The New-er Atheists: Two movements battle for heart and mind

by Steve Wilkinson

The term ‘New Atheist’ is beginning to get a bit old already. It is still relatively new, chronologically, at least in relation to centuries of classical atheists. The movement seems to have arisen, or at least gained popularity, after the events of 9/11 (2001) in the USA. It was characterized by a shift towards the use of rhetoric, emotion, fear, and embodied very ‘religious’ type behaviors (some argue mirroring religious fundamentalists), despite the often claimed ‘reason’ branding.

However, in more scholarly circles (even among atheists, humanists, and skeptics), New Atheism has started to fade as it has become recognized that the tactic, while stirring up the core base, hasn’t been so effective beyond that. That said, there is little doubt it has had an impact on society in general.

A new strategy

A couple of recent movements have dropped much of the vitriol of atheists like Richard Dawkins, and have exchanged it for some new strategies. The reason I want to highlight these movements, is that I believe they present a real challenge, not so easily countered. They, in fact, utilize the strategies many in Christian apologetics employ, and often target the same audiences: the mushy middle and the unequipped Christian.

Peter Boghossian – The battle for mind

You might have heard of Peter Boghossian recently, as Christian apologist Tom Gilson has written a response to Peter’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists. Tom has been on a number of popular apologetics programs,1 discussing his own response, Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician: What He Gets Right, (Some of) What He Gets Wrong, and How Christians Must Respond. You can actually get this e-book for free at Tom’s website, or through Amazon.

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I heard Peter speak back in October 2013 on a skeptic’s podcast I listen to, The Malcontent’s Gambit. While I feel Boghossian got a number of things wrong when he started talking about Christianity, such as his definition of faith, he gets a lot of things right as well. Despite our differences, I found myself really liking the guy and agreeing quite often. For example, he rightly critiques what he calls the ‘affinity ghettos’ of the contemporary academic left. He concludes (rightly) that this damages his efforts to promote truth, just as I feel it does my own. He says that the move in tolerance of people to tolerance of ideas, has been devastating. Amen! However, he also concludes that this allows ‘faith’ ideas to flourish, which he sees as false. This is called epistemic relativism, and we should join hands with Boghossian in defeating it. How often have we heard Christian apologists such as Greg Koukl speak on this topic?

He also laments the loss of civility in discourse, as well as the censorship happening all over the country (and world) on debate over various topics and ideas. He mentions a recent attempt to have a campus debate on a matter related to Islam, and notes that it was the leftists screaming about it, not the Muslims. He says this is so condescending to the Muslims, failing to fairly engage their ideas.

Notice how closely much of this matches what Christian apologists might say. I’d almost think he read Greg Koukl’s Tactics book, as he also employs the use of ’Columbo-style questions’ and the Socratic method. In other words, Boghossian is going after the mind, and in my opinion, doing so very effectively. At the same time, some of his critiques of Christianity are almost laughable, such as his picks of Christian evidence to examine being Transubstantiation and speaking in tongues. Have you ever heard a Christian apologist use either as evidences for Christianity?

Tom Gilson brings out the background that Boghossian is trained in philosophy, a teacher/professor, and a specialist in persuasion theory and behavior-change theory. He not only knows it and teaches it, but has effectively put it to use…

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