The Old New Atheism

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 20, 2009 in General Atheism

moreyIn 1986, Roberty Morey published The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom. He lamented at “the crazy sixties” and the rise of humanism and secularism. In Chapter 3, “The New Atheism,” he wrote:

Militancy is the difference between [historical atheism] and the modern movement of “anti-theism.” The atheists of the old school… felt that if people were foolish enough to believe in religion, that was their problem…

The situation abruptly changed after Hegel (1770-1831). Atheists became anti-theists as they were now actively “against” God… [they] wished to destroy all faith, love, and obedience directed to Him… God had to be pushed aside in order for man to be free to be his own god.

Morey’s book is a typical anti-atheist screed which pulls out all the usual tricks. It shifts the burden of proof to the atheist, misrepresents atheistic arguments, pretends that crimes committed by atheists represent atheism, argues that secular attempts to keep government from encouraging a particular religion actually reduce religious freedom, and so on.

But nevermind Morey. What was this first New Atheism, the New Atheism of the 1970s and 80s? Here are a few of the atheistic books mentioned in Morey’s bibliography:

So we’ve seen this all before, but the second New Atheism (Harris, Dawkins, etc.) has been way more successful.

My takeaway message is this: Keep talking about atheism. Keep writing about atheism. Come out of the closet. Show people that religious myths about atheists are malicious lies. And keep it up even when it seems like a superstitious world is not paying attention.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

IntelligentDasein October 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Luke, you have written alot of negative things about the New Atheists, but all of them have made some good contributions. I would like to see an entry about what the new atheist movement has done right. My particular favorites are (1) Dawkin’s books that explain complex evolution concepts (Blind Watchmaker, Selfish Gene, TGSOE), (2) Dennett’s call for a “breaking of the spell”, (3) Harris’ open engagement with religious people about the repercussions of faith, (4) Hitchen’s experience in totalitarian regimes, and (5) (if you count him) Onfray’s call for an Atheology.


Chuck October 20, 2009 at 3:30 pm

What do you think this is … Fox news?


IntelligentDasein October 20, 2009 at 4:01 pm

lol @ Chuck


Qohelet October 20, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Kai Nielsen’s and Peter Angeles’ books are hardly abrasive (I was lulled to sleep reading Angeles’ The Problem of God), George H. Smith a little more so, but only Dennis McKinsey can be considered as strongly anti-theistic in the Hitchensian mold.


lukeprog October 20, 2009 at 8:35 pm


Yup, I’m working on something like that.


John W. Loftus October 21, 2009 at 4:05 am

Stuff this meme away in a news post, eh? I saw it.


We won’t tell.


Justus October 21, 2009 at 8:59 am

I find it interesting that the “trick” off attributing crimes committed by atheists to atheism is so abhorrent. I would agree with this, it’s completely invalid as an argument, and yet every time a Christian or a Muslim commits a crime, their faith is immediately responsible for their actions. Religion is rarely a reason for committing crime or immoral action, though it is often used to make those actions more palatable.

Take the Crusades. They were no more or less wrong than Genghis Khan raping and pillaging across the Middle East for plunder. Blaming religion for the Crusades is akin to blaming animal husbandry for the Golden Horde. They were united under a common banner, and targeted those who didn’t follow the same ideals. Race, religion, ethnicity, and political party are all just tools used by people to divide and conquer and seek power.

Blaming atheism for the actions of Mao or Stalin or Hitler is just as valid as blaming the actions of Constantine and the following emperors and popes on Christianity, and by just as valid, I mean not at all.


IntelligentDasein October 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Justus, for the most part, you are right. People at the end of the day responsible for their own actions. BUT when someone hates gay people or kills infidels because of divine sanction, it seems to be the religion that endorses those views.


BruceH October 21, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Personally, I despise the New Atheism label. It presupposes, without evidence, that atheists were once content to live their own lives, keep their own counsel, and refrain from criticising religion altogether. That is patently false.

“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
- Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897

“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing — fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.”
- Bertrand Russel, Why I Am Not a Christan and Other Essays, 1959

“I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are venomous enough, or secret, subterranean and small enough – I call it the one immortal blemish upon the human race.”
- Friedrich Nietzche, The Antichrist, 1899

“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”
- Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794

I could populate such a list with many, many more quotes. To suggest that Christianity, or religion in general, was once considered above criticism is intellectually dishonest in the extreme. So when ever I hear a person use the phrase “New Atheism” as a means of describing some sort of new phenomenon, I immediately know I can safely disregard that person as unserious and not worthy of debate.


BruceH October 21, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Lest someone mis-interpret my comment, I should clarify that I am not criticising our esteemed blogger. At least, not for this post, in which he is entirely correct. My criticism is reserved for Robert Morey and others of his ilk.


KC December 4, 2009 at 7:48 am

Hey, i read an article on “unreasonable faith” and made my own under “Did The Internet Cause The New Athiests?”

Hope you want to network. send me a message/read the blog =) I think that’d be a good idea.


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