This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← Truckling to the Faithful: A Spoonful of Jesus Helps Darwin Go Down

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Richard Dawkins

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 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!

If you can bear to listen to him, take, as an example of a typical faith-head trying to be contemptuous, David Bentley Hart, whose radio interview happened to be posted here at the same time as Jerry’s article.
http://richarddawkins.net/article,3766,a-new-flea---NRO-radio-interview-with-author-of,NRODavid-Bently-Hart
Listen to the stumbling, droning inarticulacy, the abysmal lack of anything approaching wit or intelligence. Imagine this yammering fumblewit coming up against Christopher Hitchens, or Dan Dennett, or PZ Myers – doesn’t it make your mouth water?

I emphatically don’t mean we should use foul-mouthed rants. Nor should we raise our voices and shout at them: let’s have no D’Souzereignty here. Instead, what we need is sarcastic, cutting wit. A good model might be Peter Medawar, who would never dream of shouting, but instead quietly wielded the rapier. Look, for instance, at almost any sentence in his magnificent review of Teilhard de Chardin’s pretentious Phenomenon of Man. It is reprinted in Pluto’s Republic or you can find it here:-
http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Medawar/phenomenon-of-man.html

Maybe I’m wrong. I'm only thinking aloud, among friends. Is it gloves off time? Or should we continue to go along with the appeasers and be all nice and cuddly, like Eugenie and the National Academy?

Richard

Wed, 22 Apr 2009 08:32:00 UTC | #351636