The first way is simply to entertain ourselves. Think of the Dennett Lexicon, which lampoons various philosophers by giving humorous definitions to their names. Everyone is getting hit, so the Lexicon isn't really designed to change anyone's mind or get them to reject the views of any philosophers as opposed to another. Mostly, it's about having fun. I even once made up a Dennett Lexicon entry making fun of me.I find it easy to make fun even of ideas that I think are true, but has a ridiculous side to them.
Or consider Saturday Night Live spoofs of politicians. Sure Sarah Palin was lampooned by Tina Fey's impersonation, but Obama doesn't get off scot free either. Now it is quite true that the treatment of Palin in particular did play a role in many people seeing what was problematic about her place on the Republican ticket in 2008. But can you really say that Republicans are lampooned more severely there than Democrats? I understand that George H. W. Bush loved the impersonations Dana Carvey did of him.
There is also the colorful use of reductios ad absurdum. These are really designed to refute positions. But these have to be tested as to their adequacy and accuracy. In addition, what you think seems absurd might be cheerfully accepted by your opponent. I happen to think that materialistic atheism leads to absurd conclusions, namely, I think it leads to the conclusion that no one ever believes anything for a reason. However, obviously materialistic atheists themselves think that they do believe what they do for reasons. This is not ridicule in he sense that I would consider to be offensive.
This is from RationalWiki, hardly a pro-theistic source:
Reductio ad absurdum is only valid when it builds on assertions which are actually present in the argument it is deconstructing, and not when it misrepresents them as a straw man. For example, any creationist argument that takes the form of "if evolution were real, we'd see fish turning into monkeys and monkeys turning into people all the time" only serves to ridicule itself, since it mischaracterises the theory of evolution to an extreme degree.
Reductio ad absurdum should also not be confused with appeal to ridicule, although both see extensive use in satire. Appeal to ridicule simply dismisses a position as ridiculous, without explaining or arguing why, while reductio ad absurdum actually pursues the logical consequences of an argument.
Here is a treatment from Freethoughtpedia:
It's no secret you can short-circuit somebody's brain with shame. How many of us were shamed into doing something stupid in high school?
But why does it work? There are these primitive, lower parts of your brain called amygdalae that controls base, emotional reactions. That's where things like contempt and shame come from, and stimulating it can completely shut down the analytical part of your brain. The gang calls you a coward and the next thing you know, you're wedging a roman candle between your buttcheeks. You'll show them!
You can thank evolution for that. Way back when humans started forming groups and tribes, social status was everything. It's what guaranteed you food, protection and ladies (that is, a chance to pass on your genes). Mockery developed as a "conformity enforcer" to keep people in line.
Making a person, idea or behavior the target of mockery gave it a lower social position, and made it clear that anybody who associated with it would share that lower position, leaving them out of the hunting/eating/fucking that made life in the tribe worthwhile. Thousands of years later, a good dose of mockery can shut down critical thinking and make us fall right in line, no questions asked.Now let's look at the Dawkins statements I alluded to in a previous post.
Dawkins: 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.
I must ask, isn't he doing EXACTLY what the Freethoughtpedia says is the Appeal to Ridicule, a fallacy? Getting people to the right result is more important to him than fostering critical thinking and getting to the right result for the right reason. I do find this offensive, which is why my reactions to New Atheists are different from my reactions to atheists of another stripe.