Saturday 5 October 2013

New atheists

I have had this post mulling around in my head for a while and I need to get it out.

New atheists, oh how I hate that phrase. Most new atheists as they are described by theists, are basing their thought processes on the Socratic method and "new" philosophers like Voltaire and Denis Diderot. These are not new ideas, atheism is not new. What is new is the success that has been attained by these books, success that is well deserved due to hard work and due to timing, nothing more.
Socrates is over 2000 years old... I suppose that makes them New atheists in the same sense that Christianity is a new religion, continuing on from Socrates we had Epicurus, you'll know of him and from his problem of evil;

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent (evil)
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Interestingly Epicurus' was taught and influenced by the teachings of Democritus (father of the aptly named Democracy), who was friends with Hippocrates (where the Hippocratic oath gets its name, and thus modern medicine its founding precepts). So this "New" atheism has some 2000 year old ideas.
I like to respond to the claim that we are just blindly following these new idols with ironically a paraphrase from Richard Dawkins, the first atheist came into existence when the first conman met the first skeptic. Think about it, some guy comes down from a mountain into your village and says he saw a god atop the mountain that controls its occasional eruptions, and this god requires your devotion and donations of food, this conman will ensure is made pleasing to this god, as he eats it in his hut.

So, unless you fandangle New Atheists to simply be a definition for the current successful atheists and their books, and those that are effected by them, then you are creating a definition that does not equal the words you have chosen. Most atheists I know from Sydney atheists were atheists before they read a single book of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, Krauss, Stenger or any of the others. Myself inclusive. Sure there are plenty that where on the fence when they read one of these authors books, and then quickly fell off into non-belief, but most where either there and not out, or already there and out but not in fashion.
“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” - Isaac Asimov, obviously Asimov is another New atheist... considering this is taken from one of the many thousands of letters that he wrote in his 72 year life (died 1992), compiled into the book "Yours, Isaac Asimov" in 1996, well before any of the New atheists where on the scene. The letter according to the annotation by his brother was written on Feb. 22, 1966, quoted again in 2006 by Janet Asimov in her book "Notes for a Memoir" Pg58. Sorry to labour this Isaac Asimov quote but I have found some contention on Christian blogs as to whether it is legitimate, seeing it in two different sources, as well as the times he criticises the bible in his other works, convinces me of its legitimacy.

The aforementioned authors, I would say are also quick to attribute their thoughts and success to those that came before them, standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants such as Newton, Kant, Darwin, Kelvin, Faraday, Jefferson, Paine, Bertrand Russell, and many, many others who have contributed to the body of science and thought that makes up modern day atheism.

So stop calling it new atheism, or I am going to call you Christians, a New Jew, and anything newer than 1700ad flash in the pan, eg flash in the pan Mormon, flash in the pan Scientoligist. Let the temporary nature of your belief system sink in for a bit.

Gnu atheists
Yeah I have no problem with this term, as it is a mock of the "New atheists" term, and I am sure Richard Stallman (Of GNU/Linux) would be proud.

Some references; search forthe words "potent force", in quotes. Raphael is a friend from Sydney atheists, and much more learned and scholoarly than I, in fact a discussion with him on facebook re-inspired me to finish this post off.

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