Last April, I blogged a paper by Will Gervais, that showed you could increase people’s trust of atheists by simply telling them about how prevalent atheists are in their community. As I said at the time, the result isn’t surprising and I didn’t think it had any bearing on the debates over New Atheism per se. There were those who disagreed, and insisted that the study validated New Atheist-style “out” campaigns.
I think the simplest way for atheists to be perceived as more trustworthy is to be open about their lack of belief in God. There’s a wealth of social psychological evidence that shows contact with members of disliked groups can reduce prejudice. … simply knowing that there are lots of atheists in the world makes atheists seem more trustworthy. … Ara Norenzayan and I have some research (forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science) demonstrating that reminding people of other institutions that help keep people cooperative—secular institutions like police, contracts, and courts—also reduces distrust of atheists. And open atheists might be able to help remind people that there are lots of solid, nonreligious motivations for moral behavior.
That said, being an open atheist isn’t necessarily the same thing as being a strident, “in your face” atheist. Nobody really likes having their core beliefs attacked. My hunch is that “I’m here, I’m an atheist, and it’s really not that big of a deal” would be a more effective approach than a Dawkinsian “I’m here, I’m an atheist, and religions are mass delusions” approach, in terms of increasing acceptance and trust of people who don’t believe in God.
Skepticism means caring about evidence, and that last paragraph by Gervais is what the evidence consistently tells us. What does one call empiricists who ignore the evidence before them?