Richard Dawkins Hasn’t ‘Lost’; Just Look at the Movement He Helped Build

An article in The Spectator (UK) by Theo Hobson argues that “Richard Dawkins has lost” because the “New Atheism” is dying out:

The success of five or six atheist authors, on both sides of the Atlantic, seemed to herald a strong new movement. It seemed that non-believers were tired of all the nuance surrounding religion, hungry for a tidy narrative that put them neatly in the right.

Atheism is still with us. But the movement that threatened to form has petered out. Crucially, atheism’s younger advocates are reluctant to compete for the role of Dawkins’s disciple. They are more likely to bemoan the new atheist approach and call for large injections of nuance.

As evidence of this theory, Hobson points to religion-friendly atheists — those who disagree with theistic beliefs, but still see good in religion. People like Alain de Botton, Julian Baggini, and others who spend more time trying to build up Humanism than tear down religion.

It’s true that there are more voices in the atheist world than ever before, including ones that see some value in faith, but Hobson’s conclusion couldn’t be more wrong. Dawkins’ atheism isn’t dying out; it’s thriving.

What Dawkins and Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett did with their books was make atheism a topic of discussion in the mainstream media. They forced you to form an opinion about it. They encouraged countless numbers of people to come out of the closet. Their advocacy of religion led to a growing number of atheist groups and individuals.

I’m not saying any one author (or even the “horsemen” together) directly led to all those changes, but they really did bump the movement into overdrive.

Now, you’re seeing the growing pains of a burgeoning movement. We have more organizations than we did a decade ago, each with their own unique mission. We have disagreements online and in person about what the future of atheism holds. We have several people arguing for different ways to live life without religion. We have entire sections of bookstores covering all sorts of aspects of life without God, whether its parenting, philosophy, or politics.

This would not have happened without the contributions of the New Atheists. Or, at least, it wouldn’t have happened as quickly.

Much like two Christians might practice very different forms of Christianity, the atheism movement as a whole is not in lockstep with whatever a couple of authors may have written — and we’re better off because of it! In fact, it’s perfectly fine to reject their antipathy toward faith. Let a thousand bloggers bloom. Let more books be written. Let atheist “churches” form. Let writers and vloggers and speakers broaden the scope of what it means to be an atheist.

Let them all convince others that life without God isn’t just logically sound; it’s a better way of life.

To suggest that Dawkins is “losing” because authors who aren’t as hostile toward faulty beliefs are suddenly gaining in popularity (which is arguable in and of itself) doesn’t mean Dawkins’ arguments are being tossed aside. They show that he was onto something and it’s time to explore the subject in even more depth. (Not to mention The God Delusion has been at or near the top of the Amazon bestsellers list for books about atheism ever since it came out.)

You just need to look online, or at a survey of Americans’ religious beliefs, or at the Reason Rally, or at the growth of high school and college and local atheist groups to see how powerful the atheism movement is these days. Dawkins may not lead it, but he never really did. He was only one of its most prominent proponents and he still is.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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