New atheists or new anti-dogmatists?

There has been a strong reaction to the recent books of Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) and Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon). These authors have been labeled as the “New Atheists” and their books have received many angry (and defensive) reviews and attacks from religious believers (and some non-believers). However, those I have read seem to be attacking “straw men,” reacting to imagined insults or even to be based on ignorance – the reviewers appearing to have read no more than the titles.

So this article by a Sydney lawyer, Benjamin O’Donnell is refreshing. Entitled New atheists or new anti-dogmatists? the article gets beyond the superficial reaction to titles and makes the point:

“What is strange is that, when one actually reads them, one gets the feeling that the real target of the “new atheists” isn’t religion at all.

Indeed, they all explicitly say they have little or no problem with deism, or Spinozian pantheism or what Dawkins calls “Einstein-ian religion”. Harris, Dennett and Hitchens (and possibly Dawkins) have indicated that they wouldn’t necessarily want to see the synagogues, churches and mosques emptied, though they would want to see them abandon their “metaphysical bullshit” (see this video towards the end).

It seems that the new atheists’ real problem is with dogma, and specifically with the dogma of religious faith – with the belief that it is acceptable, even admirable, to believe propositions without logically sound reasons based on good evidence. They aren’t really the “new atheists” at all, but the “new anti-dogmatists”.”

O’Donnell discusses several examples of religious dogmatism but stresses that the problem is not unique to religion:

“The physicist Steven Weinberg has said that, left alone, “you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” If you change the word “religion” to “dogma” or “faith” you have my view – and the view I suspect people like Weinberg, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris are really getting at.”

I made the same point in Sources of evil?

This is a great article – well worth reading, especially if you feel defensive about these books because of your religious beliefs. And, no, O’Donnell is not biased. He does have criticisms of these authors – particularly Dawkins and Hitchens.

Related Articles:
Religion and the “New Atheists”
Secular believers
Dawkins responds to his critics
Delusions about Dawkins
From faith to reason
Problems with atheism?
Theology of the Emperor’s New Clothes
Sources of evil?

4 responses to “New atheists or new anti-dogmatists?

  1. The link to O’Donnell’s article is not working for me. Your description of the piece makes me want to read it – I’ll try again later.

    Dogmatism leads to certainty and certainty is demonic.


  2. Funny, Bob. The link is working for me. However, the article was produced (at least in part) at the Dawkins website (New atheists or new anti-dogmatists? by Online Opinion) so you could try that.


  3. Benjamin O'Donnell

    If you liked that one, I have a sequal out today: “Morality and the new atheism” at


  4. Just picked up my copy of Dawkins “The Blind Watchmaker” the other day. Very enjoyable read.
    I loved the part about the Bishop of Birmingham and his armchair musings about the Arctic.
    Why is a polar bear white? Tricky question that.


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