Reza Aslan Claims Harris and Dawkins Aren’t Atheists

“Renowned scholar” Reza Aslan wrote an article for with the title, “Sam Harris and ‘New Atheists’ Aren’t New, Aren’t Even Atheists.” I don’t know if this title was chosen by him or his editors, but it’s false. To deny that Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins are atheists is as ridiculous as to deny that the Pope is Catholic.

If one can look beyond the absurdity of the title’s claim, however, I find much in the article to agree with.

  • The “New Atheism” isn’t new.
  • Criticism of the “New Atheism” isn’t necessarily criticism of atheism as such.
  • “There is plenty to criticize in any religion and no ideology — religious or otherwise — should be immune from criticism.”
  • The “New Atheists” do not speak for the majority of atheists.
  • More accurate names for the “New Atheism” and “New Atheists” are antitheism and antitheists, respectively.
  • He recognizes the fact that many atheists make a distinction between “positive atheism” and “negative atheism” (though he fails to note that, among professional philosophers, this distinction is usually ignored and “atheism” is equated with “positive atheism” only).
  • He recognizes that the atrocities committed by atheist dictators such as Stalin and Mao were not caused by atheism.

Apart from the ridiculous title, the article’s main flaw is that Aslan tries to argue that the atrocities committed by atheist dictators like Stalin and Mao were caused by antitheism. Aslan is surely correct that Stalin and Mao were antitheists, but even antitheism isn’t the cause for what they did. What Aslan fails to notice is that dictators like Stalin and Mao were not freethinkers. It was their opposition to freethought, not their antitheism, that should receive the blame. One can be “actively opposed” to theism by criticizing it and even ridiculing it without believing that religious freedom should be suppressed. This is what Harris and Dawkins do: they ridicule religion but not do not support the violent suppression of religious freedom or believers.

Aslan is right to notice that antitheists are not representative of the majority of atheists. It’s too bad he didn’t also notice that anti-freethought, totalitarian dictators are equally not representative of the majority of antitheists.