Where Have All the Angry New Atheists Gone?

On the falling star of the new atheism:

The new atheists were all the rage just a few short decades ago. They now seem to be a spent force. Indeed, the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse have undergone a few changes. One of them, Christopher Hitchens, died of cancer in 2011. Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are still alive, as is Richard Dawkins.

I will speak to them further in a moment, especially Dawkins. But for a while there they certainly were taking the West by storm. I recall one day being in a major bookstore in Melbourne. It had a sign up saying that these were its top five best seller at the time (June 8, 2007):

1. God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
2. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
3. Romulus, My Father by Raimond Gaita
4. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
5. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam by Michel Onfray

There you have it: three atheist titles and one whacko New Age title in the top five. Plenty of other major Western cities throughout the world would have featured similar lists of top sellers at the time. In 2021 Eric Metaxas said this about the group:

What marked their movement was the exuberance and fury with which they condemned religious faith, for they were not content merely to maintain God’s non-existence. On the contrary, they rather energetically denounced all religious expressions as irrational and as somehow “anti-science,” and therefore as intolerably vile and imminently dangerous, and in need of forceful eradication by whatever means available—whatever that might mean.


But their arguments have not stood up well, which will perhaps surprise anyone who recalls the showering sparks and billowing smoke that attended their cantankerous eruptions in many books and speeches and debates, through which they glowered steadfastly and unpleasantly, as though smiling might be taken as unseriousness.

Let me focus on just one of these volumes which was perhaps the most influential and successful of them all. In the 2006 volume The God Delusion Dawkins made his shrill and often not very thoughtful diatribe against religion – primarily Christianity. I penned a two-part response to it at the time: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2006/12/29/a-review-of-the-god-delusion-by-richard-dawkins-part-1/

Plenty of others also did book-length replies, including Alister McGrath, John Blanchard, and Hitchen’s brother Peter. While the new atheists seemed to flourish for a while, it did not take long for their star to begin to flicker out. There were even other atheists who took aim at some of the writers and their books.

It is perhaps somewhat unfortunate that the former atheist and Marxist Alister McGrath released his book, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World in 2004 (Doubleday) – just before the new atheists burst onto the world stage in such a big way. Yet in 2007 he could write The Dawkins Delusion (SPCK), and by 2011 McGrath could ask, Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty? (Thomas Nelson).

Image of The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God: Why New Atheism Grew Old and Secular Thinkers Are Considering Christianity Again
The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God: Why New Atheism Grew Old and Secular Thinkers Are Considering Christianity Again by Brierley, Justin (Author), Wright, N. T. (Foreword) Amazon logo

Other volumes appeared discussing the short-lived new atheism. Eric Metaxas, quoted above, released Is Atheism Dead? (Salem Books, 2021), while last year Justin Brierley published The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God (Tyndale, 2023). As to that last volume, its closing paragraphs say this:

Christianity has been remarkably successful until now. It flourished in the East and then swept the Western world. It has dominated art, literature, and culture and left majestic cathedrals in its wake. The revivals of Luther, Wesley, and Whitefield transformed Europe and America before Christianity swept into Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the rest of the world.


From a secular perspective it’s possible to compare these high watermarks of the past with the current picture in the West and assume that Christianity, if not quite dead, is well on its way to being another relic of history. What the critics often fail to realize is that the crest of each new wave of Christianity had a trough that preceded it. History moves in cycles. Tides go out and come back in. I believe we are simply living at low tide in the Western world. Rebirth has happened before, and it can happen again.


Two thousand years ago a wandering rabbi stood on a beach and called a bunch of fishermen to put down their nets, follow him, and fish for people instead. Together they changed the world. Like them, I believe we are standing on the shores of human history, waiting for a tide that is about to rush back in. Perhaps now is the time to answer his call again.

But why did the new atheism seem to fizzle so fast? There would be various reasons, As noted, one of their members died – and he is no longer an atheist! And so many people were turned off by the sheer arrogance and ugly contempt they showed for anyone who dared to differ with them. Perhaps the epitome of this came from Dawkins claiming that those who saw the world as he saw it were “brights”. Good grief, that even turned off Hitchens and other atheists.

And the pompous attacks on subjects that were clearly not his forte, such as theology and philosophy, were often far too embarrassing to wade through. Dawkins’s areas of expertise were in biology and ethology – the study of the behavior of animals.

Thus his grandiose pronouncements on things outside of his major field of study prompted the Marxist literary theorist Terry Eagleton to say this:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.

Various other reasons can be mentioned. Denis Alexander and Alister McGrath edited the book, Coming to Faith Through Dawkins: 12 Essays on the Pathway from New Atheism to Christianity (Kregel, 2023). In it a dozen stories are told by philosophers, artists, historians, engineers, and scientists as to why grappling with the claims of angry atheists like Dawkins actually led them TO God, and not away from him.

In their introduction they offer five reasons why the new atheism appears to have been so short-lived:

First, Dawkins’s public attacks on religion, particularly Christianity, seem to have generated a surge of interest in exploring religious faith….


Second, many of Dawkins’s critics since the publication of The God Delusion have been leading atheist philosophers who were alarmed at the damage they thought his shrill and superficial engagement with life’s deepest questions was doing to the intellectual reputation of atheism. The British public philosopher John Gray, for example, ridiculed the banality, superficiality, and shallowness of Dawkins and his circle, who offered a “tedious re-run of a Victorian squabble between science and religion.”…


Third, Dawkins’s outlook on religion was deeply shaped by what now appears to have been an uncritical acceptance of the “warfare” model of the relation of science and religion, which dominated Western culture in the closing decade of the twentieth century, despite growing scholarly suspicions of its evidential foundation….


Fourth, the New Atheism’s certainties, though initially appealing to many, were soon deconstructed….


Fifth, the New Atheism began to show the same habits of thought and behavior that Dawkins had presented as characteristic of religious people and institutions….


Today, the New Atheism, of which Dawkins was a leading representative, is generally regarded as having imploded. . . . Many of its former members, disenchanted by its arrogance, prejudice, and superficiality, have distanced themselves from the movement and its leaders.

And the rest of this book of course offers real-life stories of just this: people once enthralled with atheism and Dawkins who have now seen the light, and have rejected that not-very-bright ideology they once so ferociously clung to. And even those close to Dawkins have had second thoughts.

Recently, his right-hand man and former close associate left his atheism, saying that he had put his faith in Jesus. One article says this in part about the shock news:

Josh Timonen, who helped launch Dawkins’ website and who traveled with him around the world, told apologist Ray Comfort in the new video that his atheistic beliefs began changing during the pandemic as he questioned everything he once believed. Dawkins, in his popular book The God Delusion, mentioned Timonen and thanked him for his work. Timonen’s name can be seen in multiple works by Dawkins, both print and video. “Jesus is who He says He is,” Timonen told Comfort. https://www.christianheadlines.com/contributors/michael-foust/richard-dawkins-ex-right-hand-man-converts-to-christianity-jesus-is-who-he-says-he-is.html

That would have been a major body blow to Dawkins. And last but not least, with so many heavyweight public intellectuals such as Jordan Peterson, Naomi Wolf, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali either moving in the direction of Christianity, if not embracing it outright, this too is getting some of the atheists to pause and think – including Dawkins himself.

Just a few days ago he tweeted this: “Maybe there is still something for me to learn when it comes to religion. My dear friend and former atheist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become a Christian. We will be discussing this at the inaugural Dissident Dialogues festival.” One is reminded of the words of another former Oxford academic and atheist. In his autobiography Surprised By Joy, C. S. Lewis said this:

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

And it’s a good thing too! Let me also briefly mention this: in a rather different arena, just yesterday we had headlines like this drawing quite a bit of attention, at least here in Australia:

“‘Gave my life to God’: Olympic swim champ’s shock religious conversion. Olympic champion Stephanie Rice’s recent Instagram videos, featuring tearful prayers and a baptism, showing her intense conversion to born-again Christianity, have left fans concerned.” https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-12839559/Olympics-great-Stephanie-Rice-commits-God-shock-Dubai-start-new-life-battles-mental-health-issues.html

I am not concerned – I am thrilled. That is great news indeed. The truth is this: God is still alive and well, and he certainly is still at work in this world, including in the hyper-secular and God-allergic West. The atheist (whom God calls a fool: Psalm 14:1 and 53:1) can scoff and mock all he likes, but God will have the last word – and laugh – at all this. As we read in Psalm 2:1-4:

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.

So many atheists have come to faith over the centuries. We need to keep praying for all the atheists and non-Christians I have mentioned in this piece. I have been praying daily for many of them. Why not join me in this?

[1975 words]

12 Replies to “Where Have All the Angry New Atheists Gone?”

  1. I suppose one reason why the big atheist speakers of today such as Richard Dawkins are no longer very big and very popular now is because the West has become totally liberal and totally pagan. Back in the 2000s and early 2010s Australia and other Western countries were still quite Christian and conservative. That’s not the case anymore.

  2. An atheist friend challenged me to read “The God Delusion”. I agreed, on the understanding he would read my copy of “God’s Undertaker” by John Lennox. When I visited to return his book, which I read and understood, I asked what he thought of Lennox’s arguments. He said he hadn’t read the book. So much for integrity and willingness to consider other’s thoughts!

  3. Brilliant! More thought provoking food.

    Yes of course as the prophesied increase in knowledge occurs it is becoming increasingly difficult to be an atheist. With the knowledge of how DNA works as a manufacturing machine code at the lower level and as an intelligent operating system or systems, at the higher level where it reacts to environmental inputs and distributed databases to make intelligent decisions as to what the cell should be doing, it becomes increasingly laughable that random mutations can do anything particularly useful.

    I like how an evolutionary biologist created a soup in which he studied how bacteria mutated over many generations and triumphantly claimed evolution when there was a genetic change that enabled the bacteria to reproduce more quickly. That might have stood until scientists showed that what had actually happened is that, because the bacteria was in an homogeneous, well-fed environment, it had lost some of the code that would have been useful in the “wild”. In other words it had not evolved but had devolved by a process we repeatedly see in everything from muscle tone, to bone density to brain power, etc. that “if you don’t use it you lose it” but if you do use something you get better at it. We all start life with masses of options as to how and where we can go and as we do certain things those specific things become optimised and the other things we don’t use, fall away. This is simply God’s design.

    The recent evidence that the scientific prediction that “quantum entanglement over distance” is correct really does prove that the metaphysical exists. If it shows that particles are connected but not in any way that is possible in the known three dimensions, then they must be connected by something which is, by definition, beyond the physical or metaphysical.

    String theorists have long mathematically predicted dimensions outside the known three because this is the only way the math adds up but their theories tend to claim these dimensions are somehow folded in on themselves meaning we don’t have access to them. Sound familiar? Of course scripture has said from the beginning that the metaphysical exists but we are normally blinded from seeing it. We see through a dark glass unless our eyes are opened or, like the Apostle John, we get to go through a portal.

    With the masses of discoveries, with the fine tuning of the universe, the Web telescope not confirming the standard cosmological model, “dark energy” etc., etc. of course it is becoming increasingly difficult to be an atheist.

    It is only a matter of time before Australians become embarrassed that they were so naive that they actually named one of their capitol cities “Darwin”.

  4. I am always grateful for your work Bill.

    Let me add to Michael Weeks’ argument that in effect said that evolution cannot withstand the scientific onslaught. Seven years ago, before I was about to have surgery for prostate cancer, the surgeon, a professor in the field, asked me what I do? I told him that I restore classic cars and attend to the garden, but I thought I would tell him all that I do and told him of my Christian website, and I blog monthly giving evidence as to why the Bible is true. As well, I had written a book with the same focus and sold thousands of copies. He immediately responded with, “What about evolution?” I told him that evolution was a religion that people believed by faith and that there was no way a bunch of chemicals came together to form themselves into something as incomprehensibly complex as a DNA molecule. I could have gone further and mentioned about the enormous amount of information it contains. He knew that I had a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry. He had no answer and remained silent.

    Incidentally, the surgery failed, and I still had a growing tumor at the time. I am hopeful, prayerful, that my surgery last December has removed it all.

  5. Well, it hasn’t over here! About half of New Zealand now doesn’t believe in any deity. Although this does lead me to ask a question. What about conservative atheist allies? There’s an Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League and Secular Pro-Lifers in the United States for instance, and Libertarians for Life also espouses no given religious belief. And not everyone I rubbed shoulders with inside the Labour Life Group back home in Britain was a person of faith.

  6. Thanks Rhona. Although many who may not be theists are still of various spiritualities and religions. That is, not all are hardcore materialists and atheists. They still need Christ however of course.

    As to working with those who are conservative atheist allies, it is called co-belligerency, and I have written on this often, be it in the life issues or other areas. Here is a general piece on this: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/02/on-co-belligerency/

    And this piece deals with the life issues: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/30/8405/

  7. Thanks Bill as I didn’t know that these atheists books, ideologies are on the decline. Also evolution is being refuted thanks to Creation Ministries International and others. However, satan is still trying to deceive people and the new deception looks to be UFOs and extraterrestrials who are supposed to have intelligence beyond ours but collaborating them with ancient gods like Zeus, Apollo etc explaining how structures like the Egyptian pyramids were built.

    Also we have AI rewriting the Bible which brings me to a book called ‘The Naked Bible’ by Mauro Biglino whose job was to translate ancient Hebrew into today’s language apparently so if you get a chance to view this old video of him speaking about such things like Ezekiel Chapter 1 you will think Ezekiel seen UFOs instead of cherubim https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wc01No3LV70

  8. Thanks Bill for confirming, I agree, Mauro doesn’t seem like a Believer but tells how he sees things. Unfortunately I feel unbelievers are going to discredit the Bible again big time by using AI and UFO/Alien stuff just like evolution tried to for decades and still does, but hopefully it will all backfire by making people look to the Bible for answers and so more people come to the Lord.

  9. On the failure of evolutionary theories, see also Stephen Meyer, who I think is a long-ages Christian, at the Discovery Institute.

    He has refuted Darwinism, neo-Darwinism and the New Atheists from within their own scientific frameworks with his Intelligent Design hypothesis as the best explanation of the origin of all the information necessary for the first life form/s.

    His three major titles are
    Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design
    Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
    Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe

    He has debated the New Atheists and their scientific colleagues within their own fields quite rationally and successfully.

    Whilst I would personally not agree with his billions of years old-age framework for creation, it gives him some advantage in such debates by disarming the argument often levied at young-earth Creationism, that it is “myth/religion masquerading as science” (even though we know this is as straw man argument 🙂 ).

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