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Quote of the Day: Is New Atheism Dead? By Steven Pinker

steven pinker

The entire concept of a “New Atheism movement” comes from defensive defenders of religion. I think of it not as a movement but as the overdue examination of an idea: Does a supernatural deity exist, and should our morality and politics be shaped by the belief that it does? For various reasons—the intrusion of theo-conservatism during the presidency of George W. Bush, the rise of militant Islam, an awareness of the psychological origins of supernatural beliefs, sheer coincidence—a quartet of books appeared within a span of two years, and pattern-spotters invented a “New Atheist Movement.” (I would not downplay coincidence as the explanation—random stochastic processes generate clusters of events by default.) Judged by degree of belief, the “new atheism” is not only not dead but it is winning: every survey has shown that religious belief is in steep decline, all over the world, and the drop off is particularly precipitous across the generations, as compared to just drifting with the zeitgeist or changing over the life cycle. This is reflected in laws and customs—homosexuality is being decriminalized in country after country, for example. These trends are masked in the public sphere by two forces pushing in the opposite direction: religious people have more babies, and religious communities turn out in elections and vote in lockstep for the more conservative candidate. If the “new atheist” message of Christopher Hitchens et al. was “Atheists should have more babies,” or “Atheists should form congregations and vote en masse for the same candidate,” then yes, it was an abject failure. But if it is “The evidence for a supernatural being is dubious, and the moral norms of legacy religions are often pernicious,” then it is carrying the day, or at least riding a global wave.

Steven Pinker, Why Evolution is True, Is New Atheism Really Dead?, February 15, 2019


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    It’s still difficult in many circles to openly state that one is an atheist. I have started telling some close friends that I trust, and the initial reaction is unsettling at best. But of course, as friends, we are able to talk about what atheism means for me and what they think of about atheism. It’s good to have the dialogue, but there are some people with whom I do not feel that I can have the conversation yet. The fact that some of us can have that conversation without losing our friendship is promising though.

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      Indeed it is difficult! People often look at me as if I have three heads when I tell them. It’s not like the initiation of the conversation is mine, of course, in these situations. But when people begin prattling on about it’s “God’s will” or some such nonsense, I no longer keep quiet.
      Pinker is correct in that more people are finding themselves rejecting a deity. Now if we can just get these religious zealots to keep it in their pants!

      My family still believes I am the black sheep and deceived, of course. Although I’ve not said the words, “I am an atheist”, it’s pretty clear. They’ll spout something ridiculous and I’ll just say, “I don’t believe that at all”, and then give an explanation as to why. Oh, the looks!

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