"Atheist fundamentalism" is essentially meaningless as a label because atheism is not a religion (no more than baldness is a hair color). A fundamentalist is somebody who adheres strictly to the fundamental tenets of a religion, philosophy or any other prescribed thought or dogma - and will have no room for change or deviation from these ideas and practices, such as Biblical literalism and creationism. Atheism, by the definition accepted by most atheists, has no positive beliefs intrinsic to it. It is only defined as a lack of belief in any of the many gods found in holy books throughout the world. There is no set of people who can be considered "more atheist" than the mainstream or moderate belief and hence there is no distinction between a "fundamentalist" and any other kind of atheist.
The term seems to have originated in 2007 and was popularized by the subtitle of Alister McGrath's response to Richard Dawkins published that year: The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine. McGrath compares Dawkins to a religious fundamentalist. He writes:
Dawkins simply offers the atheist equivalent of slick hellfire preaching, substituting turbocharged rhetoric and highly selective manipulation of facts for careful, evidence-based thinking. . . . Dawkins preaches to his god-hating choirs, who are clearly expected to relish his rhetorical salvoes and raise their hands high in adulation. Those who think biological evolution can be reconciled with religion are dishonest! Amen! They belong to the "Neville Chamberlain school" of evolutionists! They are appeasers! Amen! Real scientists reject belief in God! Halleujah! The God that Jews believed in back in Old Testament times is a psychotic child abuser! Amen! You tell them brother (pp. 11-12)!
McGrath continues: The total dogmatic conviction of correctness which pervades some sections of Western atheism today . . . immediately aligns it with a religious fundamentalism that refuses to allow its ideas to be examined or challenged (p. 14). For McGrath, apparently, one is a "fundamentalist atheist" if one holds to his non-belief in god(s) with such dogmatism that he refuses to consider any evidence to the contrary.
An evangelical Christian (albeit a left-wing evangelical), Pete Enns, sees a similarity between Christian fundamentalists and Atheist fundamentalists, he states:
I've read enough of the New Atheists to see a pattern in their thinking about the Bible, and it is disturbingly similar to what you see in the Southern Baptist Convention or Bob Jones University. Conservative Christians and New Atheists share naïve views of what the Bible "ought" to be, namely the notion that if the Bible is really the "Word of God," it will provide accurate historical and scientific information.So, for Enns, "fundamentalism" has to do with how one approaches the Bible. If one expects it to be inerrant and show obvious internal markers that it is of divine origin, then one is a fundamentalist. The difference between Christian fundamentalists and Atheist fundamentalists is that they come to different conclusion regarding whether the Bible shows such evidence of divine origin. He claims that they both are naive in how they approach the Bible. He and his left-wing evangelical brethren believe that the Bible reflects the mindset of the times and the culture in which it was written and may contain some errors and still be the Word of God.
Conservative Christians are very clear about this assumption, and it is just under the surface for New Atheists. This shared assumption is taken in polar opposite conclusions.
New Atheists point out that Genesis is wholly out of sync with scientific reality. This is true, but they assume that this sort of thing is sufficient grounds to declare the Bible a stupid book, Christianity a stupid religion, and Christians stupid people. "See how sloppy the Bible is with basic facts known to every middle schooler? And you call this the 'Word of God!' Get over it."
Lack of elementary scientific credibility renders the Bible suspect. Oddly enough, conservative Christians hold the same assumption. If the Bible is not historically, even scientifically, accurate, then God is a "liar" and there is no reason to trust him. The Word of God cannot make such huge factual errors. Based on this assumption, the scientific evidence is either ignored, marginalized, selectively appealed to, or re-interpreted to ease the tension.
New Atheists and conservative Christians have all sorts of reasons to be at odds, and their shared naïveté about the Bible is certainly one of them. Both have false expectation of what the Bible ought to deliver, and this sets them on a collision course. Both sides have some homework to do ("Does God Talk to Us Through Fiction? Unpacking a Non-Literal Interpretation of the Bible").
According to this definition, I would acknowledge being a "fundamentalist Atheist." I think that if the Bible is really the divine Word of God, it ought to reflect a different mindset than the times and culture in which it was written. It should be markedly different than other books written during the time. If it reflects the same kinds of ideas as found in the writings of other civilizations at the time, I see no reason to think the Bible is special. For example, Enns admits that the Genesis creation story is not much different than the other creation stories told in other cultures at the time. He writes:
Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century, archaeologists unearthed other creations stories from the ancient Mesopotamian world, the same environment that produced the Bible. These discoveries have helped us understand a lot about how creation stories worked in the ancient world.So for people like Enns, the fact that the Bible reflects a cosmology which we all know is erroneous is okay. One shouldn't expect the Bible to teach anything different than what the peoples of that time believed. But if that is the case, then why should I think there is anything special about the Bible? Why should I think that it is the Word of God? In addition, how can I know what parts of it are true and accurate and what parts are not? Harold Lindsell, many years ago spoke of the problem faced by those who believe the Bible contains error, he said they have to find a "canon within the canon" (The Battle for the Bible). Moises Silva, in a Presidential address to the Evangelical Theological Society (which makes belief in inerrancy a requirement for membership) states:
Ancient peoples did not investigate how things came to be; they assumed that there was a "beginning" when the gods formed the earth, people, animals, trees, etc., as you see them now. You can hardly blame them for making this assumption. The "how" question of creation was settled. They were interested in the "who" question: which of the gods is responsible for all of this? Each society had its own answer to this question, which they told in story form. The biblical story cannot claim a scientific higher ground. It, too, works with ancient themes and categories to tell Israel's distinct story.
The doctrine of Biblical infallibility is not a piece of abstract theorizing but an immensely practical conviction. For if the Scriptures are characterized by errors such as are found in any other book, then it is up to my less-than-reliable mind and moral judgment to determine what in the Bible is truth or error. And thus the notion of the Bible as a reliable disclosure of the divine will loses any distinctive meaning (“Can Two Walk Together Unless They Be Agreed?”: Evangelical Theology And Biblical Scholarship, 1998).
I agree with Silva, Lindsell, and the historic Evangelical position that divine inspiration demands inerrancy. If the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) which all evangelicals believe, then its origin is God and if God cannot err, then the Bible cannot err. B. B. Warfield of Princeton laid this argument out clearly over 100 years ago in The Inspiration And Authority Of The Bible . One's understanding of what it means and how it should be interpreted might err but the text itself cannot err. Left-wing evangelicals such as Enns would say that the problem in Genesis that it is be interpreted wrongly by fundamentalists. It should be interpreted as the kind of literature that it is, i.e., creation myth and then one can properly understand what the message from God is in the text. To me, there is no reason to believe that the text is from God if its format and its teaching are essentially the same as other creation myths of the time. Why should I believe this one is a message from God but the others are not? So, I guess I am a fundamentalist after all. I expect much more from a divine book than liberal and left-wing Evangelical Christians do.