Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Dawkins delusion: the legacy of New Atheism

  • 27 February 2020

Contrary to their claims, the New Atheists do have a creation myth. It goes something like this: emerging from darkness into the light, Enlightenment thinkers cast off the shackles of religion and, in so doing, ushered in an age of reason. For the likes of Richard Dawkins, a founding member of the movement, this is an article of faith, and he’s spent recent years casting himself not just as an heir of this tradition, but also as its modern day guardian.

When Dawkins speaks of the Enlightenment one knows what he means — he is talking about Locke and Hume and Newton and the triumph of the scientific method. He is not talking about the Enlightenment of Isaiah Berlin and its legacy of monism, which, he argued, tends to authoritarianism; nor is he talking about the Enlightenment of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, with its scientific racism and state absolutism and from which, they claimed, a direct line could be drawn to the Holocaust.

Blissfully unaware and lacking even an iota of self-doubt, it’s become something of a periodic rite for Dawkins to take to Twitter to demonstrate that he is far more a custodian of the Enlightenment he rejects than the one he accepts. His latest flirtation with the merits of eugenics is a case in point:

‘It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology.’

Science and ethics, in this formulation, occupy two distinct spheres. For Dawkins, unethical science is not ipso facto bad science.

One sees many of these same shortcomings in his atheism, which is fundamentalist at its core. Instead of dealing with theological questions in a serious or meaningful way, he relies almost exclusively on literalist readings of religious texts. It is fideism dressed up as rationalism. Those who believe such fantasies, in the worldview of the New Atheists, are unenlightened idiots, not yet liberated from God.


'God didn’t die — he was superseded by the god of materialism. Capitalism has atomised societies, undermined meaningful communities and left people feeling alienated and alone.'  

Their model of freedom is based on an ethics of choice — belief is simply a matter of weighing up the evidence and making a decision accordingly.

This notion