Looking back, we can now see the definition of new atheism was progressivism. There wasn’t anything in (the then) new atheism that differed in any way from progressivism, except for its strong focus on scidolatry. Oh! Science! How I love thee!
It had its heyday when it seemed daring, provocative, and transgressive. These are all destructive, leftist activities, and once it became obvious progressivism was everywhere triumphant, it was realized there wasn’t much left for the new atheists to tear down. Besides, science—real science, that is—is hard and no more than a handful of people will ever be good at it.
The initial ardor faded, and the personalities driving the moment died, got old, or diverted their activities into politics. Some even drifted into the right, and in doing so gave up their old labels. All that remains of new atheism is the “I f—ing love science” soyboy neck-beard fedora-tipping crowd, and intellectual giants like Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is ever announcing gems like there is nothing scientific about beginning our calendars on 1 January.
It’s not that atheism didn’t win: it did, even among the religious. Only a remnant in the elite (there are many more among the powerless) remains convinced the supernatural is real, active, and of more importance than the natural.
You’d think, though, in reading two recent articles about new atheism that the battle has only just begun. The first is What Was New Atheism?, and the best summary is that new atheists still have not given up on their fear of George Bush, whom they imagine was a man of the right.
They were also deeply unhappy Christopher Hitchens became a neocon, as if most neocons weren’t always atheist or non-Christian. Sam Harris is judged too anti-Islamic and insufficiently anti-Christian for their tastes.
PZ Myers, the effeminate champion of Evolution!, has called his own movement a “train wreck“. He was hoping for more trans rights, wanted less “Islamophobia”, and was deeply concerned about climate “deniers”. Myers represents the branch of new atheism that became redundant.
Which is perhaps why he is outraged over those who fled the movement and morphed into “a shambles of alt-right memes and dishonest hucksters mangling science to promote racism, sexism, and bloody regressive politics.”
There may be more than a tinge of jealously to all this. Myers never became a household name, and never will. He cries “who put Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens in charge?” Sorry, old boy, but no one wants to rally behind a man calling himself pee-zee.
Some in the old movement, as the other article acknowledges, did wake to the idea that science does not dictate progressive politics. As Myers suspected, they became rightists. After all, it is a scientific facts that non-procreative sex-like simulations are medically dysgenic. Nothing moral or ethical flows from that fact, or from any scientific fact. Science has nothing on those subjects: it is eternally mute.
But there were among the few who recognized those scientific facts, and many other facts like them (of the kind decried by Myers), men who held to the old morality. These men are still atheists, and like the new atheists they too falsely believe their morality and ethics flows from science, only theirs flows right and not left.
Tom X Hart calls this group the Cold School (there is much more to Hart’s essay than we can tackle here).
This viewpoint emerges from studying reality through the most disenchanted, cold, and scientific lens possible. The Cold school is atheistic even about atheism. The 18th century atheists allowed themselves to believe that their view had attained a certain reason about the universe. The Cold school disdains this attitude: the atheism of humanism is merely a secular religion constrained by evolution, cognitive biases, and the desire to signal social status. It presumes, quite falsely, that works in a linear fashion towards the progress of man, though there is little to no evidence to support this proposition — it is mere Christianity without Christ. The Cold school, by contrast, holds that humans are predictably irrational and imperfect: evolution made us so.
Hart contrasts this with the Metaphysical School of the right, men who also acknowledge the same scientific facts, but who realize that if evolution made us think the way we do, then nothing matters: there is no truth, only opinion. This being both absurd and impossible, only God can be the answer.
The dissident or reactionary right is a melding of those who follow Nature or Nature’s God, Gnon, as our friend Nick B. Steves quipped. For now, it is a happy society, since there are far more and more virulent enemies to the left to worry about. It won’t and can’t last, though, unless, as many in the Cold school themselves openly acknowledge, religion is restored to preeminence.
But that is a story for another day. So is the story of what progressive atheism turns into.