Atheism v new atheism

In 2015, Tim O’Neill started a blog, History for Atheists, dedicated to debunking the ‘pseudo history’, ‘fringe theories and crackpot ideas’ frequently used by new atheists. That might not seem exceptional, except that Tim O’Neill is a convinced atheist himself, and a member of various atheist organisations.

How did this happen? O’Neill says: ’I felt someone needed to start correcting the popular misconceptions about history which are rife among many vocal atheist activists. I also felt there needed to be some push-back by a fellow unbeliever against several fringe theories and hopelessly outdated ideas which have no credibility among professional scholars and specialists, but which seem to be accepted almost without question by many or even most anti-theistic atheists.’

O’Neill’s blog uses historical evidence and mainstream academic thought to explode many of the pet arguments of new atheists, which have circulated widely on the net as ready-made polemics against the Christian faith. His blog entries are often extended essays, where his gifts of historical analysis and reasoned argument illuminate some of the big points of contention between religion and atheism. History for Atheists surely makes a better kind of conversation possible between believers and unbelievers.

Here is how O’Neill tackles the major new atheist myths:

Jesus never existed, but is a mythical figure

The Bible was created by a vote at the Council of Nicea

Christianity and Christmas derive from Mithraism

Christians destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria

The church created the ‘Dark Ages’ and suppressed ancient learning

Unsurprisingly, History for Atheists hasn’t gone down well among new atheists. One anonymous blogger describes O’Neill as ‘a Christian who claims to be an atheist. His articles are uniformly supportive of theists and their beliefs, and critical of atheists.’ However, O’Neill is firmly not religious, commenting in his FAQs that ‘I have no interest in converting to your alleged “Christ”.’ He started his blog, he says, because ‘rationalists should not base their arguments on errors and distortions.’

New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado (who blogged about History for Atheists a couple of days ago) says: ‘Given that there is sooooo much nonsense on the internet parading itself as “unmasking” or revealing “secrets” supposedly suppressed (sometimes by practically the entire academic community!), O’Neill’s site is a helpful contribution.’

Download our free booklet on Jesus mythicism, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? by Justin Brierley.

Photo: ruffin_ready under CC BY 2.0