The Missing Element in New Atheist Critiques of Religion

  • Tamas PatakiEmail author
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 21)


Many of the leading ‘new atheists’, especially those who are biological or social scientists, but also some philosophers and others, have been concerned to provide naturalistic explanations of how religion evolved and of the factors that continue to sustain it. These explanations are intended to displace, and weaken the appeal of, the sorts of traditional accounts the religious themselves are apt to provide. The accounts are framed mostly in the terms of evolutionary psychology, of evolved cognitive mechanisms, genetic predisposition and neuroscience. Often they are little more than plausible conjecture, but that is not the project’s chief difficulty. Although some of the mechanisms invoked probably do play a part in the evolution of religious tendencies and the appeal of religion, they are insignificant compared to the psychosocial factors, especially the influence of the interactions between child and parental caretakers, which the new atheists almost completely ignore. Not understanding the deeper, emotional motivations to religion the new atheists largely misunderstand religion. (Misunderstanding religion they adopt polemical measures that alienate the moderate centres of religion and are especially ineffective against those religious manifestations—the Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists, the American Christian Right etc.—which really do need to be opposed). In ignoring the significance of childhood developmental factors and psychodynamic considerations these new atheists collude in a peculiar way with the religious: for one important function of religions precisely is to obscure the unconscious relations to parental figures internalized in childhood and to oneself, to distort them, and so to occlude self-understanding.


Atheism Religion Fundamentalism Evolutionary psychology Cognitive anthropology Wish-fulfilment 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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