The New Atheists: Their Myths and Beliefs

The Greek word αθεοι (those who are without god)

By Peter Corney (Delivered as a lecture at the 2012 Annual St Hilary’s Kew Lectures on 23/5/12)

The project I have set myself in this lecture is to try and explain the story or narrative that lies behind the New Atheism and what makes it so plausible to many contemporary people.

Others more competent than I in science and philosophy have tackled convincingly the particular questions and objections the New Atheists raise for the Christian faith, people like Alistair McGrath, John Lennox, Richard Swinburne, Anthony FLew and William Lane Craig.  I commend their books and some are listed in the notes[1]

It should also be acknowledged at the beginning that grouping the New Atheists into one category is somewhat oversimplified. For example Richard Dawkins is a scientific rationalist and driven by his conviction that evolutionary biology holds the grand story and the key to understanding humanity and all of life, whereas the late Christopher Hitchen’s take is really motivated by his political philosophy. He is an old Trotskyite who morphed into an idealist democrat later in life.  He is driven by his implacable opposition to all forms of fascism. Any government, religion, institution or idea that becomes oppressive and totalising he exposed and fiercely opposed. I must say that on that point at least I have some sympathy with his views.

Nevertheless they all share a materialist view of reality or what is sometimes called scientific naturalism, which claims there is nothing beyond the physical and material. There is no metaphysic, nothing bigger or other than the particles, forces and spaces of the physical world. This is the mental room they inhabit, what has been called ‘the windowless room!’

Every age in every culture develops a ‘plausibility structure’ – what most people find believable or unbelievable.  It may be true or false, it might correspond to reality or it might not, but it is enormously influential in their reception or rejection of ideas and their beliefs. Plausibility structures and world views are closely connected.

For example, a contemporary Western person finds the idea of evil spirits implausible, whereas an African tribal person finds them quite plausible.

Plausibility structures and worldviews are developed and sustained by stories or narratives that a culture tells and retells to itself, usually in an over simplified form because they have to be understandable by everyone, not just the experts.  These are a cultures ‘myths. Like the Henry Lawson and Banjo Pattison outback stories that sustain the Aussie male identity myth.

The New Atheists tell a story.  They have a narrative about the history of Western Culture that is really more powerful than any particular scientific, philosophical or ethical argument they might mount.  The plausibility of their case rests on a story, a myth that has been around in Western Culture since the second half of the 19th Century, although its roots are in ‘The Enlightenment’.  Indeed the word ‘enlightenment’ is part of the myth.  This story has created our Modern Western Plausibility Structure.  It is this myth I want to try and unpack.

Before I go further it might be helpful if I define the way I am using certain terms . I am using the terms Modernity and Post Modernity in the following way:

Modernity is marked by the following characteristics:

  • A confidence in reason and science. ( A scientific breakthrough a day will keep the chaos at bay!)
  • There is objective truth and it can be found.
  • A belief in progress.
  • Faith in technology
  • Its ethical values are borrowed from Christianity.
  • Faith in humanity’s ability to improve itself by education and knowledge.
  • It seeks to keep religion in the private sphere.
  • ‘Materialist’, sceptical of anything beyond the physical realm.

Post Modernity is a critique of modernity and is characterised by the following characteristics:

  • A loss of confidence in objective truth and absolutes.
  • Embraces relativism and perspectivism . ( Its all a matter of individual perspective.)
  • Adopted Nietzsche’s view that the only absolute is mans will to power.
  • A loss of faith in all ‘big stories’ or grand narratives that purport to explain everything.
  • A loss of faith in progress.
  • Openness to other dimensions of experience other than just the material world.

Some knowledge of the Russian revolution of 1917 is part of everyone’s mental furniture today but what is not so well understood is that it launched Eastern Europe on a vast experiment that apart from the brief extremes of the French Revolution in the 18thCentury, had never been attempted so thoroughly before. That experiment was the complete rejection and marginalising of religion and all transcendent values as the source and foundation of morality, meaning and purpose.  That experiment, as we now know, failed with disastrous consequences.

What is even less well understood by contemporary people is that Western Europe, England, Australia, New Zealand and North America have now relaunched the experiment, although from a completely different ideological base and less self consciously – what we might call ‘radical secularism’.

The rejection or complete marginalisation of God and religious faith and especially the Christian faith, is a bold experiment for our culture. The Christian faith is part of the West’s cultural DNA, so this project is a radical one and goes against the hidden grain of our culture. To attempt such a radical experiment requires a powerful story or myth to justify and undergird it.

We all love stories, especially those that have a good plot, conflict, heroes and villains.  This story has all these elements.

The Yale scholar David Bentley Hart in his brilliant book, Atheist Delusions[2] (Whose thesis I have drawn on heavily for this lecture) , makes the point that ‘Modernity’ attempts to define itself as “ an Age of Reason that is emerging  from and overthrowing an Age of Faith.”  It portrays itself as the grand adventure of the struggle for human freedom, our coming of age, so long delayed by the priestcraft, superstition and intolerance of religion. Modernity is “the great revolution that liberated society and the individual alike from the crushing weight of tradition and religious dogma.”[3] Behind this definition, he says, lies a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale; its only defect is that it is largely a false and gross oversimplification. His book is an erudite deconstruction of the myth.

The story goes like this: Once upon a time Western people were the naïve children of Mother Church and during this age of faith, education, culture and science stagnated and languished. Ignorance and superstition held sway and knowledge was stifled by religious dogma. There was an unholy alliance of Church and State .The last remnants of classical learning from antiquity were lost or destroyed by the fires of faith. The inquisition and the burning of witches’ features prominently. The Church opposed scientific enquiry. The great achievements of Greek science were forgotten till restored by Islamic scholars. It was the ‘Dark Ages’. Even the word ‘Medieval’ became a pejorative rather than a term to describe an historical period.  All was darkness.  But then the age of reason and modern science dawned with the Enlightenment and we moved into the age of light and knowledge and progress. At last humanity had come of age. The story of Galileo almost invariably occupies a central place in this narrative as an example of the struggle between faith and reason, Galileo the hero scientist versus the Church as villain. It is a simple and compelling tale, easily followed and tidy in its explanations, but as Hart points out with detailed historical analysis, largely a false and grossly oversimplified one.

This narrative that lies behind modernity’s self-image is a coffee table book history, as many of our cultural myths are.

To correct some of the historical facts in any detail now would be very time consuming and I have listed references in the notes that do this well.[4] But let me make the following general points:

1. On the progress of scientific knowledge

The progress of scientific knowledge does have serendipitous breakthroughs or major advances like Newton’ s or Einstein’s, but it is generally an accumulative process.  Copernicus and Galileo’s work stands out on the shoulders of many other earlier scholars,  like the logicians and mathematicians of the 13th and 14th Centuries – names that most of us have never heard of : Gerard of Brussells, William of Ockham and the Oxford school of Walter Burleigh, John Dumbleton and Richard Swinehead, and in France,  Jean Buridan and Nicholas Oresme. Oresme had suggested two hundred years earlier than Galileo that the earth could move arround the sun – a heliocentric rather than a geocentric view.  And this is just a small sample.  Copernicus and Galileo were the heirs of a long tradition of astronomers, cosmologists and mathematicians. Louis Pasteur the great 19th Century French chemist and microbiologist made the point that sudden insights and discoveries only occur to the intellect that has rehearsed and prepared for them. The same could be said for societies.

2. The common caricature of the medieval period from, say the 8th to 14th Centuries, found in popular histories and popular thought, as a period of backward ignorance and superstition is now largely rejected by serious scholars of the period . Even the term ‘the dark ages’, if used at all, is restricted to the period after the fall of Rome and the collapse of the Western Empire from the 5th to 8th Century. It was a time of great dislocation as Roman Government structures and organised education collapsed.  This term also meant we could not ‘see’ into it due to lack of historical data.  But historians have now researched the period much more thoroughly and deeply and have considerably revised their views.  The period from the 10th to 14th Century is now generally acknowledged to in fact be a particularly fertile period of scholarship.  The 11th Century is when the university was invented and established in Europe.

The late medieval period (13th to 14th Century) was also very creative as ideas and classical texts found their way back into Europe from the dying but dazzlingly brilliant culture of the Byzantine Christian Empire centred at Constantinople.  An illustration of how the period has been caricatured is the claim, first popularised in the 19th Century, and still common, that all medieval people believe the Earth was flat.  This claim is quite wrong.  In fact, the study of university lectures from the medieval universities show that the idea that the Earth is a sphere was quite common among scholars.[5]

For anyone to describe the history of the middle to late medieval period as a time of darkness, ignorance and the suppression of learning and science by the Church is simply ignorant of the facts.[6] And remember that almost all the scholars, astronomers, mathematicians and philosophers were Christian clergy.  They were, after all, the main educated group in medieval society.  Their Christian faith was a strong motivator in their scholarship as they believed it was their duty to examine and discover the secrets of the Natural World because it expressed and revealed the Glory of God. They believed that the natural world was an ordered and rational one because the God who created it was a rational and ordered God.  The Judeo-Christian God was not like the capricious and fickle gods of pagan classical antiquity.  His word and covenants were trustworthy.  It was this idea that lay behind the progress of Western science.

A fascinating contemporary research project is currently underway at the University of Durham in the UK.  It is called The Ordered Universe Project. Durham University has one of the largest collections of medieval manuscripts in Europe.  A multidisciplinary team of historians and scientists are carefully researching this treasure trove of medieval manuscripts to gather evidence to show that the period from 11th to 14th Century in England, the period prior to the so-called ‘Enlightenment’, was actually a very rich time of scientific enquiry and discovery.

Their latest star witness is a 13th Century English scholar and scientist who was also the Bishop of Lincoln.  He wrote about everything from sound to comets and stars, but his essay on the nature of colour stunned the researchers because it reveals a remarkably modern understanding of colour – that colours do not exist by themselves but are a property of the interactions of light and matter.  And this was written in about 1220!

The project’s initiators say: “That without an awareness of the intellectual developments of this period modern science risks radically underestimating its own foundations.”[7]

The fact is that serious contemporary historians of the medieval period do not speak in the simplistic terms of the modernist myth.

3. But modernity’s story – its myth of the triumph of reason and science is easily told because it is partly true and its achievements are dramatic and largely within the scope of contemporary memories. For example:

  • The unlocking of the secrets of the physical world
  • The development of modern technology, especially the ever surprising growth of digital technology
  • Space travel
  • The extraordinary medical advances
  • The achievements of modern chemistry and microbiology
  • The unlocking of our DNA and the human genome structure
  • And I haven’t even mentioned engineering and the advances in materials science.

The achievements are enormous and stunning and should be celebrated.  No one wants to go back to living without anaesthesia, antibiotics, and immunisation!

But modernity’s myth also comes with another set of ideas that demand a critique:

  • The idea of continual progress.  And not only progress in invention and discovery and mastery of the physical world, but also: –
  • A belief in the progress of the human spirit.  We also believe we are overcoming conflict, inequality, poverty, injustice; that we have advanced politically through our democratic institutions.
  • We also believe that through education, psychological understanding and social improvement, we are delivering a new humanity.
  • And this of course is the great Enlightenment dream – the creation of Utopia!

However, there is another story that runs parallel to this and challenges this myth of comprehensive progress – a darker story.

The high point of modernity – the 20th Century and 21st Century have also brought us the following:

  • The terrible cost of three great secular political experiments:
    • The extermination of 8 million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust
    • At least 80, possibly 100 million killed or starved to death in Stalin’s Soviet Republic and Mao’s China.
    • And we can add to these three major disastrous political experiments, Pol Pot’s Kampuchean experiment with 2 million killed and a country ruined.
    • Then there are the ongoing smaller but humanly costly wars such as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous civil wars, such as the Balkans and their accompanying genocides.
    • The UN was the creation of our idealism after WWII to reign in and manage our penchant for solving political problems with violent conflict. But with some notable exceptions, it now has a litany of failures as peacemaker, due mainly, it must be said, not to the institution itself but to the pressures and self-interest of sovereign nations.  It’s educational and health initiatives have been much more effective, but of course in these matters the protection of power is a less immediate concern.
    • Then there is the matter of displaced persons due to famine and conflict.  The UN estimates there are approximately 43 million displaced persons in the world.
    • If we turn to technology, it’s a mixed blessing.  For example, nuclear power has brought us cheap energy but it has also brought us Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chernobyl and now Fukushima.  The loss of life, the cancer and genetic mutations, and land made sterile for hundreds of years is a high cost. [8]
    • We have polluted and ravaged our environment and daily we add to the extinction of species on our precious planet.
    • In spite of the green revolution of the 1970s that freed places like India from famine, two thirds of the world are still undernourished and we are now lurching towards a new food and water crisis.
    • The dark satanic mills of the 19th Century industrialised England are now replaced by their equivalents in Asia, India, China and Indonesia.
    • There is now serious doubt about the viability and sustainability of our economic model of continuous growth and endless consumption as well as doubts about the stability of our financial system.

I could go on but I won’t, and you don’t want me to either!  Because we all want to believe in modernity’s  myth of comprehensive, unqualified, unending progress.

This parallel story to the myth of progress, these facts, are what drive the post-modern critique of modernity.

To keep the myth of science and reason’s triumphs and irresistible progress alive and well, and without major critique, there needs to be an enemy to attack, who, if you allow to return to central importance again in our culture, will halt our progress to Utopia!  The enemy is religion, and so a war is constructed, a war between science and faith, reason and religion, progress and the Church.

This is reflected in the very intemperate remarks of some of the champions of the so-called New Atheism.  Richard Dawkins describes religion as a ‘virus’ that must be eliminated, and Daniel Dennett says, ‘religion must be caged’ to protect the young.

Richard Dawkins is one of our most celebrated scientists and evolutionary biologists. He held the prestigious Oxford chair for “The Public Understanding of Science” for 13 years till 2008. He has exercised great influence. His ideas can be associated with what has been called ‘Neo Darwinism’ (or Social Darwinism). By Neo Darwinism is meant, not just the scientific explanation of evolutionary biology but its extension into sociobiology and its application to religious, philosophical, ethical and political conclusions about society, human purpose and meaning. It has been said that Neo Darwinism or social darwinism has taken over today as the dominant explanation or narrative for understanding human life and society, replacing the position Freud and Marx held  for previous generations. Here is a statement from a sociobiological perspective: “Our belief in morality, is merely an adaption put in place by natural selection to further our reproductive ends. Hence the basis of ethics does not lie in God’s will….. Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate.” Just another of natural selections tricks!  [9]

The other great contemporary evolutionary biologist the late Stephen Jay Gould held a different position to Dawkins, he opposed Social Darwinism, sociobilogy and evolutionary psychology. He held the view that there are two non overlapping fields of discourse (Magesteria); the magesteria of science which covers the empirical realm and the magesteria of religion that covers questions of meaning and moral value. Science should not attempt to trespass out of its field of discourse. Dawkins disagreed with Gould. They also disagreed on a number of scientific issues in relation to evolution.

As the author of “The Selfish Gene” Dawkins has done  as much as anyone to popularise the idea that the blind selfish processes of genetic evolution are the basic reality behind our existence. But he tries to deny its ethical implications. In a strange statement that seems to contradict his own premises he writes: “If we tried to learn personal lessons from evolutionary biology we would all the time be doing very unpleasant very selfish things to each other. Fortunately we do not live in a Darwinian world. Civilisation has changed it very radically…….. we have been given our brains by natural selection. Now we can use them to rebel against the tyrany of our selfish genes.”  Peter Lowman in his excellent book “A Long Way East of Eden” asks the obvious questions: But “From where do we get the power, the desire to transcend the dictates of our genes…… and from where does Dawkins find his alternative ideals, in whose name we are to fight against the tyrany of our selfish genes?” [9]

At this point Dawkins needs to escape from his ‘windowless room’ but is logically trapped inside it for there is nothing beyond it to appeal to. In the end this scientific reductionism gives no satisfactory explanation for lifes most important questions. It is like the explanation that music is fluctuating air pressure – its true as far as it goes but there is so much more to say! At this point I am reminded of G K Chestertons description of those who hold such positions, “They have the conviction and clarity of those whose minds are trapped in the well lit prison of a single idea.”

At this point we see the clash of Post Modernity with Modernity most acutely.

4. All this leads me to the last and key point I want to make about modernity’s myth and the narrative that lies behind the New Atheism.  It fails to deal with the real culprit, which is not religion, but human nature, which continually disappoints. At this point the New Atheism seems naïve and overly influenced by Utopian liberal humanism and its great faith in human nature’s ability to overcome its weakness’s unaided, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. [9]

This is a curious attitude given the New Atheism is also strongly influenced by neo-Darwinism and evolutionary biology.  One would think that the survival of the fittest and strongest would lead to a more pessamistic view, one that would  reinforce Nietzsche’s bleak prophesy that when God dies for a culture, in the end, all you are left with as  the only absolute is the will to power, with no constraints but those we construct ourselves.  As we attempt to construct them we need to keep in mind Dostoevsky’s words, If God did not exist everything is permitted.

Nietzsche’s view is reinforced by the great secular atheist political experiments of the 20th Century I mentioned earlier; Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China.  It is interesting that the iconic propaganda film that launched Hitler’s terrible experiment was entitled The Triumph of the Will.  It is chilling viewing, probably the most brilliant propaganda film ever made. Viewing it is like experiencing a religious ceremony, albeit a pagan one.

Its purpose was to lead a whole nation to embrace an idea – to believe in the power and superiority of autonomous man when he sets his will to triumph over every weakness, challenge, and enemy.  The man is of course the noble, blond, pure Teutonic male of Hitler’s fantasy.  To achieve this, and to make the nation great again, it must first be racially purified and then the unreserved collective allegiances of the people must be given to the State, represented in the person of the Leader, the Feuhrer.  It is a chilling warning we ignore at our own peril.  For when the focus of the will to power is concentrated in the State in this way and unrestrained by any transcendent moral value we are at the most dangerous point of our collective experience, because the State can and does kill with terrible ruthlessness and on a grand scale.  That is the lesson of human history.

In his autobiography Christopher Hitchens describes his abandonment of Marxist idealism with some nostalgia. He quotes Oscar Wilde; ‘A map of the world that did not show Utopia would not be worth consulting.’  I used to adore that phrase, Hitchens says, but now reflect more on the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest has led. [10] Because of his deep suspicion of oppressive regimes and his wide experience as a political journalist Hitchens has a more astute awareness of humanities dark side than some of his fellow travellers.

So the real story is more complex than modernity’s narrative suggests – and the real culprit lurking in the background is not religion but human nature:

  • Our falleness, our weaknesses, our selfishness, our capacity for cruelty and evil.
  • Our will to power, our drive to be free of any restraints on our desires and choices and the responsibility for their ends.

Terence Malik in his brilliant and beautiful film The Tree of Life delivers a convincing verdict on the neo Darwinian fantasy. The Mother in the film says to her sons; there are two ways through life the way of nature or the way of grace, you have to choose which one you will follow.

By neo Darwinian fantasy I do not mean the scientific explanation of evolutionary biology but the extensions from that into philosophical and ethical conclusions. What it means to be fully human and our meaning and purpose and how we overcome the dark side of our natures.

If we are to focus on human nature, then Christians must also acknowledge their failures, made worse by their knowledge of grace and goodness.  We cannot claim to be untouched and unaffected by this.  At our worst and our moraly weakest we have created our own atrocities and bowed the knee to Caesar’s seductions or his demands. But at our best we have given ourselves up to be redeemed and transformed by the power of God’s love and grace, and we have fought the darkness in ourselves and our societies and changed them. Christianity has an explanation and an antidote for the darkness in the human heart and an answer to our individual and collective guilt for the appalling results of our will to power. That is what we call The Gospel.

Christianity’s great radical moral idea is that we are all made in the image of God and so every person must be treated with dignity and justice and kindness. Every person is precious whatever their ability or disability, whatever their station in life, whether they are embryos, infants, aged, disabled, prisoners or free, all are precious. This is the great idea that transformed the brutal ancient pagan world of Rome and claimed the heart and mind of Europe and shaped our collective moral imagination and what is best in the moral DNA of Western Culture. This ironically is what lies behind our now secular liberal values that the New Atheists assume and borrow. Alain de Botton [11] acknowledged this in his recent book Religion for Atheists. In fact the ground he traverses could well be a better place to begin a more helpful conversation between Atheists, Agnostics and Christians.

In a sense every Western atheist today is a post-Christian one, that is, a person whose best values are shaped and borrowed from the great ideas of the Christendom they have rejected, or left behind through cultural and historical amnesia. The exceptions to this are the French Atheistic philosophers like Michel Onfray who are more ruthlessly consistent. They dismiss their English counterparts as Christian Atheists who are afraid to take their views to their nihilistic and Nietzchean conclusions.[12]

But borrowed values don’t last forever and, given our new knowledge in genetics, soon the lure and logic of social biology and social Darwinism and genetic engineering will press in upon us once again as it did in the early part of the 20th Century in the Eugenics Movement.  A movement supported by the leading Atheists of the day like George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell.  It should not be forgotten that the subtitle of Darwin’s book The Origin of the Species is – the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.  Under the vision of improving life, the agenda of racial purifying and superiority are easily smuggled in.  Never forget that, in addition to the extermination of 8 million Jews, the Nazis euthanized 80,000 patients in mental hospitals. The principles of Eugenics were practiced in North America before National Socialism came to power in Germany, and in the Scandinavian countries right up to World War 2, after which it became a moral embarrassment.

To be fair, most of the New Atheists would be appalled if they felt they had contributed to this possibility again by their mythic story, but of course we don’t always see all the consequences of our ideas, especially if we misunderstand, distort, or fail to properly read our history.[13]

In conclusion, the narrative, the mythical story that lies beneath “The New Atheism”, that forms its foundation, is an inaccurate, biased and gross oversimplification of the formation of Western Culture and for the sake of our future it must be challenged.

Peter Corney           23/5/2012


William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton Crossway (2008 rev.)

Antony Flew, There is a God, HarperOne (2009)

D Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages (2001)

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, Yale Press (2009)

John Lennox, God’s Undertaker – has science buried God? Lion (2009)

D Lindberg, Science in the Middle Ages (1978)

D Lindberg and RL Numbers, Beyond War and Peace – a reappraisal of the encounter between Christianity and science, Cambridge UP (1986)

D Lindberg, “Myths and Truths in Science and Religion: A historical perspective”, lecture – Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, University of Cambridge, UK, 1/5/2006.

P Lowman, A Long Way East of Eden, Paternoster (2002)

Alistair McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion, Veritas, IVP (2007)

Master of Colour, New Scientist, 10/3/12, No. 2855, p. 52-53

J P Moreland Scaling the Secular City, Baker Books, 1987

J B Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth (1991)

P J Sampson, Six Modern Myths Challenging Christian Faith, IVP (2000)

Richard Swinburne, Is there a God, Oxford UP (2010)

[1] Antony Flew, There is a God, Harper One (2009) – A former atheist and leading British philosopher, Past Professor. Of Philosophy at Keele Uni. UK, also positions at Oxford and Aberdeen Universities.

Richard Swinburne, Is there a God, Oxford UP (2010) – He is also a leading British Philosopher, Past Professor of Philosophy Oxford Uni.

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton Crossway (2008 rev.) – William Lane Craig is Prof of Philosophy Biola Uni US

Alistair McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion, Veritas, IVP (2007) – Alistair McGrath is an Oxford theologian and scientist

John Lennox, God’s Undertaker – has science buried God? Lion (2009) – John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University.

Alvin Plantinga,  The Dawkins Confusion, Books and Culture Feb 2007 <>

[2] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions – The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, Yale Press (2009)

[3] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions…, p. 33 – 35

[4] D Lindberg and RL Numbers, Beyond War and Peace – a reappraisal of the encounter between Christianity and science, Cambridge UP (1986)

D Lindberg, “Myths and Truths in Science and Religion: A historical perspective”, lecture – Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, University of Cambridge, UK, 1/5/2006.

P J Sampson, Six Modern Myths Challenging Christian Faith, IVP (2000) – an excellent and readable overview.

[5] JB Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth (1991)

[6] D B Hart, Atheist Delusions, Yale Press (2009); D Lindberg, Science in the Middle Ages (1978); D Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages (2001)

[7] “Master of Colour” New Scientist, 10/3/12, No. 2855, p. 52-53

[8] See also Adam Curtis’s Brilliant three part BBC doco All watched over by machines of loving grace, 2011

[9] See the interview with Richard Dawkins quoted in P Lowman, A long Way East of Eden, Paternoster (2002) pp.134-135

[10] Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22 a Memoir , Allen and Unwin (2010) p420

[11] Alain De Botton, Religion for Atheists, Hamish Hamilton – Penguin (2012)

[12] Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto: the case against Christianity, Judaism and Islam. P 57-58. NY Arcade (2007.)

[13] See the Interview with Richard Dawkins quoted in P Lowman, A Long Way East of Eden, Paternoster (2002), pp. 134-135.

  • Emerson de Oliveira

    Great article.

  • Troy Anderson

    This is precisely the kind of rhetoric that Christians use to attempt to rationalise their beliefs with the real world.
    Peter Corney attempts to convince the reader that Atheism is founded on a myth. Ingenious really, when you consider the foundations for his belief.
    ‘New Atheism’ is a ridiculous term in itself. The non-religious should not even have a name. Atheism, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities, pre-dates christianity and no doubt all types of organised religion. The term would have only come into the vernacular because most people were under the rule of religion and the religious rulers would have needed to brand the dissenting individuals with a name that would invoke fear and distrust with those so labelled. “Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” (Sam Harris)

    You can also thank the comfortable lifestyle you are now enjoying for ‘The Enlightenment’. Christians only have to look to their Muslim counterparts to observe what life would be like if the church still controlled our political system to the same extent that it once did. The notion that most of the scientific discoveries can be attributed to clergy is disingenuous as, anyone who cares to, understands the prevailing religious attitudes throughout history and the fact that most endeavours requiring financing had to be sanctioned by the church.
    Corney asserts that Atheism has ‘borrowed’ its ethical values from Christianity; it has not borrowed them from any religion. Human decency precedes Christianity. One of the constants with all religions , including the many pre-dating christianity is the ‘Golden Rule’ or as christians love to quote but often fail to follow, ‘treat others they way you would like to be treated’.
    This is an example of the narcissism required to believe in christianity, that a god created the world with you in mind, has an ultimate plan for your life and listens to your thoughts and cares about your personal habits. This and the belief that a god would choose a nomadic, mostly illiterate, desert dwelling tribe to inscribe an infallible perfect book to which all life’s lessons are to be learned.
    This attitude produces an astonishing mix of confidence and ignorance. Most christians don’t read the very book that they profess to be the foundation of their own moral code. (save perhaps for the snippets of scripture as instructed to read and then expanded to meet certain agendas by those perpetuating the myth).
    Corney tries his best to connect atheism to totalitarian regimes. These are just more examples of the Cult of Personality that includes Christianity and in Hitler’s case he has been quoted on numerous occasions as professing a Christian belief, – My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple – Adolf Hitler, speech on April 12, 1922 where do you think his murderous anti-Semitism stems from?
    Quoting Dostoevsky’s ‘If god did not exist, everything is permissible’ is another example of Christians attempting to reassure each other in their questionable logic. Is it therefore to be assumed that without a deity to worship Christians would simply lose all moral restraint? This type of logic instills fear into the religious when regarding the non-religious.
    Corney uses the examples of ruthlessness and murder on a grand scale of his chosen despots, but he could just as easily be describing the church. Plus the question that no Christian apologist has been able to answer satisfactorily, why did god do nothing? (particularly when it was being done in his name)
    When we are determining the truth of a proposition we either make an honest appraisal of the evidence using logic and reason, or we don’t. Religion is one subject where believers and indeed the public at large imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies. This leads to the ludicrous situation, because religion has been sheltered from serious criticism, that people believe collectively what only the deranged would believe in isolation.