More on this later, but for now here's Ophelia Benson's reply to Caspar Melville. She's right about the pile-on thing. Yes, any particular "New Atheist" may be wrong on this point or that point, and we should discuss it sensibly and coherently on a case by case basis. But what's the point of piling on in a way that characterises allies as if they are just silly, thoughtless dogmatists - which is certainly not the case, e.g. the books by Dawkins and Dennett are considered, thoughtful, often funny in the case of Dawkins, very conciliatory towards believers in the case of Dennett, and full of useful distinctions and nuances. As Ophelia says, the failure by so many people to acknowledge this looks political.
The picture is further confused because New Atheism can mean the big four (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens), or the big four plus some others, or all of them plus all avowed explicit outspoken atheists. Worst of all, it can mean the big four plus all drive-by shouters on the internet. It is seldom made explicit which is meant, and the result is that critics often oscillate between various meanings without notice. One minute we seem to be talking about best-selling New Atheist writers, and the next it turns out we have in mind an all-caps rant by some angry teenager in North Dakota.
Spare a thought for that teenager though. That’s the other side of all this. Yes there is some noisy atheist ranting and name-calling on the internet, but on the other hand, ten years ago that godless teenager would have thought she was the only atheist in the universe, and now she knows very well she isn’t. Maybe she pushes back a little too hard now and then, but she is feeling liberated and no longer isolated, and that’s a good thing. Eventually atheism will become commonplace, and the drive-by commenters will calm down. The teenager in North Dakota has a better future.