The “New” Atheists Aren’t

At least, not any more.

4horsemen
They seemed to delight in being called “the Four Horsemen”, a sardonic poke to the ribs (or perhaps the eye) of John of Patmos for his morbid, paranoid, and deluded scribblings in the book of ‘Revelation’ wherein we’re assured the grand marshals of our end-of-times apocalyptic parade will be cowboys.

Richard Dawkins is in his mid-seventies, as of this writing. He’s been an atheist for most of the previous century AND the entirety of this one. Likewise Daniel Dennett, who is nearly as old as Professor Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens (Jefferson rest his soul) would have been about 65 this year. Sam Harris, the youngster in the bunch, is nonetheless greying and middle-aged.

“Their activism predates
the [re-]formulation for New Coke,
for Yeshua’s sake”

Which leaves me more than a little bemused every time I see our Horsemen referred to as “the New Atheists”. Their activism predates the [re-]formulation for New Coke for Yeshua’s sake (which happened more than 30 years ago, if I’ve left you wondering), and the skepticism toward the supernatural that they espouse is quite probably as old as belief itself.

In short: there’s nothing “new” about “the New Atheists”. Just as, at some point, we’d stopped using Vespucci’s “New World” label to denote the western hemisphere, it’s probably time to abandon the adjective ‘new’ when referencing the above-mentioned trailblazers, especially now that the trail has been well-traveled, paved over, widened to four lanes, and features a Starbucks at every off-ramp.

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Meet The REAL “New” Atheists

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Say what you want about the political ramifications from the self-anointed “Moral Majority” tightly cinching up their bible belt in the late 20th century, but the Falwellian-dominated south DID reward us with three of the nation’s heaviest hitters in the Rational Revivalist dugout.

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Seth Andrews

was raised by biblical literalists. In Oklahoma. Where, if the wind comes sweeping down the plain and destroys your house, you probably had it coming, you filthy heathen you.

He was predictably yanked from public school on the first day that the subject of our antecedent species was introduced. There’s a sweet irony here, given that both Darwin’s adherents AND devout deniers should probably agree that young Seth was put into a private school because of Neanderthals.evolutionpassfail

As a religious adult, Andrews worked for one of those maddeningly innumerous Christian radio stations that make the “scan” button on your car stereo nearly useless anywhere south of Illinois. The Epicurean problem of evil is especially hard to ignore for anybody working in the media, and in the wake of 9-11, not even the most adept apologists seemed able to provide Seth with any way of discerning between a seemingly disinterested and uninvolved god and no deity whatsoever.

Mr. Andrews now authors books and does speaking engagements regarding the loss of his faith or, perhaps better put: the liberation of his rationale. He also produces what are arguably the most professionally polished multimedia presentations within the entire freethinker movement, as well as hosting an enormously popular weekly podcast humbly entitled “the Thinking Atheist”.

Be forewarned that Andrews’ voice is seductive enough to make even the manliest of men question their own heterosexuality.  I’m confident that if he ever set up an erotic 900 telephone number, my wife would bankrupt me in $4.99 per-minute increments.

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AronRa

The prospect of one day donning the magic underwear of his family’s Mormon church became far less compelling the day young L. Aron Nelson got his first book on dinosaurs. Fast-forward a few decades and the self-identified infidel has amassed such an encyclopedic knowledge of biology, genetics, and evolution that it would be unsurprising to learn he’d traced his family tree back to an amoeba named ‘Earl’.

Combine that data reserve with his imposing figure and one can understand why he’s not squeamish about going toe-to-toe with sidewalk evangelists. At, conservatively, eight or nine feet tall, AronRa towers above his debate opponents physically as well as intellectually. If the aforementioned Mr. Andrews can be considered a teddy-bear, then this imposing Arizonian would, by contrast, be Chewbacca. If Chewbacca played bass for Marilyn Manson. On a Harley.

Perhaps the most compelling credential for his persuasive prowess is his wife, who was a theist when they met online. Any aspiring anti-apologists should note: engaging somebody in a debate does not usually obligate you to marry them.

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Matt Dillahunty

I can’t help but think that if he had gotten ordained, I might want to attend whatever church Reverend Dillahunty would have preached in. But his earnest pursuit of (forgive me) “the gospel truth”, was ironically what turned him away from organized religion and the notion of god[s].

He’s an everyman; your next door neighbor. You’d be unsurprised to find Matt working behind the counter at a hardware store, sitting on the barstool next to yours, or changing your oil. He’s what I call an “I-think-I-know-that-guy” guy.

That disarming facade is perhaps what emboldens a contingent of devout viewers of “the Atheist Experience” cable TV show to pick up the phone, confident they might hold their own against Dillahunty in matters beyond the scope of religiosity, including philosophy, science, existentialism, and more.

But whether a caller tries to hide behind bible babble, epistemological dodges or philosophical sleight-of-hand, they are invariably surprised to find that “the guy next door” is able to cite everybody from Abraham to Aristotle, Paul to Plato, and knows his Leviticus as well as his Locke. He knows not just the content of the bible[s] but its history AND, perhaps most importantly, the tactics of the apologists who wield the “Good Book”.

Matt is the architect of a solid framework for renewing the debate with theists, the cornerstone of which involves insisting upon the pontificator’s burden of proof. His adherence to logic is so well-disciplined that I suspect he could represent the entire card catalog of the Library of Congress in a Venn diagram.

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I would propose that, if we insist upon keeping the appellation alive, we consider retiring the Four Horsemen to the “New Atheists” Hall of Fame, and pass the title on to this trio of gentlemen.

Between Seth Andrews’ marketable warmth and approachability, AronRa’s ridiculously vast library of knowledge, and Matt Dillahunty’s shrewd tactical and debating prowess, it would appear that the future of rational thought could not be in better hands.

Superstition may never be slain, but the trident we can forge by sharpening our own skills in those three areas should certainly help bring the beast to its knees thanks, in no small part, to the newest of the “New Atheists”…