And it features one of my favorite SMBC comics:
Here’s the exchange that stood out to me the most:
FT: There has recently been a change of tone in the discourse surrounding religion, with the so-called New Atheists arriving on the scene and causing a stir. One of these is PZ Myers of Pharyngula, who has featured your cartoons on a number of occasions. What do you think about this?
ZW: I enjoy watching debates featuring the so-called New Atheists, but I’m not convinced that they’re terribly productive. I prefer the work done by people like Carl Sagan, Neil Tyson, and E.O. Wilson. It’s probably just personal preference, but I feel like passive approaches are often more effective when trying to reach out to people and change their beliefs. Bill Cosby once said (when critiqued for not dealing with race explicitly in his comedy) that he thought he could help fight racism by getting people to enjoy his comedy albums before they realized he was black. That is, a person who might be anti-black might hear his comedy, like it, later find out they were of different races, and then be moved to reconsider his viewpoint. I think a similar thing might be said about Carl Sagan. You read his books, see his shows, become convinced that he is smart and thoughtful, then find out he’s an Atheist; maybe then you start thinking, “well, these non-believers may have a point.”
… Although I probably agree with a lot of the views held by the New Atheists, I find their approach too scathing, and often more about being personally right than about getting people involved in the use of science and logic as ways of viewing the universe. If you are a strong atheist and wish to shape the world to your view, your time would be much better spent teaching an after-school program about logic than going to atheist club meetings and posting about how stupid fundamentalists are.
The New Atheists tend to preach to the choir. In the process, maybe several people on the fence falls over to our side. It could also be argued that people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have created stronger Christians than more atheists.
Still, no doubt those atheists are invaluable in rallying the troops.
What we need more of, though, are people who can connect with religious people and get them to listen to what we have to say.
Who’s more likely to convert atheists to Christianity: Rick Warren or Francis Collins?
Rick Warren may have a bigger reach — by a huge margin — but I don’t think he connects with atheists. To me, Collins is the obvious answer.
Who’s more likely to create new atheists: PZ Myers or Neil deGrasse Tyson?
Even though Tyson doesn’t even use the word to describe himself, I’d say he’s far more likely to do it, for exactly the reasons Zach mentioned.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad to rally the troops, or poke fun at religion, or cease pointing out how ridiculous religious beliefs are. It takes all kinds.
But the ones who have the ability to get the other side to listen are rare. We’d be far more effective with more of them.
(Incidentally, I think the type of response Zach gave is what Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum intended to do with Unscientific America… but instead, they’ve just pissed off the atheists. If the book is a success, it’ll only be because it has a chance to reach a Christian audience. But it’s too early to tell whether they’ll embrace it.)