New Atheism | Common Questions and Misunderstandings About Atheism
What is new atheism?
In a nutshell, New Atheism is the same as Old Atheism. Only, well, newer.
The term New Atheism was first coined in 2006 after the release six best-selling books by Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Victor J. Stenger and Christopher Hitchens, that publicly denounced and criticized religion. Harris, Hitchens, Dennett and Dawkins have since been termed "The Four Horsemen" of the new (allegorical) atheist apocalypse of the 21st century.
They and other supporters of the new atheism movement are hard-line critics of religion. They state that atheism, backed by recent scientific advancement, has reached the point where it is time to take a far less accommodating attitude toward religion, superstition, and religious fanaticism than had been extended by some atheists and secularists.
This does not mean that these "new" atheists are dangerous or violent in any way, shape, or form. They're simply no longer going to stay quiet about their views and are no longer going to stand on the sidelines as religion tries to interfere with their lives, their government, and science.
The Four Horsemen - A two hour discussion (in two parts) with the Four Horsemen
Books By The Four Horsemen - Books by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett
"Mr. Dawkins is an atheist, an evolutionary biologist and an eloquent communicator about science, three passions that have allowed him to construct a particularly comprehensive case against religion. Everyone should read it."
The atheists belief in evolution is just another faith based religion? Evolution is only a theory and not fact
Atheist believe for certain in only what they know is certainly proven. Atheism is about reason, truth, science, and rational understandings and probabilities. This is why one typically hears an atheist speaking of evolution when the topic of religion comes up in conversation.
Many assume this belief in evolution is a religion in itself; that it's a system of belief based on a faith that the "theory" of evolution is true. Yet it must be known that the theory of evolution is only called a "theory" in the scientific sense of the word -- this is different from the colloquial use of the word Theory which means only an "idea" or a guess. In the field of science, a Theory is a set of empirical data, facts, propositions, or principles analyzed in their relation to one another and used to explain phenomena.This means that the theory of evolution has been repeatedly tested, observed, researched, and has been consistently compatible with other scientific findings and theories. Colloquially speaking, evolution is indeed a fact. Just as much a fact as the germ theory of disease, the theory of gravity, and the theory of relativity.
Atheism is not a religion. There are zero beliefs involved with atheism, there are zero guidelines to atheism, atheism is not an organized group, and atheism involves no kinds of worship, prayer, or ceremony. Atheism is simply a label given to those who lack belief in religious deities.
NOTE: Evolution is not only an atheistic belief. Many religions do accept it as truth.
How can atheists be sure there is no God? Where's your proof?
How atheists can prove there is no god is one of the most important and commonly asked questions in atheism. The answer, though, is surprisingly simple: we can't be sure there's no god.
In fact, no one can. There's only so much of the world and the universe that human beings are capable of observing, testing, or hypothesizing on. Sure, we understand evolution, we understand gravity, and we even have a pretty good idea about how our own universe began. But the beginning of everything?! Not a clue. And no atheist claims to know such a thing (no sane one, that is).
Then why would we be so bold as to call ourselves atheist? If we can't prove there is no god, then how can we declare so vehemently that we don't believe in one?
What is God?
First we have to look at the definition of "God". Most religious people look at God as being a supernatural, supreme being who either created the universe and left it to fend for itself (the Deist God) or who made the universe, the Earth, and the people on it for a purpose and watches over us, judges us, and decides what to do with us after we die (the personal God of most religions, including Christianity).
But there is also a different definition of God. One that has nothing to do with the supernatural, nothing to do with an afterlife, magic, miracles, or any other such magical ideas. This is the kind of God that people such as Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking, and Albert Einstein spoke of. And what it is, is nothing other than an allegorical use of the word God (as well as the words religion and spirituality). This "God" is simply a synonym for the mysteries of the universe; and this "religiousness" and "spirituality" is nothing more than a feeling of awe one gets when he or she thinks about the beauty of nature and the grandioseness of all that's around us. It is not a personal god, and those who speak of it are not speaking about a religious belief at all.
This more pantheist, Eisteinian God is not something many atheists would argue about. It denies the supernatural, it denies the arrogance of claiming to know anything about a creator, it denies an afterlife, and it's completely ambiguous about whether or not there even was a creator. It is essentially agnosticism. And "agnostic" is essentially what atheists really are.
What's the difference between Atheism and Agnosticism?
Before I get bashed by both atheists and theists, I must make it clear that I'm using the word agnostic to describe something on par to an atheists feelings toward the possibility that fairies orbit Jupiter. We can't prove that fairies don't orbit Jupiter because perhaps the fairies are invisible or perhaps the fairies are too small for us to observe with the naked eye or telescopes. We really have no other choice but to be agnostic toward these fairies because we lack the technology to investigate too much into the proposition.
But we don't tell people that we're agnostic toward the fairies that orbit Jupiter do we? No. We confidently label ourselves as being atheistic toward the fairy hypothesis because the probability that this conjured up, man-made idea is true is very low. Just as low as the possibility that the imagined "gods" from the old man-made holy books are real.
Atheists could, of course, call themselves agnostics. But wouldn't that be misleading? Wouldn't people assume that this label of agnosticism meant that the agnostic person was just as equally open to improbable things such as fairies and virgin births as they were to more scientifically plausible ideas? We don't want to confuse people by an inadvertent implication that these two things are within the same range of probability.
While the universe is a mystery, man-made religions are not. We can disprove ideas stated by religions because they contradict such things proven in science as the age of the earth, evolution, and biology. We call ourselves atheists so that we can make it crystal clear that, while we're open to certain mysteries of the universe, we are not equally open to Gods as most people understand Them.
Where do atheists get their morals without God?
Without God, how would you know how to behave?
While there are no specific guidelines or commandments within evolution which could appropriately tell the evolving man how he should act toward his fellow man, it is still perfectly possible, feasible, and likely that humans evolved into morality because humans needed to become social animals in order to survive.
In a social setting, cooperation and even altruism lead to better relationships which can help the species as a whole. Fairness and cooperation have value for dealing with people repeatedly. The emotions involved with such justice could have evolved when humans lived in small groups. Kin selection can explain some altruistic behavior toward close relatives. Because they share many of the same genes, helping them benefits the giver's genes, too. In societies, altruism benefits the giver because when others see someone acting altruistically, they are more likely to give to that person. In the long term, the generous person benefits from an improved reputation
If the evolving man were to act malicious toward his peers by stealing, killing, cheating, and lying, then it would neither help him nor the people he depends on. Without this natural morality the species would be incapable living together and hence incapable of surviving and reproducing to further the process of evolution. Without good ethics, primitive people would likely not have survived to evolve into the primates we are today.
These eithics -- these morals -- are in no way associated with a God. They are normal ways of behavior for a social creature.
Research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people.
"Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not," said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. "The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns." -- Click Here for more information on the 2012 study.
What about Hitler and Stalin? Weren't they atheists?
Weren't Hitler and Stalin motivated by atheism?
While Stalin was most certainly an atheist, there's no reason to suppose that his atheism was to blame for his actions. Atheism in itself is not a system which promotes anything whatsoever, it's simply an absence of belief in religion (a-theism means not theistic, meaning nothing more than a lack of belief in theistic ideas). One could also reasonably assume that Stalin and Hitler (and Mao too, for that matter) were both atheists toward leprechauns, fairies, and unicorns -- but it isn't very likely that anyone would go as far as to say those absent beliefs were the cause of anything. Stalin was merely an evil man who just happened to be an atheist. Like Hitler, Stalin also happened to have a mustache... perhaps this was the root of their evil? This is what's known as an association fallacy.
While it's unknown for certain what Hitlers beliefs were exactly, he was hardly an atheist according to most evidence. Though, even if he were an atheist, he most certainly did not promote atheism in his speeches or his writings and he did nothing "in the name of atheism". So his followers -- without whom, he wouldn't have made the impact he did -- were not influenced by atheism either. These views were based on a divine right philosophy.
Hitler and religion:
+ "We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out." -- Hitler, 1933
+ "Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith." -- Hitler, during negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of April 26, 1933.
+ Hitler often associated atheism with Germany's communist enemy. Hitler stated in a speech to the Stuttgart February 15, 1933: "Today they say that Christianity is in danger, that the Catholic faith is threatened. My reply to them is: for the time being, Christians and not international atheists are now standing at Germany's fore. I am not merely talking about Christianity; I confess that I will never ally myself with the parties which aim to destroy Christianity. Fourteen years they have gone arm in arm with atheism. At no time was greater damage ever done to Christianity than in those years when the Christian parties ruled side by side with those who denied the very existence of God. Germany's entire cultural life was shattered and contaminated in this period. It shall be our task to burn out these manifestations of degeneracy in literature, theater, schools, and the press --that is, in our entire culture -- and to eliminate the poison which has been permeating every facet of our lives for these past fourteen years."
+ "For eight months we have been waging a heroic battle against the Communist threat to our Volk, the decomposition of our culture, the subversion of our art, and the poisoning of our public morality. We have put an end to denial of God and abuse of religion. We owe Providence humble gratitude for not allowing us to lose our battle against the misery of unemployment and for the salvation of the German peasant." -- Hitler during a radio address in 1933.
+ "The undermining of the existence of human culture by the destruction of its bearer seems in the eyes of a folkish philosophy the most execrable crime. Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent Creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise." -- Hitler 1943
+ "What we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and reproduction of our race and our people, . . . so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe." -- Hitler 1943
+ "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord." -- Hitler 1943
+ "[T]he task of preserving and advancing the highest humanity, given to this earth by the benevolence of the Almighty, seems a truly high mission." -- Hitler 1943
+ "A campaign against the "godless movement" and an appeal for Catholic support were launched Wednesday by Chancellor Adolf Hitler's forces." -- Associated Press 1933
+ The Nazi Party in general rejected Darwinism and supported Christianity. In 1935, Die Bucherei, the official Nazi journal for lending libraries, published a list of guidelines of works to reject, including: "Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism"
+ On the other hand, an undated "Blacklist for Public Libraries and Commercial Lending Libraries" includes the following on a list of literature which absolutely must be removed: "All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the Volk.
NOTE: Of course, none of this means that Hitler's ideas were based on religion either. Hitler's ideas were a perversion of both religion and biology.
Atheistism causes violence?
Statistics show that atheists are more numerous in peaceful nations?
It's a common misconception that atheists are, by their very nature, violent, immoral people. The assumption is that when one is without a belief in god, then one is without morals, so, therefore, one is also more apt to feel free to commit immoral acts, without any worry of condemnation from their creator. These topics have been addressed in much detail above, yet it still seemed prudent to include the following statics to help shed more light on the matter.
These are two separate studies, one over religious beliefs and one over peaceful countries that, when combined, show that the countries with more atheists are significantly more peaceful than countries with less atheists.
The first study is from The Global Peace Index (url, below). They put their survey together by assessing 23 criteria, including foreign wars, internal conflicts, respect for human rights, the number of murders, the number of people in jail, the arms trade, and degrees of democracy. With this survey, though, religion wasn't taken into account. This is simply a measurement of peaceful countries.
To find the connection between atheism and religiosity in respect to their amounts of peacefulness, this survey is then matched with The World Values Survey (another well-established, unbiased survey group), which documents religious beliefs. It is then taken into account the percentage of people in each country who say they are a committed atheist, and also on the percentage of people who say that they go to a religious service at least once a month.
When combined, this is the outcome:
With 144 major countries being surveyed we get:
(1= most peaceful)
1. New Zealand 1.202
2. Denmark 1.217
3. Norway 1.217
4. Iceland 1.225
5. Austria 1.252
6. Sweden 1.269
7. Japan 1.272
8. Canada 1.311
9. Finland 1.322
10 Slovenia 1.322
The difference is highly statistically significant (P=0.001 or less) which indicates that the results are not simply chance.
To follow up in this observation, I've also tested the conclusions by looking up the countries with the most Christians, and listed them in order below; with their individual rankings on the peaceful nations scale next to each countries name.
(#1= most peaceful, #144= least peaceful)
1. USA - #83
2. Brazil - #85
3. Mexico - #108
4. Russia - #136
5. Philippines - #114
Out of these top 5, not one country goes below the 50 range, and three of the countries are above the 100 mark.
In contrast to this, we have the top five non-religious countries, with their rankings on the peaceful countries scale.
(#1= most peaceful, #144= least peaceful)
1.China - #80
2. Japan - #7
3. Russia - #136
4.Germany - #16
5.France - #30
As you can see, the correlation worked out quite similarly to the original statistics. Only one of these countries happens to be above the 100 mark. And that also happens to be one of the countries with the most Christians.
Nature is too beautiful for there not to have been a designer
The "argument from design"
Nature manifests a certain irreducible complexity. Doesn't the design in nature require a Designer (i.e. God)?
As for the complex designs of flowers, animals, humans, and other living organisms, the answer to this design is natural selection. Any flower, animal, or person, no matter how beautiful, has evolved into what it is now because it was evolving to fit into its environment. This has been proven by science.
Beautiful planets and stars have also evolved. Our own Earth (and the other planets in the Solar System) had formed out of the solar nebula -- a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation of the Sun. This assembly of the Earth through accretion was thus largely completed within 10-20 million years. Initially molten, the outer layer of the planet Earth cooled to form a solid crust when water began accumulating in the atmosphere. The Moon formed shortly thereafter, 4.53 billion years ago.
So the beauty of nature is well explained by different forms of evolution. And beauty itself is a subjective thing, literally in the eye of the beholder.
What about the argument from causality? Everything had to come from something!
Everything had to have a beginning
Look around for something that does not have a cause (and therefore a beginning). This sequence can work backwards indefinitely. But does it go infinitely, or does it ultimately stop? To say that it goes on infinitely leads to a logical dilemma. Without some initial cause, there can be no caused things, and no explanation for causality itself. The only rational answer is that there is at the beginning of all things an uncaused Cause, capable of causing all things: i.e. God. How do you explain that?
The assumption that since we do not know what lays beyond the universe then that suggests a God must have done it is entirely unwarranted and presumptuous. And in the unlikely scenario that there actually is an intelligent being out there who has started all things (acting as the ultimate cause of them), then the question inevitably arises: what caused Him? How is he immune to the argument "everything comes from something"? And, moreover, what on earth would give you the idea that this being just happens to be omnipotent, omniscient, good, and merciful? Or why must there be a beginning at all? In science, there has actually never been evidence of true "nothingness" (even space itself is a thing) so perhaps all is infinite, with no ultimate cause at all.
If indeed the argument from causality is true, then why can't this ultimate beginner of all be, oh, a big bang? Or perhaps some other physical concept unknown? Why must it be a God and why must it be your specific God?
Simply because you don't know the answer to an equation (and, in this circumstance, you don't even know the equation) you can't use God as a default answer. That's cheating.
Why don't atheists believe in an afterlife?
What about the soul and near death experiences?
The fact that consciousness rests in the brain means that consciousness is lost when the brain is no longer functioning. And since consciousness in the mind, and all the knowledge and experience that the mind's absorbed over the years, forms and holds ones personality and memories, then it stands to reason that your mind is what defines who you are as an individual. So when you're in a car crash and only a portion of your memories are destroyed, causing that portion of you to be lost forever, then it's perfectly reasonable to assume that when the entire brain dies all of what makes you an individual is lost forever. Thus the probability that your consciousness will live on after your death is very low.
One could say that the organic material and the atoms you're composed of will live on forever, but it's both a stretch and misleading to refer to this "life after death" as any kind of religious experience have to do with God. This would mean nothing more than that the particles one is made of are being recycled to help produce other organisms (much in the same way that our earth and every living thing in it was made from recycled "star stuff" when our galaxy formed).
While one couldn't prove that a soul or an afterlife doesn't exist (because, much like God, it's impossible to prove a negative) there's unfortunately no evidence to support either of those ideas. The only claims that seem to hold any weight to the idea of a soul are the few instances of personal experiences had by people who've claimed to have experienced something supernatural during a near death experience. Other than taking their word for it, though, there's no reason to presume these experiences are true. Most of these individuals are medicated and already in a fragile mental state during the time of their experiences, so hallucinations, vivid dreaming, and side effects of medications are among the numerous explanations for what the person has gone through. Either way, these personal experiences are no more of a substantiated proof of an afterlife than another individuals personal claims that they have spoken to God or "felt the hand of God" in their lives.
How do atheists explain the majority of the world believing In God? - Statistics, IQ's, and other evidence supporting atheism
This wouldn't be the fist time that the majority of the world has been wrong about something. At one point in time the majority of the world believed the earth was flat and at another point they believed that cigarettes were not only safe but beneficial to your health.
Also, one must realize that the majority of the world isn't necessarily the most educated in either science or religion (and the ones who are educated in religion, are divided into hundreds of different religions that all contradict each other in one way or another).
If one wants to go by most of the educated world -- this is to say, the scientifically educated elite -- then the majority do not seem to believe in a personal god.
Statistics concerning intelligence and atheism:
+ In 2008 an intelligence test was done on a representative selection of white American youth, where they replied to questions about religious belief. Atheists scored 1.95 IQ points higher than Agnostics, 3.82 points higher than Liberal persuasions, and 5.89 IQ points higher than Dogmatic persuasions. "I'm not saying that believing in God makes you dumber. My hypothesis is that people with a low intelligence are more easily drawn toward religions, which give answers that are certain, while people with a high intelligence are more skeptical," said the intelligence researcher, Helmuth Nyborg.
+ Nyborg also co-authored a study with Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, which compared religious belief and average national IQs in 137 countries. The study analysed the issue from several viewpoints. Firstly, using data from a U.S. study of 6,825 adolescents, the authors found that atheists scored 6 g-IQ points higher than those adhering to a religion.
+ Secondly, the authors investigated the link between religiosity and intelligence on a country level. Among the sample of 137 countries, only 23 (17%) had more than 20% of atheists, which constituted "virtually all... higher IQ countries." The authors reported a correlation of 0.60 between atheism rates and level of intelligence, which is "highly statistically significant." This portion of the study uses the same data set as Lynn's work IQ and the Wealth of Nations.
+ In 1975, Norman Poythress studied a sample of 234 US college undergraduates, grouping them into relatively homogeneous religious types based on the similarity of their religious beliefs, and compared their personality characteristics. He found that "Literally-oriented religious Believers did not differ significantly from Mythologically-oriented Believers on measures of intelligence, authoritarianism, or racial prejudice. Religious Believers as a group were found to be significantly less intelligent and more authoritarian than religious Skeptics." He used SAT's as a measure of intelligence for this study.
+ According to a 1996 survey of United States scientists in the fields of biology, mathematics, and physics/astronomy, in total, about 60% of United States scientists in these fields expressed disbelief or agnosticism toward a personal god who answers prayer and personal immortality. This compared with 58% in 1914 and 67% in 1933.
+ Among members of the National Academy of Sciences (sometimes considered to be the world's leading scientists) only 7.0% expressed personal belief, while 72.2% expressed disbelief and another 20.8% were agnostic concerning the existence of a personal god who answers prayer.
+ A survey conducted between 2005 and 2007 found that over 60% of natural and social science professors at 21 elite US research universities are atheists or agnostics. When asked whether they believed in God, nearly 34% answered "I do not believe in God" and about 30% answering "I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out." According to the same survey, "[m]any scientists see themselves as having a spirituality not attached to a particular religious tradition."
Statistics on belief in creationism (intelligent design) in science:
+ In 1987 an estimate was found that only 700 scientists, out of a total of 480,000 earth and life scientists, gave credence to the belief of creationism. This is to say: 479,300 believed in evolution while only 700 didn't.
+ In 1991 a Gallup poll of Americans found that only 5% of scientists identified themselves as creationists.
+ The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has stated that intelligent design "and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life" are not science because they cannot be tested by experiment, do not generate any predictions, and propose no new hypotheses of their own.
+ In September of 2005, 38 Nobel Prize winners issued a statement saying "Intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent."
+ In October of 2005, a coalition representing more than 70,000 Australian scientists and science teachers issued a statement saying "intelligent design is not science" and calling on "all schools not to teach Intelligent Design as science, because it fails to qualify on EVERY COUNT as a scientific theory."
+ In 1986, an amicus curiae brief, signed by 72 US Nobel Prize winners, 17 state academies of science and 7 other scientific societies, asked the US Supreme Court to reject a Louisana state law requiring the teaching of creationism (which the brief described as embodying religious dogma). This was the largest collection of Nobel Prize winners to sign anything up to that point, providing the "clearest statement by scientists in support of evolution yet produced."
+ The American Association for the Advancement of Science (the world's largest general scientific society, with more than 130,000 members and over 262 affiliated societies and academies of science including over 10 million individuals) has made several statements and issued several press releases in support of evolution.
+ The prestigious United States National Academy of Sciences that provides science advice to the nation, has published several books supporting evolution and denouncing creationism and intelligent design.
+ One of the earliest resolutions in support of evolution was issued by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1922, and readopted in 1929.
+ In May 1966 Hermann J. Muller circulated a petition entitled "Is Biological Evolution a Principle of Nature that has been well established by Science?":
"There are no hypotheses, alternative to the principle of evolution with its 'tree of life' that any competent biologist of today takes seriously. Moreover, the principle is so important for an understanding of the world we live in and of ourselves that the public in general, including students taking biology in high school, should be made aware of it, and of the fact that it is firmly established, even as the rotundity of the earth is firmly established." This manifesto was signed by by 177 of the leading American biologists, including: Nobel Prize Winner George G. Simpson of Harvard University, Nobel Prize Winner Peter Agre of Duke University, Carl Sagan of Cornell, John Tyler Bonner of Princeton, Nobel Prize Winner George Beadle, President of the University of Chicago, Donald F. Kennedy of Stanford University, former head of the United States Food and Drug Administration.
+ In the fall of 1972 the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) passed a resolution that stated, in part, "the theory of creation ... is neither scientifically grounded nor capable of performing the rules required of science theories."
+ The United States National Academy of Sciences also passed a similar resolution in the fall of 1972.
+ In 1977 a statement on evolution called "A Statement Affirming Evolution as a Principle of Science" was published and signed by Nobel Prize Winner Linus Pauling, Isaac Asimov, Nobel Prize Winner George G. Simpson, Caltech Biology Professor Norman H. Horowitz, Ernst Mayr, and others.
+ To date, there are no scientifically peer-reviewed research articles that disclaim evolution listed in the scientific and medical journal search engine PubMed.
+ Just for kicks, the National Center for Science Education produced a petition called "Project Steve" in support of evolution, where only scientists named "Steve" or some variation (including Stephen, Stphanie, and Stfan) would be eligible to sign. As of July 2010, 1139 scientists named Steve had endorsed the petition.
NOTE: None of this implies that those who are religious are stupid or naïve. It is understood that there are plenty of brilliant people who believe in a God. These studies only imply that those who have studied more into the natural world, and have acquired all of the facts about it, are less likely to believe in a personal God and other superstitions. In short, not believing in God doesn't make you more intelligent, but gaining more intelligence does make you skeptical of God.
A poll shows that atheists know more about religion than theists - "Atheism is an effect of that knowledge [religion] not a lack of knowledge,"
To view the entire study conducted by the Pew Research Center click here