National Geographic's 'atheism is a religion' article slammed

National Geographic's 'atheism is a religion' article slammed April 25, 2016

Prominent US biologist and atheist Jerry Coyne has had it up to here with National Geographic, which, since it’s acquisition by the Murdoch empire:

Has been turning into a religously-infused tabloid rather than the educational nature/anthropology magazine that I loved of yore.

Coyne ripped into NG after it recently published “The World’s Newest Religion: No Religion” by journalist Gabe Bullard.

Bullard’s journalist ethics, and efforts, are reprehensible. It’s truly sad.

And he said:

In several posts I’ve documented its [NG’s] increasing tendency to coddle religion, and it’s only going to get worse since the magazine was taken over by Rupert Murdoch.
Now the magazine has hit its lowest point yet … While starting off as a decent bit of reportage about the rise of non-belief and secularism, it suddenly descends into slander and clickbait, highlighting the ‘privilege’ of non-belief, the dominance of atheism by white males, and accusations that the ‘leaders’ of atheism (whom they name) are misogynists.

The NG article says:

Religion has a place for women, people of color, and the poor. By its nature, secularism is open to all, but it’s not always as welcoming.
Some of the humanist movement’s most visible figures aren’t known for their respect toward women.
Prominent atheists Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have awful reputations for misogyny, as does the late Christopher Hitchens. Bill Maher, the comedian and outspoken atheist, is no (nonexistent) angel, either.

Coyne sent the NG article to “Grania”, one of the active members of Atheist Ireland who pointed out, among other things, that:

It is completely skewed to claim that because there are only a small group of people who have become global household names in atheism (at least on the Internet) this is therefore representative of atheism as a whole.
If you look at atheist and humanist groups around the world (who have nothing at all to do with Dawkins et al), they have plenty of women both as leaders as well as members. Although there is often a gender imbalance, it would be tendentious, and probably dishonest, to claim that this was all about sexism.
Instead of complaining that there aren’t enough women in atheism, they could try promoting the existing women in atheism. Increased visibility of the thousands that are already there would probably attract more women.
These women include Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland, Shappi Khorsandi of British Humanists, Jen Peebles of Atheist Community of Austin, Sarah Haider (co-founder of the Ex-Muslims of North America), and Inna Shevchenko, anti-religious activist and head of FEMEN.

Coyne added:

I do think that non-belief spreads when people are no longer so destitute, oppressed, or laden with feelings that society doesn’t care about them that they turn to God for succor. That was Marx’s thesis, and I agree with him. Religion will largely disappear when societies learn to take better care of their members – something instantiated in the nations of northern Europe. This is noted in the National Geographic piece.
But the oppression, despair, and destitution that keep minorities religious is not the fault of atheists, and we should not see atheist ‘privilege’ as something that we need to expiate or be ashamed of. Indeed, some religions gain power from trying to keep the disenfranchised satisfied with a substandard life, promising that the next one will be better (cf. Mother Teresa).
I believe that to rid the world of religion, we need to raise the water level to float everyone’s boat: create the kind of ‘successful societies’ (à la Greg Paul) that eliminate the need for religion. This is where atheism and humanism make common cause. But the religiosity of the oppressed, and of minorities, can in no way be pinned on the non-religious, or on their supposed failure to welcome minorities.

Labeling atheism a religion is a well-known tactic among brain-dead fundamentalists like Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis. After he tweeted the garbage above earlier this year, Friendly Atheist Hermant Mehta thoroughly slapped him down:

It’s incredible how many mistakes Creationist Ken Ham can make in one tweet. But I guess he’s a pro considering how many mistakes there are in the Creation Museum …
Atheism isn’t a religion. There’s no deity or dogma involved.
We don’t worship nature. We appreciate nature. It’s a product of evolution and it’s really damn beautiful. But no atheist is kneeling at the base of a tree.

We’re not intolerant of Christianity. We disagree with the claims of Christianity and we don’t want the government promoting any religion.
And we’re not shaking our fists at God because … um … we don’t believe God exists. That’s kind of the whole point.
So whenever you’re pointing out the bad grammar in his tweet, go ahead and try correcting him on everything else, too.

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  • Angela_K

    The most worthless products always have the greatest amount of advertising and dishonest marketing, such is the case of religion. Morgan Freeman is all over the NG satellite channel [Prop. R. Murdoch.] advertising a TV series of the same name. Life to too short to watch such vacuous nonsense.

  • gedediah

    I’ve been a subscriber to NG for over 10 years and I’ve notice the change in recent issues. The worst so far was the item about Mary, describing her as the most powerful woman in the world. At no point did the article mention the lack of evidence that she ever existed. What does it say about the power of women in the world when the most powerful example is imaginary?

  • barriejohn

    Angela: Yes, we have had to put up with this tendentious nonsense day after day on our televisions recently:
    Comment: Morgan Freeman gets paid to travel thousands of miles to have a great vacation and theatrically say a bunch of shit someone with questionable motives wrote for him.

  • Patrenen Gnosset

    National Geographic.A once great factual publication reduced to a tawdry religiopolitical rag. My subscription was cancelled as soon as Murdoch got his hands on it.

  • Stephen Mynett

    I would love to do one of these free holiday programmes. Do a tour of religious “healing” sites, Lourdes etc, and on the return see whether my haemophilia and joint/bone damage had disappeared. I am sure (not) the BBC or some other broadcaster would love to finance a tour exposing the the myths and lies of profiteering religionists.
    Of course, we already know the answer, I would not have been healed because my faith was not strong enough.

  • barriejohn

    Stephen Mynett: I am heartily sick of “documentaries” presented by people who obviously don’t have a clue what they are talking about. Needless to say, I didn’t waste my valuable time watching Davina McCall jetting around the world saying, “Isn’t that amazing?” at her every destination!

  • Patrenen Gnosset

    Morgan Freeman has sold out … took the money and has forfeited self respect.

  • ‘Virtue signaling’ is the term for pointing out who is supposed to be the bad guys as a way of making yourself be a good guy. When that impulse is exploited by people who have something to gain by not being seen as bad guys then it turns into what used to be known as a ‘witch hunt’ or ‘red baiting.’
    Strive between groups of people is real and terrible. Lying about that strife makes the problems worse. I have come to believe that most western media accusations about ‘sexism’ and ‘racism’ are virtue signaling, a way of shouting down perceived opponents and not solving problems.
    National Geographic is perhaps pandering to who they think their audience is, an older and religious subscription base. Or perhaps they made an editorial mistake. I hope they find their way to being the good magazine they have been.
    Atheism is a lack of the supernatural and that is all. It didn’t lead Marx to communism or Ayn Rand to capitalism, although both were atheists. It does not lead to vegetarianism or carnivorism, gay or straight, it does not lead to virtue or villainy. Humanism is said to lead to moral outcomes. I am not a humanist.

  • Broga

    I cancelled my NG subscription some time ago. I don’t like the way New Statesman is going. It isn’t obvious but I think there is an increasing underpinning of Christian belief. I don’t intend to pay for proselytising however subtly it is delivered.
    Rowan Williams, a highly intelligent, talented writer, now has acres of space in NS. My problem with Williams is that the subtext of what he writes is always going to have a sympathy for belief that just falls short of obvious. To be blunt, I don’t trust him to criticise religion however much that criticism is justified.
    It may be, of course, that my dislike of religious belief is such that I see what really isn’t there – the flaw in thinking on which religious belief is dependent.

  • Stephen Mynett: my friend and hero Nabil Shaban was paid by the BBC to visit Lourdes and see if a miracle happened. Nabil was as cruel to religion as it deserved.

  • AgentCormac

    I don’t see anything wrong with the headline on the NG issue shown above. That’s all god is – a story.

  • CoastalMaineBird

    :Prominent atheists Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have awful reputations for misogyny
    Two bits says there is no mention of the hateful misogyny in the Bible.

  • Cali Ron

    Rupert Murdoch, like religion ruins everything he owns. He has bought up scores of news sources, TV channels and cable channels and turned them into his personal propaganda machine. He’s a megalomaniac in the same vein as the Kock brothers, intent on shaping the whole world to his distorted, deluded and self serving version of what he believes.
    He’s proof that there is no god because a god with any sense of mercy or love at all would have taken this vile, decrepit excuse for a man from the world and spared us from his evil influence.
    Can you tell I’m really pissed that this asshole bought NG and ruined it. Just die you old fart!

  • L.Long

    Actually the title is not wrong as the fastest growing religion is NONES. But that IS NOT atheism!!! As most of the NONES are still card carrying delusion jesus freaks! They just are not happy with organized religion as religion is just s political power base and has little to do with faith.
    The sub-text of the piece is another issue and is a lot of BS.
    Dawkins may be many things but I bet he is not pushing laws to take women’s rights to their body away…That takes delusional ahole bigoted xtians to do that!!!

  • Paul Cook

    Well it just goes to show that no matter how much money, or wealth the magnate Murdoch has, or the power he wields, and nonsense he peddles and publishes at will, he cannot ‘buy’ intelligence.

  • barriejohn

    Could this supposed “misogyny” be connected in any way to the fact that these people have stood up to deluded women who have claimed that Islam gives them “rights” that they somehow don’t enjoy in the West, and that wearing a shroud over their head somehow “liberates” them?
    Great riposte from the Hitch there. How we miss him!

  • AgentCormac

    Elsewhere, more horror in Bangladesh that shows just how perescuted the religiots are by words.

  • AgentCormac

    And of course, if you feel your religiot beliefs are so sacrosanct that the mere presence of someone who doesn’t share them is an insult, then cut their head off and leave it on a beach.

  • Broga

    I don’t think there is any meaning to life except what we ourselves decide to provide. By chance we are biological organisms clinging temporarily to a speck of rock is a vast cosmos.
    I think it was Albert Camus who said that as individuals we exist in a crack of light with a vast darkness before and the same afterwards. I’m sure he said it better than that.
    Of course, the believer looks to a fictional supreme being for meaning.

  • 1859

    Dawkins? Hitchen? Harris ? Maher? – all misogynists? Utter bollocks! I’ve read a good deal of their books, listened to many of their debates and interviews and there is not a shred of misogyny in anything they’ve uttered. If they have railed against women wearing the full burkah it has been to demonstrate the degree of dehumanisation inflicted upon women by a religion – in particular by islam. This is not mysogyny, it is concern that in certain countries women are still treated as chattels and are forced to behave and dress according to a religious code written thousands of years ago by old men who considered themselves are demi-gods (exactly what Murdoch is doing today!). I can only conclude that the brainless dullard who wrote the above does not understand what the word misogyny means.

  • 1859

    @Broga: The probability that life exists elsewhere in the cosmos is, I’m convinced, greater than 50%. The more we look for exoplanets the more we find them. What will really shake the faith of millions here on Earth is when we do eventually make contact with another intelligence out there. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that our celestial neighbours don’t themselves look for ‘meaning’ in some heavenly doughnut.

  • Cali Ron

    1859: Let’s hope ours is the only world suffering from religious delusions so when we make contact we won’t have to choose between the plain doughnut sect and the glazed doughnut sect.

  • Laura Roberts

    @1859: I agree that the probability of life elsewhere in the cosmos appears increasingly likely. Hell, just on Mars I now suspect our chances are pretty good. But the religious won’t bat an eye when we discover it. As always, they’ll simply move the goalposts: from “[god] guided evolution” to “[god] did it on other planets”.
    If it’s intelligent life you speak of, I think we’re going to be waiting a long, long time. Religion may die of natural causes here on our planet (fingers crossed) before we contact life elsewhere in the universe.

  • Broga

    @1859: I agree. With getting on for two billion stars and their associated planets in the Milky Way and billions of other galaxies, the likelihood of other life seems high to me.
    The tragedy for us is that we inhabit a planet with so much to offer and we have the intelligence to manage it constructively and to enjoy it and yet we wreck it. I see religion with its endless wars, its indifference to other creatures and its stifling of thinking as a prime cause of the wreck we are now inhabiting.
    The vast distances of the cosmos seem to have quarantined humans here. Even a year trip in space has disastrous consequences for the human body which evolved in gravity. I suspect we are stuck with the mess we have created.
    PS The best book I have read about the Moon shots is “The last man on the moon” by Gene Cernan.

  • AgentCormac

    Have you tried ‘Moon Dust’ by Andrew Smith or ‘Carrying The Fire’ by Michael Collins? Both are excellent books on the subject too.

  • Broga

    @AgentCormac: Many thanks. I will try these. I went to a wedding a month ago and met a space buff (he loved visiting planetariums) and he recommended Moon Dust. I remember the striking title.
    The thing which irritated me about the Cernan book was the way that an RC priest was invited to perform a mass before a flight. What a contradiction! A venture involving the most advanced science and they invite in a priest with his medieval superstitions. But I liked the book.

  • Stephen Mynett

    @Broga, This book by Lawrence Krauss ( is very good, it traces a possible journey of a group of protons, that eventually become an Oxygen atom, from the Big Bang to the present day. Krauss is a highly respected cosmologist but is a good writer and makes difficult subjects a bit easier for the layperson without dumbing down.
    If you would like your own planetarium, try this open source freeware programme:

  • CoastalMaineBird

    @1859: What will really shake the faith of millions here on Earth is when we do eventually make contact with another intelligence out there.
    I doubt it. I can hear it now: “It’s all part of God’s plan.” “The Bible doesn’t actually SAY that we’re the ONLY world he created.”
    etc., etc., etc…

  • Edwin Salter

    Atheists are religious, the frugal are prodigal, emptiness is full, silence is noisy …
    If all religion suddenly vanished there would simply be nothing because there is no reality to be discerned. Someone with disturbed thinking might eventually assert a superstitious world view, but it wouldn’t accord with any current faith.
    Coyne is right to address our skewed, unrepresentative leadership – and how many women contribute to these pages? Of course we can reply that privileged men wholly dominate religion, but then we don’t want to be like them.