Several years ago, Dawkins outlined one of the core methods of today’s New Atheist movement:
I have from time to time expressed sympathy for the accommodationist tendency so ably criticized here by Jerry Coyne. I have occasionally worried that – just maybe – Eugenie Scott [of the NCSE] and the appeasers might have a point, a purely political point but one, nevertheless, that we should carefully consider. I have lately found myself moving away from that sympathy.
I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.
Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.
You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!
This stategy can only go so far before it fizzles out.
Recall the old atheist argument that atheists have a higher IQ than theists. To me, this made some sense simply because atheists were such a minority. Being in the distinct minority meant that atheists had to reassure themselves they were right and to do so meant they would read as many works of atheism as they could. And most of the atheist books were written by academics or great figures from history. Put simply, the average atheist was a nerd (and I am not using the word pejoratively). And if you compare a population of nerds to the general population, I would expect such a difference in IQ.
Now, I would also predict that if indeed more and more people become atheists because of Dawkins strategy, the difference in IQ will dwindle. For thanks to the recruitment of “the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully,” by definition, more and more people who don’t think deeply about things will become atheists. They will become atheists not because of intellectual reasons, but because they have been lured or pushed into the herd. People like Craig Hicks, whose deep understanding of these issues consisted of a series of memes and a man who could convince himself he was some champion for social justice and equal rights while nursing anger issues that led to murder. And teenage “antichristians” who send Jerry Coyne antisemitic email. And thanks to Gnu leaders like Sam Harris and Bill Maher, we can expect to see even more wackos and woo-types among the atheists.
In other words, it’s been easy for Dawkins and the atheist to mock religious people simply because there are so many of them. The larger the population, the more likely you find something that can be mocked. Well, if atheism expands with teenagers and fence sitters because of Dawkins’s stategy, atheism will become increasingly mockable. After all, it’s hard not to laugh at people like Dawkins, Harris, Coyne, Myers, and Boghossian. And these are the men who are molding the modern day atheist.