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Viral Evangelism in the A.D.D. Era of Atheism
by Michael Patrick Leahy

When Oxford Professor of evolutionary biology Richard Dawkins published The Blind Watchmaker in 1986, it signaled the dawn of the third era of atheism. Until Dawkins, the intellectual history of atheism was divided into two clearly distinct eras:

Before Darwin (B.D) refers to history prior to the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1860.

After Darwin (A.D) refers to the period subsequent to the famous debate on The Origin of Species between Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley, often referred to as "Darwin's Bulldog" at the Oxford Museum of Natural History in June of 1860.

It's hard to say if Dawkins' work, without the advances in communications technology brought about through the internet, could have sparked this new era of aggressively militant atheism by itself. Clearly, his ideas pointed the way.

But ideas need a forum, and in 1986 when his book first came out, there was little for the angry young atheist, freshly inspired by Dawkins, to do at 2 AM in the morning but yell at the television set and, perhaps, drink another adult beverage.

That all changed in 1989 when Tim Berners-Lee, like Dawkins an Oxford graduate, invented the World Wide Web ("the internet"). By 1991, the first primitive web browser was available, making it easier for people to use the internet, and by 1994 the popular Mosaic browser had launched, bringing the internet to an entirely new group of technologically less sophisticated users. By 1995, there were 16 million users of the internet worldwide, using the Netscape Navigator browser (a renamed Mosaic) to easily access content placed on the web by others around the world. Today, in 2007, there are over 1.2 billion users of the internet worldwide, over 15 percent of the entire population of the world. In the United States, over 70 percent of the population uses the internet.

Now atheists, young and old alike, had a way for their previously singular activities to be connected.

After Darwin and Dawkins (A.D.D) , third era of atheism, had arrived fully by 1995, the year when Netscape went public and Dawkins was joined by his intellectual ally and fellow member of what we now refer to as "The Four Horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse" , Daniel Dennett. A professor of philosophy at Tufts Univesity, Dennett's book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, was yet another scientifically based attack on belief in God. (This duo of publicly influential atheists expanded to a quartet when Sam Harris joined in 2005 with the publication of The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens joined in 2007 with the publication of God is not Great.)

Internet businesses have grown by adopting the techniques of viral marketing, in which the principles of geometric and exponential growth combined with instantaneous communication have yielded rapid acceptances and proliferation of new technologies and products. While some Christians have attempted to adapt this technique to classic evangelization, it is the new atheist movement that has put the principle to best use.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the Managing Editor of Christian Faith and Reason, and the author of Letter to an Atheist.

Comments are welcome. All comments will be read, not all comments will be posted. We may invite authors of the best comments to respond in full articles, to be published in our September edition.

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