“New Atheism”: An Appeal to Emotion

The past 10-15 years or so, the popularity of four men have dramatically increased:  Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, often nicknamed “The Four Horsemen of New Atheism,” or something along those lines.  They have varying backgrounds:  Dawkins is a zoologist, Dennett has his PhD in philosophy, Harris has a bachelor’s in philosophy and a doctorate in neuroscience, and Hitchens is a journalist.  Likewise, while they obviously agree on many points, they often focus on different points of contention against theism.  Nonetheless, they are united in their cause against religion and theism, or most particularly, the Judeo-Christian kind, and they have written many books and articles, participated in some public debates, and garnered much fandom and publicity.

Atheists love them because of their candor and their supposed espousal of reason, science, and “free thinking.”  In fact, the tone often employed by them suggests that to disagree with them means that one is uneducated, brainwashed, and/or simply intellectually inferior.  However, what I have come to find amusing and ironic about them, as well as their New Atheist fanboys, is that their popularity is tied more to the latter than the former, and that they also play upon the bitterness or anger many people feel against religion.  In other words, even though atheists love to accuse religion of merely appealing to people’s emotions, this is exactly the thrust of the New Atheist movement.  In effect, while these are smart men in their own fields, they have encouraged a lazy intellectualism without much argument because their beef with religion largely stems from appealing to a sense of anger and superiority.  Now, keep in mind that I am not necessarily saying that appealing to people’s emotions is inherently dishonest or bad; what I am saying is that I find this ironic because these New Atheists consistently claim that they only rely upon the most objective of facts and reason and not emotion.

Let us look at Richard Dawkins first, perhaps the most brazen, and the most brazenly misinformed, one of the lot.  Dawkins is a zoologist but has delved his hand in philosophy, and frankly he is very bad at it.  In his book The God Delusion, you will be hard pressed to find a consistent thread of argument throughout the work.  Most of it is filled with anecdotes and personal rants against religion, and he won’t even stay above using insults.  The arguments he does present are poorly constructed and easily dismantled by anyone who has a cursory knowledge of the topics at hand and has the most rudimentary training in logic.  I am by no means a genius, but even I had trouble finding things that were NOT horribly argued in his book when I reviewed it.  It was so bad that I was astonished how anyone could take the book seriously, no matter what worldview they held.  After all, while I am a Christian, I have read Christian works that I will readily say were not very good, so I just could not understand how atheists could not be embarrassed that the so-called “World’s Most Famous Atheist” delivered such a poorly argued book.

However, while many atheists were indeed embarrassed by Dawkins’ book (such as atheist philosopher Michael Ruse), many in the larger culture gobbled it up and championed the book as some landmark title.  The reason for this puzzling phenomenon is clear when one interacts with Dawkins’ many fans:  His very appeal to anger and a sense of enlightenment strikes a chord in many who already have bitter feelings toward religion.  Nearly every single Richard Dawkins defender I’ve talked to initially claims that they rest upon the bedrock of science, facts, and reason.  However, when I challenged many of their philosophical assumptions (which, for the most part, they don’t seem remotely aware of), the normal response is anger and dismissal.  They then often attacked using subjects that were not even being discussed, such as the Crusades, Muslim jihad, Christians acting hypocritically, etc.  Basically, instead of answering the philosophical questions at hand, they resorted to bringing up subjects, both in history and in their personal life, that made them angry and bitter.  This is, of course, what Dawkins does repeatedly throughout the The God Delusion. Continue reading