I’m an atheist. *Gasp* ‘Hold the phone!’
Hard to believe that an atheist runs an atheist site right? I’ve even been the keyboard warrior type of atheist, although that was many years ago. I spent lots of time debating theists desperately hoping that either they could provide me with some evidence of a deity, or I could get them to see reason past their presupposition and fallacies.
Over time I got bored of the conversations, there are only so many times you can hear the ‘Why Monkeys’ argument without your eyes rolling so far back in your head you can see out your anus.
Rather than get in an endless loop of pointless conversations, I collected my thoughts on this site and started focusing on learning new things. More programming languages, science, philosophy, all sorts of interesting things.
I found some of my beliefs were erroneous and illogical, some of my arguments had glaring holes in them that I had not realised before due to the echo chamber I experienced with the online community of atheists. Let’s face it, we spend a lot of time correcting bad science from folks like creationists and sometimes forget to check ourselves, especially when we are all of the same misunderstandings.
I still enjoy discussing beliefs and using the rules of logic. I have a rekindled passion for philosophy that I left behind some 15-20 years ago, largely thanks to TrolleyDave and ArtificalAgent, the Fresh AiR podcast, and resources like SEP and the IEP, interacting with folks in groups such as the GDC (Site, FB Group), AiR, Believer / Non-believer discussion and philosophical discourse, as well as conversations online with folks like Faithless Southerner(Evans), Opie, Intrigued Feline, Josh Searching, Mister Badger and many others. These folks haven’t taken an aggressive stance with me. They have been open, taken onboard information, changed opinions (and helped me change mine), and generally accepting of new information instead of being resistant to it. Even if we disagreed, it was done respectfully, and as such gave both parties things to reflect on.
Through my learning and self-exploration, I have found many commonly held beliefs that we atheists have to be found wanting. This is in part what my Bad Atheist Arguments series and Conflated and Misunderstood Terms series have been about, along with a few other articles on logic, beliefs, and morality.
Humans are tribal creatures, and as much as I do not like being grouped with anyone, atheists are my tribe. As such I wanted to spread the things I have learned to them.
We atheists claim to be logical and reasonable characters, right? We say we are sceptics, and that evidence will change our mind, don’t we? So you can imagine my surprise when I found so much resistance to the things I was saying.
The folks who I thought were ‘my tribe’ apparently were not at all. These atheists were ‘New Atheists’ and seemed as dogmatic and irrational as fundamentalist Christians. It left me wondering if I ever behaved that way myself.
What is ‘New Atheism’?
New Atheism is a term coined by the journalist Gary Wolf in 2006 to describe the positions promoted by some atheists of the twenty-first century.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Atheism
However, it has moved much past this into ideology and takes on almost a religious form of dogmatism. There are many common traits and behaviours you can see from the ‘New Atheist’ tribe.
Behaviours and Traits of the ‘New Atheist’
Please note, this list is neither exhaustive nor is it all-inclusive. It doesn’t apply to all atheists nor does it instantly make someone a ‘New Atheist’ for doing one of them occasionally. We all make mistakes.
However, if you see someone regularly demonstrate a large number of these traits, without ever taking time to reconsider their position, then it is likely they do fit into the ‘New Atheist’ category.
- Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Aron Ra, Matt Dillahunty etc are treated with reverence and seen as authorities even on things they are not authorities in. These guys have done great things, but they are still just people, and should not be your only citations. (appeal to authority)
- Movements like the ACA and AA are cited as authorities and most other sources are ignored. (appeal to authority, confirmation bias)
- Anything that contests beliefs is treated with utmost hostility. (confirmation bias, tribalism)
- Some claim they have no beliefs, only knowledge. (ignorance)
- Most claim atheism is ONLY a lack of belief in deities. (ignorance)
- Most claim agnostic ONLY means without knowledge. (ignorance)
- Most are prescriptive with the above two, whilst rejecting other definitions. (definitional fallacy, special pleading)
- Many claim atheism makes you smart and rational. (A statement that is just wrong in and of itself)
- Do not understand the BoP on any belief position, even a ‘lack of belief’, is to justify it as a rational position to hold, do not take the time to understand the point, and insist you are trying to shift the burden of proof. (willful ignorance)
- Dog-pile on theists on the internet. (Just plain nasty)
- Similarly to the above, love a ‘quoted retweet’ to name and shame, and encourage further dogpiling. (not going to lie, I have been guilty of retweeting some ridiculous statements, but never with the intention of a dog pile of ‘you’re a deluded moron’).
- Insist morality is subjective yet not take the time to really understand what that means. (confirmation bias, willful ignorance)
- Lack of understanding of basic logic and epistemology. (Wilful ignorance)
- Say things like, ‘Philosophy is Dead’ whilst discussing philosophical concepts like morality, knowledge, beliefs, and not even understand that science and maths are extensions of philosophy.
- Feel they need no understanding of the philosophy they are discussing, whilst asserting creationists should have an understanding of the science they are discussing. (Special pleading)
- Deny any form of logic or definition that does not suit their position (argument from ignorance)
- Fail to demonstrate your position is wrong, just assert it is wrong, often because that is what other atheists think (ad populum fallacy).
- Spend more time attacking a person’s character or shouting fallacy than engaging in a rational debate (e.g. poison the well/genetic fallacy).
- Jesus Mythicism is popular. (Willful Ignorance).
- Claim things are ‘not evidence’ when what they mean is it is weak/unconvincing evidence. Evidence is indicative, proof is conclusive, therefore anything that indicates towards a particular position IS evidence, even if weak. (Ignorance)
- Are so tribal that assume anyone that doesn’t agree with their dogma is a theist. (Tribalism)
- Incredibly defensive and aggressive argument style, preferring insults, character attacks, memes, and repeating the same assertion without backing it up.
- Spend more time attacking anything that isn’t the actual argument to avoid having to actually demonstrate any real knowledge. (Dodge and Divert)
- Generally make assumptions that they are an atheist because they are super smart, rational, and logical, and therefore everything they think or say is smart, rational, and logical, meaning anyone that disagrees with them is the inverse. (Dunning-Kruger)
- A misunderstanding of fallacies, both on the definition and when something is genuinely a fallacy. (Ignorance)
- A readiness to block anyone not willing to fall in line with their echo chamber. (Confirmation Bias/Tribalism)
- Make contradictory and inconsistent statements and get defensive when this is pointed out.
Examples of these behaviours
I will demonstrate how some of the above behaviours are frequently applied, however, I will only cover a few as I think the point can be made with these.
Lacktheism & Prescriptive language
It is far too common to hear ‘Atheism is ONLY a lack of belief in gods existing’ and to conflate all forms of non-theist to atheist.
This is fine if they want to be called an ‘Agnostic Atheist’ even if the term is superfluous, I will accept what people want to be called. The issue comes when someone wants to prescribe their use to someone who is some form of non-theist, e.g. Agnostic, Ignostic etc.
The atheist will insist that they are a form of atheist, yet if it turns out that their ontological position is that of the classic agnostic, rather than an atheist, they will reject being called as such. They expect you to accept their definition yet refuse yours. This is special pleading.
They will often say that they lack belief in God existing but do not hold the belief god exists, meaning they also lack belief in god not existing. This is the classic agnostic stance, that they have decided to rebrand as ‘agnostic atheism’.
However, if atheism can simply be defined as a lack of belief in gods existing, then surely theism can be defined as a lack of belief in gods not existing. And here we have a problem with the logic. That makes their position a theistic atheist, or atheistic theist. This is a bit of a contradiction. Of course, the alternative is to again special plead and say that theism HAS to be a positive belief god exists whilst atheism can both be a lack of belief or a positive belief gods do not exist.
To back up their position they will cite the ‘king atheists’ or sites like the ‘AA’ and ignore all evidence that can show other ways these words are defined. They will then project that YOU are the one being prescriptive, even though what you are trying to do is say that there are OTHER definitions and explain the ones you use yourself. When you cite a number of different sources that show other definitions they will then claim YOU are committing an argument from authority, having just done the same themselves.
Behaviours: Special Pleading, Definitional Fallacy, Arguments From Authority, Willful Ignorance, Projection.
Burden of Proof – Theist Troll
I quite often try to explain the burden of proof on a belief position is closer to justifying one’s position as rational. What are the reasons you do not believe the theist’s claims? It’s essentially as simple as that. You don’t have to prove your position is true, just have a logical approach that shows you have fully reasoned the position.
Many of the ‘New Atheist’ tribe don’t like the idea they have any sort of burden of proof. This is often whilst they hide behind ‘lack of belief’ as they think holding a belief is the same as claiming something with epistemic certainty.
A belief is something we accept as true, the claim is that it is our cognitive state. The burden on this is just to make sure your position is rational.
A claim is something we assert definitely IS true. This carries a burden to prove it IS the case.
Let’s consider something really simple:
I believe it will rain tomorrow – the burden here is to justify this as rational. It rains most days, the weather forecast from most channels say it should rain, I can see clouds forming in the distance, the air feels like it is getting heavier. There we go, a rational belief. (the same can be said for ‘I don’t believe it will rain tomorrow.’)
It is sunny outside – the burden here is to prove this is true. Here is a picture of the outside, in fact here a short video of me telling you the date. Here check these local weather sites that show it is sunny in my area, etc.
For a more detailed explanation check my Court Room Analogy of Belief vs Claim.
So, now that you understand that the BoP on a belief position, is simply a justification of rationality (aka epistemic justification) it would make sense that a group of people that pride themselves on being rational people would want to do that, right?
The problem is, they have all been told they ‘Have no burden of proof’ and that anyone that tells them they do is ‘shifting the burden of proof’. The ‘New Atheist’ tribe will not listen to reason on this. They will not take the time to understand what you are saying about the burden of proof being a justification of rationality. They will just say you are wrong, and that ‘only the person making the claim has a burden of proof’.
They will straw-man you, project their ignorance, claim you are wrong, and even to the point of calling you a ‘theist troll’.
As you can see, this is one of many examples of the ‘New Atheist’ asserting their dominance like the proverbial pigeon playing chess. When the usual dogpile didn’t happen (although a few did get involved) She decided to block. When some random atheist I had never spoke to before chimed in and said ‘he’s not a theist’, she blocked him too. Echo chambers seem to be an encouragement of the ‘New Atheist’ tribe.
Human’s are tribal creatures, so it is in our nature to behave this way and act with the binary ‘with us or against us’ attitude, which means folks do not allow for nuance, even if you mostly agree with someone they take that as a complete disagreement. Look at the conversations you have with the ‘Gun Nut’. You say something like ‘There should be more restrictions around who gets guns and what type of guns they are allowed’ and they hear ‘I am going to take away your guns!’. The ‘New Atheist’ is no different. You say, ‘Perhaps things are not quite as you understand?’ they hear, ‘I’m a theist trying to shift the burden of proof!’.
Behaviours: Willful Ignorance, Projection, Strawman, Tribalism.
Related articles and Information about BoP on Belief positions:
Morality is Subjective!
The ‘New Atheist’ loves to assert morality is subjective, without taking the time to understand what that really means.
Simply put, if morality is entirely subjective, that means the agent performing the action decides if it is moral or not. Therefore if you decide it is moral to rape, murder, steal, abuse, cheat etc it is moral to do so. It would mean that no one could hold you to a standard above your own personal opinion.
Generally in conversation, the ‘New Atheist’ will just assert ‘Morality is subjective’ over and over, without being able to provide any real rationalisation for that. You can ask what they think morality is, what subjective means, and the implications of subjective morality and they will give you a bunch of non-answers.
Yes when you ask a question like, ‘If a rapist says it is moral for him to rape, is it moral for the rapist to rape or are they held to a standard above their personal opinion?’ Most will agree that it is immoral for the rapist to rape, and hold the rapist to a standard above the rapists personal opinion.
This means that descriptively they are applying morality objectively, even if they came to that conclusion subjectively. However, if you ask why they think that they can cite a number of facts as to why rape is immoral too.
Morality is not wholly subjective or objective. Descriptively there are subjective, relative, and objective elements, and when you take a normative approach it is objective. Objective does not even mean ‘correct’ just above personal opinion or based on facts.
As you can see from the screenshots above, this particular ‘New Atheist’ added nothing to the conversation other than baseless assertions (e.g. mind gymnastics), projections of ignorance, dodging of questions or general non-answers to questions. Like many, they were more interested in ‘winning’ the conversation than taking the time to understand the topic and assess what they believe in a good methodical sceptical way.
I really wish the ‘New Atheists’ would actually study some of the philosophy they discuss, even in really basic levels, before they are ‘certain’ or claim to ‘know’ what they are talking about.
Behaviours: Projection, Aggressive, Defensive, Wilful ignorance, Dodging, pseudoscepticism.
Further information and related articles/podcasts on morality:
Our current season of Fresh AiR is about Ethics & Morality. We discuss a number of moral theories in Episode 2 (split into 12 chapters) as well as a lengthy discussion Subjective vs Objective morality.
When we speak of inconsistent statements or beliefs we mean something as simple as statements or beliefs that contradict each other.
For example, if I was to say “all trees have green leaves” and then say “this tree has blue leaves”. That is a contradiction. If someone then says, “So not all trees have green leaves then?” and I say “no, all trees have green leaves!” I would be maintaining an inconsistent belief.
This happened recently when discussing Dave’s recent article ‘Beliefs, Language and Logic‘. The person responding seemed to misunderstand the entire point of the article and started making a few odd statements.
The first was that context was not important, which is a bit of a ridiculous statement. When we speak of the word ‘theory’ in the context of science it has a very different meaning to the colloquial use. Dave explains more about why context is important in his article. He then went on to contradict himself by stating you need to work out the usage and go from there. Essentially that is saying that you need to work out the context…
He also made statements such as I was strawmanning ‘New Atheists’ and when asked for an example showed he didn’t know what a strawman was.
He said both context and normative definitions are irrelevant, yet when I gave him an example of not using a normative definition of science, he said I committed an appeal to ridicule. Whilst my statement was ridiculous, as I explained in my previous article ‘Is That Really a Fallacy?’ when you are using someone else’s argument that is already ridiculous to demonstrate how ridiculous it is, you’re not committing a fallacy but showing them how ridiculous their statement is.
Of course pointing out that he was contradicting himself, made ridiculous statements, and failed to use the strawman properly earned me a block.
These were just a few examples of the behaviours we see from ‘New Atheists’. As you can see, the argument style is very aggressive, defensive, and dismissive. They are not looking to understand, learn, grow or discuss. They are just looking for fights and claim victory regardless of if they get one.
Not all of the internet atheists are like this, of course. I have had some great conversations and met some great people, atheist, agnostic and theist alike. Some of them have changed my opinions, some I have changed theirs, others we have had rational conversations but agreed to disagree. In most instances, I either learned something or helped someone else to learn something. In fact, some start out like the above but when they finally talk to someone outside of the circle jerk they finally have an eye-opening moment. That is why I still spend time interacting with the internet atheist community. The hope that I either find one that is not a ‘new atheist’ or if they are, they are open to reason.
I hope this article has been taken as intended, a chance for self-reflection, rather than interpreted as me pointing fingers and condescending. My goal is to make folks think about if they are behaving this way and realise how irrational it is. Hopefully, I have not failed in the quest.