For some reason, Andrew Brown of The Guardian is rehashing that decade-old question with Daniel Dennett: Do the New Atheists bring any new ideas to the table? (For the sake of this post, I’ll use the “New Atheist” terminology, even though it’s a media creation rather than anything substantive.)
The short answer, of course, is no. The New Atheists don’t bring anything new to the table because religion hasn’t brought anything new to the table. Theologians and religious mouthpieces are still using the same fallacy-laden arguments for the existence of God they’ve always used, so our rebuttals have never had to change; they’ve only had to adapt to new mediums, and we’ve done a pretty amazing job with that.
What the New Atheists (and I would lump many other atheist activists under this umbrella, too) offer is a no-holds-barred critique of religion that comes at you all at once from many different angles. Instead of the periodic trickles of atheism we saw a few decades ago, “New Atheism” hits you like a firehose. You can’t escape the books and podcasts and websites and non-religious celebrities. Nor can you ignore the media mentions of atheists that happen with increasing frequency… or the way we’ve dominated Internet discourse. The New Atheism has made it safer for people to declare their godlessness. (That’s not to say it’s easy everywhere, but it is certainly easier than it used to be.)
The next “phase,” if you will, of New Atheism will include a few key items: We need to empower younger freethinkers (by helping them form groups, for example). We need to become a more powerful political force. And we need to form stronger communities to rival what churches do so well without accepting the religious dogma that comes with it.
Dennett doesn’t say all that in the interview, but he at least does a nice job dismissing a lot of Brown’s strange assertions — like that moderate religion is perfectly fine and that you shouldn’t bother trying to argue with people of faith because they won’t change their minds.
Brown’s points are a perfect example of why it’s not our job to create new rebuttals to bad arguments. We don’t need to. We’ve always had the upper hand in the debate. It’s just a matter of challenging the claims of religious people and not letting them get the benefit of the doubt just because of their titles and the unearned respect given to their beliefs.