Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Atheism 3.0

Continuing with my previous post about the Rift Among Atheists is this opinion expressed by a poster on one of the religious discussion forums I participate on. From what I have been reading, both on that forum and in other places where the original npr article has come up, is that many atheists are dismissing these arguments on the basis that, they claim, the article is categorizing all atheists, as a single group, as splitting into two groups. That is to say, all atheists, or the majority, belong in either one group or the other. However, this was not how I interpreted the article, nor do I think it was meant to be interpreted as such. I took it to mean that with in atheism, you have two subgroups forming that are, or may end up, at odds with one another. There was another article on USA Today that was similar in nature that defines yet another group of atheists that the article dubs, for convenience, Atheism 3.0.
The old atheists said there was no God. The so-called "New Atheists" said there was no God, and they were vocally vicious about it. Now, the new "New Atheists" — call it Atheism 3.0 — say there's still no God, but maybe religion isn't all that bad.
One of the atheists they quote in the article is the author of the book I am currently reading, An Atheist Defends Religion (although I have currently put the book on hold while I work on Finding Darwin's God for a discussion group I am participating in). Again, many atheists dismissed this article as categorizing atheists as a whole. The following post, I think, is worth reading and helps sum up the situation fairly nicely.

The suggestion that modern American atheists are not united is, in my opinion, a serious misunderstanding of that community and its underlying philosophical principles. It's not atheism itself that unifies the atheist community. Rather, it is the epistemological principle underlying their atheism that is uniting them. That epistemological principle is science. Atheists don't seem to realize it yet, but they are fairly strongly united by their belief in science. It might even be said that American atheists are behaving as if science were a religion.

In spite of that, I don't believe we're seeing a schism in the atheist community. Atheists are united, in the sense that they have strong epistemological agreement, but they have little organization. A couple of sensationalist authors calling themselves "New" isn't much leadership. There are starting to be more real life meetings, and more and more writing about atheism, but there isn't any robust social infrastructure like there is in any other religious community. "Schism" implies that one order is leaving another order. But there isn't much order among American atheists. Instead of a schism, I'm sure that what we're seeing the start of is the emergence of a new order.

The idea of "Atheist 3.0" seems fairly correct, assuming that the so-called "New" atheists are 2.0. The "New" atheists are only different from the old atheists in that they are getting a lot of media coverage and expressing their atheism quite publicly. However, Atheist 3.0 can be described as a group of atheists who are searching for more order in the community, and are making the effort to create order. I know this because I am one of them.

I've been a strong atheist for well over a decade. About two years ago, bashing Christians online started to get boring. Especially when the smarter Christians started posting thoughtful arguments for their positions. Now, I don't support mythology or Christianity, but I've been able to put aside my hate and bias towards Christians and start looking at them objectively. What I discovered is that, regardless of all the atheist smears of Christians, they have a robust social infrastructure. That is the kind of order that American atheists need. After that, I started treating Christians as individuals, and it became obvious that there are a ton of good Christian people in America, people that, despite my philosophical disagreements with, I know I can trust.

I'm now at the point where I am looking at Christian communities as models for "atheist" communities. But of course, the idea of a strictly "atheist" community doesn't make much sense. The American Secular Humanist movement has already resolved this problem by adapting the Christian Humanist tradition to an atheist society. Secular Humanists are taking what is good from the Christian tradition, and adapting it to fit the modern, rational age. I know Secular Humanism has been around for the last few decades, but I predict that its numbers are going to start swelling as American atheists start looking for more than another online forum to bash Christians on.

By the way, this post might seem a bit random, but the fact is I just got banned from an atheist forum for expressing ideas like these. I was accused by several people of being a Christian in disguise, trying to troll their forums. So I definitely agree that there is starting to be a "bitter rift" dividing atheists.
Original Post


  1. I'm now at the point where I am looking at Christian communities as models for "atheist" communities."

    I might be wrong but I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said that the type of democracy envisioned by the founding fathers of the United States would only work for a population intent on living by Christian values and morals. Of course atheists have done exactly that for many years and are free to continue to do so on into the future. As times goes by, however, Christian values and morals seem to be rejected by more and more people and I would think that atheists would go with that trend. Good luck with your groups. It will be an interestig experiment.

  2. Here's the problem...atheism is defined in different ways by different people. I think this is healthy debate within the community.

  3. I agree that atheism is defined differently by many people. Also, on the other side of the equation, Creationism and Intelligent Design are also defined differently by many people. For example I can see my self fitting certain definitions for both those words, but could never fit the definition used by PZ Meyers at the talk he gave here at Purdue.

  4. Hello:

    It is atheists like PZ Meyers who exacerbate the antagonism between Atheism 2.0 and the emerging Atheism 3.0. His extremist voice only contributes to the dichotomy. My current blog ( is devoted to "the schism within" atheism. And I think more commentary on this debate should be encouraged. I may be an unbeliever, but atheists like Meyers (not to mention Hitchens and Dawkins) make me ashamed to be an atheist.

    Bruce Sheiman