New Atheism appeared to offer moral clarity, it emphasized intellectual honesty and it embraced scientific truths about the nature and workings of reality. It gave me immense hope to know that in a world overflowing with irrationality, there were clear-thinking individuals with sizable public platforms willing to stand up for what’s right and true — to stand up for sanity in the face of stupidity.
Fast-forward to the present: What a grift that was!
Richard Dawkins: Once a heavyweight within the world of evolutionary biology, Dawkins energized atheists the world over with his book “The God Delusion.” Over time, though, it became increasingly clear that he’s neither an adult-in-the-room nor a particularly nice guy. For some bizarre reason, he obsessively targeted a Muslim teenager in Texas, who was arrested after a homemade clock he brought to school was wrongly thought to be a bomb. He also flipped out over what came to be called “Elevatorgate,” which began with Rebecca Watson calmly asking men to be thoughtful and considerate about how they make women feel at conferences — for example, in the enclosed space of an elevator. This resulted in a flood of rape and death threats directed toward Watson, while Dawkins mocked the situation by writing a shocking letter addressed “Dear Muslima,” in which the first line was “Stop whining, will you.” More recently, he’s made it clear that he isn’t bothered by the allegations against Krauss, and posted seemingly anti-trans comments on Twitter. When asked why Twitter has caused him so much trouble, he claimed: “I love truth too much.” (For Dawkins’ troubling views on aborting fetuses with Down Syndrome, see this.)
There are other new atheist discussed in the essay. Read the essay to see who they are.
Phil Torres is a philosopher and author whose work focuses on existential risks to civilization and humanity. He has published on a wide range of topics, including machine superintelligence, emerging technologies and religious eschatology, as well as the history and ethics of human extinction. His forthcoming book is “Human Extinction: A History of Thinking About the End of the World.” For more, visit his website and follow him on Twitter.
I recently published an article on Salon in which I criticize the “new atheist” movement. By this term, I mean the community that has accumulated around figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne and Peter Boghossian. My criticism focused on two general issues: First, new atheism’s increasing willingness to ignore empirical facts and scientific evidence; and second, a long series of avoidable gaffes by prominent figures (followed by appalling defenses rather than apologies) that have alienated women and people of color while simultaneously attracting alt-right folks with morally noxious anti-feminist, anti-social justice views.