Why the New Atheist Strategy Will Fail

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.

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6 Responses to Why the New Atheist Strategy Will Fail

  1. TFBW says:

    That little speech certainly shows where Dawkins’ priorities lie: not with the promotion of science and reason, but with the promotion of anti-religious hate, in the hope that it will aid recruitment of secular ideologues through polarisation and intimidation. Maybe he should come up with a uniform for his recruits. Something with a tasteful brown shirt, perhaps.

  2. Heuristics says:

    I saw an article that went over the IQ of different groups, atheists were slightly above average and theists average. If you however broke theists into groups depending on congregation then groups such as Episcopalians and Jews went into the lead by a great margin while Catholics remained average and southern Baptists below average.

  3. mechanar says:

    We really dont need to wait that long on youtube and every comment section that has remotly to do with religion you read stuff thats beyond good and evil.

    I recently read an articel on how the church in germany saves Foreign people from being send back to their home country and one person without any kind of Irony wrote, that that must mean that the church is planning of creating a slave trade. yeas really.

    Of course I could be that he was a troll but lets assume that 10 or 15 percent of all of these comments are meant to be taken seriously than you have quite the wacko troop there.

    Also unlike the mails that you have shown us they are not written with huge spelling errors witch makes it obvoius that they are fake AND taking into account what the leaders of this “movment” themself are saying on a regular basis its reasonable to assume that they are real.

  4. Oliver Q. says:

    One might agree that another flaw in that battle plan is that in their attempt to woo fence-sitters and the feeble minded (those…”who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully”) to disowning or rejecting religion, they make atheists to be just like those that they (Dawkins, Harris, etc.) oppose on the religious side. People who have hardly questioned religion may be apt to rejecting it, but not out of some (or even the same level of) analysis, but likely because they’re just malleable to other notions of destiny, or lack thereof.

    Although lacking context, the outcome of this endeavor will yield, more than likely, the same results as the Bolsheviks did in their revolution – a bunch of snooty, upper-class atheists, trying to convince the working class that they don’t need religion. It didn’t work out as well as they anticipated. This of course is just one example, out of many, that emphasizes the naive approach of using dogma to get people to change their worldview to achieve some other perceivable higher goal.

  5. Dhay says:

    > We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of … Sam Harris.

    That appears to originate in 2009. Presumably Harris has become markedly less witty in the last six years or so.

  6. Isaac says:

    It’s entirely expected that a breakdown of religious denominations would yield the result of evangelical Christians having a lower IQ. Among the first principles of Christianity is Jesus’ teachings that God loves everyone equally, and that He is known among those who are especially poor, uneducated, disadvantaged, and, let’s be blunt, unintelligent. That is okay.

    Wittiness is, to a large degree, inherited. To what extent it is earned, largely depends on the lucky circumstances of one’s birth (access to education, invested parents, living conditions, available social circles, etc.) Assuming that a God exists, if knowledge of said God were acquired by scientific observation and brainpower, then God would be an unfair and prejudiced being, favoring the rich and privileged.

    Jesus clearly did not and does not favor the rich and privileged.

    Atheists have a slightly higher IQ than average because atheism as a philosophy appeals to those who believe themselves to be superior to the unwashed masses. It is infuriating to Dawkins and his ilk that Jesus would teach that knowledge of God (or knowledge of anything, really) could be equally accessible to a dimwitted person (or even a mentally retarded person), but hidden from enlightened, well educated (mostly white and rich) academics such as themselves. Like Nietzsche confessed, they cannot accept a God who is not them, or a pyramid without them at the top.

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