Radical Atheism

Radical ‘New Atheism ‘ was all over the media in the first decade of the 21st century.  The attack was led by the "Four Horsemen of the Non-apocalypse": Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett.  Harris launched the first volley in 2004 with his best-seller The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.  Dawkins’ The God Delusion remained on the New York Times bestseller list for a year.  


imaginary friends militant atheism


This flurry of anti-religion books followed a wave of religion–related terrorist attacks, including the destruction of New York’s World Trade Centre in 2001. Atheists were rightly outraged by these acts of violence. They identified the root cause of terrorism as malignant belief in God, and did not seem to notice that most people of faith were equally horrified by this violence. 


These radical New Atheists appear to have calculated that widespread revulsion of Islamic fundamentalism could be leveraged into a general backlash against faith of all types; as if suicide bombers, who export terror, and church groups, which bake cakes to raise money to export charity, all share the same dangerous delusion.   


Radical atheism is as easily distinguished from rational atheism as the Gospel of Wrath from the Gospel of Anti-wrath.  Rational atheists and disciples of Anti-wrath confess to doubts about what they believe, what they don’t believe, and where to draw the line. Radical atheists and disciples of Wrath do not have the slightest doubt that they possess the absolute truth. Mention ‘ecumenism’ and interfaith dialogue to a disciple of Wrath and he will recoil as if you had just invited him to a Satanic sacrifice. Mention belief in God to a radical atheist and she will sneer at you as if you are some inbred, toothless imbecile who treats cancer with priest-blessed holy water.


Radical atheists are appalled that the vast majority of the human race has believed and continues to believe in God, gods, supernatural forces, and life beyond death. They know that to dismiss all these believers as imbeciles is likely to create a negative backlash.  Radical atheists don’t give a damn. 


Radical atheists pride themselves on being intellectually superior to people of faith. The scientific data show a correlation between atheism and levels of education (which is not a direct measure of intelligence). Radical atheists do not notice that disciples of Wrath are far more inclined to avoid education (public education and higher education as opposed to home schooling) in order to preserve their faith and the faith of their children – than disciples of Anti-wrath.  


Radical atheists believe themselves to be morally superior to people of faith. Studies show that (in the US) "atheists and secular people" are less nationalist, prejudiced, anti-Semitic, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded, and authoritarian than "religious people," and the murder rate is lower than average in states with the highest percentages of atheists, while in the most ‘religious’ states, the murder rate is higher than average.


Are radical atheists therefore justified in believing their belief system is intellectually and morally superior to religion?  The short answer is ‘no’ because ‘religion’ left undefined is a meaningless term.  At one end of the spectrum is ‘good religion’ which could be defined as religions that co-exist peacefully and beneficially in the way different organs within a human body contribute to the greater good. ‘Bad religion’ is selfish, non-cooperative, and destructive, and is comparable to cancer cells.  This same definition can also be used to distinguish ‘good’ atheists (eg humanists and humanitarians) from ‘bad’ atheists (eg eugenicists and rapacious materialists).  


The 20th century was the most violent in history and disciples of Wrath blame the vast majority of deaths on atheistic regimes. Hitler and his Nazis were monsters but it is a stretch to claim they were avowed atheists, even if they were inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche who proclaimed that God is Dead.  The Soviet Union was an officially atheist regime of immeasurable brutality and Mao’s China was a violently atheist regime. Radical atheists are being as dishonest as disciples of Wrath when they dismiss state-imposed atheism as a ‘religion.’  Atheists cover the same spectrum of morality, immorality or amorality as people of faith.    


Evolution is not a moral process. The mechanism of natural selection is ‘survival of the fittest’ which certainly does not mean that the most moral creatures survive, or even those with the biggest muscles or brains.  Darwin wrote that ‘it is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.’  Dinosaurs could not avoid extinction, despite their bulk, and many ‘inferior’ species have a better shot of surviving the next global catastrophe than humans.  Despite our superior intelligence, we may fail to respond to change, while cockroaches thrive. 


Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, wrote, ‘We are survival machines – robot vehicles – blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.’  Dawkins’ selfish gene does not care that it inhabits a vehicle which is savage, ugly, or stupid, so long as it successfully responds to change and embodies the fitness to survive. The selfish gene only concerns itself with the present material reality and has no preference for a human robot or a cockroach robot. It is not impeded by any concept of ‘good.’


Dawkins realized that his selfish gene theory appeared to legitimize nightmare scenarios of selfishness. Any competitor that kills off all the competition would have the field to itself and would prosper. Dawkins’ selfish gene and the God (of Wrath) delusion are prime suspects in the destruction of civilization.    


In the chapter ‘Nice guys finish first’ Dawkins lays out a theoretical framework for cooperation.  We understand how this may operate on a rational, macro level among people, tribes and nations which choose cooperation as a survival strategy. But Dawkins also tells us that we and our societies are mere robot vehicles controlled by our selfish genes. These genes have no ‘minds’ and no ‘plans’.  They simply survive, or not.


Richard Dawkins and other radical atheists would like to believe that human intelligence is stronger than genetic coding.  That would like to believe that although our genes are ruthless, we robot vehicles can be altruistic. If the winning strategy of evolving genes for millions of years has been selfishness, then why would they change their strategy now? If ‘robot vehicles’ have always been driven by genetic impulses, why should we believe modern humans posses the intelligence and will to change the rules of evolution? What evidence can radical atheists offer to support this wishful thinking? 


Neurologists such as Sam Harris believe that freewill is a much a delusion as God. Harris wrote a slender volume on the subject of Freewill to prove that we make decisions based on prior conditions which we do not control. This is precisely the argument used by disciples of Wrath from Augustine to Calvin.  Luther wrote that a stone flung into the air might briefly experience the illusion of flying with all the freedom of a bird, but its trajectory is strictly controlled by gravity.  The stone is in motion but has absolutely no control over its utterly predictable flight path.


Protestants doomed the majority of depraved stones to crash in hell. How do radical atheists get around the absence of freewill?  They resort to the same sophistry of declaring that we are depraved or deprived (of freewill) and yet are morally and legally responsible for our actions. The selfishness of our genes or our sinful nature is no excuse for our bad behaviour.


‘Good’ religions conceive of selfishness as the source of sin and suffering, and they offer solutions. ‘Good’ religions provide a theoretical framework for purpose, justice, and love, in this world or the next.  Good religions can be insanely altruistic (turn the other cheek?  Love your enemy?)  Selfish genes are not programmed to operate for ‘the greater good.’ They have no concept of the Golden Rule. 


Most atheists do not realize that radical atheists have eliminated their freewill. Like disciples of Anti-wrath, who do not know or do not care about the ‘official writings’ of Augustine, Luther and Calvin, most rational atheists disregard the pronouncements of the high-priests of radical atheism, a world view which offers selfish genes and inescapable responses to exterior stimuli. Radical atheism is a soulless worldview, difficult to embrace and impossible to love.


A final frustration for radical atheists is that they have few ‘celebrity’ endorsers. Rock stars end their concerts shouting, ‘We love you. God bless you!’  Movie stars cultivate their spiritual dimension.  These beliefs may be unorthodox, and damnable heresies for disciples of Wrath, but very few influential celebrities support radical atheism. Radical atheists heap scorn on all forms of faith and are equally scornful of the doubts shared by disciples of Anti-wrath and rational atheists.  As their belief system is more clearly articulated, radical atheists disassociate themselves from the historical and contemporary exploration of the meaning of life in all its complexity and mystery.   


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8.   The Believer's Dilemma: Which belief system? Why?


9.   The Problem of Evil


10. Sin and Salvation


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