The Dawkins Effect: How The God Delusion Mainstreamed Atheism (Reposted)

Simon Owens over at "Bloggasm: Was it good for you?" wrote a piece called The Dawkins Effect: How The God Delusion Mainstreamed Atheism. It’s well written and I recommend it, especially since he quotes me in it. I'm reposting it because he claims it was his best article in 2007.

He wrote:

PZ Myers has said several times in his writing that he thinks that Dawkins has done very little to convert the religious into nonbelievers. Instead, The God Delusion and other books like it are simply rallying calls for the choir. But other atheists have argued that the poor conversion rate is the result of a weak book. Some atheist purists have made claims — generally in blog comments and online message boards — that The God Delusion is inferior to much weightier atheist texts.

John W. Loftus is one of several atheists who write at a group blog called Debunking Christianity. When I interviewed him in August, he seemed to disagree with what he considers the offensive tactics Dawkins uses. “Even though we argue against…faith, we do so in a more or less non-offensive way,” he told me. “To belittle [the religious] like other sites do is not effective if we want them to consider our arguments. There is a place for ridicule, and people on both side of the fence do this. Sometimes it just feels good to vent, I suppose. But that’s not us (for the most part). That’s one of the reasons so many Christians visit us and discuss these issues with us, and I like it this way.”

Loftus expressed ambivalence toward Dawkins, saying that on the one hand, The God Delusion book suffers from a lack or research (in Loftus’s mind), while on the other hand, “Dawkins has gained for atheists an audience.” This audience, he argued, has caused more people to provide additional research against religion in general. “That’s something I am grateful to Dawkins for,” he said, “even if educated people immersed in these debates don’t think that highly about his arguments.”


Lorena said...

I think, John, that the atheist cause needs both your approach and Dawkings' approach.

And given that the movement needs so much growth, branching off into different styles is what probably will produce more success, as different flavours of the same anti-religious ideas may appeal to the wide array of people who profess the Christian faith.

Although I must admit that your non-aggressive approach may provide better results in the long run.

Perhaps the more militant approach is good for rallying the troops--so to speak--while your approach is more effective at getting the work done.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Lorena. For a good discussion of why I don't consider myself a "New Atheist see here.

Andrew said...

The atheist cause might well prevail.

It has in the past, and we have had...and still have...offically atheistic governments at large.

But so what? It didn't help, and times change anyway.

What is amusing is the unstated belief around here that if only Christianity were destroyed, all would be well.

But get over it, there is always an "other" (the "other" is that but for which your own life would be fine if it didn't exist); which in the past has been blacks, Catholics, gays, Jews, immigrants and around here Christians.

There is a name for that kind of thinking, but draw your won conclusions.

SadEvilTan said...

Andrews comments aside,(he's missed the plot entirely) the "GD" is a fantastic read & wouldn't put anyone off reading it, it's an appropriate read for 'Christians & Atheists' alike, but if you're extremely 'biased' -as i'm sure 'Andrews' comments clearly indicate- then, no matter how exceptional a written project, of a particular subject may be apparent to the 'general public', those sort of people will always be 'unkind' & look for the most 'damning things' to say about it......!!! Personally i thought the way R.D. cut through certain parts of the 'scriptures', then described in 'meticulous detail' what a load of 'nonsense' it is, - very fallacious indeed- my 'analogy' of the way in which he exposes these 'myths' is thus: A very skilled surgeon cutting through all that 'rotten flesh', then discovering a body 'riddled with cancerous growths', & the only way to try & cure it is to expose it for what it is: a festering wound; that's been cancerous ever since the "Birth of Christ"....!!!In that sense he's done an excellent job with this book!

Stargazer said...

One thing I find helpful from authors like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris is that they provide us with a picture of how Christianity is perceived by those 'outside the fold,' so to speak. While Christians in great numbers cry foul at what they see as caricatures of the church and Christian belief, I think it speaks volumes about the version of the Christian message that has most successfully presented itself to our society and culture. I remember feeling perpetually embarassed and frustrated by being grouped with the more fundamentalist/conservative voices when I was still a part of the church--I found myself doing what several of our contributors here also do--delineating theological boundaries, philosophical differences, making sure folks understood that my own beliefs were quite different, thank you very much!

It becomes pretty obvious from reading many of these books that the "more informed, liberal" churches have not been nearly so successful in getting their own view out as have the fundamentalist churches, nor have the media found them to be as 'story-worthy' as the more extreme groups. Being tolerant, nice, open-minded etc., etc. just ain't dramatic!

Amenhotep said...

I agree with a couple of other posters that several different approaches are helpful. I actually like Dawkins a great deal, and find the arguments in TGD, while perhaps "simplistic" (i.e. "no-nonsense"), no less powerful for that. In fact, reading "The Blind Watchmaker", Robin Lane Fox's "The Unauthorised Version" and the four gospels, all in parallel, was probably the main impetus in converting me from theism to atheism (and I still sort-of regard myself as a "Cultural Christian").

In some respects, the "New Theists" (if I might so term McGrath, Lennox and others) have managed to get people believing that Dawkins and Harris (for example) really are strident and militant, when in fact that is rather unfair. They pretend that *their* arguments are "sophisticated", when in fact they are the same old claptrap dressed up. Kudos to Dawkins for cutting through the crap and getting to the core. The emperor has no clothes.

Personally I enjoy engaging with believers, but once the initial pleasantries are past, it's nice to get stuck into things, and a wee reductio ad absurdum is a good way of getting the fun underway. So (depending on the audience) terms like "sky pixie" have their uses in the correct context.

But don't give the New Theists too much credit here. They are not as friendly and reasonable as they like to pretend. Plantinga's review of TGD, for example, superficially looks sophisticated and even cogent, but it's actually rubbish, fallacious and disingenuous. Maybe theistic handwaving and sophistry plays well to the mass of ordinary theists out there, but there are some who will eventually see behind the facade.

Shygetz said...

Hitchens is strident and militant, and revels in it. Harris and Dawkins are simply not deferential, which to some theists is apparently the same thing.

I think all of the "New Atheists" have done us a tremendous service; by pointing out that there is nothing privileged and special about religious ideas that should grant them preference in public debate. Sure, it's never pleasant for the privileged to see their special treatment end, but I don't think there's a need to apologize for it.

What is amusing is the unstated belief around here that if only Christianity were destroyed, all would be well.

So Andrew, are you claiming that Jesus gave you the ability to read minds? If that's true, then I'll convert right now!

What I find amusing is the stated belief that you are a prat.

Scott said...

I tend to identify with Harris as his views seem to mirror mine. Reading his book, The End of Faith, crystallized my position.

However, he does make it clear that religion should not receive special privileges. And I tend to agree with this view.

On the flip side, I think Sam has a kind of empathy for theists because he studies and values what could be considered transcendent experiences. The key difference is that he does not attribute these experiences to God. Being somewhat of a student of the philosophical aspects of Zen Buddhism, a tend to share this empathy as well.

Recently, Harris has suggested using the word atheist to describe non-theists is a mistake.

He discussed this idea in detail at AAI 07

Scott said...

You can find the Q&A session following his talk here.