What is a fundamentalist atheist?

Jan 05 2008 Published by under Science & Religion

You think by now I'd have learned enough not to interact anywhere near PZ Myers, but, well, there's something in a comment thread there that so pithily describes why I think the angry atheists are full of it that I can't resist. When you use the term "fundamentalist atheist", lots of those to whom the term applies get all upset and write out pedantic responses about why the term makes no more sense than does the term "Darwinist" or "gravitist." Which I think is a bit sad, because of course we don't mean the term literally, any more than there is any "gate" involved in the term "Plamegate." It's a reference.

So when PZ links to an ignorant article about why feminism and religion are incompatable-- an article written by somebody who has clearly never listened to any of the legions of feminist (say) Christians out there talk about the subject, an article that's nearly Godwinesque in it's childish simplicity-- it's no surprise that some of the fundamentalist atheists come out of the woodwork for a "me too". Generally, ignorant blog comments should be ignored, but one of them sums up so many of the tactics that I see the most angry of atheists use to argue why Religion Is Bad that I can't resist quoting it. The comment by Kcanadensis:

Religious texts are "The Word". I find it revolting when the religious cherry-pick from their holy text and claim that only parts of it are meant to be taken seriously. It's all or none, IMO.

My thoughts on the matter I also posted to that comment thread:

But, then again, this crowd [i.e. the anti-religion atheists] is nearly as fond of quoting the Bible to say what "Christians absolutely must believe" as are fundamental Biblical literalists.

Ah, well, so much for an unspoken 2008 resolution to ignore the religion-hating atheists as any net troll rightfully should be ignored.

11 responses so far

  • Paul01 says:

    I have had some thoughts along these lines when considering the difference between an atheist and an agnostic. Those who self-identify as atheists seem to target specific religious concepts, whereas agnostics tend to generalize to any sort of God. If someone were to say that all religions are one, or that there was something in common between, say, Jehovah and Brahman, many "atheists" would roundly criticize this blending of concepts, and in this the fundamentalists of the other religions would agree with them.

  • Brandon says:

    That particular post highlighted PZ Myers' biggest failing: that he will endorse any statement, no matter how poorly conceived, as long as it comes from an atheist. He defended Dawkins when he signed that petition to ban all religious teaching in the UK. He defended James Watson when he went on that racial tirade. He probably thinks the Youtube video with the guy smearing the Bible in dog crap deserves an Emmy. If an atheist and a theist get into an argument about the merits of eating babies, PZ Myers will side with the atheist before even finding out which side is endorsing the baby eating.

    In my opinion, PZ Myers isn't unbearable because he's an angry atheist or a hatemonger. (although that certainly doesn't help) Even worse than that, he's a broken record player. There is no point in reading his blog because you always know exactly what he's going to say. Oddly enough, of all people he reminds me the most of Ann Coulter. I don't care so much that she's a being of pure evil, as much as that you already know she will support the Republican side of any argument.

    Let me sum this up: Atheism = good, religion = bad. There, now except for his science posts (which I'll admit are pretty good), you have no reason to read Pharyngula ever again.

  • rknop says:

    Brandon -- interestingly, a while back when I was still at scienceblogs.com and made the mistake of briefly letting PZ get under my skin, a handful of other sciencebloggers commented on it. While several (most?) admitted that PZ really is a bit out there, at least one thought it was "over the top" when I compared him to Rush Limbaugh. Bizarre.

  • Pseudonym says:

    My definition is that a "Fundamentalist Atheist" is the same thing as a Fundamentalist Christian: They believe that the Bible should be understood ultra-literally, and have strong opinions on what Christians "should believe", otherwise they're not really Christians.
    By that definition, Richard Dawkins is probably not a fundamentalist, but Jason Rosenhouse probably is.

  • Schmeer says:

    I'm a fan of PZ, but don't necessarily agree with everything he says. However, I think you will find that you are wrong about PZ defending Watson's racist remarks. PZ was pretty clear in his condemnation of Watson and any attempt to justify racism through bad biology.

  • J. J. Ramsey says:

    "a while back when I was still at scienceblogs.com and made the mistake of briefly letting PZ get under my skin"

    Yeah, I made that mistake as well, and probably did even worse than you. When he said that "strident" was "simply being an atheist and publicly arguing against god-belief," I used his daughter's words (!) as a counterexample and snidely rubbed it in his face. Did. Not. Go. Well. And judging from what PZ said about me in his "Dungeon," when he gets really mad, he apparently loses the ability to count.

    BTW, Pseudonym, FWIW, I'd say that a better working definition of a so-called "Fundamentalist Atheist" is an atheist whose demeanor is similar to those of a stereotypical fundamentalist Christian, especially in the tendencies to think in black-and-white, us-versus-them terms, to demonize the opposition, and to use sloppy thinking especially with regard to the perceived us-versus-them conflict. That certainly seems to fit better with the contexts where the phrase "fundamentalist atheist" is bandied about.

  • rknop says:

    JJ -- that's usually what I mean when I use the term "fundamentalist atheist". I'm referring to those who believe that they have an exclusive lock on the truth in all things... much the way fundamentalist Christians, or Muslims, or whatever believe that they have an exclusive lock on the truth in all things.

    But Pseudonym does highlight what I was saying here. The fundamentalist atheists are frequently just as adamant as the fundamentalist Christians in defining that Christianity must require wholesale acceptance of the Bible as literal truth. It's pretty clear why, of course-- because it makes it so much easier for them to condemn Christians that way. When Christians come out accepting the evidence for evolution and being willing to think about and adapt their religion to the modern world, it makes it much harder to argue against them. So, instead, they argue that they are diluting their religion by doing that... in other words, arguing the position of the fundamentalist Christians. They're setting up a straw man that is easier to knock over.

  • Chris' Wills says:

    Paul #1

    Agnostics aren't all the same in how they consider God and/or Gods.

    They range from Agnostics who are Theists (believe in God and even a particular creed but know that they can never know), to Agnostics who are Atheistic (don't believe in God but know they can never know).
    There are also Agnostics who know they can never know and so ignore the question.

    The main difference between those who are Agnostic and those who claim to be Atheists, as far as I can tell, is that Agnostics don't claim absolute knowledge about Gods existance based on misusing Science or personal incredulity.

    The other difference is that Agnostics rarely try and define what someone else must believe to be a "true Atheists" or "true Muslim" or true whatever.

  • rknop says:

    There is a *correlation* between calling yourself an atheist and thinking that anybody who isn't an atheist is soft-headed and not able to consistently be a good accepter or science. However, there are some who call themselves atheists-- who actively disbelieve that there really is any kind of god-- and what you call atheistic agnostics.

    The "angry" or "churchill" or "fundamentalist" atheists have given all atheists a bit of a bad name, just like fundamentalist Christians have given all Christians a bad name.

  • Chris' Wills says:


    Yes there are Atheists who truly believe that there isn't a God or Gods and have no doubts, just as there are Theists who believe in God and have no doubts. Neither set is Agnostic about the question.

    I was really try to correct the assertion in #1; oh, and I would call them Agnostic Atheists :o) not Atheist Agnostics.

    Some of the more activelly anti-religion Atheists have invented the term weak Atheist for those who have doubts and/or aren't anti-religious and tend to lump Agnostics in this group. This is a tad annoying, especially when they try to convert me or call me an idiot for not agreeing with their beliefs.

    Atheists are as various in their world views as the variety of stars in the heavens. It is sad that, as with so called Sola Scriptura type Christians, the noisy/aggresive ones seem to have taken over the discourse. They have also tried to warp the language to suit their arguements.

    Oh well, I'll still visit Myrhhs site for the Science postings. Those are normally very good.

  • Samuel Skinner says:

    Agnosticism is about knowledge.

    Atheism and theism are about belief (or lack of).

    The correct term for a religion hater is an antitheist.

    Finally please explain why their explaniation didn't make sense to you. I don't get your "they are fundamentalists because they see in black and white or act like fundies". In this content you're saying fundamentalist when you mean either rude, certain or aggresive. That isn't fundamentalism. It is called debating.