No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Atheism is not “the victorious belief system.” There are lots of people who are not traditional theists but most of them believe one or both of the following:

        1) “Everything happens for a reason.” There is something in the universe, some force or sort-of consciousness, that is looking out for things.

        2) We all have three aspects: physical, mental, and spiritual.

        Strict atheism denies both of them. At this moment in time, it is fated to be less popular than “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual.”

        1. abstract gradient

          there is moloch in the universe, some force or sort-of consciousness, that is looking out for granite cocks

          we all have three aspects: body, mind, and cybernetics; they are implemented on meat and silicon

          (some people like to deny these things and call themselves atheists, but that doesn’t mean anything about atheism strict or otherwise)

        1. abstract gradient

          theism is weaker than it used to be because it’s much more legible that theities aren’t real

    2. abstract gradient

      does this model include description of why the blue church isn’t currently imploding?

  110. Simon Penner

    This isn’t strange at all.

    Well, it is, but not for the reasons you’re laying out.

    The reason why New Atheism is uniquely singled out for progressive friendly fire is because of Atheism+

    There was a schism, in 2011, when some poor soul made the mistake of asking Rebecca Watson out. This snowballed into a gigantic clusterfuck where, essentially, there was a schism between the SJW atheists and the non-SJW atheists. The former called themselves Atheism+, while the latter retained the title New Atheist.

    Immediately after this happened, and the battle lines were drawn, Atheism+ started attacking the old guys. I remember, they all flipped pretty much on a dime regarding whether or not Dawkins was a terrible horrible evil person.

    But then a funny thing happened. Atheism+ died because nobody likes the fun police, and they had a few too many sociopaths and assholes leading their community.

    So we no longer have the SJW version of atheism floating around, but what we do still have is the other half of the atheist movement, which, despite agreeing with the other side on literally everything except for the ethics of asking Rebecca Watson out on a date, has been permanently marked as anti-SJW.

    As a result, Atheism+ sympathetic SJWs(*) continue to hold as a cached belief “Atheists (note lack of +) are evil” and then whenever they want to take a cheap shot at an outgroup, they come back to this.

    (* in many cases, the Atheism+ sympathetic SJWs are actually the SJWs who were Atheism+ back when that existed. The specific individuals are still saying the same thing, but they no longer formally, publicly identify as atheists)

    1. Scott Alexander Post author

      Seems like too low a level of explanation. How come atheism lost by alienating SJWs, and not SJWism by alienating atheists?

      1. Simon Penner

        I think the opposite happened. SJW atheists lost, which allowed them to disassociate from the atheist identity and link up with the non-atheist SJWs. Regular atheism, otoh, had no allies to assimilate into.

        Ironic result is that while SJW-Atheism lost as a movement, the individuals who comprised that movement won by leveraging non-atheism allies.

        IDK. This is actually making less sense as I reason through it

      2. vV_Vv

        Social Justice as a movement is bigger and much more entrenched in positions of power in the government, academia, media and big companies.

        There are probably more atheists (in the sense of non-believers) than SJWs, but fewer New Atheists who are willing to stand their ground than SJWs.

      3. Matthias

        People hate on “SJWs” all the time. I think you’re vastly overestimating the degree of hate that basically any identifiable group (vegans and feminists mentioned above, gingers, white people, trans people, furries, Jews, people who exercise and have an active social life, SBNRs, SWPLs, TERFs, KQRZs, &c.) gets, partially because of polarization and echo chambers but primarily due to the sheer volumes of #content and #discourse that means that there’s a quotably large paper trail of just any attitude or aesthetic imaginable.

        1. Forge the Sky

          Good article, but holy kek does he have a bee on his bonnet about Sargon of Akkad

          I mean, I don’t mind, but I think he may have succeeded at seeming impartial a bit more if he had dialed it back a bit.

          1. AnonYEmous

            I personally do mind; I don’t find his characterization fair at all. But judging from his politics, that’s about to be expected.

        2. Deiseach

          Oh man, the Richard Carrier? All I know of him is at second-hand via the entertaining feud between him and Tim O’Neill, but nothing particularly induces me to favour him.

          If he was involved with Atheism + from the get-go, no wonder it foundered!

          1. John Schilling

            Flirting at the afterparty of an event which had a “no flirting allowed” policy, IIRC, and with a third party rather than the supposed victim filing the complaint, which is ambiguous enough that casting him into the outer darkness on that basis gets a big eyeroll from me.

            But I also recall him unilaterally deciding after 10+ years that his marriage was going to be polyamorous, leading to his not being married after all, so he’s definitely not a sympathetic character in my book.

          2. Aapje

            His fight with Ehrman is amazing, giving us this wonderful rebuttal by Ehrman:

            A case in point of my “carelessness and arrogance” is the first instance of an “Error of Fact” that he cites, which I assume he gives as his first example because he thinks it’s a real killer. It has to do with a statue in the Vatican library that is of a rooster (a cock) with an erect penis for a nose (really!) which Acharya S, in her book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, indicates is “hidden in the Vatican Treasury” (that damn Vatican: always hiding things that disprove Christianity!) which is a “symbol of Saint Peter” (p. 295).

            In her discussion, Acharya S indicates that Jesus’ disciple Peter was not only the “rock” on which Jesus would build his church, but also the “cock.” Get it? They rhyme! Moreover, the word cock is slang for penis (hard as a “rock,” one might think); and what is another slang word for penis? Peter! There you have it. And so when there is a statue of a cock with a rock-hard peter for a nose, this symbolizes Peter, the disciple of Jesus. No wonder the popes have kept this thing in hiding.

            My comment on this entire discussion was simple and direct: “There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.”

            Pictures!

            I am glad that this scandal is finally being addressed.

        3. Thegnskald

          That was interesting to read.

          And frustrating. Yes, there is toxic behavior. A lot of the ideas percolating around are also quite toxic, however, and he doesn’t quite seem to acknowledge that.

          Maybe that is better, though; it provides an escape hatch. Hm.

      4. jasonbayz

        Well, I’m sure a few atheists voted Trump 🙂

        Not sure how you define “lost,” if you are thinking demographically, they haven’t, the Obama years witnessed an increase in secularization, more Americans than ever identify as religiously unaffiliated. I interpreted the post as “why the New Atheists lost favor among the Respectable People.” But another question would be why they didn’t gain ground among the newly secularized people. Maybe they did, I’d be interested in seeing membership statistics for the atheist groups, but my impression is they haven’t. I think it’s the tribe thing and the ‘sperg thing. The tribe thing because “agreeing with the other side(i.e., the Left) on literally everything except for the ethics of asking Rebecca Watson out on a date” is not something that would appeal to a lot of atheists.(Such as, to pick a non-random example, myself) The association is still too clearly with the Left.

      5. Shion Arita

        That whole elevatorgate thing would make a great Light Novel title:

        “My Ill-fated Elevator Love Confession Somehow Destabilized the New Atheist Movement and it’s Still Hard to Find a Date.”

    2. Whitedeath

      This is all explained in Nichols’ article which Scott didn’t actually reference besides for linking it upfront.

    3. onyomi

      Meta-comment on strategy:

      Based on observation of such examples as Atheism+, Occupy Wall Street, and “thick libertarianism,” it seems to be a losing strategy to try to overspecify your philosophy, especially with respect to issues most won’t see as obviously relating directly to whatever the core impetus was.

      The hard part of avoiding this is that people with any sort of vaguely related axe to grind will tend to glom on to any movement that seems to have momentum and public interest. One doesn’t want to kick them out for the very good reason that insisting on ideological purity is a good way to prevent your movement from growing, but one also can’t let them hijack the movement and start making it about their pet cause, which inevitably alienates many of the original joiners and muddles the message so far as the public is concerned.

      Not sure about how to avoid that particular phenomenon, but a general rule of thumb is that it’s probably not good for the health of e.g. libertarianism to start taking really firm stands like “no one who supports [open/closed] borders can call himself a real libertarian.” That doesn’t mean one can’t take a firm stand on anything, but rather that one shouldn’t alienate people who basically agree with your core premises just because they use them to arrive at a few different object-level conclusions than yourself.

      1. onyomi

        Past the edit window, but additional, related thought: we all know tribalism can cause the problem of “chunking” logically unrelated issues together, such that if I know your stance on gun control I can guess your stance on global warming, but a maybe slightly less obvious negative consequence of that might be that, if you start to think your “chunk” is natural and logical when it’s actually contingent and tribal, you may shoot yourself in the foot (…unintentional) by insisting e.g. that no one who doesn’t believe in global warming can join your gun control movement.

      2. Matthias

        This is very much a minor objection (LCPW, and all that) but this is probably the first time I’ve seen OWS criticized for being philosophically overspecific. The usual criticism I see is that it never articulated anything other than a vague dislike of banks and political elites, which made it a cipher that nearly anyone (left-liberals, socialists of every stripe, Nazis, goldbugs, anti-lizard activists, whatever) could glom onto, and that its aesthetic/procedural commitment to centerlessness prevented it from coalescing into anything more specific.

        1. onyomi

          Well, it started out overvague which was why it attracted everyone from gold bugs to anti-lizard activists, with the result that nobody knew what the movement was about.

          And by overspecified, I meant “too much detail.”

          Like, there’s the position “Wall Street and big banks are ruining America,” which is underspecified, therefore leading everyone to fill in the blanks with too much specificity, by which I mean not “too much clarity,” but too many details.

          Of course, looking back on it now, I realize that Fox News attempts to publicize “official” demands of a non-centralized movement like OWS were probably bad faith attempts to make the movement look even more loony and incoherent than it was.

          But even this one person’s list of relatively non-pie-in-the-sky demands is way too detailed.

          Which is not to say I know exactly what OWS could have done to be more successful, but rather that I do have an idea of how atheism as a movement might have been:

          Once you get to the point where everyone you’re talking to already accepts your core belief (that there’s no god), then the next logical step is to either try harder to reach the people you weren’t previously reaching and/or try to further root out the effects of e.g. religious thinking in life. The next logical step isn’t to insist that feminism is a logical conclusion of atheism, even if most of the atheists you know are feminists.

          This can be a pernicious thing when e.g. such movements don’t know when to declare victory, but, sadly, those movements that don’t know how to declare victory on their one issue but instead keep seeking out “deeper” and “deeper” examples of their bugaboo to slay have more longevity, if nothing else.

    4. Deiseach

      There was a schism, in 2011, when some poor soul made the mistake of asking Rebecca Watson out.

      Ah come on, it was a bit more than that. I have no sympathy for the New Atheists and I thought she over-reacted, but it wasn’t merely “a guy tried to ask her out”, it was “late after the main convention, in the small hours of the morning, after a group had continuing talking and drinking in the hotel bar, she and a guy got into a lift to go up to their rooms, and he hit on her/tried asking her out/tried asking her for sex” (the details are a bit fuzzy in memory and I’m not going to Google to look it up; there definitely was an aura of “so you’re a liberated atheist woman who has no hang-ups about casual sex, wanna come back to mine?” about the whole approach).

      I don’t know if you’ve ever had “drunk(ish) guy hitting on you in confined space” but it’s not particularly great (I’ve had that experience back when I was a lot younger and not being able to get the fuck out of grabbing distance is unpleasant, to say the least). As I said, I think she over-reacted but to be fair, she was tired and emotional herself at the time. The split seems to have hit its worst when Dawkins (it’s that man again!) came along and behaved like an old white entitled and clueless guy, and whatever your opinion on the merits of the matter, it really did show how majority male the movement was, and showcased the “but why don’t women want to join, surely there are smart women who are also atheists out there?” problem. Watson handled it badly but your presentation of it as “poor harmless guy just wanted to ask her out and she set out to crucify him” is precisely what the blow-up was all about.

      1. DrBeat

        “It was a bit more than that: it was exactly and literally that thing, but with a bunch of negative-affect words attached! Don’t you know men are inherently threatening and women are inherently threatened?”

        1. herbert herberson

          I love how people here are so in love with the hard truths when it comes to race or religion or even gender if it is in the employment context, but get mad when women act like sexual assault statistics are real.

          1. Rick Hull

            Less of this, please. It’s better to talk about ideas than people, and commenters here are the worst choice for people to discuss. CW ideas and politics are likewise the worst choice for ideas to discuss.

          2. DrBeat

            Women’s paralytic fear of men is a thing that should be worshipped and exalted and justified and fed at every opportunity.

            But white people’s paralytic fear of black men, even though it is exactly, specifically, and literally the same thing in every possible capacity, is something that marks someone as wicked and depraved and must never even be acknowledged.

          3. DavidFriedman

            At least from the account I saw, there was no suggestion of sexual assault. It sounded as though he was propositioning her, although it’s possible that he was clueless enough so that “come up to my room for some coffee” actually meant what it said.

          4. herbert herberson

            Women’s paralytic fear of men is a thing that should be worshipped and exalted and justified and fed at every opportunity.

            I am not worshiping it. I am acknowledging it exists, and making my assumptions as to where it comes from. My assumption that it is not a product of an intricate 400 year old system of propaganda powerful enough to convince people it is morally acceptable to own and/or categorically deny civil rights to other people.

            Maybe you believe there is some system of misandry that is comparable to white supremacy and leads women’s’ instincts to be so inaccurate that it is unreasonable for one to politely ask to not be prepositioned in certain times and places on the grounds that it makes her uncomfortable? If so, I’m sure I won’t convince you otherwise and hope you have a nice day.

          5. reasoned argumentation

            Oh! I thought you were implying that she might have thought the guy was black and hence was in significant danger since the sexual assault statistics show that black men are 8 times more likely to commit sexual assault. Thank you for clarifying.

          6. herbert herberson

            That’s the point of my snarky post, though. You can say both that white fears of black crime and female fears of male crime are, while based in some truth, are wildly out of proportion with actual risk in most situations and should therefore be disregarded or minimized. Or, you can say black people are disproportionately criminal, men are disproportionately rapey, and that the fears whites/women feel towards them are rational enough to be worthy of some respect in both cases. Or, you can do what I did, and suggest that the history of white supremacy means that white fears of black crime are apt to be overblown, but that the lack of an equivalent history of female supremacy means women’s’ fears are more trustworthy and accurate.

            But what makes no sense at all to me is to talk up the Bell Curve and crime stats out of one side of your mouth while, out of the other, dismissing a woman’s lack of desire to see how a man she doesn’t know handles the word “no” at 3am.

          7. Paul Zrimsek

            If we believe, as we’ve so often been told, that rape is about power not sex, you’d think that a proposition would– by making the situation more about sex– make it feel less rapey rather than more.

          8. DrBeat

            Or, you can do what I did, and suggest that the history of white supremacy means that white fears of black crime are apt to be overblown, but that the lack of an equivalent history of female supremacy means women’s’ fears are more trustworthy and accurate.

            What you did was idiotic, and only not a “lie” by virtue of the fact you aren’t capable of knowing or caring what the truth is. I also like how you dismissed what I was saying, based on something I did not say, but that you imagined for the purpose of dismissing me.

            The equivalent history is sexism. It is sexism. All of sexism. Sexism. That. That’s the thing I’m talking about. “Men are inherently threatening, women are inherently threatened, women’s fear of men is to be worshipped and exalted and justified and fed” is sexism. It’s not new sexism. It’s not reverse sexism. It’s sexism. It is that thing. Feminism has absolute continuity with sexism, because it is sexism and isn’t not sexism and every part of it is sexism.

            And you repeat sexism, you chant the chant of sexism, and you smugly posture at me because SEXISM can’t be as old and powerful as RACISM, so irrational fear of men must be wonderful and praiseworthy but irrational fear of black men must be evil and wicked and can’t possibly be the same thing.

            You know what lynching was, right? You know why black MEN kept getting lynched, the MEN, the MEN WHO WERE FUCKING MEN AND TARGETED FOR BEING MEN, because men were considered by sexism to be inherently sexually threatening and women inherently threatened! You just filed the serial numbers off that, and use black men as props to politically posture, while still promoting the same exact paralytic terror because the love of sexism is your core value.

          9. DavidFriedman

            while, out of the other, dismissing a woman’s lack of desire to see how a man she doesn’t know handles the word “no” at 3am.

            Assuming we are still talking about the Watson case, that lack of desire would be a good reason for her not to take up his offer. It isn’t a reason for her to be offended at his making it.

          10. jasonbayz

            “sexual assault statistics are real”

            Which statistics are you referring to? Probably not real ones!

          11. Harry Maurice Johnston

            Assuming we are still talking about the Watson case, that lack of desire would be a good reason for her not to take up his offer.

            A lack of desire to see how he responds to being told “no” is a good reason to tell him no?

          12. DavidFriedman

            A lack of desire to see how he responds to being told “no” is a good reason to tell him no?

            It’s a good reason to tell him “no” in a context much safer than his hotel room.

          13. Harry Maurice Johnston

            I believe the context in question was the elevator, though I may have misinterpreted Herbert’s comment.

          14. herbert herberson

            The equivalent history is sexism. It is sexism. All of sexism. Sexism. That. That’s the thing I’m talking about. “Men are inherently threatening, women are inherently threatened, women’s fear of men is to be worshipped and exalted and justified and fed” is sexism. It’s not new sexism. It’s not reverse sexism. It’s sexism. It is that thing. Feminism has absolute continuity with sexism, because it is sexism and isn’t not sexism and every part of it is sexism.

            Okay. I knew that this was a possibility when we started. I consider it laughably, almost psychotically, absurd, but if I accept it for the sake of argument, it does did you out of the illogical edgelord inconsistency that was all I really wanted to talk about. Accordingly, I hope you have a nice day.

            I believe the context in question was the elevator, though I may have misinterpreted Herbert’s comment.

            Nope, you’ve got it right.

        2. Betty Cook

          I think Deiseach was trying to explain to you why what the guy did was a problem, and you evidently didn’t see anything except the negative-affect words. Let me try again. (Caveat: my only knowledge of this incident is what is on Wikipedia, I hadn’t heard of it before.)

          The problem was, “followed her into an elevator”. It isn’t a problem that people ask you for something you don’t want to give them, or suggest doing something you don’t want to do. You say no, or no thank you, depending, and let it go at that. It is a problem when they back you into a corner you can’t get out of with no one else around and then do the asking. This is especially a problem if they are bigger than you are. If the worst Watson said was “guys, don’t do this” (and I don’t know that it was, but that is what Wikipedia quotes her as saying), I will echo her: guys, don’t do this.

          1. Paul Zrimsek

            back you into a corner

            You stand a better chance of getting the guys to see why this behavior is seen as threatening, if you can do it without using language that presupposes a deliberate threat.

          2. The original Mr. X

            As quoted below, Watson actually says that the guy “got on the elevator with me”, not that he followed her. It might have just been that the two happened by coincidence to be getting on the lift at the same time. (Indeed, since Watson’s point would be strengthened if he had deliberately followed her, I’m inclined to think that it probably was a coincidence.)

      2. Conrad Honcho

        In what way did she handle it badly? Wasn’t her response of the form “hey guys, friendly word of advice, 4am in a confined space is not the time or place?”

        She didn’t run around screaming “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPPPPEEEEE!”

      3. Virbie

        Sheesh, did you seriously just write a comment saying “I’m not going to look it up but I am going to confidently make shit up about it”?

        Here’s her exact quote:

        “we were at the hotel bar, four a.m. I said I’ve had enough guys, I’m exhausted, going to bed, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more, would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” ”

        > As I said, I think she over-reacted but to be fair, she was tired and emotional herself at the time.

        Also bullshit: there was no overreaction of hers at the time; the aforequoted passage is from a vlog she made at a later date. Fwiw, i think that the worst you can say about her is that she mildly overreacted, and this could have been a nonstory if anyone at any point was willing to extend a little bit of charity instead of blowing it up further every step of the way (the initial guy committed a probably unwitting faux pas, Watson tried to nicely explain it maybe a tad more caustically than necessary, Dawkins’ reaction to her was pretty unempathetic, and so on and so forth. At every step, what mistakes were made were relatively understandable and forgivable, but people get so high on outrage that it just escalated. All of this is only exacerbated by the exact thing you’re doing here.

        1. Rob K

          I wouldn’t describe Dawkins’ response as “understandable”. It was aggressively dickish!

          And this is basically why I, as a guy who grew up in a sufficiently religious milieu that I read books on refuting creationism to better debate my classmates in high school, and felt a great deal of relief when Dawkins and others first showed up to provide an assertive public voice of non-belief, have no interest now in identifying with the new atheists. I’m an atheist, but I don’t want to put forward a bunch of dicks as the leaders of what I am.

          (I also think that most of us move in relatively age-bracketed internet environs in a way that isn’t entirely visible to us, and the trajectory of how atheism shows up to me on the internet has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of people in my thirtysomething cohort were living in religious suburban communities in the early 2000s and now live in functionally atheistic communities of people like us, and don’t feel the same need for support for that set of beliefs.)

  111. Andrew Hunter

    A view I sometimes hold, which I freely admit is not entirely charitable: this happened because feminism, environmentalism, and the like pattern match to religion and they know (on some level) that atheism taken seriously will lead to denying those causes too.

    It’s fairly easy to see this if you squint the right way: many of the progressive core causes have articles of faith, catechisms that demonstrate your faith in #HashtagGoesHere, and often engage in reasoning motivated by saying that A must be true, because otherwise core tenet B would be falsified.

    As I said, I don’t always believe this–and formalized atheism has its own similar issues occasionally. But in principle the precept behind atheism is that we should question facts like these…and maybe on some level environmentalists and democrats and feminists know or suspect they’re vulnerable? I don’t like how strong and negative this a claim this is against people I know are outgroup to me–it’s an area I am likely to make mistakes–but I find it hard to refute.

      1. ilkarnal

        The pattern-match isn’t just based on people believing things. There is a common thread between Puritan-ish, Quaker-ish Christianity and progressivism generally. The issue isn’t whether they are all a ‘religion’ but that they are all the same sort of thing created and espoused by the same sort of person. And opposed and despised by the same sort of people. Relevant: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/27/book-review-albions-seed/

        1. Matthias

          “This thing has religious cultural precedents” is distinct from “this thing is especially religious,” since everything has religious cultural precedents (because all culture until recently was religious.)

          This is anyway distinct from what Andrew said:

          It’s fairly easy to see this if you squint the right way: many of the progressive core causes have articles of faith, catechisms that demonstrate your faith in #HashtagGoesHere, and often engage in reasoning motivated by saying that A must be true, because otherwise core tenet B would be falsified.

          …whose truth and/or interestingness would be the same regardless of etiology. “If you squint the right way” any belief can be characterized as “an article of faith,” any expression of such “catechisms that demonstrate your faith,” and any modus tollens “motivated reasoning by saying that A must be true, because otherwise core tenet B would be falsified.” (And, per half the comments in this thread, any disagreement or criticism is an “accusation of heresy,” and so on.)

          (Now, I actually do think there are useful analogies to be drawn between religion and everything else, but if so you kind of have to bite the bullet and define everything as a religious ritual, which turns out to be a more useful paradigm than I personally would have expected.)

      2. Virbie

        While I don’t agree with his interpretation of progressivism, I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of the points he’s making. This is 100% my tribe and I think the religious comparisons are uncanny sometimes, and specifically in the ways that we criticize normal religions for (like denying science because of its implications). You’re being disingenuous by implying that “believing something” is equivalent to things like “A can’t be true because it would falsify B and only heretics/Republicans believe B”.

      3. jasonbayz

        “My Opponent Believes Something, Which Is Kinda Like Believing It On Faith”

        There’s the leap in logic. Frequently they are asking you to believe it on faith, not “kinda,” with feminists asserting that X or Y is caused by “discrimination” without evidence, environmentalists asserting that disaster X or Y is caused by global warming without evidence, ect.

  112. maxaganar

    Wait Stefan Molyneux is a New Atheist? What is the history of this Baffler site, I have never seen this but it’s linked with a donotlink?

  113. drethelin

    Progressivism decided* to align with Islam against conservatism because there are a LOT more Muslims and they have the advantage of being a discriminated against minority immigrant population which is a REALLY useful bludgeon. Atheism not only has very little electoral/demographic weight behind it, but is fundamentally aligned AGAINST Islam, and so obviously it had to go. Coalition politics is a human universal and looking at principled reasons why a coalition might drop a member is less useful than looking at power-related reasons, I think.

    Atheism as a cause also has the problem of building nothing constructive and not gaining you any power. Like libertarianism but moreso, it tends to be a negative movement about removing power structures and is famously fractious.

    *Of course in this context a decision is not a decision of the group as a hivemind but dozens to thousands of individual decisions about how to gain power, but the end result seems pretty much the same to me.

    1. c0rw1n

      don’t we know that “aligning with someone who’s wrong because we have the same opponents” is stupidly wrong?

      “the enemy of my enemy” – might be my enemy too if they’re both enemies of The Truth.