Academic Articles

Arcaro, T. (2010). The Stigma of Being an Atheist. Skeptic, 15(4), 4-8.

This article examines atheism’s pervasive social stigma, which New Atheism aims to counteract.  Here, Tom Arcaro analyzes the results of “Coming Out as an Atheist,” his 2008 online survey of 8,200 nonbelievers, which revealed details about their perceived social stigma in relation to geographic location and gender. The survey’s open-ended response also gathered examples of situations where respondents experienced this stigma firsthand. Arcaro concludes that much work needs to be done to fight the stigma associated with atheism, and New Atheism is one of the few movements that currently respond to this need.

Cheyne, James Allan. “Atheism Rising.” Skeptic 15 (2009): 33-37. Print.

James Allan Cheyne identifies three trends: (1) rising IQ scores in developed countries, (2) the decline of religious beliefs and rise of atheism in those countries, and (3) the negative correlation between the two. He attributes these trends to abstract categorical and hypothetical thinking, or ACH thinking for short, the type of thinking especially privileged by contemporary science education. This particular type of intelligence is a learned ability, gradually acquired through practice in specific cultures, which was not not seen as very valuable or useful by most before the 20th century. Cheyne provides an interesting interpretation of these trends as they relate to cultural shifts in the ways we evaluate intelligence.

Davies, Brian. “The New Atheism: Its Virtues and Its Vices.” New Blackfriars 92 (2011): 18-34. Print.

In this lecture from 2010, Christian philosopher Brian Davies gives a clear, thoughtful, and well structured analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the New Atheists’ message, specifically as expressed by three of its founding authors. He comes to a similar conclusion as Thomas White, but through much more concrete logic. Though he essentially agrees with the authors’ main contentions with current notions of belief in God, he uses the example of 13th century philosopher Thomas Aquinas to point out that New Atheism says little to erode theism as a whole.

Peterson, Gregory R. “Why the New Atheism Shouldn’t Be (Completely) Dismissed.” Zygon® 42 (2007): 803-06. Print.

In this editorial essay, Peterson summarizes the view of many religion-and-science scholars on the current  trend of books labelled as part of the “New Atheism” movement. He believes that, “while much can be dismissed, there are at least three themes that are worth paying attention to:” the connection between religion and violence, “cognitive science of religion,” and “religion and morality.”

Ritchey, Jeff. ““One Nation Under God”: Identity and Resistance in a Rural Atheist Organization.” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 21 (2009). Print.

Professor Jeff Ritchey, from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, uses the framework of “communities of practice” social learning theory to analyze Atheist Station, a small organization of atheist activists in Gallitzin, PA. In “communities of practice” social learning theory, a group identity is formed through organized group actions as well as interactions between members of the group. Though atheists are a marginalized minority in this conservative town, they are drawn together by their shared belief in secularism, and gradually they develop a mutual “atheist identity.” The group maintained a website (which is no longer active due to time constraints of the owner), and they use the local media to engage in “public acts of resistance” to the growing sense of religious nationalism in their town and all over the country. Atheist Station is unique because atheists are not typically an organized group in the U.S. The group’s main goal is to fight for separation between church and state, but that they do this often by protesting dominant religious groups makes them a clear proponent of the New Atheist movement.

Saxton, Alex. “The God Debates and the Materialist Interpretation of History.” Science & Society 73 (2009): 474-97. Print.

While evangelical Christians have held a steady presence in the media for many decades, when the New Atheists first spoke out, the public was confused. We wondered, “Who were the Old Atheists?” In this article from Science & Society, the oldest Marxist scholarly journal still in publication, Alex Saxton offers a helpful and unique perspective on the New Atheist movement, using the historical materialist approach, which views a society’s economic structure as the source of any social, political, or ideological change. Here he compares class to political or religious ideologies to examine Christian fundamentalists, libertarian neoconservatives, and the New Atheists, a group of atheist authors who coincidently all published books between 2004-2008 that had a similar anti-religious message. Despite the growing hostility between them and the Christian Right, he finds they use similar rationales to justify their opposing arguments. Many sources can explain terms like “atheist” and “humanist,” but few place these modern secular movements into their larger cultural and historical context as Saxton does.

White, Thomas. “Profane Holiness: Why the New Atheism Is (Partially) Good for True Spirituality and Religion.” CrossCurrents 59 (2009): 547-53. Print.

This essay is from a peer-reviewed journal published by the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life. The author, Thomas White, outlines the rise of The New Atheists (TNA’s) and their major arguments against mainstream religions. He asserts that New Atheism poses a positive and necessary challenge for the major religions, a “cleansing” of our notions of God, and he proposes a solution based on the humanist beliefs of Thomas Paine. First, White dismisses religious fundamentalism, which is “a belief in the ‘inerrancy of texts.’” From there he draws on two quotations from Thomas Paine to illustrate the solution he calls Profane Holiness, which maintains the core aspects of a belief system beyond unreliable human interpretations of ancient texts, and advocates religious tolerance and kindness to see the presence of God “reflected in our human nature.”

Academic Books

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Bantam, 2006. Print.

Richard Dawkin, a British biologist, earned the “New Atheist” title with this book where, he takes a  scientific approach to build a case against religion. While The God Delusion is more subtle in tone than the alarmist prophecies of Sam Harris, Dawkins reaches equally controversial conclusions. He states that the concept of a supernatural, personal God is a hypothesis that can be tested like any other, and that such testing proves the God Hypothesis highly improbable, and instead favors the Darwinian explanation of evolution. Dawkins states that morality is not tied to religion or God, but that altruism is a trait produced by natural selection, which has been observed in many species other than humans.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith. W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.

The earliest publication that would later be labelled “New Atheist,” The End Of Faith, by Sam Harris, urgently warns readers of the dangerous future that Harris believes awaits us if mankind continues to hold on to religious faith in all its forms. Though he points out many violent tragedies throughout history that have been carried out under some kind of religious license, he groups all types of faith into a single category and wholly rejects all of them. His generalized assertions about religion have earned him much criticism as well as much praise and this controversy kept his book in the New York Times Best Seller list for many weeks.

Smith, George H. Atheism: The Case against God. Ethics. Vol. 1: Prometheus Books, 1979. Print.

Published in 1979, over thirty years before the New Atheist Movement, many have since come to consider George H. Smith’s book  a classic in Atheist literature. Here, he lays out a basic framework for the term “atheist,” what it does and does not entail, it’s variations, and its relationship to agnosticism. He goes on to present several basic arguments that refute the existence of God, launching a strong case specifically against Christianity.

Other Sources

Religulous. Dir. Larry Charles. Perf. Bill Maher. Lions Gate Entertainment, 2008. DVD.

Wolf, Gary. “The Church of Non-Believers.” Nov. 2006. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.

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