At the risk of alienating myself from a broader community of non-theists, we need to address “New Atheism” the problems that surround new atheists, and this community. It’s odd, I was wildly ignorant about a lot of things when I wrote Shadow of the Dead God. I addressed part of that ignorance in a previous post, and this is somewhat a follow up to that. I used to be perplexed when I heard the term new atheism, and angered when I heard the term internet atheist. After spending far more time interacting with lack-theists, theists, agnostics, and atheists, I now understand what people mean by those terms. I also tend to agree with the more philosophically minded people about those terms now.
I have been pondering where to start with this post for a while now. So, I guess we should start with this silly notion of lack-theists being atheists. One can label themselves anything that they would like. If you want to call yourself an atheist, because you have a hangnail, you are free to do so. However, lack of belief atheism makes about as much sense as hangnail atheism. This is supported by the works of most atheistic philosophers! Flews’ work was refuted by Keith Burgess-Jackson in his paper “Rethinking the presumption of atheism” and demonstrated to be incoherent in Steve McRae’s paper “How the Presumption of Atheism, by way of Semiotic Square of Opposition, leads to a Semantic Collapse” which both are direct repudiations of Antony Flews’ 1976 book Presumption of Atheism, where the entirety of lack-theism arises from. The presumption was roundly rejected by most philosophers upon it’s release, because lack-theism as manifested in lack of belief is agnosticism and not atheism. While McRae has penned the latest formal argument demonstrating this, he is not the first one to do so! I am certain more would have been done, but it was not until between fifteen and twenty years ago that lack-theism as atheism really gained any traction. Even then, it was not taking serious by many a philosopher on either side of the proposition. Interesting side note, when Flew converted to Deism in 2004, penned his book There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind in 07, he rejected his own usage of atheism that he laid out in Presumption of Atheism up until his death in 2010. Regardless of anything else, Flews’ Presumption of Atheism has deeply injured the discourse, and caused many a headache in philosophy. Not because it is true, or even particularly good; but rather because of the popular attraction it has gained among the laity of atheism in the last fifteen-twenty years.
Again, label yourself anything you want, but atheism does not make sense unless it is propositional. If you use the label to mean anything besides the belief that no god exists, you are being incoherent. It becomes even more absurd when these lack-theists assert that atheism is merely, or JUST the lack of belief in a deity. I have had people tell me, that my belief that no gods exist is still just a lack of belief, somehow. I have had people tell me that they do not care about the philosophy either. If you do not care about philosophy, and the connotations of the words you use, you cannot be taken seriously in any conversation. Much less so in conversations that involve philosophy, and philosophical notions. Moreover, when you reject or do not care about philosophy, you are implicitly embracing empiricism, which is self-defeating and leaves you with an inability to have the conversation. Most damning is that philosophy and logic are intrinsically linked to each other. To dismiss philosophy, is to dismiss logic by proxy which entails that you cannot and should not be taken seriously about anything.
Interestingly, the last time I pointed out that new atheism has just as much group think as theism, several people attacked me personally for it. People assumed without knowing me, that I do not get out much telling me to “go touch grass.” The implications of that are clear, and hilarious. Though, as a matter of course it is expected. This is because a lot of these new atheists are “raised” and brought up on Matt Dillahunty, Tom Jump, Jimmy Snow, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss and many others who created this strange mentality among new atheists, that anyone who does not agree must be immediately attacked personally. For every Seth Andrews, there are three more “Amazing Atheists”, it is like a damn new atheism Hydra. Part of this is due to how the internet allows people to interact. Take for example, things like the atheist experience. The hosts (at least up until the last five years) are rude, over talk, mute, and hang up on people. Certain (former) hosts like Matt, talk to people in ways he never would in person. It is this ultra, always on attack mode, that others have been influenced by and have emulated. This also leads to people thinking that they understand the philosophy, when that is often not the case. I have yet to meet a lack-theist that does, otherwise they would be an atheist, and not a lack theist. Atheistic discourse truly needs Less Matt Dillahuntys, Jimmy Snows, and ARon Ras, and more Graham Oppys, Paul Drapers, and Scott Cliftons. It needs Less atheist experiences, and more Digital Gnosis. It desperately needs less YouTube, and more books.
The most comical part of all of this, is that people act as if they are confident that there are no gods, but shy away from owning that. New atheists seem rather confident when they assert there is no evidence for god. They make assertions about myths, and fiction, draw analogies to “sky daddies” “space wizards” and Spiderman; yet they are not ballsy enough to take all of that to it’s logical conclusion. I personally detest the phrase sky-daddy, but it would seem to logically follow from that, that one would believe no gods exist. Why be so weird about this? if you believe every god concept you have encountered is false, than it seems to be appropriate that all concepts, even ones you have not yet encountered are false. Is it because people are afraid they won't be able to reach a certain burden of proof? Why? Unless you are trying to convince other people that you are correct, the only BOP you carry is to yourself. Even then, the burden of proof only entails that you attempted to justify your position, and that you did so to at least your own satisfaction. If I cannot convince you of my position, that is okay! Not everyone is convinced by the same things, and what is convincing is entirely subjective. Life and philosophy also are not courts of law; we do not need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no gods exist. I just need to prove it to myself to be epistemically justified. After all, there are people who remain unconvinced that the earth is a globe. Does that mean that science has not met its burden of proof? I certainly would not think so, as it is well-evidenced and demonstrable. It is not the fault of science, nor a deficiency of the scientific method that some people are not convinced.
A fun tid-bit, I was once that guy myself. The one in the ultra-attack mode, that was impressively hostile, and aggressive about absolutely everything. I do not think it is coincidence that that version of me died little by little the more I studied philosophy, and truly began to understand this stuff. I had my own meme that was circulating, and I was as vicious as they come. I do not miss that person that I was. Which is partially why it is hilariously ironic when lack-theists say I do not know what I am talking about when it comes to atheism. What do I know though, as one of my more formidable critics said to me that I am "nothing but a dollar-store philosopher." I think even that was generous, I prefer “dime-store” philosopher.
The same person who delivered that devastating insult from which I will surely never recover, also said something quite interesting. He told me I should attack theists, not atheists. I did not know that pointing out bad arguments, logic and reason was considered an attack, but okay. However, even if seen as an attack, I was not attacking atheists. I am one. I was attacking the poor views of lack-theists, and I am tired of pretending that lack-theists and atheists are the same. I am tired of pretending that lack of belief is the same thing as belief that god does not exist. I am going to get attacked for this regardless of what I say here (it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it will happen), so I might as well be blunt about this. Anyone who thinks that atheism is the lack of belief is just philosophically ignorant, and logically naive. The reason I say that, has already been laid out. Lack of belief is the agnostic position and becomes incoherent and meaningless when used non propositionally as atheism. “Weak atheism” and “weak theism” are the same position. To deny these, are to show that one lacks the understanding of logic, philosophy, and epistemology. So, even if I was attacking anyone, it was lack-theist, not atheists. Lack-theists either do not understand or are dishonest about this stuff. Lets lay this bare: Atheism is the belief that no god(s) exist. Any other non-theism is just that, non-theism.
I know that is something that not a lot of people are going to like reading, I am also past the point of caring what people like. Here is the rub about this though, as new atheism is not about atheism. It seems rather more like a political ideology, that suffers from massive amounts of groupthink, hive-mindedness, with a serious propensity for being easily offended and triggered by absolutely everything that does not tow the agenda line perfectly. I illustrated some slight examples of this already, however, it is self-evident. Go join any discussion with a lack-theist, disagree with anything, and you will be personally attacked. For instance, Ana Kasparian who has been a proponent of progressivism for damn near two decades, who has loudly advocated for human rights (including transgender rights) was recently labeled by the new atheist community as a bigot and transphobe for asking people to not call her (a self-identified, and biological woman) as simply a person with a uterus, a birthing person, or a person who menstruates. The irony here, is that it harms the advocacy of trans rights, and the community overall, because it focuses on the wrong things, and people. It takes attention away from the actual bigotry, and the actual bigots. This also causes people to entrench themselves more into bigoted positions, as it is yet another talking point for them to attack the transgender community with. “see look guys, transgender woman are woman, yet biological woman are just a person with a uterus.” Yet, it shows that not perfectly towing the line will get you attacked, viciously. It also does far more harm to the position that should be advocated for, than, simply going “yes Ana, you’re a woman” and moving on.
Let me make this as clear as I can. If your gender expression is that of being a woman, then you are a woman. This is regardless of if you have a uterus or not. If you do not, but you self-describe as a woman, then you are a woman. If you do, and you self-describe as a woman, then you are a woman. I do not care about the debate around this. I simply do not. Gender is a spectrum, and people are what they identify with, and express themselves as. Everything else is moot. Does this make me a hypocrite, because I accept what people label themselves when it comes to gender, but not atheism? No, because of the nuances at play. I have repeatedly stated that people are free to call themselves an atheist, even if it just because they have a hangnail. There are a lot of nuanced differences, not the least of them is that one does not get to chose how they feel, or their brain / mental states about their gender. Granted, one does not get to choose what they believe or not…However, one certainly does get to choose how they reason, how they understand and apply logic, and those directly impact and determine beliefs.
All of this is because new atheism is not about atheism, it’s a quasi-political movement predicated on philosophical ignorance. Humanism is the proper cause, lets make that clear. The issue is not about what I find to be correct, or important. the issue is what is actual. The issue is how the new atheist hivemind works. Atheism is not suppose to have a leader, yet as certain figures go, so does the vast majority of new atheists. Point out to people that atheism has always had vary specific philosophical usages, and connotations, and get screamed at that you do not understand atheism. Do not follow the precise line of any specific topic, and get attacked personally. Disagree with new atheists about any giving thing, and watch how fast the mob turns on you. Point out how badly Hitchens lost the debate to Craig, and watch the pitch forks come out to defend Hitch. Yet, anyone with an understanding of the philosophy knows just had bad that debate went to the point that it became a part of apologetics curriculums on how to properly debate atheists.
Someone is sure to say that the only thing “atheists” have common is the lack of belief. If only that were the case. I would not even have an issue with lack-theists. If that was the case, I would fundamentally disagree with them, but move on. However, as pointed out before pointing out that philosophical discourse requires a different usage of the atheism than lack of belief, gets one attacked. That’s because new atheists are not interested in the conversation, or the nuance. They have been told atheism IS the lack of belief and is ONLY the lack of belief. People have built careers and personas around that. To hear otherwise undermines ones personal belief system, thus it triggers a defense mechanism, which often times manifests itself as the need to attack someone personally. It is an exercise in Dunning-Kruger, where people think their lack of belief and what they have heard from their heroes allows them to correct philosophers or undermine logical proofs of the contrary such as the ones by Burgess-Jackson and McRae. It is not simply some people on the internet, the Atheist community of Austin, and Atheist Alliance International both assert and promote lack of belief as atheism. AAI incorrectly uses the dichotomy god either exists or does not, and I covered that here.
Though, A little more about AAI. I want to cover just how badly they shoot themselves in the foot. An analogy they use on their website is as follows.
“Now, imagine I’m holding a bag of coins and I claim there’s an even number of coins in the bag. A bag of coins either has an even number of coins or an odd number. Like a god’s existence, there are only two possibilities. If you are not able to check my claim by counting the coins, you won’t know if my claim is true so you should not believe me. But that does not mean that you must believe there is an odd number of coins in the bag. You don’t have the evidence to take a view on it, so you shouldn’t believe either possibility.” (Atheistalliance.org, 2023).
That analogy harms the discourse, and positions of those they claim to fight for. To start, it assumes there is no way to check the coins, there is. It also avoids all nuance, as the conversation is never usually black and white. Worst of all, this analogy would only be applicable of there were no evidence or arguments presented either way. Rarely is the conversation akin to that analogy. There is evidence and are arguments for, and in opposition of the god proposition. We can inspect that evidence, review, and counter the arguments. We can make arguments for and against God, use inference and deduction to arrive at either the acceptance or rejection of the proposition. We can even examine both sides and chose to not take a position and be agnostic (Actually lack belief) about it. To assume that we cannot look at the coins is to ignore four-thousand years or more of philosophy and science. Their statement also conflates and confuses ontology, and epistemology. We have opened and dumped out the jar, and are in the process of counting the coins. It is very likely there are too many to count in one lifetime, but the counting continues.
What was the point of all this, besides pointing the poor use of logic, philosophy and epistemology? None really, I just wanted to point those things out, and vent. The venting was needed as I am sick of seeing the tropes. Sick of pretending atheism is something other than what it is, and sick of being personally attacked for not being part of the hivemind of new atheism. In the last entry I made on this topic, I wore kids gloves, and tried to meet lack-theists where they were. However, one can only take so much, and it is time to bite back a bit.
Anthony Flew, R. A. (2007). There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.
Atheist Alliance International. (2023, 04 03). What is Atheism? Retrieved from atheistalliance.org: https://www.atheistalliance.org/about-atheism/what-is-atheism/
Burgess-Jackson, K. (2018). Rethinking the presumption of atheism. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 93-111.
Flew, A. (1976). The Presumption Of Atheism And Other Philosophical Essays On God, Freedom, And Immortality. Pemberton.
McRae, S. (2023). How the Presumption of Atheism, by way of Semiotic Square of Opposition, leads to a Semantic Collapse. Retrieved from Academia.edo: https://www.academia.edu/80085203/How_the_Presumption_of_Atheism_by_way_of_Semiotic_Square_of_Opposition_leads_to_a_Semantic_Collapse
The Atheist community of Austin. (2023, 04 03). The Atheist comminity of Austin, about us. Retrieved from athiest-community.org: https://www.atheist-community.org/