Friday, August 14, 2009

Jerry Coyne is a Caricature of Jerry Coyne

Jerry Coyne is a pinhead of biblical proportions. We're talking Old Testament, Nebuchadnezzar living-like-an-animal kind of nuttiness.

For one thing he is very much like the self-made man in love with his creator. He gets credit, so I'm told, with coining-by-proxy, or at least anointing, the word "faitheist". And he uses it regularly—apparently assuming that because it's his baby, everyone will know what it means.

Well I admit that I didn’t—I had to look it up via google.

Hint to Jerry: if you champion a new term it should be better than the one it replaces. Or it should be extremely witty. And for Pete's sake its meaning should be obvious. Insulting—mocking—belittleing—all those are acceptable and even desirable attributes—but obscure is not. IDiot was not a bad term--though it became tiresome through overuse. But IDiot, unlike faithiest, had the virtue of being crystal clear in its meaning.

Or tell me if I am being overly critical. If you do not know what the term faitheist means—but (as a hint) that it has something to do with the faith/science/new-atheism flame wars—what would you guess that its means?

The answer, if I have it right—is that it is a replacement for accommodationist—used to describe, pejoratively, those scientists (mainly) who commit the Unpardonable Sin, the Blashemy of the holy Richard H. Dawkins. That's right, they (shudder) dare to suggest that there can be a mutually beneficial peace made with the religious. This is a major no-no to the stern, Ichabod Crane-like Jerry Coyne, for whom the circle of orthodoxy has a radius of about a single pixel.

Now the term accommodationist is pretty darn clinical—so it is arguable that it is ripe for replacement. But faithiest doesn't cut it. When I first saw it, I thought it must mean the opposite; I thought it was short for fundamentalist atheist. A word should not invoke, on first sight, its opposite meaning.

Anyway, that brings us to to Jerry Coyne's muddle-headed post du-jour. Today Cardinal Jerry casts his lidless all-seeing inquisitional eye on Michael Ruse.

Ruse blasphemed in a new essay entitled Why I Think New Atheists are a Disaster. Now I don't think Ruse's essay is all that good. For one thing, as many such essays do—it omits one of the more important facts about the new atheists: they are inconsequential—a movement badly in need of an industrial strength little-blue-pill.

But be that as it may he makes a few good points, though nothing particularly novel. For example, he writes, concerning Dawkins:
Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.
This is a wordy version of what everyone acknowledges: Dawkins, when it comes to Christianity, doesn't know what the hell he is talking about. Everyone acknowledges that, even Dawkinites—especially Dawkinites. It is, in their mind, a proud feature rather than a bug. Why, they ask, should Dawkins learn sophisticated arguments about something that is trivially false? Is he also obligated to learn the theology of Thorism? The answer, which eludes them, is: yes he should if there are a couple billion Thorists in the world, and those Thorists are the target of his evangelism. But as Thorism, unlike Christianity, has not achieved critical mass, and Dawkins is not proselytizing to Thorists, there is no need. Comparison: FAIL.

Coyne loves to whine about blasphemers whining—and Ruse is one of the chief apostates. Let him be anathema. So Coyne has brought Ruse, who has already been excommunicated (perhaps when Ruse is hanged and buried Coyne will have his bones dug up and burned and the ashes spread in a dung heap)—to the tribunal. He begins, predictably, by announcing:
faitheist Michael Ruse continues to whine about us
After a cut-and-paste job on a big hunk of Ruse's post, Jerry writes:
In the immoral [sic] words of Clara Peller, “Where’s the beef?” Where is the evidence that vocal atheists are setting back the cause of evolution? This is only an opinion, and no better than the opinion that by pushing back the influence of religion, the new atheists are actually promoting the acceptance of evolution. I agree with P.Z. Myers that we should “let a thousand critics blossom,” with each of us supporting evolution in the way we know best.
Coyne's fuzzy thinking is blatant in the non sequitur to the PZ Myers comment which, at least as Coyne reproduced it, has nothing to do with point Coyne is ineptly trying to make. Namely, nobody gives a whit that Jerry and Richie and Sammy and PZ support evolution—that’s what they are supposed to be doing. Just like James Dobson is supposed to support the gospel. But, like Dobson, they confuse what is good and proper, to teach the fundamentals of what they are (or at least claim to be) passionate about, with what is certainly within their rights but nevertheless unseemly: the culture wars.

But the part of Coyne's rebuttal I found most amusing was his demand for evidence that new atheism is harming the cause of evolution—otherwise this is only an opinion.

I agree with him! I have made a very similar argument myself. It doesn’t take many mutations to morph Coyne's argument into one familiar to my readers:

“Where’s the beef?” Where is the evidence that science and faith are incompatible? This is only an opinion, and no better than the opinion that if Dawkins accepted Christianity he would actually be a better scientist.

Coyne does not seem to see that he is one of the most flagrant offenders when it comes to making this type of non-argument—i.e., that science and faith are incompatible—a claim that is pure veggie-burger. All opinion—hold the evidence.

2 comments:

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