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The Inherent Fail of ‘New Atheism’

There has been plenty of debate in recent years about ‘New Atheism’, most notably its growing antitheism aspect (the active opposition to religion and belief in a god) – characterised by the likes of Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, and Christopher Hitchins. This idea generally takes the form that religious belief is harmful to individuals and societies…the ‘root of all evil’, as some might have it.

A large part of the criticism of New Atheism has been directed at its inability to see redeeming or helpful features to religion. So while atrocities committed in the name of Catholicism feature often in the literature, little is said about positive work done by believers. And now, that criticism has perhaps found its apotheosis. Witness the epic fail that is P.Z. Myers.

In short, Myers posted one of his usual caustic rants yesterday, this time about the refusal of the Australian government to help fund next year’s ‘The Rise of Atheism’ Global Atheism Conference. He began by attacking the government’s claim that the conference didn’t meet the correct criteria, and then moved on to a second target, Reverend Tim Costello. His problem? That Costello was the religious person mentioned in a news article, even though he was discussing his own conference when he said that “In a global context, most of the world is profoundly religious, and there literally can’t be peace without religious peace.”

Myers accused Costello of lying, going on to say “we also will not have peace through religion.” But Costello didn’t say that – he simply pointed out the majority of the world’s population is religious, and therefore there can’t be peace without religious peace (vs “there can’t be peace without religion”). Taking it further, Costello’s comment actually sounds more to me like a criticism of religions; the fact that they are in conflict and thus inhibiting world peace. But Myers got his dander up and went off early without reading things carefully. What could have upset this intelligent scientist so much in order for such a serious lack of judgement?

I thought this was a well understood principle; the danger in a democracy is the tyranny of the majority, and safeguards have to be put in place to protect the rights of minorities. Since Costello is a “reverend”, unfortunately, that probably means he’s an ignorant ass who has never learned anything that matters.

Ah, he’s a “reverend”! So he therefore is probably an “ignorant ass” who has “never learned anything that matters” about threats to democracy and the rights of minorities. Wow, epic fail on a galactic scale…

For those that don’t know ‘Reverend’ Tim Costello, here’s a quick CV:

In 1987, the Reverend Tim Costello, along with a team of others, rebuilt the congregation at the St Kilda Baptist Church, opened a drop-in centre and worked in a legal practice for those for whom the law is normally inaccessible…

…As elected Mayor of St Kilda Council in 1993, he became well known for championing the cause of local democracy…

…From 1995 to 2003 he was a Minister of the Collins Street Baptist Church and the Executive Director of Urban Seed, a Christian not-for-profit organization created in response to concern about homelessness, drug abuse and the marginalisation of the city’s street people.

…He has been Patron of Baptist World Aid, a member of the Australian Earth Charter Committee, a council member of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, a spokesperson for the Interchurch Gambling Taskforce, a member of the National Advisory Body on Gambling and a member of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation.

…Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s he was frequently seen in the Australian national media commenting on gambling and other social problems.

…In 2004, Costello was appointed CEO of World Vision Australia. He was awarded Victorian of the Year 2004 in July 2004, in recognition of his public and community service. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in June 2005. He is the 2008 winner of the Australian Peace Prize awarded by the Peace Organisation of Australia. He is also listed by the National Trust as a ‘National Living Treasure’.

Yep, that’s definitely an “ignorant ass” who’s “never learned anything that matters”. Or, perhaps, the prime example of where ‘New Atheism’ is going badly wrong.

So, on the world’s premiere science blog, there would have been plenty of intelligent people ready to set the record straight in the 200-or-so comments that followed such an epic fail? Right? Hmmm? No. Because, sadly, Myers is what he so despises himself. A rigid fundamentalist who will ignorantly spout off at someone just because they don’t have the same view as him, leading a flock of his own faithful who don’t dare criticise (or simply, don’t even see the flaws because they’ve drunk so much Kool-Aid). And, sadly, lowering the level of debate about religion – a topic that deserves much more intelligent discussion and criticism. This is the man put forward as the spokesperson for rationalism?


  1. Atheism v. religion v. science
    All seem to fall into the most dogmatic, or at least, the most dogmatic and strident voices are usually the ones you hear above the background ‘static’. I will say, that historically, the religions based on the god of Abraham, seem to be the most intolerant. To my knowledge, buddhhists and hindus haven’t fought wars to convert ‘non-believers’ (I could be wrong about this).

    Anyway, the fact that someone wears the label of religious, atheist or scientist, does not prevent them from being rational, moral individuals, nor guarantees that they in fact are. The labels seem to do little to predict actual behaviour.

    On the other hand, I’ve learned that if a contractor has a fish symbol on their vehicle, I’ll get ripped off if I deal with them. They seem to some how rationalize duping others for profit.

  2. P.Z. Myers
    At first I read all of P.Z. Myers (well Dawkins ideas mostly) scientific and philosophic ideas and thought that he had some valid points. However after reading further on and “listening” to his rhetoric it has become pretty obvious that the guy is a certified wacko. He may have been able to come up with some valid concepts however he couldn’t stand the heat and has lost so much perspective that he can’t see reality any more, nor does he want to. He is more interested in forcing his idea down people’s throats and his supporters just help keep him in his delusion.

    Whatever. History will show he was just another philosopher that lost his mind. I don’t think many really consider him anything other than what he is at this point.

  3. The worst thing to have afflicted mankind
    Let’s see… [Theistic] religion is the worst disability ever to have afflicted Mankind. It also actively promotes ignorance (such as Creationism in places like the US and Turkey – an obvious example of knuckle-dragging stupidity). I think that danger gives perfectly good grounds for taking action to get rid of religion for good.

    [I have never come across an atheist who particularly objected to non-theistic “religions” like Buddhism.]

    The nastiest are the great fascistic religions – catholicism and islam – of which islam is arguably the worse of the two.

    1. Religion is also the best thing to have affected mankind
      Art, philosophy, architecture, culture… without religion, we’d be very boring.

      Atheism has been just as destructive. “Religion is poison,” snarled Mao Zedong, and thus began the brutal destruction of Daoist and Buddhist traditions in China, from the demolition of ancient temples to the incarceration/execution of practicioners.

      It’s not religion that’s the problem. It’s not atheism that’s the problem. It’s intolerance, hatred and arrogance — of which atheists are no less immune as the faithful.

      I have never come across an atheist who particularly objected to non-theistic “religions” like Buddhism.[/quote]

      Yes you have, his name is PZ Myers.

      Dawkins however is quite tolerant of Buddhism:

      [quote=Dawkins]I know little about Buddhism, meditation as a kind of mental discipline to manipulate your mind in beneficial directions, I could easily imagine. In reciting a mantra in a repetitive way – it’s entirely plausible to me that might have some sort of trance-inducing effects which could even be beneficial. source[/quote]

      And Cliff Walker of Positive Atheism magazine, has this to say.

      Myers is to atheism as Jerry Falwell is to Christianity.

      1. indeed
        It is also interesting that the various atheist movements seem to replace religion with a belief system that is just as rigid. The new system has all the characteristics of a religion, except the gods.

        In particular the new system claims control of society, setting up rules and goals. These rules and goals may be different, but they have the same effect of controlling individuals and the society as a whole.

        Since religions are damaging through exploiting this system of controls, nothing has been changed.

      2. Human, all too human
        [quote=Rick MG]Art, philosophy, architecture, culture… without religion, we’d be very boring.

        As an artist, I have to take issue with this.

        Proponents of various religious, political and economic systems (actually, “cults” may be the appropriate word) always have and always will attempt to lay claim to the work of the artists that live under them. This is nonsense. The truth is, most artists throughout history have had only one option which allows them to fulfill their natural imperative to create: come to terms with the dominant system of power, feigning allegiance if necessary. So the spectacular Masters of 20th century Soviet art paid lip service to atheism and Communism, just as 15th century Italian artists devoted their works to the Christian God, the Virgin Mary, the Paraclete, etc. Some will argue that the most beautiful art being created today is made by digital artists working sweatshop-like hours in cubicles owned by film and video game companies in California and elsewhere, much to the delight of the proponents of Capitalism.

        Most often, artists create their work IN SPITE OF the powers that be (religious, political, economic or otherwise), not because of them. Other than a lot of hard work, the art that they create can only be attributed to one thing, the only thing that I believe is truly worthy of praise and worship: HUMAN creativity.

        1. very nicly worded,
          and absolutly true. All artists are creative in any field, they only mirror religions,popular trends,politics etc, etc, for finacial purposes.
          Being creative and expressing the inner emotions and state of being is being truely free.

          Atheism was, at one stage, the more tolorent. Now we see certain hyjackers of Atheism move more to the left and less tolorent of others religious views. This could be an answer to the more radical of religious sects with their violence and senceless destruction. Unfortunatly we always get the extremists in anything. As long as the general populace see what they are for what they are, then they will not be any danger.

        2. Out of context
          As an artist, I have to take issue with this.

          You’ve misread me, Jabuhrer. I never said there would be no art without religion/faith. Only that *I* would find the world to be a far less interesting place without the Hagia Sophia, Islamic geometry, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Buddhist murals, the Pyramids of Giza… I could go on and on, the list is endless.

          [quote-jabuhrer]… art… can only be attributed to one thing, the only thing that I believe is truly worthy of praise and worship: HUMAN creativity[/quote]

          You have more in common with ‘religious’ artists than you realise. 😉

          Anyways, it’s just my opinion. Don’t take it so literally.

  4. Simon Says: Hate?
    Here again, we are shown that the venom distilled from non-belief can be just as “caustic” as the one distilled from belief. History has heard words like these before and seldom, if ever, did good things follow.

  5. Uppity Atheists Untie
    Tyranny of the godly or tyranny of the ungodly, choose your poison!

    I’d have to say the militant atheists have been successful. They are attracting attention to their message. It really is o.k. for an atheist to “give a damn”. It really is o.k. for an atheist to get angry at labotomized believers. On the other hand, it’s not o.k. for an atheist to act like a know-it-all. We’re all still pretty far down on the proverbial learning curve.

  6. new atheists = new crybabies
    i have been an atheist for over 25 years, having spent 12 years raised as a roman catholic; to me there’s nothing new or radical about not believing in god.

    aren’t atheists are meant to be live bravely in the face of no salvation? aren’t they also supposed to show a higher degree of tolerance towards others’ choices than their (abrahamic) religious counterparts? aren’t they meant to be an example of a better way to live?

    if the opinions of p.z. myers were all you knew of atheism, you’d think not. his online sookery is a disgrace to nonbelievers everywhere.

      1. New Atheists
        Also agree.

        (also like In the Night Garden, it makes you feel like your on drugs when your not)

        I wonder though how much this is the affect of straying into anti-philosophy rather than anti-religion. When the so called New Atheists (though the label is obviously silly) seem to stray into disagreeing with philosophies rather than specific points within religions they are on their weakest footings. No-one can really doubt the need for philosophies (of ethics, actions, human meaning etc) in life, but there is a difference between them and religion.

        It seems to me that it is more all about scientific activism.

  7. Actions are what matters
    I am not a ‘religious’ person, but I’m also not ‘anti-religion’. If any belief system, or no belief system, results in someone being a better person I see no harm in it.

    I can only admire people like Tim Costello who have worked tirelessly for the betterment of the less-fortunates. Whether they are ‘religious’ or not is, I feel, irrelevant – their actions are what counts.

    If there were more like those people and less like Myers the world would be a better place.

    Regards, Kathrinn

  8. Sometimes I Despair
    I had a quiet day in yesterday. I watched an old film called Conspiracy of Hearts ( ) and it brought tears to my eyes. It was about a group of nuns in Italy during WW2 and how they rescued Jewish children from a nearby concentration camp. It reminded me that, although I have no recognised religion, I can appreciate the great sacrfices and wonderful works of kindness and generosity performed by people of faith. It reminded me that people all over the world live for others in the name of their faith.

    Then I check-in at my favourite website and read Greg’s piece above. I nod in agreement (as I usually do with Greg’s thoughts – he seems to think along similar lines to myself). I click on the comments and my heart sinks a little.

    [quote] SimonGardner: Let’s see… [Theistic] religion is the worst disability ever to have afflicted Mankind. It also actively promotes ignorance (such as Creationism in places like the US and Turkey – an obvious example of knuckle-dragging stupidity). I think that danger gives perfectly good grounds for taking action to get rid of religion for good.[/quote]

    And here was I thinking that TDG was an oasis of moderation. Somewhere anyone can feel welcome to air their views without recourse to nasty insults (“knuckle-dragging stupidity”) and without fear of being subject to similar insults because one holds a certain view.

    I’m a little wary of asking the question of SimonGardner: exactly what “action to get rid of religion” do you promote?

    But it is the rationale of the statement that causes my despair. By the same rationale I could state that atheism was the “worst disability to have afflicted Mankind” in the 20th century. Eugenics is a system of “selecting out” undesirable human traits following on from Darwin’s theories and popularised by Darwin’s cousin, Sir Richard Galton. Here’s what you can read in Wikipedia on the subject:

    [quote]Today it is widely regarded as a brutal movement which inflicted massive human rights violations on millions of people.[7] The “interventions” advocated and practised by eugenicists involved prominently the identification and classification of individuals and their families, including the poor, mentally ill, blind, promiscuous women, homosexuals and entire racial groups——such as the Roma and Jews——as “degenerate” or “unfit”; the segregation or institutionalisation of such individuals and groups, their sterilization, euthanasia, and in the extreme case of Nazi Germany, their mass extermination.[/quote]

    If you were to imagine that Eugenics was an isolated phenomenon, taken to extremes by the Nazis, then you might be surprised to read about the popularity of the program in the pre-war USA.

    And if the extremes of eugenics are not enough to move atheism into the dark side, perhaps then we might consider the 20th century human rights records of the two great atheist societies: China and the USSR? Mao and Stalin make Bin Laden look like a novice in the ranks of the evil doers.

    Of course, this kind of argument is pointless. Atheism is no more inherently evil than is religion. Awful things have been done to humans by humans who considered themselves to be religious or atheist. Bin Laden is a fanatic; a psychopath who has no regard for life. There were Popes just as bad (or worse): read the accounts of the Albigensian Crusade for proof of that.

    This forum is wonderful for debate and we should all be grateful that we have that precious freedom. Insults, cyber-bullying and intolerance are ways to kill off debate. They lead to polarisation which is precisely what we are seeing in the West thanks to the likes of Myers and Dawkins (and, it must be said, their religious, fundamentalist equivalents). The media in my country is solidly behind the new atheists. Journalists, radio and TV presenters and stand-up comedians all seem to have a need to prove their atheist credentials. They do so by ridiculing anyone who might not agree with them. When the media want to appear to be fair minded, they set up a “debate” between believers and atheists. They don’t include the middle ground – people like most of the readers on this site. They line up the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens against fundamentalist Christians. They don’t put their beloved heroes in with the likes of Alvin Platinga (a highly intelligent Christian Philosopher). Nor do they invite people who have spiritual beliefs but no religious affiliation. They have swallowed the Dawkins/Myers line that this is a war of reason against superstition and that any means to win that war can be considered fair.

    I’ll finish my point on polarisation with one example: I have been reading a book by John Gribbin and Martin Rees on Cosmic Coincidences. It is getting on for two decades since that book was written so I tried a little Google research. I looked up “fine tuned universe” and “Anthropic Principle” and I was deluged by sites promoting either an atheistic or a creationist view. Wikipedia has their article on fine tuning filed under the categories “Intelligent design | Pseudophysics | Creation science” … does that not display a certain bias? The bulk of the article is a section entitled: “Possible scientific explanations” (which is their thinly-disguised code for “the probable truth of it”). So even they see this intriguing subject as a creationist/atheist debate with no alternative explanation worthy of mention. Of course, the word “creationist” is heavily loaded and is – these days – almost universally taken to mean the Young Earth/Old Testament (literal) definition.

    I don’t want to get into the creationist/neo-darwinist debate here and now; I’m just making the point that, please, please, can we try to avoid polarising the debates in this way?


  9. Turf wars
    Myers criticises religions and religious for doing exactly what he is doing — and is utterly blind to it.

    Amazing. At least in Myer’s view of religious folk, they are “lobotomized” and non-thinking. What excuse does he, a logical, thinking scientist, have for behaving in such an irrational fashion?

    It’s about power, folks. It’s about staking out a claim on territory (minds and hearts). That’s why he behaves the way he does.

    This argument has NOTHING to do with religion or atheism — it is about “who will be in charge”.

    That’s a power grab, nothing more or less.

    1. I mind set
      The mind set is there has to be someone in charge of the herd mind. And the power plays that go strait to name calling lose in my mind instantly. As a note, I’m non-religious. And think many religions are man-made muck.

  10. polarisation
    “I don’t want to get into the creationist/neo-darwinist debate here and now; I’m just making the point that, please, please, can we try to avoid polarising the debates in this way?”

    i agree. insults only get people’s backs up, which pretty much kills any opportunity for further discussion.

    interestingly, i once watched a youtube video of myers at an atheists conference. he was commenting on the place in which he lives (a small rural town in the u.s.) and his interactions with the seemingly large proportion of religious folk there. he came across in this video as being calm and relatively fair-minded. perhaps that had something to do with being amongst friends (ie. other atheists so enamoured with their cause that they’d actually attend a conference about it…). it was a far cry from his online tantrums.

    this contrast reminds me of a little guy in a big car. he’ll drive up your ass all the way along the freeway, crank up the techno and burn rubber at every intersection but get him out of the car and he’s meek.

    take p.z. myers away from the internet and, it would seem, the bullying, brattish behaviour dissolves.

  11. The fault lies in ourselves.
    We are human. And God, and the Lack of God makes us imagine, and project all sorts of delusion. There is some part of our brain that is wired, inclined in this direction. Even if religion was removed from the world. It would return, in some new, and crazy way. Too many sheep. Too many questions. Not enough answers. Too many Dreams.

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