The Three Phases of Atheism

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The article started off with some promise, but unfortunately falls flat rather quickly -- not just on the argumentation, but even on Muehlenberg's use of facts.

It's true "atheism" in antiquity is not the same as atheism today, and I would likely even agree with his breaking it into the three categories he selects. However, his evaluation of early atheism seems like it derives more from Wikipedia than any serious research.

Early use of atheism becomes evident when one looks at the actual etymology of the word, which derives from a-theos -- without god, or even god-forsaken. For example, Epicurus, one of the most cited Greek philosophers by modern atheists, was not an atheist in the modern sense. He believed the gods existed, but the gods had no concern for human affairs - thus, he was without the gods.

Later thinkers did develop atheism into a direct challenge to Christianity and other specific conceptions of god, which Muehlenberg correctly puts to around the Enlightenment era. However, he strangely cites Voltaire -- who was not at all an atheist (though he did have many criticisms of Christianity) -- while omitting the much more relevant Hume, among others.

He also fails to note that, for the most part, early Enlightenment writers did not reject God per se, but rather they rejected *particular, conventional representations of God.* Hume and others frequently allowed for a loose kind of deism, or at least agnosticism, in their philosophies.

It is not until Marx and others that true atheism – an active belief that god does not exist – takes root. It is from *this* foundation that modern atheism finds its foothold.

The latter part of his response seeks to invert the roles of religion and atheism, suggesting somehow that atheism itself is fundamentalist and, he concludes, jihadist. That is, by describing atheism using essentially *religious* terminology, he seeks to invalidate the position.

Let’s set aside the obvious fact that doing so would undermine his *own* religious ideology, and also recognize just how poor a description it is.

He refers to Dawkins, Dennet and Harris, calling them militants, priests, jihadists, fundamentalist, and so on. He also indicates how they allegedly think religion is the “root of all evil” – another factual error, as Dawkins himself admitted that the title of his documentary of the same name was inappropriate. In Dawkins’ exact words, “nothing is the root of all evil.”

It was his publishers that demanded the title, thinking it would draw a larger audience.

Regardless, the specific comparison Muehlenberg is attempting to draw is between physical, religious violence and modern atheists. Speaking directly of the 3 individuals cited, what has any of them done to suggest they would ever incite physical violence? Violence, I should add, that has been carried out by religions across the globe, including by Christianity.

The entire article is one of projection.

If Muehlenberg is honest, he must be aware of the religious atrocities committed in the name of one religion or another across the globe. One of the greatest modern and ancient attacks on liberty comes in the form of anti-blasphemy laws, a law that is exclusively religious in nature. The same sentiments that constructed these laws are also what have allowed people to blow themselves up for their religious beliefs, among other evils.

None of the New Atheists want to do any kind of physical harm to religious individuals. They don’t even want to restrict individual rights to their beliefs.

The weapon of the atheist – if we can use the term weapon at all – is debate, books and the weight of their own arguments. If you think writing a book is the same thing as the kinds of tortures envisioned during the Christian witch hunts, there’s a serious problem here.

It’s true that atheists do want to put an end to religious beliefs, but they do so within the constraints of the legal system, through intellectual debate, and out of a desire to end the kinds of horrendous anti-human activities carried out in the name of religion. Activities that range from bombing schools, to attacking the rights of homosexuals and women, to preventing children from going to a hospital due to a belief in faith healing.

Now, you can challenge their claim that ending religion would actually end the problems of the world, even the above-cited problems, and I think there are some valid criticisms of modern atheism in that argument (I even say this as a modern atheist myself).

However, he vaguely seems to suggest that Dawkins, Dennet and Harris would be willing to strap bombs to their chest for the sake of the cause, and he does this with a complete disregard for history and fact.

Apparently, Muehlenberg is concerned with neither.

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