Atheism Rises in U.S.—But What About Reason?

According to a recent WIN-Gallup International poll, the number of Americans saying they are “religious” has declined since 2005 from 73 percent of the population to 60 percent. In that same period, the number of “convinced atheists” has risen from 1 to 5 percent of the population. In the 39 countries polled, the number of people saying they are “religious” declined from 77 to 68 percent, while the number of “convinced atheists” increased from 4 to 7 percent.

While this is good news for those who recognize the destructive nature of religion, the rejection of religious faith hardly equals the acceptance of reason. Communists reject religious faith but embrace a secularized version of faith demanding blind acceptance of collectivist dogmas such as, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Atheism means only that one does not believe in god; it does not mean that one embraces reason.

What should we make of the rise of atheism in America? The Washington Post points out that the increase in the number of atheists coincides with the prominence of the New Atheists: Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. Although in some ways these writers demonstrate a reverence for reason, in important ways they do not.

As Alan Germani summarizes:

While decrying faith, [the New Atheists] fail to show that morality can be based on reason and thus grounded in reality. They fail to offer anything essentially different from the religionists whom they condemn, instead joining them in the belief that moral knowledge can only be gained by non-rational means.

For details, see Germani’s illuminating article.

Far more important than whether someone rejects religion, is whether someone embraces reason—thinking grounded in observation of reality.

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  • Anonymous

    With the rise of the Religious Right in the U.S., with its Christian supremacist social and political views and its strong anti-science/anti-reason views, and the threat from Islam, the threat from religion is at a crisis level. The New Atheists stepped forward and, I believe, heroically took on the fight: not only against religion but against various compromisers (for example, those who assert the possibility of fundamental accommodation between science and religion). BTW, the New Atheism now counts prominent individuals beyond the four mentioned — the founding four.

    Hitchens, in particular, was ruthless in his confrontational and excoriating moral attacks on religion. (He also attacked hate-speech laws.) He would debate any holy man any time. Hitchens died last year and none of the others will be able to replace him. Dawkins is a biologist specializing in the theory of evolution. He and other scientists have stepped in to save science from the constant attempts to promote biblical creationism. In the U.S., each year brings a new batch of bills in state legislatures that use some secular-appearing ruse or another to try and get creationism into science classes. The sponsors of these bills are almost always Republicans; yes indeed, Genesis is Republican science. (Dawkins, even though the central figure of the New Atheism, is the weakest. His epistemology gets in his way. If asked “How can you be so sure there’s no god,” his stock answer was “I’m not; god is highly improbable.” He may have more recently stopped undercutting himself in this way; I’ve not seen an interview in a year or so.)

    But, the New Atheism is philosophically bankrupt. The problem extends beyond the inability to define and defend a rational ethics: it includes the inability to define and defend reason itself. Religion implicitly attacks at the root level of reason which are the axiomatic concepts. The New Atheists have no clue about these and are helpless to defend against, for example, the very popular doctrines of Presuppositional Apologetics. The inability to define and defend reason is a very serious matter for New Atheism because it undercuts their ability even to attack religion by the necessary route of refuting religious attacks on reason. Unfortunately, Objectivism is not part of the discussion about religion. To their credit, the New Atheists have taken a crucial step in making religion controversial; Objectivism has not achieved that distinction.

    People need a philosophy and what New Atheism has is only Secular Humanism. You will find several prominent New Atheists associated with Secular Humanist organizations. So far as I can tell, Secular Humanism is the chief secular alternative and competitor to Objectivism and is where many of the people getting out of religion will gravitate. Is this a positive development? I think so. If the New Atheism continues (I’m not really convinced that it can) it could slow down the Religious Right juggernaut in the U.S. Can Objectivism reach the Secular Humanists? I don’t know. It seems that we’ve given up on the intellectual and talent center and now only talk to the Religious Right – bottom feeding as it were. I’ve been a student of Objectivism for a long time: as much as I loathe this situation, I don’t see any alternative at this time. Without Religious Right radio, we’d be pretty much talking only to ourselves.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Philip/591615305 Michael Philip

      secular humanism is a weasel word and doesn’t offer much to be quite honest.

      • Anonymous

        Quite right: rubber words and a social concept of rights. Philosophy is the weakest aspect of the New Atheism. As I recall, I’ve heard Dennett, the philosopher, say that there was nothing to replace religion with. I was shocked when he couldn’t even propose reason as a replacement for faith. On the more positive side, Dawkins and, I think, most (perhaps all) New Atheists disagree with Post-Modernism and strong multiculturalism. And, I don’t think Dennett’s harsh view is typical of the New Atheists. Of course, Dennett may have been thinking of academic philosophy. Secular Humanism, fuzzy as it is, still commits people to thinking and facts; we should be able to talk to them without the explicit mind-prison of faith getting in the way. My guess is that the only way to talk to them is to talk about the nature of reason — perhaps at atheist conferences.

  • Mel_M

    With the rise of the Religious Right in the U.S., with its Christian supremacist social and political views and its strong anti-science/anti-reason views, and the threat from Islam, the threat from religion is at a crisis level. The New Atheists stepped forward and, I believe, heroically took on the fight: not only against religion but against various compromisers (for example, those who assert the possibility of fundamental accommodation between science and religion). BTW, the New Atheism now counts prominent individuals beyond the four mentioned — the founding four.

    Hitchens, in particular, was ruthless in his confrontational and excoriating moral attacks on religion. (He also attacked hate-speech laws.) He would debate any holy man any time. Hitchens died last year and none of the others will be able to replace him. Dawkins is a biologist specializing in the theory of evolution. He and other scientists have stepped in to save science from the constant attempts to promote biblical creationism. In the U.S., each year brings a new batch of bills in state legislatures that use some secular-appearing ruse or another to try and get creationism into science classes. The sponsors of these bills are almost always Republicans; yes indeed, Genesis is Republican science. (Dawkins, even though the central figure of the New Atheism, is the weakest. His epistemology gets in his way. If asked “How can you be so sure there’s no god,” his stock answer was “I’m not; god is highly improbable.” He may have more recently stopped undercutting himself in this way; I’ve not seen an interview in a year or so.)

    But, the New Atheism is philosophically bankrupt. The problem extends beyond the inability to define and defend a rational ethics: it includes the inability to define and defend reason itself. Religion implicitly attacks at the root level of reason which are the axiomatic concepts. The New Atheists have no clue about these and are helpless to defend against, for example, the very popular doctrines of Presuppositional Apologetics. The inability to define and defend reason is a very serious matter for New Atheism because it undercuts their ability even to attack religion by the necessary route of refuting religious attacks on reason. Unfortunately, Objectivism is not part of the discussion about religion. To their credit, the New Atheists have taken a crucial step in making religion controversial; Objectivism has not achieved that distinction.

    People need a philosophy and what New Atheism has is only Secular Humanism. You will find several prominent New Atheists associated with Secular Humanist organizations. So far as I can tell, Secular Humanism is the chief secular alternative and competitor to Objectivism and is where many of the people getting out of religion will gravitate. Is this a positive development? I think so. If the New Atheism continues (I’m not really convinced that it can) it could slow down the Religious Right juggernaut in the U.S. Can Objectivism reach the Secular Humanists? I don’t know. It seems that we’ve given up on the intellectual and talent center and now only talk to the Religious Right – bottom feeding as it were. I’ve been a student of Objectivism for a long time: as much as I loathe this situation, I don’t see any alternative at this time. Without Religious Right radio, we’d be pretty much talking only to ourselves.

    • Michael Philip

      secular humanism is a weasel word and doesn’t offer much to be quite honest.

      • Mel_M

        Quite right: rubber words and a social concept of rights. Philosophy is the weakest aspect of the New Atheism. As I recall, I’ve heard Dennett, the philosopher, say that there was nothing to replace religion with. I was shocked when he couldn’t even propose reason as a replacement for faith. On the more positive side, Dawkins and, I think, most (perhaps all) New Atheists disagree with Post-Modernism and strong multiculturalism. And, I don’t think Dennett’s harsh view is typical of the New Atheists. Of course, Dennett may have been thinking of academic philosophy. Secular Humanism, fuzzy as it is, still commits people to thinking and facts; we should be able to talk to them without the explicit mind-prison of faith getting in the way. My guess is that the only way to talk to them is to talk about the nature of reason — perhaps at atheist conferences.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re a god-fearing, devoted religionist, you AIN’T gonna be a person of reason in any important way. If you’re an atheist, then, maybe; you should be the 1st. to know for sure. Mike Kevitt

  • mkkevitt

    If you’re a god-fearing, devoted religionist, you AIN’T gonna be a person of reason in any important way. If you’re an atheist, then, maybe; you should be the 1st. to know for sure. Mike Kevitt

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Human-Ape/100001623230964 Human Ape

    “What should we make of the rise of atheism in America?”

    It’s called human progress.

    http://darwinkilledgod.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Human-Ape/100001623230964 Human Ape

    “What should we make of the rise of atheism in America?”

    It’s called human progress.

    http://darwinkilledgod.blogspot.com/